Monthly Archives: May 2009

Friday Mail Bag v2


I’m sorry this won’t be as comprehensive as the other posts have been, I’ve been kind of sick but these are important questions that deserve to be addressed.   I will make the 1ar question a separate post this weekend.

At the beginning of every camp they start with a lecture on how to do research. Is there any information you can add or build on from these introduction lectures that usually cover “here is why templates are good, here is how to use google and lexis etc.” What are the keys to transition from a novice to a debater cutting files worthy of reading in competitive out rounds? 

You’re already pretty smart if you agree the generic use a template camp lecture is kind of dull.  The template is vital and lexis is really important but knowing how to produce UNIQUE files requires alot more work.  I think your question needs to be divided into 2 parts.  1.) How to do better research  2.) How to make files better.  I think those are two important issues I will address the first mostly in this post, I might save the second for a later one

On a Meta Level, Be thorough- “Roy, I can’t find anything on XYZ, please find it for me” I hear this all the time at camp from kids who spend 15 mins looking for something use some crappy search terms and give up.  Debate is hard, doing good research is hard, so if you can’t find something quickly rather then give up ask yourself if you really have worked hard enough.  Some of the best articles I’ve found on stuff have been on page 63 of google results.  I could have given up 5 or 10 pages in, but I kept slugging through the stuff till I found what I needed.

Things you all don’t use enough but should

1.) footnotes- this seems simple enough yet its hardly utilized.  If you find articles relevant to your research see who the author quotes or references, they will likely either be people who write supporting articles, or articles to the contrary both of which is effective.  If you don’t scour through those you are letting valuable stuff go to waste.  This will be particularly important if people use law reviews extensively this year because those are littered with citations and references

2.) look up people quoted or mentioned in cards you do find.  The PR newwire impact people read to accidental launch impacts discusses a study released from the New England Journal of Medicine a much more well respected source that analyzes nuclear war, disaster response and prepardness.  If you had initially cut that card you would be wise to then go to the New England Journal of Medicine and cut that article too.   If an article talks about someone within it google them see what they write about that can be of use.  

3.) google authors, names of articles etc.  If an expert is well respected they will be discussed by others in the field, or cited by them.  

4.) Email authors with questions on where to look for stuff / resources.  There was a science editor for Reason Magazine this year that I emailed numerous times asking him about stuff he had written and other places and people who shared similar opinions to him to get more info.  They might not always reply but sometimes it can be of use.

5.) familiarize yourself with databases well.  JSTOR, EBSCO, Ejournals at a University, Factiva, CIAO, Stinet, Proquest, and questia are amongst some of the better ones.  Learn how to search them effectively and navigate through that.  I think alot of people even if they are on the right track aren’t efficient enough. 

6.) Start big and consolidate-  I heard a story about some novice debaters researching econ updates and one of them said they did this search into google news “US economy low” .  Obviously you want to mix up your terminology.  You won’t always find cards about political capital, but it might be labeled political clout, clout, influence etc.  When researching you want to start off with big over arching searches that produce lots of results, and as you continue and are more on track you can get into more specific search terms.  A search like “obama w/15 “political capital” w/5 “agenda” w/10 “LOST or Law of the sea” is likely to yield less results then a vaguer search like “obama w/25 “Political capital” or “clout” or “influence” or “bully pulpit” or “agenda” AND LOST or Law of the sea” etc.  

This is just a preliminary I will add more to this before camp begins

The Top Five Lessons Any Team Can Learn From This Year’s CFL Nationals

The National Catholic Forensic League held its annual Grand National Tournament this past weekend in Albany, New York. Featuring a mix of national circuit powerhouses and local teams from circuits across the nation, Catholic Nationals is one of the most unique tournaments on the high school policy debate calendar. Hosted every Memorial Day Weekend, it challenges debaters to survive ten rounds in two days while adapting to the full spectrum of judging styles and experiences.

While many programs have decided not to attend the Grand Nationals in recent years, it remains a difficult test of adaptation and an invaluable preparation opportunity for squads hoping to go deep at NFL Nationals in June. Albany marked my seventh trip to CFL in the past eleven years. In what follows, I will offer five lessons any team can learn from my experience at this year’s tournament. Whether you will be competing in Birmingham in a few weeks or not, the CFL Tournament can provide some invaluable insights into our activity that any debater should appreciate.

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Adapting at Nationals

If you actually want to do well at NFL/CFL you will need to adapt. Most people do this terribly or not at all. If your attitude is “whatever I do what I want” well then you can do that wherever you live and not need to go to Alabama.

1. Slow down- most judges will want you to go slow, and not slow to you- slow to them. At CFLs I was on several panels where the debaters were like “whats your paradigm” (an insanle stupid question btw) and the other 2 judges said something like “i’m not very experienced… stock issues… persuasion…i’m old…” all of which translates to go slow. Then the teams went “fast”  (for them). The other two judges would stop flowing 2 seconds into each speech and the debaters would never notice or care. You are basically rolling dice at this point. Some quick guidelines

-default to the slow side- PT Barnum once said no one ever went broke betting against the intelligence of the american public, likewise, no one ever lost at NFLs for going too slow. It’s pretty simple to see why- if you go fast and the judge doesn’t like  it, you’ve auto lost. If you go fast and they are ok with it, you then still have to win the debate. 75%+ of judges aren’t going to like it- so by going fast you have a partial shot at winning 25% of judges (generously)- does that sound like a winning strategy to you?  But furthermore, you rarely NEED to go fast in these debates to win. You are not debating the top 10% of national circuit teams at NFL’s, you are debating a lot of smaller regional teams who don’t take debate as competitively as many who would read the 3nr. They will have mediocre cases/evidence, not be very experienced etc. What they will be good at is talking “persuasively”- I put that in quotes because I personally do not find some idiot fluff talking and using folksy wisdom while dropping the politics disad to be particularly “persuasive” in getting me to vote for their plan, but I am no tthe majority judge at these things. So you don’t need to go fast, and it is more  likely to hurt you.

-Bad habits- if you do any of the bad speaking habits like stuttering, double breating etc. these are magnified when you try and go like moderately fast for the most part- they stand out more because there is not as much quick recovery like when you go super fast. This makes you sound really terrible. You should be really practicing on having a smooth rate of delivery. If you sound really really good and are smooth judges won’t KNOW when you are actually going reasonably fast because none of the warning signs are there- and lets be clear- many of these judges are about style over substance- so if you can trick them (not hard to do) then you are in good shape.

-Overviews and summaries- actually work well here. For each contention of your case you should have a short introduction that explains the general concept so that your judges hear it before they fall asleep or stop flowing. Same with a disad- a short explanation of the thesis at the top. In later speeches- don’t go for hyper technical overviews, its story time. Very many of your judges will have a predominanlty speech background (or some other background) meaning they don’t know a lot about the topic. This should also lead you to mainstream/simple arguments instead of obscure complex ones. Now some will say “but some judges will be smart” and yes, some will. They will be in the minority however, and adapting doesn’t alienate smart judges because they know you are playing the game, whereas dumb judges will be alienated by you not adapting.

2. Professionalism

-no tag team cx- even if they say its ok, they are lying. They expect you both to be involved in asking and answering questions and really how hard is this

-Dress nice- you may think it sucks that you cant wear your flip flos, lip ring, and slayer t-shirt but are you going to this thing to make a fashion statement or win 10k? This one is a total no brainer, you can make your “im a unique rebel” statements later.

-Be nice- more so than at any other tournaments judges at these things care about decorum, so no matter what the other team does kill them with kindness. All jokes should be double checked that they couldn’t be misinterpreted as mean spirited.

-Minimize prompting – if your partner is about to drop a disad say something, but other wise STFU when they are speaking, this isn’t public forum and its not grand crossfire (thank god)

-Know what your evidence says- you should be able to answer cx questions intelligently without having to constantly reference your evidence or get it back to read it. Particularly if you are the 1A- you should be able to sail through any CX about your case.

3. Realize they aren’t going to call for 100 cards and sort it out- most judges call for zero and at CFL they can’t call for any- so reading 10 link cards is meaningless- read 1 or 2 and then explain them /re read key parts out loud etc.

4. Focus on qualifications- you should always read them in your 1AC/other speeches and emphasize when the other team does not have qualified evidence. Add a little style to this, don’t just say

“economic decline causes war-mead 92”

say “Economic decline causes nuclear war, this is Mead, a Senior Fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations, writing in 1992”

5. Look up- watch the judges to see if they are flowing/paying attention. Make eye contact. Also- note if they are flowing sideways- this is a pretty good sign no matter how fast you are going you are going to fast (esp if your judge is Ross or Dallas).

6. Don’t freak out about disclosure- if the other team doesn’t disclose they probably suck and its not a big deal.

There Are In Fact Stupid Questions

And stupid people who ask them.

1. What does dispositionality mean? If you are asking this question, or are answering with anything other than “if you make a permutation or a theory argument other than dispositionality bad we can kick the cp” you are stupid. I don’t know when or where someone had the idea that it was ok to just make this mean whatever you want it to mean like “if you read only offense” or “if you straight turn the net benefit” but I would bet it happened in stupidville.  The meaning if dispo is logical- it stems from the idea of opportunity cost. Since competition is the link to the cp, if you challenge the link we can kick it just like if u challenge the link to a disad and then impact turn it. So from now on, if someone asks “what is the status of the CP” instead of saying “its dispo” say “its stupid and arbitrary nonsense-acality”.

2. “What is the status of (any part) of the K”. Once someone reads a K it should be obvious that they are a sneaky trickster and you should be making theory arguments anyway. Even if the alternative is “unconditional” that doesn’t mean anything because even though they are stuck going for “it”, the “it” they go for in the 2NR will bear little/no resemblance to the “it” of the 1NC cx. Please stop wasting all of our lives. I did some math:

I judge around 130 debates a year (excluding camp which would make this ridiculous).

50% involve a K= 65.

I would say at least 1 minute is spent in those debates cxing or asking during prep time about the alternative, so say 65 minutes (this is conservative).

Things I would rather do with that hour

-watch an episode of Golden Girls and Keeping up with the Kardashians back to back

-Have my tonsils removed sans anesthesia

-be hunted by another human a la the most dangerous game

-be warmed by the innards of a tonton while Han set up the shelter, and I thought they smelled bad on the outside…

That means every year I am wasting an hour of my life listening to inane cross x questions that are totally unnecessary. So for everyone out there, I will answer them all now

“Does the alternative solve the case?” -Obviously not chuckles, but we will make a string of stupid arguments about why it does and you will drop them

“who is the agent of the alternative”- I can’t tell you till the 2NR because I don’t know what the alternative will be untill then- but probably everyone on earth holding hands, so I would say all hands.

“what is the status of the alternative” -Its “dropisitional”- if at any point you drop a 2 word argument about the alternative we will then claim u dropped our floating pic/fiat world peace/make war impossible alternative”


3. Does your link assume….- no , it obviously doesn’t assume anything let alone your plan. This applies to all disads/anything with a link. If links assumed things we could just insta sign all ballots neg and dispense with the silly debates. Obviously no cards talk about anything becasue debate is contrived and stupid.

4. “what does your 1NC have to say about this 2AC argument”- no explanation needed.

5.  Silly rhetorical questions used to begin a K- again, no explanation needed.

Mailbag Friday v1


I recently switched speaker positions to the 2N. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on what you think is a solid strategy to approach the many choices a 2N has to make concerning what arguments to go for (both in the block and in the 2NR). I have had only one semester experience, but find myself always second guessing and wishing I went a different route in the block and 2NR.”

Thanks for the question.  I think ALL 2ns definitely have this issue.  Part of your question shows a basic flaw in the ways 2ns think.  You ask about the block and the 2nr, but what about the 1nc.  My big point with my kids is this “Do you have winnable options.”  A lot of the negative problems stems from constructing poor 1ncs which either make the strategy very apparent to the other team or just limit your options in general.

For example if you have in the 1nc T, generic K, states, politics and business confidence and little or no case, a smart 2ac should realize that biz con isn’t a net benefit to the CP and that since you have little or no case args you can’t go for the biz con da and win.  This makes the block significantly harder because now they’ve spent more time on the other potential worlds etc etc.

Tip 1- make sure you have a couple of viable worlds in the 1nc for the block to collapse down too and that they make sense.  Investing time in the case is always good, it makes a DA and Case viable, it also makes it easier to defeat solvency deficits to counterplans if you can minimize what it is the aff actually solves for.

Tip 2- Re-evaluate during and right after the 2ac what is viable and what isn’t.  Did they just make 40 args on politics?  Well maybe we aren’t going for politics.  Make sure your block keeps the same mindset as in the 1nc.  Does what I’m extending serve some utility.  Will it scare the 1ar?  Will it get a good time tradeoff?   Does it work as a strategy in general.  This is really situational but you need to ask yourself what kind of block and 2nr do I need to give for us to win the debate.  Is this 1ar so fast that if I collapse to just states and politics they’ll make the 2nr hell for me?  Or are my cards on this stuff just so so, which means I need to make the block big to deflect attention from that?  Conversely you could decide your best chance of winning is to lock it down on an issue and make the whole block the K.  You have a good idea of who you’re debating and what you’re up against.   Assume you also aren’t going to fully cover because no 2nc has ever taken up 4-5 sheets of paper and actually covered well.

Tip 3- Take prep time before the cx of the 2ac.  Talk to your 1nr about what they are going to be going for, that way you both are on the same page on stuff, too many times people wait till the cx is over the 1nr looks at the partner whose hectic and is like “so what am I taking?” the response is usually mumbled and just blah.  Those 20 seconds of prep time are valuable.

Tip 4-Have good blocks for the 2nc, this will let you spend some time deciding what you want to go for and what is viable, the less time you spend running around looking for stuff the more calm and clear headed you can be for deciding what to go for in the 2nc and 2nr.

Tip 5- Trust the 1nr.  The 1nr is to quote the movie swingers “The (wo)man behind the (wo)man.”  A great 1nr makes the block soo much better and your 2nr significantly easier.  Its usually easy to predict cocky 2ns 2nr strategy, take what was in the 2nc and assume its going to be in the 2nr.  This is a serious mistake.  The 1nr easily has 12-15 mins of prep time to get their speech ready, it should be awesome.  Giving them an important issue is key because they can read your opponents ev, indict it, do all the things that are really difficult to do in the 2nc.  To often they are relegated to theory etc.  This is un-strategic not just for the reason above, but if the 1nr gets theory etc and the aff has no plan on going for theory they get to use the 1nr to prep their 1ar.   If you “sandbag” some of the important stuff in the block to the 1nr the 1ar has less time to prepare for it etc.

Tip 6-Don’t take any shortcuts- Obviously if something cheap shot ish is messed up you can extend it, but when you look for easy ways to win the debate that’s when you usually make a mistake and give up the round.

Mastering tips 1,2,5 will get you significantly more neg wins and help you get to the next level where you can work on refining those skills and some more advanced techniques.

What would your advice be to a graduating senior who will be debating next year in college? What are the biggest hurdles that they will have to overcome? What can they do during the summer to make the transition easier and to improve their skills? What are some of the most common misconceptions that incoming college freshmen have about college debate? If you had it to do over again, how would you improve your transition from high school to college debate?”

This is actually a really good question, and I think alot of college frosh flake out, quit or get discouraged because of the transition to college and their inability to adapt.

The biggest hurdle to deal with is this LEARN TO LOSE.  YOU WILL LOSE A LOT OF DEBATES AND THAT IS OK!!!.  Too many good HS debaters show up to college after a season of late elims and expect that they will shock the world in college.  You won’t, you’re not expected to and most importantly THATS OK.  The reason (as someone whose recruited kids to go to Emory before) that I like kids who aren’t super super successful is because they are often hungry for wins and will not get discouraged by losses.    4-4 is good for a college frosh, make something like that your goal.  You will not be top speaker, you won’t be past the octos (if you make it to the doubles or past it) at any big tournament (GSU, KY, Harv, Wake, Texas, NDT) but you aren’t expected too be either.  You have 4 years to do your best, this first year is a year of adjustment to a life away from home, much tougher academics and better debaters, if you set unreasonable expectations you won’t meet them and will likely get too discouraged to rebound well.  LOSING IS OK say it out loud again.

Everyone decent in college is proficient in debate.  If you are debating a real good 4-4 team or 5-3 or better team they can do the tech well.  In HS a team can run through a tournament “out techning” everyone.  At the highest levels of college debating the debates are decided on in depth knowledge of the literature and its explanation.  There are very few “tech” wins at the top level.  If you just coached a HS team to be tech they could be a quarters team, that alone is insufficient in college, which means older kids with more on the line are going to know more then you.   You will also be on the brunt end of some Jedi tricks learn from those mistakes.  Much of college debates are decided on evidence, so without good business you’re going to be in bad shape.

In that transition from the elite level of HS debating to bottom of the totem poll in college will also come other issues. 1.) people for the most part don’t know who you are, whatever rep you had will vanish for the most part which means you need to build connections with judges because over 4 years you can understand those people and know how to debate in front of them. I would love every debate I ever have to be in front of Jarrod Atchison, John Turner and Kevin Hamrick. I learned what they liked and executed that. 2.) you will probably get the freshman treatment from some judges, a close debate might not go your way, some 27.5 bombs might get dropped etc. Take those in stride. I’m not saying its legitimate or fair but its part of the maturation process. You will one day maybe benefit from that.

There’s a simple formula for college debate: Hard work à Success. It might take time but it works. You are not likely to be the best debater on your team, learn from your elders, I learned so much from the older kids at emory, even just sitting back at team meetings listening to them watching them in the elims when I wasn’t there. There is soo much more to debate then just the arguments. How you compose yourself, prep for the debate, prep for the tournament. All of these are small things that lead to big picture success. If the people aren’t particularly hard working then don’t emulate them. Some people have lots of talent but don’t apply themselves, learn from the good influences not the bad (Frat parties and getting high do not make a good tourney prep)

I think what I did for work my freshman year is not the norm, I got to work with 2 emory coaches for the summer at a debate camp and spent time doing topic work, since most people don’t do that here’s what I suggest. 1.) contact your coach(es) and take on assignments, it shows you are interested in working and want to be part of the team 2.) read all the edebate posts on the topic. I will concede most are shitty, but you all don’t know the people well enough to employ your own filter, at this point you are hunting for info. 3.) talk to teammates and get their input, think smart 4.) do some of the stuff from my schools out for summer, read theory articles rewrite those blocks, etc. Debaters of this generation are so very lucky to have all these resources available to them. I would have killed for a strong cross-x or 3nr type place to really read and understand stuff.

Finally I’ll be honest high level college debate is hard and time consuming. It comes at the expense of a lot of other stuff. You must be good at time management to keep your grades and social life available. But if you think you can win the NDT and do all of the college stuff stop right now, it’s just not possible. If you debate for a big team which isn’t solely dependent on you for ev try other stuff out (just realize this will compromise your debate success). In the end debate is a great activity but do not let it dictate how you view or judge yourself. Winning tournaments and speaker awards is nice but make sure you have some balance with grades and other stuff too

Throwdown #1: Affirmative Framework Choice – The Challenge

So this is the first of the “throwdown ” posts. Basically, I will post an argument, then wait like a week or so. During that week anyone can post in comments a response or series of them. I will then write a new post with how I would answer those arguments as if this was an actual debate. Thats were it will end though as I will have to move on to more pressing matters like Fallout 3.

Throwdown with Scott Phillips

Throwdown with Scott Phillips

A few notes on comments

-no need to post like 1,000 things- don’t just cut and paste your 2NC block into the comments. I won’t waste time responding to things where the answers are probably well known among non mouth breathers. So think about either tough arguments you have had to answer and were stuck on or something like that

-don’t post repeats- that will just slow everything down

-the response will be measured to the initial comment- so if you post a 3 word claim I will respond with a similar short warrantless arg like “you smell..bad” or some such. If you post a legit arg or god forbid a card, you will get a legit response.

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Debate and authority 3.0

What is a legitimate source to cite as evidence in a policy debate contest round? Should forensic specialists publish material that addresses the topic area on which they are currently coaching? How can members of the policy debate community relate their simulation-based research to “real world” decision-making and analysis of relevant policy issues?

These questions about publicity and publication have received extended treatment recently on debate lists and discussion boards, with conversation sparked by specific events. On the high school level, controversy swirled in the wake of revelations that a high school coach apparently published a topic-relevant article using a pseudonym with fictitious credentials (Marburry, 2009). Then two Center for Strategic and International Studies analysts (CSIS JY, 2009, 8) successfully persuaded college debaters and forensics specialists to select nuclear weapons policy as the 2009-2010 intercollegiate policy debate topic area, in part by claiming, “there will be a demand for your expertise in the policy analysis community.”

Roughly speaking, the act of publishing entails preparing material for public uptake, and then announcing the event to facilitate circulation. For many years, this process was structured largely as an economic transaction between authors and printing press owners, with editors often serving as gatekeepers who would vet and filter material. Readers relied on markers of professionalism (quality of print and ink, circulation, reputation of editors) to judge the relative credibility of publications. In the academy, referees employed similar metrics to assess a given writer’s degree of scholarly authority, metrics that were rooted in principles of publication scarcity and exclusivity – that a scholar’s caliber was in part demonstrated by his or her ability to persuade editors to publish their work.

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Defining Social Services

Many debaters are under the misguided notion that the resolution has some objective meaning. Either you are a policy debater and you think the topic provides a set of core arguments/cases to debate about implementation of a government policy, or you are a K debater and you think the topic is objectively nonsense. Few people understand just how malleable debate resolutions are.

Focus on that word- malleable. Thats a term from metalurgy – it literally means how something can be hammered out. In debate this means that what the resolution means is not fixed- it is hammered out. What that means is that teams literally create the topic by pounding on others- either by reading a certain set of cases or by going for topicality against a certain set of cases to exclude them. The skills and preperation of individual teams establish the bounds of the topic. A few examples

  1. DADT – this has never been topical on any high school resolution in the last decade, yet it has been a hugely popular case on all of them.
  2. Alternative energy includes nuclear- no, no it doesn’t, and yet somehow this year it did thanks to a minute long T contention in the 1AC
  3. Any and all subsets args (must be throughout the US, must be all kinds of energy, must be all SSA etc)

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School's Out For Summer – Debate Isn't…

For most of you all the debate season has come to its conclusion and with school winding down (or completed for seniors) you all have an abundance of free time on your hands.   While taking a break is definitely important to keep you sane and avoid burning out from debate, this time off can also be used to refine your debate skills.

A basis for this post comes from an email Naveen Ramachandrappa sent me before my junior year of college.  For those of you who don’t know who Naveen is, as a debater he was basically everything that was great about this activity.  He debated for UGA, was the hardest working debater I have ever met and was meticulous about how and what he did.  He produced this which is a PDF outlining how to create a debate template a must for cutting cards if you don’t already have one.

Improvements in debate happen at the margin, disproportionately, and often long-term.  It is the combination of the little things that makes people better at debate”- Naveen

We all want to see the hard work we do translate into something tangible immediately.  Despite that, you cannot get infatuated with immediate improvement and drastic changes in your results.  If you work hard you will get better, it might be a slow progression or it could be a rapid spurt but you will get better.  There is no debate HGH that you can take that will drastically improve your skills, getting better is a function of the hard work you put in over the years.  It also means if you focus on the little things, all those little things will lead to big changes in how you do.

I like breaking down things into an hourly rate of sorts.  Assuming you have around 40-50 days before you head off to your debate institutes, if you just spent 1 hour a day working on debate that’s 40-50 hrs of prep work you wouldn’t have previously done.  Bump it to 2 hrs a day and you’re looking at 80-100 hrs of work on debate with little to no serious infringements on your other plans.  If you sleep for a generous 8 hrs of the day from the other 16 other hours you are awake you need to find 1 or 2 a day to do debate work.  Everyone spending their time reading this can commit 1/16th or 1/8th of their time to improvement.

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