Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Berlin rocks ZEIT DEBATTEN

The newly founded Freie Debattierliga (Free Debating League, FDL) awards points to debating clubs and individual speakers according to their performance at non-official tournaments. Applying FDL rules to the last ZEIT DEBATTEN season, we see that BDU did okay this year.

(This calculation does also include bonuses for convening societies, which are to compensate for not competing at own tournaments. Total amount of those: zero points)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Germany's next Topdebater

There is a recent proliferation of casting shows like America's Next Topmodel, X-Factor, Jamie's Kitchen, or Popstars. They all have in common that some jury is eying up the participants and sending home those that don't manage to meet some random and fuzzy set of criteria. Now that's a striking similarity to what's happening in debating, so it's high time for the first real debater casting show!

Sensing wealth and fame, BDU would like to place a copyright on the concept for such a show. Put together a bunch of people with huge egos and a desire to hear themselves talk. Set them up in a shared flat with unlimited subscription to the Economist and, ideally, lots of alcohol. Each week, let them compete in ridiculous contests like delivering speeches hanging head down from Tower Bridge or arguing to an elder auditorium that abolishing their pension is a good idea. And of course: let them debate. The jury decides who to send packing. The show then consists of bloopers, crushing arguments and bitch-fights among these people who always think they're right. The winner gets an honorary membership at BDU or a weekend with Obama, her choice. It will be awesome!

Monday, July 19, 2010

1st gov's odds and related data

There are those who spend prep time in foetus position whining for 15 minutes after learning they will be 1st gov. On the other side, there are those who thrive in that position, scenting an unique chance to dominate the debate.

We all feel that 1st govs in preliminary rounds are less successful than all the others, but we also see that 1st govs win finals fairly often - in Germany between DDM Berlin 2008 and ZEIT DEBATTE Stuttgart 2010 at almost every single tournament. Does that mean that good teams perform better in 1st gov?

Here is a look at the EUDC 2006 tab: 164 teams provide after 6 rounds 984 results.

We can see that 1st gov's odds to gain three points are - as expected - generally below average. Betting on a 2nd opp win seems to be a way better idea. Now, looking at the top 50 teams only, we see the respective percentage is above average. But top teams are much more likely to win in any position. Taking this into account, we learn: chances to gain three points are still the higher the later you speak in a debate, and the best way to avoid a loss is being some sort of opp. That goes for the totality of teams as well.

However, this analysis does not cover break rounds. Possibly, dynamics are different before an audience in everything-or-nothing mode.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mothers who care too much

Here's a good read for all those lovers of debates about feminism: Nancy J. Hirschmann - Mothers who care too much (Boston Review July/August 2010)

You can read this as a nice summary of what's going on in feminism and gender debates in the US. Normative ideas of gender equality are much less broadly accepted there, having large portions of the youth aspiring to get married young. The idolization of women as primary care-givers plays a huge role here (interestingly and not quite coincidentally, this role is particularly idolized for army wives). This should be particularly interesting for all those fans of Judith Butler's deconstructivism.

On this note, compare "the personal is political" to Hannah Arendt's political philosophy. Can there be self-actualization by choosing the role of the care-giver, without overt political participation?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Debater's Rorschach

Given that debating is not an exact sport and performance is judged by humans, it was only a matter of time until psychoanalytic methods make their way into debating. Psychologists and psychotics at BDU have now turned their analytic minds to the question of how to assess the fundamental attitude of judges, so as to calibrate their speeches to perfectly suit their adjudicator's taste. After stunning initial results with the scientifically sound method of free association to random smudges of ink, we have arrived at a handy version of the Rorschach test which is perfectly adjusted to debaters' needs.

Simply ask your judge the following question:

"You're judging a debate in which every speaker takes the floor when it is his turn, doesn't open his mouth for 7 minutes, and then sits back down. How do you call the debate?"

The adjudicator's answer gives insight into her judging attitude. Here's a couple of answers you might hear:

  • "I put them all on joint last."/ "I just run away."/ "I yell at them until my voice fades."
    This judge is into the fun of hearing great speaches. Make her happy by cracking jokes, use cunny metaphors and pack your speech with pathos.
  • "I judge by looks."/ "Let's see who I like best as a person."
    This judge is taking the debate the way it is, and is then trying to find the right criteria by which to discriminate between the teams. Make sure you always explain why your team line beats the crap out of the other teams.
  • The judge actually gives you a ranking.
    This judge has a fixed set of criteria and ranks the teams by this. Try to dig deeper what these criteria may be: team consistency, micro-rebuttal to each and every one of your opponents' points, role fulfilment, constructing standard arguments well. You won't be able to sway her to your view of the debate! She'll listen to you though and be very analytical on her set of criteria. Our favourite answer actually: "Closing prop is last cause they didn't have an extension. Third comes opening opp cause they didn't deal appropriately with gov's policy. Second comes opening prop for screwing up the definition of the debate, and the winner is closing opp for perfectly hitting the tone of the debate".

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Institutionalism

This is a must-read for all our fans of Luhmann's systems theory:

Personally, I'd like to stress the idea that actors within an institution act in certain ways because they cannot perceive of any alternative. Think priests within the catholic church who have sinned and cover it up, and now the question of assigning guilt to them, to their superiors, to the church as a whole, and the ramifications for how one should deal with all of them. Mix in path dependency from church history, theological constraints, and in priests' careers, and you got the whole fabulous spectrum of debates from psych tests for priests to abolishing the catholic church altogether.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

To be or not to be

Some interesting reading for the end of the week:

In a recent New York Times article, Peter Singer once again offers his debatable take on the ethics of reproduction: TH believes it is better never to have been.

Here, also, is another intriguing NYT article on the moral life of babies that I promised to post a number of weeks ago. It seems that we are, despite all of the rhetoric about rehabilitation, hardwired for retribution.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Imageability and Concreteness – What can we learn from the DDM 2010 ?

The DDM 2010 is over and with it 8 – 10 interesting debates, stuffed into 3 days plus one evening and according to what I have heard from a BDU Member, back in the old days feedback and adjudication after debates would start by asking questions like: Did we have fun ? and: Did we learn something ? For me the answer to both questions concerning the DDM can only be Yes and Yes. But since this blog is not for fun anyways (^^') let us take a look into: What did we learn ?

I want to sum it up and analyze this question on the example of the final debate, that took place on Sunday, since most people might have seen it and hopefully memorized it. The motion was: “TH believes that military actions to secure economic interests are justified.”

What exactly won Tuebingen this particularly debate in the end ? Why did the adjudicators choose the argument Tuebingen was presenting over the valid cases and strong argumentation the opening teams were presenting ? I will try to give one possible explanation and with it some advice for debates and arguments in general in this post.

1.) Some things to remember:

- As a member of the debate, arguments and developments in it are often seen different from how they are perceived from the outside.

- The adjudicators have more of an outside perspective, like an observer or the audience have.

- When presenting arguments as a speaker you often have much more aspects of it in your head than you are actually expressing verbal and nonverbal.

2.) Some scientific theory on words:

I will give a short overview on scales in which words are measured in psychological sciences to access how these words are perceived, processed and how these words affect emotional states. I will not go into all the nonverbal stuff that actually has a tremendous impact, on how spoken words are perceived and processed and so on. These scales I am talking about are purely aspects of the words themselves and are also true when reading these words for example.

Scales often used are:

- Valence: How positive or negative is the connotation of a word.

- Arousal: Does a word has some effect on your emotional and physical state that is activating or calming and evoking related physiological responses.

- Potency: An abstract quality, of how is the capacity of the thing or concept a word connotes.

- Imageability (see below)

- Concreteness (see below)

Imageability and Concreteness are both concepts in psychological science that describes how well you can „imagine“ the thing, or concept a word connotes (Imageability) or relate some sensory experience to that (concreteness). These are the concepts that we want to take a closer look at, in this post. Empirical evidence suggests, that with a high score of a word on these scales comes an easier memorization, a faster processing and the thing and concept behind the word appears to have more “clarity”. That means, that the consolidation of the word and all associated knowledge and connecting it to other relevant input is easier and faster and better memorized. To give some examples: 'Table' has a much higher Imageability and Concreteness than 'Science', obviously because everybody has seen a lot of tables and experienced them and can therefore imagine one, while 'science' is an abstract concept. Imageability becomes more important when comparing abstract things to one another. For example: 'Love' has a higher imageability than 'Integrity'. While both are abstract, with 'love' everyone can relate much more aspects, situations, experiences and also ideas because it is much more relevant to everyday life and everybody has probably thought about it much more often.

3.) Back to debating – analyzing the DDM 2010 final

So what ? Why is that relevant to debating ? Alright I tell you....
After hopefully understanding the basic concepts behind, what Imageablitiy and Concreteness mean in respect to words, let us extend these two measures to arguments. Therefore an Argument is more concrete, if the audience can relate some real life experience (coupled with sensory experience) to it and it is better imaginable if the audience has a clearer holistic idea of the argument, that means they understand intuitively what implications come along with it and have aspects/things or situations in mind they can connect with that argument.

I claim (and always have) that an argument becomes better and more powerful, when the receiver (in this case the adjudicator) can relate better to that argument. This means if the argument scores higher in Concreteness and Imageability. I feel that this might have had an important impact on the outcome of the final, where I feel Tuebingen made its case and argument much more plastic and imaginable and easier to connect to. I want to give a short analysis what I think happened, of course this is my personal view:

Remember: The case the opening gov. presented was that economic shortages dependent on the actions of foreign states (aka 'the others') would somehow threaten the state (aka 'us') and therefore the state (aka 'we') need(s) to be able to respond with force if everything else fails.

In the opening half of the debate the case always remained very abstract and felt to theoretically constructed. Nobody could really see how closing the panama canal would really threaten the state to that extend, that the utterly strong negative connoted action of war could possibly be justified. Remember what I claimed. Of course every intelligent person could follow the logical argumentation to some extend but no one could really imagine a situation that is so dire to 'us' that we would send jets to force an opening of the canal with weapons, risking a full scale war.

The opening opp. did fight back in quite a clever way by not only bringing up relevant principles and moral questions but also depicting the case of the government in an absurd manner through Scenarios like: “Yeah we go to war only so that every person in our state has 20 Euros more to live with”. Of course this is much over exaggerated, however such an image sticks with everybody who observes the debate and pushes the government in a position to actually 'show' that it is not 20 Euros or fresh strawberries that will be fought for.
I feel it didn't really help much at that point to construct cases where states manipulate international stock exchange to bring our economy down. That just wasn't very imaginable or concrete. How does that lead to me starving to death or suffering so hard, I would relate to war for a change ? You might need to help people finding this missing link. We just had a world economic crisis and still live relatively healthy and peaceful. So it seems this didn't really help in convincing the 'crowd' (including adjudicators maybe).

Now the closing gov. stands up and while not having many sophisticated and complicated arguments they finally break down the situation to the worst case scenario based on energy and fossil resources that make a much more intuitive choice for an example. Suddenly everybody can understand how not having oil even your supermarket might lag the very basic food you live by or how that might become astronomical expensive. Suddenly the explanation of: “If we are fighting for our survival, then it isn't a question of moral anymore. We might want to fight back and punish whoever we think is responsible for our crisis and do what we can to survive, even if it takes force and if it means we have to abandon our high class morale” becomes much more plastic and valid and somehow dramatic.

This might have beaten the again more abstract and high level approach of the opening opp. with “universal rights” for everyone, thus also for those we are attacking. Since it is both: an excellent rebuttal and deeper analysis of the case. Couple that with some minor arguments and you have a strong position. The closing opp. now should have made their vision to destroy those strong Image of 'us' dying, by depicting that we have enough alternatives or technical gain to not end up without the very basis to live by and maybe back it up with one other argument. The arguments they presented however weren't really striking the right chord at that time and position. They didn't really read the debates development and therefore couldn't gain an advantage in this debate, as I see it.

4.) Conclusion and what to look out for

Aristotle claims in his works concerning rhetoric, that when you deal with human beings it isn't really a matter of what is true and what is false, since most matters just doesn't really allow such an absolute approach and cannot claim absolute truth. Most affairs that humans debate are not of mathematical nature so that formal proves are possible. He claims that therefore to convince the audience that your argumentation is true you often cannot simply logically deducting what is 'true'. It might not be understandable to the crowd or they might just refuse certain assumptions or conclusions out of believes. Therefore rhetoric is the skillset to actually let your argumentation appear to be true to the crowd. Especially if you reference the future it is important that the audience believes that your argumentation, scenario, causal chain or whatever is 'likely' to happen as you say.

So the final question is: How do we do that ?

Fortunately Rhetoric and psycho-science have found some techniques and methods than seem to work quite well empirically and most of the time every debater knows them. In additional I will present some of my own thoughts along well established techniques and concepts:

- Show all relevant causal links: It is hard to identify what is important and what not. This isn't answerable on a general perspective. If you want to be on the save side, take your audience on the level of simple persons or children. Try to make each part of your causal chain 'count' and therefore I mean each piece should score high in Imaginability and Concreteness. If not possible, at least the base to start from should do so. As in the final debate: Of course everyone with some fantasy can construct the link between economic crisis and personal individual threat so high it demands drastic action. But everyone can also come up with a thousand scenarios where it will not end there but work out different. You need to guide them and show your view completely, don't let them room to interpret things into your case that don't belong there.

- The Example: The more abstract your concept the dire it needs an example to make the implications or causal effects imaginable or concrete. If your example is good people will question the principle much less and will get an easier grasp on what you are trying to get across. The example becomes more powerful if everybody can connect his own experiences or common sense to it. A stock market example in an economic debate might be cool but not understandable to someone who has no deep economic insight. Try to simplify examples, if you can bring across the same concept by depicting a child with a 5 dollar note going into a candy store, do so. The Example is powerful because if you can accept the example it is hard to not accept the principle you link behind it (unless the link is obviously absurd). Good examples can save you a lot of time explaining .

- The Metaphor: In contrast to the Example the Metaphor utilizes a completely different scenario to describe the same concept or link between things. This helps, if your case does not allow for much simplifications while staying in the same context, scenario or case. Metaphors can often connect to sayings or powerful well known scenarios, pictures or concepts or even persons. At least they should connect to more easy imaginable situations embracing the same principles. Metaphors are powerful because they leave it to the audience to get their “own conclusion” from it and thus this conclusion is automatically accepted because it is self produced. Yet of course this conclusion can be quite easy anticipated if choosing the right metaphor (should be very well known by everyone) and thus the metaphor guides the audience towards the speakers intentions.

-Use simple language: Sometimes a lot of technical terms or foreign language cites can create an Aura of intelligence and competency. However this only works if you have an established authority or some believed in competence already. This is not really the case if convincing foreign people or the 'crowd' or critical adjudicators in debates. Using simple words everybody knows and that are more common will drastically improve Imaginability and Concreteness of your arguments. People also react much more emotional to those words, which is desired as emotions actually have a dramatic impact on how we judge all kind of affairs, situations or even facts.

- Use precise language: Avoid ambiguous words or terms, since that again leaves room for confusion and reduces clarity. Even if it is quite obvious which one is meant, think of the brain as a processor that has to do an additional task even if it is an easy one. This distracts and at worst case brings up all irrelevant connections the word has in all not-meant connotations therefore distracting even further. Ambiguity is good when trying to use sarcasm or making jokes, this can help disarming arguments, but not when explaining your own arguments in clarity.

- Break it down to the relevant level, make your case 'matter': When arguing against strong positive or negative connoted words or concepts be it in moral or emotion, you need to come up with a strong counterpart for your case. Be sure you are taking an appropriately strong concept, scenario or case as very base and final justification. Abstract concepts can be strong enough (love, peace, democracy, freedom) but others aren't. You can do nothing wrong when basing your argumentation a level deeper by for example making even stronger that peace is good, because we don't want to get hurt or killed or mutilated due to conflict and we don't want other people to. Most of the time it will only cost you a couple more words and a few seconds but gain you a lot. How deep to go and how detailed to describe is of course hard to generalize. You will get a feeling over the time hopefully.

5.) Some final words

There is obviously much more to it, humor, non-verbal methods, etc. but I hope you can gain something from that post, even if you do not agree with every part. Hopefully some of this makes sense to you and I can only suggest that you give it a try or a thought when thinking of what might be important to do, show or say in your next debate.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Results of final challenge - and the futility of it all

Yesterday, the final BDU-internal challenge for spots at the German Debating Championships (DDM) brought at last a final list of teams that will be going there. As a reminder: Richtershorn (Georg&Johannes), then on 6th place in the ranking table and therefore just outside of the BDU's 5 spots at DDM, had challenged Klarahöh (Patrick&Bastian, 1st), Amalienstraße (Dessi&Filip, 2nd), and Platz der Pariser Kommune (Matthias&Niels, 4th). Since Olli&Juliane had withdrawn from the challenge round for DDM, this was the last decisive debate for who would be filling the BDU's spots.

Based on the team's points accumulated throughout the last debating season, the individual team duels were decided by the following criteria:

Klarahöh v Amalienstraße: winner needs 2 out of 3 debates (2/3)
Klarahöh v Platz d. Pariser Kommune: the latter need 2 wins in a row (2/2)
Klarahöh v Richtershorn: 2/2
Amalienstraße v Platz d. Pariser Kommune: 2/3
Amalienstraße v Richtershorn: 2/2
Platz d. Pariser Kommune v Richtershorn: 2/3

The panel of adjudicators consisted of Hauke (chair), Farid, and John. For the first round, they chose the motion that "THW not consider alcohol or drug intoxication as mitigating circumstances in court decisions." The debate was close, and was finally called a gov sweep, leaving CG Klarahöh in 1st, OG Amalienstraße in 2nd, CO Platz d. Pariser Kommune in 3rd, and OO Richtershorn in 4th. At this point, Klarahöh had already won two of its duels, Amalienstraße one, guaranteeing both teams a spot at DDM.

For the second debate, the panel was extended by Juliane before presenting the motion that "THW prohibit alternative medical treatments that do not prove to have effects over regular placebos." In the end, Richtershorn's good case did not stand against Pariser Kommune's broad-depth opening opp line, putting the latter in 1st place and leaving Richterhorn in 3rd behind CG Amalienstraße, who swooshed by with sprucing up Richtershorn's case. Again, the debate was a close call for the adjudication panel, with only Klarahöh in closing opp being a clear case, as they gracefully betrayed teamplay for beautiful philosophical considerations of stuff that seemed only loosely connected to the rest of the debate.

Still, with this Richtershorn had also lost the last one of its challenges. Since it wouldn't have mattered, the remaining challenges between the remaining teams were not continued. The teams for the BDU's 5 spots are:

Klarahöh, Amalienstraße, Krumme Lanke, Platz d. Pariser Kommune, Kastanienallee!

To the delight of everyone, we just received a 6th spot at DDM this morning, rendering the fierce challenge of last night unnecessary. Richtershorn, you're in! Congrats to everyone!

In the meantime, we hope that all the tough debating in the challenge rounds will prove to be valuable preparation for the actual tournament in one week's time.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Technical Remarks: Interaction in Debates

Following on from Eymanichblogge’s excellent article on Handling the whip, I’d like to take broader view on the aspect of interaction in debates. All major debating formats put a premium on dealing with the other teams. Eymanichblogge accurately pointed out that the whips are particularly challenged to deal with both the material brought to the table by others on one’s own side, as well as that of the opposing teams.

But, these tasks are not limited to the whips. Every speech in a debate is a speech in context. Each debate has its own dynamics with specific quirks. For speeches to be convincing a team needs to consider all participants and the argumentative positions of their opponents. Oftentimes teams believe (rightly or wrongly) that they have found the relevant material enabling them to win a round. Simply rattling down one’s arguments won’t necessarily win you the debate because you’re not debating. You might as well go to a public speaking contest.

Despite lots of tournaments and debates happening in the last month or so, I haven’t really seen much improvement in terms of engagement. Basically I have the impression that the criticism which Eymanichblogge brought forward, haven’t been heeded. On the contrary, throughout the 35-odd debates that I’ve seen in the past few weeks, I have had the impression that teams have been crawling more and more into their shells, hoping to win by sitting tight behind their Maginot Lines.

Debating means orally combating your opponents. This includes taking them seriously and coming up with ways to counter their argumentative lines. Technically rebutting the points of the preceding speaker and then moving on to your own points as quickly as possible cannot be considered sufficient interaction. You need to convince the judges that your points are relevant. This only happens when you put them into the context of what has been said and what you may still expect to be said – which is why it’s important to listen
carefully to POIs of closing teams and deal with the issues lying behind them.

You cannot just expect judges to understand why your points are relevant. Just because you’re repeating last night’s evening news commentary doesn’t make your view significant. What happens if the opening government sets a different debate to what you were expecting? Your line of attack may even then be reasonable but there is no guarantee that the judges will see it in the same light. You need to tell the judges why your points are pertinent. Sometimes you may just have to take a step back and re-analyse the debate in a way that makes your points fit. Additionally, if your opponents stake out new areas of confrontation you will need to deal with these by either showing why these fields are irrelevant or by actually going onto the fields and tackling your opposition on their turf.

Here’s an example: In a privatisation debate an opening government team speaks about why privatisation is a good thing for reasons such as efficiency and competition. The opening opposition takes a different tack and talks about which kind of services need to remain in state hands in order to ensure public order. Preceding this, the speaker technically rebutted the arguments of the opening government. One would probably say that the opening opposition has taken a broader view on the issue of privatisation and, if done well, will beat the opening proposition.

But, no-one has really talked about criteria for privatisation in context. Why do we actually have state-owned businesses? Why do we have privately-owned businesses? Are some sectors better suited for privatisation than others for structural or other reasons? Why is public order the correct first principle from which to debate and not, say societal progress? It may even be possible to say that privatised systems work better in good times and public systems better in bad times. So basically both teams may be right in their technical and economic assessments. The team that compares the different systems and in the end decides that state action needs to be thought from good (risk friendly) or bad times (risk adverse) has a much higher chance of winning this specific debate – by also making sure that the closing teams don’t have too much room in which to manoeuvre.

The team that can better argue for its ideological take on the world has a higher chance of winning. But, conversely, this may not be enough. You still need to deal with the technical issues and rebut the opposing side’s points. If you don’t, the closing teams will lean back comfortably knowing that they don’t have to do too much to actually finish quite high in the debate.

In short: Have you got relevant material? Can you show that your material is relevant? Did you place your material in the context of the debate? Did you seriously deal with the opposing side’s arguments and ideological lines? Have you shown that your arguments are better constructed? If your answer is yes to all of these questions then you’ve probably done a really good job. Congratulations!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

COMMENT: The Motions in Tübingen

Every debater worth his salt judges tournaments on the quality of the motions. Socials, food and organizational excellence pale in the face of boring motions, whereas fresh and attention-grabbing motions can make up for a shoddily planned event. This article will rate the motions in Tübingen on a scale out of ten. Basically the question is: Does the motion allow stronger teams to showcase their ability and clearly distinguish themselves from the rest? The key criteria are whether the motion provides enough scope for creative analysis and how it works in the specific spot in the tournament. After all, the reason why debating tournaments provide different motions is to come up with a winning team which shows no argumentative weakness when challenged with a wide array of ideas.

Technically all the motions in Tübingen were sound. On the face they seem to cover a wide array of topics. Closer analysis though shows that some were very similar. The average score for all the motions is 6,16/10, indicating a very ordinary tournament. On the other hand the span of marks ranges between 3 (round 3 and quarterfinal) and 9,5 (round 2) showing that the motions were not well-balanced. In a general assessment round 2 and the final make up for the bleakness of the weaker rounds, thereby rightly placing the tournament just above average, which is exactly what the numbers show. This was not a tournament for those expecting motions of equal quality, nor for those wanting to experience high-quality motions throughout. Anyone aiming to see at least one excellent motion could’ve gone home after the 2nd round and just maybe have come back for the final.

Round one on “THB in a compulsory European exchange programme for all students” is an ordinary motion without strengths or weaknesses (6/10). As a starter it doesn’t grab your attention but still enables everyone to say something, even after a 7 hour car ride. Typically one would speak about the (in)ability of students to assess the benefits of exchange programmes versus the right to life style choices. An interesting angle is the role elites play in fostering European ideas based on the premise that the state can and may provide a value set.

I understand that CAs wish to cater to different levels of ability. Then again, good debaters come to a ZEITDebatten-tournament expecting to be challenged. This debate is not up to scratch in this regard. Beginners will struggle with any kind of motion, be it easy or difficult, so it always makes sense to set motions for the best. The CAs ought to have considered that for many teams, this tournament was the last chance to practise under competitive conditions before the German championships.

The motion for round two: “THBT public prosecutors should be allowed to engage private companies to carry out criminal investigations” is one of the best I’ve come across in Germany recently (9,5/10). It transcends the typical privatisation clash between efficiency/competition and full service provision/diligence by daring to cut into the core of a key state duty: the necessity to provide public order. One can easily debate whether education, transport or health provision are genuine state duties. Without order though, each and every state loses its raison d’etre.

The positioning is excellent. The problem of almost all OPD-tournaments is that they typically only have three preliminary rounds. After an easy motion to start off, strong teams can really show off their analytical ability by attacking the traditional notion of a substantial idea of the monopoly of violence. The proposition is challenged to draw a picture of an extremely lean state in which its legitimacy is solely dependent on functional outcomes. At the same time the ordinary privatisation arguments provide a foundation for weaker teams to showcase their aptitude in assembling well constructed mechanism arguments.

The only reason for not giving full marks is that having taken this step, the CAs might just as well have privatised all courts. That would’ve blown my mind!

Setting “THB in compulsory vaccination” as round three is a disaster (3/10), especially after round one already asked for exactly the same arguments: People don’t understand the implications of their actions for both themselves and greater society versus the right of citizens to (possibly even dangerous) life-style choices based on differing value sets. The CAs obviously did not believe that the final preliminary round calls for something special. Last year’s 3rd round was something along the lines of “THW allow parents to use PID in all cases of IVF.” That allows strong teams to end on a bang, really sifting the chaff from the wheat. This motion is simply incapable of being a tie breaker as all relevant teams will argue on a similar level, giving no-one the chance to shine. If the idea was to set a bio-ethical topic it also fails miserably. Only the clarity of phrasing and the opportunity for weaker teams to once again practise the construction of value arguments prevents an even lower score.

The quarterfinal is no better than the third round (3/10). “THW tax ‘un-culture’ in the media” once again calls for a nanny-state debate. The only twist is that private companies are coerced to implement state values, making it slightly better as a stand-alone motion. This slight advantage fully dissolves in light of the extremely disappointing positioning. The closeness of all four debates indicates that no team was able to come up with something special right after a 3rd round which already did not lead to clear distinctions between the teams.

The semi-final provides a breath of fresh air after two calamities (7,5/10). The placement of “THBT the member states need to have their budgets approved by the EU” is good. Many teams struggle with economic motions making the judging a nightmare in preliminary rounds. In a semi-final this problem typically doesn’t occur. Here teams are challenged to combine economic knowledge with sound analysis of democratic decision making. It is very easy for both teams to construct their take on whether there is a mutual responsibility between the member states or not. Better teams can clearly distinguish themselves by delving into the issue of how responsibility is actually democratically legitimised in a state or similar body and whether the EU provides the base for this kind of shared dependability.

The motion is well suited to making sure that the right teams make the final.

The final itself on “THW ban full body coverings in Germany” (8/10) would’ve scored higher without the semi-final. Two current affairs motions carry the risk that pre-prepared arguments are rattled off. Often enough German finals’ motions are set with a strong bias to providing the public audience with a motion they can relate to. Debating considerations are often secondary. Just because something makes the evening news headlines and everybody talks about it, doesn’t mean it is a good debating motion. Here though, the depth of possible analysis makes for an engaging debate whilst at the same time allowing the general public to integrate the arguments in their own thoughts.

The only way for this debate to be won on proposition is to speak about the implications of the burqa for societal peace. This may not necessarily be the line that the opposition expects. Nevertheless, any good opposition knows that the their case for the right to individual decision making and a commitment to plurality would beat even a well-argued government case for a homogenous society and freeing of suppressed women. Therefore on opposition it is to be expected that the government line would be about societal implications. The proposition has to make sure that the construction of the problem is plausible for this more intricate case to work. A key question in the debate is whether religious freedom is a substantial right or only a means to societal peace. In all it provides a very satisfying debate to decide a final, providing solace at the end of a rollercoaster ride.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Results of first challenge

On Tuesday, the first internal challenge for the BDU's 5 spots at the German Debating Championship (DDM) had the following teams facing each other:

Krumme Lanke (Kai&Julian) v Richtershorn (Georg&Johannes) v Kastanienallee (Jules&Hauke) v tbd (Juliane&Olli)

Topics where:
1 Thw allow non-universitarian German research institutes to award doctoral degrees.
2 Thw not consider the biological parenthood in custody battles.
3 Thw abolish all of the EU's agricultural subsidies.

After fierce combat between all teams, Krumme Lanke came out on top, winning the second and third round (3rd, 1st, 1st). Olli&Juliane kept their chances up until the third debate, but could not carry any of the individual duels in the end (4th, 3rd, 3rd). After having lost to Kastanienallee (1st,2nd,4th) in the first two rounds, Richtershorn's (2nd,4th,2nd) fate depended on winning against Krumme Lanke in the last round... where they lost by a hear in a close debate.

This is the ranking table after the challenge:

1 Klarahöh (Patrick&Bastian)
2 Amalienstraße (Dessi&Filip)
3 Krumme Lanke (Kai&Julian)
4 Platz der Pariser Kommune (Matthias&Niels)
5 Kastanienallee (Jules&Hauke)
6 Richtershorn (Georg&Johannes)
7 Juliane&Olli

Richtershorn immediately announced their challenge to all remaining teams (Klarahöh, Amalienstraße, Platz d. Pariser Kommune). This challenge is up for next Tuesday, pending the possible emergence of a sixth spot at DDM.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Speaking of Bremen...

...reminds me of the Bundesrat, the federal chamber of Germany's parliament whose incumbent president is the mayor of Bremen, Jens Böhrnsen. The Bundesrat has its open door day on May 29th and, exceptionally, you won't see politicians, but members of the Berlin Debating Union behind the speaker's desk. We will deliver extraordinary debates on a variety of - naturally - federalism-related topics during the day, see the programme.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


...we enjoy your pictures.

Berlin stays on top of German perennial ranking table

The Berlin Debating Union reaffirmed its dominating position among German debating societies this weekend with a strong performance at Tübingen's ZEITDebatte debating competition. With one Berlin team breaking to the Final at the Tübingen town hall on Sunday, the Union is guaranteed to keep its first place in Germany's perennial league of debating societies.

After the BDU had just assumed the leading position in the ranking table after its victory at the recent regional championships, the Union's most trenchant runner-ups from Mainz and Münster have declared an all-out battle for the crown of German clubs before this season ends. Tübingen was their last opportunity for such an attack before the German Debating Championships in June.

With two Berlin teams facing each other in the semi-finals, Weberwiese (Kai, Patrick, Julian) and Frankfurter Tor (Dessi, Juliane, Filip), the BDU will be represented in the final for sure with one team. While close competitor Mainz made the break to the semi-final with one team as well, even a victory against Berlin in the final would not be sufficient to elevate the Guttenberg club above the capital's debating union. For right now: Good luck to the Berlin teams. And for everyone else: See you in June for the final battle!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Berlin teams for German championships elimination round

Here are the teams that want a spot at DDM with their preliminary team names:

1. Patrick & Bastian (Klarahöh) 228 points
2. Dessi & Filip (Amalienstraße) 181
3. Kai & Julian (Krumme Lanke) 118
4. Matthias & Niels (Platz der Pariser Kommune) 107
5. Georg & Johannes (Richtershorn) 70
6. Juliane M. & Hauke (Kastanienallee) 58
7. Olli & Juliane Z. 10

We've got 5 spots.

First challenge: O&J v Kastanienallee v Richtershorn v Krumme Lanke. Tuesday, May 18, starting 5:30 pm, up to 3 debates.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Don't peep behind the bush

Still four weeks to go until the German Debating Championships start, and as there is usually one motion about sex on these championships, here is our suggestion.

The Oxford Women's Open

On 30th April and 1st May the Oxford Union organized the first Women's Open tournament in Europe. A tournament for gals only, designed to promote women in the world of debating. Two BDU female debaters (Andrea and Dessi) attended the event. Here's a report I've been asked to post:

What struck us was that we were the only team from the continent, as the Brits like to call the rest of Europe. What impressed us were the judges. Each panel in one of the five rooms consisted of world-class debaters: amongst others were Jo Farmer (CA), Sayeqa Islam (DCA), Jonathan Leader Maynard, Tom Hoskins, Gavin Ilsley, Ben Jaspers, Ridyan Morgan and Art Ward. What delighted us was meeting Michael Saliba from Stuttgart at the tournament. He had been in Oxford since the beginning of the week and dropped by to do a little adjudicating.
After each round there were 30 minutes designated for extensive team and individual feedback. Although we didn't fare very well tab-wise, we did have a lot of fun debating the topics of the preliminary rounds and learned one or two new tricks and were reminded of some old basics. Plus we got to debate twice in the famous Oxford chamber:-)

The topics were:
R1: THW only emprison criminals who pose a physical threat to society!
R2: THW allow parents to set up and run their own schools!
R3: THW actively seek and deport illegal immigrants!
R4: THW allow minors to have sex chanage operations!*
R5: THW fund opposition movements in countries ruled by tyrannical regimes!
Final: THB that Catholics should democratically elect the Pope!

The panel judging the final consisted of 9 (!) judges, 6 female and 3 male. The "winneresses" of the final representing Cambridge in the Opening Oppostion were Mary Nugent and Natalie Smith. Congrats! They get to sepnt one week in a 4-star hotel on Malta!

The tournament, despite consisting of female participants only, was not much different than other tournaments. There was a bit more chatting after each round, but that's all in terms of supposed typical female-only behaviour.

The tournament is great for rookies (female only of course), but also for judges (both sexes) who want to learn from world class debaters.

*In round four we had a judge who had obviously studied Gender Studies and who taught us a new word: cisgender. The term describes a person who is comfortable with the gender assigned to them at birth, i.e. a biological female raised as a girl who feels comfortable with her gender identity. "Cis" derives from Latin and means "on the same side". The term is used in contrast to transgenders. Wonderful! Can't wait for the next gender debate!

1st of May Victory

On 1st of May Germans traditionally welcome the arrival of spring (and some celebrate Labour Day). Some Germans spend this day hiking with their family, most of them boozing, and some of them rampaging on the streets of Berlin and Hamburg. 1st of May definitely is a day for rather odd and rough behavior, and therefore the ideal day for a debating tournament of the PUNK series. The PUNK series was established in Germany to complement the successful, but costly ZEITDebatten series with a set of easy-to-organize, straightforward and cheap debating tournaments.

On Saturday, the Debating Society at the University of Magdeburg brought a brilliant PUNK tournament to us, with four rounds of debating, fatty sausages and a final on the motion “This House would present sexual paraphilias (e.g. SM) as equivalent to other forms of sexual behaviour in sex education”.

And what’s more: BDU’s Hauke and Juliane won the final and Farid made it to the top of the tab. Trophies and winners documented below.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Berlin IV photos

I worked extra hard on being the first one to have their IV photos online.

(And for the record: of course, I am not the one whose name I use)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Humboldt Berlin IV started

With a delay of 45 minutes but amidst cheering crowds, BDU's chief adjudicator Patrick Ehmann on Friday evening opened the Berlin Humboldt IV at the German capital's Humboldt University.

"We are extremely pleased to have so many participants from more than 20 European countries here today," Ehmann said. "And this despite an Icelandic volcano covering Europe with ash."

Five minutes later, participants already headed off to the first debate on the motion "This house would recognize economic deprivation as a ground for asylum."

48 teams attend the Humboldt Berlin IV, which is due to end Sunday with a great final at Humboldt University.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Handling the whip...

I had the pleasure to be one of the adjudicators during the last weekend, where the NDM took place in Hannover. I have seen different teams in all the rounds up until the final and while speaker points seemed to be quite variable overall, there was one position that never seemed to get to 75 or above in speaker points: The Whip.

The reason is simple, all the whips I have seen during the first 4 rounds of the tournament were at best okay-ish, I wouldn't even call a single one solid. I didn't really pay specific attention at first, but in the 3rd round one of my fellow adjudicators brought it up, that all the whips in that tournament seemed to suffer from the same symptoms. It was a mere comment, not more than a side node in the discussion about the debate we just heard, and I caught up on that. I looked back to the debates I already had and was observing the debates from that point on carefully and can only agree in the end. So what is it ? What mysterious illness seemed to have fallen upon the whip speeches ?

I would call it “constricted vision”.

Let's remember the main task or role of the whip in the debate: He needs to summarize the overall debate and to reveal the fundamental conflict in the centre of the debate. To do so he needs to present us a firm grasp on the relevant arguments, embedded in a time course of the debate, thus revealing the development. The problem comes with his second task: To strengthen his own team as the most relevant in this debate. Having this in mind, they seem to forget their main task to a certain extend, only seeing the very end of the debate and their own team in this conflict right before their inner eyes. I feel that this is, why their vision is narrowed down. They seem to fear to fail at the second task, if they would bring up and reveal relevant points of the opening team ,or the other side, in a clear way. But that doesn't help. Here is why:

1.) Adjudicators are probably still seeing what you forget to name:
Seriously if your opening team did a good job, name their arguments. If you don't, the adjudicators will feel, that you missed an important point in the debate and this is not to your advantage. On top of that: Not speaking of it, doesn't make the arguments go away on the notes of the adjudicator, but also takes you the chance to counter them appropriate. Explaining what they brought in and why that is good for your side is part of your job and easy to do most of the time. Explaining later why your team in the 2nd half was throwing even better stuff in, or really extending the arguments to the relevant core, or really analysing the far more important principles behind or..or...or...that is the art.

2.) A clear clash needs strong positions:
It is part of your role to reveal the centre of the conflict. To actually be able to work that out you need to explain what side brings what into the debate. If you miss out on arguments of the other side, that will only take away clarity of what happened and why and in the end weaken the conflict. Explaining what the other side was stating and how your own side was actually dealing with it is the way to go.

3.) Showing a fine grasp on things:
Again, not telling the whole story and missing out on arguments or aspects of other teams will only make you look like you didn't really 'get' the debate. And that is not a cool thing to project to the audience / adjudicators. On the other side, giving a structured review of all positions, maybe even naming persons with their arguments, project, that you have a clear understanding and fine overview of the debate. And from that base, people will buy into your explanations of “why” your side won and of “why” your team was the more relevant to that side, far more easy.

To sum it up – being the whip means:
- Your job is to NOT miss points in the debate and to define the core of conflict
- Your job is to categorize relevant stuff and to clear up what it means to the debate
- Your job is to present how the debate developed over the time
- Your job is to deduce why your side is right by using all that relevant stuff
- Your job is to show why inside that, now clearly “winning”, side your team has gotten closer to the core of the debate or was bringing the better explanation or bringing the more relevant arguments .. or ...or ..or

Some how to; from the top of my head:

It helps to present counter arguments in the right way and order. First tell them what the other side has brought to the table - than show how your side was destroying it. If it wasn't, you have the chance to fix that, but make sure to connect your new rebuttle to some point or principle your side was already occupying in the debate.

To strengthen your own team, most of the time it helps to show how the centre of the debate was shifting over time. Show and explain where the core of conflict (clash) is in general and how it was approached within the opening half. Than make a point how it transitioned or evolved during the debate, how everyone and especially your team was coming closer to that core and the really relevant stuff and make a case why your team was dealing with that in the best way or even producing that transition or evolution in the first place.

While the speakers in the middle explain certain arguments and analyse them, you are doing something slightly different. You are not analysing arguments itself, you are analysing how different arguments connect to each other and to the core of conflict. You are showing how your arguments connect to the other side, hopefully countering their position well.
Of course sometimes it can be necessary to deliver an analysis to an argument, that has been stated but not really expanded enough by one speaker of your side. Even if that arguments belongs to the opening half – getting into detail will actually benefit your side and especially your team, because this argument might now belong to you.

Humour is powerful. If you can show weaknesses of the other side by depicting their argument in a way, that leads to an absurd conclusion or situation – this can save you many explanations. Examples can help, most often the relevant cases are in the extreme of what arguments cover theoretically. It is hard to give a roadmap for that but look out for it. After all cynical or satirical humour is more of an art form.

These are my observations and conclusions, taken home from being adjudicator at the NDM.