An entire topic’s worth of takes in one post? Let’s get to it.
However, I always have to say (one would think people have gotten the drill by now) how these posts need to be read. I am not dunking on 16-year-olds. I am here to give props where I think people earn them and to tell people how to do debate better. It is ultimately just my opinion, though if you look at the scoreboard in high school and college since September 2018 you might see a common theme that warrants listening.
Bad Camp Affs Means Nothing
High school policy debate is very interesting given the existence of debate camp and its evolution with open evidence project. The spirit of open source is great. What people do with the information is not great.
What you see on the NDCA evidence project means very little. Where did these files come from? One to eight students spend like a week researching. Adults chip in sparingly. Oversight is aggressively ad hoc and filtering for quality is avoided in favor of publishing everything to preserve feelings. Argument selection and strategic choices are deemphasized in favor of brute force card-cutting. The end result is usually a poorly thought out pile of slop.
I think smarter teams know this. They probably do try to look at files, take out good cards and delete bad ones. However, what I think is happening is that people see a file of all slop and conclude that area is trash.
The other thing at work at camps is people are saving their best ideas and arguments for the regular season. This pretty much guarantees the camp version will never arrive at the best version of anything.
The livestream chat of the semifinals and finals of the TOC is instructive on this. MBA read an aff that conditioned sales to Mexico on human rights accountability. The chat couldn’t believe a conditions aff was being read (more on this later). The camp files on Mexico were all about guns going into Mexico. Camp did conclude (correctly) that this version of a Mexico aff sucks because there is no good way to control the flow of guns into Mexico.
That isn’t the aff we read. “Lots of guns in Mexico” doesn’t matter because the internal link is about justice systems being able to hold human rights violators accountable. These systems solve corruption better too, so it solves advantage 2. Turns out there was a Mexico aff after all.
We read drones in finals. The chat opened the 1AC and said “wow, this is like not that bad.” Of course it is not that bad! It is the finals of the TOC. We weren’t planning to win it with slop. Everyone thought China fill-in zapped the aff because that was true of the poorly thought-out camp version . However, we had several China models the plan cards, cards that say China’s drones suck/countries have buyer’s remorse, and impact scenarios not implicated by fill-in. Another instance of folks writing off an area for no real reason.
Aff Selection Was Terrible
I do not understand this. Usually high schoolers are very reliable at not defending the biggest Affs and avoiding links. The exact opposite seemed to happen on this topic. People read Saudi Arabia and Taiwan for so many debates. I like big Affs so that part was cool.
It doesn’t make it strategic though. The Aff should have simply dominated this topic. The fact that you could proliferate single country and/or conditions affs in combination with politics being terrible meant the Aff should have never lost an important debate.
What Aff teams decided to do instead was read arguments that linked to reasonable DA’s like assurance. Why so many Japan and Europe affs? Why Saudi Arabia and Taiwan for the entire year? Why India? That is not to say any of these areas were on-face terrible. You could craft strategic versions. The point is you didn’t have to bother, you could have read things that linked to absolutely nothing.
Process affs also missed the mark because they never had any reason why reducing the sale was key to any of the process-based offense.
The four kind of affs you should have been hunting for:
a. we should completely break up with a country that is not an ally
b. the US is forcing this sale on the country, the country doesn’t really want it, the sale does bad stuff/trades off with other things.
If you just rotated through the above you probably would never lose.
People Give You Big Affs But You Don’t Innovate? Shame!
The Neg really compounded the error. I hate it when people complain about Neg ground. One part of it is agenda DA nostalgia when those debates weren’t that hot. The other part, which reveals the bullshit of the opinion, is when given an aff you can really sink your teeth into and Neg the hell out of it, people didn’t fucking do it.
There were five pretty prominent areas: Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Japan, Europe (mainly BMD) and India. The Neg innovation across these areas was terrible.
First, you don’t have to always go for the assurance DA. You could cut other stuff. Shout out to Westminster. They had a clear pulse on this front. They broke many new Neg arguments across these areas.
Second, when you do read the assurance DA you can provide variety. Similar to how you read new impacts on the Aff hoping the Neg drops them, throwing Aff teams curveballs is a good way to win more. Wadsworth 19 and the re-reading of said card is not the gold fucking standard.
Why So Much Saudi Arabia?
I didn’t do debate camp this summer. I started a little slower and behind. I thought Saudi Arabia would be a good aff based on the college military presence. Then I read all the camp files. Then I did a little searching. Then I gave up on that assessment. I became a Taiwan guy. You saw how that worked out.
I just don’t get the appeal. Yemen war escalates? Sucks. Could you read a bunch of advantages? Not really. Did people figure out the relations DA? Didn’t seem like it.
I will concede Neg innovation on this front was basically non-existent. I know some people who claim to be deep in the Saudi lit disagree with me on this, but I just thought this area was Neg-leaning and Negs did the least innovating here.
Naming T After the Author. Again.
I swear on all that is holy if we do this shit again next year, I am going to lose it. Not only is calling T by an author name always stupid (which has been going on for four years now) this iteration was the worst. T-Pearson (a stupid name) was the worst staple T argument in the last 5 years.
This was in EVERY 1NC. Like I will give you a $100 if you show me a 1NC speech doc against a policy aff that did not have this card in it.
The odds of winning on this argument were ZERO. It was fucking terrible. There is no way on God’s green Earth this is the way the topic should work. You would have done more productive work filling the speech with variations of SPEC arguments.
Conditions: No One Knew Anything
The Aff could definitely condition sales. This was a butt crush T wise. There were many many viable countries. I think HR condition all arms sales and Egypt were the only two camp affs that conditioned sales. A crime to the notion of previewing the topic.
Condition affs would have been better debate. Positive vs negative. State department resources becomes a real factor. Relations DA’s. Spillover DA’s about countries thinking they are next. That would have been reasonable debate.
Condition CP’s need real net benefits with real impacts. You can’t just read we should leverage the Aff and call it a CP. You have to complete the strategy. Don’t think anyone ever did.
Taiwan Was Good. Not That Good.
BM lost one debate with the Taiwan aff to spark. That was it.
We highlighted three things differently compared to camp. First, Heer 19 and structural parity arguments. Nobody ever answered this part. It was supposed to be sneaky the first couple tournaments, not all year. Second, good relations solve war/encroachment. This is where not innovating on the Neg and only going for deterrence/assurance bit you. You forgot what you were taught on the China topic about such an argument. Third, Yoder 19, concessions now are good because we can still contain later. Revealing Chinese thinking though a concession is key. It obviously paired very well with structural parity. Nobody answered this part either.
Blamo! Doing a couple of targeted reforms can also cause you to have really high winning rates.
Stop Reading CP’s Without Cards
It isn’t smart. It makes you look dumb. Things that you can’t beat a good team on that make you look dumb when you do them should be avoided. I am not saying don’t read CP’s based in 1AC evidence. That can be smart. I am talking about the advantage CP you think “is smart.” I am talking about reading con con with no evidence. Stop it.
Wiki is Garbage. Please Fix.
I promise high school debate would be a lot better if everyone was open source. It doesn’t tradeoff with winning (MBA the last 4 years proves). It makes it so much better. If you only post cites, you suck, sorry. If you don’t post every round, also sucky. Get with the program.
Stop Reading Double-Digit Off
I am sure you could trace this trend to who did it first to make it cool. It is really, really stupid. First, you aren’t even really doing it because you are inflating the total with stupid procedurals and no card CP’s that don’t make any sense. It is not like you have 10+ things that are unique, actually link and provide a path to win all at the same time.
It also seems to just melt the brains of the Neg. I would hope in a world where a judge would instantly vote against you if you read more than 8 you would spend your time coming up with 8 that didn’t suck, and you would answer the case. That’s what we are looking for. 7 to 8 real arguments and answering the case. You can even do it against new affs if you prepare well. Give it a try.
2A’s—if you are a real debater you should practice against this double digit off scenario. The first time you might copy and paste 10 2AC blocks and try to read straight down. That time is going to suck. What you need to do:
a. figure out how you can answer multiple pages with the same argument
b. streamline redundancies, mainly on T and CP theory stuff
c. swap long cards for shorter cards
d. When you read a card in the 2AC that should mean you can read a lot more in the 1AR if the block collapses and win a debate on that argument. If you read a card and it doesn’t meet that standard, you are fucking up.
e. Make smart analytics that completely answer an argument.
f. straight turn the throw away stuff
g. make analytics you can read cards on later.
Practice that a few times and this lots of off strategy melts away. It also has the added benefit of if you write blocks like this and the Neg reads a reasonable number of off the 2AC can drop the hammer with double digit distinct answers. This is contrary to the current industry standard of six total answers, maybe four of which are different.
People seem to be writing 2ACs, but I am not sure they know exactly what that entails. Your goal should be to say the Neg is wrong. It shouldn’t be to “be skeptical” about the Neg. It shouldn’t be to nitpick the Neg. It shouldn’t be to read cards that tangentially relate to the Neg. You should read cards that address the thesis of the Neg argument and say it is incorrect. Offensive arguments would be cool too.
You research all the possible answers you could make to a thing. You then rank them in order of goodness. You then think about what the Neg is going to say in response. You then figure out what in total you need to win the argument evidence-wise. You then figure out how to distribute that evidence between the 1AC/2AC/1AR so as to not drop other important stuff while setting up the 1AR’s ability to choose and vertically develop 2AC arguments
You do this again and again for every Aff you write until the end of time. It is the 2A life. It is not for everyone. Don’t half-ass it though. That’s no fun for anyone.
New Age Debate Memes
If you ever interact with other speech and debate events, you figure out pretty quickly that they have their own lingo and they sound funny. I am sure if your parents hear you talk about policy debate, they think you sound like a freak. In my debating time the big risk was you would use too much debate jargon substituting for real arguments. A dead giveaway for someone like this is if they ever say the phrase internal link turn earnestly. Debate has rotted their brain.
I don’t think debate-specific jargon is the real issue recently. The issue is people have taken academic-sounding phrases and turned them into memes and buzzwords. Speeches are lacking in any real substance because it is full of words like miscalc, escalate, sacred commitments, revisionism, etc.
You aren’t actually saying anything. This gets really funny when the archetypical 2N stands up in CX and asks “what countries would go to war” and then crickets. Or the Aff says some countries and then 2N raises an eyebrow and asks “geez idk, wars cost a lot why would they do that?” Then crickets again.
I don’t fault anyone for debating like this. The subjects at hand are very complex and folks are just high schoolers after all. Also, good teams sound like this so I should sound like this, I get it. One of the best ways to win college debates fast as you transition is learning more about the world so you can call out bullshit. People in college basically self-filter out crap arguments because the other side reliably points out the weakness. This is not the case in high school. There is a big win percentage edge to be gained if you can do this.
A corollary to this is: rehearse explaining your shit. Practicing real CX’s against a coach should still be a thing. Knowing who would go to war and why is a real thing you need to explain. “Somebody miscalcs and it escalates cuz nationalism and sacred commitments” is drivel.
Dan has been mad about the following point in high school and college all year. Here is his take below:
Judging debates that revolved around this premise was unspeakably bad for my value to life. I’m not really sure how it started, but someone at camp told everyone that the surest way to win a debate was to spam as many cards as possible regarding whether or not China/Russia was “revisionist”.
It seemed like the following argument became a generic DA on the topic that everyone took seriously: Card 1 – china is revisionist and evil, Card 2 – nuke war. This was awful. Whoever told you this at camp should be held publicly responsible for the damage they’ve done to the community’s collective intelligence. It seemed like every debate I judged about Taiwan included 6 cards on each side about whether China was “revisionist”, and the team that won the debate was the team that read the most.
This is totally ridiculous – “revisionism” isn’t some permanent and fixed category that determines every action a state will take, it’s a strategy that certain actors within certain states sometimes utilize for specific goals. Whether or not powerful actors within China, for example, will take “revisionist” actions regarding the plan is entirely a question of link evidence and arguments. This was the real tragedy about these debates – both sides read usually 1 or less link cards, but read a million revisionism cards!
NONE OF IT MATTERS without detailed and specific link/internal link debating. And even then – states can want to “revise” the global order and still make security-based calculations in their regional spheres of influence that are entirely separated from their “revisionist” global ambitions – so winning that China is “revisionist” vs the Taiwan F-16s aff means basically nothing absent link evidence connecting F-16 sales to broader Chinese adventurism (and evidence saying such a thing is bad for strategic stability). If you were one of the people who told kids this was a thing at camp, you should feel bad for misleading everyone.
The TOC was High Caliber
People brought their A game. It seemed liked entourages were easier to access because people had time and it was cheap (no travel) so people could focus more on the args. Nobody who showed up slouched.
Special congrats to Kent Denver. Closing out a quarterfinal at the TOC is a monumental accomplishment for a program.
Thank you to all the folks who popped in to judge as hires. It might have been for the cash, but I think the more likely explanation is your love of the game. You helped create some of the most preferred panels in TOC history.
High School History
102-5. Won New Trier, St. Marks, Glenbrooks RR, Emory, CPS RR, Berkeley and the TOC. Finals of Ghill RR, Ghill and Glenbrooks. Won 49 straight debates since the finals of Glenbrooks. Didn’t lose in the second semester. I am open to suggestions of a team that had a more dominant single season in high school history compared to MBA BM.
Aden made it to the TOC 4 times. He was in the Quarters, Semifinals, Finals and Champion.
Aden as a freshman was 4-0 vs Peninsula TW and McDonough JN, the two TOC finalists that year.
During his sophomore (education), junior (immigration) and senior (arms sales) topic, Aden did the following:
Won: the Ghill RR (2x), New Trier, St. Marks (2x), Michigan (2x), Glenbrooks RR (3x), MBA, Pace RR, Emory (2x), Cal RR (2x), Pine Crest, Berkeley (2x), NDCA and the TOC.
Finals: Ghill RR, Ghill (2x), Glenbrooks, the TOC.
He set the record for Baker points his junior year and then broke it his senior year.
If anyone wants to offer up a more accomplished high school debater, I am listening. The fact that he continued to have the fire and remained inclusive of teammates and so humble is astonishing. I have flexed way more in this post than Aden has probably done in his entire life.
It has been incredible to be able to help him these last 4 years. I won’t forget it.
I am Lincoln, retired debate coach . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.