23 December, 2009

Useful Debate Resource

Add this to your bookmarks. It's a site called Project Syndicate which basically publishes Op-Ed's by really brilliant people. Under the Thought Leaders section of the site, you can browse through articles by individual authors. I'd recommend specifically Joseph Stiglitz & Jeffrey Sachs, who are both economists with Columbia University, & Joseph Nye, who's a political scientist with Harvard. They cover a broad range of topics, from climate change to soft power, & I've found them really useful in my research.

22 December, 2009

Impact Card - Energy Prices

High Energy Prices Recession & Food Prices

High energy costs threaten the global economy & drive up food prices

J. Sachs (economics professor, Columbia University), 08 Jeffrey D. Sachs [Professor of Economics & Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University; Special Adviser to UN Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals], “Reinventing Energy,” Project Syndicate, 21 April, 2008, (web, project-syndicate.org, 12/21/09)

“Without plentiful and low-cost energy, every aspect of the global economy is threatened. For example, food prices are increasing alongside soaring oil prices, partly because of increased production costs, but also because farmland in the United States and elsewhere is being converted from food production to bio-fuel production.”

15 December, 2009


A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to google wave. I tried it out, thought it was pretty cool, & promptly forgot about it. Tonight, I was re-introduced to the tool. My old partner Will & I decided to use it to collaborate on Peak Oil answers. In just over an hour we cut about 5 pages of cards on peak oil. And I'm not talking about the kind of thing where you copy & paste a single article from Lexis & call it a brief: we had about 4 or 5 different sources & all the articles were '08 or later.

This session brought to light several things I've been missing out on the last few months of research. First, the power of collaboration. It is so much faster to work with someone when you're briefing. For example, imagine you're working with a group of 4. One person could work Google news &/or scholar, one person could work Lexis, another person could work Ebsco, & a fourth person could compile what the others find. As long as you know what you're looking for ahead of time, this really could save a ton of time & promote efficient research. I think this approach would probably work best when you focus on a single argument, like hegemony answers, or warming. The second thing I realized is the power of google wave to help organize collaborative research. Sure, the formatting & such could be better, but I like the fact that it allows multiple people to paste cards in real time & view each others work as it's happening.

With that said, is anyone interested in organizing a wave research session? If so, comment with a way to contact you, whether or not you need a google wave invite, & a topic you'd like to research jointly.

13 December, 2009

Know Your Authors!

So in the last few months I've debated at two practice tournaments. I've picked up several several valuable lessons from my rounds there that I'll be sharing on this blog. The first - and the subject of this post - has to do with the huge importance of knowing your affirmative authors.

Why you need to "know" your authors
If you know me, you know that I'm all about debating the warrants. So as long as the evidence has good warrants, who cares who the author is? As much as I like warrant debate & despise appeals to authority, there are at least 3 times when knowing who your authors are really does make a difference.
(1) In Cross-Ex.
This is HUGE. Cross-ex can do so much to establish or destroy the affirmative ethos. Being able to answer questions about the qualifications of your authors definitely adds to your credibility and thus the credibility of your case in the judges eyes, while inability to answer those questions can immediately cast doubt on the case. That can directly impact your speaks, since there is a category specifically for cross-examination, and of course speaks can sometimes decide the difference in seeding. Further, as much as we like to pretend they don't exist, there are those judges who vote for whoever persuades them, and I've been surprised by the number of times that cross-ex has appeared on the ballot as a deciding factor in rounds with this kind of judge. Even if it's not an issue in the round, judges like this will often vote for whichever team has the experts on their side, and you want to be that team.
(2) In Evidence Comparisons.
I've already been in multiple debates where the round came down to two directly contradicting studies on the same argument. If you know your authors well, you're in the uniquely advantageous position of being able to explain exactly why your study should be preferred.
(3) In Research.
Having a few really good authors for your aff can be an endless mine for research. For example, for my RPS case, I've consistently been using the same five or so authors for the majority of my evidence. A really good author will oftentimes publish multiple articles and/or studies on the same subject, or even write articles responding to authors on the other side of the argument. Those articles are the ones you want, and you'll miss unless you find some core authors for your aff.

How to "know" your authors
What do I mean by "knowing" affirmative authors? It goes beyond just looking up the credentials of your sources, although that's not necessarily a bad place to start.
First, find out exactly what it is that your authors are advocating, and make sure that it lines up with your aff and that you're not taking them out of context. That may also help you find some extra components of enforcement your plan may have been missing: legal scholars & policy analysts will know a lot more about the necessary components of legislation than the average debater. Second, if you end up quoting an author frequently, find out what qualifies that author to make the argument. I don't mean "oh, he has x degree from y university." You need to know what expertise s/he has in the specific policy field of your aff, whether it's work experience, or academic research. A final thing to consider would be finding out the specific methods your authors used to research the subject, such as computer modeling, surveys, empirical studies, or whatever. It's not essential, but can definitely add weight to your arguments.

In the end, it all comes down to establishing your ethos. Do you want the judge to remember you as the kid who cited that didn't know anything about any of his/her evidence, or the kid who had all the answers and cited qualified sources?


In case anyone still checks this blog, I've been taking a two month break from blogging to work on school and actually do debate as opposed to writing about it. However, that was fun and all, but I'm back to blogging again, and I should be putting out a lot more content over the Christmas break.

12 October, 2009

Climate Change

Warming is probably going to be argued less than it should this year due to debater's tendency to avoid arguments that might not ring true with parent judges. Still, I think it's worthwhile to have at least some evidence on the issue, especially since many cases could actually worsen the problem by removing EPA regulations. And, if there's ever a good time to find articles on the problem, it's now: with the Boxer/Kerry Cap & Trade bill in Congress & an international climate treaty being negotiated there's a load of information being published on the subject.

In what a researcher calls "a plausible worse-case scenario," a new report (via Climate Progress) models a scenario in which parts of the US could warm by over 15°. In just the next few decades, the Arctic is expected to see ice free summers, despite a respite this year. Climate change is affecting ice in other areas as well: glaciers in the Himalayas have been melting for quite some time. As the current global hegemon, & largest per capita polluter, the US might be expected to show some leadership on the issue. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. Instead, back & forth debate on the climate bill has continued, with proponents linking environmental & energy security to national security. Meanwhile, China is taking the initiative & committing, to emissions reductions. Some might argue that an economic downturn is the wrong time to be fighting climate change, but in fact, the opposite is true. The effect of climate change legislation on farms is another common objection, however the Environmental Working Group reports that inaction would be far worse. Some predictions estimate that global warming could decrease production of some crops by up to 50% by 2050. And, don't let anyone tell you that temperatures are stabilizing: that's a short term break caused by ocean variations, & in the long run temperatures will continue to rise. On the topic of ocean temperatures, they seem to already be warming up, achieving a record for the month of August.

29 September, 2009

Best Funding Source Eva

Apparently, fossil fuels get massive subsidies in the form of tax breaks. Massive, as in over $70 billion between 2002-2008. So, if anyone out there is looking for a good funding source, this may be your lucky day. Pretty credible source too.

16 September, 2009

5 Bad Arguments Every Aff Should Be Prepared For

Not too long ago, the 3NR had a brief post about early tournament success, and how the key was to know what your opponents are going to run & writing some answers way in advance. Of course, there's a huge disconnect between common arguments in this league & common arguments in the NFL. There, they like to run political process (politix) disads & capitalism critiques (the cap K). In this league, we have our own set of common generic arguments that you can almost guarantee you're going to hit at the beginning of the year. Most of them are really really lame arguments, but that doesn't stop people from running them. Going aff, you know you're going to hit these arguments, so if you want to succeed, then having responses to them is critical to early tournament success. Below is a list of 5 of the worst offenders as far as bad generics go, and some suggestions in responding to them.

1. Spending

· Why it's a bad argument. Because it freaking doesn't matter. If the government spending money hurt the economy, we would have been screwed economically a long time before the 08 recession. Furthermore, 99% of affs spend minimal sums compared to the trillions tossed around in Congress every year.

· Why it still matters. It basically comes down to this: people are (a) lazy, & (b) tend to conform to what everyone else is doing. Spending DA's take absolutely zero work to write up and apply to almost every aff ever. Moreover it's been run for years, which means people see their older brothers & sisters run it & grow up with the mindset that it's legit.

· How to answer it. You have absolutely no excuse to not have pre-prepped answers to spending when it's such a commonplace argument. Go cut some cards right now on these responses:

(a). Benefits O/W. This is a no-brainer. If your case saves one life - and it better, but that's another post for another time - then you're massively outweighing spending on the impact scale.

(b). No Threshold. Find some article talking about the bailouts, stimulus, whatever. Compare that sum with the sum your plan spends. If the stimulus didn't push us over the brink, neither will the plan.

(c). Impact Turn. Takes some guts when you're likely speaking to a very conservative judge, but if you can pull it, go for inflation good. No really. Give it a shot.

2. Constitutionality

· Why it's a bad argument. Almost every time I've seen this run, it's been run poorly. Essentially, the argument is that since the Constitution doesn't give the government the specific mandate to do the plan, it's unconstitutional, and therefore causes tyranny etc etc.

· Why it still matters. Judges are occasionally willing to buy it and debaters often don't have the greatest responses. Lets face it, a large component of our judging pool are libertarian, meaning they view the constitution as almost a sacred document. And at the beginning of the year, very few debaters bother finding the constitution basis for their plan. That means they have weak responses, the neg wins their link story, and the judge gives them the impact without a thought.

· How to answer it. I've hit this argument more times than Chuck Norris has performed the round-house kicked & that's a lot. Some of the better strategies include:

(a). No Link. Prove that the plan is constitutional. Do some research, & find justification for the plan in the constitution. It might be vague & obvious like the "General Welfare" or it might be deep in the interpretation of the Commerce Clause. Your work will be well worth it if it prevents you from losing to such a bad strat.

(b). Non-Unique. Oh come on. The constitution has been violated a thousand times & they know it. Find a few examples that actually did some good - emancipation of the slaves maybe - and you're set.

(c). Courts Check Back. The Supreme Court determines what is and isn't constitutional. So find an example of legislation like your plan that the courts have upheld, and your plan passes the constitutionality test.

3. Federalism/States

· Why it's a bad argument. It's ridiculous to pretend for a second that the states would ever unanimously decide to pass the same version of a piece of legislation. And it's silly to say that the one example of federal control presented by the aff plan would result in complete usurpation of state power by the central government. There certainly is a time & place to run it, and it does help to limit the resolution to things that only the USFG can solve. But still, overall, lame argument

· Why it still matters. Those same judges that like the constitution like states rights. And it's one of the few strats that can literally apply to every case ever under a USFG resolution.

· How to answer it. Unlike constitutionality, I don't have a ton of experience answering this argument, but I've come across some pretty common responses from those who do:

(a). Theoretically. There's an argument to be made that since the aff is limited to a single actor, the USFG, it's unfair for the neg to be able to fiat 50 different states. Fiat should be reciprocal, so the neg should be limited to one actor just like the aff.

(b). Disads. Find cards about the state budget crises. There's no way the states can afford to implement the aff plan without more budget cuts which means less money for education, health, etc.

(c). Ø Threshold For Fism. Like spending, there's absolutely no threshold. At what point does federal control of policy cause the impacts? The USFG already controls a lot, & it's pretty sketch to argue that the specific aff plan will increase federal control enough to cause whatever impact the neg claims. Again, find cards about previous policies that the federal government implemented that bypass state authority.

4. Agency Attacks

· Why it's a bad argument. Every time I've seen this argument run it's gone something like this: "X agency is corrupt, which is proven by that time in '07 when they screwed up that project", or worse, "X agency is bad because they were wrong about y problem." Gasp! No way. A government agency that's not 100% successful. Now that's a shocker. While these examples are great, they don't prove that the agency itself will fail with the specific plan, or that they can't enforce the plan, just that they aren't always right, or aren't 100% successful.

· Why it still matters. Unfortunately, even though the cards themselves give an example of maybe 1 of the EPA's hundreds of projects failed, the neg is still going to spin it as "EPA Fails" & if that's all the judge hears, then sure, they'll buy it. Agency attacks are almost always spin, but a lot of debates are won on spin rather than the actual argumentation.

· How to answer it. This is sometimes a hard argument to answer, simply because very few people bother to write an article titled "the EPA isn't really very corrupt." Instead, you'll have to cut some cards giving examples of where the agency has been successful in the past, or been commended by some bureaucrat. Better yet, if the agency has been audited, undergone anti-corruption probes, or had leadership recently replaced, that can make for a good answer. Finally, just point out that the fact that if news corporations think it's noteworthy, that's probably because it's a rare occurrence. Anecdotal examples of failure or corruption don't prove an agency-wide problem.

5. T - NEPA

· Why it's a bad argument. I have a really hard time attacking T, because it's one of my favorite arguments and it's pretty essential for narrowing the incredibly broad resolution. But this specific T violation has to be the worst I've come across in quite a while. First, very few people know exactly what's in NEPA. It's not incredibly long, but it is incredibly vague. And it references a bunch of previous legislation which makes things even more confusing. That's not all though. Definitions of NEPA say it "establishes" environmental policy, never that environmental policy is strictly limited to NEPA. I'd draw a parallel to claiming that since the Declaration of Independence "establishes" America, America as a country is limited to what's in that document.

· Why it still matters. It's the closest thing to a limiting definition of environmental policy out there. Most of them just indicate that environmental policy is any policy that effects the environment, which doesn't leave much neg ground for argument. The NEPA def is an early attempt to limit the res, which it does in a way. Barely any case I can think of actually works under the NEPA interp, which means if the neg can sell the def then they're pretty much set for a neg strat.

· How to answer it. First, once again, NEPA establishes environmental policy, but that doesn't mean it is environmental policy in it's entirety. Beyond that though, a couple thoughts:

(a). Cut a few broad definitions of environmental policy. Not too hard to find. If you have say 3 definitions that are all more broad vs the neg's 1 definition, then the consensus is on your side, & you should be able to win that you have the more predictable interp.

(b). Cut a few cards that mention your plan & environmental policy in the same sentence. If you can't find that, your case is probably non-topical. It took me all of five minutes to find about three cards relating my aff to enviro policy. The point is, that if you have those cards, you can prove that there's a lit base for your case. That makes the neg standards of predictability & fairness moot because your plan is perfectly predictable as proven by the glut of evidence on your plan related to environmental policy.

06 September, 2009

Google Research

A brief post I wrote for the Ethos blog.
You've probably been told at some point in your debate career that the last place you want to research is google. I certainly have. And to some extent, that's true. If I were to type in say "carbon tax" into the google search bar, I'd get over 5 million results, & sorting through that would be impossible. While a straight up google search might not be that effective, there are several google tools that I've found extremely useful for research, & I'd like to talk about a few of them.
Custom Google Search
Google custom search allows you to create your own search engine & decide what sites it will search. You've probably had the experience where, while you're researching, you come across this one great site that seems to have articles on almost everything. Unfortunately, you never have time to look through all of the articles, & probably close the tab & forget about it eventually. With google custom search, whenever you come across a site like that, you can just add it to your search engine, so results from that site will come up when you search for a topic it covers. Another great feature of google custom search is the collaboration function, which lets you to invite friends to add sites as well, which means potentially your whole club could be adding sites.
Google Scholar
Google scholar is a great resource if you want to get actual studies on a given issue rather that experts opinions. Before you begin using it, go to the advanced search option, & set it to search articles within a recent date range. Otherwise - in my experience at least - you'll get a ton of results, but many of them will be from too long ago to be useful for debate. Be aware that while Scholar lets you view many of the journal articles, some of them require access to databases like ScienceDirect or Jstor. It would be a hugemistake to just give up on these articles; academic databases such as these often archive some of the best available materials. Save the citations on a special document, & if at all possible, take an occasional trip to a local university library to look them up.
Google Books
There's a somewhat disturbing trend I've noticed in debate recently. Debaters are relying almost exclusively on online sources for their research. While I'm a big fan of the internet, some of the best authors on subjects like the environment are so great that they're able to get their work published in a book, which means that if you're only using online research, you're missing out big-time. Google Books is sort of a compromise; it lets you access books from the internet. As with Scholar, you probably want to change the preferences to limit the date range on the books searched. Also just like scholar, many books aren't free to access, but once again, make a list & look them up on your library trip. The books that are free to access require a special process to cut cards from. First, do a screen grab of the text you want. Then, follow the instructions outlined here to get that text into a format that you can use in a brief. It may take some time, but I can guarantee you it will be worth the trouble.

05 September, 2009

Topic Articles for 9/5/09

Don't be fooled by Fox News "experts" claiming that the Arctic is not warming. A recent article in Science, summarized by BBC News, reports that this last half century, especially the last 10 years, have been the warmest in the last 2000 years of the Arctic's history.

The extinction crisis is continuing to steam ahead at full speed, as documented by scientists with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, who found that at least 25% of mammals are headed towards extinction. It doesn't help that extinctions happen in clusters, meaning that if one species from a family goes extinct, there's a domino effect on the rest of that family.

03 September, 2009

The 3NR

Scotty Phillips, Debate Coach at The Potomac School in McLean, VA, Roy Levkovitz Director of Debate at Woodward Academy in Atlanta, & Bill Batterman, Director of Debate at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, jointly started a blog on debate earlier this year. While it tends to be geared towards NFL style debating, the strategy, research, & theory articles on the blog will be useful to any debater who wants to improve. Todays article on basic search terms is a prime example.

01 September, 2009


An easy way to copy text from google books & other text/picture files that don't let you copy & paste.

First, do a screen grab of the text you want, on a mac, that's <4>. Then, upload the picture file that appears on your desktop onto the Free Online OCR. You'll get text as if you had copy-pasted from a PDF. There's another step if you're lazy & have a mac. The clean text app, will convert the text into regular text without all those annoying spaces that you get with PDF's.

Occasionally, even free-ocr won't pick up the text in the picture. If that's the case, convert the picture file to a .pdf (simply change the file extension), & upload it on Comet Docs. That site will also reliably convert PDF files to word documents. Best of all, it's completely free.

As a side note, credit where credit is due. The free-ocr site was originally discovered by Will.


BBC is just pretty much the bomb. I check their science/environment page a few times a week. It's well worth it.

Some recent articles:

Geo-engineering as a potential solution to climate change.

31 August, 2009

Courtesy of my old debate parter . . .

Will sent me a sick feature that Foreign Policy published today. It's a special report on oil. Enjoy!

Politics Updates: 8/31/09

Good article about political focus & how focusing on too many issues depletes Obama's political capital.

The Huffington Post - "Drug Prohibition and the President's Political Capital"

In case anyone goes for a drug legalization aff, that sucks a ton of PC as evidenced by the fact that Obama refuses to even discuss the issue currently.

Forbes/Reuters - "WTO allows Brazil sanctions in US cotton row"

Obama is purposely avoiding the issue of subsidies because he realizes it will divert PC from healthcare.