I feel like the thing I became most notorious for in debate circles was my truly tragic relationship to food. Undergraduate Lincoln reached bizarre heights of pickiness.
Did I eat any ethnic food? Absolutely not. What about white versions of ethnic food? Let me put it this way: I had never eaten something on a Mexican restaurant menu that wasn’t a quesadilla. It took me 22 years to eat a taco from start to finish. So this disposition obviously precluded Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, Hibachi, Spanish, Cuban, Cajun etc.
But it was worse. I strictly ate the worst versions of the foods I ate. I only ate spaghetti and no other Italian food. I loved Olive Garden. I ate medium well steaks. I loved Applebees. I ate burgers with nothing but ketchup and only from fast food restaurants. I ate at Boston Market until they started going out of business (I still do that one).
But it is even worse. There were whole swaths of totally normal food I wouldn’t touch. Baked potatoes? Fuck those. Almonds? Never had them. Gravy? Not once. Avocado? On no occasion. Yogurt? Not at any time. I literally never ate one whole orange. So of course, I didn’t fuck with mangos or raspberries or pineapple.
Thankfully, I have reformed and have done so at an exponential rate. I now eat anything once and have tried most major foods from pretty much every region of the world. All food is good, being picky is stupid, life is too short.
What does any of this have to do with anything? Because I am going to make a food-based recommendation and I didn’t want to give anyone the impression I was pulling a fast one on them. I know I am come from scary beginnings, but a lot has changed since I was an undergrad.
The other bizarre food habit I had for most of my adult life is the rate I ate at restaurants. From 22 to 27 I mainly ate two meals a day. The vast majority of those meals came from restaurants. Like, over 80% at least. My longest consecutive streak of never making any food in my home and not going to a grocery store is 7 consecutive months.
Eventually this unhealthy and colossal waste of time and money caught up to me. I had to learn how cooking worked. I had to learn how to utilize the grocery store (some people love going to it, I hate it). I had to learn consistency. I also wanted to improve my health, so calories and macros (carbs, fat, protein) also became a consideration.
I began thinking of food along four axis that compete with each other. How long does food take? How good does it taste? How healthy is it? How expensive is it? It is difficult to strike a good balance between time, taste, health and cost.
Eating out is rough on cost and health, surprisingly weak on time, but is good for taste.
Cooking is good on cost and health for the most part, but very variable on time and taste depending on your skills in the kitchen. My skills are not so good. I was spending too much time producing mediocre tasting things. It also didn’t help that internet recipes aren’t really designed for cooking for one.
I am always willing to try new things to hit a home run on my 4 metrics. Usually that involved buying kitchen gadgets. Sous vide is a great one. Even a mediocre cook like me can’t mess it up. Crockpot is another. Instant pot seems like it should be good, but I haven’t wrapped my head around it. I have many other devices I have used between 0 and 1 times.
I have also tried the meal delivery services like Blue Apron. The fact that it costs more than groceries for me to end up cooking again made it untenable. The best target audience for these products seems to be people who already cook regularly looking for variety. Not really a sustainable option to make up the majority of your meals.
Then, in the great wisdom of the Internet algorithm, I came across a thing called Freshly. This is a meal delivery service, but it does not require cooking. You just heat up the food they send you.
So, yes, it is a rich man’s microwave dinner. The thing about it is…they taste GOOD. I have had trash frozen microwave meals before, and it is really unfair to compare the two. It is more apt to compare Freshly to similar just cooked foods. The meals are designed not to be frozen and eaten within one week of receiving the delivery.
The ad I saw was $20 off your first two orders. The typical rate is 6 meals for $60. $10 a meal is a bit cheaper than Blue Apron et al. when I looked into it, and on par with eating out. The discount on the first two orders made it $7 a meal which is a great deal. The meals are single serving usually between 500 and 600 calories.
This is what I ordered the second time, all good:
They have a subscription service that costs $99 up front and 20% off all orders. That makes it $8 a meal. That makes it much more reasonable on cost, but you obviously have to plan to use the service a lot. I think it does very well on taste (better than I could do without significant effort). It does great on time (always less than 5 minutes prepare time). And it is very good on health.
I think this service is best for:
1. single people who hate cooking or are bad at it.
2. people trying to phase out eating out at lunch or dinner
The main downsides:
1. Some of the meals if you don’t eat them really fast get a little cold. The nature of microwave cooking I suppose. Each package says let it sit there for 2 mins, but I have found this is setting you up for failure. Food gets cold toward the end of eating if you let it sit there for the whole two minutes
2. Lots of packaging, a good chunk of which is not recyclable. I don’t know how other meal kit services do on this front.
3. Not sure how well it scales to 2 or more people, I haven’t really looked at those options.
If you want to use this service use this link: http://refer.freshly.com/s/Lincoln79
You get the $40 off deal for the first two orders.
Did I dedicate a whole blog post just to shill for this random company? On one hand, yes, I did. On the other, I found that this service actually helped me on a variety of food fronts by displacing fast food crap with meals that are actually healthy and taste surprisingly good.
I also needed to exorcise the demons of my eating past. Update your priors people and let’s go to dope restaurants of any variety when we are at debate tournaments.
According to Nielsen US, adults spend 6 hours watching video a day on average. “That includes time spent watching both live and time-shifted TV, watching videos in an app or mobile website on a smartphone or tablet, watching video over a TV-connected device like a DVD player, game console or internet device such as Roku, and watching videos on a computer.”
That seemed like an absurdly large number when I first read it. If one thinks of a day as 8 hours sleep, 8 hours working, 8 hours doing other stuff…do people really spend ¾ of the other time watching videos?
Let’s think about this more. 6 hours a day for a year. That’s 2,190 hours. That’s 131,400 minutes. Let’s say you switched between watching shows that are 22 mins long and 52 mins long, so your average episode length is 37 minutes. That means you are watching 3,551 episodes! If the average season of something was 18 episodes that is 197 seasons of something in one year!
That similarly seems absurd. Is watching that much TV a real thing? I wanted to see how much TV I watched this year so I tracked it more closely.
Here is my scale:
5 stars---The Wire, Breaking Bad, the Americans, the Sopranos…one of the best TV shows I have ever seen
4 stars---Good show I would recommend to others…Gilmore Girls, the West Wing when you take into account the later seasons, Game of Thrones once you factor in season 7 and 8.
3 stars---Fine show. Guilty pleasures. This show is coming up short on the plot or the acting or has too many boring episodes or something like that.
I generally don’t watch things that are 1 or 2 star beyond an episode or two.
Here is what I watched and how much of it, and my thoughts:
The Magicians (seasons 1-3)---3 stars
I saw this show in January, and I should have jotted down what I thought at the time. Nothing I am recalling is very flattering. It kind of felt like a weaker version of Buffy. I wonder if the books are better. Does what the characters do make sense given the extent of magical options available? No, not really.
Big Little Lies (season 1)---4 stars
Good. Surprisingly funny in spots. Is this book better than the show??
Superstore (season 1-5)---4 stars
I dip into sitcoms because I need short episodes to break up the slog of shows that are 48 to 60 mins per episode. Expectations were low for this network sitcom. Laughed out loud a noticeable amount. Pretty much all I am looking for from my network comedy shows.
Travelers (season 1-3)---3 stars
Woof, complicated time travel show. Cancelled when season 3 didn’t really wrap anything. The premise of this show is people from the future can occupy people in the present. The future has decided the most ethical way to do this is to only do it to people right before you knew they were going to die (so if a person in the present was going to step in front of a bus the future would take them over 5 seconds before that happens and not do that). Now the future people have to live like the new people they just took over + do stuff that is supposed to stop a cataclysmic event.
What is not to love?? How did this show flop?? I am not very good at poking holes in things like time travel shows, but I am sure there were a lot of issues with this one.
Sex Education (season 1)---4 stars
Watched this in February I think. Good. Funny. Heart-warming in spots.
Medici (season 2)---3 stars
I only watched this because I saw season 1 and saw Sean Bean was the bad guy for season 2. Moves too slow throughout to be a strong recommend from me.
Younger (season 1-5)---3 stars
This show has three virtues. One, the episodes are 19 mins with Hulu no ads. Two, I will watch Hilary Duff in anything. Three, Sutton Foster is very charming. If you are into fashion costumes this show has that too, but it is lost on me. Is this book better than the show??
Barry (season 1-2)---4 stars
Not an all timer, but one of the best shows I watched in 2019. Go watch it. Bill Hader is a treasure.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (season 1-6, rewatch)---5 stars
So good. The characters are unique and hilarious in their own ways. Halloween heist episodes. Infinitely clip-able series. Can go on YouTube bender for hours with this show. In the pantheon with the Office, Parks and Rec…maybe other things.
Riverdale (season 1-3)---4 stars
A guilty pleasure that might just be good. Most people complain that the acting is over the top. When you view the show in an accelerationist lens it makes the whole experience much better. Was the story the same for the first 3 seasons? Yes, it was. Is it fine because a show full of beautiful people doing beautiful people things is fun? Yes, yes it is.
Ozark (season 1-2)---4 stars
This show was like condensed Breaking Bad. It is pretty good because Jason Bateman is great and as Laura Linney and Julia Garner get more to work with it gets better. But this is a poor man’s Breaking Bad and everyone can see it.
Leftovers (season 1-3)---4 stars
Season 1 is objectively bad I think. Season 2 and 3 hit the hard reset and are way better. Despite not being on solid footing with Season 1, the show gets more experimental and more out there. This show really melted my brain. One of the best final episodes of a TV show ever.
Veronica Mars (season 4)---4 stars
Just inject the nostalgia right into my veins. Good mystery. Weird character conflicts. Better to treat it as a different show compared to the first 3 seasons.
The Crown (season 1-2)---3 stars
First, the sets and shit don’t matter. It is 2019. Anybody can create a prestige TV show that looks good. Second, it is very very hard to care and relate to the problems of the British monarchy. I just can’t bring myself to care about people in such an absurd institution with so much money. Third, the inconsistency with Phillip from episode to episode is maddening. Fourth, this show obviously moves slowly with some dud episodes given the subject matter. Any scene without Claire Foy is almost dead on arrival and she is not a part of season 3 so fuck this show.
Game of Thrones (season 8)---3 stars
Look, it is not great. Why couldn’t it be longer? Most of what people complained about week to week didn’t resonate with me. Three breaking points for me. First, the dragon being ambushed and dying. Irredeemably stupid. Second, the way they did Dany. Unforgiveable. Third, Bran the Broken. Fuck Bran the Broken.
Jane the Virgin (season 5)---4 stars
I love it. It is a telenovela so anything can happen and I don’t have to worry about it. Good finish. If Gina Rodriguez could stop getting cancelled so I could rewatch this show that would be great.
Succession (season 1-2)---4 stars
Really good. Difficult to wrap my head around how absurd the shit that happened in this show was while still being very believable. They just made ultra-rich people do wild shit episode-to-episode and I definitely think that is how rich people work. Hilarious show.
Orange is the New Black (season 7)---4 stars
After the first few seasons I think this show fell off for me (mainly when Poussey died I think). But everytime I get sucked into the next season and watch it in like two days. This finale was pretty uneven for me. Particularly Taystee’s fate in the final season.
The Boys (season 1)---4 stars
This show was pretty awesome. The villain in this show generated a visceral reaction from me unrivaled by other characters. Truly loathsome.
Grey’s Anatomy (season 15)---4 stars
I think I have seen like 340 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy so far (haven’t seen any of season 16 yet). When did this show peak? I have no idea. I wouldn’t say it peaked per say. The later seasons suck me in like the old ones, although it takes a few more episodes. I would say Christina leaving was the worst and probably the peak of the show for me.
Stranger Things (season 1-3)---4 stars
Does it matter the story is the same every season? No. Does the nostalgia get me as much as other people? No. Is any scene with Eleven awesome? Yes. Is the show funny? Yes indeed. Just good clean fun.
Bojack Horseman (seasons 1-3)---4 stars
Am I in the proper mental state to get so many rants about life, existentialism and the nature of happiness from anthropomorphic animals? No, I am not. Is the show funny? Eh, sometimes. Not enough. The internet calls it a tragicomedy…yuck. But can’t say I have watched a show like it and it does get better with each passing season.
That is 51 seasons of TV this year. Is it a lot? How much do you think you’ve seen? What should be in my queue?
From 2010 to 2018 I wasn’t anything close to a reader. I can think of three pockets of books I read.
I read to figure out K’s. Fanon, Heidegger, psychoanalysis, Derrida, Deleuze, Baudrillard, Marx, Agamben, etc. (rarely any primary sources, secondary sources seem to better mirror how things work in debate).
I read presidential biographies. I’m a completionist in spirit (but not actually practice) so if you give me a task that can be boiled down to a moniker like “read a biography on every president” I am interested. I think I read four or five.
I read Game of Thrones due to the TV show. Probably re-read Harry Potter.
So, for 2019 I made the unoriginal resolution to read more. I think the thing I was thinking in January was I wanted to buy a bookcase and fill it with books and say I have read all of these.
As of this writing I’ve read 48 books since January 1st.
Reading, it turns out, is very good. It refreshed my mind and spirit. It made me more aware of when I was consuming garbage on the internet when I could be reading books. I wish I could say it raised the bar for what TV shows I watch, but that would be a lie. The TV show doesn’t have to be particularly good to suck me in.
It made me sad that so many of the things one must read to excel at debate are written so poorly. It hasn’t helped me stop butchering what words mean or how to pronounce them. Maybe another 50 books will do the trick.
Audio books were something I didn’t think I could get into. They seemed like podcasts which I tried and failed to care about. That turned out to be incorrect. They too are very good. In the car, walking Ginger, treadmill, cleaning apartment, traveling, going to sleep…all times I found myself listening to audio books.
I don’t know if a lot of people do this, but it resulted in me reading two books at once (one audio, one paper, not simultaneously). This is what led to reading so many (maybe it isn’t so many? I don’t really know) despite not finishing a book in the months of September, October or November.
I don’t think I have a vocabulary to really discuss books. I never paid attention in English class. I only vaguely understand when a text is called realist. At the beginning I only thought of things as ok, good and very good.
But my appreciation started to nuance. Did the book captivate? Did it provoke? Did it surprise? Did it resonate? I can’t say a book captured my thoughts for very long after I finished reading it. Maybe because I don’t talk about them with other people that much. Maybe I moved on to the next one too quickly.
Here are the books I read this year with some of my thoughts about them. As a general scale:
A—this book was one of the best I read this year and I strongly recommend reading it.
B---this book was good, but not necessarily a must read
C---this book was only ok, bit of a slog to read
F---this book was actively bad, I think only one book I read this year would be a straight up F.
1. Class Notes: Posing as Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene by Adolph Reed---C
Debate has obviously saturated my mind with Adolph Reed and his arguments. The fact that he was saying similar things but in the context of controversies in the 80’s and 90’s did not resonate. I have a recency bias on my historical analysis. His book about DuBois is way cooler.
The thing I remember most about this book is it was published in 2000 or 2001 and he calls out Obama for being a neoliberal shill. Foresight!
2. God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines---B
I grew up in church and went to Liberty (not for church reasons, just debate reasons). I am a person of faith but have never dived into the controversies surrounding faith. This book was exactly what I was looking for. A gay Christian presenting the best opposing arguments and giving several deconstructions that have proven persuasive to real life people.
3. Camino Island by John Grisham---B
Why this Grisham novel? I have no idea. Why did I read it in two days? I have no idea. Was it good? Sure? When I read this, I was thinking could you give me anything in a debate context that would enthrall me like this? Grisham novels feel like a dessert. The experience of getting sucked in is just satisfying even though nothing really profound is going to happen.
4. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller---B
Was definitely a Greek mythology kid in 6th grade. Read this book in a few days too. This firmly established that reading was good and this whole reading for fun and reading fiction business was going to work out.
5. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin---C
This book just misfired for me. I really blame debate. I came into it reading a handful of secondary things about Baldwin. So many times with a debate thing I find the original source harder to read and care about than how it is applied by other people.
Those secondary applications of Baldwin were doing the application and pushing an argument I found thought provoking that just weren’t as present in the primary source.
6. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick---A
Incredible. It felt like it told me everything I need to know about North Korea. It is the life story of a handful of defectors from North Korea. If one were to write a fictional setting identical to the picture of North Korea you get in this book you would find the extent of totalitarianism heavy handed and unbelievable. And yet…
Also, every card about North Korea regime collapse coming is a lie.
7. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary---C
I am technically a history major, so this is the kind of book I am most familiar with. Turns out the history of the world is too big a scope. The book tells you a bunch of names and dates you won’t remember. Was hoping for some dialectical history and mostly got a chronology of wars and listing of technological ruptures. Just too hard a task to do well.
8. Circe by Madeline Miller---A
One would think it would be hard to relate to an immortal being that learns magic. Turns out that is incorrect! This is where my vocabulary about talking about books is lacking. But I would recommend this to anyone.
9. Poppy War---R. F. Kuang---B
I am pretty new to the whole fantasy genre. This book kind of felt like a grizzly version of Harry Potter (but like in a good way). Not sure it sticks the landing. Thought the first half of the book was stronger.
10. The Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson and David Lagercrantz---A
10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 11. The Girl Who Played with Fire, 12. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, 14. The Girl in the Spider's Web, 15. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, 42. The Girl Who Lived Twice
Really enjoyed all these books in audiobook form. Really helps to not get tripped up on Swedish pronunciations. I love this series. Have never seen the movies. Feels like the movies would be a letdown.
13. The Broken Earth Triology by N. K. Jemisin---A
13. The Fifth Season, 17. The Obelisk Gate, 18. The Stone Sky
Many people recommended this to me. They were not wrong. I think people are still sleeping on this series based off facebook and twitter. It is incredible. It is easy for me to say I have never read anything like it, but it is true! And I doubt that will change soon.
This is one of those series I was glad I read, so I could read the interesting discussions happening online about people in the know.
16. Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber---B
Bullshit jobs doesn’t seem like a novel concept. But this book did give me some new perspectives on the many reasons why bullshit jobs happen. But I was more interested in the solutions. And this book whiffs on that part of the story by only briefly throwing out ideas like UBI in the last chapter. Left me unsatisfied.
19. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy---C
Never saw the movie but popular culture obviously made me aware of the basic plot. The big issue is there is so much fucking time spent describing being on boats or submarines. So. Much. Time. I don’t care. It’s a boat or it’s a sub. Let’s move on. Feels like the movie would be better because it clearly dodges that issue.
20. Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson---B
I did not know anything about Che Guevara going in. Now I feel like I know everything. Mission accomplished book.
The big takeaway from this book is that the Cuban Revolution was WILD. How did it succeed? If we did it 1000 times how many times would it fail? I feel like most of them since the key players sometimes got shot in the timeline where they succeeded. Just one of those things I don’t think people appreciate…the fact that Cuba turned into a communist country is one of the most surprising things about the 20th century to me.
21. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman---A
21. The Golden Compass, 22. The Subtle Knife, 23. The Amber Spyglass
Really good. Sucks that kids mainly get exposed to Narnia and less so this. Hope the TV show measures up. Pullman narrates the audiobooks which is cool.
24. How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories by Alex Rosenberg---F
Just total garbage. I missed the mind vs brain debate growing up. Like I saw the Ayn Rand kids but missed the brain determinist people, I guess. I read the book and thought “Holy shit, is this true?” And it turns out not really. Rosenberg is peddling the same deterministic crap based off “new evidence” he reads way too much into and doesn’t do any debating with rejoinders to why he is wrong. The one virtue of reading the book was I did some SSD on an issue that I had never visited before which is always fun.
25. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman---C
Eh, who cares. Not that funny. Not that compelling. Probably aren’t suppose to read it for the first time at 29.
26. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon---A
Turns out the people picking the Pulitzer are pretty smart. One reviewer said, "Like a magical spider, effortlessly spinning out elaborate webs of words that ensnare the reader,"…which I agree with, but is the main reason why I am no good at reviewing books.
27. Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick---B
The twist is obvious. Haven’t seen the movie. Enthralling. Really cared about the main character Pat and how they were going to end up.
28. Janesville by Amy Goldstein---B
A good book. Heart wrenching. Provoking in the sense of, “What the fuck can be done about this?” The book doesn’t really attempt any answer. I am reaching a turning point where I am judging books more on what tools they provide readers than how good their descriptions are.
29. Beartown by Fredrik Backman---A
“In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.” Aggressively true. Incredible book.
30. Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience by Malcolm Jeeves---C
Not what I was hoping for. Felt like a dense debate read. Seemed like a reasonable thing to cite in a paper. The format is email exchanges between the author and a person asking him questions (he writes emails that are too long). Not really a central theme, just a scatter shot of topics. Meh.
31. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb---B
31. Assassins Apprentice, 34. Royal Assassin 35. Assassin’s Quest
I read this because Game of Thrones as a book series is never going to get completed and it pissed me off. I wanted to read finished fantasy series. Fantasy series are big undertakings. This one was satisfying. A lot more indepth concerning characters and the conflicts between them compared to world building.
32. No Short cuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age by Jane F. McAlevey---A
This book kicks so much ass. This is the best book I have read all year. This is the one that has stuck with me the most. We are so fucked without direct actions. This book gives portable skills from case studies and is awesome at doing it.
33. Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo---B
This book was pretty cool. It wasn’t overly technical, but provided new ways of looking at issues and new data about why anti-poverty programs work and don’t work. Variety of contexts and methods. Very informative but didn’t feel like a drag.
36. 1984 by George Orwell---C
Never actually read this in high school. Didn’t care about it.
37. Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne by Brian Staveley---B
37. The Emperor's Blades, 39. Providence of Fire, 41. The Last Mortal Bond
I think this might have been better than Farseer because better world building but still lots of depth of characters. The stakes in this series get up pretty high pretty fast which colors a lot of the character development. Not sure I am in love with the way it ended.
40. A Time to Kill by John Grisham
Good. Was billed as one of the best Grisham novels but I didn’t think it was that much different compared to the others.
43. The Gig Academy: Mapping Labor in the Neoliberal University by Adrianna Kezar---C
Eh, long on description, short on next steps. Lots of studies, good place for references. I already accepted the premise that adjunct life and subcontracting at universities was bad. This book gave me a lot of reasons why that was true…but not seeing where that would ever come up in my life.
Adjuncts make less money than fast food workers. Woof.
44. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson---B
I started googling best books of the decade and this came up. Edgar Alan Poe said that people should only read novellas because you can consume them in one sitting. Novels you have to take breaks from and that ruins the whole experience.
This book was good, I guess. Idk. I feel like I need a smart person to explain it to me.
45. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka---B
This book is about mail order brides and Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century. It’s written in a unique form. The last two chapters are told from the perspective of white people and something didn’t sit right with me about those perspectives. Felt too sanitized.
46. United University Professors by Nuala McGann Drescher---C
This could honestly be an F because this is a boring piece of history. It is about the higher ed union in New York. I should vet books more closely.
47. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan---A
Another Pulitzer Prize winner. This book is incredible. People refer to it as a postmodern work. Not really sure what that means. So much real shit happens in this book. Each chapter is about a different character and how they tangentially relate to the two main ones and Egan does such a good job making you care about all of it. Holy shit.
48. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie---A
Debate breaks your brain on certain subjects. When you look at something constantly through the lens of answering it or turning it…it greatly distorts your perception of an issue. This was like a tonic. I was gripped by how the narrator discussed people. So many instances of “I know what you are talking about” but have never heard someone say it like that. Incredible.
Thanks for reading about my reading.
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 email@example.com 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.
Thanks to everyone who came out this weekend. I wanted to use this post to talk about running tournaments while things are fresh in my mind. I would love to know what other people think.
1. Division of Time
A debate needs to take about 3 hours from when the pairing goes out to when the ballot comes in. About 100 of the 180 minutes is people actually talking. At the Patterson we gave 45 minutes of prep which left roughly 25 minutes to decide. If you were judging and had less time than that then you or the debaters did something egregious to draw out the debate (Only 92 minutes technically for a debate).
I think the 3-hour rule should be a hard constraint on scheduling but how the time is divided between pre-round prep and decision time is variable. I spoke to a handful of coaches and got mixed views. I did not pose this question to current debaters. The assumption from some coaches was debaters just want pre-round prep and don’t care about decision time.
That leads me to:
2. Tournament Meals
There are three questions that come to mind.
First, should the tournament provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner on both Saturday and Sunday?
Second, what’s the preferable quick meal if you had to choose one---sandwiches or pizza?
Third, when the tournament provides lunch and dinner how should one schedule that? We did lunch after the 2nd round of the day then dinner after the 3rd round.
The available options are:
Lunch after round 1 OR after round 2
Dinner after round 3/before round 4 OR tail end of round 4 (I have never seen a tournament do this but it is a theoretical option).
3. Award Ceremony
Should there be one on Monday? I used to think they significantly slowed down Monday operations and that most people didn’t bother going to them, but I believe we only ran 15 minutes ahead of GSU on Monday.
4. Asking to Leave
This one doesn’t really have a question attached. This issue is one of the biggest gaps between people who run tournaments and people who participate in tournaments. The goal of tournament administrators is to keep the curtain up and make the next thing happen. The goal of people out of the tournament is to leave 90% of the time.
We know you want to leave. The default way to pair an elim after the doubles is to take all the people who are in the tournament or staying anyway and see how that pairing looks. You don’t have to ask to leave. The goal is to not keep people hostage. Given the lax prefs at our tournament this is much easier to achieve than other tournaments.
The main cost of these requests to me, as someone who runs tournaments, is feeling pressure to satisfy and please everyone. It’s overwhelming and taxing when you get a flood of people after the doubles telling you about their drive and wanting to leave. I obviously get it. But we all mutually agreed to a set of obligations to make the tournament happen. Our default mode of operating is to minimize unnecessary burden as explained above. I would prefer if people knew we were trying our best and stop asking.
5. Appealing to Tournament Staff
When folks go to tournaments something suboptimal could happen. When that happens folks usually come to tournament staff and say X is bad and they would like something done for them.
One of the guiding philosophies of a running a tournament should be to make the rules transparent then consistently enforce them across the whole tournament. Sometimes what a tournament does is suboptimal and they should obviously be open to refinement. The question is do you try to fix them on the fly or do you wait for next year.
I think there are issues for those that want remedies in the heat of the moment, even though their appeal is justified and reasonable insofar as they are protecting the best interests of their teams and debaters.
First, similar rules have probably been enforced on many other tournament participants. This notion of fairness/reciprocity significantly constrains tournament administrators.
Second, one of the reasons people feel so comfortable making these appeals is because they know people running the tournament, could be friends, have been colleagues in other instances, etc. But not everyone at the tournament has this level of comfort, familiarity and access to those that run tournaments.
It would be better if people restrained themselves at the tournament instead of asking for ad hoc enforcement of rules that were published before the tournament. When rules become enforced on an ad hoc basis there is a certain class of participant that benefits the most (be it debaters or judges).
As this whole exercise demonstrates, there are many practices that I think can be improved and refined. Know that at least for tournaments I run I am open to make things better, but am not interested in changing things that much once a tournament has started.
Let me start this by saying I am going to talk about this not really in any official capacity at Kentucky, but just one vantage point among many in the debate community. My views are partial and incomplete. I am not going to get to everything that could be said about this, but would love to keep the conversation going after this post.
The last time the debate community had a sustained conversation out loud about this kind of thing was fall of 2012 through spring of 2014 (in my mind). At the time I was in my first two years of coaching and I had no idea what was happening. The internet record on those conversations is very spotty and difficult to access. And a good chunk of the current debate community missed that discourse entirely and is simply living in its aftermath.
I start with that preamble because it seems when this subject comes up the feeling is that it has been fully hashed out and nobody listens to anybody else. But I think a chunk of people have never been given the chance to participate. And the issues have not gone away; we just stopped talking about it.
So let me share some thoughts.
Policy debate is struggling. Programs are contracting, not expanding. We need solutions for that.
The main track has to do with costs and specialization. Regional tournaments are key to drive down costs (they also have the nice benefit of creating more champions and chances to win things to help justify a program, having only 8 national circuit tournaments and 8 winners isn’t enough to go around).
Open source is another good way to drive down costs. The ADA novice packet is a very good idea. It definitely makes it more manageable to have people jump in. There should also be a backfile version of this to help new programs. The final component should be curriculum materials that outlines: how to recruit students on campus, how to teach novices from initial recruitment meeting through their first tournament and maybe some tailored to transitioning folks from other kinds of debate.
There is one main argument I would like to make against MPJ that relates to making debate more sustainable. Debate needs dedicated and engaged adults who are treated as valuable and whose work dynamic is not described as a death march. MPJ works at cross purposes at creating knowledgeable and engaged judges.
This argument aligns with my own personal experience. I was a mediocre debater. There were many, many things I had no clue about. In my first two years of judging I had the good fortune to judge a wide swath of high-caliber teams in both policy and K debates. If I didn’t judge those K debates, I still would, to this day, have no idea how they work.
Cross-pollination of debaters and judges is one of the best things that can happen at tournaments. The combination of MPJ and less regional travel greatly reduces the scope of judges a team can get.
We are all aware of the psychological and emotional forces at play when someone goes to a tournament and burns rounds or judges in the 0-6 bracket the whole tournament. It fucking sucks and makes you feel bad. And it is based on no objective criteria. And it’s usually sexist, racist, etc.
Instead of debaters being able to insulate themselves for nefarious and arbitrary reasons it would be a better system to have them adapt, be able to execute multiple arguments and not see judges as a preference number but as a person they could learn something from.
The last three years of the Kentucky tournament prove the best teams don’t need to strike 50% of the judges to win a tournament. They win anyway.
What is the argument for how MPJ helps the activity grow? What value is more important than activity growth AND MPJ helps that value?
Nobody wants to judge the same debates all the time, nobody wants to be put in a box and nobody wants to be told “you cannot teach debaters anything and you aren’t good enough to judge these two good teams.” It is a terrible recipe for getting people to care about debate enough to the point they are willing to go through the trials of sustaining a program at an institution that does not have one.
We are back! We really have gotten ourselves into a pickle with this one. At Kentucky we have new coaches and new debaters which really made GSU fly by for me as we learned to work together and had a lot of folks experiencing their first debate tournament ever. But some things did not escape my notice:
1. Could be worse
Democracy is the crown jewel of what a bad topic is. The mechanism on its best day did not generate interesting neg ground. When you combo that with things being so timely that there were no scholarly advocacy articles in general (let alone about democracy assistance) you have a real shitter on your hands.
Space isn’t that! But I don’t think it is going to hold up very well. We did talk for a whole year about Mexican cartels, an old WTO case, how Sweden regulated prostitution and bodily property rights (and cryogenics for one tournament). Maybe it was there and I didn’t hear it, but I didn’t hear nearly as much complaining on that topic. I also found the energy topic to be uninspired. It always gets a pass because energy cards are easy to cut and there was an election and I am pretty sure the TPP DA started around then. But that topic sucked.
2. Gold standard cards
One of the issues with space is that the pool of cards, particularly for the Neg, is pretty narrow. Usually at some point during the year people agree what the best card on something is and everyone reads it. On this topic it seems like there is widespread agreement right out of the gate on several issues. If I judge you and you want to just footnote these gold standard cards that people know by heart to save time, I am all for it:
Juul 19—one of the rare cards that says cooperating with Russia and China on space is bad
Blount 19---STM CP
Andsell 10---Unilateral ADR
Chow 18---RIP all teams that thought this article wasn’t getting read round 1
Agathangelou and Killian 16---IR K card of choice
Green 16---did you know if people know where stuff is, they can ASAT it??
I will say there are some articles that I thought would be staples that are not really in circulation yet. Something to strive for! Possibly coming to a RR doc near you.
3. NSP means no K Affs
I too am worried about K teams’ chances because of how the resolution says national space policy.
4. Debating anti-blackness
When the Aff is answering anti-blackness and you are doing fine on it’s not ontological that doesn’t mean that race/racialization goes from 100% explanatory power to 0% explanatory power. It could very well be the case that the Neg is not allowed to consistently have their cake and eat it too in this context, but you have to explain why that is true. And you generally have to be cognizant of the notion that even if it is not an immutable structure, anti-blackness can heavily influence a wide range of subjects.
5. Doc of the Tournament
Dartmouth ET, quarters, Neg vs Wake EF. This 1NC is so fucking good (how can it not be when you have a bona fide link to the metaphysics of presence). Not getting it over the finish line is gut wrenching. RIP Dartmouth.
Congrats to Pittsburgh and GMU for clearing two teams at a major (was too lazy to go look, I assume it has been a minute since they had two in elims, but maybe I am wrong). Fills my heart with nostalgia for my D7 days. Special shout out to GMU AH, they have been out here scrapping for a minute, they have good looking docs and it’s always exciting to get that first one.
EDIT: Congrats to WVU too! I thought they cleared at Northwestern last spring, but that was incorrect. I am but a cog in a soulless big D6 school, but can still appreciate schools with heart doing well.
7. Impact things
One of the weird things I have been thinking about this topic is how on the one hand things like space war and space debris should be pretty reasonable impacts because important stuff happens in space and these cards draw pretty direct lines (which historically makes for a durable debate argument). On the other hand, the defense and advantage CP’s to all this stuff are really fucking good. Like if this topic happened in 2014 when the agenda DA existed the Aff would be toast in pretty much every debate.
Sorry Aff teams, I guess you had your fun reading single payer and NFU and this topic is karma.
In bullet points:
a. ADR is topical, shut up
b. Don’t think there was high profile Neg win. Gtown got in the ballpark in the octas, but no dice.
c. RPO’s seems suspect, but has biggest Aff on topic crown. Will someone dethrone it?
d. STM seems to have some potential
9. Thank you for being brave
Cal reading planetary defense, Northwestern reading SPS and Kansas reading exploration (kind of). Blessings on you for not being cowards (unclear if the opposite of coward in this case is strategic but the gambit seemed to do ok for at least one tournament).
Top 5 coaches of the decade
Who had great teams? In what numbers? Across how much of the decade? These are pretty obvious questions to ask when trying to come up with a list. Another big thing I considered was how many coaches could duplicate their successes with similar budgets and debaters.
One thing that I found very challenging was I thought of a lot of great coaching staffs and it felt weird to single anyone of them out. When I thought of great teams, I often found multiple good coaches associated with them. So not being as familiar with the inner workings of teams there was a lot of credit splitting at a glance. I feel strongly about three of these and not so sure about the other two. So here goes nothing:
5. Jonah Feldman—Berkeley
I think he started there on immigration. I don’t have precise stats for you. I believe Cal had a first round team every year except on the energy topic.
4. David Heidt---Michigan
I believe he also started there on immigration and coached there through legalization. 7 first rounds, 2x NDT finalists, 1x NDT semifinalists, 1x NDT quarterfinalists. Arg coach extraordinaire.
3. Adrienne Brovero---UMW
Nukes to war powers one of the most impressive runs for a small school in history. I feel safe saying that if you put another coach in charge at Mary Washington, they do not do what Adrienne did, not even close. She is the ultimate professional. She is the only reason the gears of debate keep turning so we all know when and where to show up for stuff. She has taught me the most about being a debate coach and that is when I only take to heart half the stuff she says because I am so dense.
2. Jonathan Paul---Georgetown
Gtown AM=best team ever. Georgetown was a barely functioning program when he took over on nukes (I am pretty sure it was nukes). They were the 2nd best program of the entire decade after that. A true mastermind.
1. Jeff Buntin---Northwestern
If one were to make a list of the top 25 debaters of the decade, I think 7 NU debaters would easily show up: Fisher, Spies, Ryan, Layne, Peyton, Miles and Arjun. He showed up at Northwestern on the ag topic. They have had a team debate on Monday every single year since then.
Literally the entire community reads the shit he cuts. He comes up with some of the best args in the game, not close.
Top 5 judges of the decade
This one is pretty tough. I am going to inject some personal tastes which probably make my answers a bit different than the mainstream. I thought of what one would typically think about, but also two other things. First, I want a judge who is thoughtful but efficient. I can’t have someone who invariably goes to decision time. Sorry Crunk. Second, if I had a debater who was about to have their last debate who would I trust to do it right?
The list in no particular order:
All the topics ranked in order
Qualities of a good topic: Neg gets a DA that is not politics. There is an interesting reform vs. revolution debate to be had. Affs can survive CP’s. The lit base refreshes itself as the year goes on. Aff’s have some ability to generate new Aff’s but the Neg can apply a theme of argument to generate ground (they just might have to do it in a more specific way than the stock iteration of the argument).
10. Democracy---so bad. Democracy assistance generated no real DA’s. Affs happened during the year, but all the Affs were terrible. Six countries with not very much in common at all (besides US democracy assistance did not matter for their fates at all). The orientalism K was a slayer. Just yuck.
9. Immigration---I didn’t think it was too bad at the time. I was still pretty bad at debate back then so I dunno. I think the fundamentals of the topic were pretty weak, but it didn’t matter because midterms and the agenda DA were good so no one cared?
8. Legalization---I kind of have a soft spot for this topic. Reading about PAS, prostitution and organs was just a really unique experience. I think the marijuana debates were reasonable. I still to this day know nothing about online gambling. But objectively these areas were disjointed as hell and legalization didn’t really produce a topic DA that helped insulate the Neg against new affs. Also, we said United States in the resolution but that ending up meaning USFG? So fuck that.
7. Executive Power---Yikes. What a tornado. You know how some things are better than the sum of their parts? This is not one of those fucking things. This was 14 stupid things stapled together then put in a bag with some dog poop then left by your door. But hey, at least there was the Zivotofsky DA.
6. Energy---ah, my first year out. I was always playing catch-up on this topic figuring out how things worked. The debates were reasonable, but not memorable. It doesn’t feel like this was the best energy topic, but they have a pretty high floor. MEH.
5. War Powers---I held this topic in pretty high esteem at the time, but I have softened on that. I still think it was an actively good topic.
4. Healthcare---this topic was good. Everybody who didn’t like it is dumb. Moving on.
3. Climate---I thought this topic was really good. You could write new affs but the Neg had a few different angles and could prepare for them. Didn’t have to go for politics. K debates were really interesting. Good wholesome fun for everyone
2. Nukes---really cool topic. Just some epic throwdowns across a wide swath of areas. So many things you could talk yourself into reading 50 cards about in a debate.
1. Military Presence---Okinawa! Marines! Rotational presence! The things that made the topic great! Never really got tired of this topic. I really enjoyed what UK did on this topic and was a personal favorite to coach.
NDT hosts ranked
So I reject the premise of this question. Best NDT host of the decade maybe should be an accolade. But not all ten ranked. NDT hosting is thankless. I can only imagine the heightened stress and complexity of it being the most important tournament. I really enjoyed Minnesota and Kansas and Berkeley. I wasn’t wild about Binghamton in March but that has nothing to do with hosting skills.
Best regular season tournament
Gonzaga has a restaurant right next to their tournament hotel called Blackbird that is incredible, so they win.
There are a lot of ways to approach a question like this. I don’t think there is a clear correct method. This is a more challenging question than the best partnership one because the field of potential answers is much larger (people do work across multiple partnerships).
I can imagine some people gravitating toward figuring out the best team list and then parsing between those twenty folks. But I think a list like that, one overly focused on stats, misses the opportunity to have a list that reflects the game changers that have come through the activity in the last ten years. A lot of unique history has been made in the last decade.
Another fun way to think about it is if you were drafting a debate team who would go in the first round? Who’s really good in the round? Who would make a great teammate? Who would be a workhorse for the squad?
Another thing I thought about was how many other folks could pull off what that person did in their given circumstances. This was a key factor separating some honorable mention folks from the top ten list.
A list like this always going to be implicated by vantage point. While this is usually a downside, I think it can be an upside too. I am more familiar with certain folks than others throughout the decade. It is good and fun to share stories about people you don’t know and are sleeping on how great they are. Lists like this aren’t a means of disrespect, but a vehicle to share one’s perspective and hear others in return. I will eat up any response to this post that helps paint a better picture of someone’s time in debate.
Combo Category---Best Small School Debaters + Debaters Who Created a New Peak for Their Program
Combo category because a lot of the best small school debaters created new peaks of success for their program. Not really trying to setoff a T-small school debate. I know some teams are secretly small at heart, but whatever. I DON’T want to hear it.
Harry Aaronson/Cameron Dehmlow Dunne—Indiana AD: I love that Indiana came into existence this decade and reached incredible success with these two! Harry=NDT 3rd speaker. NDT doubles.
Dan Bagwell/Logan Gramzinski---Samford BG: Octa’s of the NDT on immigration. My overwhelming memory of Samford from this time was they would pick annoying Affs. I don’t actually remember what they were on about on immigration, only remember De-Alert (a coward’s Aff) and Yemen (for which nothing that was done could be considered democracy assistance, that was only Dan though, Logan graduated). Was alerted that Samford teams cleared at the NDT long ago, but they were the first team in 25 years to do so. Good enough for me.
Andrew Baker/Brian Rubaie---UTD BR: NDT Quarters. So good! Counterforce Aff! Watching them beat Kansas KQ’s Foucault Aff on Irigaray. 2010 debate at its finest!
Brian Box/Matt Munday---Wichita State BM: De-Dev! Heg bad! Neg vs new Aff from Georgia LL (Lacy/Layton, 10th bid). Georgia’s reading some shit about Tunisia? Libya? Who fucking knows. It has a zillion impacts. Around impact 12 or 13…economic decline! The rest is history and Wichita BM was an NDT quarterfinalist.
Taylor Brough/Khalil Lee---Vermont BL: CEDA champions. NDT Doubles. First round bid (first in Vermont history? Not sure). I remember them for beating people on disclose your prefs.
Kevin Kallmyer/Peter Susko---UMW KS: NDT semifinalists: Ask Ryan Galloway about this semi’s debate if you have 3 hours to spare. Kevin Kallmyer…best small school debater of all time?? I think he is in the top 20 debaters of the decade at least.
One of the things that makes debate unique and fun to me are the districts and the circuits. You show up in a district. You go to a regional tournament. You hear about the folks who did well at those tournaments previously. You look around and see those people doing well nationally from your district. Sometimes you hit each other, and they destroy you (Kentucky prelims on nukes).
You want to graduate from those regional tournaments to do well nationally and become an end boss in your district. Great debater graduates and starts judging you. They are endlessly helpful and super nice despite being EONS better than you.
Kevin was that kind of person when I debated and D7 helped cultivate that deep love of debate. What a fucking king and it’s what makes debate great.
Mary Marcum/Hunter McFarland—Wyoming MM: Scrappy AF. Love the mountain west. Wish I judged them more.
Colin McElhinny/Tom Pacheco + Patrick McCleary---UMW MP and UMW MM: 5th bid on energy! 6th bid on war powers + NDT Octas! Mary Washington best small school of the decade?? Yes. Thank gawd I debated all these people when I was a senior and they were sophs before they figured shit out and got way better than me. Thanks, dumb luck! Some of the most prolific card cutters the game has seen.
Cody Crunkilton/Miranda Ehlrich---Minnesota CE: NDT semifinalists on legalization. They made you earn it. Infamous for the impact turn. I have told this story on the internet before I think but I am doing it again!
My first interaction with Cody and Miranda was at the coast my senior year. I had no idea who they were. Until that point Minnesota teams in my career kept going for queer theory and psychoanalysis K's. I walk in and I see Miranda with. . .pink hair? I see Cody with some goofy shirt on, so I thought things were gonna get weird. They proceeded to light us up on the PIC out of radical islamists to our Syria AFF (which we were warned about pre round, but I blew off caring about that). Thanks Luke Hill for bailing us out though!
Matt Gomez/Jeffrey Horn---UNLV GH: 3rd bid and NDT quarters on healthcare. More appearances later in the post for these two.
Nick Nave/Devane Murphy---Rutgers MN: CEDA + NDT champions, ever heard of them?
Elijah Smith/Ryan Wash---Emporia SW: Same thing, but they also did it first so there. 3 tournaments, 2 wins + a finals. Mind boggling.
Leah Moczulski/Paul Kanellopoulos---Gonzaga KM: Nicest team of the decade? Yes. Best 4th team of the decade? I am not going to look at it and just say yes. Dartmouth RR on democracy. Took a handful of L’s to NU BK. Broke an Aff that involves a RHINOS impact and won with Dheidt judging. Fucking nice.
Also was my last debate ever! The panel: Sarah Lundeen, Sherry Hall, Stephanie Spies, Fitzmier, Adrienne, Hardy, Judd Kimball. We are Aff. We are happy to be there and out of gas. We try to turn their Chinese politics DA, but the 2AC was bad. We get Hardy’s ballot on Leah didn’t kick the CP, stuck with it, it links to the DA. Took no seconds of the 2AR. We proceed to lose 5 of the other 6 (thanks Judd!)
Here is the real question though, what team is more of a mouthful: Leah Moczulski/Paul Kanellopoulos or Viveth Karthikeyan/Alex Gazmararian? We only ask the super serious and important questions on this blog.
James Allan/Jefferey Yan---Binghamton AY: NDT Octafinalist and first round bid team from Binghamton! What comes to mind when I think of this team is they are the kind of K team that is decreasing in popularity which is a pity. Teams like this are really fun. When I debated Binghamton back in the day I lost on wipeout (like aliens, universe shattering weapons, the whole nine yards). Glad to see the squad has diversified the arsenal.
Derek Hilligoss/Jasmine Stidham---UCO HS: NDT octafinalists and first round bid team. Best set col team of the decade?? Not really sure how to prove that. Most D3ish D3 team of the decade?? I don’t feel I have the localized knowledge to say for sure. Fuck, I have bitten off a lot more than I can chew with these questions. They are good, they are nice, they are the best team in program history, Derek likes the Thunder (the poor bastard) and Jasmine doesn’t know what sports are so that leads to funny things online. Good shit.
NOTE--- To be considered in one of the following categories, one of the main things that comes to mind when thinking about that debater has to be the category in question. When listing folks in these categories I am doing it in no particular order.
Best AFF Writers
Remember when thinking about subcategories I was thinking about folks whose main quality to me represents the category. So there are a lot of great 2A’s out there, but they don’t stand out in mind as “you have to break a new Aff against aliens to save planet earth, what debater is tasked to write said Aff?”
Carly W---nukes NDT finals was a work of art.
Arjun---NDT semi’s on energy and NDT finals on legalization. Two of the best crafted Affs of all time!
Ezra---respect to the king of the new Aff
Truf---no one said this was an impartial blog. Over the last two year both prolific and highest quality stuff imo.
Suo---K Aff’s before and after have paled in comparison to masterpieces BoSu threw out there.
Best in the Clash
To me this means who is best at going for or defeating framework. Obviously lots of people have a lot of clash debates, but that doesn’t mean they get to be in this category if they are infamous for a few other things.
BoSu---a lot of folks read different K aff’s that lead to the same approach against framework in the later speeches. I thought BoSu read a handful of different affs that tackled framework in unique ways. They did it at a level of sophistication not yet matched since they graduated imo.
Donnie Grasse---I am bias, but I think this one is objectively right. Best topic education style arguments in the game + great record + he had a unique way of phrasing and impacting things that hasn’t really been duplicated. Not your grandma’s truth testing framework debater.
Corrine Sugino---I thought Wake AS was the hardest to framework against particularly on climate.
Hemanth---no cards, no extraneous parts. Great at making complex things intelligible. Great on his feet. Great in CX. A true master.
Alex Miles---I am very biased in favor of debaters in this category from war powers onward. I think framework debates changed around then and K teams grew in number and quality (particularly on war powers and legalization there are a zillion of them that are very good). And I think Miles was best of the best during that time.
I am only thinking about people I watched who maintained a very high level of clarity and were so fast that I could not keep up. Three people in my time meet that standard:
THAT’S IT. Sorry everybody else who is a notch slower or a terrible mumbler.
Least Predictable 2N
I considered folks who really embody the notion of “if you put it in your 1NC you are willing to go for it.” Sorry people who went for politics all the time, I imagined another category for you. The more I thought about this, the less people cleared the bar for me. Old wiki dying/being too hard to look at didn’t help jog my memory.
For instance, I think Northwestern has reasonable notoriety for going for stuff that is not politics. But when I think back on their debaters from the decade I remember Layne going for orientalism all the time and I remember Miles going for drones good all the time (and the treaty cp/da on legalization).
Other people I thought had reasonable range I remember going for politics a whole hell of a lot still (Markoff and Ellis). I get it, sometimes it is the best thing, it is a NB to CP’s and hard to find other stuff that links on the fly. Pairs good with case D and some turns which is a favorite subject for most 2N’s. But ya boring 2N’s.
So I may need some help from the community on this one. I think three people stand out to me personally off the top of my head.
Andrew Baker---I debated him a lot on immigration and saw him debate a lot on nukes and ag and he just really didn’t give a fuck about what he went for. Like 2NR’s on ASPEC didn’t give a fuck. Going for Irigary because the 2AC said 3 things. I remember having a debate against UTD BR where my 2AC goal was to beat midterms and whatever CP it was a NB to, but there were 4 or 5 other things in the 1NC. Baker takes like 8 mins of 2NC prep and the block is everything else that was in the 1NC (like some real stinkers got extended) and UTD beat us. Most people don’t know who this guy is, but he was really good.
Donnie---I am only saying him mainly because of his propensity to extend 2 or 3 things in the 2NR. You can’t be boring when you never kick shit in the 2NR.
Peyton Lee---I think she was the most flexible NU 2N. I remember the helium DA, China competitiveness DA, Greenwashing DA and Coal DA in pretty big top 5 debates. Went for T in a few spots. Might have gone for politics a lot too, but whatever. Think I recall a Heidegger and rights malthus 2NR in there too. RANGE.
Two other people: Will Morgan and Bolman. The average number of positions a K team goes for in a year is what? Somewhere between 1 and 2 on average? Granted I am thinking mostly against Affs with plans. I can see the range having to be wider by necessity when negating an aff without a plan. I think these two would top the wiki test for most positions listed on the neg, but could be wrong.
Most predictable 2N
Ah, the most predictable 2N. This category means two things to me. One, your 2NR’s have to be at least 95% the same thing. Two, you have to be successful to a certain extent while playing with what one would consider a handicap of being overwhelmingly not diverse in argument selection.
Jeffery Horn---2nd semester on healthcare was pretty creepy with how you knew what was coming and it didn’t really mater.
Advait Ramanan---I think he might have almost ruined it in the 2nd semester because he started going for Zivotofsky.
Hemanth---econ DA behemoth
Wimsatt---I am not going to look and would be interested to know, but I would be SHOCKED if you told me he went for a DA that wasn’t elections or politics.
Thur---true to his Wisconsin roots, a 2NR doesn’t have to be fancy to be good/effective.
Note---not really listing K teams in this one because my thinking here is these folks introduced other positions but regardless of how little you said on some of them would not go for them. Different dynamic then a one off K situation BUT does lead to the following category.
Best going for a K
One big factor in thinking about this was who would I rather overwhelmingly be Neg against rather than Aff. Another is who had good range. Another is who was very good at taking complex things and making it intelligible (particularly for a doofus like me).
RJ Giglio---fluid across multiple kinds of positions. Texas on democracy…round 7 or 8. An ass beating on Lacan I will never forget.
Edmund Zagorin---NDT quarters on immigration. Go watch it:
Layne Kirshon---democracy topic. Orientalism K. 5 majors won. Best Copeland of the decade. Unstoppable force.
Markoff---complexity K in finals of the NDT??? It mainly means he has no fear, but doesn’t mean he is the best at going for a K. Sorry.
Q---more on her later.
Jasmine---overwhelmingly true I would prefer being Neg on climate and healthcare vs UCO HS and Jasmine going for a K was the reason.
Marquis---the only thing that was going to save you was him being top heavy! The six minute overview was probably the most intricate explanation of Afro-pessimism I have come across.
Spurlock---so slow but so effective. A lot of moving parts. Lot of engagement with the aff in specific terms. Very difficult to effectively come up with a 2AC blueprint against.
Let’s move on to my top 10 debaters of the decade
10. Nick Nave---Rutgers
Historic NDT champion. Debated at KCKCC and Rutgers and reached the pinnacles of success from the small school starting point. I am not the person to best articulate their story in debate but can pay my respects by recognizing the great and historic accomplishment that didn’t occur in any other decade. Their work with the WDI has demonstrated they are a true community builder.
9. Hemanth Sanjeev---Harvard
NDT winner. 2x Copeland winner. Great in the clash. Wildly efficient. Nice and laid back. Best in CX of the decade. It is difficult to find someone who can translate such smart shit into such a digestible package.
8. Rashid Campbell---Oklahoma
Historic NDT top speaker. An NDT where they were 8-0 with 23 ballots. There are a lot of debaters with absurd stats and it would be very difficult to parse them. But there was never a debater like Rashid, and I don’t think there has been one like him since. Presented sophisticated positions in a singular style about subjects like code-switching that the debate community hasn’t fully wrapped its head around.
7. Natalie Knez---Georgetown
Most underrated 2N of the decade. NDT top speaker and 2x NDT finals. Some of the greatest speeches of all time in the finals of the NDT on climate and healthcare. The run to the finals on healthcare is an all-time accomplishment. Popping two new affs in elims that year, beautiful. Going from almost quitting to NDT finals with a frosh. I can’t think of many other people who could pull off such a thing. Great strategist, seemed to be willing to entertain a lot of ways to get the job done (before she dismissed most of them as stupid).
6. Andrew Arsht---Georgetown
The real question is would the greatest debater of the decade lose to me when they were a frosh and I was a junior. Assuredly not! I guess you can say he figured some things out past that point. I really wasn’t trying to honor the same thing multiple times on this list, but Georgetown AM is just too good to deny.
5. Andrew Markoff---Georgetown
But the classic question is do you prefer Arsht or Markoff? MARKOFF. All day every day. 2AR’s are all well and good and some might say Arsht is on the short list of greatest at giving that speech. But 2NR and 1AR’s are what gets the heart beating. Thinking about how you are going to read all the cards Markoff is getting through in the post round. How is he saying so much? He won the debate 3 arguments ago. Fuck, he has two minutes on the clock still. What is happening?
10 elims during the NDT’s they won. 7 Negs and 3 Affs. Just sayin.
4. Elijah Smith—Emporia and Rutgers
Historic NDT win (first of several this decade). First to unite CEDA and NDT crowns. Changed the trajectory of debate. Most of this equally true of Ryan as well, but I am trying to be spot efficient! And Elijah came back and was the 5th bid and NDT quarterfinalist so that broke the tie for me. Doing the in’s during that energy NDT was wild to watch. Pretty good for a high school LD’er!
3. Stephen Weil---Emory
One of the first great debaters to personally stomp you really sticks with you. The stats don’t hurt. 167-24 on immigration and nukes. So clear. So fast. One of those debaters where getting to a 100 neg cards read was a realistic possibility (Civ Good against WGA BS on the ag NDT? Going for prolif good? Going for the deterrence DA?) Won the NDT quarters on immigration on the buddhism K! Quarters on the nukes NDT, Aff vs. MSU LW. 1AR is great fucking speech about CP theory. I watched it 100 times that summer and that is all I knew about theory for the next two years! (which really explains a lot honestly). Can you name another person that you can have a conversation about being the best debater, judge and coach in a given decade? No, you cannot.
2. Arjun Vellayappan
I really tried not to be too stat centric when creating this list but at some point, someone is going to come along and amass such a resume it is hard to deny. That is the case with Arjun.
I believe he won 12 majors including the Shirley all four years (the first time was a closeout we are counting). NDT finals, Copeland, Copeland, NDT win (with two other NDT quarterfinal appearances to boot).
Back of the hand calculation says he won 316 debates and lost 53. He won 86% of the debates he participated in.
I would draft him first if I was building a debate team because I would know the Aff ship would be well taken care of and he seems like a great team player despite being sooo much better than everyone else. Just a class act that beat the shit out of everyone for four solid years without really relenting at any point.
1. Quaram Robinson
So, let’s start by saying that Kansas BR making the finals of the NDT on military maybe the most impressive accomplishment in the entire decade. The number of teams outside the top 16 that made an NDT finals before that point is: zero (I am pretty sure, I looked through 2005 and assumed it was a law of nature).
People who want to say Emporia winning the NDT was more impressive would be justified. But hey Emporia was a first round and won CEDA going into that NDT. Lots of different number bids have made the finals and won the NDT. The 17th ranked team has NEVER made the finals and it was a frosh and soph! Incredible. Lots of teams similar to Emporia have won the NDT since but will there ever be a run like Kansas BR?? I am not so sure.
The follow up act was a Copeland and NDT victory, one of the best team performances of the decade. Their average final place that year was 1.8. NU BK (best Copeland of the decade imo) was 3.57! (because they lost in the doubles once)
Four different partners. Great 1AC’s, specific neg evidence, a person I would always want to be Neg against because of how effective of a 2N they were. A class act and a historically great all-time debater.
A lot of history was made this decade. I hope this post will lead others to share stories about debaters that stood out to them. Regional debate hero, small school warrior, a certain kind of specialist, that great debater that beat you down when you were young, that favorite debater you got the chance to judge. There are a lot of great debaters with a lot of great stats that got snubbed off my list. There are no objectively right answers or approaches here. Nothing but respect for the debaters of the 2010’s
Every decade the debate community takes some time to reflect on what has transpired. Charles Olney is organizing the project for the 2010’s. He put it this way: “One of the most interesting parts of the project has always been the coaches poll, which invites coaches to reflect back on the decade. Who were the best individual debaters? The best teams? The best judges? Which topics were good and which were bad? Which hosts did the best? These questions invites rankings, but more importantly they give us all a chance to reflect on what makes the activity great.”
A few big picture notes at the top. First, there are so many great teams over the last decade. Looking back has been truly mind boggling. Second, nothing but fun is intended by talking about this publicly. I view this post as an extension of debate’s rich oral war story history which makes it so unique. Third, I debated three of these topics and it was trolly to realize that we would have to extend the list to top 300ish of the decade before Liberty GW got in the conversation. W00f. Fourth, there are a million right answers. I am happy to share what I thought and excited to hear where people differ.
The categories are:
Top 10 teams of the decade
Top 10 debaters of the decade
Top 5 coaches of the decade
Top 5 judges of the decade
All the topics ranked in order
NDT hosts ranked in order
Best regular season tournament host
We are talking about the top 10 teams of the decade today. Note--when I give out honorable mentions I am thinking of teams on the bubble/the top 15.
The first questions I asked were easy to figure out: what is the set of NDT winners, and what is the set of Copeland winners?
NDT winners in chronological order:
Copeland winners in chronological order:
That leads to following overlap, NDT + Copeland winners:
Gtown AM (not in the same year though)
There is one other group to keep an eye on and that is NDT runners up:
The number of teams that won an NDT, won a Copeland or both is 12. So already somebody really really good is going to get snubbed. Then we have a team like Michigan AP who has the unique stat of two NDT finals appearances. And this is just at a glance.
The next question I asked was what metrics would be relevant to look at? I wanted to go one step beyond NDT finish and bid ranking, but didn't want to get into the tall weeds unless a uniquely useful tiebreaker emerged. Hopefully things would shake out without getting too granular.
The thing is, with teams this good, things will not swing on one team being in GSU quarters and the other being in the semis (or at least I hope not because that would be annoying to parse). So here are the metrics I looked at:
What were your NDT performances?
How many majors did you win?
How many majors did you lose in the finals?
What did you do at RR’s?
What first round bid were you?
The next thing I did was to think about things in eras. Let's get into the nitty-gritty and jog your memory of how many incredible teams there have been this decade.
Nukes and Immigration Topic
Looking back on these topics are funny because I debated on them. At the time I thought all these teams were so impossibly good. I couldn't fathom how a team could have so many cards, know what they say, be so fast and be so unbeatable. If I were given a 100 chances at any of these teams I am sure I would lose 100 times.
At a glance:
NDT Winners: MSU LW then NU FS.
NDT Finalists NU FS then Emory IW
Copeland winner: Emory IW then Emory IW
That creates a nice little short list of the era, any other worthy of consideration? 7 majors on nukes. 4 different winners (UTD BR, Emory IW, MSU LW and NU FS).
Shoutout UTD BR: They beat Emory IW twice at GSU that year to take the title.
Emory IW debated 104 times that year. They went 93 and 11. They lost to 5 different teams that year. NU FS, MSU LW, Whitman CS, Wake CS and UTD BR. MSU LW is the only team to have a winning record against them (4-3). NU FS went 3-4. This might come up later. Was Emory IW the hardest team to get a win against? We shall see!
What about on immigration? 7 majors. 6 different winners! Cal BP, Emory IW, NU FS, Kansas KQ, Harvard JP, Emory IW, and OU GW. Wow!
Weird thing: Cal BP didn't apply for a first round on nukes to come back on immigration. So they don't have a bid ranking for nukes.
Harvard JP---4th bid on nukes, 2nd bid on immigration. Kentucky RR win. Won USC. Finals of GSU, Kentucky and Fullerton. NDT quarters on immigration. Pretty good, but not top 10! So here is their honorable mention.
So across those two years, here are the stats for noteworthy teams (note on RR's, it goes in chronological order so KY RR on nukes, Dartmouth nukes etc):
Before looking at things I had a huge soft spot for Emory IW. Definitely some bias from being so bad on nukes and thinking they were so ridiculously good on that topic. But NU FS! That win and that finals at the NDT are huge.
1. NU FS
2. Emory IW
3. MSU LW
Democracy, Energy, War Powers and Legalization
My senior year! My first two years coaching! My first year at UK! Memories!
At a glance:
NDT Winners: Gtown AM then Emporia SW then Gtown AM then NU MV
NDT Finalists: NU BK then NU LV then Michigan AP then Michigan AP
Copeland winner: NU BK then Gtown AM then NU MV then NU MV
Huh, I wonder how that NDT win, Copeland, NDT win is going to stack up across the decade. Seems ok I guess.
Teams that won majors on these topics: Gtown AM, NU BK, Loyola EM, Harvard DT, Harvard BS, NU MV, Michigan AP, MSU ST.
Sidebar: do Harvard BS, Harvard DT, Loyola EM or MSU ST deserve an honorable mention?
Harvard BS does---3 majors won, 2 finals, 8 semifinals, 3 second places at RR's, two NDT semifinals. 3rd, 2nd and 3rd bid. Much better than first honorable mention Harvard JP. Contender for #11 all decade.
MSU ST is close to honorable mention but not quite there. Won Texas on legalization. 1 finals, 2 semifinals. 3rd and 1st at UK RR. Quarters and Semi's of the NDT. Two strong NDT's, but not quite enough regular season numbers I think. Top 25 easy trending to top 20.
Loyola on democracy had a very good year. They were the 3rd bid that year. Here are all the 3rd bids of the decade:
Welp, MSU LW, NU FS, Gtown AM are in the GOAT conversation. Harvard BS > Loyola. Is Loyola the LEAST GOOD 3rd bid team of the decade??
No, that appears to be a scrum between Emory, Georgia and UNLV. Emory and Georgia won the Dartmouth RR but not a regular season major. UNLV won a major. Median finish goes UGA, Emory then UNLV. Emory made it to the octa's of the NDT on military, UNLV quarters, UGA quarters. Hard to say!
Long way of saying Loyola doesn't get an honorable mention but is very good.
Holy shit that was a lot of stuff apart from the original question.
So Gtown AM, NU MV, NU BK, NU LV, Emporia SW, Michigan AP. Gtown AM and NU MV are a cut above and this is how the GOAT list looks with their stats considered:
Our working GOAT list:
1. Gtown AM
2. NU MV
3. NU FS
4. Emory IW
With: MSU LW, NU BK, NU LV, Emporia SW and Michigan AP lurking. We will return to them later. We have to see if the last 4 topics of the decade leads to anyone leap frogging them clearly.
Military Presence/Climate/Healthcare/Executive Power
A lot of the teams in the first two chunks of topics had multiple years together. This breaks down across these four topics. The best debaters did a lot of work across multiple partnerships, but the question is best debate team. Take a look at things at a glance:
NDT Winners: Harvard HS then Rutgers MN then Kansas KR then Kentucky BT
NDT Finalists: Kansas BR then Gtown KL then Gtown BK then Georgia RS
Copeland Winners: Harvard HS then Harvard MS then Kansas KR then Kentucky BT
3 NDT + Copeland winners in 4 years! Wow! This is where thing get interesting because things get murky. It gets to a question of how you rank these accomplishments. Here is how I did it:
Winning the NDT is huge. It's the hardest tournament by orders of magnitude. A lot of debate folks are also sports nerds. And sports nerds will tell you to avoid things like counting stats and compensate for variance by looking at bigger samples. Another common sports nerd thing is to think about if you did something a 100 or 1000 times who would come out on top the most. So there is some appeal to thinking a Copeland represents a lot because it factors in a lot of tournaments.
I just can't bring myself to ranking a Copeland winner over an NDT winner straight up. The body of work over more than one season would have to indicate something impressive. If a team didn't win the NDT but made the finals that is a big deal.
That premable is necessary because here is what we got for 5 through 10
NDT + Copeland winners: Harvard HS, Kansas KR and Kentucky BT
Copeland winners + NDT finalist: NU BK
NDT winners: Emporia SW, Rutgers MN and MSU LW
Interesting leftovers: Michigan AP, two time NDT finalist (I have no idea what to do with this stat)
That leads to honorable mention #3: NU LV. Closed out Shirley + NDT Quarters on Democracy. On energy they won 3 majors and were in the finals of the NDT. I was able to judge this team a lot and am very thankful. If all these teams debated in an elim bracket I would put long shot money on LV to win. They punched above their weight always and duked it out with GOAT of the decade Gtown AM for a whole year. The semis of the NDT that year was a work of art.
So at this fork in the road I am resolving to put the NDT + Copeland winners 5th, 6th and 7th. But what's the order?
Welp, that didn't clear things up that much. What about the average finish of each of these teams?
oooo, interesting. The plot thickens.
What about those RR finishes though? They are tough to judge. On the one hand you got this digestible result and you know they had to beat some good teams to get it. On the other hand there are two points. One is that it feels weird to me to put particular stock in RR's and not just look at a team's record against all the bid teams or all the top 10 bid teams etc. RR's are just snapshots of what feels like a larger head to head picture.
The other issue is that K teams are historically underdogs at RR's due to judging. I can see a comment like that splitting the room down the middle, but it is where I land having looked at ten years of RR results. Other things have a way of working themselves out so the number of K/policy teams in elims or the first round voting and what not is close to 50-50. But that isn't how RR's have worked. So I am not going to look at a team like Kansas KR and say oh you are worse because of the way you performed at RR's. NOPE.
Let's look at one more stat, an incredibly self serving one.
1. Gtown AM
2. NU MV
3. NU FS
4. Emory IW
5. Kansas KR
6. Kentucky BT
7. Harvard HS
Emory IW's two years of two Copelands, NDT quarters and NDT finals along side 4 major wins and 4 finals. If any of the 5 through 7 teams had another year to look at together I could see shuffling the order.
So we have 3 spots left and the following teams floating about: MSU LW, NU BK, Emporia SW, Michigan AP, Rutgers MN.
Is there a weak link in this chain? Well:
MSU LW---won an NDT that involved NU FS and Emory IW. They beat NU in the finals and Emory twice. WOAH. So MSU is not getting bumped from my list.
Emporia SW---they did 4 things as a partnership. They went 2-4 at the Pitt RR (wtf). They were in the finals of Northwestern. They won CEDA. They won the NDT. That is a fucking peak performance right there.
Rutgers MN---Won the NDT. Won CEDA. Won USC. Lost Texas finals.
NU BK---NDT finals + NDT semifinals. Copeland winner. But not just any Copeland winner. Maybe the best Copeland resume of the decade.
Michigan AP---NDT finals twice. Won one major. Finals of two others. Casual 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st RR finishes during war powers and legalization.
We have arrived at honorable mention #4---Michigan AP.
So we need to cut one between Emporia, Rutgers and NU BK. The only thing that is giving me pause is NU BK was one ballot away from an NDT win and they had a strong two years, but Emporia and Rutgers have better peaks. Pretty difficult.
My final list:
1. Gtown AM
2. NU MV
3. NU FS
4. Emory IW
5. Kansas KR
6. Kentucky BT
7. Harvard HS
8. MSU LW
9. Emporia SW
10. NU BK
11. Rutgers MN
12. Michigan AP
13. NU LV
14. Harvard BS
15. Harvard JP
EDITOR's NOTE----the first version of this post snubbed the hell out of Harvard MS. Oops. I would put Harvard MS 14, BoSu 15 and bump Harvard JP.
CORRECTION---NU BK won GSU on democracy, not Gtown AM. Those stat images have been changed to reflect this.
I could go back and forth on the NU vs Rutgers thing for a while. End of the day, NDT semi's, Copeland, NDT finals > NDT win, 7th bid, CEDA win where only two other first rounds were defeated on the way to the crown.
That's how I see it. Feel free to let me know how you see it. What a wild question to ask. More parts later with the other categories.
I am Lincoln, head coach at UK and coach with Montgomery Bell Academy. This site's purpose is to post my ramblings about policy debate.