Debate


I got a job! It’s true! I will not be one of those unfortunate college graduates who has to move into their parents’ basement and hang out with their high school friends. In three months, I’ll take over as the parliamentary debate coach at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

I’m really excited to get to work. I know several of the debaters at Whitman, and they’re very talented and easy to get along with. My biggest concern is that I’ll be living in Walla Walla, which, aside from sounding like a made up place, is located in Eastern Washington. I’ve only been there in the middle of winter, but my impression is that it’s kind of a frozen wasteland.

But it’s okay, because I have a job! My future is certain, at least for a while. By stomach is slowly unclenching.

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swine-fluThe swine flu pandemic will soon kill us all. It’s already taken out 20 people, or 0.000000003% of the global population! In the words of South Park, soon there will be only 99.999% of us left!

Okay, maybe that isn’t so bad. But swine flu COULD kill us all, which is a good reason to panic and devote hours upon hours of cable news network time to the story. As opposed to, say, environmental destruction or genocide, which is currently killing hundreds of thousands. Now folks are running out to buy of surgical masks by the boatload, despite scientists’ pesky insistance that it won’t stop you from catching the flu.

Okay, so I’m skeptical. Anyone who isn’t is probably paranoid, given the gigantic scares of SARS of avian flu in recent years. But a giant flu pandemic could get pretty bad, so I’d like to take this opportunity to point out how I CALLED it. A few months back I was doing debate research and came across a staggeringly scary fact: we can’t do jack to stop the flu. Consider the following:

  • Vaccines are really, really ineffective because influenza mutates so quickly. Scientists have to guess which strain will break out in order to target their vaccines. In 2008, the flu vaccine was only 44% effective.
  • In February of 2008, flu was responsible for almost 10% of all deaths in the United States.
  • Empirically, flu pandemics pop up every 30 years or so. Spanish flu of 1918-1919, an outbreak in 1957-58, and another in 1968-69 all fit the curve. By that measure, we’re overdue.
  • Flu can kill a lot of people–the 1918 outbreak killed between 50 and 100 million, or 2.5% of the global population.

So why are we so helpless at the hands of this little bug? The first problem is that it mutates fast, but the second is that we don’t look for it in the right places. Evidence shows that new strains of the flu tend to pop up in Southeast Asia, but the WHO headquarters its flu research centers in Japan, the UK, Australia, and the United States. If they were to focus more research in Cambodia or Laos, the WHO would have a big headstart on vaccines and could probably guess the right strain to prepare for. Maybe one day…

But for now, we’re all stuck breathing through flimsy surgical masks and running away from sneezing toddlers. My guess is that this strain will join SARS and bird flu in the hall of overhyped dread diseases. But you never know.

  1. I should be able to hand in outlines instead of papers.  ^ heg chcks russian nukes is pretty self explanatory…why do i need a paragraph to say it?
  2. I shouldn’t need to explicitly answer opposing points of view in papers…that’s just giving away free disads. Read the preemts section, foo!
  3. Coming up with a long list of reasons why something is true should discourage people from challenging my assumptions.
  4. Cap Bad should be an acceptable answer to any essay test. For example, Q: “How does Millet’s ‘The Gleaner’s’ compare and contrast with David’s “Oath of the Horatii’?” A: “Ummmm…you endorse capitalism.”
  5. Same goes for politix.
  6. Every class should relate to nuke war or environmental collapse.
  7. If the professor’s lecture or reading material doesn’t match syllabus, or if the syllabus isn’t specific enough, or if it’s too specific, I get to leave class.
  8. Grades should be as inflated as speaker points.
  9. Speech times are not optional, Professor Hull. I don’t flow after the timer goes off.
  10. My partner should clean up all my messes and do all my work. đŸ˜‰

If the NPTE is the World Series, or NPDA Nationals is Mach Madness, then the WSU-Vancouver tournament is a pick-up game in a back alley. A few talented players show up, but they’re just messing around with the random kids playing before dinner time. There are no refs, hardly any rules, and anyone who complains about something being unfair is just a whiner.

It’s really interesting to me how much small, local tournaments feel like high school tournaments. Everyone gathers around big cafeteria tables in a central area, stuff spread out all over the place. IE’s are popular. Most people seem at least as interested in socializing as competing. It’s friendly and more or less low key…just like high school.

BD and I posted a career low (for both of us) 1-4 prelim record. How? I was sick and tired and my voice was totally gone by round five, for one thing. But the real reason is that neither of us cared much. In round one I was so bored and sleepy I seriously considered just conceding. We edged out round two despite some lousy debating on my part, but then dropped three and four. I don’t think we legitimately lost each of those, but I couldn’t really blame the judges. We didn’t want the ballots very much.

The tournament did generate a couple good stories. Under the resolution “An armed society is a polite society” a few of our teams argued that we should sent prosthetic limbs to Cambodia. Handshakes, after all, are an important part of polite social interaction.

In the last prelim the resolution asked teams to support making English the official language. The question, “the official language of what?” was left unanswered, so our young’uns argued from the perspective of a Renaissance Fair. BD an I were opp on that topic, and were already eliminated from the tournament, so we decided to have some fun. I prepped seven disadvantages, dealing with everything from ballots to traffic signs. The government case was about Indonesian schools so nothing linked, but I tweaked them a bit and still managed to run five disads with a couple procedurals.

Of course, we still lost. The judge hated us and our strategy, but at least we went out with a bang.

And oh yeah! Willamette dominated in speaker points. Crizzle and E were first and second, respectively, I was seventh, and the young’uns placed in the top ten as well.

Sometimes, you just get lucky. BD and I got a huge break at this year’s Paul Winters Invitational at the University of the Pacific. After a lackluster 3-3 prelim performance, we advanced to double octos on speaks. We had assumed we were out after dropping our third ballot in round five to a team from Rice, but it turns out we were wrong.

We capitalized on the good fortune by beating a great team from Nevada-Reno in doubles to advance to the round of 16. We were facing Rice DH, one of the top teams in the country the last two years, but the stars were aligned. We were governing, and the resolution was “In this case, Ronald Reagan was right.”

We decided to interpret Ronald Regan as Ronald Reagan Junior, the President’s son, so we could run stem cell research. We beat back the obvious topicality, but we came up a little short on the case debate.  The decision was a 2-1 for Rice, who went on to semi finals.

The only other Willamette team at the tourney was PJ and E, which was a welcome change. It’s much easier to prep without a thousand n00bs crowding around your disad shell. Still, it can get a little lonely on long trips with small teams.

I’m getting pretty sick of going 4-2 and dropping on Sunday morning. Three in a row is plenty, thank you. BD and I weren’t exactly on in prelims, but we were squeaking by. Going into round 6 we were a very respectable 4-1, but we hit a very good Wyo team as a pull up and dropped on T. That forced us to debate in partial doubles, like the “play-in” round of the NCAA tournament. We hit a pretty solid team from host school Puget Sound and dropped 3-0.

The big difference for us this time was mutually preferred judging. Usually, you get screwed (or come very close to getting screwed) at least once at each tournament. The Puget Sound tournament  asks competitors to rate potential judges 1-6, with 1 being the best. Then the tab room makes sure each round is judged by some one both sides like. The result? Happy debaters and happy judges. We won 4 ballots and lost 5 (3 in the outround) and I completely understand and agreed with every decision. That almost never happens.

Ya’ll don’t even know. Running a tournament is the most tremendous pain in the ass I can imagine. Especially when it’s a high school tournament and coaches add and drop half their teams at the last minute. And then debaters get sick all of a sudden and declare that they can’t compete, and then they compete anyway. And win their round. But you already removed them from the pool, so either you have to reset the entire bracket or ignore the round and just leave them out. But if you do that, crazy high school coaches/moms/bus drivers come and try to eat your liver.

And by the way, you’re totally exhausted the whole time. I should be getting paid for this.

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