Thursday, July 23, 2009

We are now officially on hiatus

No matter what WTF does, we will not comment on it. Damn!

See you in a couple of weeks.

Oh, no!

It's come to this. WTF is now apparently killing its students and leaving them to rot on the campus.

These are tough times we live in.

PF 2009 Part 9 (conclusion)

One thing we haven’t discussed yet is prep time. To be honest, two minutes of prep time isn’t enough to scratch your nose, so its use must be carefully doled out. I would simply suggest that a minute go before the 3rd or 4th speeches, so that the team can compare notes on what to win with, then 30 seconds each to do the same for the two wrap-up speeches. Hear what your partner has to say before you start talking, in other words. There might be a piece of evidence you might not have thought of, or some point that would have otherwise eluded you. It is a team activity, after all. Use the team’s brain, not just your own.

Anyhow, the rest of PF plays out in a most predictable way, and one need simply keep in mind that the point of each speech is to win the round. The two-minute speeches are just long enough to explain to the judge 1) why your opponent loses, and 2) why you win. Explaining either one of these without the other is not good enough. “Our opponents’ Big Idea was this, and this evidence overwhelming disproved it, while our Big Idea was this, and this evidence overwhelming proved it, ergo, vote for us,” or words to that effect. What is true of crystallization in LD is true in PF. Explain to the judge why you win, and show it on the flow. We win because we made this argument for our side, which was not suitably refuted, and because we made this argument against our opponent, which was not suitably refuted. Give me a summary, with a roadmap. Briefly. Anything less is probably not enough.

I’m not quite sure what the GXF is supposed to be about, but I would suggest that it will vary from round to round. If it were me, I’d just hammer home any point I was winning, and explain why any point I wasn’t winning didn’t matter. Same as LD. I wonder, though. By this time in the round (and this is also true of LD, although, of course, there’s no more CX toward the end of things), most judges’ minds will be mostly made up. So maybe what it boils down to, if you think you’re winning, figure out why you’re winning and hammer that home, whereas if you think you’re losing, figure out why and hammer something else home, or prove why the reason your losing is not a reason to lose. Tough thing to do, though.

By the same token, the last one-minute speech can’t really be much more than an attempt by the final speaker to write the judge’s ballot. That’s what it would be if it were me. “This is why you vote pro/con,” and then you give a couple of sentences on the Big Idea. Anything else is pointless; I mean, what else can you do at this late stage of the game?

And for me, given my limited experience, that about sums it up. I'm sure I'll have things to add as time goes by and I learn more, but at least this is a start.

See you at the coin flip.

Hey, Kids! Debate Action Figures! Collect 'Em All!

Just in time for the end of session one at WTF, Coachean Life is proud to offer the following debate action figures, each lovingly handmade by machine at Coachean HQ, each an original simulacrum of a work of art, MADE JUST FOR YOU! Standing exactly 11.5 inches high, these 1/6 scale dolls will fit any spare Barbie or Ken clothes you may have lying around, although we recommend that, in the interest of identity politics, you dress the figures in gender-appropriate clothing, given that most of them are confused enough already. Just send $39.95 (plus $29.95 shipping and handling) to this website for each figure wanted. Pretty cheap, eh? (Don’t bother to send your home address, as we’re just going to keep your money and tell you the figures got lost in the mail.)

The complete list of Series #1 of the Debate Action Figures for 2009:

The J. W. action figure: comes with accessory list of names of clearing debaters, all of which it pronounces incorrectly, including the names Smith, Jones, and Patterson.

The Victor-E action figure: comes with accessory sister action figure, with which it argues incessantly.

The O’C action figure: comes with accessory collection of antique trophies; we recommend you glue this action figure to the shelf, as it tends to wander off.

The ivy-covered Palmer action figure: comes with accessory crashed MacBook, over which it peers while muttering, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

The JV action figure: comes with accessory evil eye; we recommend you keep this action figure away from any debater action figures, which it tends to scare to death, thus voiding any implied warranties from the manufacturer.

The Do Bee action figure: comes with accessory ballot premarked for the wrong side; this action figure is the only one in the series capable of striking itself from the field.

The Little Jake action figure:
comes carrying accessory miniature version of itself, which will act as a trophy named after itself. Please note that the miniature version of the Little Jake is also carrying a miniature version of itself, etc., etc.. thus illuminating both the concept of infinity and the concept of having attended way too many tournaments in four short years.

The Craven Savage action figure: comes with no accessories, and in fact, doesn’t exist, but this is the action figure with the best name of the group.

The Hockaday Boys' School action figure: Sorry, sold out.

The Bietz action figure: comes with accessory set of endless gadgets, this figure mostly sits in the corner and grunts.

The Hammy action figure:
comes with accessory Mitt mitts, this figure mostly sits in the corner and grunts about Democrat liberal commies.

The Coachean action figure:
comes with accessory tabroom, this figure mostly sits in the corner and grunts about the other action figures.

Department of Clarification

To answer Max's comment question, yes, the dream was entirely as I described it. And extremely vivid, which is why I was able to describe it in such detail hours later. And, too, it scared the crap out of me.

I also did dream about the Tesla, although that wasn't as interesting.

In other words, all dreams reported in this blog, unlike any else you'll read here, are guaranteed to be entirely real and accurate.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dream a little dream, again, etc.

There must be something in the water in Sailorville. I had another dream last night, after seeing the new Harry Potter movie. I dreamt I was driving a new Tesla. Cool, except I’ve never driven a high-performance car before and I was really worried about crashing into the car in front of me when I was parallel parking. Obviously, this dream wasn’t as interesting as dreaming that I was running Big Bronx from my basement. Blame Harry Potter.

For those of you who have been following the Feed (I haven’t checked the stats, so it could be two of you or a million and two) you’ve probably noticed that I’ve fallen into the swing of it pretty well, with a reasonable handful of articles a day. I’m doing something similar for the DJ, only book-oriented, with a Twitter account to announce each posting. It’s just something I like doing, I guess. Silly me, but I get the impression that the interwebs are huge and we could all use a little help finding the good stuff, and as much as I like crowd-sourcing I do not feel that it is enough. But that’s all right. I will start soliciting articles for the Feed, by the way, in the near future (although vacating may slow me down, because when I’m vacating, I like to be electronically vacant, otherwise I might as well stay in the chez basement running Big Jake). Excelsior, you fathead (as Shep—one of my personal heroes—would say).

I will try to wrap up the series on Pffft before I disappear. Obviously what I’m doing is putting down my thoughts in the broadest, unedited approach here first. Then my plan is to boil them down into one single (albeit long) how-to article, an outline for the Sailors for discussions/lectures, and maybe a podcast. I’m almost done with the phase one. All that’s really left is talking about sealing the deal, i.e., being a closer. Easier said than done, maybe, in the world as it is today, where LD 2ARs forgo crystallization in aid of arguing points that have already been argued to death…

I have been getting field reports from WTF Camp Debatamucka in addition to the endless drivel updates on their site. The Panivore is out there hearing tales of my judging past, all of which have been improved for narrative purposes. Funny that I remember a lot of rounds going back for generations. For instance, Nadir talked about hitting Ben Schultz, and I remember that round where Ben first hit Nadir at NFA distinctly. Anyhow, at WTF, Dougo Malfoy is referencing the round where I picked him up at TOC when his opponent managed to rebuild Doug’s case in CX. It was rather paradigmatic. If your opponent has a case that is as mathematically elegant and complicated as a moon launch, it probably doesn’t behoove you in CX to request further information on the areas where the math is the most complicated so that the judge can fill in any links he might have missed during the constructive. Other TOC rounds I remember? The coin toss where the tosser I dropped wouldn’t shut up about it. The round where you-know-who brought his mother (all I remember, actually, is his mother). The round where the girl who later went on to greatness blithely and with no intended malice congratulated her opponent on being better than all the other opponents she had crushed. With mutual preferences, mostly I would be relegated to the boondocks, though, of people who didn’t know me well enough to realize that striking me would be better than giving me a C. Whatever. Golden memories, eh? Of course the thing that always comes to mind first with TOC is that it’s always manuring season down there when we arrive. The air is scented with—

Oh well, you get the idea.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Announcement: Menick quits debate

There comes a time in your life when you know you have reached a turning point. I now know that I have reached such a point.

I spent a bunch of time yesterday discussing the Big Bronx tournament with Jon Cruz. Yes, it’s July, and the tournament is October, but he’s running a little late with his worrying this year—what can I say? Anyhow, we worked out this and that through a combination of email and tweet and IM and smoke signal, and, I thought, that was the end of it.

How wrong I was!

I am not making up any of the following. I’ll swear it on my copy of any Dead White Philosopher you want to name.

Last night I dreamed that, for reasons that are unclear, the Big Bronx tournament had to be relocated from the high school to my house. People began arriving with all their luggage days in advance, all of them teenagers. They would come up to me as they were moving in and say, “Remember me?” and I’d say yes, but it wasn’t true. Their faces, sort of, but that was the extent of it, except for a couple of known felons who everybody knew inside and outside of the activity. Being teenagers, they were an incredibly hungry group, and we ran out of food long before round one even started. There were no bathrooms in the house, or maybe the bathrooms were just steadily occupied by someone who wouldn’t come out, but there was no question that there were plumbing issues that everyone was complaining about. One cheeky young man who insisted I knew who he was (I think I dropped him at TOC a couple of times) suggested that he should be allowed free access to the liquor cabinet, in that he was quite the connoisseur of wines. Meanwhile, I was trying to get round one started, but I didn’t have the data, and, of course, O’C, who did have it, was nowhere to be found. I also couldn’t find my printer, but since I didn’t have any data to print, this didn’t seem too much of a problem.

I woke up. The alarm had not gone off yet, and it was pouring rain outside, and I drifted back to sleep, the way one will. O’C turned up and I was trying to convince him that next year the tournament should be in D.C. or Maine or Wyoming but he kept insisting that having it at my house was the best Big Bronx ever.

I woke up again, and wrote this entry on my blog. If this isn’t a subconscious warning that it is time for me to find a new pastime, I don’t know what is.

Monday, July 20, 2009

PF 2009 Part 8

This is going to be really simple.

First, one side tells you why you should pro/con. After a little discussion atwixt the two sides, the other side tells you why it should do the opposite. So far, so good. We’ve talked about these speeches, The Big Idea, and the content of the first XF (crossfire).

The second XF is mostly like the previous one. Both sides now know the other side’s Big Idea. Both sides know the other side’s strategy and content. So this XF needs to tear down what has been said by the opponent and reset the stage for one's own Big Idea. Not exactly brain surgery, and more sophisticated examination processes can be developed as one gains experience. The key is, tear down opponent, build up self. It is ever thus in CX or XF or whatever you want to call it.

The breakdown of which team member goes when depends on a lot of factors, but one thing that is clear is that the second member of a team to present is going to be doing a rebuttal as compared to presenting a position. One theory is that the lovable debater goes first, to win over the judges, and the mad dog debater goes second, to attack everything that needs attacking. I would subscribe to this approach at least as a starting point for organizing a team, but I wouldn’t take it to the grave. I see no intrinsic reason why both team members might not want to try one position on one topic and the other position on another. Why not work on developing all the potential skill sets?

But regardless of how you pick your second speaker, one thing is clear. The second speech has to win the round. Two many rounds I saw did not believe that this was the case, which was not a sound strategy. In a good debate, every speech potentially wins the round. This is clearly seen in LD, where each speech covers the entire flow (except, probably, the 2AR). But in PF, this isn’t quite as clear. A lot of teams get up in their second speech and attack the other side. Period. They cover everything that was said by the opponent, they tear it to shreds, they stomp on it, they feed it to the dogs, all of which is fine and dandy, but strategically, all that does is tell me why I shouldn’t vote for the opponent. It doesn’t tell me why I should vote for you. Even the instructions from NFL suggest that this speech is more than just attack: “In addition, some time in either of these speeches should be allocated to rebuilding the original case.”

Now, four minutes isn’t a lot, granted, but it’s exactly the same as LD’s 1AR. I don’t think offhand that you should go two and two. If you spend three minutes attacking the opponent, then a minute or so rebuilding yourself, this should work. The structure is simple:
1. Attack opponent’s Big Idea.
2. Attack opponent’s main lines of argument with solid evidentiary refutation. (Demonstrate lack of warrant, lack of link, over-reliance on facts that are in fact pure bull-oney, etc., keeping in mind that to overcome their evidence you need, uh, other evidence.)
3. Demonstrate in the end why your Big Idea is so much better.

This lack of coverage of a side’s own case was the biggest lapse I saw in my (admittedly limited) experience judging PF rounds. Like everything else I’ve been saying, it’s not particularly groundbreaking; hell, it’s written right into the instructions. But people don’t do it. And what this means from the judging point of view is that you have this big hole on your flow that, presumably, will be filled at some other time. That’s not good enough. As I say, in a debate, every speech should act as if it’s the one that has to win the round. And winning the round always means not just refuting what the other team has said but also providing support for why what you say is so much better.

To remember this—and this may be the first thread of theory to be presented in the PF world—I would suggest you tattoo the following on your partner’s forehead: “Don’t just say no.” Saying no just isn’t enough. Never has been, never will be. The best defense is a good offense? Yep. If you have an extra partner that you only use on religious holidays, you can tattoo that on that one’s head. “The best defense is a good offense.”

Truer words, in debate, have never been spoken.

Absence makes the heart grow fungus

I’m going to be away for a while, with limited computer access, which means that I won’t be posting for a couple of weeks after this Friday (if I make it that far). I’ll try to finish up the PF analysis, which is about the only major thing pending. Feeding will be sadly absent as well. But if you’re a good Do Bee and have everything in your RSS feed, none of this will bother you. (Some of you may recall that the [dreadful] TV show Romper Room classified its audience into Do Bees and Don’t Bees. I just checked in Wikipedia and found that the show ran for over 40 years. Yikes! Those who had any contact with it, of course, are unable, ever, to consider the existence of Sam Duby without a wry, ironic smile.) If you can’t miss me for even this short period, feel free to follow my exploits away from home on Twitter (@jimmenick). And if you’re planning on robbing my house, please try not to disturb the house sitter or, for that matter, Tik (pronounced teek), whose vicious streak has sent many a debater packing permanently. (“He bit me!” they cry as they go running out the door. Cat bites debater? Not news. Debater bites cat? Well, that’s probably not news either, considering the nature of most debaters.)

I’d like to say I’ve read every inch of WTF’s coverage of its summer camp, but that would not be truthful on my part. I trust that you can say, or more to the point, not say the same. O’C did note to me privately, by the way, that he realized following this year’s screening that the movie Tron is sort of boring. Sort of boring? Generous praise indeed for one of the great overrated stinkers of the 20th Century. Oh, yeah, we really need that one remade…

The hardest thing about packing for a vacation is deciding what books to bring. Excluding audiobooks, I’m looking at short pieces by Gaiman and this guy you’ve never heard of, Ed McClanahan, plus Wilfred Sheed’s take on the Great American Songbook, and maybe a Jeeves novel. That should hold me, I think. I can always buy more when I’m out there (we're doing the Northwest). I had hoped to be in the middle of Anathem (300 pages and I was still bored, so I stopped) or Against the Day (never even made it to 300) or Infinite Jest (couldn’t find it anywhere in the chez), but what can I say? The second hardest thing about packing for a vacation is deciding what electronic gizmos to bring. To be honest, packing clothes is at the absolute bottom of the list. Given that one year I went away for vacation and forgot to bring any pants, I probably should elevate clothes-packing to a higher priority, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

PF 2009 Part 7

The Big Idea is nothing more than the advocacy of a given position. Each side should have a clear advocacy, and the debate that ensues is the clash of the different advocacies. Simple enough, at least at the broadest view. And, given the nature of your audience, the broadest view may be the best one. It is a truism in LD that if as a judge you want to be struck by everyone in the tournament you should use the words “big picture” in your paradigm. By the same token, big pictures are probably what win most PF rounds. And big ideas lead to big pictures. Nothing complicated about it.

The first speech for either presents that side’s advocacy. I don’t have much to say about coin flips and what to choose, mostly because I don’t have much experience with it, and it seems as it it’s very topic-related. Needless to say, given that any aspect of a toss can go against you, it is best to be prepared for all contingencies on all sides. One especially nice thing about this that I like is that it encourages both sides to actually have an advocacy. The weakest LD cases, as I’ve often said, are the ones that simply say no to everything the aff proposes. As a general rule, this is not good enough. Both sides need offensive positions, not just defensive positions. This is not to be confused with counterplans, however, which don’t make much sense to me (and, for that matter, with some of the policy folks I’ve talked to) because they inherently agree with the core aff position, and merely suggest another way to go about solving. Everything I concede to the other side strengthens them and weakens me. Why would I want to do that voluntarily? In LD, a counterplan almost invariably can be construed by the opposing side as support of that side’s framework, meaning that counterplans in LD can only be won by strong debaters against weaker debaters. Given that there are no counterplans in PF, you may find this discussion irrelevant, but there does seem to be a tendency to write counterplans and attempt to call them something else. You might get away with this if your judge is inexperienced enough, but the reason not to run them goes beyond that they are not acceptable: they’re also not a good idea.

So we’ve talked about what a case should include, and the first speaker now presents that case, with its Big Idea and its demonstration through evidence of how that idea will be achieved by supporting this particular side of the resolution. The four minutes available seems okay to me. Given that there is no need to explain a complex V/C framework, you’ve probably got the same amount of real time that you would have in an LD constructive, either in most of a 1AC or half a 1NC. Nothing much for me to say here.

The crossfire that follows looks not much different from an LD cross-ex but I would suggest that there are a few serious differences that might be overlooked. First of all, it is very likely that a round can be won or lost in crossfire. It is not really separate from the round as it is in LD. From the judge’s point of view, it’s all part of the deal, and there’s lots of it. Every time you turn around there’s more cross-examination. There is no sense that this is somehow ancillary to the proceedings. Everything that is said in crossfire can become, for the judge, a voting issue. Which means that, right off the top, there is no rest for the wicked. Crossfire counts probably way more than it counts in LD (where some people would prefer to forgo it completely with flex prep).

Crossfire, like cross-ex in LD, needs to be focused, for the same reasons and in most of the same ways. The sides wish to set up their own side and take down the opposing side. First of all, the questioner needs to find the flaws. Then the questioner needs to ask the leading questions that set up the questioner’s position. Very standard. Simple enough.

But, and I have said this elsewhere, in PF a debater should never open his or her mouth unless there’s a piece of evidence in it. We are arguing fact-based material. The judge is going to be convinced, or not, on the basis of facts. Every time you answer a question with something other than a fact, it’s a lesser answer. I will admit that not every question is answerable with a fact, but that’s the paradigm you should attempt. The rounds that I have watched, where someone is able to answer a question in a form something like, “As we pointed out with the Cheney evidence, 45% of whatever do such-and-such” is much better than any less specific response. One hit against PF is that it is dueling facts, but what is meant by that is that there is a core fact for each side that goes up against but does not overcome the other side’s core fact, and you just keep hammering each other with contradictory data. I agree that that is pretty dull, and that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m saying is, support your position with evidence at all times. First of all, it makes you more authoritative. It shows that you have researched. And most importantly, it makes judges think you’re as smart as a prime pumpkin. And, given the nature of the activity, it’s inherently the right thing to do.

I learned quickly as a judge to flow the CX (all right, the CF). I also learned that I needed two colors on my flow to cover things correctly. I’ll be recommending this to all future PF judges, i.e., two colors. Makes sense. Keep that in mind when you’re debating. In LD, I’ve never used multiple colors because I can flow in a very structured way. There’s less structure to PF, once you throw in CX as a voting factor. Multiple colors help me track through the lack of structure. And, more to the point, I’m voting on anything, at any time. Never forget that for a minute.

The opposing side’s four-minute case is no different, whether it’s pro or con. The same rules apply in all ways. Which means that we’re done with the easy part, and it’s on to Speaker Number Two.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

MHL Grand Finale for the smartly attired, WTF photos for the masochists, Feeds for the hungry

Last night I sent out a general announcement about the MHL. First of all, although this was second of all in the actual announcement, we’re going to change the name to the Metro-Hudson League. This does make sense to me, given that we cover the metropolitan and Hudson regions pretty equally. It was O’C’s idea. It means we’ll have to change a few things on the back end, but I don’t think there’s anything too onerous. Secondly, O’C and I, in our attempts to organize next year’s TNC, ultimately came up with a Grand Finale MHL on 4/10, and eliminated the Northeast Chumps. (There’s a whole song and dance about the Chumps that I’ll go into eventually, but now is not the time.) The Grand Finale (O’C wants to call it the Metrofinals, which sounds to me like a final round featuring metrosexuals) will be a one-day hoo-ha for all divisions, including limited varsity in a sort of RR format. Lots of details to iron out, but it looks like fun. I like the idea of ending the MHL season with a bang rather than a whimper.

Meanwhile, for those of you with a serious masochistic streak, you might want to wander over and look at photos of Camp WTF. O’C just posted a couple of thousand of them, representing hour one of the festivities. I love summer.

And I think I’ve actually figured out the Feed now. Given that I’ve been trying different versions since Jimmy Carter was in the White House, it’s probably about time. The Feed page is revised and relatively final at There will be nothing in it but articles that I have selected and commented on, with sample text. The automated page (called Midhudson League’s Starred Items, which I paste as a widget here and there) will only reference those articles, and not other, uncurated articles; no more raw, uncommented articles, in other words. I’ll keep pasting that widget in various places as a sort of advertisement for the Feed. The basic Coachean Life page will go back to my ramblings, and will not be fed into the Feed.

In other words, I’m now running two separate companion blogs. One is what I create, the other is what I curate. The former is primarily to amuse myself and to annoy everyone else, the latter is primarily to assist students of the debater persuasion, mostly providing regular deep background on subjects of relevance. I won’t try to cover Policy, which I had been marking up in the raw feed; it’s just too much (unless a Policy article looks relevant to the non-Policy universe).

And that’s enough of Feedism for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

PF 2009 Part 6

None of what I’m going to say here is going to come as any sort of surprise to coaches, who know this and certainly teach it, or good, experienced PFers, who are already doing it. But the point here is to take a complete, starters’ position, so bear with me. It may not be new, but it’s not useless. And it may help get stuff across to newbies, especially those I’m concentrating on, the previously-trained-in-LD newbie.

Let’s start here. If you want to argue something, you’ve got to follow a fairly basic structure. You have to have the point you’re trying to make—that is, your side of the argument—clearly defined. You’ve got to have reasons in support of your side of the argument, and you’ve got to demonstrate how those reasons do, indeed, support your side. This structure applies to any argument, either within or outside debate.

You can throw all kinds of names and details and definitions of the above, but the structure remains the same. For LDers, we look at it very specifically. First, to clearly define our side of an argument, we go to the underlying value of our side. LD was originally conceived as values debate, differing from the existing two-person policy debate in that while policy obviously was concerned with instituting or challenging specific actions (policies) usually on a practical level (this will work, this won’t work), LD was going to go into the philosophical considerations of actions. Should we do something because it’s the right thing to do, in other words, as compared to its practicality. The right thing to do is often wildly impractical, the wrong this to do is often immediately practical, but that doesn’t warrant the latter or bar the former (although one could make such arguments). Closing one’s eyes at the formation of LD and imagining the difference between it and policy could not have been difficult. Frankly, it still doesn’t seem difficult, even though there is much more overlap than anybody probably ever expected. They are just different animals.

The genius of LD was, in its formative years, the institution of a literal value into the framework of argumentation. If you look at the literature, maintaining a value and criterion were not initially structural necessities; my understanding is that a few coaches brought the concept to light at their institute (O’C can elucidate, I’m sure). A couple of years or so ago, NFL actually upgraded its LD rules and incorporated the literal value into the rounds, along with the criterion for measuring if that value had been successfully incorporated (i.e., the weighing mechanism). When I first started judging, there were plenty of teams that did, by design, not include literal values in their cases or arguments, and often they got away with this (although personally I found it hard to track what they were trying to do). Teams doing that today would, if one were to follow the rules (which I highly recommend) lose on face out of the gate.

PF has not come up with its literal analog to V/C yet, if it ever will. In many ways, it is harder to close your eyes now, so soon after the formation of PF, and imagine the differences separating it from policy or LD than it was to separate LD from policy. The thing is, there are plenty of differences, but they don’t have that much to do with content per se. PF topics tend to be mostly of a policy nature, and there is no specific V/C structural aspect, so those are differences, of course, but the real difference is in the ever-changing topic, which allows just so much depth before the next topic comes along, and the relatively short speaking times, which limit the amount of argumentation (especially as PF debaters continue to face lay judges, which will remain the case for the foreseeable future, just as it was an aspect of LD for a very long time, only recently declining in favor of un-lay judges, whatever they are). You’re going to have to get to the point quickly in a PF round, and you’re going to have to stay on the point, and you’re going to need classical oratory skills. Wackiness will not be rewarded. Misreadings of resolutions will not be rewarded. Lack of research will not be rewarded, but neither will facts without meaning. The nature of PF begins to determine itself through its actions (which is a very philosophical evaluation of a thing’s nature).

Which brings us back to the basic idea of what an argument has to be. You have your side of the argument, clearly defined. You’ve got to have reasons to support your side. You need to show how those reasons do, indeed, support your side. And if you’re talking about PF, and you apply an implicit value construct borrowed from LD to the argument, I think you’ll end up with a really solid case.

The value in an LD case is the thing you are trying to achieve, the underlying big social aspect like justice or morality. It’s the reason you go aff, or neg, to get to justice or wherever. If the resolution is, say, banning nuclear weapons, your argument in LD is not that we ban nuclear weapons because they’re dangerous or something like that, but because it is the moral thing to do. We would cite the dangers as evidence in aid of our argument for morality. Put another way, the value is the underlying reason you support your side of the resolution, and your arguments point sooner or later to that underlying reason. You win or lose because you convinced on the level of the underlying reason.

That is exactly what is needed in a PF case right off the top, an underlying reason to support one side or the other. This reason serves exactly the same role as the value in LD.

Let’s go back to our hypothetical loosey-goosey PF resolution that we’ve been kicking around on health care. Let’s specify that it’s that the US should enact Obama’s healthcare plan. Before proceeding to defend one side or the other, we would need to decide why we want to defend that side. This comes, of course, after having done research (you don’t write a case and then find research to support it, although I’ve known novices who attempt just that, with predictably dim results). And once we decide what that reason is, and it needs to be big and important, that is what our case is about, and what our evidence will support. Let’s call it The Big Idea.

Before showing an example, let’s imagine that we don’t have The Big Idea. We could run a case in favor of BHO’s health plan that goes like this:
1. We stand in support of the rez.
2. If we enact this plan, the following 3 good things will result.
3. Evidence for result A, which is a good thing.
4. Evidence for result B, which is a good thing.
5. Evidence for result C, which is a good thing.
6. Because of these 3 good things, we urge a pro ballot.

Even if this case has great evidence, convincingly delivered, it lacks an underlying idea. It lacks underlying tissue. The resolution alone is not enough. Think of it as the difference between a plot and a theme. The plot of Moby-Dick is, well, there’s this big whale. The theme of Moby-Dick is obsession. Either one without the other is, well, a fish story or a psychological essay. Together they are arguably the Great American Novel. (And, yeah, Melville calls whales fish, so don’t get me started.)

Now let’s throw in The Big Idea. After doing research, the team decides that The Big Idea in favor of healthcare is better healthcare, that the government would do it better than independent providers, and therefore everyone would be healthier as a result. That case goes like this:
1. We stand in support of the rez because of The Big Idea slash better healthcare.
2. If we enact this plan, we will get better healthcare for these 3 reasons.
3. Evidence for result A, which is a good thing.
4. Evidence for result B, which is a good thing.
5. Evidence for result C, which is a good thing.
6. Because these three good things result in better healthcare and healthier people, we urge a pro ballot.

(By the way, I’m simplifying here, of course. Don’t fault me on the technicalities.)

In other words, The Big Idea is the thing that you put at the end of the sentence where you say you support the rez because. The because is The Big Idea. And The Big Idea is, of course, analogous to the value in LD.

Because of the examples I’ve used, I’m hard-pressed to demonstrate a further level of connecting evidence to The Big Idea (to wit, criteria), and as a rule that may not be necessary. The existence of a criterion in LD is to translate contentions of action/fact into transcendent values. In PF the reality might be that, since all the discussion is about actions and facts, no translation is necessary. Then again, occasionally PF rezzes do include words like justice. In that case The Big Idea has to be why a given side is just, and depending on the rez, a translation factor like a criterion might also be required. Probably not, though. I think that TBI will be enough to cover the conceptualization of why one side versus the other side.

In LD, I ask my debaters what they’re running on a given side. If they can’t answer that question in one simple sentence, then they’re not ready to debate yet. The same should be held true for PF. What are you running? If you answered for the pro in our hypothetical example, “BHO’s healthcare plan is good,” you wouldn’t be ready to debate yet. If you answered, “BHO’s healthcare plan leads to this Big Idea and therefore we should support it,” you’re ready to go.

The key to writing a case then, is to build it around The Big Idea. If you don’t have The Big Idea, get one.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More on the expunging of the Feed, et cetera

So Palmer complains that this blog has become too mix-and-match for him, but it’s hard for me to tell, since I never read it. But I’m willing to believe that he’s right (he usually is, except for when he disagrees with me), so I’ve created an entirely separate blog for feeding. I will cross-reference it here, so you’ll know what you’re missing, but CL will go back to whatever it is that CL is famous for, and CF will carry on the new tradition of posting articles of enormous interest that you should read but probably won’t. In other words, I am doing what Solomon suggested and cutting myself in half, or something like that. Whatever it takes to keep Palmer happy.

It will take a little time to polish up the new blog. At the moment, it’s black, so you won’t confuse it with this one (which, if you haven’t noticed, is white). I’m also still putting out the raw feed, which is stuff of interest but not that interesting, I guess, and maybe I’ve evolved out of that with the annotated feed. Hard to say. The experiment continues.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a big long piece continuing the PF series that I need to polish, which I should post tomorrow, about case structure. The fact that the piece is endless probably won’t disguise the fact that the point of it is amazingly simplistic. Easy stuff is always the hardest to explain.

On the home front, I’ve finally finished my first run through of all my iPhoto pix. Now to edit down to the good ones. The nice thing about digital versus film is the elimination of the literal cost of the bad-to-good ratio. The percentage of good pix is about the same regardless of the medium, but digital doesn’t cost anything; it always used to pain me, throwing away five or more pictures for every one kept, but why keep crappy pictures? Even professional photographers don’t exclusively take good pictures: they probably work up an even higher ratio of tossed to kept. (Throw in film and bracketing, and you’ve got 5 to 1 just on exposure, regardless of the content.) I used to travel with 30 or 40 film canisters. Now I just charge my camera. I also used to carry a camera around my neck that weighed about as much as Pip the Wondercat. I have to admit, I don’t miss lugging around the weight, but I do miss the sharp lenses, especially this one zoom I used to have… Oh, well. It’s either convenience (camera in pocket) or excellence, and I can guarantee the former and only hope for the latter, so for the foreseeable F, no digital SLR for me. (Maybe it’s just that I need to get buff. More buff, I mean. Excuse me: I’m going to drop down and give myself twenty.)

And what did you miss in the Coachean Feed today? Religious intolerance in Ireland, kidney donations for money, affirmative action, immunization, Plato, Nozick, international handouts and a new social network for Policians. Nothing there of concern to any of you, I’m sure.

Farewell Feed

Not a going out of business farewell, but rather, a moving farewell.

Follow for the feed articles. Simple as that. That will keep them out of here. I'm still playing around with this. Bear with me.

Details to come.

Monday, July 13, 2009

General generalities

Going forward I’m going to put together a more complete analysis of PF than I have so far, just to keep ideas closer together. I’m being a lot windier than I expected. Who knew? I should at least have a cogent approach to case-writing finished in a couple of days. I’ll put disparate pieces together rather than breaking them up day-by-day.

Other items on the agenda:

1. Update the MHL site. The big news on this front is the addition of a late-season one-day tournament, a sort of free-for-all MHL Championships. We’ll have novice and JV as usual, plus Policy and LD RRs. This looks like it could be a lot of fun, and a much better way to end the season than just petering out, as we usually do. I’ll send out details to folks within the next couple of days.

2. I have been working on putting together a listserver for the NYSFL so that members can effectively communicate with the regional directors. I should shortly make this public, which was the goal when we met with the NYSFL folks. Good communication is the starting point of understanding.

3. I need to keep track of every bloody minute of every bloody day of WTF Summer Camp. Thank God they post every bloody thing online, from lectures and labs to which students are actually using the deodorant and, more importantly, which students are not. I would hate to miss even one bloody minute of the action. I just wish they weren’t working on that bloody make-poor-countries-pay-through-the-teeth topic…

4. I’m cleaning up my digital photo collection. This is proving much harder than I had anticipated. I didn’t realize just how disorganized I was in the first place. Why is Prague in WDW, for example? Screwy.

5. Prep for vacation. Coming up soon, which means shutting down CL HQ for a couple of weeks, but don’t worry, you’ll have minute-by-minute updates from WTF to hold you in my absence.

Meanwhile, Feed content is a little more abridged than usual. So it goes. Take advantage of the summer. Read a book that has nothing to do with debate. Something to clear your head. I’ve got a nice pile for my trip, including Wodehouse and Huxtable and some book on the 1889 Paris Expo, plus maybe a Pynchon. That should hold me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

This is good to know

I just read on WTF that they encourage students at their institute to bring deodorant. I am happy to hear this. It completely changes my thinking on debate institutes.

Friday, July 10, 2009

FEED: Civil rights

Very interesting piece on socialism/communism/capitalism/liberalism and the history of race relations.

{As quoted from the former Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X]: "You can't have racism without capitalism. If you find antiracists, usually they're socialists or their political philosophy is that of socialism."

Spend time on most college campuses and you're likely to hear something very similar. Progressives and leftists, the conventional narrative goes, fought the good fight while conservatives and libertarians either sat it out or sided with the bad guys. But there's a problem with this simplistic view: It completely ignores the fact that classical liberalism—which centers on individual rights, economic liberty, and limited government—played an indispensable role in the fight for equal rights. More...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

PF 2009 Part 5

Debate is debate. I think we can easily make the mistake that different kinds of debate are more different than they actually are. Their forms and structures may be slightly different, and their content may be radically different, but their underlying essence is identical. In a debate, we are trying to convince someone of something. In academic debate, we have rules to guide how we do that convincing. But in the end, it’s all about the convincing.

The unfortunate tribalism of high school forensics asserts that whichever activity the group is participating in is the best, and all the rest are less than the best. This is no different from supporting one’s football team or baseball team as the best, not because they win all the time, but because there is some inherent aspect of that particular team that just makes them better in the eyes of the beholder. It is all entirely arbitrary. There is no more reason to root for the Mets than to root for the Yankees unless one is to judge them entirely on win/loss record, which is not how fans become fans. Fans identify with something about their team, and then the fanaticism sets in, the word fan of course being derived from the word fanatic. At least the high school forensician is a part of the group that he or she is hailing as the best; since none of the Mets or Yankees fans I know are actually either Mets or Yankees, their commitment is beyond my understanding. But my inability to identify with sports fans is not the point here. The point is that, if you’re a Polician, you think Policy is the best, and you look down on LDers. LDers used to have to do their sneering at Speecho-Americans (who have their own hierarchies), but now that PF is around, LDers get to look down at Pfffters. The VCA knows that I personally feel that all forensics activities are valuable, and I have argued that at great length in the past, so I won’t repeat it here. But PF, because it is new, probably has to work the hardest to get any respect. LD used to be the upstart, but after 30 years or so that’s really not the case anymore. But on the other hand, most coaches today recall not too long ago the birthing pains of PF, its various name changes and the like, and some of us have yet to accept it as a full-blooded activity in its own right.

The students, however, know little or none of this. PF has been around long enough now that no student recalls from firsthand experience any of those birthing pains. The name Ted Turner rings no bells whatsoever. PF is, simply, PF. (By the way, a lot of what I’m saying here has been said by others, but I can’t cite who because it was a while ago and I’ve internalized it. Feel free to step forth if you’ve said it first.) But that doesn’t mean that PF doesn’t get a bum rap as the new kid on the block. It’s the newness that’s the problem. Any new kid will feel the heat.

I think that a lot of LD coaches may, no matter how much we wish to treat PF as an equal activity, come to it initially as Debate Lite. I say this not to accuse others but to accuse myself. Even the cursory lecture I gave on PF, which is about all I had to say on the subject, treated it as if it were a piece of cake once one had mastered the art of LD. But giving myself over to some serious study of the activity, including judging hither and yon for a while, has convinced me of what I instinctively knew but was denying, that PF is complete, and, done well, it’s hard. It isn’t “lite” anything. It’s PF. It’s debate. It’s good stuff.

But as I began, all debate at some point is, still, debate. It’s about convincing people that your side is right and the other side is wrong.

And I still haven’t gotten around to the specifics of applying LD to PF. Okay, next time. I promise that maybe next time I’ll get down to it.

You can take that to the bank.

FEED: Intellectual Property

The Pope speaks out on the subject in a Papal encyclical. The gist seems to be that people come first, at least in health care.

On the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care. At the same time, in some poor countries, cultural models and social norms of behaviour persist which hinder the process of development. More...

FEED: Civil rights

The People's Champion has cited a story on the Massachusetts Attorney General filing suit against the federal government over the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The chief basis of the suit seems to be that the business of marriage is a state and not a federal one, then it goes on to discuss discrimination. On the federal/state issue alone, it sounds right.

It is unconstitutional for the federal government to discriminate, as it does because of DOMA's restrictive definition of marriage. It is also unconstitutional for the federal government to decide who is married and to create a system of first- and second-class marriages. The federal government cannot require states, such as Massachusetts, to further the discrimination through federal programs, either. The time has come for this injustice to end. More...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Breaking news!!!

Rod Blagojevich has formally announced that he is suing Bronx High School of Science for not including the "Blago" award at its upcoming tournament. News reports that the school is now considering awarding the Blago to the student with the worst haircut have been adamantly denied by tournament director Jon Cruz, who added: "If the former Governor of Illinois wants a piece of me, he knows where to find me."

Mr. Cruz spoke from an undisclosed location, where he is reportedly working on the redesign of the Norm Coleman Al Franken Norm Coleman Al Franken Norm Coleman Al Franken Norm Coleman Al Franken Award.


There’s a lot of excitement in ForensicsLand these days. The Big Jake tournament has just announced—. Well, I’ll let O’C speak for himself.

Greetings to the debate community:

The Bronx High School of the Science is proud to announce a new series of awards that will be handed out at the 39th (XXXIXth) Annual New York City Invitational Award Ceremony (with accompanying debate tournament). Each award will be a handsome solid einsteinium replica of downtown Beijing, guaranteed to spiff up any school’s trophy case!

The Sarah Palin Award: Given to the first student at the tournament to forfeit a round.

The Mark Sanford Award: Given to the student who disappears for the longest time between rounds.

The Joe Biden Award: Given to the policy student who says the most things to get his or her partner is cringing under the table.

The New York State Assembly Award:
Given to whichever half of the congress students refuses to cooperate with the other half.

The Iranian Election Award: This award will be voted on by all the students at the tournament, although the decision will be announced before the tournament starts. Students who lose in the voting will be incarcerated for life.

The Dick Cheney Award: NOTE: The Dick Cheney Award has been retired. With any luck, it will go away. We can dream, can’t we?

The Best Hope Award (also known as the Ryan Hamilton Award, or the Hammy): This award will be given to any Republican politician who hasn’t been arrested by October 2009.

The Bietz Award: Given to the student or team who arrives with the most electronic gadgets.

The Fogie Award: Given to the oldest living Bronx Science alumni who shows up to judge rounds. (NOTE: non-living alumni who show up are not eligible for the award, although they still might be used in the down-six bracket.)

The Debate Princess Award: Criteria for winning this award are, at the moment, unclear, but we understand that there is, nonetheless, fierce competition. We’ll keep you posted.

The California State Budget Award: Given to the school with the best reason not to pay its registration fees.

The Foods of the World Unite Award: Given to all students who are willing to wait until the forks arrive before diving into their lunch noodles.

A series of "I Sat Through All 43 Award Ceremonies and All I got was this Lousy T Shirt" consolation awards will also be handed out. These will, of course, be T shirts, but the likelihood of anyone coming to the tournament and NOT getting an award is pretty damned small, so be prepared. Einsteinium is pretty radioactive, and also pretty toxic, as these things go. It is advisable that all teams bring a lead-lined suitcase and a hazmat suit, just in case...

FEED: Debate

Bill Batterman does a great summary of the paper-free issue in the 3NR blog. The article is here: Going Paperless: Can High School Programs Effectively Make The Transition?

Batterman makes some great points. The one that interests me the most is his claim that we will need to train novices not only in the arcana of debate, but what will be to them also the arcana of sophisticated technology. This is a point I've been hitting against one way or another in my own discussions of computers, either in research or literal debating. The world that we live in just so happens to be the world that we live in, and that world has already shifted to a base of electronic information, replacing the base of printed information that preceded it. Not all information is yet electronic, and not all seekers of information have the electronic tools, but the paradigm shift is a done deal, and it's just a matter of individuals catching up. One could just as easily say that not everybody had written down in books everything that needed to be written, and that not everyone was literate, but that didn't mean that printed media was not the name of the game.

Educators have a special role in this electronic-based world. Whether it will be the problem of debate coaches to attack it ultimately sounds unlikely to me, but if educators as a whole do not adjust, if they do not accept the reality that their students have been raised on their side of the paradigm shift, and both follow along with the paradigm and make sure that students who are not succeeding in the paradigm are educated to do so, they will not be doing their jobs correctly. Every argument an educator makes against electronics is likely to be wrong, with a few exceptions (see my discussion with CP on computers in Extemp for an example, CP's, of a meaningful argument against electronics, very specific, entirely competition-based). The odd thing is, of course, that technophilia and technophobia are not age-linked. The old are not by nature against it, and the young are not by nature masters of it. There is plenty of evidence to prove this.

I wonder how long we'll be arguing about this. Batterman talks about some of the state organizations, and also about how some folks who are anti-computer will be in the business of sitting in the back of the room regardless, and will nonetheless have to be dealt with. People strike me from the pool because I don't like non-resolutional debate. Future strikes will be against judges who don't like computers. It's a funny world we live in.

FEED: Intellectual Property

The take-off on Catcher in the Rye has gotten a lot of play. But really, while the issue of the case itself may devolve to fair use and parody, the real issue of copyright lies elsewhere. From Big Hollywood:

American law differs from law in Europe (and elsewhere) by not granting-except in limited cases-any “moral rights” to the creator of an artistic work. Moral rights are designed to protect the integrity of a work; for example, moral rights could stop a television station from editing a movie in ways the director believes undermine his artistic vision... We can sympathize with Salinger’s desire to keep other authors from using his characters and novels in ways he does not like. But copyright law is not supposed to have an interest in Salinger’s desire to shield his work from disrespectful treatment or use by artists that Salinger believes are unworthy of his masterpiece. More...

FEED: Civil rights

The right on the table being freedom of speech. I thought we had heard the last of the flag-burning laws, but alas, that is not to be. Does free speech only meet words?

The center of the debate: Does the First Amendment protect against non-verbal speech? As as Eugene Volokh compellingly explains, the Founding Fathers intended the First Amendment to include all forms of expression:

Protection of symbolic speech would have fit well with James Madison's initial draft of the First Amendment, which spoke of the people's "right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments." More...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

PF 2009 Part 4

Next up—case writing

Curiously enough, my old rule number one for PF was: Don’t do LD in a PF round. How wrong I was.

This is not to suggest that people actually do LD in their PF rounds. There are no values, there are no criteria, speed is problematic at best, and judges are inevitably new to the activity so you can’t count on any paradigmatic understanding of what you’re doing. But the underlying concept of value and criterion can easily be adapted to case structure in PF, and doing so will make your cases all that much clearer. We'll get to that eventually. Before that, the mechanics.

The first step in writing a case is divvying up the work. There are two people on a PF team, so we need a fifty-fifty approach. But I’m not necessarily sure if something as simple as, you write the con, I’ll write the pro, is a good approach. I’m going to assume that as a general rule your team will have somebody who always does the first speech and someone who always does the second speech. The first speech on either side is a constructive. Simple enough. Your best constructor will go first, your attack dog will go second. There are probably plenty of variations on this theme, but that makes sense as a starting point.

So here’s a problem. Both members of the team write a speech, but only one actually delivers it. Unless the person who is writing but not delivering is a professional speechwriter, it is highly unlikely that that person will be capable of molding his or her phraseology to match the speaker. As a rule, we all write like ourselves. People who read my writing inevitably tell me they can hear my voice in their head when they read it. I write like me, so when I read something I’ve written aloud, I do it pretty well because I know what it’s supposed to mean. This is true of most people, consciously or otherwise. Language has a unique personality aspect for each user, regardless of whether it is written or spoken. My rhythms, my word usages, my syntax. Because of this I’m wary of splitting the writing chores in a simple 50/50. I would suggest the following.

The case-writing process begins when the initial research is completed. The idea that informs an LD case, that there is a central thesis, that you are running X, where X can be relayed in one simple sentence, holds for PF. If you can’t boil it down to one simple declarative sentence—running that Obama’s health care plan will bankrupt the country, let’s say, or that not enacting Obama’s health plan will result in the collapse of the present health care system, whatever—then you’re not there yet. So, the first step between the two partners is a meeting of the minds. Agree, after studying the topic area, what the plan of attack will be. If you don’t agree, you’re going to be in trouble, so make sure you both like it. And then I suggest that the first speaker put together a good solid draft of the case. Write it all out, start to finish. Make it good. Then send it to your partner for a critique. Partner will find things that aren’t clear, that go on too long, that need different evidence, etc., and edit it accordingly. Then back to the speaker/writer, who incorporates the editing. Repeat until everyone is satisfied.

This may make it seem as if the second speaker is getting something of a free ride. Not exactly. Can you say blocks? Rebuttals? While the first speaker is putting together the constructive, the second speaker puts together predictable arguments against the other team. We don’t want anyone to feel left out here. The partner will edit these blocks as this person edited the partner's.

Of course, there is the question of, what if the better writer is the second speaker? Aren’t we missing out on that person’s very useful skill?

Well, yes and no. You just have to work things out. What I'm suggesting here is a starting point for a team, given that the team will have many many months, nay years, to work it out. When all is said and done, one person will be delivering the speech that is written. Every word tripped over, ever phrase misstated, works against the team. But different people are different people. In the best of all posible worlds, a team will over team find the best system that capitalizes on both their best skills.

But no matter who does what, the basics apply of using an LD framework while not using an LD framework, that I mentioned at the start. We’ll get to that next.


A Kierkegaard moment, you ask? Or an Elliott Smith moment? Whichever.

Logic demands the following. If an article is going to be commented on here, it will not be in the raw Feed. If an article is something about which I have no comment, which is often the case, it will go into the raw Feed unheralded here. In other words, either/or.

If you're following this blog through RSS, and also following the Feed through RSS, this will eliminate the overlap, except when I forget and raw-feed something I'm also blogging about, because, well, perfect I ain't. As you probably know, I recommend RSS for all your computing needs, and even supply directions on how to use the Google Reader.

But then again, what if someone only reads the raw Feed, or only reads this blog? Either through RSS or good-old-fashioned going to the website? Won't they miss out on half the stuff? That would have to be their problem, I guess. I can't go to everyone's else and tell them how to optimally live their lives, although if I did, their lives would be better for it.

In this vein (eliminating duplication, that is, not the going-to-your-house-and-straightening-you-out vein), I'll stop sending this blog to the raw Feed. I exist to serve only you, bro and/or sis. You know that. The thing is, I'm evolving what I do here. Look on the bright side. It's the off season. We've got time to experiment. (And if you're serving something really good for dinner, maybe I will go to your house and straighten you out after all. Will work for food, you know?)

Further discussion...

Reprinting Anjan's comment, regarding my thoughts on Harvard, which I think warrants further discussion:

I respectfully disagree. Harvard is unique among major national "circuit" tournaments because it does not cap its field and is attended by many programs whose only trip all year is to the tournament. Capping the field at 160, for example, would mean that 190 debaters last year would not be allowed to debate.

Am I saying that every tournament should be like Harvard and allow all comers? No. But, there is space for a tournament like this on the schedule -- a tournament that lets anyone enter.

Is there room for improvement in judging? Surely so (though there always will be). But then again, that will always be the case and Harvard surely has shown they are willing to listen to suggestions.

Well, yes and no. If you like the tournament, and can afford it, that is fine. One can go or not go as one chooses. I took this tournament off my team's list quite some time ago, and haven't felt the need to air any particular grievances against it as a result. There are plenty of tournaments I don't go to because I don't like them, for one reason or another. We all do. We organize our programs accordingly. Live and let live, eh?

Why comment now, then? Well, they're the ones who wrote the open letter to the community.

My points relative to Anjan's comments are two. First, I don't think they'll be able to seriously improve the judging without a cap (and a serious pool of good hireds). It is probably inherently impossible. It's hard enough running a tournament half this size and keeping the judging running well. Secondly, their judging has been a problem for many years. I simply cannot gather a lot of enthusiasm for their willingness to listen to suggestions if the tournament has been notoriously badly judged for as long as anyone can remember. I'm sure they're all fine people (I know a couple of them, and yes indeed, those ones I know are fine people) but that doesn't excuse a disconnect from the debate community by, literally, the community's biggest debate tournament.

I do hasten to point out that this does not suggest that debaters who succeed at the tournament are in any way less than excellent. The questionable nature of the judging probably makes it harder to succeed, not easier, and I applaud those who have done well there.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Bile? Moi?

Regarding Harvard's plans to improve its tournament:

I applaud that they are going to use the $120 per debater to provide a civil, competent ballot table, better judging, and rooms in which to have debates. High time, I would say. But I find their acclaimed good intentions may outstrip the possible results. Given the enormous field, a "limited number of strikes" and community rankings won't really solve the problems with adjudication, which outweigh all the other issues. Also needed: cap the field at 160 and hire 15-20 solid LD judges above the number needed. Short of these, their good intentions will remain merely intentions. For a hundred and twenty bucks, I want more than intentions.

For the sake of full disclosure, I will be among the Quakers that weekend. Make of this what you will.

PF 2009 Part 3

Continuing with our series on introductory PF…

This probably isn’t a problem for you, but it is a problem for a small team without much of a history of group research. To wit, what the hell is group research, anyhow?

First of all, there’s the question of what, exactly, comprises the group. It can be merely the two members of the sole team doing PF during a certain period (we’ve had that a few times amongst the Sailors), or it could be a couple of teams, plus maybe a lost soul or two simply interested in either the subject or PF per se. Whatever the size of the group, there are some rules that seem obvious.

All research is owned by the team. In other words, if you find anything at all, it is to be shared by everyone.

All people involved in debating a topic are involved in researching it. While it may be convenient to have a lot of other people go scouring the vaunted halls of data while you lounge about on your divan eating Turkish delight and watching “Saved by the Bell” reruns, following which you simply skim the best of what others have done to write cases, this is not allowed, for a reason other than the apparent unfairness of work assignment. The thing is, knowledge is the number one key to success in debating, or at least one of the number one keys to success. The acquisition of knowledge does not come from looking over the shoulders of those who have themselves acquired knowledge, but in the actual act of acquiring it. Let’s say that you’re specifically looking up international health plans. Every plan you look at, good, bad or indifferent, tells you something about health plans in general. If a lot of them are the same, that tells you something. If they’re all different, that tells you something. If all the doctors in one country are women, that tells you something. Different rates of infant mortality tell you something. In your research, discovering any of these bits of data might lead you somewhere you weren’t expecting. Depth of knowledge comes from going down different pathways. Superficial knowledge comes from dabbling. The debater with depth of knowledge will inevitably win out in the long run over the debater with superficial knowledge. Trust me on this. (My brief against some critiques in LD is, of course, that they are an attempt to circumvent the acquisition and display of knowledge on a topic rather than an honest attempt to challenge the grounds of a resolution, which if done correctly require just as much research.)

Research must be organized in advance. If it’s just the two team members, each gets a starting assignment. If it’s a handful of people, more assignments. The researchers should work as a team, specifically digging stuff up. There will be overlap, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In the end, there will be a bounty of material that is mostly different, that can then be shared, in keeping with the rule above that all research belongs to the team (except for the lazy yabbo on the divan with the Turkish delight).

Research, after it is acquired, must be made physically available to everyone. We haven’t quite knocked this one yet. We don’t have any specific programs for organization, although I have seen various schemes and database apps on occasion from Policians who do this for a living. We’ll be working on this, but at the moment, we simply put it into a folder online where everyone can access all the good stuff. With a small number, that works well enough. And, of course, given that resolutions tend to repeat, if not literally then at least spiritually, it’s good to be able to go back and look at the old stuff. This is going to be my problem going forward, coming up with a workable solution to data organization. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything revolutionary. I doubt if that will happen.

Think about your research. All of the above speaks merely to research in the raw. Obviously there is good research (useful, meaningful data) and bad research (useless, meaningless data). One needs to distinguish between the two, but that shouldn’t be too hard if you’ve done enough work in the acquiring in the first place. If all your data say that there’s a one in ten chance of hell freezing over except for one chart that proves that hell is already frozen, the odds are that your vast data weighing in on the warmth of hell indicates that hell as a skater’s paradise may not be something you want to buy into. “Facts” that are out of line with all your other facts, or your intuition, are either paradigm shifters or bogus, and as a general rule, the latter is more likely than the former.

There’s more to research than facts. How you read the data is yet another issue. This is why the acquiring is so important. In the process of acquisition you will usually discover facts not merely as data in a vacuum but evidence in support of a position. Professor So-and-so points out that all the doctors in Amazon City are women, and links this to a low infant mortality rate and better education for immigrants, or whatever, and you have acquired not only facts but opinions to draw on, to inform your own opinions in putting together your case positions. Of course, there is a lot of raw data out there (I post plenty of charts in the Feed), but most data has a point of view surrounding it, or a source lending it substance and veracity and trust (or lack thereof). Mastering these aspects of research, i.e., weighing its value, is as important as the mechanics of the thing, but can’t be done until the mechanics of the thing are inherent in your approach to things. It’s scales and concerti again, again: you can’t make art until you first master technique.

Finally, there is the question of research in a library versus research online. This is a tough one. If you have access to the resources of a major university library, grab the group and go there. But absent that, nowadays the resources of your average local library (not to mention school library) may be of the slim pickings variety. Get everybody together and go on line, as a group, in that case. But do work together, if at all possible, regardless of where you’re working. This will keep everybody organized and working toward their specific assignments, while keeping you flexible for changing assignments. This is not to say that everyone won’t do independent research as well (making the fruits of this labor available to the team), but group research will ultimately bear different fruit, and therefore should not be ignored.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

FEED: Civil Rights

P.A.P. has a great article on the death penalty as a deterrent (i.e., not).

Unless deterrence has somehow become much more effective than it was in the early parts of the 20th century – which is doubtful given the relatively low numbers and humane methods – it’s doubtful that such a relatively small increase in the number of executions during the last decades is the cause of the extraordinary decrease in the number of homicides during the same period. More...

It might be suggested that we here at Coachean HQ are simply extending our own agenda with such items, but, okay, we're anti-guns, anti-capital punishment, pro-anything people want to do that doesn't harm us. We admit it. Deal with it. We're pretty good, actually, at pointing out articles on both sides of guns and CP; as for stopping people from doing things that don't harm us, you'll have to look elsewhere. It's not in our philosophy.

FEED: Civil Rights

As we perhaps watch the Supreme Court remove the underpinnings of the laws that protect civil rights of minorities, we might want to look at the idea of testing per se.

Here is a test:

You are in a burning building. Do you want a firefighter rescuer (choose one:)
a. who passed a written test,
b. who has a sister-in-law on the city council member or is of a certain race,
c. who has proven on-the-job performance and successfully passed simulated fire rescues

Answer class? More...

FEED: Civil Rights

We here at Coachean HQ were not happy with Heller, because we simply cannot see the inherent legality in the ability to blow each other's brains out. SCOTUS, of course, felt differently. Reason has a good interview with the Heller (pro-gun) lawyer.

The lawyer who successfully argued that case, Alan Gura, has remained a dedicated opponent of all sorts of gun regulations that still stand post-Heller. Senior Editor Brian Doherty talked to Gura by phone earlier this week about the various legal challenges Gura is fighting against state and local gun laws. More...

FEED: Debate

According to the Global Debate blog, the Debatepedia has been updated. What, sez you, is the Debatepedia? Good question. Essentially they list umpty-ump subjects and provide arguments pro and con. This can certainly be useful off the top, in any analysis of a topic. I took a quick look at civil disobedience, for example, and there's some perfectly useful material. Can you really pull enough material out of this for cases? Not really. And it's "debate" in the common parlance usage, not the specific academic debate context. Nevertheless, it should be added to the canon of general research sites.

Which leads me to believe that there should be a canon of general research sites. I'll start creating a list over on the right. For that matter, hasn't somebody else got a list somewhere we can crib? I know you're out there: I read the stats. Stop making those cricket imitations.

Friday, July 03, 2009

FEED: International

There's some country-specific data in this article about failed states. There's an interactive map, and who knew that Australia was more stable than the US?

The global recession is sparking fears that multiple states could slip all at once into the ranks of the failing. Now more than ever, failed-state triage could become a grim necessity for world leaders from the United Nations and World Bank to U.S. President Barack Obama’s White House. All of which puts a fine point on an old and uncomfortable dilemma: Whom do you help when so many need it? More...

FEED: Human rights

The French do a lot of racial profiling? I'm shocked, shocked, to hear it.

In France, there's no provision for monitoring ethnicity under the law. This is not an altogether bad thing, but it makes it impossible for anyone to get data about police 'ethnic profiling' [what us Brits call 'racial discrimination'] in the way that they treat members of visible minorities. More...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

PF 2009 Part 2

I have a new project that’s going to be keeping me busy, and away from the debate universe, for a bit of the summer, so forgive me if entries become erratic. (Erratic in appearance, that is; they’re already erratic in content.) Feed items will continue as I’ve been doing them, annotated here, and raw (and in greater numbers) on the straight feed itself.

Here’s a rule of thumb I propose for Pfffters: Never open your mouth unless there’s a piece of evidence in it. If nothing else separates PF from LD, then let it be this (although, of course, there are plenty of other separation points as well, but this one is key). This is not to say that PF need be nothing more than dueling facts, of course; my point is that simply saying something without evidentiary support is a sure way to lose a round. In LD, solid analytics derived from evidence or even concepts can take the day, especially in areas where one is discussing something ephemeral like justice or societal obligation. Interpretation of those issues, in LD, can be as important as application of those issues to specific circumstances. But, as a general rule, it’s the other way around in PF, where application and circumstances usually come first. Analysis is important, obviously, but if you’re arguing, for instance, that we should have nationalized health care, what will win the day is healthier people. Healthier people will result from better health care, national or non-national. And this structure applies most of the time.

The speeches in PF are like an inverted unmultiplied factorial or something, going from 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 minute (and, I guess, to 0 minutes when it’s all over, which is totally non-factorial in that all results would equal zero, but that is soooo beside the point). None of these is particularly long, but at least in the first speech you get a chance to present a reasonable, and in LD terms, normal length constructive. After that, things get progressively tighter. Clarity and word economy are obviously of great importance. But so is argument structure. If you’re going to refute what the opponent has said, this is where you can’t open your mouth without a piece of evidence in it. But that evidence must be in the classic Toulmin argument structure of claim/evidence/warrant. Here’s a loosey goosey example: “[claim] If we enact a national health care plan, it will result in people dropping like flies. [evidence] According to the the Onion, 87% of all people who have been in a similar plan in Kush Behar have instantly contacted the yaws and collapsed in a heap. [warrant] Since our plan is no different than theirs, we can expect the same result.” Even the NFL documentation discusses what they call the “Art of Argumentation” in this fashion.

This sort of presentation is simple enough in a written out case, but it must also come out in rebuttals. In a way, the evidence part of the equation is the easiest to come up with, assuming you’ve done your research. That is, a fact is a fact is a fact. Claims can be scurrilous, and warrants can be elusive, but as Mr. Gradgrind would happily point out, facts are facts and there you are. The problem is, it is tempting to leave out facts in refutations, especially if one’s background is LD where the warrant and claim (and impact) are often sufficient to win a point. (Alternately, it might also be tempting to go so facty on us that one leaves out the literal arguing—the claim and warrant—beyond a mere dusting. That’s no good either.) That’s why I say that, for the former LDer especially, not opening your mouth unless there’s evidence in it is important. The temptation is to argue other ways, but I don’t think that that will work very often. Smart arguing on warrants is intriguing in some contexts, but in the PF round, at the end the judge is looking for (in my example) the most health, and the most health is probably going to result from demonstration of facts applied logically rather than demonstration of logic applied without factual basis.

Curiously, much of my thinking is based on CatNats where they were arguing more often than not social contract. Winners of fact fights were those who actually knew something about the social contract. Which is, of course, not a fact but merely a philosophical construct. Whatever. You had to, first, get the philosophical construct right, i.e., know what soc con actually is, theoretically, before you could do anything else. Very bizarre. Come to think of it, CatNats was also about health care, I think, but the arguments were mostly about societal obligations. So very LD, so not PF. But, I think, the conclusions remain accurate.

FEED: Human rights

You probably have heard this by now. India un-bans being homosexual.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs had opposed changes to the law on grounds that decriminalizing homosexual conduct would “open the floodgates of delinquent behavior.” But on Wednesday, Home Minister P. Chidambaram indicated that the government might have “new thinking” on the issue. More...

FEED: Philosophy

Which came first, the language or the thought? Understanding language may be the key to understanding human nature, which is why linguistics, even in its most practical facets, is absolutely fascinating to the student of philosophy. This article is long, and well worth your time.

Humans communicate with one another using a dazzling array of languages, each differing from the next in innumerable ways. Do the languages we speak shape the way we see the world, the way we think, and the way we live our lives? Do people who speak different languages think differently simply because they speak different languages? Does learning new languages change the way you think? Do polyglots think differently when speaking different languages? More...

FEED: Debate

I like articles that simply come out and support high school debate as an academic tool. This one is from the Chicago Tribune via Snider.

Pickert, 17, a recent graduate, isn't sure where he will go to college but knows his research and study habits honed by debating will help him to succeed. "The things you learn in debate spill over," Pickert said.

Research indicates Pickert is likely right. 2004 University of Missouri study found that debating skills have a positive effect on academic performance. And researchers at the University of Michigan are looking at the impact on academics. More...

FEED: Human rights

As always, PAP makes you think.

If you care about human rights, it’s extremely important to measure the level of protection of human rights in different countries, as well as the level of progress or deterioration. Measurement in the social sciences is always tricky; we’re dealing with human behavior and not with sizes, volumes, speeds etc. However, measuring human rights is especially difficult...In order to measure whether countries respect human rights, one already needs respect for human rights. More...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

PF 2009 Part 1

You’re going to thing that this is all old-hat, but look at it from the perspective from which I’ll be saying it. Amongst Sailors, one starts as a novice in LD. At present I believe that this is the best way to learn the basics of debate like case writing, presentation, argument structure, etc. Plus, there’s a lot of opportunities to debate as an LD novice, so if a student is looking to gain experience, it will happen. After LD boot camp, Sailors can, if they so desire, begin doing PF. So, the starting point for Sailors in PF is a year’s experience in LD, with all that entails.

Last night I began writing up my new materials on PF (I don’t know exactly what form this will take—lecture, handout, podcast—it’s still early days). I didn’t get far, but the first two things that occurred to me were preliminary to any actual discussion of the activity. They were also results of that boot camp year in LD. I think they may be the biggest spiritual differences a student must accept at the onset of the activity.

First of all, the nature of research is entirely different from LD research. Obviously research = research at some level, but the nature of LD is, ideally, that we are attempting to achieve some lofty goal like justice or morality in our actions. Often the resolutions are removed from real life contexts (think kill one to save five), or are only tangentially related to real life. If we discuss nukes we do not discuss the politics of nuclear weapons but the morality of nuclear weapons. Compare: The policy debater handling nukes will certainly research some moral aspects of the issue but will research facts and figures and political stances in incredible depth, while the LDer will certainly research some facts and figures but will concentrate on the morality aspect in the greatest depth. Realistically, PF follows the Policy research approach. It’s about the facts and the figures. Not exclusively, but nonetheless primarily, and exhaustively (or as exhaustively as can be done in a month or so, versus the full year of topic maturation on the Policy side). This is a change of mindset that newbie PFers coming from LD might not be prepared for. But it’s an important one to understand and embrace. Good PFers never talk out their butts, or to be more precise, good PFers, when talking out their butts, bring facts out of their butts as well. An LDer walking into a round with a well-stuffed folder of evidence looks like a goober. A PFer walking into a round without a well-stuffed folder of evidence looks like a goober. Therein lies one key difference between the activities.

The second big difference is, of course, the partnership aspect. Policy has always had partners, and policy coaches have various approaches to the unions and breakups of their pairs over their debating careers. Some people are not that well suited for team debate, at least not initially. Some Policians become LDers because they can’t do the two-person thing. The bottom line is, having to debate as a team brings in a totally new dimension to the activity. If you have a big team, you can match-dot-com them and find the right pairings, perhaps. With a small team, it’s more of a default pairing. It’s still pairings, though. Learning to work as a team requires a specific set of skills different from working alone. Tennis doubles is still tennis, but it’s played differently. There’s a lot of opportunity for people to bump into each other, or for neither of them to be where they should have been. Meshing with a partner is a good skill all its own. I would like to be able to promise everyone on my team that, for the rest of their lives, they will only work with people with whom they are compatible, but it just isn’t true. As often as not, they’ll be forced to work with yabbos of the most yabbonian persuasion, and they won’t be able to just blame failure on their partners. Teams work because the members of the team capitalize on their assets and minimize their deficits. Sometimes teams will be more an exigency than a meeting of the minds, but that should not limit results.

As I say, these are new problems, or new approaches, for the LD novice graduating up into PF. For that matter, they’re still issues that must be addressed even if the Pffffter has never done LD, but at least in that case one is not going counter to previous experience.

So that’s my starting point with good old Pfffft. This is going to be fun.

FEED: Capitalism

The FTC came up with this stuff, which somehow just makes me shake my head. Maybe Cap Bad is true.

And so this strange taxpayer-funded, candy-colored interactive online mall of free trade propaganda was born. The lessons are encourage economic literacy, pro-trade attitudes, and mall map reading skills. More...