Wednesday, January 26, 2011

High North Strategy: Destroyed

The case for Arctic militarization just got owned today. The case tries to argue that Russia is trying to grab all the arctic territory so they can have a monopoly over all the oil and natural resources. Problem is, they are about to give BP access to drill, which straight up disproves the "monopoly" argument. 


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Terrible Topicality Tricks

Invariably you will run across an affirmative or negative team that thinks they have it all figured out. They will stand up at the podium and give a slow, sweeping, smug smile across the room. Then they will begin to talk. What will proceed from their mouth will be sound a lot like swahili. You know them. You can't stand them. The trick topicality team! They appear every year in a different form.

Illegal Immigration year there were teams that tried to define immigration as the movement of a plant or animal. India year teams tried to define India as the entire subcontinent of Southeast Asia. Environment year people tried to define Environmental Policy as the National Environmental Policy Act. Every year teams try to define key terms in the resolution in a strange or downright insane way. While you might be tempted to have them committed to the Ashecliff Hospital for the Criminally Insane on Shutter Island, that is rarely an option in-round. Instead, be prepared to straight up wallop them. 

Let's review a few of the more crazy topicality presses that might be run this year.

1) Russia =/= Russians
This is a pretty lame T press that negs run every time the res specifies a country. They argue that a country means government, not people, so any case that doesn't deal directly with the Russian government fails topicality. A few things to note here.
  1. This could hypothetically be legit if the resolution said "foreign policy." Foreign policy can be reasonably defined as the interaction between states. State, of course, means government.  
  2. The resolution is currently phrased without the words "with" or "foreign." "Policy towards Russia" is very vague in a way that benefits affirmative. The word towards indicates a very general direction to determine topicality. We'll talk a little bit more about that word in a minute, but for now remember that the resolution is phrased in a way that does not seem to indicate the necessity of interacting with the Russian government.
  3. A reasonable definition of Russia defines it as a country. It's important to know the difference between a nation and a state. A nation is a unified population mass that bears a single national identity. Population. Not government. A state is an institution that governs that population. Russia is a nation, not a state, so that includes the population. 
2) Geographical T
When will these people learn they are not clever? This is the argument that the effects of the plan have to take place in Russia. So, basically, if the BMD system is built in Poland, the plan is not topical because Poland is not Russia. Wait, what?
  1. Someone show me the word "in" in the resolution. Change our policy "in" Russia? That's a terrible resolution. This topicality press just straight up doesn't make sense. Still, we had this run on us a few times India year and people will probably try it again this year.
  2. This entire argument precludes the idea of a 3rd party. For example, counterweighting China, negotiating Kashmir, mediating Georgia, or sanctioning Iran. 3rd party cases are very common and perfectly legitimate. 
3) With vs. Towards
This is another topicality argument that you get in foreign policy years. People will argue that the resolution states "towards" and that means a bilateral policy is non-topical because it is "with" Russia. Then they will link it to a solvency argument about Russian fiat. We hit this two of our three affirmative rounds at nationals India year. They argued that because we try to sign an agreement with India, we were being abusive to the resolution by going for a bilateral plan. I think Dr. House has said everything there is to say about this T-press. ----------->

4) Reform =/= Create
Every year. Every year someone decides to run this. The resolution asks you to reform an existing policy not create a new one blah blah blah. Every time this argument gets run, it sends shock waves of agony through my brain. People think this argument is very clever because it seems to be a reasonable, albeit unconventional, interpretation of the resolution. Here's why it's not. 
  1. "Its" versus "A". The resolution asks the affirmative to reform the body of its policy towards Russia. Its policy. Not a policy towards Russia. Grammar matters, kids. 
  2. A new policy will reform the larger body. Reform is generally defined as "to modify to put into an improved form or state." If a new policy is implemented, and it brings advantages, then the larger body of policy has been put into a better state. Shabam. 
5) Russia = Former Soviet Countries
This will be the year's sneaky affirmative topicality justification. I have seen three dictionaries that define Russia as the current name of the former Soviet Union. Some wise-acre affirmative will concoct a case to change policy towards Ukraine or Belarus. Or even Estonia, heaven forbid. Insidious. Be ready to smash this one kids. Always keep a definition file with standards and context. 

Please Read! This means you!
I am not, in any way, shape, or form, advocating any of these topicality arguments as legitimate strategies. So remember that anyone goes off and says "Oh, I saw this on Wolkenpower and he was talking about it and stuff." This was intended to expose affirmatives (and negatives) to topicality tricks that they may be hit with, so that they can think through these ahead of time and crush them when they get run. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

CTR: The looming menace

I'll admit. When I heard at nationals that the new resolution was Russia, I cast a meaningful glare at the Region 8 tables and silently sobbed into my arms. I think a lot of people did the same. The thought of three consecutive years of CTR can make even the most stalwart debaters cry. This year, far more than India and certainly more than Environment year, CTR is a hugely relevant issue that will effect lots of debates and cases. Even if you aren't running a CTR case, you should know how it works.

So what is CTR? I did a google search and got a result on the Center for Turbulence Research. In the context of Russia, it refers to Cooperative Threat Reduction, which is a program stemming from the Soviet era that seeks to secure the myriad of nuclear materials and warheads across Russia. It implements a variety of different security and consolidation measures, the details of which will be inconsequential to the debate round. Even if you don't plan on running CTR, you still need to know how it works, as it will effect the debate round in a myriad of ways. 

It's important to understand that Russia really dislikes CTR. This is one of the biggest reasons I'm advocating the "abolish CTR" case. Russia really hates the darn thing, and it seems to present a legitimate threat to the relations reset. They have repeatedly denied us access to a lot of their more sensitive facilities and when we push for access, they get testy. Any case regarding nuclear weapons, terrorism, or relations needs to be aware of this proverbial thorn in Russia's side. Take the time to research CTR, understand the history, and the way it causes Russian mistrust of US motives. 

Check out a few of these articles:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Theory Throwdown: The Worldview Affirmative

Recently there has been some discussion over the legitimacy of what is known as the "worldview affirmative." This is a case that argues in favor of a fundamental shift in the mindset behind our policy towards Russia, and attempts to use affirmative fiat power to change the mindset of our government. Hypothetically, if the affirmative plan was passed, every member of the federal government would wake up the next day and have a completely different mindset about how to deal with Russia. 
Here's a discussion on Homeschool Debate Forum discussing the matter. Just remember, as a general rule, do the opposite of what you hear discussed on this forum. 

The controversy arises over the following question: does fiat power allow the affirmative team to change or manipulate the opinions of government? I think not. This is problematic for a few reasons. 

1) It misrepresents fiat power
The argument primarily postulated by worldview affirmative teams is that fiat power allows the affirmative to change the minds of members of government. After all, by using fiat to pass START, you must have changed the minds of all those senators to make them vote for it. Unfortunately, this is an over-simplification of the concept of fiat.

  • Fiat works through legal implementation levers

Okay, what on earth does that mean? It means that when the affirmative fiats the government, their plan is passed through an institutional means of power application. Still confused? Let's put it this way. When congress passes a bill and the president signs it, that is a "legal implementation lever." It's a part of US law, and the action is legitimized by the law. If President Obama invites Putin to come over and play golf, that isn't an institutionalized or legally recognized activity. Obama did it, but that doesn't make it a legal act. 

This is where the worldview affirmative collapses. There is no legal implementation mechanism for "changing the government's mind." We are a democracy, and the very idea of the government mandating what someone thinks is straight up impossible. Therefore, the affirmative has no channel or mechanism to exert fiat power over the minds of the government.

  • Fiat never assumes a change in the minds of the government

Even if you fiat that the senate pass your plan, you don't assume that they will all like it. That's why we have political capital DA's, and backlash arguments. No affirmative has ever assumed that the entire government will like their plan. This idea that an affirmative can fiat the minds of the government is entirely new, and entirely illegitimate. To assert a change in the mind of the government is a cheesy and cheap way for an affirmative to try and fiat their way out of capital DA's.

  • The worldview affirmative relies on future fiat

The assumption is that the government will have the same mindset about Russia forever. Otherwise, the affirmative team's plan will mean nothing in 2012. The problem is that using fiat on future governments is universally recognized as illegitimate. If you fiat future governments to act the same way the current one does, we lose flexibility, our government policy becomes institutionalized and irrevocable, and the plan essentially leads to the downfall of the US. The ability of government to change is critical. I actually carried a "future fiat bad" block in my box at all times. Justifications are entrenchment and flexibility.

2) It creates Utopian possibilities 
This is the first thing that pops into my mind when I hear this case. Who on earth wants the entire government to think and act the same way? This gets into that messy area of fiat that we find when we debate state counter-plans. The assertion is that an ability to make all members of government act in unison (or all the states) is entirely unrealistic. We can't do it in the real world, so to fiat it takes to unrealistic places where we can fiat absurd things like world peace. In essence, worldview fiat is a sneaky form of conventionally despised multi-actor fiat. Multi-actor fiat is usually rejected even for negatives, so for affirmatives it is just plain evil.

3) Whole-Res style DA massing
So the affirmative fiats that we have a new and improved mindset of love and friendship towards Russia. The problem is, they don't have a specific plan of action. That's why it's called a worldview affirmative. This makes the affirmative team legitimately responsible for all disadvantages on every plan that results from their new mindset. The case is essentially a whole-res case, only worse because it doesn't even make sense. Run all the DAs on all the cases that result from their new mindset.

Bottom Line....
This case has nothing to stand on theoretically. It is, admittedly, an interesting and ambitious attempt to push the boundaries of fiat power. Ultimately, however, it has basic underlying flaws that destroy its viability. Multi-actor and future fiat are conventionally rejected, and the plan also deals with more general issues of DA's and solvency mechanisms. Beat this with theory. Godspeed. 

Thank you to reader Caleb for suggesting this topic. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Case Analysis: Jackson Vanik Amendment

You all know one. We've all witnessed the malaise. Perhaps you used to suffer yourself. The disease is, of course, Jackson-Vanik Mania. It afflicts many debate teams today, and the symptoms include schizophrenia, irrational paranoia, and hallucinations. Fortunately, there is a cure, and that cure is to smash the darn thing. So let's talk about how to do just that. Don't just beat the case. Ray Lewis it. 

1. Relations
Be sure to respond heavily to their relations advantages. If you want, start here for a refresher on why the advantage is bogus to begin with. It's even more bogus with Jackson Vanik because the world is still waiting on a few things.
  1. An actual Russian official saying anything meaningful about Jackson-Vanik.
  2. A single facet of the US-Russian relationship that has been hindered by JV.
  3. A single solid link card from JV to an actual impact.
In short, most of the evidence on relations that the aff will read comes from absolutely atrocious and nebulous articles that basically say "Oh btw, Jackson Vanik is bad for relations." We still got New-START and 123 through. 

So how do you respond to this? I'd go line by line and point out the missing links and bad evidence. Then I'd spend at least a minute doing generic "Russian Relations Good" status-quo pro arguments. The fact is that the aff doesn't have a serious leg to stand on here. An aggressive attack on this should beat it. I know it's a defensive argument, but it still works. 

2. Economy
Oh my gosh. Could a case have a more sketchy advantage? Well, there's always natural gas cars from last year. But other than that, not really. Affirmatives love to come up and say "Hey guys! Jackson Vanik hurts our trade and stuff!" Problem is, that's blatantly false. Like, I don't even know how to say how wrong that is. Respond to economic claims with
  1. No difference between PNTR and NTR
  2. Alternate cause: Corruption. 
The aff probably doesn't understand the difference between Permanent Normal Trade Relations and Normal Trade Relations. There is no difference. Well, PNTR is permanent and NTR is renewed every year. But the actual legal ramifications for trade are identical. Jackson Vanik prevents Russia from getting PNTR. They still have NTR, and it's renewed every time, so they get all the trade benefits Jackson Vanik would give them anyway. Cut cards on this.
    3. DA's
    Alright. Time for some offense. There are two good DA's to Jackson Vanik that I would recommend running. If I overlooked one, scold me in the comments or drop me an e-mail.

    1. WTO loss
    Basically, your offense is a double bind on relations. Structure the DA like this:

    A) Link: Jackson Vanik gets lifted if Russia joins WTO.
    B) Brink: Russia is unsure of WTO benefits (some of the good Putin cards)
    C) Impact: WTO = economic gains.

    You have a double bind here. Russia may or may not push to join the WTO. If the aff is right, and Jackson Vanik matters to Russia, then an aff ballot eliminates perhaps the last remaining incentive for Russia to join. If JV doesn't matter to Russia, then the DA falls but the aff has conceded significance. They will try to get out of this by saying that Russia won't join one way or the other. The problem with saying that is that right now Russia is clearly on the fence. When you compare the potential benefits of WTO to the advantages of Jackson Vanik, this DA outweighs on magnitude and probability. Remember impacting this.

    2. Human Rights/Appeasement
    So the aff is going to go on and on about how important Russian relations are. Great. Who cares? I would legitimately vote for a big DA on appeasement at the expense of human rights and values. First off, refer to my post on relations for a discussion of the problems with passing plans simply for soft power. It's an appeasement tactic that results in short term (but ultimately useless) soft power gains, at the expense of long term credibility on real issues. Here's how I would set up this DA.

    A) Link: Russia has epic HR abuses. This is pretty easy to prove. Trafficking, press issues, etc. 
    B) Link: Jackson-Vanik is symbolic for human rights efforts. This, again, is not hard to prove. The aff will come back by saying "well, it's symbolic, but doesn't actually do anything to fight trafficking. That's why you need the impact.
    C) Impact: Long term soft power loss on human rights
    Ethos has some good cards on this, but you will be able to find your own. The fact of the matter is, appeasement plans like Jackson-Vanik are terrible because they are long-term soft power losses. If the US begins abandoning critical leverage points in the name of making Russia feel better, it hurts our long-term ability to push for human rights protections. 

    General notes on both disadvantages
    Now, these disadvantages are not exactly typical. They aren't really "plan happens, this happens" DA's with an established and certain link to the impacts. They instead seek to do two things.

    1) Put Jackson-Vanik in context
    This case is totally insignificant. It literally does not matter to anyone. It just doesn't. The DA's put this insignificant little amendment in the context of things that actually matter: WTO membership and larger human rights efforts. Point this out when you run them. Your argumentation is so much bigger and more important than the affirmative's case is.

    2) Outweigh the darn thing in a huge way
    You've already done all the defensive argumentation and destroyed all semblance of impacting from the affirmative. Given the huge scope of your disadvantages, do a ton of calculus on impacts. At the end of the day, the negative is the only team that has arguments that matter.

    Jackson - Vanik Rankings
     - Significance: 1
     - Solvency: 2
     - Judge Appeal: 1
     - Topicality: 8
     - Research: 6
     - In-round debate: 1
     - Composite: 3.1 

    Go forth and conquer, people. Have some pump-up. Little known fact: all those orcs were running Jackson Vanik. 

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Bigger Better Debate: The revamped juggernaut index

    Batman is happy now!

    START has been passed, and a lot has gone on since the original juggernaut index. It's time to re-tool. For your reading pleasure, my power rankings. For now. 

    The Good:

    1. BMD expansion: The passage of START creates the right climate for this.

    2. Bio-detection: Bumped off of number one, but still a great case.

    3. Space Weapons: Growing on me. Seems like a genuinely good idea. Buy ethos.

    4. Cyber-security: Inherency could be a problem, but weak alternates make this viable.

    5. Repeal CTR: I've seen some recent evidence that seems to make this stronger.

    6. Pharma reform: This case makes sense to me. 

    7. WTO support: Heard this case defended brilliantly recently. It can be done. 

    8. Russian radar/BMD hosting: It's the cowards way out on missile defense, but it works.

    9. Ban Cluster Munitions: Cluster bombs are actually pretty bad, kids. 

    10. Counter Narco-terrorism cooperation: Drugs are bad, and so are terrorists.

    The Meh:

    1. Remove TN: It might be a good idea for security issues, but Russia would hardly reciprocate. It's basically half of a case. 

    2. JV Amendment : This case should just be passed and end our misery. Boring!

    3. Re-fund RAMOS: This case seems to make sense, but doesn't really do much. 

    4. MSSIS Invite: I'm a fan of pirate harms. I like saying harms like a pirate. Haaaaarms. But I'm not sure MSSIS or Russia are a good solvency mechanism.

    5. ICITAP: Seems decent. If it can actually dent Russian corruption, I'll be a fan. 

    The Atrocious: 

    1. Arctic Militarization: Hey guys! Let's start a war! How on earth you can justify militarizing an area that belongs to Canada is beyond me. 

    2. Chechnya Recognition: Let's start another war! This would be the equivalent of Russia siding with Al-Qaeda. Chechnya is terrorist central. 

    3. FLEX diplomacy: Reminds me of the fullbright case from India year. That was a bad case, for those who weren't around.

    4. Adoptions: GAH! MY BRAIN!

    5. End NATO expansion: Inherency issues, huge DA's, and lame advantages. Also, teams that run this seem to have a penchant for founding father quotes...

    6. Block 123: Why on earth do the republicans want to overturn everything good? 123 is pretty awesome. This is even weaker than the India version.

    7. Abandon START: See above. START is awesome. 

    8. Extend the Space Shuttle: I honestly don't understand how this even counts as "a case." The space shuttle? Honestly? The T and significance are shameful. 

    9. Abolish Foreign Aid: All time record holder for insignificance. 

    10. Minimal deterrence: The only case that can claim to literally lead to nuclear war. 

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Every Debater's Nightmare

    Aaaah the community judge. As unpredictable as the weather. More numerous than the Red Crabs of Christmas Island. It is every debater's worst nightmare to walk into the room and hear those terrible words: "I'm a first time judge." The community judge is a necessary component of keeping tournaments running, yet is prone to fickle and, at times, downright confusing and what can feel like outrageous decisions. It can seem like the community judge is an uncontrollable monster, unleashed on the debate world to pass judgement on you. They aren't. The community judge is a person like any other, albeit untrained in the fine art of debate. So how do we reach this impassive and silent creature? Is he actually listening? You bet he is, and here's how to get him to vote for you. 

    1) Bias plays an expanded role
    This is the great paradox of debate. The judges who know the least about the topic and debate also happen to be the least tabula rasa. Even though orientation tells them to remove their personal bias from the round, the vast majority of community judges find this hard to do. They will bring their bias into the round, and they will vote on it. You need to be prepared to compensate for this.

    • Use Cross Ex to probe for bias: Ask cross-ex questions and watch the reaction of the judge. Use cross-ex to determine where the judge falls on a political spectrum, and gauge their amicability towards big government/small government. 
    • Tailor Argumentation: Remember that the judge will most likely vote on their bias. Tailor the argumentation so that the other team offends the judge's bias, not you. Remember that in any given round, there are arguments from both teams that can offend a bias. Trap the other team into making the arguments, while avoiding them yourself.
    • Avoid certain sources: If your judge is anything but a militant conservative, avoid the Heritage Foundation. If they are libertarian, pull out CATO cards if you have them. If they are liberal, go for Berkley professors. That kind of stuff. 

    2) Lingo done right
    This is a huge misconception that a lot of debaters have: debate and topic lingo are bad when you have a community judge. This is only true if you are really bad at explaining, revisiting, and re-labeling. With practice, the correct application of lingo and buzzwords becomes one of your most powerful weapons.

    • Community judges are not stupid: Always remember this. My partner and I had a PhD in chemical engineering judge us last year. Clearly this is a smart man. He was, however, technically a "community judge." It would be incorrect to assume that his "community" label makes him dumb. I'm pretty sure he's smarter than me. This means that you should never talk down to community judges, or avoid lingo for fear of confusing them.
    • Re-label: The stock issues are logical. There is nothing particularly hard to understand about them. The only sticky point for community judges is the labels. Stick a better label on, and anyone can understand. I traditionally labeled Inherency and Significance as "the situation." Solvency becomes "the solution." Disadvantages were tagged as "consequences." I rarely, if ever, had trouble with losing my judges in this lingo. It will feel to you like you are running normal arguments under stock issues, but simpler labels make them easy to understand. These judges aren't dumb. They will understand the substance of the stock issues once you take away the lingo and labels. 
    • Seize credibility on topic lingo: Being able to explain facets of the topic in a cogent manner, and then attaching it to a fancy label, will score you huge credibility points with the judge. Take the time to explain technologies, theories, and politics. Diverging away from the arguments for 30 seconds to explain will go far. It makes you seem like a genuine presenter who simply wants to explain and educate. Big points and wins follow.

    3) Seize momentum on confusion
    This follows logically off of the last point. If your opponent never read this blog post, chances are he will eventually say something confusing. That's when you get to swoop in like a hero and provide a little clarity. 

    • A confused judge has not decided on the argument. When a judge is confused on an argument, they aren't ready to vote one way or another on it. This means that your opponent has spent his speech time introducing the argument, without getting out enough analysis to solidify it in his favor. The judge will be waiting to hear what you have to say about it, and will be more than willing to give it to you if you can make more sense. 
    • Redefine the argument in your favor. When an argument doesn't make sense, it becomes fruitless to try and salvage it in the framework that your opponents laid out. Keep and extend the key terms and ideas, but ditch their framework and organization. A confused lay-judge is one of the unique times in the round where you are allowed to re-define, re-label, and re-flow their arguments. 

    4) Be careful with theory
    Myth: Community judges don't know theory! I can do whatever I want! YAY!
    Reality: Community judges know just enough to be dangerous and vote you down.

    Community judges have had only mild exposure to debate theory. This does not make them Tabula Rasa on theory. It makes them cautious and hard to crack on theory debate. Don't assume you can get away with arguing (or ignoring) theory just because the judge is community. So how do you stay on the safe side here?

    • Avoid associations with theory: If it looks like the debate is headed towards a theory debate, try to avoid it by minimizing the use of lingo, and by emphasizing the actual policy issues. Keep the debate off of theory. If theory becomes necessary, minimize it's importance. Much like a nuclear war, the best way to win a theory debate is to make sure it never starts. 
    • Appeal to common sense: Most theory positions are based on common sense. Or at least they should be. Both sides in the great parametrics debate believe their side is the only logical and rational one. Emphasize these points. Don't harp on "ground shifts" and "moving targets." Hit on the common sense root to your theory position. It's like inception. Make the argument sound so common sense that the judge will assume it's fact. 
    Leo uses inception to defeat counterplans!