Monday, March 29, 2010

An icy motion

This seems to be a fairly interesting proposal - although the government would immediately have to explain why it is not inconsistent to allow porn. (Thanks to this post, visits to this blog will skyrocket now)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

BDU to start at Amsterdam Euros

Good news for Germany's premier late bloomer club in terms of registering for debating tournaments: We just received a first spot for the Amsterdam Euros.

Nu zijn we blij.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gaining a stone in strength...

In the unequal challenging game of GO, a very elegant and simple handicap system exists. For those who do not know what I am talking about: GO is an ancient Chinese game, played by two players, which is purely strategical/ tactical. Like in chess there are no hidden information and no luck is involved. Both players consecutively put white and black stones on a simple board consisting of 19 x 19 intersecting lines. The game has only three simple rules, but the complexity that emerges out of this setup is so vast, that the game has yet to be conquered by the computer and the main skill required is not calculation, like in chess, but balance & judgement. Two principles that make a good foundation, not only in GO, but general for life as a whole. But back to the handicap system of GO. If a weaker player faces a stronger one, the weaker player gets to put additional stones on the board before the game even begins. They are called handicap stones and the number depends on the skillgap between both players. The skill is measured by a system of grades, similar to the ones found in martial arts. So the closer both players are, the lesser stones the weaker player gets to place on the board. If someone makes a significant advance in skill, it will eventually lead to him getting one handicap stone less against a stronger opponent and this is called “gaining a stone in strength“.

So this is a post on training. It is for those of you, who ask themselves if and how they are making progress in the art of debating. For those of you, serious about getting better. The question I want to talk about is: How can you “gain a stone in strength” in that art ? That is, making one step from the level you are on now – upwards. I felt this is a topic most often neglected in the debating community. But it is such an important one for all of us. Why do we debate every week if not at least for the purpose to improve ourselves ? And if that is one of your core motivations as well, then you might also think about the process and the methods that actually might help you to improve.

So what is out there ? It is probably agreed on by a lot of good debaters that debating a lot and especially competing in tournaments will help you grow. There are also some methodical things that will cross your way more or less often in feedbacks and tips. Things like: structure, s-ex-i arguments, general strategics for certain fields of motions and so on and so on. But all these things are scattered, loosely connected and never really embedded in a deeper thought on how to really use and implement them to make YOU better. So just doing debate after debate is maybe considered the best way to improve by many and this is so right and yet so wrong at the same time. By the end of this post you hopefully understand why I think so. I want to outline some thoughts on the topic of getting better and how to help people getting better and you will find some outlined parallels to getting better at the game of GO. But let's start, shall we ?

1.) In the beginning

When you are new to GO you are faced with an overwhelming amount of material to learn from. Even though the game has only three simple rules, what emerges out of that is just so complex on so many levels, it is hard to describe and grasp. So you will find yourself tricked over and over again by the game mechanics, when playing stronger players, because you just weren't able to see through all the possible outcomes of the current board situation. And on top of that, most of the time you will not even be able to tell, where you lost the game in the end and what were the mistakes. You will need someone stronger than you to point them out for you, most of the time. That is why people will tell you to put all the material aside and just play a thousand games, before you come back to it. The reason is simple: We learn like that. In a thousand games we will start to see patterns. Some we will notice consciously and many more will be adapted in an intuitive way. And that will make you better, it will get you a feeling what matters and what is important.

Same with debating. There is no need to go to much into the details of methods, strategy or rhetoric when a person starts debating. Just give them some basic rules and one or two tips how to organize and present arguments and throw them into the debate. Let them do it over and over again and they will also start to see and adapt patterns that are successful. Combine that with some quality feedback of experienced debaters afterwards, which is the same as a stronger GO player pointing out mistakes, and they got themselves a good base to improve. That is why I feel it is so important for adjudicators to give useful feedback. It is certainly not enough, just to summarize who won or lost and why. I feel it should always be the responsibility of the adjudicator to give personal feedback on what he or she thinks would help the debaters improve. And that is where “your structure wasn't that good” just is not going to cut it. Try to give the person an example of how you would have made it better. Because he might be able to recognize that it wasn't good, but not have a clear idea on a better version.

But as said, doing a lot of debates, seeing successful patterns, applied by better speakers, combined with quality feedback will make you grow eventually. That is one of two factors why tournaments are so great. You will have as much debates as you normally do in a month or two on one weekend. most of the time you will find better speakers to learn from, and get some good feedback. The second factor I'd like to call focus but we will come back to that later.

You will soon experience, that what you gain from just doing debates will at some point inevitably lessen a lot. As you have learned more and more the steps are getting smaller and at some point they seem to be so small that you feel as if you stagnate overall. I have talked to some good debaters and come across that feeling and maybe that is why some people just stop at some point. Because they feel that they have achieved “enough” which I think translates to: “I don't see this going anywhere else anymore”. They just do not feel that they will improve much more any longer and thus there motivation fades away. And this brings us to our next point.

2. ) On the plateau..

In GO you will also eventually reach a point where just playing isn't really going to improve you anymore. You have reached a plateau phase in your development towards mastery, it feels like progress stagnates. This is the point where you go back to study all this crazy materials on fuseki, joseki, tesuji, tsumego and so on and so on. And at this point you will understand much more of what is actually described and taught there. You wouldn't have been able to see this when you were an absolute beginner.

And that brings us to the point: Once just debating over and over isn't going to really make you better anymore you have to look for actively training specific aspects of it.

That is what I believe in. Unfortunately in contrast to GO much less good material exists or at least it isn't really spread enough. Sometimes you might have a seminar dedicated to things like structure, how to present and extend an argument or a seminar on strategy. But they are rare, much to rare. And even if there were a lot more seminars, that alone is not going to make you grow. You have to apply and train what you learn. And that is a matter of focus. Remember focus ? The second factor, that I claimed was making tournaments such a good place to grow ? So what do I mean with focus..

When I am at a tournament, it feels like a different world, separated from my normal life. While I am there, I keep talking to people about debating, about technique and strategy or about rhetoric and what I think is good and bad and so on. And because of all the debates with feedback so close to each other, we are finally able to mind our gaps revealed in one debate in our next one. Thus giving us a training effect we might not have had during normal debating in a club, because feedback is long since forgotten a week later with life just occurring in between. So this mental dedication is what I like to call focus. And it doesn't need to be exclusive for tournaments. But it is an active effort to get this kind of focus during your normal week with maybe one or two debates in the club.

3.) Focus

So how do you do it ? At first you need to analyse yourself, to find your gaps. To be able to do that you need to remember. You need to remember what went wrong the last few times, you need to remember the critics you got during feedback in the past and you need to have an idea on what to do, to close the gaps. If you feel that memory is slipping away during the week until your next debate, write it down, keep notes. If you feel you have no idea on how to improve a certain aspect, ask people, you think are doing better than you. Ask them all. Most of the time people with talent who just happen to be good at certain things will not be able to really tell you how they got there exactly. But by asking a lot of different people you might eventually get enough perspectives to form an idea on your own. And that is very important. You can just wait for someone to tell you what to do and how to improve or what to improve or you can just start looking for it yourself. If you do the later it will be much more beneficial to your development. Because you yourself are with yourself all the time. If it comes from within, it will be present in every debate you do thus making you independent of the fact if there is someone better than you, who can point out your mistakes.

Then you need to observe. Observe the point in question in every debate. Most of the time we run on autopilot when we speak. It just seems to flow, without much thinking and that for amazing seven minutes. Cool stuff but also limiting our improvement, because we do not really consciously get even half of what happens. For example I used to say “ladies and gentlemen” far to often as filler in my speeches, maybe I still do. If I'm not actively deciding to watch for it in my speech I won't notice at all, I never did before someone told me in the first place. So I observe myself, even though this may impact my overall performance on other ends. People told me “but if I do that I might hold a worse speech because I cannot focus on the other important things”. My answer: “So what” ? If you want to become better you shouldn't be concerned about how you look like to others much. If you feel that you have to be at your best and looking cool and in control and such in every debate you will never have the freedom to walk different paths. And you will be pressured, to perform “good” thus restricting your mental freedom and taking away focus on improvement.

Try to let it go, I personally think that is not as easy as it seems but try to let go what the others in that debate might think of you, if you fail. Those paths that may end in some failures or even epic failures on the way may actually make you better and look even cooler sometime in the future.So observe what you identified as a problem in your debate and whenever you feel as if your are making the same mistake notice it. If you noticed it afterwards, then think of how you might have been able to avoid it or what you would like to do instead of it next time. If you notice it right before it happens, make a conscious effort to avoid it. That can be simple things just like not saying the ladies and gentlemen phrase or replacing it by a more direct addressing of the audience, or trying not to move your feet and go into a body rocking state that just looks nervous most of the time. Whatever it is for you – first observe, than try to change it. Put your focus on that point. Remember it and work on it over and over again. And eventually someday it will become natural and “flow” again and you can move on to the next thing.

4.) ”I do not teach, I simply reveal.” - Enlightened Tutor

I have been doing Karate for 18 years now and taught a broad spectrum of students in the art. From little 5 year old kids up to 50 year old adults. Beginners to intermediate levels. And in the Karate community I am in, there exists that idea, that by actually teaching your knowledge you will get on a whole new level in skill. So why is that ? The reason is simple, to really being able to explain how things work to someone who doesn't know about it, requires you to have a much deeper knowledge and firmer grasp on that specific issue. Because you need to be able to identify key aspects, to break down complex things into parts and again explain these parts in a comprehensive way so everybody can understand. That is why talented people who just happen to be able to do things are not the best teachers most of the time. They just cannot explain the how, what or why. If you can, it will get you a huge step forwards yourself.

So if you are answering questions, or giving feedback, again look at yourself. If you can get across what you want to explain and teach or if you can explain it in a simple way, easy to grasp, then you probably know what you are talking about. This is somewhat a little counter-intuitive especially in debating. One would think that highly complex, complicated and sophisticated analysis are somewhat those most intelligent and thought through. They certainly most of the time sound that way, but they are not. Most of the time they are just a mask to cover up for not being able to reduce it to the relevant core. So try teaching what you think you can do to newer, less experienced people. And try to break down even complex issues to key parts and concepts and explain it with words that even a school kid can understand. Might not be possible all the time, just get as close to it as you can.

This may also help your argumentations in debates - a lot.
I dare you to try it out.

In the End

So that is it for now, I could write so much more about specific things that I find important to look for during this process of learning or specific strategies, methods I find important in general, but hopefully that will appear on that blog sometime in the future anyway. So if improving yourself is one of your core motives for debating and/or if you struggle to find yourself a motivation because you feel you are not getting better anymore, you might want to give all this a try.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oxford Women's Open‏

In contrast to the achte minute blog, PR organ of the umbrella organisation for German debating VDCH, it's not the purpose of this Blog to advertise upcoming tournaments or to glorify mediocre final debates. However, in this case, we will make an exception. This tournament promises to be great and we encourage all women debaters to take part in this unique event!

On Friday April 30th and Saturday May 1st, the first debating competition of its kind in IONA comes to Oxford!

Our world-class judging pool is headed by the team of:
- CAs Kirsty Russell and Sayeqa Islam
- DCA Jo Farmer

Women's is also a Pro-Am meaning that no team may have two speakers on it who have broken at Euros or Worlds - obviously both must be female! Reg is set at £40 per team, in return for which we promise you...

- World class judges in every room
- 5 rounds breaking to Semi-Finals
- Crash for two nights
- Two amazing socials

We think there’s a problem with retention of female debaters on the circuit, and this is no where more evident than in the Oxford Union Society itself. The top levels of debating simply do not bear out the kind of gender parity that IONA should be seeing after decades of female involvement and we believe all steps should be taken to change this. The Oxford Women’s Open intends to form one part of the drive to further nurture female debating talent, equipping competitors with the skills they need to break through on the circuit. It is only through such opportunities that we can expect to see a shift in the dynamics of debating any time soon.

Time for adjudication after debates will be double the IV norm, with an emphasis on training and improvement. To ensure that this feedback will be of the top quality, and therefore relevant to competitor development, we have packed our adjudication team with Worlds and Euros semi-finalists, finalists and champions. Every room, and every competitor, will receive world-class coaching throughout the tournament - there will be no ‘bin rooms’ that get neglected.

To reg please send an email with your names to

See you there!
The Oxford Women's Team

BDU Officially a Target to "Hit On"

"How are you doin'?"

Although it did not happen in the absolutely-obvious Joey style it was crystal clear: the Berlin Debating Union was being hit on. We always knew it or at least made ourselves to believe it very convincingly that we're a very sexy club - but now we know for sure!
But do we like it?

Last Tuesday at exactly 8pm four young men entered room 293, Invalidenstraße 110. They were successfully convinced to debate. Somehow it was very obvious that they were hitting on some of the female debaters. Somehow the thought came to mind they might, maybe, possibly be part of the Berlin Pick-Up Community. What sin could the BDU have possibly comitted to be blessed with their presence? How did we come to be one of their numerous guinea-pigs? And where was our big brother to protect our "Ehre"?
They said they were studying public speech, wanting to learn "wie man Leute begeistert mit reden." bla bla bla

One of their hitting-on-victims felt like an object afterwards. "Hm", she thought "so maybe they were trying their different hitting techniques on me? I felt flattered first. But now that I'm pretty much sure that they were testing on me, I feel like an object. Bastards!!"

Fazit? The concept and the techniques of those guys don't work on well-informed, thinking, debating girls?

They said they will maybe come back... We dare them to debate the following topic with us: THW ban pick-up communities!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Internal Challenge !Update!

The Berlin Debating Union, one of Germany's finest debating societies, has established a rather complex internal ranking system to measure the competitiveness of its teams. Teams hoping to participate at the 'Norddeutsche Meisterschaften', the major regional competition, have to collect points during the term or during a period in which they can directly challenge other BDU teams. Currently, I know of the following applicants and their points (team points):
  • Dessi and Filip - 112
  • Matthias and Niels - 70
  • Bastian and Juliane - 70
  • Johannes and Georg - 64
  • Kai and Julian - 63
  • John and Nikolay - 38
  • Annette and Ricarda - 10
If I forgot someone, please leave a comment!
It's likely that we will only get two spots, so it will be a tough race...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

These issues deserve a debate

Two weeks ago the "Initative Nachrichtenaufklärung" - a German group similar to the U.S.-based "Project censored" - published the ten most neglected issues in 2009. The current list covers a variety of issues, such as the HR situation of people under psychiatric treatment or the abysmal control of German arms exports. Although it might be quite difficult to transform these issues into motions, wouldn't they deserve a debate?

Monday, March 15, 2010

What we really expected in Vienna

Such a long time since the ZeitDebatte in Vienna has ended eight days ago, and the Berlin teams still have not published how thoroughly they were prepared for the most delicate motions that they expected in Austria:

THW allow zoo animals on facebook.
THW subject zoo animals to ius soli.
TH does not want nanny cars.
THW not cooperate with criminals.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Finally, a rule to be enforced

I could write a lot of fuss about all the pointless rules that exist in a variety of debating formats. But some days ago I had a very inspiring discussion with one of our numerous international members at the Union who contribute so greatly to the diversity of this club, and this discussion alerted me that there is indeed one rule in debating that might require a more rigid enforcement.

Our discussion was about cheating - at school, university, and finally at debating tournaments. With all those iphones and netbooks around and wireless internet everywhere it has truly become a piece of cake to look up missing information during the preparation time. I am pretty sure that many debaters do this. Some of them cheat consciously, others probably don't even know that only written material may be used.

Using online sources is unfair and harms the quality of debating, as it provides some teams with expert knowledge. Adjudicators should raise consciousness that electronic devices are not allowed during preparation time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

This proposal is really ubuntu

In general debaters only refer to western philosophical concepts to back up their arguments. But why shouldn't we integrate concepts from other regional contexts as well? If debaters always claim to be such innovative, creative people, then maybe they should open their minds a litte bit to the richness of other cultures - as in the case of the African concept of Ubuntu.

Understanding the Credit Crisis

My favourite example of highly informing multimedia content is 'The Crisis of Credit Visualized'! That's the format I wish newspapers would make their money with - well researched content properly visualized. That's what I would pay online newspapers for.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Unlikely praise

I just wanted to remind you of the Economist's current special feature on Germany with some unexpected compliments on Germany's economic policy.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My favourite debates in the German Bundestag(I)

My favourite debating related debate in the German Bundestag, the German parliament, took place on 2nd December 1999 when a group of MPs proposed that all speakers should speak without any notes in the last week of the term. The petition was followed by a very funny debate (watch the videos at TOP 10) with nearly all speakers speaking without a script. Finally, the proposal was rejected by the parliament.

Deglorifying Kant

The next time someone comes up with Kant in a debate and you're left without arguments, here is the dirt to throw.

My favourite MPs in the German Bundestag (I)

Good rhetorics is rarely seen in the German Bundestag, where reading out one's written speech is the fail-safe way most MPs in Germany prefer. However, there are some speakers who still manage to deliver a speech without a manuscript and who could even be called entertaining. One of them is Heinz Riesenhuber, currently the oldest MP in the Bundestag. Although he sometimes has a tendency to makes speeches that would rather run in the category "curiosity", most of his appearances are both entertaining and to the point.

Czech Republic's Klaus to lambast EU at Humboldt

I just picked up a note saying that Czech President Vaclav Claus is set to deliver a speech on European integration at Berlin's Humboldt University on April 29, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Audimax.The speech is part of the "Humboldt speeches on European Integration" that always guarantee for most prominent guests but rarely for intellectual provocation. I guess that this is going to be different this time, given that Klaus only reluctantly signed the Lisbon treaty.

Must Go: Legal Rhetorics with Professor Simon

I just saw in Humboldt University's course catalogue for the summer term that Professor Simon is going to teach a course called "Legal Rhetorics" on Tuesday afternoon. Given that Professor Simon is one of the most entertaining staff Humboldt's law school ever had and that he speaks with a wonderful Pfälzer accent I'd nominate this course as one of the top choices for this summer term.

What's the feminine form of Oscar

I just came across two gender-related articles in the New York Times that might be of interest for you. The first concerns the contribution of female soldiers to peacekeeping missions. We had a debate on whether soldiers should be barred from having children last week, and what the NYT says partly confirms the opp's line (and my widely criticized decision as adjudicator).

The other article is a comment by Kim Elsesser on this year's Oscars. I think her proposal for a gender-neutral award would be quite a good motion.

By the way, the NYT's series "The female factor" is truly excellent.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

For your wishlist

"Just the Arguments: 100 of the most important arguments in Western Philosophy" looks like the ideal gift for every debater large and small, according to this call for proposals.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In all of us command

On the way back from a debating tournament in Vienna this weekend we had quite an intense discussion on whether its motions were a good choice.

Above all, the motion of the first round - "Should national anthems be formulated in a gender-neutral way?" was controversial.

I believe this debate to be far easier for the opposition because it requires sophisticated feminist reasoning to overcome the deeply entrenched common sense idea of "this is simply a historic document".

However, as some people already told me on the tournament, there is an ongoing debate about this issue in Austria - read this dpa story.

And on my favourite feminist blog I just read a few hours ago that there is such a debate in Canada as well.

This adds a sense of realism to a motion that I considered absurd before. Still, the question remains whether current debates in politics necessarily are good motions for a debating tournament.