Thursday, April 15, 2010

Episode 23 - Tricks and Psych-Outs

Menick, Bietz and Cruz—AKA Bietz, Cruz and Menick—look like they're going to discuss all sorts of evil ways to get ahead in debate rounds, but really don't. Or, more to the point, they only do a little bit. They also talk about the CatNats resolution (hint: they think it's the greatest thing since the Inquisition), while mostly concentrating on the aspects of rounds other than line-by-line that many debaters forget about. If you're too poor to afford iTunes, where the episode is automatically downloaded into your iPod/iPad/iPud/whatever, then click here, but maybe you might want to think about saving a few bucks and joining the new millennium.


  1. Okay, the Cat Nats topic is terrible. Its ridiculously suggestive, its grammatically incorrect, the burdens are shockingly nebulous, etc. etc.

    But Larry, Curly, and Moe, the esteemed and beloved panel of commentators, have gone off the deep end in the first ten minutes of this program. First of all, there is clearly and unequivocally a Constitutional right to freedom of religion. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF..." The history of the adoption of this provision makes it clear that the Framers regarded it as among the provisions necessary to ensure freedom of conscience and related protections (no need to go into detail).

    Second, the invocation of God in public places is not necessarily meaningless. There is a long and incredibly controversial line of cases which provides ample ground for interesting debate. The Ten Commandments,for example, can only be displayed on public property under certain circumstances, as the recent controversy over displaying them in a Courthouse has demonstrated.

    Third, this is not exclusively a right wing issue. The protection of religious minorities, for instance, is generally perceived as a "left wing" position. The issue that comes immediately to mind is to what extent government is obligated to accommodate Native American religious practices. Is government excessively entwined with religion when it makes special accommodations for such religions by avoiding logging in sacred religious sites and things like that? There are tons and tons of these kinds of issues. There is room for both left and right on both sides of the topic.

    Anyway, I'm 100% on board with the idea that this topic is incredibly poorly worded, but as seems to be often the case, the subject matter is interesting and potentially fruitful.

  2. you're a real benedict arnold, torson.

  3. The 10 Commandments have a place in legal (and general history), hence get occasionally allowed as secular. That is, the God is taken out of them in order for them to be legitimate. In fact, although the body of decisions is far from clear, the need to secularize religion in state contexts, one way or another, is the present state of constitutional law, I think. That's what I was saying. The state only allows God when, in fact, the underlying meaning of the God part is removed. This is what I think the rez is interpreting as freedom from religion. Which, of course, it isn't, which is a failure of the wording. The only other possible freedom from religion would be, I guess, atheism, but that assumes that atheism is the opposite of religion, whereas it is simply the lack of a belief in God, a minor but interesting distinction, depending upon what God one doesn't believe in.

    So I remain questioning the premise, which I consider a dubious statement of fact (although I could be wrong on that—I'm no lawyer), but more importantly, I question whether, since this premise is indeed accepted by many religious people, and accepted as a bad thing, this topic should be argued in a semi-religious venue. I stand by my guns in my own blog. If you ain't goin' pro, you ain't gonna win, unless your opponents are absolutely dreadful.

  4. I think that one of the many reasons that the topic wording is bad is that the two phrases in it are generally used to refer to different clauses of the Constitution.

    "Freedom from religion" as a phrase seems most likely to refer to the establishment clause. Cases decided under that rubric tend to look at whether there is excessive entanglement between state and religion or whether there is any state endorsement of a particular religious view (oversimplified description).

    "Freedom of religion" as a phrase seems most likely to refer to the free exercise clause, for which there are a whole mess of fact specific tests.

    So, it doesn't really make sense to say that one has morphed into the other - both are probably rights present in the Constitution. There are interesting issues where there is interplay between the two. Prayer at school sporting events is a good example. One side argues that they have a free exercise right to pray in a public and organized way, and the other side argues that doing so creates endorsement or excessive entanglement between religion and government. Maybe you could get at that kind of issue under this resolution, but probably not.

    Freedom from religion could include some of the following issues (each of which has been litigated before the Supreme Court as Establishment Clause issues) just for example:

    1. Services of general applicability that benefit religious organizations - i.e. giving police protection or water to churches/temples/mosques/synagogues/etc.

    2. Religious displays on public property. Jim is right that the primary message is supposed to be secular and not religious, but its impossible to entirely strip a religious message out of some of these things (i.e. the Ten Commandments). So the question is whether a secondary religious message is impermissible. How would a reasonable observer interpret the message? Does it signal a lack of neutrality or excessive endorsement of a particular religious view?

    3. Religious aid to schools. Various programs like having public school teachers go to private schools, providing parochial schools with secular text books, and vouchers that can go to parochial schools have all been litigated.

    In each of these instances, the opponents of aid to religion would presumptively assert a right under the establishment clause to "freedom from religion" in some sense.

    Free exercise interests have included some of the following (again all of which have been litigated):

    1. Conditioning the receipt of government services on changing religious practices - i.e. you have to be willing to take jobs that will make you work on Saturday to receive unemployment benefits.

    2. Criminal laws which mandate giving up religious practice (i.e. making Amish students attend school beyond the age when it is deemed religiously appropriate for them to do so, or laws which prevent people from using hallucinogens regardless of whether it is in religious ceremonies).

    3. Internal Government Affairs - i.e. if a practitioner of Native American religion has a religious objection to being identified by a number, does he have to be assigned a Social Security Number to receive government services or do we accommodate his beliefs?

    Anyway, that's just a taste of the issues implicated by this topic. If you can take the wording and decipher which sides of which issues are supposed to go to the pro or the con, you're a better man than I.

    I remain in 100% agreement with Jim that the topic is absurdly suggestive and so pro has a substantial advantage.

  5. I've been listening to your old episodes and stumbled across this one. While I do greatly enjoy your podcasts and insight into the national circuit, this episode was of particular interest to me. First of all, the cat nats topic. I agree, it's a horrible, horrible topic that skews so far Con it's ridiculous (assuming you're debating in front of an impartial judge). You guys said it yourself, "It's a statement of dubious fact modified by a moral judgement." At the one tournament I saw this topic debated (not at Cat Nat's) only the worst teams lost Con rounds, even when the Pro side had far superior debaters.

    As for the topic of tricks/psych outs, I was laughing throughout- particularly when you were talking about the ethos that the best debaters projected. I found this so amusing because of the emphasis that I feel the National Circuit has placed on the flow and the spread. Looking at the higher levels of the TOC in Policy and LD, there's a lot of spreading going on because people are so tied to the flow. I just feel that this issue of confidence and the ethos that a good debater projects is pivotal, and while the best debaters may very well project this ethos and handle the flow brilliantly, mid-level debaters focus mostly on the flow, leading them to rely on the spread to better attack the flow. I just wish that you guys, and other national circuit judges, would put more emphasis on the ethos and less on the systematic flow (which tends to favor those who spread) to try and encourage debaters to leave high-school debate with the ability to persuade and project this ethos, and less able to hit every single minute point that their opponent may throw at them. In my mind, this so called "trick" of looking confident and speaking persuasively should be front and center.

    And just for the record, I fully admit my bias against spreading. I feel that it's the worst thing that has ever happened to high school debate.

    I look forward to next year's slate of podcasts.