Peter Zhang

Debate Thoughts, Vol. 3

At last, the regular debate season is winding down. As I was giving audience to lay debaters at Lakelands, ten further debate thoughts graced my mind. Once again, there’s free cards and prep!

  1. What’s your method? (Almost) every aff should have a method section. Justifying why you are here, on Zoom, reading a plan, should be an obvious burden. At the very least, it helps with the inevitable “why vote aff?” moment in CX. And no, it’s not ok to pretend the aff actually happens.

    Phil affs are especially vulnerable to this. No surprise—it’s hard to convincingly explain why bastardizing the works of dead white Germans brings concrete value to the world. But, I suggest, spreading the 10-point truth-testing dump you stole from Strake shouldn’t be the a-strat. Philosophy can be defended a method of social change. Reflecting on ethical principles is enriching and provides guidance to movement; even if the judge should “Prefer non-ideal theory,” abstract thinking can help us identify biases. My favorite card of all time is this cut of Wood (no, not the AT: ad homs card). I actually believed it for a while!

    Now, it’s not just about answering Ks either. If you’re debating a phil/tricks debater, the method section is a great place to outframe the 1NC. I used always read Coverstone and comparing worlds in my method section against tricksters because they perfectly hedged against truth-testing. You can get creative too. An idea that I tried briefly was using policy ROBs to get out of T (hey, I said creative, not good).

  2. S-spec. It’s among my top favorite inventions, and it hasn’t caught on at all. It makes me sad.

    To be fair, it’s has a very niche application. The argument is spec sovereignty. If you ever hit a soft-left natives affs and the 1AC doesn’t explicitly delineate the sovereign rights of tribes against the aff’s policy in the plan text, then this is the position for you!

    Quite frankly, I think it’s a dogshit argument. But it’s funny. And, pair it with a consult tribes CP and some T shell and you have a hyper-efficient, versatile off that the poor sucker has no prewritten blocks against. There’s also zero counter-interp offense so… ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

  3. Big debate data. Project ideas for CS nerds who want to do a thing or two with debate data:

    • Paradigms. Scrape judge paradigms by iterating through judge search results (I implemented this, reach out) and build a corpus of judge paradigms. Classify judges by conducting topic modeling or doc2vec on the paradigms. Maybe then correlate those to sit-rates or disaggregate by location.
    • Argumentative spectrum vector space. Scrape the wiki (some tools are here) for cites and conduct doc2vec on the tags. Then, build profiles of debaters based on their argument style. Who am I most similar to?
    • Predictive analytics. We have it for sports, why not debate (no, debate is not a sport)? Take past entries and records and the entry list of a tournament and give percentage chances of winning the tournament.
    • Argument diagrams. Can we map out topics? Like, visualize the circumvention debate? Or the “crisis instability” debate? I think we could with a relational database, and I think we could even expand it to include cards and wiki pages. Could be a breakthrough for open source.
  4. Lay debate is great. Or at least when it’s done well. It’s easy to write it off lay tournaments as contests of luck, especially so if you tend to perform poorly. You’d be right to an extent, since there certainly are parents who flip a coin before writing their RFDs.

    Nevertheless, the skills you learn in good lay debates—ones with an attentive parent in the back and a well-prepared opponent—are valuable and wholly unique. Instead of technical proficiency, you’re forced to maximize ethos and likeability. And sure, you don’t get to be fast, but that only means that efficiency is ever more rewarded. In the professional world, charisma and conciseness will definitely get you farther than a deep understanding of theory.

    Want practice with lay debate? Sign up for the Ronald Reagan GCDS. It’s a well-run circuit with a cool prize at the end and the people are pleasant (even if you think, as I do, Reagan is evil).

  5. LAWs? Killer robots? My recent read is about marketing and one big takeaway the power of association. There’s a reason that it’s called the Campaign Against Killer Robots, and it’s the same reason why you should too: a simple rephrasing of the same idea can powerfully influence our subconscious feelings towards a subject. If you’re affirming at a lay tournament this topic, try to get your opponent to talk in terms of “killer robots.” Something tells me that moms will have a hard time voting on “killer robots promote AI research.”

    If you’re not at a lay tournament, you can turn this into a pretty funny, reasonably strategic word PIK. In fact, I did it, and it’s here. Make it happen!

  6. Court-sanctioned T cards. Definitions from court case rulings are the cream of the crop. These people literally leaf through dictionaries and contextualize words for a living. I suppose that most people find them by digging through the references of legal dictionaries. I don’t have the patience (or legal acumen) to do that. But Googling is usually impossible, since if you ever trying searching something like “court define ban”, you’re going to get lots of definitions of court, lots of definitions of ban, and none of what you want.

    Here’s the trick. Take advantage of exact phrase searches (using quotations “”) by trying to guess the sentence that defines the word. Then, subset the search results by adding the word “court.” This is what I used to get definitions of “ban”:

    • “defines ban” court
    • “ban means” court
    • “define ban” court
    • “the word ban” court
    • “a ban is” court

    Try your own search phrase. You’ll be surprised by how many crucial governance decisions pivot around definitional squabbles.

  7. Perm - alt then aff. My kids don’t think it’s fair, and neither does my co-coach Momo. But I think “perm do the alt then the aff” is a fine argument. The obvious crux of the question is whether the aff has to defend immediacy, and I think that is silly for the same reason delay counterplans are silly. The aff defends a policy, not a policy implemented at a particular time. I think that normal means (i.e. passing it ASAP) should be the basis for disads, but also that any advocacy that does the action of the plan should count as aff ground. For the same reason, I believe that banning LAWs after the communist revolution/fiery death of the world/symbolic death of the system still affirms the topic.

  8. Impact turn backfiles. As phil debate dies out, I hope and pray that it gets replaced by impact turns. Not like, spark, but maybe warming good, populism good, or biodiversity bad. I think it’s a good compromise. Easy enough to maintain topic-to-topic, but also requires technical, real-world knowledge. And, I should admit, super fucking funny to judge when done well.

  9. The briefs black market. If you’ve never been to r/DebateTrade before, then you’ve also probably never been to a debate tournament. The subreddit is home to a thriving exchange of briefs, cases, and “OG 100% HOMEMADE BLOCKS.” Novices and lazy lay debaters frequent the sub, where trades are often much more efficient than cutting prep first-hand.

    A brief tangent: this subreddit is a beautiful natural market. Some briefs are valued more than others, depending on price, quality, and scarcity. “Homemade” blocks are better than unoriginal, already-circulating files. Someone should study this—log a bunch of trades (maybe through a Google form) and model the relative prices of different goods.

    Two factors make the economy interesting. First, it’s anarchy. No regulations, brokers, or verification systems. The possibility of scammers raises the interest costs of doing trades, which—I suspect—leads some sellers to pay a premium for the buyer to “go first.” Second, people have vastly different utility functions. If you’re an uncommitted debater and your coach made you go to a local, then all you want is a brief; everything after those first cases has zero utility. Meanwhile, if you’re u/HisHighnessHennessy, you can’t sleep until you’ve collected every brief on Earth. Fascinating.

    Tangent over.

    Why is this relevant? Briefs, and prep black markets in general, should be acknowledged in disclosure debates. They play a powerful role in the debate ecosystem, particularly for novices and small schools. Arguments like card stealing or resource access are much less convincing against the backdrop of “TRADING 6 BRIEFS for AFF OR NEG CASE.” More so for stealing, I think. Mooching prep off others is a practice as old as the Cross-X forum, so it should be a question of who novices steal prep from: a bunch of sweaty Redditors, or exemplary debaters?

  10. Premier needs writers. If you’ve gotten this far, you probably like debate and enjoy crawling around the internet. I’ll take the opportunity to plug an opportunity at Premier. I write their briefs and it’s a really awesome job. You basically get paid to cut cards. If you are a college student/graduate this year, you should reach out about potential opportunities!

Visit these links for the first and second editions of debate thoughts.

Built with Jekyll on the Swiss theme.