The NDT is over. Many seasons have come to an end. Everyone can take a breath. You made it to the end. An honest to goodness season occurred over zoom. There are no asterisks here. People found a way to work hard when some were never in the same room as their coaches or teammates all season. Really incredible. There will be more earnest posts in the future, particularly about the future of debate, but for now here is what caught my eye.
If you were an oddsmaker and you wanted to improve your chances of your team winning, debaters like IanM are top 5 draft picks.
College novice to NDT elims. Warms my cold dead heart every time. How many other folks are there on college campuses who never knew what debate was in high school that could have a similar story?
I grew out of imprinting initials on cards a few years ago. I would wager it was correct to do so. Two justifications for it are: imprinting is accountability (what if IanM cut Drezner 15 or whatever it was??) and makes it easier to figure out exactly how much work someone is doing. At Liberty I found this useful because with a novice-based team it clarified how much work was required at varying levels of seriousness.
The downside is it looks bad, it signals information to your opponents (most isn’t helpful, but the earnest argument is “oh look they only go for cards they cut, none tagged by other people, so I will change coverage accordingly”) and leads to clout-chasing toxicity within a team. You can tell who cuts a lot of cards and who doesn’t anyway – imprinting cards and keeping score is unnecessary.
So, I think the downside outweighs, but I like the signaling done by the IanMs and KENs of the world who are cutting a lot of cards for their team.
2. Kelly Phil
She debated on a flipped schedule while in Taiwan for a tournament that lasts like 12 days and made it to quarters?? I hazard to say we may not see anything quite like that again at the NDT. Incredible work from the frosh.
3. 11 judge panels
What better way to hedge than let 11 people judge your debates? 11 chances to roll the dice! I love the chaos potential. The best part is that this 11 judge panel clocked a very reasonable decision time compared to some of these other elimination panels.
4. Dartmouth cards
I love that they are all formatted different. I like how they don’t look like other teams’. I like how the length is totally random. Would I be so bold as to put money on the quality of card that I am getting? I sure wouldn’t. Sometimes you get something awesome, sometimes you get two lines of a Raam fever dream. But it is the journey that matters!
5. 8-0, 19 ballots
My debate career was not the most storied. One fun fact is that my senior year, I went 6-2 with 12 ballots at the NDT. I believe that is the only time that score has been registered.
So when I saw 8-0 with 19 registered by Kansas BF, I thought that surely a jackpot had been hit and a unique NDT score had been registered.
Not so! In 1977, Northwestern Love and Singer also registered an 8-0 with 19 ballots. They beat Middle Tennessee and lost to Redlands in the quarters (NDT cleared to octafinals in this era).
For the real history nerds out there, 8-0 with 18 was done twice too. Michigan SW (Stoughton and Wexler (of HRIA CP fame)) in 1998 and in 2003 by Georgia PR (Powers and Ramachandrappa)
6. Flexy Peens
I would stake my life on two claims. First, everything said about flexible response seemed banal. There are O’Hanlon cards on every topic, don’t fall prey to their siren song. Second, Peens was the best area to be affirmative. If you know you know.
I was very conflicted when Georgetown read flexible response for Peens. It is like this:
But an affirmative.
7. Maraj 20
I would read up on Louis Maraj’s CV and the people they cite and who cite them. I would speculate it could be the next big thing, a la Grove 20.
8. Fucking Fleming
T-there are only four affirmatives. It is the quarters of the NDT. Everyone is sitting around past the four-hour mark waiting for Fleming to decide. What would the payout have to be for you to stake anything against Fleming sitting on the bottom of a 4-1? I think it was clear what was going to happen after about 20 minutes.
Seriously though, let’s time elims at like 3 hours, maybe 3:15. Gotta cap those diminishing returns somewhere. I guess we can exempt the finals.
I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that everyone has an opinion on the way schedules work. The issue we run into in debate is that we aren’t great at dialogue and hashing out a consensus. I think we can do it! We can make progress on schedules.
The first question: what is the baseline amount of time needed in a preround? I propose 30 minutes. I am sure this does not comport to the way some teams handle their business now, but as a bar any team could learn to live and thrive with, 30 mins of prep before a debate is adequate.
The real thing to hash out is what values warrant deviating from that baseline. For example:
Round 7 and 8 largely determine who clears. Should there be more prep time?
Some rounds are impacted by food breaks. More time?
Elims are more important to prelims. Should prep time for round 2 and the octafinals be the same?
You can’t be eliminated from the tournament in round 1 or 2 (you could draw the line to include round 3 maybe). Tournaments (mine included) apply the same prep to all rounds. I can’t say this maximizes any value beyond like…if you set the bar at like 40 minutes and do it consistently then people do not complain. I can’t say it is achieving good values though.
The rub is that the days are very long, and we have to reckon with it.
10. So much topicality, so little topic
Ugh, I won’t beat a dead horse. I am not going to go for broke. It is not in the cards. But wowza – so much topicality about nothing. It will never not be funny that this was supposed to be the DA’s topic.
11. More History
Non-male top speakers before 2021: Patricia Stallings from Houston in 1957, Gloria Cabada from Wake Forest in 1988, Stephanie Spies and Ryan Beiermeister from Northwestern back to back in 2011 and 2012, Natalie Knez from Georgetown in 2018.
Black top speakers before 2021: Rashid Campbell from Oklahoma in 2014, and Devane Murphy from Rutgers in 2017.
Azja Butler from Kansas is the sixth non-male top speaker, the third Black top speaker and the first ever Black woman to win top speaker at the NDT. One of the reasons the NDT always gets the juices flowing, even for people out of the activity for decades, is that the NDT is what shapes the history books more than anything.
As a debate lifer I do not think you can recognize the special team efforts required to carve out a place in history enough. Special kudos to Jyleesa Hampton. She started coaching in 2015-16, and you would be hard pressed to find a coach whose teams have put up better results.
Other fun ones you may not have ventured to guess. Kansas had the top two speakers BUT they were not partners. A school has definitely had the top two speakers before (Rutgers MN, Harvard BS, NU BK, NU GS to be precise). This is the first time a school had the top two speakers from different partnerships. No amount of going for T-substantial could hold Nate Martin down!
The other, more obvious historymaker is Pitt MO. This blog has been on the record that the heg good affirmative was not what it seemed against the K, and if equally debated the Neg should find a way to win. I believe that is what happened in the doubles vs Emory.
It would be difficult to find an NDT semis performance this impressive, given the combination of their low seeding with the strength of opposition faced. The college policy alums Facebook page certainly did dig up some interesting examples. Kansas BR in 2016, as a non-bid team that made the finals, is certainly up there.
Trevor Wells from Facebook: Harvard KT (Karem & Tushnet), 1992. 11th bid, 15th seed. Beat the #18 seed (Pittsburgh BR) in the doubles, and then unleased some huge wins in the octas (Texas GM, the #2 seed and #5 bid), quarters (Wayne State AG, the #10 seed and #12 FRALB [which seems so low in retrospect; those guys were fire]), and semifinals (Dartmouth AL, the #3 seed and #1 FRALB), before losing a 6-1 decision in the final to Georgetown AK (the #8 seed).
The only other history note I have at the moment: 3 of the semifinals teams had a Black debater on it. Easily could be the first time such a thing has happened.
12. Unbroken Aff Bracket
The people in the trenches report they were unenthused by the affirmatives that were broken at the NDT. Too predictable. Too banal. By popular demand – if you want to send me a 1AC for an affirmative that was unbroken at the NDT, I will create a Bracket (with a capital B that…) and let the good people decide if there are any true innovators among us. Let the chips fall where they may. Everyone put their cards on the table. Cowards can’t block warriors.
Very surreal NDT. Congratulations if your season concluded. You made it.
This post occurred to me around the time water resources was announced as next year’s high school topic, but I had not sat down to write it until now. There are two areas I wanted to speak to. One concerns discourse on whether a topic is good or bad as it is happening. The other concerns what is said when people get in a mood to speculate on what makes a topic good. I don’t have a treatise on these subjects, just some things that need to be said.
1. Researching CJR is Good
If you are actively involved in this topic and you are not a fan of it, I am not sure we can really relate to one another. Topics that make debaters learn about key parts of society are good. This is one of the reasons why healthcare was a good topic; if you walked away knowing what all the words around insurance mean, that is a big step up from the general public.
Is the topic very large? It sure is. A nice part of the topic has been that every time I go searching for negative arguments, I do not know what they are going to be, but I do find something. That is a fun dynamic.
Did the affirmative need to be allowed to criminalize stuff? No, but a post for another day about topicality.
The K for the negative is very good, but not a lot of teams cared to learn this flexibility and the affirmative has said nothing about it all year. Nevertheless, it is a good core debate.
Is it the world’s best topic? Not necessarily, mainly because it was too big to to allow specific preparation across the board. Specific arguments exist, there are just too many of them and little overlap. Overall, though, it was a strong domestic topic.
2. The Water Topic is Big
Like, really big. The mechanism of protection includes everything. Giant themes around climate change, oceans, agriculture (and regulating other industries), and deforestation are likely to be fair game. The States CP could do some more work than it did on CJR. If you decided to not be a flexible team and incorporate the K into your negative strategy on CJR, I would strongly advise you do it on the water topic. There will be negative arguments, but there won’t be strong generic arguments that apply across most of the topic.
3. Projecting Topics
This next part is going to be focused on college debate. The first thing we have to recognize is that the topic committee’s job, definitionally, is impossible. What people think the topic is going to be in May is not what is going to happen in the first semester. This dynamic is demonstrated by a lot of other games, mainly deckbuilding games. The limited resources of the topic committee can’t contain hundreds of people doing way more research and trying to be as strategic as possible.
Recognizing this dynamic is important because it reveals the flaw in a popular way to project topics. That approach is to say here are the big affirmative cases and here is a topic disadvantage that connects them that the negative can lean on.
I think the alliances topic makes clear the issue with this approach. Topic committee work was focused on attempting to create a limited number of affirmatives that guaranteed the negative a certain amount of ground. What happened was the affirmative ground was sub-optimal, the affirmative was not limited because they never are, and the promises of negative ground did not materialize when the affirmative began to squirrel.
Caring about this dynamic at all misunderstands how a lot of people experience the topic. A lot of debaters are not worried about writing ten policy affirmatives. A lot of teams don’t care about what generic applies when the Pacific Entrapment Aff is broken on them because that isn’t going to happen to them.
A lot of people care about how accessible the topic is to people new to the activity or those who are developing their skills. A lot of people care about what constitutes affirmation on a given topic. They do not seem to ultimately care about writing negative generics, since a lot of teams do not do that but copy from others. They do not seem to care about writing a million affirmatives, their teams read the same affirmative for 90% of their debates.
Personally, I like researching things I have not researched before. I also enjoy topics where when I go searching for something, whether I have a guess on what that something is or not, I come back with something useful. I think people may have deluded themselves on alliances, because what y’all keep coming back with are not really affirmatives in the sense that they do all of the things required by the resolution, check the boxes of defeating core Neg positions, and are supported by evidence.
Judging topics on things like:
I think prioritizing these kinds of questions may result in toning down the complexity of resolutions, particularly mechanisms. This may result in larger, but more interesting and easier to research topics. The main priority should be establishing a topic that can help sustain new participation in the activity. It should not be how a handful of schools using full time debate coaches (that do not teach or are students etc.) are going to find something to say for the NDT. Those schools (Kentucky is obviously among them) are going to find shit to say, they don’t need any catering. There are many schools and students who can have a good time with debate that will never ever care about some of the questions that so dramatically drive the topic process.
Didn’t you say large topics like CJR got unwieldy though? It is not analogous to college because the high school topic process greatly differs from college. There is a lot of room to roam between what college has been doing and what high school does to itself. The relevant lesson to take away from CJR is that the research is accessible and relevant to people’s lives and it is very simple to carve out space where you don’t have to worry about whether rogue AI should receive the death penalty or not.
Buttttttt, if your topic is big won’t the under-resourced debaters hate showing up with nothing to say? That is the squo. Topics break now. There are piles of nonsense. Sometimes, we make simple and large topics like climate. People can debate about carbon pricing if they want or they can delve deeper and there are still good debates.
Other times we give them this:
Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase statutory and/or judicial restrictions on the executive power of the President of the United States in one or more of the following areas: authority to conduct first-use nuclear strikes; congressionally delegated trade power; exit from congressional-executive agreements and Article II treaties; judicial deference to all or nearly all federal administrative agency interpretations of statutes and/or regulations; the bulk incidental collection of all or nearly all foreign intelligence information on United States persons without a warrant.
Resolved: The United States Federal Government should establish a national space policy substantially increasing its international space cooperation with the People's Republic of China and/or the Russian Federation in one or more of the following areas:
• arms control of space weapons;
• exchange and management of space situational awareness information;
• joint human spaceflight for deep space exploration;
• planetary defense;
• space traffic management;
• space-based solar power.
Resolved: The United States Federal Government should reduce its alliance commitments with Japan, the Republic of Korea, North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states, and/or the Republic of the Philippines, by at least substantially limiting the conditions under which its defense pact can be activated.
These aren’t pot shots at the topic committee. They do an impossible task with the hand they are dealt. We should be changing the inputs. The topic should focus on growing the sustainability of the activity, not worry about how the most well-resourced schools are going to inflict suffering on one another.
Well, we got trouble, my friends, right here I say, trouble right here in policy debate. Trouble with a capital "T" and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for post rounds.
Being proficient at handling post rounds is one of those things that forks the road between greatness and mediocrity. Here are some of the issues that exist now:
1. No questions are being asked. Judge delivers some feedback. Team says “that’s fair” and bounces. Baffling.
2. The questions that are asked are canned and pointless.
3. The debate was 51 vs 49, someone loses, and they proceed to tilt off.
4. Teams attempt to prove why the judge is an idiot.
Let’s talk about how to do this whole enterprise properly.
First, assemble your card doc at a blazing speed. Negative team should send at the conclusion of the 2AR. If you are not doing this you are just being worse than you need to be. It is a little tougher for the affirmative because I would default to the 1AR listening to the 2AR to make sure they don’t drop something. However, it should still be a 5 minute or less process.
Second, while the judge is deciding, you need to honestly reflect on the debate. This might require you to replace some of the word vomit you are spewing across various chat platforms with introspective quiet time. Really think about the debate. Think about it like a judge. You may have to start actually listening to your opponents’ speeches, including the 2AR, to be good at this. Revolutionary, I know.
Thinking about it like a judge starts with knowing that the bar for thinking an argument is absolutely zero is pretty high. At the same time, your bar for what is conceded is too low. So spend some time really thinking about what a negative and affirmative ballot looks like. If, over time, what you come up with and what judges say differs frequently, you have a problem. If you do not think about and evaluate debates like your judges are, you are going to have a bad time. This skill has nothing to do with questions, it only includes contemplating and possibly jotting down the highlights of an Aff and Neg ballot and seeing if you are right or wrong.
The next part happens after an RFD. Let’s assume you have lost the debate. What do you do? A good starting point is determining why your judge didn’t give the RFD for you that you envisioned during decision time. This does not involve asking “what did you think about this.” This framing generally isolates a part of the debate that was not isolated. It also presumes that a judge neglected your artful argument when in reality maybe you mumbled that argument the entire debate or you have a terrible piece of evidence to support that idea.
You can tell people are not on this level because they never ask alternative RFD questions like they have given any thought to producing an RFD for the debate. All they know is the random shit they spewed in their last speech and that the judge didn’t speak to literally all of it to their satisfaction, so they are grasping at straws.
If you actually thought about both sides and you thought you came out ahead, you need to figure out where you lost them. Usually, you didn’t say something good enough (newsflash – the bar for “good enough” slides between judges, they aren’t fucking robots). Or your evidence was poop (bulletin – this happens a lot). Or you didn’t properly appreciate an opposing argument (headline – this happens every debate).
People attempt to fast forward to the conclusion that the judge was stupid. If you think a judge is stupid, it means you are the stupid one. I hate to break it to you. You are just completely clueless, in a bubble, and don’t interact with regular people. This is because, at bottom, in a debate you are talking about real things with more than one side. People can be more persuasive/articulate than other people. It is your job to debate to the judge, not bludgeon them into something that they are not.
It is very difficult to judge a debate filled with thoughts written by other people, sentence fragments, empty assertions, incoherent mumbling, and evidence from Doug Bandow and the Epoch Times. There is no great way to enjoy that stinky Reese’s.
Even in the rare instances where a judge is in over their head there is no reason for you to care about that or let that guide how you post round. You will get infinitely better at debate assuming it is a non-possibility and interacting with judges accordingly.
Why not just strike people you think suck? First, masking. You are blaming the judge for you sucking. Second, how many people do you think judge debate every weekend? That well is not infinite. You hit diminishing returns really fast. Better to focus on cultivating a relationship across a lot of debates.
Now, there are some debates where you do agree that you lose. 3-0’s and 5-0’s happen. People have nothing to say and get stomped, etc. What do you do here? Sometimes it is very easy. You ask the judge for the ideal way to answer an argument you were really bad on. Background and useful information is exchanged. Everyone is happy. We aren’t talking about those situations in this post.
People sometimes spend a great deal of mental energy on how to give the last rebuttals when the 2 hours of the debate before that were terrible for your side. The easiest solution is generally do not put yourself in that position again.
Here is something that seldom happens in post rounds: there is a discussion of research and strategy that is more independent from the events of a given round. What I mean is, debaters seldom let judges know what their research before the tournament indicated, what their strategy was, why this strategy over another strategy, what they found hard to answer or find a card on etc.
These kinds of notions seem pretty important if you showed up to a debate and got stomped. It means we need to revisit the research drawing board. I think this conversation doesn’t happen for two reasons: 1. The given debaters didn’t do any of the research on the subject of the debate 2. Debaters are not accustomed to revealing the inner workings of their team.
In response to #1---you have to fake it. You have to have better squad meetings. You have to know what goes into a strategy even if you didn’t cut it. You have to work on establishing expertise on the relevant topic areas. You have to, have to, have to present yourself as well informed/well researched to begin turning around a debate you lost. At the very worst this will project a sense of seriousness/signal that you are an up-and-comer to your judge. Not to mention – and this is a radical notion – you could start doing more of the research.
In response to #2---the inner workings of your team are already revealed. It was an effort that resulted in losing on a 3-0. It is better to figure out where you went wrong.
Now do not get me wrong, this is not a silver bullet. Not all judges are experts in all things. They may not all be able to tell you how to turn your peens neg around. However, it is a useful way to learn about your judges, what they know a lot about and what arguments they think are good or not, even if you do not incorporate the notions broadly into your arsenal.
1. Use decision time to think like a judge and really figure out RFDs for both sides. This process hopefully reduces the intensity and helps avoid combative post rounds
2. If you lose a close debate, figure out what factors made the judge reluctant to vote for your RFD
3. Win or lose, it’s good to engage the judge and get feedback on your research and strategizing. Not how was the 1NR or 1AR. If you don’t know anything about the research or strategy, fix that. You will project that you are a serious hard worker and learn a lot about the judge.
A closing note on judges, particularly the ones who spend all the decision time writing a book on the debate. I am not going for maximal judging is bad. I am saying it kind of sucks that you write out that giant ass RFD and you cannot deviate from delivering your million of thoughts on every little part of the debate. I get if that is how you parse the debate and reach your decision. But you gotta go back and write a more concise version of wtf you are saying. Especially on panels. Especially when online debates end late at night sometimes.
Oh yes we got trouble, trouble, trouble!
With a "T"! Gotta rhyme it with "P"!
And that stands for Postrounds
I put out the call at the end of yesterday's post and quarantine is still surely boring enough for someone to answer it!
Justice W did the hardcore sleuthing in answer to my questions and what they discovered is a delight for debate nerds everywhere. Thanks Justice!
Did I fact check any of this? Certainly not. See yesterday's post for why the question is irrelevant.
A. Same Policy 2NRs
-Prolif DA (a lot)
-Trade DA (1)
-Deterrence DA (a lot)
-JCS CP (1)
-Fem IR (1)
B. Most Distinct Policy 2NRs
1---Michigan MM (18)
-Nuclear energy CP
-Flexible response CP
-Dollar Heg DA
2---NU FL/FW (19) (Both partnerships)
-Civil Guidance CP
-Buffer States CP
Dartmouth TV (14 Policy, 10 K, 24 Total!!!)
-Japan war powers DA
-Advantage CP (multiple)
Dartmouth TV vs K
-Racial Cap K
-Ontogenetic war K
-Gibson Graham K
Emory GK (15) (a lot of T)
-Containment Bad DA
Michigan PR (15)
-Russia integration CP
-Flexible response CP
-T subs 5 times!!!
C. Among first round applicant teams did the affirmative or negative win more T debates (in policy debates)?
Neg---Won 71% of T Debates (12/17)
Dartmouth TV (3-0)
Kansas MR v Dartmouth TV – Enlargement -- NEG
NU FL v Dartmouth TV – EDCA – NEG
Michigan MM v Dartmouth TV -- SoKo -- NEG
Emory GK (3-1)
Dartmouth TV v Emory GK -- CSD -- AFF
Wake KM v Emory GK -- Cyber Offense Pact -- NEG
Kentucky DG v Emory GK – Expansion – NEG
Berkeley EE v Emory GK – Kuril – NEG
NU FW (2-0)
Dartmouth TV vs NU FW – CSD – NEG
NU FW vs Emory PR - Sweden NATO - NEG
Kansas MR (3-1)
Emory GK v Kansas MR – NATO Cyber -- AFF
Wake KM vs Kansas MR – Cyber – NEG
Samford EG vs Kansas MR – Liancourt – NEG
Michigan MM vs Kansas MR – SoKo – NEG
Michigan MM (0-1)
NU FW vs Michigan MM – Secret Hybrid – AFF
Michigan PR (1-1)
Georgetown MW vs Michigan PR – Secret Senkaku – NEG
NU FW vs Michigan PR – Secret Hybrid – AFF
Wake KM (0-1)
NU FL vs Wake KM – Turkey – AFF
D. Who had the best 1NC when someone broke a new affirmative against them
1---Wake KM vs Dartmouth TV
1AC – New Okinotori
1NC – New Confer CP, New Trade/Inducement CP, New Japanese Warpowers DA, New Offensive strike Bad
2---Cal BW vs Kentucky DG (Doubles, Broke Round 6, Great 1NC for 1 round)
1AC – Kuril
1NC – Revision CP, New Separatism DA, New Territories DA, Bunch of specific case turns
E. Corollary---did someone read a new affirmative where the negative had a specific strategy ready to go?
2---Michigan PR vs Dartmouth TV
1AC – New Arctic
1NC – New Congress CP, Arctic Deterrence CP, Arctic Deterrence DA
3---Most 2NRs vs New Affs were T or Prolif DA
1---Michigan MM vs Dartmouth TV
2NR---Prolif and Article V Pic
2---Kansas MR vs Rutgers AH
1AC--Philippines K version –
1NC---Forces PIC, Humanitarian PIC, Terrorism DA, T, Fill in, Grove K
2NR---Forces PIC and Terrorism DA
3---USC KS vs Dartmouth TV –
1NC---Topicality, Japan PIC, Geoengineering CA,White Terrorists PIC, Cap Good Turn, AI Dominance Good Turn, Space Weapons Good Turn, COVID Turn, Satellites Turn, Money Laundering Turn
4---USC vs Michigan PR
2NR---NEW Quantum K
F. If you are a policy team what K team would you least like to go negative against? (Does the math back it up?)
Won 81% debates v policy teams (13/16)
2---Wake CT---77% (9/11)
G. If you are a K team what policy team would you least like to go affirmative against? (does the math back it up?)
1---Dartmouth TV (12-0)
2---Michigan PR (15-1)
3---Emory GK (6-0)
H. What K team had the most diverse spread of arguments when negative?
-Hybrid war K
-Racial cap K
-Liberal money K
Ohhhh you thought the musings were over did you? You thought the most popular website about policy debate on the internet (fact check: true) had closed its doors?
No no no, just lying in wait until you let your guard down. Until you open yourself up to be barraged by opinions you didn’t ask for, but can’t look away from.
I only write posts when a critical mass of words comes to me without it being forced. Like I have to write the words down so they stop occupying space in my head and I can move on to other things.
If there are two things that get my brain a-churning it is the end of the regular season and when opinions about topics begin to circulate.
I have never reported something wrong on this site (fact check: true). That is because a rigorous amount (a third and fourth order amount) of research goes into what I post about (fact check: true). Unfortunately, my intern has moved to Taiwan and the minutia of your zoom alliance debates may have escaped me. However, what I think is true is surely both better and more accurate than what is actually true so that is what will rule the day on this blog.
1. Alliances Topic is the Worst
Oh, how many ways can we slice this? The premise of affirmative ground, that alliances security dilemma adversaries into war and entrapment, is stupid. It is a worse imitator of the military presence topic in every way.
The promise was the negative would not be overly burdened because of core DA’s. Everything links to assurance they said!
Then the topic comes, and it is so many words. Too many damn words for anyone to understand.
Left in a haze by the complexity of the resolution affirmative teams decide to play it safe early and merely mumble about Russia and China war while reading NATO and Japan affirmatives. Painfully boring, but all in all harmless.
However, then things take a grim turn. Affirmatives decide to just start doing whatever they want (although in the case of NATO enlargement, a demon possessed the aff writers of three different squads at the same time in the preseason -- apparently they don’t have holy water in Minnesota, Kansas or Michigan and they all showed up to the Season Opener acting normally but under evil influence). Affirmatives no longer care about “solvency evidence.”
Then the T debates swept the land. So. Many. T. Debates. I have never seen so many T debates between first round applicant teams. What a terrible bore.
“Sorry Aff, we are gonna need to stuff you back into the 3 Affs trash can so we can read allied prolif with no resistance.”
The fact that teams accused other teams of not understanding what causus foederis was and they did it with straight faces is the stuff of nightmares.
Advantage ground was narrow, solvency cards weren’t real, affirmatives pooped nonsense in all directions starting in October and instead of applying “their topic DA themes” or cutting a damn card negative teams went for topicality en masse. Ass. Zero.
I don’t blame teams (except for the ones that proposed and then voted for alliances) on playing the hand they were dealt, particularly in COVID times. There is always the ability to demonstrate excellence at debate regardless of the topic fundamentals. We will talk about some of that now. The point here is: if you like this alliances topic you are deranged.
2. “Gonna start in 10 seconds if no one says anything”
Boooo. This sucks. This is negative innovation. Then people copied it. Yuck. Did we need “everyone good” “can I get a confirmation” “anyone not ready” “ok I am gonna start in 10 seconds or so say something”?
What is the most common impact to tech failure? Silence. What is the worst way to check for tech failure? To posit that silence means things are going correctly.
3. Stimmy Tix
I will admit I thought the patented Kansas 1NR on politics was just a meme for years there. Then the Dartmouth RR happens and stimmy tix is pulling huge W’s! I am enchanted (not with that winners win impact though – at least, not for more than a round, that sucks, but I understand why you are doing it Kansas). I jump on the agenda DA bandwagon for the first time since Iran sanctions on war powers I think. What a treat.
The murmurs are that stimmy tix is no good going into NU 2. Not an all timer for sure, but a solid B- to B. I don’t think any of the affirmative cards I read were particularly slayers.
Knowledge about debating the agenda DA has never been lower. I was really hoping Kansas would win the finals to silence the haters, but alas. Who knows what could happen in two months, but I would watch out for agenda ending my career if I was a senior. It’s not necessarily a huge risk, but a real one.
4. Who Read the Most Affirmatives
I got Dartmouth with 6 – South Ossetia, Senshu Boei, Peens, Critical Peens, Nonviolence, NATO withdrawal.
Emory has 7 – NATO Withdrawal, NATO Cyber, NATO burden sharing, Transform NATO, Hungary Conditions, NATO-China, Kurils
NU has 7 – Turkey, Hybrid, EDCA, Okinawa, Senkaku, Bloody Nose, China
Michigan takes it with 9 – NATO Space, NATO energy security, NATO Arctic, NATO Enlargement, Japan Consent/Bloody Nose, Extra-Peninsular Obligations, Pacific Entrapment, NATO BMD, Baltics.
Pacific entrapment was technically Peens so they read all four countries too. Although I would prefer a real Peens affirmative. Dartmouth and and NU need South Korea. Emory needs South Korea and Peens.
Sorry if there is someone out there who read 10 affs and I didn’t look at your wiki.
5. K Teams and Impact Defense
Don’t get it. Not that useful. Read more K’s. Read funny CP’s. Read T.
Policy teams: try harder to get K teams in trouble in terms of consistency between their K and the run of mill case defense they read. Certainly not all case D has tension with K’s but I am not sure the level of precision at the moment!
6. Non-FW Options
It seems to me that a lot of debates are being decided on things that are not framework (unless you are Michigan – then you just front aggressively and go for T anyway. Not knocking it tho).
I am not sure what it means. I am leaning towards K teams are messing up somewhere. If the solution is to change 1AC’s and their descriptions or improve 2AC/1AR materials, we will have to see.
7. Parity at the top
I believe Dartmouth and Michigan are 3-3 against one another.
Emory is 0-5 against Dartmouth. Lost in the narrative of Dartmouth winning the first four tournaments/RR’s of the year is that Emory took 2nd place at three of those tournaments (Season Opener eliminated by Dartmouth in octafinals).
Emory is 3-0 against Michigan. Northwestern is 4-0 vs Michigan, but 1-4 vs Dartmouth. The only team to beat Dartmouth more than once is Michigan.
Kansas MR is lurking as well with wins against these other 4 teams (the only team that can claim such an accomplishment I believe).
So there is an interesting chess match going on. Lots of different styles and strengths I would say. People should take good minutes on how they strategize for each other for the NDT to report back to the people’s blog.
8. Remember when?
Neg reads DA. Aff reads no link, no internal link, affirmative solves that impact. It used to be you had to write an affirmative that got to every impact in debate so you could do something like this. Then even new affirmatives had to get to a shit ton of impacts to be considered done done.
Now people read affirmatives with one advantage! You are not fooling anyone by putting it on three pages Georgetown (two topics in a row too, people know your scam).
9. The Tags are out of Control
It’s mostly Dartmouth’s fault:
--Entrapment is a process not an event
--Rational deterrence theory overlooks psycho-symbolic drivers of state behavior. Actuarial risk tolerance makes nuclear war inevitable.
--Assurances feed Halcion to the German Sonderweg
But others have become unhinged as well:
--Both sides care deeply about the islands even though they lack actual value. They’ve become the proverbial tube of toothpaste---a tangible symbol of all other problems in the relationship---and there is no putting it back in the bottle.
--Sub-conventional deterrence failure risks non-linear, wormhole escalation, going nuclear
--Vote neg to keep Manchin happy – he’s malleable (I like stimmy too, but this one seems a bit dramatic)
Who knows how many other deranged tags I missed.
10. Undetermined Musings
I thought of a list of questions, but I am too lazy to figure out the answers. So, I need my faithful readers’ help. Yes, I know you will do this for me even when I have not given you a post in months. The world has to know.
A. Who has the most same policy 2NRs?
B. Who has the most distinct policy 2NRs?
C. Amongst first round applicant teams did the affirmative or negative win more T debates (in policy debates)?
D. Who had the best 1NC when someone broke a new affirmative against them (this may be the only question I stiil truly care about)?
E. Corollary---did someone read a new affirmative where the negative had a specific strategy ready to go?
F. What was the most coherent NATO affirmative? Similarly, what was the best Article V key argument?
H. If you are a policy team what K team would you least like to go negative against? (Does the math back it up?)
I. If you are a K team what policy team would you least like to go affirmative against? (does the math back it up?)
J. Who broke the most affirmatives, K team edition (the wiki isn’t as helpful for this one as it was for policy teams)
K. What K team had the most diverse spread of arguments when negative? (ditto)
I will accept real researched answers or whatever people’s gut tells them. On this blog there is obviously no distinction.
You read 3500 words of my earnest feelings and thoughts. We will return to those another day. You have earned some aggro takes I have been keeping in my pocket since the Clatterson.
1. The tags be no good
I think people have an appreciation of the first level ups that occur. Can you answer a card from the other side using a card you read previously? Maybe, can you give a 2AC or 1AR without dropping a piece of paper?
Next level debating is murkier. Can you be competitive in clash debates? For me, a serious next level skill is being able to manage complexity. Deterrence and assurance debates get very complex very quick. What we in the biz call “vertical debates.”
I can’t tell you everything that goes into winning a deterrence debate, I don’t work for you, I just dance like a good blog writing monkey for you. What I will say is your tags are not helping. Your tags are too often repetitive of your original point (the plan is bad for deterrence). Or they remain in their bad/original form when someone originally cut it and is not in the context of everything else you are saying or what the aff is saying. You are hemorrhaging opportunities to manage complexity with the way your tags build on one another. It makes the link turn debates AWFUL. Fix it.
In the interest of full disclosure I had this written down---1. how fast can you go/how stupid can your tags be. No idea what the fast thing is about. Ah, the creative process.
2. CP Texts
A goal that you should always hold near and dear to your heart is this: your CP texts should not be an assault on the eyeballs. A related goal is that it should not take you more than two minutes to read a CP.
Which brings us to Michigan:
Can we fucking relax? Think this is the new record holder for longest CP text (which is a Razzie award, not an Emmy).
3. Can we not?
If you went for one of these arguments earnestly…why? Please do not:
Maybe! If you read the Esper DA with a cardless Con con CP that would be good under some two negatives make a positive principle. However, assuming what I just said was stupid and the argument is as bad as it ever is, just do other shit.
Truf demanded this paragraph be inserted of his views on the subject or else this post couldn't go to print. Here it is:
A few things happened that were so egregious I could not help saying something. First, the rescission CP. Copy pasting slop I wrote at a tournament overnight for immigration card for card and putting it into a college Dropbox is bad enough. It making a 2NR and losing because Westminster didn’t happen to read their “AT: Certainty” block is a bridge too far. Glad no one voted for it. Second, the “invoke article 5 against X random thing” CP. This is just stupid CPs redux. Without an Article 5 key warrant or a card even implying the CP is good, they all lose to “perm – do the plan and proclaim that x is an armed attack on the US,” “perm – do the plan and treat x as if it were an armed attack on the US,” or “perm – do the plan and whatever policy changes the solvency card is actually talking about” (the one exception is the COVID CP someone read, which does actually have a card attached). Particularly this abomination: “The United States federal government should declare barriers to nuclear energy militarily attack NATO countries; and faithfully adhere to its defense pacts,” which, on top of everything else, is missing at least one conjunction. And yet, in multiple debates involving these arguments, the AFF seems content to accept the opportunity cost. They have generally not been punished for this because the net benefit is as bad as the competition argument, but seems like a missed opportunity. Thank you for tuning into this PSA.
4. No no word list
These words are banned, please stop saying them:
Lick their lips
That is all. Your judges will thank you
Your computer is muted, partner same room, you yell in the hopes the computer picks you up (mainly in CX). WRONG. This does not work and no one ever really hears the partner.
6. Write out your perms
Holy hell, just do it or make that worthless 1A do it. The real perm that you want to go for, write that shit out.
7. You are doing a lot of stuff that is ass
Here is the thing, judges are not going to tell you everything you did wrong during an RFD. A lot of them aren’t maximalists. Some don’t care. Some want to avoid information overload. Some just want to talk and talk and talk about their decision reasoning and every little issue live in the last two rebuttals even though no one cares. So debaters take that to mean that the unspoken parts of the debate went fine.
That is very wrong. When parts of a debate go by the wayside a judge is just SO THANKFUL they don’t have to decipher whatever both teams were mumbling about concerning one war or the other. They are relieved. The debating is still suboptimal.
Here are some things you should double check you can do
---debate the case on either side
---able to go for an add-on if aff (you may have to check your “file” if you have add-ons in the first place)
---Did you update your files to read all the best evidence available? I know the answer is no. No excuse really beyond pride. Bad debating regardless.
CP texts (see above)
Garbage arguments surviving into the block (see above).
8. Stop losing going for assurance
Should you ever go for assurance? It's a weird move because you could've probably read the same number of cards and just won deterrence while taking out the whole case while you were at it. But sometimes you want something external and assurance gives you that.
Some affs rely on using deterrence failure to turn assurance. The 2AR is designed to go like this "The alliance is going to break down no matter what; we are caught in a cycle of counteracting allies' fear of abandonment with strong signals of support which can risk entrapment. That will lead to a security crisis and a conflict down the line, better to just cut off contact now before the war."
This strategy is only good if you let it be. Commitment traps escalating to all out war is a (questionable) feature of the alliance system - it's not very likely that the trap is going to get sprung in the short term. If it was, the likelihood the aff can solve it quickly is pretty unclear since scaling back decade long commitments in a way an adversary would find credible is no Swiss picnic. Empirically speaking, the entrapment/abandonment cycle has been pretty stable over time (which you should have some cards about on the case regardless of the 2NR choice).
On the flip side, allies who have security needs are far more likely to perceive abandonment. Whereas adversaries are not going to assume the best (they will not immediately believe the alliance is over and that they can operate freely) allies are going to assume the worst (they need to fend for themselves). They'll do this for the same reason: heads of state hedge their bets in security policy, just as adversaries will assume the security crisis isn't over out of self interest, allies will assume they need to do their best for self help.
At the end of the day, this means competitors we have allied against are unlikely to feel very assuaged by the plan, but countries we abandon are very likely to feel pressure to protect themselves in the short run. The upshot is the link for the assurance DA should happen before solvency for the commitment trap.
But who cares? Good question. You need cards that prolif will be both pursued and achieved quickly so you can say the timeframe differential for link/solvency has a real impact. In your wall of X country will prolif, you should always read a card that it can start quickly. Alternatively, you can have a seperate impact stem short of prolif that can happen fast in the event allies are fearful.
In addition to that, it's always worth mentioning that if X country prolifs and it causes war, that conflict will be worse than the commitment trap war that the aff says is coming now. The simple reason is you add another nuclear power to the mix. This means (1) the chance of miscalculation and accidents in a crisis scenario is higher and (2) the size of the conflict is bound to be larger.
But also...why get into this debate? If you have all the parts listed above, you should be doing great. If you are not good on one of these parts…just go for deterrence! Link turn the case, avoid the extra curricular impact debating and get to the heart of the issue.
What the fuck do I know though, I just clank the keys for the masses.
As the world is imploding for the millionth time in the past seven days, I feel like there is a parallel occurrence in college debate. However, unlike in the real world, where a new thing happens every hour, a lot of what burdens college debate accumulates over years, as issues emerge for which we have never figured out solutions (although there are some newer issues, too).
My four years as a debater and my first three years coaching seemed to be the high watermark of being able to talk to each other. There was a shift from CEDA forums and edebate back-and-forths to Facebook. And with the coming of Facebook (to reveal my age, when I got on Facebook, it didn’t let you like or reply, and there were no groups – people were just talking into the void) came the dynamic that hardened so many of us. The million comments. The dumpster fires. The spectacle. The pile-ons.
Say what you will about those discussions (they didn’t really work, look at where we are), but they did happen. Lots of different people said lots of different stuff at that time. I really enjoyed it. I tried to stir things up from time to time. I loved being a reply guy. I felt like I had a blank check to blast people and tell them why they are stupid. Debate people always yelling at each other really aligned with my compulsive need to check social media.
A lot of people did not like this discourse. I have grown to not like it as well. We are in a state where the stakeholders that care the most about college debate cannot speak to one another effectively.
One thing that differentiates me from others is that I never deleted Facebook and I never stopped talking about debate on Facebook. I love college debate, while not always loving its players. I do respect anyone who seems to love college debate as much as I do. It’s this feeling that keeps me coming back and makes me want to work with other people to fix what burdens the activity, despite all the baggage.
Being honest, my two reactions to hosting a tournament this past weekend were: 1. I never want to host an NDT-CEDA event again, and 2. I do not want to talk to the people who do this event anymore. Now, that feeling only lasted a couple hours, and should probably be qualified by the fact that the Patterson was my fourth event in as many weekends, which left me a bit fatigued.
I want debate people to be able to talk to one another so we can solve the problems that are damaging the activity. I am not trying to center myself in any discourse, but this is my blog so narrating my thoughts is going to take center stage. I do not have secret wisdom that would instantly make debate awesome if everyone got on the same page about it. I just have thoughts, and a willingness to say them out loud on the internet.
If you do debate long enough, I feel like an impulse invariably emerges. The impulse is to anticipate someone’s reaction or response to something you are going to say. Whether you ever get good at predicting is an open question, but at least for me, this impulse is overwhelming.
I feel like this is a thing that really hurts debate people’s ability to talk to one another, particularly considering the Facebook wars of yester year. Everything feels played out. Everyone knows everyone’s arguments and they just do not care. Although I have bought into that logic in the past in a way that has hampered my willingness to engage with people, I just cannot do it anymore. I feel compelled to try to see if college debate can become a better version of itself.
What issues am I alluding to? Let’s talk about some, in no particular order.
1. Debate is not growing
Debate is contracting. Less schools do it. The schools that do it field less teams. There is a core group of schools that can field many teams based on secure revenue sources (although who knows how secure, ultimately, in 2020). It feels like debate is contracting to the point where the varsity division will just be roughly 15 schools sending 4 to 10 teams to a tournament. These schools already make up 75% of the elim bracket. This is a disaster.
This is a very big problem to solve. Effective communication and mechanisms would allow a lot of people to contribute a little bit of time to create an effort to reverse this tide. We do not have any of that.
Policy debate is too expensive, takes too much time and is too complicated. People who are full time debate coaches are not wizards at it, we cannot expect new students or former high school debaters with no full-time coaches to jump in under these circumstances. The people with full time coaches who get to think about debate all day think the sophistication of college debate is cool. I think it is cool too. I also think it is cannibalizing itself.
Online debate should be a golden opportunity to get two kids from any school to a debate tournament. That has not come close to happening this year. I am aware of no formal initiative.
We should not be surprised it hasn’t happened. To go to a debate tournament, you mainly have to say: “I will enjoy doing this compared to what else I could do.” What do people enjoy doing at debate tournaments? They enjoy winning. Even if they aren’t winning every debate, people can enjoy debate tournaments if they feel like they had competitive debates. This is the real barrier to entry. You have to know SO much shit and have SO much evidence to feel like you are having competitive debates.
We took the very small step of creating a set of novice videos. It has been a true highlight of my year when people tell me they find them useful. The scope of the medium for debate is endless. It will be interesting to see how many videos we have within a calendar year.
Debate needs to create a set of files that do not suck that are just given to people to even the playing field. I know projects like this propped up in the past and they were nice and charitable. But it should be a community effort and there should be more files and the files should be higher quality than they have been in the past.
There are probably a million more ideas amongst us, and we should do all of them, yesterday.
2. Information Sharing
Big umbrella topic. Let’s start with debatedocs.
Is it fascism? No. It is not.
Debatedocs has two main constituencies. First, if you are a debater and don’t like having to put a million emails on a chain, the ideal version of debatedocs resolves that. Second, the main person it is good for is the coach. The coach is the one who can do the most with docs in the 2 hours of a debate. Getting a lot of docs with no effort contributes to this.
Does this heighten the sophistication/elitism problem described above? Sort of. Like most things with debate, the default settings favor big schools with more money. They bring a lot of people to tournaments, they get all the docs, they win more. However, debatedocs is also good for the small school coach, since anything that increases their bandwidth makes debate a little fairer.
The other topic is information-sharing generally. People should post full text open source of all the cards they read in a debate on the wiki in a timely fashion. I am not going to rehash disclosure good/bad. It is good. It is a crush on the merits and there is no answer to the notion that big schools reproducing the information privately is obviously bad.
One thing I will point out is that reducing the transaction costs and barriers to entry is key for the activity to grow. We cannot make it overwhelmingly difficult to figure out what information is required to be competitive if we want people to want to join and feel like it is possible to be competitive. Hence information sharing.
That last topic is related with a new subject so let’s roll that all into one.
3. Videos + Scouting
This is a blend of an old issue and a new issue. The old issue is people kicking other people out of rooms. The new issue is how easy it is to get someone on tape in online debate.
This has caused a regression in terms of how open tournaments are. We are basically back to the 1990’s.
The core concern needs to be addressed: teams feel uncomfortable participating and feel like only narrowing who can watch debates insulates them from risks. This issue is framed as one of trust. This is a textbook example of what I described at the beginning: it feels like so many words have been said, that everything is hashed out, and that some people just do not care. I do not think everything is hashed out. That is not where I am coming from. If I was insufficiently plugged in to early discourse, I apologize.
Debaters should feel comfortable participating. The chosen remedy has two issues. First, it runs counter to most universities’ open education policies and the American Forensic Associations rules which say anyone can watch anything.
Second, it is not good for the activity in the long run. It is not a dynamic that can attract and retain new people. It creates barriers to information which makes it harder for new people and small schools (the main people that would grow the activity) and creates a situation in which who you know gets you access to certain information that will help you win a tournament. This biases the activity toward the people who are paid to do this as a full-time job (including, obviously, myself).
So we need to figure out how to make debate open and teams feel comfortable at the same time. Online college debate should be a GOLDEN opportunity to advertise it. You can do so many cool things with video. Better video could greatly improve the quality of debating. These things aren’t more important than debaters feeling that they can safely and freely engage in arguments without being exposed to negative consequences for themselves or their programs. However, these considerations do reflect that striking a good balance is really important for the future of the activity, and we aren’t there yet.
4. UK Video Policy
Relatedly I wanted to share some thoughts about the Patterson and video. We wanted to say people should have to get consent to record and we said that. UK legal wanted us to record debates in case presenting video evidence would help resolve a dispute, so we did that as well.
Where we started to mess up was that we didn’t outline a formal process in which someone should engage when they want a video to be reviewed. We have our Title IX complaint process (which is all university-managed). An instance we were thinking of was if a judge wanted to litigate a clipping claim, we would give them the video to help resolve the dispute.
However, unlike at our high school tournaments, we didn’t have an ombuds or similar process. I don’t believe the tabroom has really ever had to litigate a dispute at the college tournament like we do at the high school ones, so it didn’t seem like that big of a deal pre-tournament (although maybe I am forgetting?).
A team requested a video after round 4. I made a mistake by too hastily giving them that video. It was to help them litigate what their debaters did or did not say in a debate. This genre of incident appeared to be what our video policy was designed to do. I did not consult the other team in question or make anyone engage in any formal process (we didn’t really have one outlined pre-tournament). I let my impulse of resolving problems as quickly as possible compromise looking at the situation from multiple angles. I am sorry I did not handle this situation better. Lesson learned. Will not happen again. Better process for next time.
We didn’t record videos for your re-do’s. Priten and I don’t have the time to give you a bunch of videos at this point. Sorry.
5. Sexual Assault and Debate
Here is how the discourse on this issue works from my vantage point:
1. Person subtweets something
2. Other people figure out who they are talking about
3. Nothing happens
4. Subtweeter #1 gets subtweeted because they have an association with someone who is bad.
This doesn’t seem to be getting the job done.
I have not done all I can on this front by any means. I am hoping to turn that around. Is this issue a 100% hashed out and I just ignored the panacea? I don’t know, I don’t think so. That is how debate issues feel these days though. All I can report is my recent conversations.
Does pref shunning solve? I like it, but does it let people who do bad stuff get out of judging and put that burden on someone else? It definitely doesn’t get them out of debate if that is the goal.
People like institutional mechanisms and due process. CEDA has a process? I am not sure how it works or if it has successfully worked in the past (success being that person doesn’t participate in debate anymore). Critical debate has made me internalize a skepticism of legalism, but as described above with our video policy, formal rules can be the least bad alternative.
Is the punishment paradigm the way to go about doing this? I saw someone ask that question and it dovetailed with some reading I had done on the high school CJR topic. I don’t have anything thorough or insightful to say on that front, but something I plan to look into more.
If you have things for me to do on this front, short term or long term, I am all ears. Not going to put it on other people to tell me what to do and educate me, I will do that on my own too. I just want to make real progress on this issue.
I do not know what the answer is. I am huge on 3 days is better than 4. People disagree with me. That’s fine.
I do not know what the solution to east vs west is. I don’t think what we asked the west to do was actively worse for them than if the tournament had happened in person (they would still have to wake up at the same times), but online debate could be a time where it could be better. Can you do that for the west coast while doing 11 debates in 3 days? Probably not. Is it the case that the nicer you are to the west the later you make the east stay up? Pretty much. Is that the end of world? Not really.
I know a CEDA working group existed on this and they published a doc. I don’t think that is representative of where everyone is at. 3 days was a d-rule for us.
My bigger issue is the form, rather than the content, of how people engaged this issue. Snarking on Facebook really dragged me down. People snarking that never spoke to me about the issue directly really sucked.
An aside: basic Twitter etiquette is if someone is shit talking person A, you do not go and reply to the shit talker and tag person A so they now have to see it. You do not thrust that onto them and possibly ruin their day.
Debate people LOVE doing that to me. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to back channel about it. I don’t want to feel obligated to absorb every debate thing said on social media or else I am a bad host or doing something poorly.
I want to talk, preferably in a setting where I don’t have to type and where it can be done directly.
7. The ADA
Do the rules ruin debate? No. Is it weird there are rules written down that aren’t enforced? Yes, that should change.
Is the ADA a hegemonic organization? Not really. The most hegemonic part of debate is the interest convergence between big schools with money. Schools that do regional debate and recruit novices and don’t recruit national circuit high school kids are not on the front lines of what is hegemonic in debate.
Why do people ADA sanction their tournaments? They give a trophy out at the end as a regular season award. They have a points sweepstakes. They have formal rules for things (we have gone over why that can be good at times) and I don’t think they are completely duplicative with CEDA sanctioning (for example, ADA defines some things that CEDA doesn’t, but I haven’t done a side by side in a minute). They also have a novice packet, which is a really good idea – see above.
The anti-K language in the rules should be changed since it isn’t enforced anyway. Only seems like it could ostracize. I will dedicate some time to that.
I have also heard murmurs attacking people who are very invested in the ADA. This is really backwards. They make shit happen. They make novice debate happen. They make tournaments happen. Tournaments would likely crash and burn without their intervention (if you think tournaments are self-executing you are delusional). Tournaments need people to manage them. If one person messes up a tournament by 20 minutes, that is 20 minutes being robbed from hundreds of other people. That adds up very quickly.
I am not seeing other people volunteer to manage the biggest tournaments college debate can muster. I am not telling you to kiss the ring if you have disagreements, but thinking some of the most selfless people in the activity are the problem given the scale of the issues with college debate is beyond my comprehension.
If you thought this password had to do with K vs Policy rather than a non-debate person saying we do real debate compared to what they witnessed in the presidential debate I have a suggestion. Unplug your electronic devices, get a dog, go on a walk. You will come back more relaxed and better suited to engage on pressing debate issues.
9. Future of Online Debate
I am not really sure where people are at on this issue. The only thing I wanted to point out is that the combination of COVID and online debate is much, much different than just online debate. Another reason people like debate tournaments (besides the winning) is a sense of community. Great argument for an in-person tournament. However, I do think online debate would be a lot different without COVID-based restrictions on teams gathering. Intra-team socializing seems like it could buoy a lot of spirit in place of inter-team socializing. Just something I thought worth saying. I am not sure the people merely waiting out online debate are going to be vindicated in the end, but it could certainly be better than what has been happening in fall of 2020 due to COVID.
10. Answers to answers
Given how I opened this discussion, it is ironic I am going to end on this note of predicting what people are going to say then answering it. I am only doing this in hopes that people say something else and we can have a conversation. If people prove me wrong, great, sorry I violated my own rule.
A. You wrote this for self-aggrandizement/clout
Wrong, faithful readers of the blog (all 7 of you) know that I have gone on the record about this before. My original purpose was clout and clicks and provoking people, but I quickly got over that. The reason I blog now is because if I don’t write down the thoughts they occupy space in my brain for too long and distract me. I post them because some people say they like reading. I also post them because you can choose not to click on the posts, no one is making you.
B. You are a powerful actor and don’t do anything about anything
First, I think that is wrong. I do work to address these issues. Second, I don’t know how powerful I am. I will agree with the notion Kentucky is a successful debate program (my job is to make it so). Does that give me the ability to fiat what others do? Not really. But that isn’t an excuse for not doing enough in the past, and I am saying I want to work harder.
C. You think you are saying this shit for the first time/you are ignoring all the solutions others have proposed/you are trying to get others to do the work for you.
If there is a 5-point plan I missed which, if adopted, would fix all of debate’s problems, please link me to it and forgive me missing it instead of saying this. If that plan doesn’t exist, you are approaching the conversation like a debate round and you should stop doing that.
I do agree people have a lot of useful ideas and they were marginalized/ignored. I am attempting to bridge the gap. Folks told me that would be a useful thing for me to do.
Thanks for reading.
It has been a long hiatus for discourse fueled by musings and takes, but we are back. Something actually useful might happen in this blog post. Preseason is a unique part of the season that most people do not do well. It’s very long, but prone to distractions. You really have to do some digging to have some arguments, even if predictable ones, that are good enough to cut through all the noise that makes up the tournament, and not just ones that only work if the other team drops them (though having some of those handy helps).
One way to improve your preseason game is to think about what went right and wrong, what you did see coming and what you didn’t, and why. There is no better place for such armchair analysis. Without further ado, THE TAKES!
1. NATO Expansion Affs
Fuck these. I don’t think notable debates were decided on topicality, but this affirmative’s days seem to be numbered. If you can violate my T sensibilities (when I have pretty much none) that is saying a lot.
2. So. Much. NATO.
I believe all of the policy teams in the octa’s read some version of NATO? I guess I get it. NATO does have the critical mass of cards for the Aff, but that is also true of the Neg. I feel like debate was maybe a little too scared of the Japan Prolif DA due to previous topics. The DA about the one country that has invaded a bunch of other countries in the last 15 years doing it again after the Aff seems pretty scary to me, but what do I know.
If you have already arrived at this shorthand internally and made the couple of try hards on your team mad by saying it out loud, good work. You did at least one thing right during the preseason.
4. Explaining war and IR stuff is a wasteland
Two ideas here. The first is this idea that the Aff read an advantage that says the risk of Russia war is high now and then the onus is on the Neg to completely disprove that idea. That seems…not correct. Wars don’t really just happen, particularly great power wars in the last like 60 years.
It seems like the burden of proof should be overwhelmingly on the Aff. Where are forces gathering? What troop movements are you citing? What diplomatic signals have been sent? Oh you have no idea what I am talking about? Yeah, that could be the issue.
What results is the second idea: we devolve into buzzwords. But miscalc. But fog of war. But miscalc again. But humans have been removed from the kill chain. But spirals.
The buzzwords are what is really plaguing things. This blog has already gone on the record about revisionism and its ilk. Now Russia is a declining power and that explains everything forever. Ugh.
This is a thing that invariably happens at the first tournament, people are debating the tags and the labels and doing too much conceptual grouping and not enough specific parsing, and maybe don’t have specific enough cards yet. But the ultimate outcome is muddled debating where buzzwords stand in for useful information the judge can use to decide a debate.
5. Deterrence on the Case
If the Aff shotgunned your war impact, do all that shit on the advantage. I don’t care if you technically have an external impact. Do it on the case page. Never split between war advantage and deterrence DA. You are only human.
At the most basic level you are setting yourself to be inefficient, delaying say something on one page or repeating yourself too much.
At a deeper level by making two pages interdependent in this way, you are creating opportunities for important arguments to slip through the cracks, or for key judge instruction or explanation to get lost in translation. You are setting yourself up to fail.
6. NATO Hybrid Aff
Seems to be one where there is a distinction without a difference. Meaning, if you actually did all the stuff in the solvency cards, you would link to most of the core NATO withdrawal negative arguments. The way teams are avoiding this dilemma now is by making their plans say stuff like “don’t activate Article 5 for hybrid aggression” – and since none of these teams define hybrid aggression, they not solving the ambiguity that is the core problem described by this literature base. Classic dilemma.
Are uniqueness CP’s for deterrence and PICs if the Aff says enough in the plan the only ones worth having? To me, the first tournament indicates yes.
8. Dartmouth TV
First of all, great fucking initials. Second of all, they won 6 straight Aff elims. Very impressive.
They are idiots. No one takes them seriously. One would assume the people that post on War on the Rocks all the time would call them out every once in a while, but they never even find the time to bother (passing reference in Lanozska 20 aside).
This one has been under development in the lab for quite some time. NHP is No Hassle Presumption. It is the idea that the negative can win with a CP even if it doesn’t have a net benefit if it proves to be less hassle than the plan.
Here is an example from the high school topic:
The affirmative reforms the Capitol Police to improve transparency through FOIA. That decreases the risk of abuse ever so slightly.
The negative counters with abolishing the Capitol Police. It solves much better and it is much easier than the Aff. Much less hassle.
Here is an easy way to know you have an opening for an NHP CP. If you would describe the Aff as jumping through hoops…there is a way to do it with less hassle.
For instance on the college topic instead of burden sharing the US just pays them. That’s NHP.
I will say that there are MANY judges open to this line of argument, but I WILL NOT tell you who they are. You are just going to have to try it and find out.
11. Questions to consider
Just some things to think about if you want your next preseason to go better than this one.
By Anthony Trufanov
In every aspect of being a 2A, there are two structuring levels: the tactical level (what cards to read in what order, whether or not to make a theory argument, what advantage to extend in the 2AR – what you do with the tools you have brought to the debate) and the strategic level (which tools you choose to bring to the debate in the first place). Today I’ll talk about the first strategic question any 2A has to answer – which AFF to bring to a debate or tournament, and how to decide. This will be the first of several resources in the pipeline that will blend general advice with a practical illustration by offering a glimpse into the black box of AFF-writing, unpacking the process I will use to produce my GDDI starter pack AFF for the criminal justice topic in written and video form.
Part 1 – Being a 2A: A Theorization
Throughout your debate career you have probably heard many different “rules” and “principles” for what a good AFF should do. You may have been told that it is “better” to write an AFF that is “true.” You may have heard that your 1AC should place more emphasis on robust internal links than on well-developed, plausible terminal impacts. You might believe that only “high quality” evidence belongs in the 2AC. You may write off “squirrely” AFFs because you believe that it is better to leverage evidence from the core of the topic against negative positions. You might assume that solvency cards from books are inherently better than those from random articles on the internet. You might hold as axiomatic that your AFF needs to have an “angle” in a clash of civilizations debate.
There is a time and a place for all of these principles and pieces of advice, but none of it amounts to an overarching philosophy that you should carry into your AFF-writing if you are trying to maximize your AFF win-rate.
Instead, you should follow a much simpler principle: To maximize your win-rate, every decision you make must improve your odds of winning by more than the alternatives.
You probably think this statement is self-evident while simultaneously not realizing or adhering to its fullest implications. Keeping this statement in the back of your mind will help you remember that any other “rule,” “best practice,” or otherwise that you may have been taught to follow is not an end in itself – instead, it is an approximation for the pattern of behavior that is likely to produce the most wins the majority of the time.
This principle should not be treated as a blank check to substitute your judgement for the judgement of those more experienced than you. Brutal, honest self-reflexiveness is a vital element of implementing this advice. Part of that means acknowledging if, all else being equal, a decision recommended by your coach is going to be better than a decision you make yourself 95% of the time. Part of that means recognizing what you don’t know. Part of that means reckoning honestly with your limitations as a debater and preparing in ways that help you overcome those limitations in the long-run while minimizing their effect in the short-run. Part of that means that when your first draft of a 1AC serves up a pile of slop and a mentor or judge tells you to burn it down and start over, you have the courage and humility to shed your pride, look at your work through their eyes, and make improvements.
But this idea should also be used to remind yourself not to die on ideological hills when doing so requires a trade-off with winning debates. No belief should be above scrutiny. If you have over-highlighted a 2AC card to the point of regularly undercovering vital offensive arguments because you are proud of how good it is, change the highlighting. If you have under-highlighted all of your cards so you can make 30 answers to a DA and keep losing because your cards don’t say anything, you should highlight them more.
It should also be used to remind you that few principles will apply to an equal extent in every round. If we assumed away limits to debate preparation and fact retention, the ideal 2A would never read the same 1AC twice – not simply because novelty is inherently good (it isn’t – like everything else, novelty has a time and a place), but because the best version of every 1AC is the one that takes advantage of a NEG team’s argumentative proclivities.
In short, never do something uncritically. Always ask: why am I doing this, and how does it help me win?
With that in mind, let’s get into the concrete aspects. I will not spell out the effects of every possible contingency because there are too many and doing so could fill a book. Instead, these examples should serve to illustrate the sort of questions you need to ask yourself, and how those questions might inform your AFF strategy.
Know Your Goals
One question that’s important to ask yourself explicitly concerns your goals for debate, and what you want to get out of it. Not everyone approaches debate from a win-maximizing perspective. If you are doing debate for friends or clout, that is perfectly fine. But if that is the case, pretending to yourself and others that you are primarily in it to win it can only hurt you by siphoning finite energy from the outcomes you care about into those that you don’t.
People who claim to literally ONLY care about maximizing wins are deceiving themselves – wins alone do not produce fulfillment and they do not justify the inordinate amount of time investment it takes to get them. Everyone has competing priorities and obligations – that is good and healthy.
What we are talking about is how to extract the best competitive outcomes from whatever intellectual and emotional bandwidth you are willing and able to invest, given the constraints you choose to set for yourself. Your precise preferred balance of debate work and other parts of your life can have a big effect on what advice you can implement and what advice you cannot.
This requires being realistic. If you are prepping to win the TOC, realistically you should show up to the tournament with 3-4 completed new AFFs tailored against specific opponents or categories of opponents. If you are prepping to clear, you need 1-2. Writing three or four AFFs will reduce your odds of clearing relative to writing one or two, because writing the third and fourth trades off with polishing the first and second. If your goals are in the 1-2 range, you will probably do worse if you lie to yourself and overshoot.
Obviously, people can over or underperform their goals no matter how self-aware they are. Tournaments are unpredictable; that’s part of what makes them fun. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t gains to be had from prepping in a way that takes advantage of the most likely outcomes.
Know Your Limits
Who you are as a debater, student, and young adult should shape your choice of AFF.
How much time are you willing to put in over the course of the season? Enough to have a new AFF for your prospective season-long nemesis every time you debate? A new advantage? Just enough to write a single 1AC that you will never update again? The responses your AFF will draw the first time your opponent sees it will likely differ radically from the responses it draws the second or third time. The first time it is read, an AFF written for the long-haul might be less likely to win than a “worse” AFF designed to take maximum advantage of surprise. An AFF written to win one debate that ends up lasting for four tournaments because you got lazy is likely to produce worse results than if you had been honest with yourself and written something with endurance.
Are you the kind of debater who is good at picking up a file for the first time and giving a great speech about it five minutes later, or are you the kind of debater who achieves greatness through dozens of rounds of practice? The first kind of debater will be able to take greater advantage of rotating through new arguments. The second kind of debater will be able to take greater advantage of commanding the details of an idea they explore over the course of the season.
Is a team that is way better than you reading the same AFF as you, and consistently choosing an impact that you aren’t? It could be that they are getting lucky or winning despite their choices. It could be that they know something you don’t.
Are you a sophomore who can’t research but wants to learn? Read an AFF that requires you to research.
Is early March before the TOC the first time you are writing a file by yourself? You should not expect to win TOC elims on the first argument you produce. Your time is better spent polishing what you know, scouting, pillaging the wiki, and highlighting.
Are you a slower or faster spreader than your competition? If you are slower, do speaking drills, and in the meantime, choose an AFF that forces your opponents into arguments that limit their ability to abuse their speed advantage, like topicality or theory-intensive counterplans. If you are faster, still do speaking drills, and choose an AFF that puts a sea of cards at your disposal.
What parts of the topic interest you? If you’re personally interested in something, you will be more invested in researching it and more passionate in talking about it, as well as generally knowing more about it than your opponents. If feeling engaged by your work has a big effect on your productivity, choose an AFF that gives you VTL when you read about it.
Know Your Opponents
If you have decided that you are willing and able to do AFF prep in a way that targets specific opponents, you have your work cut out for you. The same questions that you would use to diagnose and preempt your weaknesses can help you discover and exploit your opponents’.
The most common genre of weakness is argumentative dependence or predictability. Does your opponent always read a politics DA and not extend it? Choose an AFF that gives you the option to straight turn it.
Does your opponent always throw out similar analytical advantage CPs (throw money at x, ban y, nuke z)? Think of the most likely ones about your AFF and preempt them through highlighting, evidence selection, and block-writing.
Do your opponent’s 1NC vs new AFFs always include three process CPs that compete off of a similar premise? Script out a response and save yourself some 2AC time.
Are you favored to win against your opponent, and by how much? If you have a 5-0 season head-to-head record, reading an AFF that improves your chances only if the 1NC presents a very specific argument that the NEG has only said 70% of the time would be unwise. Choose a less risky strategy. If you have an 0-5 record, roll the dice.
Putting this idea into practice doesn’t require writing a different AFF for every team – for any reasonable pool, that is an unreasonable expectation. Instead, it requires targeting categories of teams – slow teams, T-dependent teams, politics-reliant teams, etc.
You can even do this if you read one AFF all season. Modularizing your 2AC and 1AR blocks allows you to tailor argument length and selection in a way that responds to the NEG’s preferences.
Know Your Prefs and Your Judges
A lot of ink has been spilled on judge adaptation in the context of individual debates. What is less discussed is judge adaptation that occurs before you see a pairing and go to a tournament.
In the same way that you can categorize opponents by their attributes, you can categorize judges. Suppose you are targeting a team. You can look at who has judged your debates against them, and their debates against teams like you. If you both travel to roughly the same national circuit tournaments it is likely to be a recurring cast of characters.
Suppose 40% of this group taught at the UM camp and the UM groupthink du jour says that the states CP is illegitimate. It may be worth prepping an AFF with a worse response to the States CP, or a version of your States CP 2AC with a heavier emphasis on theory, so that you can take advantage of the opportunity if it arises.
Suppose 60% are college judges who have no idea what the topic is. Avoid super technical AFFs. Also think about avoiding the core of the topic in general, since getting people who know nothing about a topic to vote on T is harder when they are not programmed by community norms.
These are just some examples. Your answers to different questions about yourself, your opponents, and your judges may lead you in contradictory directions. The point is that there is no ONE answer to these questions that applies to everyone, or even to every debate.
Know Your Argument
In every second of speech time, you have one mission: choosing words that maximize the positive impact on the judge’s decision-making. This begins in the 1AC.
One question to ask is about 1AC structure. Is there a greater premium on selling the narrative of your ADVs, or on maximizing card-reading time? Either way, there is no single best tag for a card – each tag is additive, building on those that came before, and laying groundwork for those that come after. In a narratively driven 1AC, your tags have to tell a story that evolves as the 1AC progresses. In a card-text-maximizing 1AC, you may wish to minimize repetition through devices such as lists or omission of warrants.
Your card selection should also be contextual. Too often, debaters lean heavily on a generic set of impact evidence. But – for example – there is no single best impact card to proliferation. There might be a card that is the best at explaining why nuclear proliferation would be very bad. But if your internal link to stopping prolif is sanctions, your bigger issue is the intuitive judge reaction that sanctions have a poor track record at preventing nuclearization. You would be better served by a prolif card that describes a harm proportional to your sanctions internal link, and explains why specific types or examples of prolif are suited to resolution by sanctions in a way that recent examples like North Korea are not.
If you are reading a pre-2020 impact to economic decline in your 1AC, you are doing it wrong. You need a piece of evidence that anticipates and preempts the coronavirus objection by saying a further decline would be worse. If you do not have that you are wasting your and everyone else’s time.
Are you planning to rely on the robustness of your impact evidence in a 2AR against a K? Highlight the parts of the evidence that speak to the methodology behind your impact card.
Part 2 – Choosing My GDDI Starter Pack AFF
At this point, I am going to get specific, and talk about how I went about choosing my starter pack AFF for the GDDI.
Obviously, a lot of the above does not play a role. I am not writing this AFF for myself, for a specific opponent, or for a specific judge. There are pedagogical imperatives at play. However, it is still worth talking through some of the relevant strategic decisions to be made.
The first step is to know something about the topic. Do some background reading. Do some broad searches. Refer to camp topic lectures, camp files, and camp T files, but don’t defer to them.
Generate a mental map of NEG responses to the topic. What do they have in common? What are the best arguments? The worst?
Write down your thinking at each stage. Track what you learn and what ideas occur to you. Your memory is not as good as you think it is.
From like two hours of googling the topic as well as general debate intuition, I have a rough idea about some T arguments that might be a thing:
- T “Enact” = Congress
- T Criminal Justice = Criminal Justice System
- T Criminal Justice Reform = Softening
- T Policing = Local
- T Policing = Cops Not Other Regs
- T Sentencing = Systematic
- Did not care enough about forensic science to google it in the first two hours
Some primary flavors of generics seem to have emerged as well:
- Flavors of States CP (don’t really know what these are yet other than just states do the AFF vs federal mandate AFFs) + Federalism DA
- Process CPs that compete off of “enact” – definitely agent CPs, I have a vague notion that this word will be a really good process word for the NEG generally so having a strong process defense will be important
- 2020 DA
- Abolition K / Movements DA
- Legalism K
- Something about agency overstretch… idk what but NEGs will find a way
- The classic NEG vs courts swamp but maybe better cause courts AFFs will be about rights
Assess the relative quality of these positions and how it will shape your preparation. This requires some research. Once the regular season starts you can get some idea of the answer based on what went down at camps. I am relying a lot on my knowledge about the world/experience in debate.
I am worried about kritiks of reformism and incrementalism. This slate of policy NEG options sucks – some creativity and actual NEGs will be necessary, and I am not optimistic that most people can/will make that happen. I think it might be bad enough that even teams that would never typically go the K route will be forced to do so by the nature of the topic. I want some ability to throw a wrinkle into the general reformism formula.
I am also worried about states and federalism. I remember learning on the surveillance topic that the vast majority of policing and sentencing occurs at the state level, so solving stuff comprehensively/at scale will require a lot of preemption. Seems to hard counter any AFF that preempts the states in order to make them do something. I know from AP gov that state police powers is a phrase that describes a lot of state powers and has spillovers to some important areas like public health, which is a big deal right now. An actual doctrinal spillover argument is always a recipe for great federalism impacts.
T “enact” seems good. That word has historically been used successfully to exclude non-Congress AFFs. Some Congress key arguments will be important.
T “sentencing” = systematic seems okay. One of my first thoughts when reading the resolution had been that decriminalizing anything would be T. I still kind of think the groupthink will arrive there, but I’m gonna table that idea pending a better reading of community norms.
T “policing” seems terrible. The T cards I have read make me think that limiting the scope of that will be difficult. There are very broad, strongly worded interpretation cards. The community might settle on wanting badly to find a limit, but this seems like the kind of thing where the AFF will be allowed to get away with a lot in practice.
A few others of these positions are not scary, but I can reliably anticipate them being in a lot of 1NCs. There will be a premium on writing an AFF that can exploit this, whether through a quick dismissal that generates a time asymmetry, or that can generate a unique genre of offense. Not really possible to operationalize at this preliminary stage but a thing to stay on the lookout for. I am primarily looking to do this to the politics DA and the 2020 DA.
Well, at least there’s an easy way to circumvent the states swamp: just write an AFF about federal agency criminal justice. I do some further googling and it quickly becomes obvious that saying policing is only local is totally untenable.
Also, there are a lot of super aggro cards saying policing and police are different? About how private police do policing? How policing includes just like caring about the general well-being of the public? This seems like it would require a pretty broad T interp… but also it is too galaxy brain for a starter pack. Putting a pin in this.
As a side-note, I’m about six hours of searches in at this point. Settling on an AFF idea typically takes me about half of the time that it takes to write the actual AFF, unless the AFF just falls in my lap.
In this case I get lucky, and the AFF kind of does fall in my lap. I’m an avid listener of the National Security Law Podcast, and a recent episode discussed what Trump has recently described as “Obamagate” – FBI surveillance of a Trump campaign worker, Carter Page, under the purview of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. One of the podcast’s hosts, Steve Vladeck, mentioned an ACLU proposal to reform criminal prosecutions reliant on FISA-derived evidence as a means of exerting what he called “hydraulic pressure” on the intelligence-gathering process to be more diligent about record-keeping. I read an AFF about intelligence politicization at my last NDT and know that there are strong Congress key arguments for resolving intelligence politicization, and that such AFFs are great at generating link offense against politics. Because this is a federal process AFF, there are good, built-in states CP answers. As for the K, there are tons of arguments for why surveillance reform is necessary to open space for critical alternatives, which can be offense when coupled with defenses of engaging the legal system.
I say that I got lucky that an AFF fell in my lap, but I get lucky pretty often. I read a lot. I have seen many AFFs deployed and thought about their strengths and weaknesses. Since 2014, I have written 47 AFFs encompassing 10 topics. Commonalities and lessons frequently inform my more recent work. My intuitive read on whether something “is a thing” has gotten reasonably good.
However, a few things worry me based on my experience with AFFs in this genre. First, while intelligence politicization is a great impact, credibly solving it is very difficult. You have to affect Trump’s behavior in a predictable way – a baseline improbable proposition considering he is a total freak. Second, this AFF is mostly not about criminal justice – it is about using criminal justice to affect the FBI. There had better be a beefy set of reasons not to just alter FBI process directly. Third is T. We are talking about prosecutors – is that policing? My hunch is yes because I don’t think policing means anything, but answering this question will be among the first things on my plate. With any luck I’ll be able to say it is sentencing too.
Tune in next time to see how I begin to address these problems.
I have an external hard drive that is mainly used for storing old debate videos. I had this debate in .VOB which I think is some sort of old digital DVD format. Converted to mp4 and merged the 4 files together. A great debate including four all time debaters. I think the 1AR is one of the best speeches I have ever heard.
I now work with the author of the 1AC (Casey). Most 2007 files don't really hold up since the internet and technology have gotten so much better, but this 1AC is really close to what we think is a modern iteration.
Hope you enjoy the blast from the past!
I am Lincoln, head coach at UK . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.