Ryan's Guide to the Blake Tournament

Since this year will mark my 8th consecutive visit to the John Edie Holiday Debate Tournament, AKA Blake, I've decided to compile my experience into a quick guide for debaters who might be new to the tournament. It's a great tournament (one of the reasons that I've gone back so many times), but the venue offers some interesting challenges that you should be aware of. Really, I see teams make the same mistakes every year, so here are some tips at avoiding them.

Tip the first: Dress Warm
You'd think this would go without saying, but experience shows that it does not. This tournament is in Minnesota, in December. The weather forecast can include cold, rain, snow, fog, sleet, ice, and/or "cold enough to freeze da balls offa' pool table." Prepare accordingly.

Tip the second: How to get to the Hyatt without renting a car

One of the advantages of the Blake tournament is that you can fly in and not incur the additional expense of car rental. Here's how to rock Blake using public transit:

  1. You will be flying into the MSP airport, either the Lindbergh or Humphrey terminal depending on which airline. The directions are the same from both terminals, but make note of which you are in so you don't mess it up on the return trip.

  2. Once you land and secure your baggage, follow the signs to the light rail station or ask a friendly gate agent "Where do I go to catch the light rail?"

  3. Ride the Hiawatha Light Rail Northbound (to Downtown Minneapolis). The fare will cost you about 2 bucks.

  4. Get off at the Nicollet Mall station. Welcome to Minneapolis!

  5. You are now about 3/4 of a mile from the hotel. You can cover the remaining distance in one of three ways: (a)Walk. It's not that far. (b) Take a bus down Nicollet. The 25, 18, or 17 will bring you right to the hotel. Your train ticket is also a bus transfer! (c)Travel the "series of tubes" that we call the Skyway. You'll walk farther but stay warmer

Tip the third: how to debate in hotel rooms
Yes, that's right, the entire tournament takes place in the hotel. Of course, some of these debates are in "conference room" type areas, but you are pretty much guaranteed to have at least one debate in a plain vanilla hotel room. This might be new to you, so allow me some suggestions:

  • The tournament provides a small table for each team. You'll have enough space to prepare, but if you are the kind of team who makes a goddamn mess every round, you are going to have problems.

  • You'll also have less space to spread out your tubs, so make sure that your evidence is arranged in some logical fashion. This is good advice for every tournament, but space constraints heighten the need for organization.

  • The rooms each have a bathroom. Feel free to enjoy this convenience, but know that attempting to take a shower or "twosie" is considered highly uncouth

  • If you've never been to a business-class hotel before, remember that you are going to a magical world where everyone else pays in monopoly money except you. Bring the essentials (water bottle, toiletries, snack items) so you don't have to pay an arm and a leg for them

  • The Elevator will take forever. Do not make any unnecessary trips on the elevator. After your debate, it is best to wait in your room for your coach to call/text you and tell you where to move next.

Tip the fourth: Eat good food

The Hyatt is in a pretty good location food-wise in Minneapolis. Here are some recommendations:

In the hotel, you've got an overpriced, but not terrible sports bar (Spikes), a pretty decent cafe that will be closed most of the weekend, and a couple fancy restaurants. The Oceanaire is amazing, I've never been to Taxxi.

Around the hotel, you've also got:

  • A Chipotle on Nicollet between 11th and 10th

  • Brit's Pub, one block from the Hotel on Nicollet. Some amazing British/Pub Food. Gets very busy Friday/Saturday evening.

  • India House, located just south of the hotel at 1400 Nicolett. I live by the other India House location and it is delicious

  • Eat Street, further down Nicollet, home to many fine ethnic restaurants.
  • Masa. I've never been, but this review is making me hungry just reading it

  • Pizza Luce. It's where God calls when he wants pizza

One additional warning: Some years, debates haven't finished friday night until after 10, which puts some teams in a pickle with regards to Minnesota's rather draconian liquor laws, which don't allow underaged folk in a "bar" past 10. Basically, if your plan for Friday is Brit's or Spike's, you might want to arrange a plan B of going to Chipotle or ordering from Luce.

Hope all of your have a wonderful time debating in the City of Lakes.

Tech Tip: Offline Access to Case Lists and Judge Philosophies

The Problem
You are going to a tournament where there will be no WiFi access, but you want to be able to access the NDCA Caselist wiki or the Judge Philosophies Wiki.

The Solution
You can download a snapshot of the wiki using a Firefox extension called DownThemAll. Basically, DownThemAll's basic function is to take a list of links, and download, uh, them all. It's a very flexible program, so I'll take you through the basic setup to download the wiki

  1. Install firefox, if you haven't already
  2. Using Firefox, install DownThemAll from their website. You might need to click "Yes" to authorize the site to install an extension

  3. Navigate to the NDCA Caselist wiki, or any page you want to grab all the links from

  4. In firefox, go to Tools > DownThemAllTools > DownThemAll...

  5. Check "All Files" under filters, and then uncheck files that aren't Case List pages (reduces strain on the server)

  6. In "Save Files In", point it to where you want the case list files to be. Each page will be saved to a seperate file, so you probably want to make a new folder

  7. In Renaming Mask, type
    exactly as you see it.

  8. Click "Start!" A new window pops open with the download progress. It will take a few minutes, depending on your internet connection

  9. You get a bunch of html files in the "save in" directory. Double-click or drag-and-drop to open in a web browser. You'll lose the styling, but all the info should be there

This is what the DownThemAll window looks like:


  • This will put more strain on the NDCA server than normal usage, so to be a good citizen you should have one representative from your team download the files, and then distribute them amongst the team as a zip file

  • DownThemAll will ask you what you want to do with duplicate names, which you'll get if you run the process again in the same directory. For this, it's probably best to "overwrite"

The Race for the MDTA Cup: Week 4/5

It's been two weeks and six Minnesota tournaments since the last MDTA Cup update, so plenty of motion in all events.

Policy Teams
1. Wayzata - Luke Plutowski and Johanni Thunstrom (8)
1. Wayzata - Mariah Donnelly & Devon Manley (8)
3. Bloomington - Ali Goodrum & Gracie Kroner (7)
3. Wayzata - Miranda Ehrlich and Meghna Sohoni (7)
5. Wayzata - Alex Aronovich and Carlee Nelson (6)
5. Bloomington - Devin Long and Tom Zimmer (6)
5. Sibley - Danny Bernick and Anna Koelsch (6)

LD Debaters
1. Coon Rapids - Robyn Sellman (17)
2. Apple Valley - Jon Slater (13)
3. Lakeville South - Dylan Slinger (11)
4. Lakeville North - Jayant Tripathy (10)
5. Eagan - Kunal Patel (9)

Public Forum Teams
1. Eagan - Rachel Markon & Iaan Reynolds (13)
2. Eagan - Haben Ghebregergish and Weronika Janczuk (11)
3. Eagan - Anne Beck & Matthew Burian (9)
4. Eastview - Bryan Larson & Anthony Stagner (7)
5. Eagan - Miles Norman and Emily Dallager (6)
5. Anoka - Sam Hughes & Lucia Martin (6)

Classic Teams
1. MPA - Greta Stacy & Eric Baudry (7)
2. Eastview - Mark Besonen & Kristine Hiedeman (5)
2. Eastview - C. Chang & L. Ramroop (5)
4. Eastview - Raghav Julakanti & Paige Kelly (4)
4. Eastview - Katie Baldwin & Caitlin Moran (4)
4. Rochester Century - Taylor Williams & Courtney White (4)

Policy Schools
1. Wayzata 28
2. Bloomington 18
3. Sibley 15
4. Eagan 14
4. Edina 14

LD Schools
1. Coon Rapids 24
2. Apple Valley 21
3. Lakeville South 18
4. Eagan 17
5. Lakeville North 16

PF Schools
1. Eagan 27
2. Eastview 14
3. Apple Valley 12
4. Lakeville South 12
5. Forest Lake 12

Classic Schools
1. Eastview 13
2. MPA 10
3. Stillwater 9
4. Rochester Century 6
5. Minnehaha 4
5. South St. Paul 4
5. Roseville 4

Overall Schools
1. Eagan 58
2. Apple Valley 33
3. Lakeville South 30
4. Wayzata 28
4. Coon Rapids 28

And more hard-hitting analysis
Debaters from Bloomington and Sibley are climbing up the policy scoreboard, which is still dominated by Wayzata despite some partner shake-ups and a trip to the Iowa Caucus. The W.E. Lillo is historically a turning point in the MN policy season, and it will be an important chance for teams to jump up the scoreboard. The policy race is still wide open.

Robyn Sellman from Coon Rapids has pulled forward in the LD race by grabbing the top honors at her last two tournaments, but the Minneapple offers a chance for big gains from multiple debaters, so she'll have to fight hard to keep the top slot. The LD schools race remains intensely competitive.

In PF, Brian and Anthony from Eastview have broken into the Wildcat wall at the top of the scoreboard. From what I can tell the two schools have not yet attended the same tournament, but if both are present at Apple Valley then it might be a turning point in the PF race.

The Classic cup race is still taking shape, but it looks like Greta and Eric from Mounds Park Academy are going to be the team to beat. If Eagan takes the overall schools cup (as they are currently well-positioned to do), Eastview would be in a position to take home both the Public Forum and Classic school awards, which I'm sure would look rather prestigious sitting next to each other.

Good luck at Lillo, the Minneapple, White Bear Lake, and Champlin Park.

Comparing Evidence

Many of you are new to this site from the 3NR or MDTA forums. Hi. My overarching project for this site is writing a new guide for debaters that I'm calling Picking Up. Hope you like it

One of my flaws as a coach is that I tend to get ahead of myself too often. Telling a novice debater to "make smart arguments as to why your evidence is better than theirs" is good advice in general, but it's pretty much useless if I haven't taught that debater how to compare evidence in the first place.

This article really should have been written a long time ago, because comparing evidence is at the root of so much in debate. You need to pick your best cards to go at the top of your blocks, you need to win our cards are better than their cards arguments to effectively debate a round, you need to be able to know what a good card looks like in order to cut one, and so on. The problem with teaching something so fundamental is that it gets taken for granted. By the end of the average high school debate career you've evaluated so many pieces of evidence that the process becomes automatic, so much that you don't have to think about it. Intuition is awesome, but it's hard to teach.

I'm going to do the best I can at breaking down the process, but remember that the best way to get good at comparing evidence is to do it a lot: write a lot of blocks, cut a lot of cards, debate a lot of rounds.

So, Card A or Card B, which is better? I like to think of this process as a number of tests, like a checklist that I run in my brain. Think of it like a driving test: almost everybody is going to make a few mistakes, but the instructor is looking for overall competency and making sure that no flagrant violations occur.

The most important test for a piece of evidence to pass is the "says what they say it says" test, or do the tag and the text of the card agree? First read the underlined portion of the card: does the tag do the author justice, or has the author's point been overstated? Some common stretches that you'll see include taking a card that mentions "nuclear war" and tagging it "extinction," taking a card that says "conflict" and tagging it "nuclear war," or taking innuendos and suggetions and turning them into explicit claims. This is a pretty common practice, unfortunatley, mostly because too many debaters let their opponents get away with over-tagging their evidence.

Next, look at the part of the card that isn't underlined. Here you might find caveats (this will happen unless that thing happens), weasel words (possibly, some have argued that), alternate causalities (poverty leads to obesity, but so does lack of exercize, no after-school activities, and crappy school lunches), and other evidence that the argument is weaker than it looks. Rarely will a team go so far as to intentionally distort the direction of evidence (underlining around the word "not"), but the magnitude of the evidence will often be stretched, at least a little bit.

After evaluating the agreement between tag and text, I usually give a second thought to the argument presented in the text itself: do the author's conclusions logically follow from the presented data? Does the author commit any popular logical fallacies? Is the argument missing an important piece of data? Does the author answer the obvious objections to his or her position? This sounds like pretty basic stuff, but you'd be surprised how often major publications print stuff that fails this test.

The last set of tests that I want to mention center around the citation. I list this one last because it's easiest; new debaters tend to focus on date comparisons and shallow "bias" claims at the expense of the tests above. However, there are still some important citation comparisons that you want to be ready to make.

More recent evidence can be important, but only when it's important. Here's a pro tip: if you can't think up (or better yet, prove) an event that happened that would make the information in their card outdated, it's usually not worth your while to point out that your card is newer.

The qualifications of a card also matter, but comparing qualifications is usually not straightforward. Cards can have an institutional legitimacy - IE they are from a trusted publication or author with a history of providing accurate information. Cards can also come from someone with field expertise, they're respected, prolific, and/or have professional qualifications on the subject in question. Cards can neutral, or free of bias and conflict of interest. Cards can take more, better, or more appropriate data into account, or otherwise have a better methodology. Cards can also go through peer review, fact checking, or other editorial processes that lend more credence to what they say.

So a major national newspaper, a republican party strategist, a phd in physics, a non-partisan think tank, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, a JD candidate, and a political blogger are all "qualified," but they aren't all qualified for the same reasons, nor are they equally qualified to talk about the same things. Evaluating whether your author is better than theirs requires connecting the reasons that an author is qualified to reasons that it matters for this particular dispute. Don't just compare, compare and impact your comparisons.

In fact, that's pretty good advice for evidence comparisons in general. "Your evidence" is bound to pass some tests that "their evidence" does not, and vice versa. The arguments about which tests matter more are going to be very dependent on what is being argued, and eventually winning that debate becomes much more important than winning that your card is newer by 3 days.

The Race for the MDTA Cup: Week 3

Even though the entire community caught the flu this week, I still managed to get Week 3 calculated before Week 4 debates started. That's good, right! Here's the current standings for Policy, LD, and PF. Nothing new in classic since last week

Policy Teams
1. Wayzata - Luke Plutowski and Johanni Thunstrom (8)
2. Wayzata - Laura Holder & Shruti Satish (5)
2. Wayzata - Miranda Ehrlich and Meghna Sohoni (5)
2. Wayzata - Krishnan Ramanujan and Dru Svoboda (5)
3. Edina - Hannah Nelson & Erin Sielaff (4)
3. Eagan - Annie Martin and Kyra Stephenson (4)
3. Wayzata - Alex Bahls and Lina Li (4)
3. Wayzata - Mariah Donnelly & Devon Manley (4)

LD Debaters
1. Coon Rapids - Robyn Sellman (10)
2. Lakeville South - Dylan Slinger (8)
2. Apple Valley - Jon Slater (8)
3. BSM - Bennett Kenzie (5)
3. Robbinsdale Cooper - Chyenne Thibodo (5)
3. Coon Rapids - Chelsea Brown (5)

PF Teams
1. Eagan - Rachel Markon & Iaan Reynolds (6)
2. Eagan - Anne Beck & Matthew Burian (5)
2. Eagan - Weronika Janczuk & Haben Ghebregergish (5)
2. Eagan - Morgan Kuehn & David Wickard (5)
3. Eastview - Bryan Larson & Anthony Stagner (4)
3. Forest Lake - Nick Bergantine (4)
3. Lakeville South - Vanessa Johnston & Jacqueline Schmitt (4)

Policy Schools
1. Wayzata 18
2. Edina 10
3. Bloomington 9
4. Blake 8
4. Eagan 8

LD Schools
1. Coon Rapids 15
2. Lakeville South 13
3. Apple Valley 12
4. Eagan 8
5. Hopkins 8
6. BSM 8

PF Schools
1. Eagan 15
2. Eastview 9
2. Lakeville South 9
3. Apple Valley 8
3. SPA 8

Overall Schools
Eagan 30
Lakeville South 19
Blake 18
Apple Valley 18
Wayzata 18

And a little analysis
Wayzata Policy is having an excellent year. Currently they have 6 of the top 8 policy teams, and have built a substantial lead in the policy schools race. They'll be the team to beat this year.

LD remains intensely competitive on both the individual and team level. Expect it to remain that way over the next three weeks: the next two weekends have two tournaments each, followed by the Minneapple, so there will be lots of points in play.

Eagan is beginning to pull away in the overall school race, pushed ahead by a dominant PF squad and solid performances in policy and LD. They are well ahead in PF as well, although the race for the PF trophy looks very competitive if Eagan ends up winning the overall cup.

Good luck at Hopkins, Eastview, and Coon Rapids everyone.

The Race for the MDTA Cup: Week 2

Another scintillating week of Minnesota debate is in the books. This week's update features some lead changes, some tight races, and the introduction of Classic debate to the results (including last week's tournament at Roseville).

There are still a lot of ties, so keep in mind that my results processing does not currently implement any tiebreakers.

Policy Teams
1. Eagan - Annie Martin and Kyra Stephenson (4)
1. Wayzata - Mariah Donnelly & Devon Manley (4)
3. Wayzata - Krishnan Ramanujan and Dru Svoboda (3)
3. Blake - Jacob Derechin & Kentucky Morrow (3)
3. Wayzata - Luke Plutowski and Johanni Thunstrom (3)
3. Blake - Michael McGrath and Oliver Zosel (3)
3. Wayzata - Alex Aronovich and Carlee Nelson (3)
3. Wayzata - Miranda Ehrlich and Meghna Sohoni (3)
3. Wayzata - Oliver He and Faroz Mujir (3)

LD Debaters
1. Apple Valley - Jon Slater (5)
1. Coon Rapids - Robyn Sellman (5)
2. Coon Rapids - Chelsea Brown (4)
2. Lakeville South - Dylan Slinger (4)
3. Blake - Erik Legried (3)
3. St. Francis - Hannah Houle (3)
3. BSM - Bennett Kenzie (3)
3. Forest Lake - Kyle McCleary (3)
3. Lakeville North - Jayant Tripathy (3)
3. Lakeville South - Raffi Garnighian (3)
3. Robbinsdale Cooper - Chyenne Thibodo (3)

PF Teams
1. Eagan - Weronika Janczuk & Haben Ghebregergish (5)
2. Eastview - Bryan Larson & Anthony Stagner (4)
2. Forest Lake - Nick Bergantine (4)
3. Eagan - Rachel Markon & Iaan Reynolds (3)
3. Eastview - Maddie Johnson & Jason Vanderlinden (3)
3. SPA - Birk Mitau & Daniel Porter (3)
3. Anoka - Sam Hughes & Lucia Martin (3)
3. Apple Valley - Rhett Copaul & Comeron Michelsen (3)
3. Blake - Taylor Briggs & Sarah Carthen Watson (3)
3. Eagan - Anne Beck & Matthew Burian (3)
3. Eagan - Morgan Kuehn & David Wickard (3)
3. Forest Lake - Kristin Iverson & Laurel Pelton (3)
3. Lakeville South - Vanessa Johnston & Jacqueline Schmitt (3)

Classic Teams
1. MPA - Greta Stacy & Eric Baudry (5)
2. Eastview - Mark Besonen & Kristine Hiedeman (4)
3. Century - T. Williams & C. White (3)
3. Minnehaha - K. Koebele & R. Moen (3)
And a lot of teams with 2 points

Policy Schools
1. Wayzata 10
2. Blake 6
2. Eagan 6
3. Bloomington 5
4 .Edina 4
4. Rosemount 4
4. Sibley 4

LD Schools
1. Coon Rapids 9
2. Apple Valley 8
2. Lakeville South 8
3. BSM 6
4. Lakeville North 5
4. Eagan 5
4. St. Francis 5

PF Schools
1. Eagan 10
2. Eastview 9
3. SPA 8
4. Forest Lake 7
5. Lakeville South 6

Classic Schools
1. Eastview 8
2. Stillwater 7
3. MPA 6
4. Minnehaha 4
5. Rochester Century 4

Overall Schools
1. Eagan 21
2. Eastview 17
3. Blake 15
4. Lakeville South 14
5. Apple Valley 13

The U of M tournament next weekend is the first tournament with elimination rounds, so next week's update should include even more movement.

The Race for the MDTA Cup: Week 1

Alright, I've got the database all set up and the first week's results tabulated. Here is the first update on the MDTA cup race.

Since there is only one tournament in the books, you'll see a lot of ties. I'll list the top 8 entries in each division (which at this point means the top 8 at Lakeville South) and the top 5 schools in each division and overall.

Policy Teams
1. Wayzata - Krishnan Ramanujan and Dru Svoboda (3)
2. Blake - Kentucky Morrow and Jacob Derechin (2)
2. Bloomington, MN - Devin Long and Tom Zimmer (2)
2. Eagan - Annie Martin and Kyra Stephenson (2)
2. Edina - Trevor Aufderheide and Erin Sielaff (2)
2. Wayzata - Johnny Boyd and Hari Ganti (2)
2. Wayzata - Alex Bahls and Lina Li (2)
2. Wayzata - Luke Plutowski and Johanni Thunstrom (2)

LD Debaters
1. Blake - Erik Legried (3)
2. Apple Valley - Jon Slater (2)
2. Apple Valley - Sean Cheren (2)
2. Coon Rapids - Chelsea Brown (2)
2. Coon Rapids - Robyn Sellman (2)
2. Eagan - Michelle Wagner (2)
2. Lakeville South - Dylan Slinger (2)

PF Debaters
1. Eagan - Rachel Markon & Iaan Reynolds (3)
2. Blake - Mike Graham & Mik Kaminski (2)
2. Eagan - Weronika Janczuk & Haben Ghebregergish (2)
2. Eastview - Bryan Larson & Anthony Stagner (2)
2. Eastview - Sneha Somani & Michelle McGuire (2)
2. Forest Lake - Nick Bergantine (2)
2. Lakeville North - Karen Zhou & Steven Elliot (2)
2. SPA - Maddy Karon & Preston Morris (2)

Policy Schools
1. Wayzata (5)
2. Blake (3)
2. Bloomington (3)
2. Eagan (3)
2. Edina (3)

LD Schools
1. Blake (4)
1. Apple Valley (4)
1. Lakeville South (4)
1. Coon Rapids (4)
5. Eagan (3)

PF Schools
1. Eagan (5)
2. Eastview (4)
3. Blake (3)
3. SPA (3)
3. Forest Lake (3)

Overall School Totals
1. Eagan (11)
2. Blake (10)
3. Apple Valley (6)
3. Lakeville South (6)
5. Wayzata (5)
5. Coon Rapids (5)

Congrats to everyone who made the scoreboard this week, and stay tuned for next week's updates after Jefferson and St. Francis (which will include the first results for classic debate)

Introducing the MDTA Cup

Alright, I'm very excited to be making this post. The idea for a season-long, cumulative award for Minnesota debaters has been kicked around for quite a while now, and I'm very grateful to the MDTA executive board for letting me help them put this together.

The goal of the MDTA Cup is to encourage participation and reward success at Minnesota debate tournaments. Any MN debater who competes at four our more MN tournaments is eligible. The MDTA Executive board is working on procuring the actual award hardware, but I have been assured that it will be of the utmost quality and impressiveness.

DJ did a fine job of introducing the award here. What follows is a more in-depth description of the points system.

Point Getters

One Point for Participation.
Everyone who competes at a tournament gets a point.

One Point for "Placing"

This point goes either to the top 8 entries (defined by the tournament), or whoever clears to the first elim round, whichever is larger.

  • If a tournament has no elim rounds, the top 8 entries get a point

  • If a tournament breaks to semis, all semifinalists and the next four seeds get a point

  • If a tournament breaks to quarters, all quarterfinalists get a point

  • If a tournament breaks to double-octafinals, all double-octafinalists get a point

One Point for each elimination round won

One Point for winning a tournament with no elims

Point Caps

  • An entry can earn a maximum of 5 points in a given weekend

  • A team can count the points of its top two entries per division per weekend to it's yearly total.

  • In theory, a team could win as many as 40 points in a weekend (5 point cap * 2 students * 4 events), but I don't think the tournament schedule has any weekends where that is possible.


  • Rosemount CS enters the BJ tournament, which has no elims, and places 3rd. He gets two points - the "participation" point and the "place" point - for that weekend

  • Eagan CM enters the BJ tournament, and is named champion. He gets three points - the "participation" point, the "place" point, and the "champion" point.

  • Cooper RB enters the Highland park tournament, which breaks to semis. He misses the break at 5th seed, but gets the "place" point for being in the top 8, so two points total.

  • Rosemount RR enters the Sibley tournament, which breaks to quarterfinals. He wins the quarterfinal round, but loses in Semis to Wayzata GS. Wayzata GS goes on to win the tournament. Rosemount RR gets 3 points (participation, place, win an elim). Wayzata GS gets 5 points (participation, place, win quarters, win semis, win finals).

  • Eagan PM enters the Blake tournament, and makes it all the way to the final round. He would earn 6 points (participation, place, win doubles, win octas, win quarters, win semis) but the weekly point cap is 5, so he gets 5 points

What I'm Going to do
I've agreed to tabulate the results for the MDTA cup and post weekly updates with current standings on this blog.

What I need from you
For tournament directors, I need to know the official results of your tournament, including (a) all participants, (b) top 8 entries in order if there are no elims or if you break any less than 8 students and (c) full elim results, if any.

For all coaches who do data entry, paying attention to consistency will help me a ton. That means a few things: (a) You need to make sure the long form of your school name is always spelled the same, IE "Blake" or "The Blake School," you need to pick one and stick with it. (b) The same goes for students' names. (c) In team events, I need consistent team codes, so please stick to the "alphabetical order" method - Quam and Johnson need to be listed as "Saint Paul Central JQ". (d) Also, if you need to add additional letters to a team's code, that code needs to stick with them, so if you have "Wayzata RS" and "Wayzata ReS", then "Wayzata ReS" needs to stay that way even if RS aren't at the next tournament.

I can fix the little mistakes that we will all make along the way, but please make the effort to proof-read your entry sheet. It will make my life a lot easier and ensure you get timely updates.

Oh, and one last thing, please be good to one another. This is the first time we've tried something like this, so there are sure to be kinks along the way. I'm sure we'll have to make changes to the formula over time, so remember that the first year is an experiment. And this is meant to be fun and friendly, so if you are getting worked up about the MDTA cup, then you are doing it wrong.

You are about to be hit by a bus

The more I coach debate and talk to others in the activity, the more I come face-to-face with a disconcerting reality. You, me and everyone else who coaches debate is about to be hit by a bus.

By "A bus" I mean any one of the long list of eventualities that could suddenly force you out of the activity. Between new jobs, grad school, law school, funding cuts, and even the actual miniature human beings that are in the care and protection of some of us, our lives as debate coaches is short. Even for the lucky ones of us who are able to make debate part of our "day job," our activity is subject to forces far out of our control.

In some ways we as a community are victims of our own success. As we give students the tools to advance in debate, we also open up access to far-off schools, high-power careers, and the kind of fulfilling life that is incompatible with coaching debate. Of course this is a natural process, the very reason that we are willing to do so much for the activity in the first place. It's a good problem to have.

Unfortunately, it means we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction. we can't ignore this reality, and absent some major changes to the public education system we can't make it go away.

The conclusion that I'm becoming convinced of is that we need to embrace it. We need to embrace the bus that is careening toward us and do everything we can to help the activity before it hits us. I'm not entirely sure what this means yet, but there are already a few things that I've started to see differently about debate.

I'm starting to envision my job as a debate coach less as "training debaters" and more as "training debate coachces." If I'm doing my job right (not that I'm ever sure that I am), I want my students to understand the value of the activity and take the long view of what the community needs to thrive. I want them to understand that the value of "in-game" success is predicated on the existence of a community that we all create together.

If we cannot live as long as the elephant, then we need to reproduce like the mosquito. But there is a risk in this strategy as well. If at any point a program is coachless, it can take years to regain that inertia. One of the biggest challenges we face is finding continuity, someone to champion the cause of debate and help to fill in the gaps. Even mosquitos need standing water.

The emergence of the MDTA, NDCA, and Urban Debate Leagues here and elsewhere is promising, but their project is just beginning. And even with their help, all of us need to do everything we can to grow debate. Part of this means finding barriers around entering the activity and knocking them down whenever we can. For me, I'm continually discvering that I've taken things for granted that are incredibly hard for new coaches to overcome.

And while we're on the subject of personal confession, let me admit that I've been downright mean to other coaches. I've belittled people in public and in private for debate decisions that I disagree with. I've made fun of people who are making a good faith effort to grow a debate team. I've treated other judges and coaches as if they were beneath me, as if they weren't good enough to judge or compete against my studnts. And I was wrong.

Short of actual malice or criminal intent, nobody deserves that, especially nobody who is dedicating even a few hours of their time to this activity. If we go searching for intellectual purity, we are going to find nothing but a shrinking pool of kids and adults willing to play this game. The bus is heading for all of us, we must resist even the slightest tendency to throw each other under it.

New Judge Philosophy

I took a glance at my judge philosophy the other day (as I think everyone should, once a year or so), and it was starting to look pretty stale. I had added this and that over the years, but it was mostly the same thing I wrote 6 months after I graduated high school.

The new version isn't much longer, but I think it's much "denser" in terms of useful information about me. I tried to include all of my opinions that lie outside the mainstream, whatever that is.

One piece that is an important change from years past:
On Delivery, I have no problem with speed per se, but I'm increasingly troubled by the clarity problems that I used to tolerate as part and parcel to speed. I desire to hear and understand every word in the round. I'll make a good faith effort to inform you, verbally and nonverbally, if you are unclear, but there is a limit to how much I'm going to yell at you.

Also, instead of littering the page with random rants and pet peeves, I just included the following at the end.

A short list of other things that are on my mind

-It's much easier to flow when things have descriptive names. "Next off is Healthcare Politics" instead of "Next off!"
-I think that Plans and Counterplans alike need an advocate in the literature.
-Absolute defense is just as good as offense.
-Arguments about the existence "side bias" are always stupid
-Impact comparisons are just as necessary on theory.
-I've seen plenty of politics disads that could be killed with a good interpretation of fiat.

Camp Evidence Review

So I just finished wading through the many free files offered by wonderful debate camps with the help of the fine folks at the NDCA. I'm hardly in a position to criticize, what with all this free evidence we've all been given, but still some things stick out to me that would help the user-friendliness of the NDCA evidence.

Things that are awesome:

  1. When the filename includes the camp, lab, name of file, and side (where applicable)

  2. All of that information on the header/title page as well

  3. When the file works in Open Office. It seems like some templates work great and some look terrible, not sure why.

  4. Standard fonts

  5. That the entire set of evidence fits on a CD this year because people used .doc instead of .pdf. Both formats have ups and downs, but file size is a huge factor for a collection like this

  6. When cards are underlined

Things that are not awesome:

  1. Aff and Neg stuff in the same file

  2. 130 page aff and 10 page case neg. Come on.

  3. Maybe this is in response to the problem above, but DDI seems to have every lab do their own case neg to every other lab's affs. Seems like a huge waste of effort to me

  4. Case neg files without any, you know, case neg in them

  5. There are a few camps (not naming names) that seem to have no quality control whatsoever. If you are going to do play like that, I mean, why even bother having a debate camp?

  6. Bonus: I cannot stand it when people use a macro or whatever to make the text Bold, Underlined, and Bigger font. Seems incredibly arrogant, like nobody is ever going to want to change your precious underlining on this card.

On Travel Limits

Alright, much virtual ink hath been spilled over this question, so I'm actually going to try to make this concise (for once).

We've debated the concept of the debate community imposing travel limits on itself through the MDTA. With the MDTA general membership meeting approaching, I'd like to make the case for a resolution that makes some limitations on the travel schedule of MN debate teams.

First, some summary of the debate so far.

Reasons we like national travel:

  • Students that have access can go meet the best competition in the country in front of excellent critics, and receive all the attendant educational benefits.

  • These students bring these skills back to Minnesota debate tournaments, which raises the bar for everyone

  • Being part of a national community and national debate organizations helps knowledge sharing, outreach efforts, professional networking, and other intangible benefits

  • Students who succeed nationally "put us on the map," for lack of a better phrasing

Arguments for restricting national travel:

  • Some programs just can't afford it, which raises fairness concerns

  • Huge costs for programs that can, in terms of dollars and also in livability

  • The "arms race problem" - teams travel to gain a competetive advantage, pressuring everyone else to travel more to keep up with the joneses.

  • The expectation of travel makes "single coach" programs harder to start and maintain, adding additional obstacles to new programs

Additionally, the MSHSL has recently restricted travel for sports citing the same fairness/livability concerns, and has discussed extending a similar regulation to fine arts. If we choose not to regulate ourselves, the MSHSL may decide to regulate us in a way that is less compatible with our activity than we would like.

I think that the following proposal offers the best chance to mitigate these fairness and livability problems without regulating away the benefits of national travel.

My Proposal

  1. Schools can debate as much as they want in Minnesota and its contiguous states (IA, ND, SD, and WI)

  2. Each squad is limited to three out-of-region tournaments from August-April

  3. The number of tournaments is counted "per school per event." If Rosemount sends policy debaters to Harvard and Berkeley in the same weekend, that uses two of our tournaments. If Rosemount sends a Policy team to Greenhill and a LD debater to Wake, both the policy squad and the LD squad have two remaining out-of-region tournaments

  4. Any round robin that is held in conjunction with an invitational tournament does not count as an extra tournament. Attending both Greenhill and the Greenhill Round Robin counts as 1 tournament.

  5. Any "post-season" tournament that requires qualification does not count toward the limit. This includes (but is not limited to) TOC, NFL, and NDCA

Under this proposal, most schools can continue with a "status quo" level of travel, Some will have "status quo but a little less" travel. This has the effect of ending the "arms race" now, and leaving some question of how much travel is desirable up for further debate. If, in a few years, we want to change the number of allowable tournaments from 3 to 2 or 4, we can have that debate on its own merits.

The question of enfrorcement is a good one, and here I'll admit that my knowledge is not deep enough to submit a proposal. I'm not sure if I know what the MDTA could "hold" from violating teams, so I won't make any suggestions along those lines. It has been suggested that the MDTA craft a trophy/prize/scholarship that would only go to students whose teams do not violate the rules, and I do like where that idea is going. I also think that this rule is a good idea even if they only enforcement mechanism we have available is "public shaming."

Credit where its due: I'm far from the first to suggest such a proposal, and pretty much none of the arguments in favor of it were my original ideas.

Tech Tip: Removing Extra Line Breaks from PDF Articles

The Problem

You find a great article as a PDF. The document is nicely formatted, and allows you to copy out the text. However, when you copy-paste to a word processor, what was once nicely formatted text:

turns into text that either wraps in really stupid places:

Or doesn't fill up the available width, which looks pretty stupid as well

Why it happens

For whatever stupid reason, most PDFs are encoded with hard "line break" characters at the end of each printed line. This means that if your word document has different margins or font size than the PDF (as it surely will), the text will have extra line breaks in places it shouldn't. We can see these extra line break characters in a text editor:

The CR and LF characters are interpreted by word as "Start a new paragraph here." That's the problem.

The Solution

We need to remove all the extra line breaks from the document. Word and OpenOffice both allow you to do this using the "Find and Replace" dialog, but the technique is not obvious.

  1. Hit CTRL+F or click Edit>Find and Replace

  2. In word, click the tab at the top of the dialog that says "Replace"

  3. In the Find box, enter ^p for word or $ for OpenOffice

  4. In Openoffice, click "More" and then check "Regular Expressions"

  5. In the Replace box, type a single space character (IE hit the spacebar once)

  6. Click "Replace All"

This is what the box looks like in Word:

And this is what it looks like in OpenOffice:

After you hit "Replace All", all the line breaks will be replaced with spaecs, so your document looks much better.


  • If you want to replace the line breaks one at a time, use "replace" instead of "replace all"

  • It's usually easier to clean the text in it's own document and then copy/paste again to your card-cutting document

  • This technique is also useful for removing extra line breaks after some bozo began a new page by hitting "enter" a bunch of times instead of adding a new page break. Use ^p^p in the find box

Utilitarianism and Deontology, or, the only time I'll ever argue against bacon

In my last post about impact comparisons, I made the point that "magnitude" is usually a straightforward comparison - which war is worse, which policy harms the economy more, which impact should we avoid if we want to save the most lives. Comparing the size of two impacts is easy if they are both measured in dollars or lives, but what if there is no such apples-to-apples comparison? How do you compare an economic collapse to the existence of institutional racism? How do you evaluate a policy which ends a human rights violation, but risks starting a war?

On the scale of governments, this weighing of different impacts is a normal fact of public policy, but when you ask these kinds of questions of individuals, you've begun a study of ethics. After all, individuals have to weigh costs and benefits for nearly every decision they make. There are many ways that individuals or governments could resolve these apples-to-oranges impact comparisons, but there are two particularly important tools from the world of ethics that debaters tend to find useful. Though you might not have heard the terms for these decisionmaking systems, you most likely use both of them everyday.

Consider, for a moment, the vegitarian. Most people aren't raised vegetarians (a least among people of my own cultural background), which means most vegetarians made the choice at some point in their lives to stop eating meat. Every person who makes this choice makes it for different reasons, but there are a few common justifications for vegetarianism.

1. Meat production takes more resources. To take grain, feed it to chickens or cows, and then feed people with the resulting chickens and cows takes more grain than it would take to feed the people directly. Meat production also uses up a lot of land and other resources that could be better used to grow more food for more people. If everyone stopped eating meat, world food prices would go down, and more people would be able to sustain a healthy diet. Even if eating meat is enjoyable, vegetarianism does the greatest good for the greatest number.

2. Animals have rights. The animals that we consume for food are sentient beings that make decisions and feel pain. If we can avoid it, it is wrong to inflict pain on another creature. Animals raised for human consumption are caged, forced to ingest chemicals that modify their body chemistry, and are killed in ways that are far from painless. Even if an individual's decision not to eat meat does not end animal suffering, choosing to eat meat is still wrong.

Not only are these two arguments independent (you might agree with one, or the other, or both, or neither), they are based on completely different ethical systems.

Vegetarian argument #1 is an example of utilitarianism. A utilitarian decision-making process seeks to maximize "utility," which usually means minimizing pain or loss of life. If we did not eat meat, then fewer people would starve to death or face the pain of too little nutrition. Notice that evaluating a utilitarian claim requires looking at an action's consequences (whether or not it leads to less starvation), which is why we say that it is a consequentialist framework.

Vegetarian argument #2, and its claims about "rights", is rooted in the language of Deontology. In a deontic ethical framework, there are certain actions that one should never do, regardless of consequences. Unlike utilitarianism, which presents "conditional imperatives" like "we shouldn't eat meat if meat-eating leads to more hunger," deontology is based around categorical imperatives, things we should or should not do regardless of the consequences. These categorical imperatives are tightly linked with the concept of human rights (or animal rights, as the case may be).

Not all impacts fit neatly into these two categories, but usually we can distinguish between utilitarian and deontic arguments. Any argument about preventing a war or calamity that would happen some time in the future is utilitarian. Disads are largely utilitarian, by consequence. Arguments that seek to establish a "moral obligation," "decision rule," or "you must..." are drawing heavily on deontology.

So when will these two systems come into conflict? If you've been paying attention, they already have. There are two distinct claims built into a tagline like "You must vote aff to overturn a racist government policy." These claims are (1) removing racist policy is a categorical imperative and (2) that the existence of such a categorical imperative means we ought to discard other considerations, usually other utilitarian impacts in the round.

If the negative just extends their impact within a utilitarian framework ("war kills more people than racism"), they aren't going to make it far in this debate. It doesn't matter how many lives the status quo saves if the neg drops the claim that we ought to ignore the consequences of plan. To re-gain the upper hand in this debate, the neg needs to do one or more of the following:

  • win that the government policy in question is not racist

  • win that racism is not a categorical imperative

  • win a stronger categorical imperative that the affirmative violates (support of capitalism will be a popular objection this coming year)

  • win that utilitarianism is a better framework, IE that categorical imperatives do not exist

The neg (or aff, whoever is arguing against the deontic impact) generally has a few more common-sense responses to make as well. On balance, most of the claimed categorical imperatives are over-stated, especially upon a close reading of the impact and link cards in play. The opponents' impact also might not be such pure deontology as they claim it is. There is a wide gap, for instance, between "overturning a racist policy" and "solving racism." You shouldn't let teams claim they are doing the latter when their plan merely does the former.

One last piece of advice: the "utilitarianism vs. deontology" debate tends to revolve around a few obvious arguments against both systems. You could probably think of all of these arguments if you put your mind to it. But no policymaker (or individual) accepts "utilitarianism" or "deontology" in full - we all let both of these philosophies inform our decisionmaking. As such, debaters who can focus their utilitarian/deontic on the plan in question rather than in general can usually get a leg up in these debates.

The Economy Links Debate: Pay Up, Uncle Sam

The next in my four-part series on Economics covers the economy link debate for the coming season, roughly will social services for people living in poverty help or hurt the US Economy?

Right up front, let me admit that I can't possibly cover every meaningful economics debate you are going to have this year, even as a novice. As the year progresses, smart negatives will find specific, nuanced stories of how affs ruin the economy, and affirmatives will develop specfic, nuanced link turn stories of how they save it. That being said, many debates this year will center around two negative link stories, so we'll start with the generics.

This year's topic calls on affirmatives to increase social services, which in most cases means increaed federal spending. The federal goverment as we know it needs to spend money to function, but for the past 10 years the federal government's debts (via spending) have grown faster than their ability to repay them (via taxes and other revenue), a situation we call a budget defecit.

If you or I want to spend money that we don't yet have, we have many different options. Depending on the situation we could take out a loan from a bank, borrow from family or friends, seek investor capital, or use a credit card. But when the federal government wants to spend more than it makes, it can't just reach for its American Express card. The government uses a more technical system called a Treasury Bill. Roughly, a treasury bill is a government I.O.U. given to an investor in exchange for cash up front. Treasury bills are usually very low interest loans, but they are useful because they are highly likely to be repaid. Uncle Sam is good for it.

The fact that Uncle Sam is good for it means that many investors are attracted to "buy" government debt, including businesses and governments in other nations. These foreign investors form a symbiotic relationship with our government for now. But there is some worry that if the federal government stretched its budget too far, it would scare these foreign investors off. If Uncle Sam suddenly doesn't seem so reliable, you might stop investing in new treasury bills or worse, try to "dump" them for less than you paid. The government would not be able to finance its current committments and would have to either raise taxes or make cuts to spending that is already promised. This would be disastrous for the US Economy.

So if you are a negative team, you might argue that there is an invisible threshold of spending that triggers this collapse, and that the aff's new spending pushes us over it. This is a popular story (often the first disad that new debaters learn) but it has some serious problems to overcome. The most glaring is that the government has just spent on the order of a Trillion Dollars in attempt to prevent an economic depression - if that didn't trigger an economic collapse, then a few billion here and there for social services shouldn't matter, should it? Coming up with answers to basic objectives like these are an important step for negatives that want to win on spending disads.

Though the behavior of government has a major effect on the economy, it is not the only economic factor worth considering. The majority of "the economy," after all, is made up by businesses. Though the decisions made by your local grocery store won't bring widespread success or ruin on their own, the aggregate behavior of the larger business community matters. Are businesses investing in new equipment, entering in new markets, and hiring more people? This is usually the key sign of economic success. Businesses only take these risks if they are likely to see a return on their investment. Debaters generally phrase the likelyhood of businesses to take risk on new investments as business confidence.

So, if you owned a business, what could the government do to make you less confident? That list will be different for different businesses, but "take away my market" would surely be high on the list for all of them. For example, if I made money by providing broadband internet access to individuals, I might not like it if the government started providing my product to people for free. Even if the government targets people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford my services, the notion that net access is something you should get "for free" instead of paying your local cable company is surely detrimental to my long-term business model. This is the kind of policy that might make me reconsider hiring a bunch of people to lay new cable lines.

Regulation is another common point of contention between business and government. Right now, health insurance companies base their pricing model off of denying people with pre-existing conditions. If the government told all insurance companies that they had to cover anyone who wanted coverage, they might not like that.

Lucky for the aff, almost anything that hurts one business (or one type of business) helps another. Broadband companies might not be enthused if people got free broadband, but Google and Amazon would love it if a few million more people showed up on the internet tomorrow. Health insurance companies might not want to compete with the government to provide health care, but I can think of a few major companies that might like it if their employees had easier access to cheap healthcare. And the businesses that would have the largest effect on the US economy are not always the same ones that lobby the hardest to congress.

In addition to the tit-for-tat answers to the popular negative link scenarios, strategic affirmatives will come up with independent ways that their plan helps the economy. This year, many of those stories will revolve around the "hidden costs" of poverty. For example, even though many in the United States don't have adequate health care coverage, they still do occasionally show up at a hospital needing life-saving treatments. In fact, their lack of insurance makes them less likely to visit a doctor regularly and more likely to end up in the emergency room, where they receive expensive treatments for which they are unable to pay. There is some debate over exactly how large this problem is, but widespread health insurance would save costs, and might be a net positive for the economy.

These are the tools to get started, I look forward to writing a follow-up later in the season explaining all the new tricky link scenarios debaters have managed to craft.

Counterplans, or The Number 12 vs. Carnitas Burrito, Black Beans

As I mentioned, the Minnesota Debate Teachers Association recently set the coming year's Novice Case Limits, including limits on what positions negative teams can run in the novice division. These limits allow the "50 States counterplan" from the beginning of the year, meaning that States will be the counterplan that Minnesota novices will first learn.

This is fitting, since when asked open-ended questions like "how would you attack this plan?", a beginning debater's intuitive response is often "well, why don't we do this other plan instead?" Counterplans bring with them some more technical theory issues eventually, but the idea of debating "Option A" vs. "Option B" is pretty easy to grasp.

So how does the neg present a counterplan? A lot like the aff presents a plan, actually. The 1NC, as a seperate off-case position, usually reads a "plan text" and builds a prima facie case around thier counterplan. The counterplan text for the States Counterplan often looks quite a bit like the affirmative plan, substituting state governments in place of the federal government. If plan is "Congress should provide medical coverage to non-citizens living in poverty," counterplan will look something like "The 50 US State Governments should provide medical coverage to non-citizens living in poverty."

In building a case for the counterplan, the negative does not usually cover the same stock issues as the aff does. Counterplans don't have to be topical, and the counterplan is usually inherent for the same reasons that plan is, so new evidence is generally not needed there.

Before I continue, reflect for a moment on why we are running a counterplan, why your knee-jerk reaction is "why not do this other thing instead?" Usually, you react this way because you think that "this other thing" will solve the harms. Proving this assertion with Solvency evidence is a necessary component of a counterplan strategy.

So you've proven that your counterplan can solve... now what? Well, what if you had to choose between two different policies to solve a harm, and you knew that both policies would get the job done? How would you decide? To use the same silly example that I always do, if the harm is "I am hungry," how do you resolve the debate between the plan "go eat at Jimmy John's" and the counterplan "go eat at Chipotle"? Either plan will vanquish my hunger, so you are going to need to find other reasons to make a decision.

And as a negative, you want to give as many smart reasons as possible to prefer counterplan over plan. Just like there could be a lot of different reasons to prefer one restaurant over the other ("Chipotle is Closer," "Jimmy Johns is Cheaper," "Chipotle uses free-range pork"), you've got a lot of options for Net Benefits, reasons to prefer CP over plan:

  • Disadvantages that link to plan, but not to counterplan

  • Reasons plan won't solve (that don't apply to counterplan)

  • Seperate benefits to plan (usually just called "net benefits")

  • Impact turns to harms that counterplan doesn't solve

And here we can start to form a more complete negative strategy by choosing arguments that work well together. A States CP 1NC might also include a federal spending disad, a solvency argument that says that federal medical dollars are wasted, and an argument that major state-level action can strengthen state governments' role in providing healthcare and help the US healthcare system overall. Notice that sometimes the net benefit stems from what the counterplan is (major state action), and sometimes from what it is not (federal spending).

So if you were the affirmative, how would you answer a 1NC like that? It seems daunting (and the list of net benefits is often much bigger), but remember that every weapon the neg brings to the battlefield might end up being used against them. For every net benefit, you can challenge (with takeouts or turns)

  • The link to plan

  • The link to counterplan

  • The uniqueness of the link(s)

  • The uniqueness of the impact

  • The impact itself

And with all of these options, you can usually find something to challenge that the neg is not particularly prepared to defend.

Of course, with so many options, choosing what exactly to run has it's perils and challenges as well. That's why you should usually start with your case. How good is the evidence that states solve? This is the hardest part for the negative to research (there are usually a lot of affs out there), so it is often the most vulnerable spot of the counterplan. If you win a Solvency Defecit, your case becomes a "disad" to the counterplan, and it's a disad you've already spent 8 minutes building up.

And, just like the negative can be creative when researching disads to your plan, you can dig into the literature to find disadvantages to state action. State governments have to spend money too (for example), and the consequences of state budget overruns might be just as devestating as additional federal spending.

Counterplan-focused strategies can quickly turn into a mess with all these links and impacts flying around. The teams that tend to thrive in these debates have mastered two things. First, they have the ability to focus the debate down to the arguments that they are winning in the last rebuttals. This is easier said than done (and I'll have more guidance on this later), but one important point is that in 1AR and 2NR, every argument you extend should be either something you can win the debate on or something that you'll lose the debate on if you don't answer it. Sometmes your 2AC or 2NC has some "noise" arguments, by necessity or by design, but you need to make 1AR and 2NR tightly focused.

The second thing that will win you many a counterplan debate is mastering Impact Comparisons. I can't tell you how many debates I've judged with a dozen impacts on the flow and no effort from either side to compare them. If you find yourself in one of these debates, you might as well go ahead and win it.

Kritiks in Novice

Last week, I took part in the ad-hoc committee to set Minnesota's novice case limits. The primary purpose of this meeting is to create a sub-set of the coming year's policy resolution for novice debate. This limited number of cases helps to ease novices into the debate process and focus on fundamental skills like flowing, argumentation, and basic strategy.

Over the years this meeting has evolved to include discussions of limiting the negative strategies available to the novices as well. Although opinions about new limits/allowances on Novices tend to be divisive, we were able to craft a compromise guideline for counterplans in novice. In minnesota, novices can run the States counterplan from the beginning of the year and any "Branch of the USFG" counterplan starting in November. Personally, I think this is an excellent compromise between negative flexibility and affirmative predictability, but we'll see how it plays out.

Though some folks advocated the MDTA make a similar limitation on Kritiks, we did not put any limitation on Kritiks in novice. I don't usually consider "journalism" to be the purpose of this blog, but I feel like a mostly-objective discussion of the arguments for and against particular limits on Kritiks in novice could be useful to the community.

First, a little history, as I remember it. My first experience with novice debate in Minnesota came in 2001, when I was a Minnesota debate novice. At that time, the MDTA made no official policy regarding kritiks or counterplans in novice. I neither ran nor had to answer a Kritik or Counterplan all year. Over the rest of my tenure in high school I occasionally saw a novice team bust out a Counterplan at JV/Novice state, but it had to be a calculated decision based on the judge and opponent, and usually only happened in out-rounds if ever.

Over the years many discussions were had over Kritiks and Counterplans in novice. One year I remember that two of the Novice case limits actually made good counterplans to each other, and the argument was made that negatives should be able to run CPs in those rounds since the Aff had to be prepared to debate the case anyway. But I don't remember any official MDTA ruling on Counterplans and Kritiks until last year, when both were explicitly allowed after November 1st (the "home stretch" of the novice season in MN).

The arguments for regulating Kritiks became more strongly stated after this new allowance, but largely they are the same reasons that there was a norm against kritiks in novice historically. Novice debaters have to go from 0-60 on the stock issues, disads, argumentation, flowing, and so much more in the month between the first school day and the first tournament. It's a tall order even if they are are attending regular practice or debate class. If kids have to learn to read Heidegger or how to defeat every theoretical maneouver available in modern kritik debate, it turns learning to debate from "hard" to "sisyphean." Kids will just up and quit.

Even though kritik debate can be an equalizer between small/larger programs at higher levels, at the novice level the opposite might be true. K debate is much more accessible to novices with access to talented varsity debaters, coaches who have been in the activity for a while, and lots of available practice/class time. Obviously, resource inequality is much deeper than whether or not novices can run the Cap K, but if we want to keep this activity going then we need to find every opportunity posible to help small/new programs grow.

There are some equally important arguments that kritik debate, in some form or another, ought to be available to students at the novice level. Some kritiks are obviously generic and tangential to social services, but issues like racism, capitalism, gender, and the role of the state are central to the discussion of poverty in the US. There is also a negative ground issue if the aff has access to decision-rule type impacts but the neg is limited to disads. For example, If the aff runs a school de-segregation affirmative that impacts to the Barndt card tagged "vote aff to reject racism," then "vote negative to reject capitalism" is a germane, reasonable response, even at the novice level.

Even the very act of categorizing kritiks into their own special little box can be problematic. I've long argued (and it was argued at the meeting) that the distinctions we set up between "K debate" and "policy debate" are silly at best and harmful to the activity at worst. Sectioning off a set of arguments as "too hard for you" sends Novices the wrong message. We want to encourage kids to stretch their boundaries and become accustomed to many different styles of argument. Too harsh a restriction on Ks prevents both.

Which brings up another important point: what exactly is a kritik, anyway? If you wanted to restrict kritiks, how do you craft a briteline rule? Do you say "no alternatives?" Teams can still run a Nietzsche with a "do nothing" alternative. No non-utilitarian impacts? Limits out far to many legitimate, core-of-the-topic debates. No pre-fiat impacts? Try explaining the distinction to your novices (or, hell, to me!). There was a proposal to limit the content of Kritiks down to a few different "philosophical objections" which I think had some good things going for it, but if "capitalism" is on the list, with all its thousands of different critiques, is that even a limit?

This problem is amplified by the fact that any restriction that the MDTA puts in place will have to be enforced by judges, most of which would not have attended the meeting and might not know the rationale behind the rule. If the regulation is interpreted too tightly, kids might be voted down because they ran a solvency turn that was "too kritiky" or read a card from a "K author," even if it was germane and understandable. If the rule is interpreted too loosely, novices end up running whatever kritik the varsity debaters from their school carry with the same blocks. Not a great formula for a productive novice debate round.

There was some agreement in the meeting that we'd like to allow value-based arguments, but rid them of the theoretical baggage associated with "The K." Someone brought up that if we just say "No Kritiks," people will run the same arguments as solvency turns, and that is a good thing. I like this idea - make the novices think through the reasons their Capitalism argument turns case instead of letting them get an instant "voter" by labeling a flow with a K. The problems with a vague regulation are hard to ignore though - misinterpretation, chiling effects, pointless meta-debates on the MDTA forum over what constitutes a Kritik, etc.

Since I've been at the meeting, though, I've thought of another way of capturing this idea - allow the "solvency turn" but disallow the "kritik" - that might be more workable. Instead of phrasing the regulation as a "thou shalt not," we should write the negative case limits like we write the affirmative case limits - a list of allowable positions, with all other arguments assumed to be off limits. The negative limit might look something like this:

Negative teams can run:

  • Any Topicality argument

  • Any Inherency Argument

  • Any Harms Argument, including case Harms impact turns

  • Any Solvency Argument, including Solvnecy turns

  • Any Disadvantage

  • The "50 States" Counterplan, and any "Branch of the Federal Government" Counterplan after Nov. 1

So a team that wants to run anti-capitalism arguments can do so, but they have to structure it as a case turn or disad. The rules don't have to ban Kritiks or even take a position on what a "Kritik" is. Maybe we run into the same definitional issues with "disadvantage" and "solvency turn," but I'd argue that it would be much easier for the community to settle on a definition of a Disad than it would be to workably define Kritik. Maybe this would be interpreted as just "No Kritiks," with the same attendant problems as the vague regulation, but I think it comes off as much more constructive and objective.

But this isn't the regulation that is in place for 2009-10, so we'll give my proposal a year to marinate. Perhaps this is much ado about nothing. As a few folks brought up at the meeting, just because novices are allowed to run Kritiks doesn't mean that they will with any frequency. Last year we saw a couple Capitalism debates and a few Deep Eco rounds. We also saw teams run value-based arguments as solvency turns, just as my proposal would hope to create. August is an easy time for optimism, but I highly doubt that this year with bring on the K-pocalypse.

Econ Uniqueness: 13.84 Trilion Dollars in a Thousand Words

I've been meaning for some time now to follow up on my intro to economics article with some more concrete advice concerning the economy debate on the coming high school topic. The poverty topic is basically an economics topic at heart, so there are many possible arguments to address. As an attempt at organization, I'll break down the debate into three relevant questions:

  1. Will the US Economy continue to grow in the status quo?

  2. Are social services for persons living in poverty good or bad for the economy?

  3. Is US economic growth good or bad?

Astute readers might identify these topics as "Uniqueness," "Link," and "Impact" or "Inherency," "Solvency," and "Harms" depending on which side of the debate we are starting from.

So I'll start with Will the US Economy continue to grow in the status quo? This is the general form of the Econ uniqueness question, but since this topic happens in 2009 it might be more accurate to ask "Will the US Economy Recover?" It's not really growing now, after all.

I assume that you know that the economy is doing poorly right now, but if you are an average highschooler (or even a well above-average high-schooler) you might not know much of the reasons as to why, or how we got where we are. And, like just about every aspect of our multitrillion dollar economy, this is a matter of some debate.

Let's start with the symptoms: Housing prices were too high (called a price bubble), major investment banks had way too much capital tied up in housing-related investments including "sub-prime loans" to risky borrowers, and prices for food and oil were skyrocketing. In late 2007 it all began to unravel. Banks began to take losses from bad loans and investments, other banks became more reluctant to loan money, and a combination of harder-to-find credit, falling house prices, and high food/energy costs caused consumers to spend much less. Less consumer spending means businesses can't sell as many products and must cut back on employees/investment, which means businesses that sell to those businesses must make cuts, and so on. Instead of growing, our economy begins to contract.

Whew. Quite a horror story. Of course, that explanation leaves some questions out, (why were housing prices too high? why were banks playing with so much risk? etc.) but these questions are hard to answer so soon in the recession. attempting to do so quickly devolves into partisan narratives - democrats blame too little regulation, republicans blame too much goverment interference - that is not particularly relevant to debaters.

In response to this malaise, the federal government has done the following: bought up $700 billion worth of bank stock and "toxic assets" (colloquially, "The Bailout"), Lowered federal interest rates, gave some loans to banks so that they could buy other banks, Spent a bunch of money on tax cuts/umemployment benefits/social welfare programs/infrastructure projects ("The Stimulus"), Taken over the world's largets car maker, and more. These policies are massive, complicated, and techinical, but they share a few goals - Prevent major institutions from failing, provide a safety net for those most hurt by the recession, and put money in the hands of consumers so they can spend it and reverse the economic contraction cycle. In general, the government is attempting to stir up demand to prevent businesses from further contracting supply.

I know that the preceeding wall of text is a lot to take in, but it all boils down to a simple question: did it work? In other words, is the economy going to rebound or is it going to get worse? In most economics debates on this resolution, you are going to want to argue one or the other. And as it turns out, there are plenty of analysts willing to offer their opinion on the matter. Finding cards that say the economy will or won't recover is just about the easiest assignment you could give someone these days.

Of course, like all things in life, 90% of those cards will be crap. Why? Well, say I was an editor at a major newspaper and I gave you the assignment "write a column on whether the economy will recover." That's a pretty tall order - you have to seem smart and bold, but you have to cover your ass in case you get the prediction wrong. Nobody wants to be wrong in print. You are probably going to do any of the following:

  • Write a "good news, bad news" article, and never actually take a strong position on the subject

  • If you do take a position, you'll pepper your article with caveats like "the economy will recover as long as consumers don't get scared again and stop spending again"

  • Instead of doing the massive amount of research necessary to fully answer this question, you'll cherry-pick a few statistics that support your point.

Finding a card without any of these problems will be hard enough, but you'll also need something that takes account of the most recently-available economic data, is from (or quotes) an author that is actually qualified to talk about the economy, and answers the most popular arguments from the other side.

Of course, I'm describing a holy grail card, and I'm sure that many debates this year will be won on "good enough." Regardless, this should get you thinking about the ways that you can be one step ahead of the economics uniqueness debate.

Another complicating factor (last one, I promise) is that if the economy doesn't start showing signs of improvement over the next year or so, the government will probably do more. In fact, it might even do something that includes increasing social services for persons living in poverty. Smart debaters will be carrying good cards not only for the basic uniqueness questions, but on all sorts of "link uniqueness" - will the government spend more money soon? Will the businesses get additional help? Will the poor get additional services? Will interest rates go up or down? The list goes on and on. This coming debate topic will allow plenty of room for smart, strategic, well-prepared debaters to get a leg up on economics.

Talking Fast (With charts and graphs!)

I'd like to talk a little bit about talking fast. I haven't touched on this topic yet mostly because it's just not that big a deal. At least it's far less important a topic than you might think having seen, say, a TV news segment on competetive debate. Lots of novices are intimidated by how fast us crazy debaters can flap our jaws, though, so I figure I ought to give some concrete advice.

But before I go into the how of talking fast, let's talk for a moment about why debaters talk fast. Remember when I layed out the three laws of debate strategy? Well, one of the fundamental rules of the activity is that an argument, if conceded, becomes true. This gives us an incentive to make lots of arguments, because our opponent might drop one, or in their rush to cover all arguments their answers might be lacking in depth or strategy.

It follows, then, that a good tactic is to make many arguments in our speech. Think of your speech as conveying information, and we want to convey the maximum amount of information in a given time. Remember that.

So how do you learn to talk at 100 miles per minute? You read the words on the page. Only do it faster. This may be dissapointing, but I swear that's all there is to it. All the things that make you a good reader at normal pace - standing up straght, deep breaths, clear diction, and lots and lots of practice - are what give you ability to hit the gas pedal. Sure, there are some training exercizes that help you develop a bit faster, but they pretty much all boil down to "practice reading a lot." Just like if you wanted to train to be an olympic weightlifter, most of your excercizes are going to involve lifting a lot of increasingly heavy things.

But just like you need proper form when lifting heavy things so you don't damager your back, you need to be mindful of a few things while you practice reading so you don't develop bad habits.

First of all, remember Clarity is King. New debaters tend to want to push themselves too hard, especially during actual rounds. The problem with this is that everybody starts to develop "speed artifacts" as they push the envelope of speed. You start to slur your consonants, you cut off the end of words, your pitch is too high or your volume too quiet, you start gasping for breath, etc. Don't do that. If your speech is any less understandable than normal speed, you need to slow down.

That advice is not followed very widely in the high school community, so allow me to justify my position on the matter a little more. In my experience, debaters tend to see clarity as a binary proposition, either I'm "unclear" or I'm "clear." They want to push their speed as hard as possible until the judge yells at them, thinking that they will be able to squeeze in a few more args. Their mental model of clarity looks like this:

They think that the faster they try to go, the more information they convey, until they become "unclear" (and the judge will surely warn them of that).

As it turns out, though, clarity isn't a binary proposition. Sure, if a debater is so unclear that I can't understand anything I'm going to let them know, but there is a whole lot of gray area. If I'm catching 80%, 75%, maybe even as low as 50% I can still flow, but I'm going to get less of the speech. I'm going to understand the cards less, I might make minor flowing errors, I'm going to have a harder time piecing together the debater's story. Remember our goal for talking fast - Maximise information? If I can go "10% faster" but the judge only catches 75% of my slurred words, I've defeated the entire purpose of talking fast

To use another poorly-drawn chart, the real model of clarity looks like this:

I drew the red dotted line in the same place, but see how the information conveyed slopes downward as you push it too hard? You want to avoid that. The sweet spot as fast as you can without any speed artifacts, or maaaaaybe just a little bit faster to keep improving your baseline speed.

The other important piece of advice to remember about talking fast is All information is not created equal. Your speech isn't just one homogenous blob of text, so don't treat every word the same. It doesn't matter how well I'm flowing your cards if I didn't realize you moved on to a new disad, is it? Here's a rough list of the kinds of information in the average debate speech, ordered by importance.

  1. The "Highway Signs." When have you moved on to a new position? What is that position's name?

  2. The "Street Signs." When have you moved on to a new argument within a position?

  3. Poiting out major drops, voting issues, other stuff you want the judge to extra-special-remember

  4. Overviews of your argument that "tell the story"

  5. The Tags of cards

  6. The Tags of your analytical arguments

  7. The Cites of cards

  8. The Text of your analytical arguments

  9. The Text of your cards

We might quibble over which item goes where on the list, but the point is that you need to treat different types of information differently. Phrases like "Next off is the Healthcare Disad!" are the most important bits of your speech - they need to be clearer, slower, and with more "dead space" on both sides to allow people to flip paper. Don't mash the end of one card into the beginning of the next, or else I won't realize that there are two different arguments here. The tag and cite should be set out from the text in some way - louder, slower, more dynamics, something.

Note that this heirarchy doesn't give you an excuse to be unclear during the text of the card. Even there, you want a judge to be able to understand every last word. You (or someone) spent blood, sweat, and battery life cutting these cards, and you want them to have the maximum impact. If your cards aren't important enough to articulate clearly, why are you even reading them?

Well Hello Again

I'm officially back from my little unannounced hiatus. Got married! Went to Vegas! It's summer! etcetera.

I'll start posting new articles again next week, though I'm not sure if it will be back in the old two-a-week schedule.

And just to add some actual content to this post, I love how this activity finds new ways of re-exciting me. I offered to judge a few rounds at the Minnesota Debate Advocacy Workshop, and I can't tell you how satisfying it was to create a new folder on my laptop entitled "Poverty Topic Flows."

Ahh the new season, full of possibility.

Economics: learned a lot about the company dough

One of the important skills to gain this year to be successful in debate, especially at the novice level, is a firm grasp of economics. That sentence is going to scare the crap out of some of you. Don't let it. Economics isn't numbers and spreadsheets and TPS reports, at least not at the outset. Economics is the decisions you make every day, the story behind the objects you interact with on a daily basis.

Consider, if you will, a backpack. You probably have one, what would you say it is worth? What value does your backpack posses?

There are obviously lots of ways to answer this question. We could look at a backpack's ability to hold and organize things, we could look at all the work it took to assemble the backpack from raw materials, we could just ask you what it's worth, etc. One particularly useful way to measure value is price. When you went to a store and paid 50 dollars for your backpack, you sent a clear signal that that backpack was worth $50 to you at that place and time.

Price is a useful measure of value in that it can be easily recorded and compared. We can measure the value not just of your backpack, but of every backpack sold in the United States this year. Add in all the other clothing, food, televisions, cars, orange peelers, all the consumer products that are sold in the US. Plus all the services people pay for: mechanics, gardeners, lawyers. Plus all the items that businesses invest in to provide these goods and serviecs: sewing machines, delivery trucks, orange peeler molds. Plus all the stuff that the government buys: fighter jets, roads, $120 ashtrays. Add all that up, and you've got a measure of all the value produced in the US this year, a measure of the value of the US Economy at large.

This particular measure is so important that we give it a name: GDP, or Gross Domestic Product. GDP is a high-level metric for the state of the economy, not so much in the actual number, but in what direction it is moving. Is our GDP from this year higher than it was last year? If it is, that means that our economy is growing, and growth has been the goal of the US economy since it's inception. It may sound strange for an economy to "have a goal," but not every economic theory holds that growth is good or even possible. But in the United States, the mainstream economic theory (capitalism) maintains that growth is good.

So why should the economy grow? Well, a growing economy means businesses need to hire more people to produce more goods, which means more jobs. Growth frees up capital; if you have some extra cash laying around, you can loan it to me, and I can hopefully use it to get even more money for the both of us. Growth means that we can afford to spend money on items outside our basic survival needs and improve the collective standard of living.

It's also important to look at what happens when the economy runs in reverse. Long periods of no-growth (flat GDP, a recession) or negative-growth (falling GDP, a depression) correlate with massive unemployment, increased poverty, lowered standard of living, and worse. For instance, There's a general consensus among historians that the great depression contributed to the outbreak of World War II, which claimed millions of lives.

So, what makes the economy grow? Or, if the economy is growing, what makes it stop? Well, a lot of stuff. The beast that we call "The US Economy" represents millions of people and businesses making billions of economic decisions every day. It's impossible to say things like "X caused the recession" without vastly over-simplifying beyond comprehension. However, the study of economics gives us a variety of tools to look at macro- and micro-level behavior and make conclusions about the past and predictions about the future.

You'll be introduced to many of those tools in this guide and in your debate career as a whole. For right now, though, I'd like to introduce a principle that is at the bottom of many of them, something you need to understand before you really "get" anything else in economics: the principle of Supply and Demand.

Think back on your backpack, on the moment that you put your $50 on the table in exchange for a new bag. Two conditions had to be met for this transaction to happen: you had to want a backpack (demand) and the store had to have one for sale (supply). Of course price also factors into this transaciton, IE you had to want this backpack enough to spend $50 dollars on it and the store had to be willing to part with this backpack for $50 dollars.

So what if one of these conditions changes? Let's say that tomorrow there's a global shortage of ripstop nylon. Suddenly the backpack manufacturer is going to have to charge the store much more for that backpack to make a profit, so in turn the store prices it at $100. But you aren't going to spend more than $50 on a backpack, so the transaction never happens. Lower supply of ripstop nylon with the same demand raises the price. You can imagine a similar interaction if demand moves. A new trendy (high-demand) backpack can be sold at a higher price, but if schools everywhere ban backpacks (cutting off demand), stores will have to cut their prices to keep selling backpacks.

Now, It's easy for me to show in the abstract that high supply/low demand means low prices and low supply/high demand meand high prices, but in the real world it's not always so simple, especially when we get to the macroeconomic (large) scale. A common argument amongst economists is the chicken/egg question of whether the government should focus on supply or demand when trying to coax a hurting economy into growth.

Another important consequence of the supply/demand principle is that a mismatch of supply and demand creates incentives. Return to our nylon shortage. Right now the store is losing out on your business (and, perhaps, the business of others in a similar situation) because their backpacks are too expensive. This demand-without-supply creates an incentive. If someone discovered a new, cheaper method of manufacturing nylon, they could sell a backpack for half the price. Their $50 backpacks would be flying off the shelves while the $100 backpacks collect dust. One of the foundational tenets of modern economics is that people, in general, respond to incentives.