Loose Nukes Because every debate can be improved with a little highly-enriched uranium.

27Jul/1112

Why I like states counterplans

States counterplans - having the 50 states enact the plan instead of the Federal Government - have been a staple for decades. In the last few years, however, I've run across an increasing number of people who think that the states counterplan is abusive or a cop-out. This year's NCFCA resolution has plenty of room for states arguments, so it's worth a quick discussion.

In this post I'll discuss several of the most common objections to states counterplans, and why states arguments make sense as a legitimate Negative strategy.

The "multiple actors" complaint

"The states counterplan fiats all 50 states at once. If they're allowed to control multiple different agents, what's to prevent them from fiating peace between Israel and Palestine?"

The problem of multiple agencies is not unique to the Negative: The Affirmative is fiating multiple agencies too (the President, the 535 members of Congress, various enforcement agencies, etc.) Granted, they're all part of the same government - but the 50 states are still part of the same country.

There's a better example, however. In 2005, the NCFCA Team Policy resolution was Resolved: That medical malpractice law should be significantly reformed in the United States. Experienced debaters may notice something unusual: The resolution doesn't specify an actor. Since they weren't restricted to "the United States Federal Government", most teams just ran state-level plans that passed the same law in all 50 states. Under the "multiple agencies is bad" mindset, this should have been a recipe for chaos - but it wasn't.

On the other hand, it's perfectly possible to have an abusive counterplan with only one actor (for example, "North Korea will unilaterally disarm.") The point here is not that multiple-agent plans can't be abusive, it's just that the number of actors is not the determining factor. We shouldn't automatically reject a plan just because it uses multiple agencies.

The "not real world" complaint

Here's another related counterargument: "50-state counterplans aren't real-world. The 50 states never get together and decide to implement the same laws - that just doesn't happen. If the Negative is allowed to propose solutions that are theoretically possible but wildly unrealistic, what's to prevent them from fiating world peace?"

This would be a good argument - except that it's completely incorrect.

The Uniform Law Commission, also known as the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), is a multi-state organization dating back to 1892. It has one purpose: Propose uniform laws for adoption by all 50 states. To date, the NCCUSL has drafted over 100 act proposals, on topics ranging from adoption to student credit.

Ever wonder why checks work the same in every state? Most people just assume that there's a federal law standardizing check formats, but in fact, it's a state law - the Uniform Commercial Code, a joint project of the NCCUSL and the American Law Institute.

Think about that. That's amazing. The Federal government could easily have done it - they'd have no problem justifying it under the Commerce Clause - but, instead, the states all got together and did it. Real-life counterplan!

Testing the resolution: Why states arguments make sense

Let's look at the NCFCA resolution this year:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform its criminal justice system.

Debaters are expected to make all sorts of arguments about the resolution:

  • We shouldn't significantly reform the criminal justice system; the problems are small.
  • We shouldn't reform the criminal justice system; it's fine the way it is.
  • We shouldn't reform the criminal justice system; the problems are with the laws, not their enforcement.

We're expected to argue about "should", "significantly", "reform", "its", and "criminal justice system". So why aren't we expected to argue about "The United States Federal Government"?

A states counterplan is just like a significance argument: it tries to prove that part of the resolution is false (in this case, "The United States Federal Government should".) If you're OK with counterplans theoretically, it makes no sense to allow arguments about the second half of the resolution while shunning arguments about the first half.

Federalism: Why states arguments are important

States counterplans are not a cop-out, "we-like-this-plan-but-we-have-to-argue-against-it" strategy. Simply put, there are lots of things that should be done on a state level, not the federal level. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

In other words, many federal solutions are unconstitutional (by overstepping the authority granted to the Federal Government.) Besides the constitution, local control has many other potential advantages, such as easier adaption to regional diversity.

All this is merely to say that when you run a states counterplan you're raising a really important issue - not just grasping at straws so you have something to argue.

Extend-o-tron 5000: Competing with the Affirmative

States counterplans are in an interesting position, because they don't compete with the Affirmative in a direct, conventional way. Let me quickly recap the idea of competition.

In order for a counterplan to be a voting issue, it needs to "compete" with the Affirmative - that is, provide a reason to reject the resolution. It can't just be "another nice idea." In practice, this means that the counterplan alone must be better than both the counterplan and the Affirmative plan (otherwise, you could just implement them both, and there's no reason to reject the resolution.) Conventionally, there are two ways to achieve competition: 1) make the plans mutually exclusive (so you can't have them both at the same time), or 2) run disadvantages against the Affirmative plan. In many cases, states counterplans can go with #2 - if it's clear that the Affirmative plan is unconstitutional, you can just argue that the Federal solution is bad and the states solution is good.

There's another type of competition, however, which is rarely discussed: "competition through irrelevancy". A vast body of legal cases (see, i.e., Prigg v. Pennsylvania) have held that federal laws override state laws under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. If the judge enacts both the Affirmative plan and the counterplan, the Affirmative (Federal) plan will take precedence.

In other words, if the judge decides to implement both plans, he/she is really deciding to implement only the Affirmative plan. The counterplan just disappears from the picture.

Filed under: Arguments, Theory 12 Comments
15Jul/113

5 insane arguments that actually have evidence

Sometimes, you want to win. Other times, you just want to make the other team go "...wah?"

In honor of it not being April Fool's Day (hey, why not?), here are five of the weirdest arguments that there's actually legitimate evidence for. Have fun and debate responsibly.

Creating laws that can't be repealed is totally OK

"Legislative entrenchment" refers to creating a law with special provisions that prevent future legislatures from modifying it. In other words, legislative entrenchment bypasses democracy to create a law that can never be repealed. Everyone agrees that this is unconstitutional, undemocratic, and generally a Bad Thing.

Everyone, apparently, except Posner and Vermeule, two law professors at the University of Chicago. In 2002, the pair wrote a somewhat inexplicable article arguing that legislative entrenchment was totally OK:

Prof. Eric A. Posner (professor of law at the University of Chicago) and Prof. Adrian Vermeule (professor of law at the University of Chicago), April 10, 2002, Yale Law Journal, "Legislative Entrenchment: A Reappraisal", Vol. 111, http://www. yalelawjournal.org/images/pdfs/192.pdf (page 1666)

"Our claim is that the rule barring legislative entrenchment should be discarded; legislatures should be allowed to bind their successors, subject to any independent constitutional limits in force. The rule has no deep justification in constitutional text and structure, political norms of representation and deliberation, efficiency, or any other source. There just is no rationale to be found; the academics have been on a fruitless quest. Entrenchment is no more objectionable in terms of constitutional, political, or economic theory than are sunset clauses, conditional legislation and delegation, the creation, modification, and abolition of administrative agencies, or any of the myriad of other policy instruments that legislatures use to shape the legal and institutional environment of future legislation."

Pictured: Nietzche's philosophy. (Fun game: Go through Nietzche's works and replace every occurence of the word "suffering" with the words "the flying spaghetti monster". It actually makes a lot more sense than the original.)

Suffering is not an impact

If you think that's nuts, you apparently haven't read enough 19th-century German philosophers yet. This particular argument comes from Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche's works are extremely dense, to the point where there is an entire peer-reviewed journal dedicated to trying to figure out what the Heidegger he's actually trying to say. This, combined with the fact that he's dead and therefore has no lawyers, makes his works fertile ground for kritiks - you can pretty much claim he meant anything you want. For instance, that "suffering" was actually a codeword for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

One of Nietzche's oft-quoted ideas was that suffering is an essential part of human existence, and that the only way to find meaning in life is to accept fate and recognize pain for what it is. The correct reaction to this is to blink slowly and say "well, that's stupid." The debater's reaction is to this is to jump up and down and gleefully shout "OOH OOH CUT A CARD ON THAT!"

Friedrich Nietzsche (19th century German philosopher), 1886, "Beyond Good and Evil: prelude to a philosophy of the future", No. 225, http://books.google.com/books?id=lPHqR0kAQnsC

"You want, if possible--and there is not a more foolish "if possible" --TO DO AWAY WITH SUFFERING; and we?--it really seems that WE would rather have it increased and made worse than it has ever been! Well-being, as you understand it--is certainly not a goal; it seems to us an END; a condition which at once renders man ludicrous and contemptible--and makes his destruction DESIRABLE! The discipline of suffering, of GREAT suffering--know ye not that it is only THIS discipline that has produced all the elevations of humanity hitherto? The tension of soul in misfortune which communicates to it its energy, its shuddering in view of rack and ruin, its inventiveness and bravery in undergoing, enduring, interpreting, and exploiting misfortune, and whatever depth, mystery, disguise, spirit, artifice, or greatness has been bestowed upon the soul--has it not been bestowed through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering?"

Nuclear war won't happen - aliens will intervene

You know nuclear war impacts, where every disadvantage eventually results in nuclear war? Right. Well, that won't happen, because aliens will intervene to stop it.

This is actually a very serious issue among the "UFOlogy" community, who claim they have witness testimony from over 120 former military personnel regarding alien intervention at nuclear weapons sites. UFOs have reportedly conducted surveillance, shut down nuclear launch systems, and even met with key military commanders.

One theory claims that the use of nuclear weapons interferes with the extraterrestrial's navigational abilities. Another is that the aliens are simply trying to prevent us from blowing ourselves up. At any rate, don't worry about nuclear war - the aliens won't stand for it!

Michael E. Salla (PhD in government from the University of Queensland, founder of the Exopolitics Institute), August 12, 2006, Exopolitics Research Study #11, "'Divine Strake' vs. 'Divine Strike' - Did Extraterrestrials Deter the Pentagon from a Preemptive Nuclear War Against Iran?", http://www.exopolitics.org/Study-Paper-11.htm

"Historical evidence supporting a possible extraterrestrial divine strike to prevent a preemptive nuclear war can be found in the publicly verified relationship between nuclear weapons testing and UFO sightings, extraterrestrial interference in the storage of nuclear weapons, and the alleged destruction of nuclear weapons by extraterrestrials. If extraterrestrials have acted in the past to interfere with or destroy nuclear weapons, it can be assumed that they would not have remained idle if a nuclear preemptive war against Iran affected their vital interests on Earth, and/or their ability to navigate in the Earth's vicinity."

'Experts' are worse than dart-throwing monkeys - just shut up

Popularly known in NFL circles as the "monkeys throwing darts" argument. Believe it or not, this is actually a legitimate and useful point; a number of interesting studies have been done on the accuracy of expert forecasters, with generally dismal results.

This particular quote comes from a fascinating summary of Philip Tetlock's equally fascinating book, "Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?" The whole article is worth a read if you've got time.

Prof. Louis Menand (PhD in English, professor of English and American Literature and language at Harvard, recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for History for his book "The Metaphysical Club"), December 5, 2005, The New Yorker, "Everybody’s An Expert", http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/05/051205crbo_books1?currentPage=1

"Tetlock is a psychologist-he teaches at Berkeley-and his conclusions are based on a long-term study that he began twenty years ago. He picked two hundred and eighty-four people who made their living "commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends," and he started asking them to assess the probability that various things would or would not come to pass, both in the areas of the world in which they specialized and in areas about which they were not expert.

[later, in the same context:]

The results were unimpressive. On the first scale, the experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned an equal probability to all three outcomes-if they had given each possible future a thirty-three-per-cent chance of occurring. Human beings who spend their lives studying the state of the world, in other words, are poorer forecasters than dart-throwing monkeys, who would have distributed their picks evenly over the three choices."

Delaying space colonization costs 100 trillion lives per second

Math. Just in case you ever needed a reason not to delay space colonization.

Prof. Nick Bostrom (PhD, professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford, director of the Future of Humanity Institute), 2003, Utilitas, "Astronomical Waste: The Opportunity Cost of Delayed Technological Development", Vol. 15, No. 3, http://www. nickbostrom.com/astronomical/waste.html

"Suppose that about 10^10 biological humans could be sustained around an average star. Then the Virgo Supercluster could contain 10^23 biological humans. This corresponds to a loss of potential equal to about 10^14 potential human lives per second of delayed colonization. What matters for present purposes is not the exact numbers but the fact that they are huge. Even with the most conservative estimate, assuming a biological implementation of all persons, the potential for one hundred trillion potential human beings is lost for every second of postponement of colonization of our supercluster."

Note: Due to my very busy schedule right now, I probably won't be able to post every week. In the meantime, check out The COGblog, where the COG 2011 editorial team is posting a free throw-together 1AC and backup every Saturday leading up to release. Enjoy!

Filed under: Arguments, Humor 3 Comments
30Mar/115

Democracy is bad

Or, at least, democracy disadvantages are.

Democracy disadvantages: The conventional approach

Essentially, the Negative reads some statistics indicating that the general public dislikes the plan, and says something like the following:

"This nation was built upon the principle of democracy - the principle of majority rule. By passing a plan that is against the will of the majority, the Affirmative is violating democracy. We must uphold our constitution! Vote Negative! Freedom! Democracy! Conservative defense tax cuts constitution balanced budget small business Reagan!"

Et cetera. I used to run this on occasion. This disadvantage has a lot of appeal - all it requires is a stack of survey results and the ability to wax eloquent about the blood of our forefathers. It's also a really bad argument.

Why this is a bad argument

Debate becomes useless.

Think about it this way. If the plan is unpopular, the Negative can run a democracy disadvantage. If the plan is popular, the Affirmative can run a democracy disadvantage against the Negative - the status quo doesn't uphold democracy, so it's a reason for reform. If democracy violation is a voter, then the popularity of the plan is suddenly the only thing that matters. If it's popular, Aff wins. If it's unpopular, Neg wins.

Obviously, spending the entire round trying to prove that your plan is popular is not very educational. You can also make a uniqueness argument - the status quo does not always uphold majority rule, so the impacts are clearly not large.

So when does popularity matter?

Simple: When it has situation-specific real-world impacts. Let's look at two arguments.

Argument 1: "The majority doesn't like this, which is inherently bad because of democracy."

Argument 2: "The majority doesn't like this, so they'll try to undermine it, killing your solvency."

The first is a no-go, but the second is entirely legitimate (provided you have the necessary evidence, of course.) Since it's a factual, real-world issue, you can have a reasonable debate about it. Such an argument expands the educational scope of debate, rather than impeding it.

There's a reason why I say situation-specific real-world impacts, by the way. Pure democracy violation is technically a real-world impact (undermining future majority rule, or something) but it isn't tied to any specific plan - anything unpopular links to it. Rejecting universally-applicable arguments keeps things sane.

Extend-o-tron 5000: Yet another theory block

Here's a sample theory block against democracy disadvantages. (You knew it was coming...)

"The Negative argued that, because our plan is not favored by the majority, it therefore violates the principles of democracy. We believe that you shouldn't vote on whether our plan is popular; you should vote on whether it's a good idea. Accepting the Negative's argument renders debate useless. Here's why.

"If the Affirmative plan is unpopular, then the Negative can say it violates democracy, and they win. On the other hand, if the Affirmative plan is popular, then the Affirmative can argue that voting Negative violates democracy, and they win. Debate literally becomes a popularity contest.

"The majority isn't always right. Vote on whether our plan is a good idea."

A brief note on the lack of a theoretical framework

Theory buffs may be a bit unsatisfied by this. Like so many other theory issues, this is essentially an abuse-limitation argument - it doesn't have a neat resolutional framework to explain it. Unfortunately, none of the possible frameworks make much sense, so it's just another reminder that abuse is an inherent limit.

Filed under: Arguments, Theory 5 Comments
9Mar/115

A new argument against whole-rez cases

If you read my last post, you may have noticed that the paradigm I use makes arguing against whole-resolutional cases a lot more difficult. In this post I lay out an entirely new argument.

What's a whole-resolutional case?

Whole-resolutional cases are kind of like campfire bogeymen - very few people have ever seen one, but it's best to be prepared. A whole-resolutional case is, basically, a case without a plan. The Affirmative team simply says, "the status quo needs reforming," but doesn't specify how they're going to go about it. (Usually, this just involves reading a lot of harms.)

This sounds wrong, but it makes sense. All the resolution says is that we should reform the status quo - conventionally interpreted, it doesn't require the Affirmative to be specific about how. Whole-rez cases are (fortunately) rare, but they do pop up from time to time (mostly as "surprise" cases), so it's useful to understand how to combat them.

The conventional argument: Counterwarrants

Conventionally, when you hit a whole-rez case, the traditional response is to run counterwarrants - usually, disadvantages against possible plans. Since the Affirmative is saying the resolution as a whole is a good idea, they have to defend the resolution as a whole - meaning every possible topical plan. You just have to prove that some of those are bad - abolishing the Federal Government, or redirecting our entire aid budget to kill innocent puppies, for example.

For theory wonks, this can be summed up in two sentences: Normally, under parametrics, the Affirmative narrows down the resolution to their plan, so offtopic DAs are a no-go. A whole-rez case doesn't propose a plan, so it doesn't narrow down the resolution - which means you can have a blast and pile on the disadvantages.

For everyone else, this can be summed up in two words: Nuclear. War.

OH YEAH.

Why this doesn't work

If you read last week's parametrics post, you may already see why this doesn't work. (If you haven't read it yet, you should probably do so now; this will make more sense.) The resolution isn't a collection of plans; it's the affirmation of a need. By voting for the resolution, you're not endorsing a specific plan, you're just endorsing the fact that we need a plan. This means that counterwarrants are irrelevant, because they don't disprove the need for reform.

Let me use the classic restaurant analogy. The resolution says, "we should go out to eat tonight." A typical Aff plan says, "yes, let's go to Wendy's." A whole-rez plan says, "yes, we should go out to eat tonight," but doesn't specify which restaurant. Running counterwarrants is like saying "eating out of a trash can would be bad." That might be true, but since the plan never specified that you were going to eat out of a trash can, it's irrelevant - it doesn't prove that you shouldn't go out to eat at all.

A new argument

Wait! Don't everyone switch to whole-rez cases yet! A need-based paradigm opens up an interesting new problem, which I haven't ever seen discussed before. Interestingly enough, it's basically a topicality issue. Let's look at the paradigm presented in the last post:

“The judge should vote Affirmative if one good, topical reason for reform is presented.”

The problem is the two words "for reform". A whole-rez case argues a need, but it doesn't explicitly argue a need for reform. Let me explain.

A whole-rez case basically argues that there is a problem in the status quo. However, problems can be solved in a lot of different ways: going away by themselves, divine intervention, etc. Reform is not necessarily the only (or even the best) way to solve the problem. The only way for the Affirmative to prove the resolution true is to prove that reform is the best way to solve the problem - which you can't do without solvency evidence for a specific plan. Briefly put, harms alone cannot prove that reform is necessary.

Since the Affirmative cannot prove a need for reform, their case does not fully affirm the resolution, and does not deserve the ballot.

Extend-o-tron 5000: A sample theory block

Here's a sample theory block to run against whole-rez cases, to give you ideas. As always, material in italic brackets will change based on the year's resolution.

"The Affirmative has given us lots of reasons to believe that there are problems with the current system, but that's not the extent of the resolution. The resolution says that we should reform the status quo, but the Affirmative team hasn't given us a plan, so we don't know if reform would actually do anything.

"Our standard is that the Affirmative must prove that reform is necessary. If they can't prove that reform is the best way to solve the problems they've presented, then they haven't proven that we need to [reform our policy towards Russia], so there is no reason to vote Affirmative.

"The violation is that the Affirmative cannot prove that reform is the best way to solve the problem without presenting a specific plan to examine. Reform is not automatically the only possible solution, or even the best solution. The problem could go away on its own, something else could solve it, or God could suddenly intervene and supernaturally fix everything. Since the Affirmative hasn't shown us how a specific reform or plan can solve the problems they've presented, they fail our standard and haven't proven that reform is necessary.

"The impact of this is that the Affirmative hasn't fully proven the resolution. Since you don't have a complete reason to vote for it, you have to vote Negative."

You may ask: "This seems like a really short debate round - what else can I run?" Simple: Argue the harms straight-up.  It's not hard if you think abstractly. Imagine how this "problem" affects other nations and parts of our policy, and find positive consequences. For example, bad relations with Russia may improve our relations with their enemies, and so forth.

Filed under: Arguments, Theory 5 Comments