College debate is funny and weird in how discussions about it go down. Nobody likes to say anything in too public of a setting. It is either because transparency is viewed as a strategic liabiltiy or people are worried about internet opinions getting litigated in rounds. So what is left is saying everything in an adversarial format dominated by technicalities and offense/defense. Then judges may be candid after the round, but they might not. They may tailor what they say to the audience and share more genuine opinions in a more private setting.
This obviously sucks for two reasons. First, people have opinions about what are good and bad arguments and approaches to debate, but they don't refine them by exposing them to a wider group of people beyond their preferred clique. Second, we really can talk about debate in a way where people don't feel awkward or heated, but it is a muscle that requires development.
This is all a long way of saying that I have some takes from the Gonzaga tournament, I am going to say them out loud, this may be outside the norm and I do not give a fuck.
1. Pacific Northwest + Blackbird
I want to thank the Gonzaga crew for hosting a great tournament. The weather and scenery were incredible. I know Harvard is going to put on a good show next year, but Gonzaga may have some natural advantages that are hard to overcome.
One in particular is the restaurant Blackbird right next to the tournament hotel. It is GOOD. Bacon fat popcorn, deviled eggs, cheese fries, pulled pork, brisket, buttermilk pie, peach fruit crisp, huckleberry lemonade. . .they make all kinds of food and they do it all INCREDIBLY.
2. War Inevitable Strategies
These are mostly the AFF's fault for not being prepared. Whether it is through poor 1AC construction or not knowing exactly what to put in the 2AC it is the affirmative team that is making these strategies look better than they are. The biggest issue is when the NEG says a war is inevitable, the AFF better answer that.
I think this gets missed because it requires a different class of "impact defense." Your typical no China war card is not going to implicate status competition escalates. I would suggest adding "peaceful coexistence" to your impact defense run when you go about researching wars with countries the US thinks are adversaries.
Other ideas: care more about the nuclear taboo, don't make your 1AC internal links too narrow, cut cards that say don't trust war mongers, say blowing each other up is not sufficient to resolve the reasons they said war inevitable (kind of like how you say degrowth fails when someone is de-deving you).
3. Shortening Zivitosky to Ziv or Zivy
Hell no, get that out of here.
4. Vertical Debates are Hard for the AFF
When I say vertical debates I mean the ones that are not many pieces of paper, multiple links, some of those links have their own impacts, NEG has more than one card that says "we get offense, but the AFF doesn't." This is contrasted with horizontal debates which is spread out across many pieces of paper and not much is being said on any given one.
This is hard for the AFF. They don't happen as often. They place high burdens on the 2AC and 1AR. 2AC's aren't used to making so many viable threads of argument. 1AR’s are not used to talking about NEG evidence as much as is required in these situations. 1AC construction sometimes hurts the AFF here too with not enough impacts or too many stemming from the same internal link.
Pre-tournament prep is the main remedy. The military topic had a lot of these with deterrence, healthcare topic with economy and blowing up other countries on this topic. AFFs need to pay the necessary attention to detail.
5. Vertical Debates are Boring for the NEG
Let’s be real, your position is not fancy enough or have enough moving parts to justify the block being like 2 or 3 pieces of paper (including talking about AFF advantages). These debates are littered with repetition and cards that qualify as more evidence and not really adding anything unique. One 2NR world in the block SUCKS.
6. Michigan GW and Berkeley FG
They kick ass. They put me on email chains proactively without me asking. There is plenty of room on this bandwagon if other teams want to hop on. If these two teams want to yell at 1A’s they debate to include me on chains that would be sick too.
I will not rest until I am just on every chain without having to ask. I at least have goal to keep striving towards.
7. 2:15 Decision Time
It is good. Through the first three tournaments of the year I think days are ending noticeably earlier. Debaters need to do more to cooperate. You have to use the last minutes of prep to set up emails and stands. Stop taking random bathroom and water breaks, you can manage that better. Put together your post round docs much faster. Some debates by the time I received docs I had 20ish minutes. Other ones I had 30+. So it can be all upside for how tournaments run if people focus.
8. Interesting AFF Choices
Two intriguing set of decisions:
First, UNLV HS. Being the sanctions good team is funny. Coming from the squad that has the “starting wars” team I enjoy a unique ethos. Why the Iran AFF is not being read is beyond me. It is very good. Read it twice, went 2-0. Korea was ok, not bad but not great. China island building sanctions was obviously flying too close to the sun. Can’t win em all. Unless you read the Iran AFF.
Second, UGA AR in the octas of Gonzaga. Debating a trade team breaks a trade AFF. However, UGA AR and RS are something like 20-2 with the NSA’s AFF. AR switched back in quarters against Michigan and won with NSA’s. What was the process behind that octa’s decision I wonder?
9. Trade Sucks. Long Live Deference
Can we please start having deference debates now so the NDT doesn’t get stupid because no one knows how legal stuff works? Please!
10. Why flip NEG?
We flipped NEG against Liberty HT and right after that the question was posed as to why? I said because being NEG is fun. This argument usually goes why would you flip NEG if you have nothing to say. At first blush that makes sense, but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
Framework says there is a good way to debate, the AFF deviates from that which makes it worse than other alternatives. That is an argument about why the AFF is bad. People can flip NEG to say the AFF is bad, that’s the point.
This idea also begs the question of whether the NEG has a link, and of topicality in general. If one could move far outside the topic to nullify ground and no one could flip NEG to call it out, that would compound the advantage by guaranteeing that one team gets NEG debates forever. Obviously debating about degrees removed from the topic and what is reasonable is a better option.
Also, being NEG is fun and shouldn’t be discouraged. The epitome of debate is thwarting the new AFF which can only happen on the NEG. People should flip NEG all the time.
11. Topical Versions of the AFF
I will talk more about this at length another time but for now I have two points. One, people care way more about this on the AFF and NEG than they should. Like way way too much. Two, saying topical version of the AFF or TVA for short makes everything sound dumber. I hate TVA. I hate how mainstream it is. I hate how much it colors people’s thinking. And I hate how it is probably way too late for me to do anything about it.
12. New AFF’s
They sucked. And that isn’t me just saying that. Like they lost a lot:
1. Cal’s conflict of interest AFF lost to Harvard.
2. Harvard’s China NFU lost to BT.
3. UNLV’s China sanctions AFF lost to Berkeley and UGA AR
4. Emory’s consult Congress trade AFF (which I can only assume was new because they lost the file in the preseason and found it before the semi’s) did work against UGA AR but not in the finals.
5. UGA AR’s nondel trade AFF did win the octa’s
6. Michigan GW’s Brand X AFF did win the octas against NU BY.
Pretty mixed bag. 2A’s need to step their game up.
If you have any takes from the Gonzaga tournament I would love to hear them.
Some things are hard to figure out without a second person there to point out mistakes and provide guidance. The issue is you are with yourself, your thoughts and your speeches a much larger portion of time than you are with someone who is smarter than you and wants to help you out.
Do not despair. Here are some methods and benchmarks you can employ to judge and improve your speeches on your own.
1. Record Yourself
I am not starting off with particularly novel advice, but it is still very effective. Helps with clarity and smoothing out clumsy delivery like no other. Attempting to flow yourself is not just a question of delivery. It also implicates how you structure and phrase your ideas which is much more substantive than the yes/no question of whether the judge can hear your words. If they are hard to write down the judge has less time to appreciate the full nuance of your argument.
2. Ask Why
When you write an extension of an argument ask yourself why the statement you wrote is true. If the reason is not contained in the statement or the very next sentence you have a problem. Comb the speech you have written asking why after everything you write. After all, it is what the judge will be asking themselves the entire time you are talking.
3. Pretend you are Having a Conversation
Sometimes speeches are too jargon-filled and technical. Sometimes they are too abstract, while other times they miss the forest for the trees. To refocus your efforts, one method is to pretend you are having a conversation with a person that you are trying to convince. Sometimes things in the moment are too distorted by debate conventions or technical line by line coverage.
But when you are preparing you want to have a simple and direct command of the issues at play. So what would a non-debate person who is evaluating your arguments think and care about? Most people care about how many arguments you have, types of proof, sources, etc. This will lead to bonuses like realizing you don't need to say "takes out" or "internal link" as much.
4. Numbers and Labels
This isn't really an internal dialogue thing like the last two, but I bet your speech doesn't have nearly enough numbering or labels for your arguments. It is more a yes/no question, but one people don't bother with enough despite its overwhelming potential to improve your speech.
5. When an Issue Comes Up Deal With it in One Place
It is generally always a better rule of thumb to fully unpack an issue in the first place it is applicable on the line by line and then say "dealt with above" on subsequent arguments. Instead of this, people often say they will deal with it later. Dealing with it later means you deal with it a little the first time, then you said that transition statement and you probably won't fully develop the necessary ideas when you get to it later (if you remember).
This is easy to operationalize. Are you splitting the explanation of an argument into too many discrete places on the line by line?
6. Offense vs Defense Phrasing
It is easy to make a responsive argument but water down its potency by poor phrasing. This happens the most in critical debates when disussing alternatives on the AFF or extending the link when NEG. You want to double check that the focus of your speech is being maintained on the end goal: saying your opponents' position is bad. There are many indirect ways people go about doing this instead of just being direct the whole time.
7. Are Your Arguments Couched in Terms of the Speech that Preceded Yours?
This obviously matters for every kind of speech, but there are two scenarios where this has a premium. One is the 2AC on the case. The other is being NEG vs a planless AFF. Both situations are prone to pre-scripted rants that contradict the other team, but don't necessarily clash. It is a better idea to write those general blocks and explanations of your position as more of a reminder than a script (and a way to internalize what you are arguing about). But when it comes to speeh time you always want to be speaking to the warrant behind your opponent's argument.
Saying "yes nuke terror, our evidence says thefts of material are high and ISIS said they want to do it" does extend your impact, but when the NEG's evidence said no delivery systems and lots of points of the plot can be foiled. . .you have not moved the needle very much.
Have you ever wanted to memorialize your dog on the internet, but have found WeRateDogs' bar just too high? (if you don't know what I am talking about get on twitter and follow only that account) Have you been looking for more ways to show off your dog than twitter, facebook, instagram, snapchat and just going up to strangers and shoving your phone in their face? Then you have come to the right place.
I want this site to accomplish a few things. First, I want it to further discussions of debate to improve it both in and out of rounds. Second, I want to normalize discussions of debate that occur on the internet that are actually fun rather than giant dumpster fires. Finally, I want it to create a sense of camaraderie among the folks who put so much time and effort into debate at the college and high school levels.
My experience on twitter (and my vast vast jealousy of the person who came up with WeRateDogs) has led me to believe that dogs are great at fostering the exact thing I am looking for (also I really want there to be a pretense for my email having dog pictures in it).
My goal is to create a gallery of debate dogs. Here is how you can contribute:
1. Email me at email@example.com a picture of your dog. By themselves, doing something goofy, with you, multiple pictures, attempting to make a debate joke. . .choose your own adventure.
2. Please include your name and your relation to debate. Are you a current debater, coach or alumni? What programs are you associated with?
3. Including blurbs about your dog is welcome.
I will take the information and caption the picture accordingly. There will be a dedicated page on the site for easy scrolling.
Now as I wrap up let me preempt some concerns:
If you read this post and thought "This sucks, he is just dog-washing this whole site and legitimizing his hegemonic views of debate". . .you need to relax.
If you read this post and thought "what about cats?". . .I want to build a better debate community with you, but can you please shut up for right now.
If you read this and thought "what the hell do dogs and debate have to do with each other?" They don't really, other than that they are both fun. This site is about having fun through embracing the things I like. That means debate and that means dogs.
If one had to wager whether a certain genre of argument would appear in a random 1NC speech doc impact defense would be the safest bet by miles. After all, how can one be successful against a K AFF without Teschke 11 and Gray 7 to answer endless wars?
The irony is impact defense might be the least bang for your buck argument you can put in the 1NC. Scott Phillips’ case against impact defense is threefold: 1. Impacts in a vacuum are probably the best part of the advantage 2. AFF teams use their internal link to make impact defense irrelevant so you should just start by answering the internal link 3. AFFs can easily prepare to defend their impacts. (https://hsimpact.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/politics-and-case-is-not-a-strategy-part-1/)
I agree with a lot of that, but my case against impact defense is different. My contention is why read impact defense when you can just link turn what the AFF is saying?
The case for link turning is straight forward:
1. It is more fun
Link turning is the purest form of debate. There is nothing like getting a judge to agree that the AFF was fundamentally wrong about their description of the status quo and the effect the plan had despite infinite prep and the ability to choose what they got to say.
2. Uniqueness is better than impact defense
Fun fact, saying a war or what have you is not going to occur now is kind of what people sound like when they go for impact defense. So all the muscles should not have to go through much of an adjustment. You just need to pick your reasons carefully (i.e pick a reason the link turn implicates) and then you get the added benefit of having an offensive argument with the same amount of work.
3. You want to answer the link to the advantage more anyway. That means you are already 1/3 of the way there
Links are usually worse than impact cards. So you should want to answer it. That puts you 1/3 of the way to link turning. Slight change from impact defense to uniqueness and we are cooking with no real extra work.
I think people get scared when they think about going for a DA and case turns. But you are going to spend time on case invariably, why not making it so you have an offensive out if the DA is going poorly for you?
4. Arguments that make the status quo a sustainable option are very good for the NEG.
Most judges like to feel their vote went towards the nicest option. Ceding uniqueness means bad things are coming. The judge will begin searching for solution to the bad things. Saying things won’t be that bad and the AFF probably couldn’t stop the bad things anyway is just inherently less compelling than the status quo is fine and the AFF makes it worse (all evidence being roughly equal of course).
I think one thing that makes people overlook how attainable these strategies are occurs during the research process. Most squads’ definition of a DA seems to be quality evidence, applies to a lot of cases, impact diversity so it is external, good angle on turns the case. This is obviously reasonable, but it is a high bar. Threads that don’t reach the bar don’t get pursued at all.
That is where the case turn can be found! The DA that isn’t external, applies to one plan or where you don’t want 2 minutes of 1AR scrutiny. That is link turn gold.
At the end of the day if you link turn the case you are saying the AFF is bad in the funnest way possible. That will lead to wins. If you read impact defense to the case you are saying you are kind of a coward, you may or may not have a case NEG and you don’t like fun or winning.
Debate is fun when people share stories and perspectives. We know this in our heart of hearts. People like to be cynical and make fun of the person who cares too much, tells stories about round 3 at Wake from two years ago, and just can't stop talking about debate.
I am not one of those cynics. I live for the war story. If everyone came up to me at Gonzaga and told me about their round 2 I would EAT. IT. UP.
I think two things hinder the circulation of stories and perspectives. One, is hurt feelings via saying something potentially negative out loud in public about a team. Two, the belief that being candid and more transparent may hurt a team's chance of winning in the future. Everything has to stay in the squad and close to the chest.
To the first point. . .I am talking about arguments and evidence, not people or individuals. Take it as a point to improve upon, not an overiding indictment. None of my comments are mean spirited, just things that I feel should be said out loud so people maybe stop doing them. Just one person's opinion, feel free to take it with a grain of salt.
To the second point. . .this makes debate suck. Secrecy is so annoying. Feel free to try to read the tea leaves to glean what strategies I am producing. I have been fairly transparent when people talk to me over the last year or two and my teams have not suffered. Now I am just doing it louder and in a public setting. Feel free to jump in! Public conversations about debate make it fun.
Here is what I loved and/or hated vis-à-vis St. Marks
1. Refugee AFFs---Love It
I liked what I saw from the refugee AFF. Harker and Carrollton docs were looking good. The terrorism debate in particular looked good for the AFF. I don't think we are quite there on slaying the parole CP. I feel like emphasizing modeling elements of refugee leadership would help on that front.
2. Naming Offcase After Authors---Hate It
Why does this happen? I am looking at you T-Tassoff. What is the judge suppose to glean from this name? Who the hell is Tassoff? Do they define a word in the resolution? Oh they do? But unlike every other T violation in history, saying Tassoff makes your argument more apparent? What happens when both sides have like 2 Tassoff cards like this weekend? Stop it. K's are the next biggest offender, although it didn't cross my path this weekend.
3. Saying Soft Left AFF---Hate It
I have always hated calling these arguments this. It is far too derisive for a reasonable AFF approach. Is it like soft power? They aren't whacking the judge over the head with impacts like hard power? I guess that would make sense since some AFFs are called big stick. But that doesn't make the dichotomy redeemable and a new naming convention is needed.
4. Numbering Stuff---Love It
Nobody does it and it sucks. It makes you SO MUCH easier to flow. It gives your speech such structure. It helps you recognize when you are repeating yourself compared to when you are spewing in a stream of consciousness. It is SO GOOD.
Shout out to the 2A from New Trier AK. The only debater to number that I watched. It was the doubles but I would have given him a 29.6 EASY.
5. High School Wiki---Hate It
The way people post information is terrible. It is a wasteland. A higher circulation of docs and high schoolers actually being able to comb through them would raise the discourse substantially. Do better people. More on this subject at a later date.
6. Framing Pages---Hate It, for now
This deserves an entire post, but the way teams are doing this now is no good. Way too many cards in the 1AC with no clear purpose. No clear insight on how to execute after the 1AC so it devolves to laundry listing. No real thought on how to resolve the inevitable competing claims that come from the NEG. And it isn't like the AFF is picking super comparative cards at the moment that do the work for debaters. That makes these portions of debates fairly pointless. There is a better way.
7. Woodward vs. Ghill Semi's Docs---Love It
These docs were NICE. I posted them below for your viewing pleasure. This looked like a great debate. Congragulations to both teams on a great run!
That's all for the opening edition of Love It or Hate It. Next time will be about college and Gonzaga.
I want to establish where I am coming from at the outset. I have seriously considered quitting debate over the last twelve months. One major factor was the work/life balance was all out of whack (especially with the tournament hosting obligations). I have and am hopefully taking more steps to correct that.
Another major factor was going to tournaments and just feeling drained. Was debate any fun? Was I burnt out? Had too many people moved on? Was the grind too extreme?
I came to realize that one of my major issues was my sense of camaraderie was at an all-time low. The reasons for that are many. The one I am going to talk about today is judging and being a good debate citizen.
I have developed a reputation as a judge that is not engaged in the rounds they are assigned, particularly in regards to how attentively I flow. I could quibble to an extent, but this perception did not come out of thin air. There are two major issues with how I judge:
First, I too easily divide my attention. Second, is how I deal with parts of a debate that are hard to follow (due to phrasing, clarity, the initial premise, lack of structure etc.). Where most judges do their best to slog through it I grow frustrated and give up.
A third factor might be something to do with speech docs, but I don’t think this is the case. Other judges manage speech docs fine and provide high value engagement.
This perception of being a bad judge was earned by me and has put a strain on the camaraderie I feel going to tournaments. I am looking to rectify that situation. My plan involves two parts—an apology and a form of accountability.
I wanted to say I am sorry to any students who felt like their time was wasted and their effort disrespected by my lack of attentiveness as a judge. I think what undergraduate students have to do to be successful at school and debate is overwhelmingly difficult. Judges should be as helpful as they can in helping debaters develop, not an undue burden. I regret my past lack of seriousness and I apologize.
The form of accountability I have chosen is to use this site as a repository to post my flows after I judge. I went to the St Marks tournament so that is the first set posted. I will continue to do this after every debate I judge.
Why jump through hoops, why not just judge? Audience costs are one of the most proven motivators for me. I commend those judges that can get it done with other motivations, but that is not me.
My outlook going forward is to put my efforts towards being the best debate citizen I can be in all facets, not just judging. I am hoping this recommitment to the craft and community will help keep the debate fire strong into the future.