Alright losers here we are again at the end of another semester and it is time for me to tell you why all your arguments are bad. Going to do it loudly and in public and get people all riled up.
Sike. Not doing that. But there is a lot to unpack at the conclusion of the first semester and the Shirley.
A thing to note is that when I am referring to the universe of teams I am mainly talking about teams that have gone 5-3 or better at one or more majors. Couple of reasons. One, to make it manageable. Two, not trying to be elitist, but ultimately these are the teams younger people and people lower in the bracket need to figure out so focusing on them is reasonable.
1. The Space Topic: A Theorization
I can’t remember if I have said this out loud before, but it feels like we are in a year long version of debate camp.
The topic feels contrived instead of salient. There is no negative position shaping what people say on the aff (answering ESR on executive power, finding topical flexibility on the healthcare topic). The literature base is a big constraining factor. The impact to that constraint is that the relative quality of positions is flat.
The one interesting thing that causes is people can just occupy the archetype they want to occupy (like at debate camp when you pick whatever assignment because you want to, not because you have to).
You want to read the biggest mechanism (despite being capped at like 3 distinct advantages)? Read ASATs. Want to ratify the status quo? Read SSA. Want to care about link uniqueness? Read Russia (although I am not sure coop now features prominently in anyone’s strategy). Want to pretend the topic is something else? Read BMD. You want to be the Chinese politics team? The allies CP team? The NSP PIC team?
There’s something for everyone! That’s because there aren’t any distinguishing features that makes an argument way better than another.
2. The Zaxby paradox
I lived in Virginia for six years and did not have a local Zaxby’s. My only experience was at the Shirley. Always thought it was pretty good. Moved to Lexington where there are Zaxby’s. Ordered it fresh. Tasted TERRIBLE.
The only way I want to eat Zaxby’s is when it has been sitting there for at least 25 minutes. Preferably in the rain. Nothing makes it taste better.
3. The Affs are coming
Going into Wake there were a limited number of Aff clusters. ASAT ban proposals, China SSA, RPO’s, Russia ADR and STM (Dartmouth liability and more general proposals). That covered roughly 95% of teams.
It is not like that so much anymore. Rules of the road, missile launch notification, solar radiation management, radio frequency interference, Russia SSA, Russia ISS coop were all broken at Wake. This in conjunction with outlier Affs like BMD, future weapons, space weather,cyber and LOAC.
Cal beat the NSP PIC with rules of the road. Michigan lost to multilat cp/india da with missile launch notification. Solar radiation management lost to the cap k and the japan da. RF interference lost on T-STM. Russia SSA beat the K but lost to de-dev. Russia ISS beat peach tix.
Very interesting spectrum of Neg responses. Very mixed bag of Aff success. But the swamp is growing. I imagine shit is only getting weirder from here.
4. Second Dinner
Does tournaments providing dinner at 5:00PM resolve debaters desiring food at 9PM? Do coaches always cave on second dinner? Do debaters stay up no matter what until they get food? How much sleep do debaters get on the night of day 1 and day 2?
I felt these issues acutely this weekend and I am not sure if there is a clean way to resolve them.
5. Peach Tix
Names for this argument that suck: removal, conviction, impeachment da, impeachment politics. Say it with me: peach tix. That’s it. That’s the name.
Unfortunately for our friend peach tix it has probably peaked. It got a lot worse between Harvard and Wake. I can imagine a million ways it could get worse in a month. I can’t imagine ways for it to get better.
RIP peach tix (October 2019—October 2019).
6. Are Policy Debates Boring?
A frequent subject in framework debates. Pretty subjective at the end of the day, but I wanted to explore it further.
We’ve already established that there are quite a few Affs in circulation post-Wake. What about the Neg? We’ll define boring vs not boring by how many different off case positions have been present in a 2NR vs a team with a plan. Small numbers are boring. Big numbers are not boring. Our sample will be teams that have gone 5-3 at a major who have a sufficient wiki to figure out what their 2NR’s are.
The average number of distinct arguments gone for in a 2NR given this sample is 8.75.
The winner of the UGA RS award for going for the same thing over and over again is MSU GS. I believe the number is 4 2NR’s. T-ADR (once), the unilat CP, the Xi DA and Russia politics.
Honorable mentions: MSU PS (5) who went for a commercial CP too. Kansas MM (5), who should have tied MSU GS with allies/unilat cp, democracy da, containment da and peach tix, got tricked into going for space war good once. Berkeley, Kansas and Emory as squads fell below the average.
We are going to need to settle on what team historically went for a bunch of shit to name this award after. First place is a tie between Kentucky EH and Michigan JS with 14 things. I will admit Michigan PR maybe could have won this award. I have them with 12. But their wiki is TRASH. Trash wiki’s win no awards on this blog. Michigan and Dartmouth are large squads that keep it relatively fresh in the 2NR across their teams.
So no, I don’t think policy debates are particularly boring. On top of that, even though you may sometimes know something is coming, that doesn’t make it easy to figure out what to do. Vertical debates that go deep on less pieces of paper present their own unique complexities. It’s not all NSP PIC and politics out there (although that has received a lot of air time to my disappointment).
7. Most Stacked Squad
Honorable mention---Berkeley. FG and NR are top 5 teams, no debating that. BW provided clutch walk overs (which is such a great way to facilitate deep elim runs it should never be discounted).
But there are three squads that have greater depth.
Third---Dartmouth. Six teams that have managed 5-3 or better at a tournament. Two teams that have won elims.
Second---Michigan. Five teams that have managed 5-3 or better at a tournament. Five teams with an elim appearance. Three teams with an elim win. Impressive.
First---Kansas. Six teams that have managed 5-3 or better at a tournament. Five teams with an elim appearance. Three teams with an elim win. One major tournament victory sets them apart from Michigan for me. But let it be stated for the record Kansas’ support for many regional tournaments is noticed, it is appreciated and they do well for themselves when they attend those regionals (not to say other squads don’t do it, but when I think supporting regionals I think Kansas).
CORRECTION---Wake...GSU was a stacked performance. Win, semifinalist, three quarterfinalists. Cleared five different teams this semester (altho I think one of those is defunct). Serious supporters of regional tournaments. Very deep squad this year worth mentioning.
8. 2 to 1
I believe there are roughly 71 teams that have gone 5-3 or better at a major (the “roughly” is because it depends on how you consolidate one person going to tournaments with different partners). 49 are policy teams and 22 are K teams. I don’t really have a point or question, but thought it was worth saying.
Also at GSU, Harvard and Wake there were 18 policy teams in the top 32 and 14 K teams. Strange it was the exact same at all three.
9. Best Revolutionary
As Cal NR loves to tell me there is three kinds of clash in debate: policy v policy, K v policy and K v K. So I went fishing to see if anyone had a noticeable advantage in rev v. rev debates. I found:
Honorable mention—Rutgers AH (10-7, 59%). Mostly because they have had the most of these debates.
Fourth---Cal NR 9-4 (9-4, 69%)
Third---Wake BC (6-2, 75%)
Second---Kansas BD (10-3, 77%)
First---Wake EF (8-2, 80%)
10. Most Dramatic Statement in a Debate this Semester
It was Fleming in the octas of the Patterson when in the 2NR he was aggressively red in the face and he yelled that we couldn’t end his Kentucky tournament on the NSP PIC. Nothing comes close. I think about how unnecessarily he raised the stakes in that 2AR every day.
11. Best going for Framework
Honorable mention---Gtown BP. 6-4 in 10 clash debates. I believe they had the biggest sample of teams I looked at.
Personally, the best framework speeches I have heard this semester are from Gabe J of Northwestern. Just unreal.
The data roughly comports:
NU JW 7-2, Kentucky EH 4-1, Cal FG 4-1
But I think there is one team that has a better record.
Michigan PR! 5-0! Wow!
12. Michigan PR, my gawd.
Prior to the Shirley I would say Michigan PR was having a somewhat typical year for a sophomore and a frosh despite both being TOC champions. 6-2 everywhere, won an elim. Four 2-1 decisions. Sounds about right.
But this Shirley run though! Starting 6-0 with wins over Wake EF and Cal NR. Noice.
Then things get spicy. Winning two clash debates on a 5-0! Including another win over top 5 Wake EF. Getting five judges to agree in a clash debate is a monumental task. Beat Dartmouth on de-dev. Noice. Then beat Cal NR going for framework (only Dartmouth and NU have duplicated the feat). Noice.
Has there been a debater like Giorgio? Technical skills, a high school career that involved a TOC win going for K arguments, then switching and doing policy stuff meaning they are one of the most flexible debaters in the country. Exciting to see what happens next.
13. Spark tho
But that finals 1NC. Holy shit. Not my cup of tea. If I was able to scan every 1NC that occurred at the Glenbrooks this weekend how many times would I see a similar 1NC?
Like I get it. I have no room to talk. Kentucky won on war good a bunch last year. Who the fuck am I to judge?
But we have a noticeable problem I think, and these files have aggressively infiltrated high school. The discourse is hitting an all time low (and I am blaming Kentucky for most of it on the file dissemination front).
Now I am not one to say that these arguments should 100% be banished from debate. Like there are real people who try to justify blowing up countries like Iran all the time so subjecting that conversation to SSD seems fine. That argument doesn’t really apply to spark which is less entertaining Thanos logic.
Point is I am not going for bans. I am saying three things. One, Affs should stop sucking at debating this, please. Two, judges should relax aggressive offense/defense assessments that lead to Neg teams talking themselves into this shit. Third, judges should just totally zap evidence that is from cranks that shows up in these debates.
Let’s go back to agreeing war is mostly bad and should try to be avoided.
14. The Most Consistent Teams
This one is a bit of a rabbit hole but stick with me. Who are the teams that perform the most dependably? I looked at four tournaments (GSU, Patterson, Harvard, Wake).
I added prelim and elim ballot wins up and divided by total ballots for each tournament.
From those scores you can get a standard deviation and an average performance for a given team.
But obviously there is a lot of context behind those numbers for any given two teams. So how do you compare two teams? You use a coefficient of variation. What is that? Go fucking google it. This is a debate and dogs blog, not a stats blog. If the number is closer to 0 that makes a team more consistent. If it is closer to 1 they are less consistent.
The sample of teams consists of teams that went 5-3 at one of the four tournaments one or more times. This number doesn’t say how likely a team is to win a given debate. A better way to think about it is “if Wake happened a 100 times the teams with low scores are more likely to achieve the same result than teams with higher scores”
Top 10 most consistent by ballots:
Rutgers AH 0
Dartmouth ET 0.007471202
OU RW 0.04330127
NU JW 0.044965135
Pitt MO 0.054126588
Michigan FH 0.060631049
Trinity DK 0.077856137
Dartmouth LV 0.080293746
Berkeley NR 0.084274011
GMU BG 0.087859049
Emory Jablonski/Partner 0.223296878
Dartmouth MS 0.225276967
Texas CM 0.225276967
Kansas MS 0.248563052
Emporia SV 0.25
Kentucky KL 0.25
Wake BE 0.25
Wake Harper/Partner 0.261821635
Michigan JS 0.299717318
Mo St DK 0.606091527
What about elims? If we give a score of 1 to clearing up to 6 for winning a tournament.
Gtown BP 0
Harvard Ahmad/Partner 0
Rutgers AH 0
Berkeley NR 0.117647059
Dartmouth ET 0.153846154
NU JW 0.285714286
Baylor RW 0.333333333
Wake BC 0.346410162
Trinity DK 0.384900179
WVU BM 0.433012702
Kentucky EH 0.547101204
Kansas BD 0.634323942
Wake EF 0.692820323
Michigan PR 0.692820323
Emory CM 0.765941686
GMU BG 0.816496581
Michigan JS 0.860662966
GMU AH 0.866025404
Kansas MS 0.866025404
Michigan FH 0.866025404
15. Aff frontrunners
If 2A’s across the land are not trying to A. read the most Affs and B. read an Aff in every area of a list topic then you ARE NOT trying hard enough. Unfortunately, on this topic every Aff claims to be every area so that makes part B not as cool.
Two teams have read three Affs: Cal FG (rules of the road, ASATs, space weather) and Michigan PR (China SSA, exotic weapons, joint BMD).
But two teams (to my knowledge) have read four: NU JW (RPO’s, LOAC, China BMD, Russia BMD) and Michigan JS (China SSA, exotic weapons, joint BMD, and China launch notifications).
16. Debatedocs and the wiki
Debatedocs as an idea is good, mainly for coaches who can coach more and don’t have to run around collecting email chains. Participation is mixed. No Neg team has gotten debatedocs onto an email chain. So the only threads it catches is if a participating team is Aff and they remember. The remembering is pretty hit or miss. We did better last year compared to Harvard and Wake this year. Kentucky teams included.
Debatedocs doesn’t replace the wiki. The wiki is an archive of what has happened that is much easier to access. Debatedocs is about streamlining prep for the two hours a debate is happening.
I believe we can collectively get something done. I believe debaters can walk and chew gum at the same time and they can remember to put firstname.lastname@example.org on their chains. I believe they can remember to update the wiki even if it crashes in the middle of a tournament. We can do this people!
17. Novice debate
This is the first year (at least since I have been at UK) that we are fielding novices. They went 4-2, won an elim and lost in quarters. This was their third tournament ever.
Novice debate is a lot of fun. It melts the heart of the most jaded debate old timers. I am very familiar trying to get a high schooler to forget bad habits and learn good habits but working with a blank canvas via someone who has no prior experience is new and interesting.
Ultimately, debate might not be for everyone and we have a lot of work to do with reducing rates of burnout and the toxic elements of debate tournaments, but allowing people to be exposed to debate to see if a spark grows into the transformative interest we are all familiar with is a priceless thing a debate team can accomplish.
Kentucky was fortunate enough to get more support from the university to facilitate this. We need to work as a community to help streamline adding people with no prior experience to the activity.
Good first semester, happy holidays, enjoy the rest and thanks for reading.
1. The field is wide open?
So far three different teams have won majors (Wake EF, Cal FG and Kansas BD). Not only that but there have been six different teams in finals (Cal NR, NU JW and Emory GS being the other three).
Six different teams in the finals of the first three majors hasn’t happened since 2003-2004 (the vaunted Europe topic which was a hodge-podge list of orders of magnitude worse than the one we have now). MSU Stahl and Strauss lose to Harvard Klinger and Tarloff at GSU, Berkeley Shalmon and Singh beat Northwestern Branson and Gottbreht and Emory Phillips and Wolmer beat Georgia Ramachandrappa and Watson.
This could be one of the most fluid Copeland races in quite some time. A lot on the line at the Shirley!
2. The Harvard Roast
Was very funny. Particularly brutal in places from what I recall about past roasts. But I say everyone’s args are bad as clickbait and I get CPD dumpster fired. Sigh, Harvard exceptionalism strikes again.
3. Zahir is overrated*
I judged Zahir from Emory for the first time. Some people say he is a legend. I don’t see it. Sophist is more accurate. Maybe it’s the hair. Maybe it’s the fact his partner does all the work and he gets all the credit. But the guy is a hack.
4. Were policy debates boring?
I am moving more and more into K land, but I still like perusing all the docs.
Generally because Harvard clears to octas people really want six wins. So they break a lot of new arguments. Did that hold for this Harvard? Historically Harvard feels like a mini-NDT.
The best back and forth docs of the tournament were Michigan PR vs Kentucky EH. Michigan breaks a new aff (their second of the tournament so they win the badge for trying the hardest) and EH breaks multiple new arguments in response. Good shit.
Wake KM broke an aff about cyber…and that was it on the new Aff front I think. Everything else new was just modified versions of old stuff (Emory PD, NU LOAC, Kentucky lasers).
Maybe the topic’s fault. Lots of area overlap + the topic is wide on mechanisms but narrow on terminal impacts and things that can actually answer CP’s so stuff feels the same even when it’s somewhat different.
5. A real difference between K debates and policy debates
Here is something people may not appreciate about K and policy debates. Policy debates are easier to digest efficiently. This is because you can read the evidence from a policy debate and have a pretty clear idea about the range of things an opponent can get away with.
The same cannot be said for K debates. This isn’t because of shiftiness of character but just by the nature of the arguments. K stuff starts at a higher level of abstraction, it has to be applied, it has to be analogized, it has to be unpacked etc. This all comes about in the explanation part of the debate you have to see to fully understand. Or you have to track folks down and play a game of telephone which is suspect. Both are time consuming endeavors.
This has two implications. One is that it obviously privileges teams with more bodies to dedicate to becoming specialists. I can’t imagine a one-team and one- or two-coach operation being fully up to speed on everything that happened at this tournament.
The second is the transaction costs for figuring shit out are high and people just ignore it/give up. I think this is a more reasonable explanation for people sounding bad in these debates than malice or disinterest. If resources are finite and you have to experience a critical mass of K debates before you figure out what is going on then it is going to take a while for you not to sound like a rube.
This is why I never really understood “you have stuff to say” “debates still happen all the time” “there is always clash because people say the opposite.”
People debating by the seat of their pants, waiting for Buntin to write a case neg to something, reading the same shit all the time, reading the most generic cards, coaches doing everything for debaters then getting burnt out themselves…that is a superficial form of debate
It’s obviously worse than when you see a debater able to do extensive negative work pre-tournament vs an Aff who is aggressively deep in their literature, new arguments are read and a clash of titans ensues.
Is other stuff more important than what I just said? Perhaps. What’s the best way to end up in the latter circumstance and avoid the former? Unclear. But one is obviously better than the other.
This was the best weekend for politics in a long time. People who thought USMCA was better than the removal DA are wrong. The people who talked about impeachment in the House instead of removal in the Senate are also wrong. I was very surprised there was divergence on what was most readable since it seemed these removal cards fell right off the internet tree.
7. Hegemony Good in K debates
This wins a lot of debates. That has a lot to do with the ethos of many contemporary K debaters. First, to thoroughly beat heg good you have to read more evidence than you are used to and it can’t be from English professors. Nobody puts their head down and reads some cards in this spot.
Second, they put too much stock on being able to say there is something bad about hegemony. But the Aff always starts from a position of saying the alternatives are worse and reading cards that seem to take into account the positives and negatives of hegemony and say it is a net positive.
Hegemony good performed well at Harvard. It seems to be an overperforming strategy because Neg execution not because it is an optimal strategy.
8. White Hall forever
Fuck Sever. Fuck Langdale.
9. Double check your cards/authors
Baylor RW wins another debate that starts with indicting an author of their opponent. They are the only team I recall that has an extensive track record of results doing something like this. I would say the inflection point in debates like this is usually a poor CX for their opponents.
10. Most improved
In my mind I have to give it to Rahul from Berkeley. Granted he was a first round last year, but I think he is way better. He is much clearer and I think he has made strides giving the 2AR as well.
Does he say no link on the DA page and then tell you to read that DA on framework? Yes, he does. It sucks. But I can’t deny how good he sounds.
For all the other thirsty people who want me to talk about them on the internet: thanks for reading. But no.
*=this take was sponsored by an anonymous donor. If you would like me to write a take, my Venmo is open.
I am Lincoln, retired debate coach . This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.