THBT Classic 2014

The St. Olaf Debate season started this year with the THBT Classic 2014 at Bethany Lutheran College, because it seems like BLC is the only school that actually likes debate besides us and Carleton. We sent three teams: Allison (new debater!) and Raffi, Alex and Maureen, and Carly and Jordan (both new debaters!). Overall, the tournament was an excellent first outing for the team this season, and we’re grateful that BLC was willing to host a debate-only tournament, even providing a morning workshop for new debaters.

We got off to a rocky start because a captain who shall remain nameless left Maureen at school. So Alex had to drive back to Olaf an hour before the first round started (it takes an hour to drive from Northfield to Mankato), meaning Alex and Maureen had to forfeit the first round. Also, Maureen is prone to car sickness, and Alex drove at speeds of questionable legality and kept driving over rumble strips to pass cars, so Maureen threw up on the way back to BLC. And she still debated the round, like a champ.

There were some fun resolutions and some weird ones:

  1. This House believes Iran is the key to defeating ISIS.
  2. This House would promote the undecided college major
  3. Case Study: If a lie causes someone to change their behavior for the better, the liar is obligated to tell the person they lied to.
  4. Case Study: It is okay for a hospital to conduct research on patients without their explicit consent.
  5. This House would promote Parliamentary debate.
  6. Quarterfinals: This House would step in to fix the NFL.
  7. Semifinals: This House believes that providing military equipment to the police is an act of war.
  8. Finals: This House believes that politics gets in the way of good politicians.

Rather than do a shot-by-shot analysis of every round, here’s everyone’s favorites from prelims and then some commentary on breaks.

Carly and Jordan’s Favorite Prelim:

In the 5th round, Carly and Jordan were Gov, meaning they had to promote parliamentary debate. Carly comes to us from the wacky world of policy, so naturally Jordan and Carly ran in-round solvency and said that they would promote Parliamentary debate by debating that round. They said that if Opp responded basically, Gov wins because Opp is using Parliamentary debate. Raffi said that Opp should’ve just got up and left. It got meta pretty quick.

Allison and Raffi’s Favorite Prelim:

The 4th round was this strange case study about a blood bank considering to conduct experiments on patients without their consent; the prompt suggested that since patients agreed to have their information recorded, they might be okay with being participants in experiments. So Gov had to go against several decades worth of well-defined standards in research ethics. Bummer. Raffi and Allison were Opp and basically called their opponents Nazis; Raffi brought up the example of Josef Mengele and how he made some important advances in science, but at the expense of murdering a bunch of innocent people. Util doesn’t always lead to moral outcomes.

Alex and Maureen’s Favorite Prelim:

In the 5th prelim, Alex and Maureen ran a plan about how the MCFA should force all of their coaches to come and volunteer once per semester in Northfield as a debate coach for St. Olaf and Carleton’s debate teams (since we’re currently coachless). William Soule of BLC, bless his heart, started every speech by saying how he was basically just doing his job as Opp and was dying on the inside by telling Alex and Maureen that they don’t need a coach. Alex rewarded him by offering really emotional stories about how we all love debate but if we don’t get a coach, the St. Olaf debate team will die. Alex also said “hell” in his rebuttal.

Quarterfinals

Alex and Maureen along with Allison and Raffi made it to quarterfinals. Alex and Maureen were Opp. Gov basically just interpreted the resolution as “Resolved: The NFL is bad.” They made arguments about concussions, domestic abuse, etc. In retrospect, Alex and Maureen think they should have went all in on Topicality. Opp pursued it halfheartedly, saying that Gov should have ran a plan. Which was the right argument, but they just didn’t embrace it enough because they didn’t realize until the end of the round how the interpretation really put Opp at a disadvantage. Basically, Opp was left to defend or at least qualify abuse and health side effects. Which is never a good idea. So they appropriately lost on a unanimous decision.

Raffi and Allison were Gov and decided to side-step the entire abuse issue and just talk about concussions. They ran a plan about how the NFL should use soft helmets. Soft helmets make charging full speed into one another impossible, thereby reducing concussions. Raffi and Allison weren’t very confident coming out, but they ended up winning on a 2-0 decision and thus advancing to semi-finals.

Semifinals

Raffi and Allison were Opp and were not very pleased with Gov’s definitions. Gov defined “act of war” as anything that increases the probability of conflict. Raffi responded in the LO speech with a reading from Webster’s new dictionary about how the definition of war was conflict between nation states and gave a lot of examples about how basically Occupy Wall Street, the protestors in Ferguson, etc., are not nation states. Gov responded by saying that colloquial definitions are acceptable, a la The War on Drugs or The War on Poverty. Those arguments basically went back and forth, with Gov taking jabs at Opp for causing a bad debate (though no formal argumentation around topicality was used). In the end, the judges voted 2-1 in favor of Gov. We think that the other two judges were newer and uninterested in hearing a definitions debate, independent of whether it was a good or bad definitions debate.

Anthony Wachs of Northern State University, who voted in favor of Opp, was nice enough to come up to us afterwards and give our coachless selves a little bit of advice. In Raffi’s argumentation, he relied heavily on the fact that the dictionary is how we decide what words mean, to the point where Wachs referred to his argument as an appeal to authority. Wachs went on to explain that it makes more sense in a definitions debate to focus on how if we get to define words however we want, they stop losing their meaning. Under Gov’s definition, shouting at a friend would count as an “act of war” because it increases the probability of conflict, meaning it’s not a very helpful definition. So we got a nice piece of advice on running definitions that we’ll be sure to incorporate into future rounds, but it’s hard to say whether using that line of argumentation would have changed anything given the judging panel.

Finals

At this point everyone was knocked out of the tournament, so we just got to be judgmental spectators. We thought this round wasn’t particularly interesting, despite a potentially good premise. There was a hugely loaded sentence in this resolution, namely “good politician”. What does it meant to be a good politician? Is that someone who speaks on behalf of the people? Is it someone who improves the quality of life for their citizens? If so, what does that actually look like? If you wanted answers to these questions, you weren’t going to get them from this round. After the first speech, the round devolved into “Idealism is good, people want it. No, it’s bad. No, it’s good,” with lots of weird hypothetical examples about mass suicide used throughout. In the end, Gov pointed out that just saying idealism is good doesn’t count as a response to their four now-completely-dropped contentions, so they justly won on a 3-0.

Round 3: This House would redefine hazing.

By the by, all of these rounds were pretty similar. While the House changed a bit, one of our Gov teams chose St. Olaf College and a lot of others chose the National Football League. For the most part, people just decided to penalize people who haze much more harshly, whether it be through kicking them out of the NFL for a year or expelling them from school. Also, one team very cleverly defined hazing as being tough on new people and pointed out how the UN’s long-time members on the Security Council have veto power to make it tough on newer entries to the UN, so they reworked that.

Round 2: This House would reestablish “net neutrality”.

This round exemplified one of the sad realities about Parliamentary Debate, that sometimes if you name a specific topic, no one will know what’s going on. We would guess that the majority of people at the tournament didn’t know what net neutrality was. Some rounds were defined not-quite-literally (for example, David and Rikaela very cleverly talked about carbon neutrality), and for the Gov teams that did know what the term referred, Opp teams tended to struggle along and be at the mercy of Gov definitions.

Round 1: This House would prioritize environmental protection over economic development.

Every year we try and brainstorm what topics will covered at State. We figured that the one Minnesota-specific topic would be the PolyMet Mining Proposal, and we actually called it! The resolution, however, doesn’t specifically name PolyMet, and three out of our four teams were on Opp, so they didn’t talk about it at all. And the one team that did do PolyMet plan had trichot theory ran on them. So much for knowing the news.

Fargo was just too far (to go)

Initially we had planned on attending the swing tournaments held at NDSU and Concordia this weekend, but the weather was just a little too dicey to make the trip either Friday evening or Saturday morning. We love debate, but not enough that we’d be willing to get into a car accident for it. Hopefully this will be a one -time thing.

Quarterfinals: This House believes Russia should let Edward Snowden go.

We had three teams make it to quarterfinals! They were Bayley and Raffi, Maureen and David, and Caroline and myself. Interestingly, we’ve also incrementally added one more team to the Vocal Viking quarterfinal round since 2011. One in 2011, two in 2012, and three in 2013. There were two primary perspectives between the three different rounds: Russia’s and the US’s. From Russia’s end, Gov teams argued that the move would increase Russia’s standing with the U.S. which would have a bunch of positive spillover benefits. From the US’s end, Snowden committed treason and we need to get him. Regardless of what Gov said, Opp mostly talked about whistle-blowing culture and resultant corruption. Sadly, we maintained our historical precedent of never advancing anyone beyond the quarterfinal at the Vocal Viking. We’ll take the time to watch the finals, and wish the best of luck to competitors that move forward!

- Alex