Jan/Feb 2012: debateaction.org

UPDATE: The NFL has replied to Mike Bietz’s letter and has declined to change the topic. Mike is awaiting a response from the NDCA Tournament Director.

Since the NFL announced the selection of the January/February resolution, a lot of discussion has occurred about what effect this topic might have on the victims of domestic abuse. Much of this discussion stemmed from a blog post from Chris Palmer, that I would encourage everyone to read if they have not already done so: http://www.azuen.net/2011/12/02/the-silent/. A new website, debateaction.org, has been created to draw awareness to how the issue of domestic violence could impact debate rounds. I strongly encourage anyone who cares about this issue to visit the website and to show your support.

John Scoggin

(Note: the article reflects the opinion of the author and not NSD as a whole)

  • Quinn Olivarez

    what happened here?

  • Gerald Walker

    If you say this topic is too personal, but yet you allow topics like drugs, and juveniles to be debated, then you’re a hypocrite. Please read. http://www.dafk.net/what/

    • Oh, that’s right, I forgot we were still in 2008.

      • Gerald Walker

        Everyone on these posts seems to be stuck on the opposite side of everything. It’s going to be a hectic two months.

        • Rebar Niemi

          if this was vbd, someone would have traced your IP to phelan’s house by now. i agree with erik. 

          • Anonymous

            I thought we were never ever censoring posts here? As I recall there was quite a hullabaloo about this last year and whole new websites created as a result…

          • Anonymous

            What seems to have been censored here? NSD Update has deleted only one post in the many months it has been running–a particularly graphic account of domestic violence that talked extensively about why men are justified in beating their wives. If you are concerned about what has been ‘censored,’ I’m willing to email you the content should you identify yourself and stand behind your accusations.

            Our intent is certainly to provide open forums for discussion, but that cannot extend into harboring potentially criminal posts. Our desire for discourse also cannot become a hub for harassment that makes certain community members feel uncomfortable.

            You’ll notice, though, if you actually read, that various snarky comments about people involved with this site have remained up, myself included. We are being accountable and upfront about our practices; I cannot say the same for you ‘hmmmm_interesting.’

          • Anonymous

            I actually think taking down that post was entirely reasonable. I was just pointing out to some people who took rather extreme views on “censorship” the last time this came up that all sites will do it when they have to. Last time around posters were accusing members of the community of committing crimes with no evidence. If those posts had been seen by the right people someone could have lost their job. I would hope NSDupdate would take similar actions if such a circumstance arose again.

  • Anonymous

    “I could launch a website with about a dozen videos from last years TOC and about
    a dozen articles written by the best staff in the country with about two weeks
    of work. I mean c’mon Babb, if there is one criticism of me which definitely
    does not apply it’s that I can’t get things done. I started a business at 19,
    coached a TOC champ at 20, all the while taking enough classes to finish
    college in 3 years. You might think I’m evil, but I’m probably not incompetent.

    To
    be completely honest with you, I thought up a version of the alternative I am
    defending here at the beginning of last summer, but I did NOT want to create an
    NSD VBD. This is because *gasp* I really do think control of communal goods and
    services by private monopolies is generally undesirable. Sam Duby and others
    can attest to this: I’ve been bothering people about this for months. The main
    barrier I ran into was coordinating support from other groups in the community.
    That people at VBD would react positively to this kind of suggestion admittedly
    exceeded my hopes, but I was simply wrong.”

    • Daniel Moerner

      Ernie, if you actually have an argument to make, make it yourself. And for the reasons Eric gave, don’t make it on this thread.

    • Ernie, I’m somewhat confused about what your agenda is here. If your main point is that 2011 Eric Palmer has a different perspective on private monopolization than 2007 Eric Palmer, fair point, but… so what? If your criticism is that NSD should not have the monopoly on debate discussion, I think Eric has decisively rebutted that argument already. Although, as an additional point, I do not think that NSD as a camp holds a monopoly on debate discussion. The NSD Update editor-in-chief and video hub coordinator, Steven Adler, has never attended or worked at NSD; Steven mentions in an earlier comment that he actually worked at NDF last summer and participated in a video that you moderated for the new NDF site. Alex Kramer, another member of NDF staff, is also a staff writer for NSD Update. So I don’t think it’s fair to compare the diversity of the current NSD Update staff to that of VBD in 2007, when articles were written almost exclusively by Jon Cruz, Mike Bietz, and Victor Jih.  And if your point is that NO CAMP should have a debate blog, then this seems to apply equally to http://summitdebate.com/?page_id=680

      • Anonymous

        To add to what Jeff has to say, I created this website with the intent of fostering an open space for discussion and communication. This sentiment stems from my interactions on VBD that had spurred myself and others to create independent outlets. Amyn Kassam created Limitless Debate, I worked with NSD to create the Update, and I’m sure that there were other proposals floating around (I was offered to make a site for a different debate camp similar to the Update).

        The point is that no individual has the capability of running a site like the Update or VBD. There needs to be a larger organization creating the material and reporting for it. What’s great about NSD is that we have a diverse selection of staff that tempers any bias we may have towards opinions or individuals. We have yet to see any broad censorship of opinion, the deletion of comments, or an active denial of communication. And I doubt that we will.

    • Anonymous

      Nice try dude, but notice that to object to private monopolies and to object to ANYTHING privately run is not the same thing.  You misread what I said as endorsement of media socialism in debate, when really those lines figured in a more general argument that conceded that things like VBD can and should exist but suggested that there should be other options.  There are many options today, so this does not apply.  Try again?

  • Anonymous

    We’re not sure how to post this directly to debateaction.org, and we know that people are highly invested in this topic issue right now, but we’d like to discuss another topic that seems relevant in light of the shutdown of vbd: media monopolization. We have some concerns about the lack of an independent forum for discussion in the debate community. Most of our concerns are summarized in an exchange between eric palmer and stephen babb in 2008. I don’t know that I have a solution, but we think its worth consideration at a time in which people seem motivated to discuss change in the activity.

    -ernie r and tom e

    (some sections are cut for brevity’s sake: the full discussion can be found below:
    http://victorybriefsdaily.com/2007/02/05/public-dialog-in-the-ld-community-whither-vbdominance/#comments)

    Eric Palmer on
    February 8, 2007 at 4:51 am

    I
    haven’t had a chance to read every post on here so I apologize for redundant
    content. I’ve done my best to steer clear of well-worn ground.

    1)
    I’m perplexed by this continual rejoinder of “Well see here Jamer, VBD is so
    objective and inclusive that they let you write this article! Doesn’t that just
    show you how great VBD monopolization is?” Isn’t that the point? Doesn’t VBD
    silence criticism precisely by allowing Mangus to write this kind of thing? His
    argument is invariably muted because it is only able to occur thanks to
    VBDominance, and the existence of this (partially pacified) criticism on VBD is
    just the sort of thing it needs to legitimize itself. If VBD lets the
    occasional critic speak, it becomes much easier for everyone else to say to
    themselves “Oh, I guess VBD isn’t so bad after all, they let Mangus post that
    thing”. Accusations against VBD are dead in the water; the people managing the
    site are so objective that they let their most virulent critics post about how
    bad VBD is once in a while. This is the auto-immunity of social institutions at
    its finest. Incorporate the critic to silence him.

    My
    argument does not depend on any claim about the motivations of any VBD staff
    members. Maybe no one at VBD anticipated this kind of result at all. The
    outcome is just what happens when institutions incorporate critics, regardless
    of why the choice was made to include the opposition in the first place.

    2)
    Why is “monopolies are bad” suddenly a controversial claim? Monopoly control
    over media outlets eliminates discussion which is truly contrary to the
    interests of the monopoly (again, my argument is that this thread is by no
    means contrary to the interests of VBD, so don’t call “empirically denied” on
    me). Here is a simple example. Aaron Timmons has repeatedly called for a
    critical comparison of LD camps. In the days of lddebate.org, this resulted in
    many heated debates between staff members of UNT, NSD, NDF, Iowa, and VBI. Are
    we really supposed to expect VBI to post a front page article on camp
    comparison which gives everyone equal billing time?

    Monopolies
    are also bad for monopolists, not to mention community civility. If Jon Cruz
    doesn’t post results from some tournament, or doesn’t have pictures taken at
    tournaments that include a bunch of students and staff members of other camps,
    or accidentally posts results from a bunch of other events over LD results, one
    is immediately tempted to think that he is trying to spin the facts to favor
    VBI. Then you get accusations and counter-accusations about VBI plots. Then you
    get bitter and sustained internecine conflict.

    Additionally,
    a VBD media monopoly might propel us towards a VBI camp monopoly. First, the
    existence of VBD effectively absolves VBI from having to compete in the camp
    market at all. If the only place for discussion about LD is also, incidentally,
    a gigantic advertising and promotional machine for VBI, a large number of
    people will go to VBI every year no matter what. Second, if VBI has sole
    control over community media outlets (which is increasingly the case) then
    other camps will have fewer and fewer opportunities to voice their positions or
    advertise at all. This condition tends to squeeze camps out of existence. Why
    is this bad? Camps play a central role in shaping debaters’ views about the
    activity. The quality of instruction offered at camps matters. Monopolies
    eliminate competition and with it the incentive to provide a better product.
    Thus far, we haven’t come close to the realization of this possibility, but
    that does not mean that it could not become a more realistic threat in the
    future.

    Before
    people jump on me for being anti-VBI or something, note that I have said
    nothing in particular about the institute or its instructors. The exact same
    risks and costs would be associated with an NSD media monopoly. That’s part of
    why I have absolutely no interest in the creation of an NSD version of VBD. I
    think having open forums and a variety of perspectives is crucial, and when it
    comes to camps, I think the existence of a number of debate camps is the best
    possible situation for the activity. Competition between different firms spurs
    innovation and quality increases, encourages price reductions, places
    disincentives on cronyism and discrimination, and helps to ensure the existence
    of a variety of options distinctly tailored to suit divergent consumer tastes.

    To
    be sure, VBD provides an important service to our community, and I am by no means
    trying to suggest that it should not exist. This does not mean, however, that
    we should resign ourselves to an acceptance of monopoly. There is another way.

    Eric Palmer on
    February 8, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    Aight
    Babb, I hate these line by line responses, but I guess I’ll just mirror your
    approach.

    ”2.
    The ONLY way in which inclusion of this piece would by its own act affect the
    criticism at all is with respect to only ONE element of the criticism: which is
    that VBD forecloses any room for criticism. There’s nothing wrong with engaging
    that element of the criticism through a performative proof to the contrary. But
    of course, there is a laundry-list of VBD criticism in previous threads on this
    site which suggest silencing does not take place. Point being: inclusion of the
    piece would in no way refute other objections regarding how the site functions,
    what VBs stands for, or whatever else.”

    Why
    is that true? My point is that the inclusion of this article effectively counts
    as evidence against ascribing malicious motives to VBD people at any point.
    Since the only check against misuse of the website is the fear that people will
    come to think that VBD is used to spin facts, the strategic management of
    criticism goes a long way towards effacing the only real check on the site.

    ”3.
    This sort of argument is so effective precisely because its target (in this
    case VBD) can absolutely never win. If they don’t include the piece, they
    silence by exclusion. If they do include it, they apparently silence through
    inclusion. Which suggests…”

    My
    argument isn’t a claim about VBD’s motives; it’s a claim about how people will
    interpret their actions regardless of their motives. Yes, it is true that there
    are bad consequences for VBD no matter what it does. That does not mean my
    argument is false, that means they are in a double-bind. Situations happen in
    reality where one has to choose between two bad things. I don’t see why that’s
    a defect in my argument.

    “I
    don’t know that the people managing the site are objective (who has made this
    claim?). We’ve only maintained they try to be pretty objective despite their
    interests. But, that certainly doesn’t make any objection ‘dead in the water’.
    The thrust of the dialogue pursuant to Michael’s post would seem to suggest
    that there are quite a few opinions out there concerning the criticism; but it
    has not at all been muted.”

    Again,
    my answer is: myopia. Let me provide another illustration. Say VBD lets a
    critic come on and write some article about VBD killing discussion once per
    year. Every time this happens, Stephen Babb drowns all arguments with enormous
    line by line posts which, in spite of being read in their entirety by an average
    of 2.5 people, still generate the impression that at the very least the debate
    is indecisive. Better still, every year people get more and more tired of the
    ritual. Every time they say, “what the hell is this, of course VBD permits
    criticism, they let so and so write that one article, and Michael Mangus write
    that other one before”. The whole process is completely self-referential.

    “Well,
    they aren’t incorporating you just yet, so your criticism should remain 100%
    effective. We will see where that goes.”

    Yeah
    you will.

    “Two
    final points on this:
    1. The problem with what you and Massey are saying (which is essentially the
    exact same thing, albeit with more fatalistic rhetoric on Michelin’s part and
    more hostile rhetoric on Eric’s) is that there is NO BETTER WAY to reach the
    people you want to persuade than by posting on the site they read.”

    That
    is a problem for Michelin’s argument. It is not for mine. Posting a comment
    doesn’t mean VBD put the gold stamp of approval on my content. That’s why, as
    you point out, I haven’t been co-opted.

    “2.
    The single biggest flaw in your argument is this: ANY REACTION ON VBD’S PART
    WHICH RESPONDS TO CRITICISM BY MODIFICATION IS READ AS MEANINGLESS. But, why
    can’t it simply be read as improvement stimulated by criticism? Isn’t that the
    point of criticism? To effect change? If people say: “VBD doesn’t include
    enough radical thought,” and VBD responds by saying… “you know what, you’re
    right: write away!” then VBD is guilty of nothing less than LISTENING TO ITS
    CRITICS.”

    No,
    the institution couldn’t change enough to escape the double bind except by
    ceasing to be VBD. Since the entire community will always have a stake in the
    objectivity and openness of the service provided by VBD (a centralized, public
    space to discuss what’s going on in the activity), and VBD is inextricably
    connected to a private interest, there will always be grounds for criticism of
    VBD as institutionally flawed since it is organized to build a bias into its
    very structure. We cannot undermine the grounds of this criticism, but we can
    sap the motivation to make it by reducing the probability that the dangers
    associated with the abuse of VBD will ever be realized, and by building in
    safeguards to mitigate the damage associated with such abuse. An independent media
    outlet does both of those things.

    “The
    only people who wouldn’t like that are people scared they might run out of
    things to crticize, people so investment in criticism of VBD for its OWN SAKE
    that they would call any improvement into question. If critics see change, but
    want more change, they can generate new criticism. But to the extent, real
    improvements are shaped by real criticism, what more do you want other than a
    perpetual axe to grind?”

    Why
    should I be held to a different standard than VBI people? Why is it that if I
    make a criticism, it’s because I’m in league with the forces of darkness, but
    everyone at VBD is a total saint who would never dream of abusing their power?
    I honestly don’t get these cosmologies where I am the Lex Luthor of debate, NSD
    is the Legion of Doom, and I’m out to get Superman because he made my hair fall
    out. Why is it so far-fetched to think that maybe, just MAYBE my views are
    motivated by the arguments I am presenting, and not a deep-seated, irrational
    hatred for VBI?

    “I
    will agree with Bryce on this. A monopoly on media control is a ridiculous
    claim.”

    So
    I guess your defense is: the monopoly isn’t doing anything bad now. This does
    absolutely nothing to answer the argument I’ve made about 4000 times.

    “I
    would also claim, once again, that these arguments take things sooo far out of
    perspectiv. We are talking about high school LD debate, and a pretty limited
    subsection of those debaters and coaches at that. So the fact that alternative
    outlets don’t seem very strong is ridiculous… there just aren’t that many
    people interested in online debate forums in the first place. I would venture
    to guess, even, that the vast majority of HIGH SCHOOL LD DEBATERS do not
    regularly participate in online debate discussion.”

    How
    does that answer my argument? Lddebate.org is totally dead. When I was a high
    school student it was incredibly vibrant. VBD existed then too, but it wasn’t
    like VBD was viewed as competition to lddebate.org. The two institutions just
    had different functions. Why can’t we go back to that instead of trying to
    completely assimilate every function to VBD?

    “I
    think part of VBD’s attempt to remain somewhat neutral has included an effort
    to keep camp-discussion off the website. Any discussion here would clearly be
    seen as a promotional attempt, even if we did give equal time.”

    Yeah,
    my point wasn’t that VBD should have an open discussion about camps; my point
    was that it couldn’t. The reason should be getting familiar by now: public
    discussion is a communal good; everyone has a stake in it. VBD represents a
    private interest. When a private interest has total control over a communal
    good, there is a problem, even if the private interest is totally unbiased.

    “But
    that isn’t a reason why all discussions should leave VBD. It is a reason to
    have that particular discussion on LDDebate.org still. I bet VBD would even be
    willing to post a link to that discussion, unless you are worried that a link
    will enable VBD to ‘incorporate’ whatever criticism is generated in that
    discussion.”

    Yeah
    that would be cool. So lddebate.org is dead. That means we need something else.
    I don’t care if there are discussions on VBD; it just shouldn’t be the only
    forum because VBD’s content is controlled by representatives of the Victory
    Briefs Corporation. Why should people have to wait for VBD to tell them they
    can write on some topic? Why would VBD want to publish a bunch of articles by
    say, me? There are obvious business incentives against doing so.

    “Personally,
    I would favor just biting the bullet, promoting VBs, and saying hey: the news
    and discussion here are no worse off because the people hosting the website
    have opinions. But, they do try to be inclusive and neutral to some degree, and
    yes that is difficult.”

    Again,
    “Jon Cruz is your buddy” is not a response to anything, and it isn’t a matter
    of opinions, it’s a matter of business interests.

    “You
    could say the same thing about our products, word of mouth from 250 kids each
    summer, our large staff, the fact VBI students have been since its inception performed
    with one or two other camps at the very top..”

    Word
    of mouth is not a competitive advantage because it is non-unique.

    “does
    VBD add to that? Sure, but I hardly think VBD is THE reason why VBI gets its
    numbers. We got pretty good numbers before VBD too.”

    This
    is a misinterpretation of numbing grossness. My argument here isn’t that VBD is
    the factor that explains VBI’s numbers, but that VBD is powerful enough that
    even if VBI fell off big time as an educational service, it would not matter.
    This is a bad situation because it obliterates the principle incentive to
    maintain or improve the product. Now I am not saying that VBI’s quality has
    actually declined or stagnated. I don’t know what VBI is actually like; I’ve
    never been there. My point is that in theory VBI could make the product a lot
    worse or fail to keep up with the competition and not be any worse off for it.
    This is particularly true outside of the top few labs of the camp, where
    students are typically new to the national circuit and lack access to insider
    information.

    “Other
    places people can discuss LD, and specifically camps:
    1. LDDebate.org
    2. OFFLINE… gasp.. at tournaments, etc.
    3. through chat, facebook, phone, and the myriad of other means of
    communication available outside of the VBD, where people can discuss LD”

    1.
    LDdebate.org is dead. 2-3 are nice but are not centralized or public. There is
    no way to get out a message to basically everyone in the community by walking
    around a tournament or calling your friends.

    “Additionally,
    though, people dont HAVE to discuss LD to learn about camps and their
    advantages. That’s what advertising is for.”

    VBD
    is a big VBI ad. There is no other centralized public outlet. Do you think kids
    read Rostrum?

    “VBD
    doesn’t CONTROL media outlets. That is nuts.”

    The
    existing media outlet is http://www.victorybriefsdaily.com, a website
    owned and operated by the Victory Briefs Corporation. That is control.

    “Here’s
    an idea: if you want an opportunity to reach a lot of people and advertise, put
    together a web experience people want. There is no reason whatsoever other
    camps can’t put the time and energy into something like the VBD. Failure to do
    so, I suspect, has very little to do with ‘control of media outlets’. But, it’s
    easier to be a victim of a corporate monopoly than to give a competitor props
    on their business model.”

    I
    could launch a website with about a dozen videos from last years TOC and about
    a dozen articles written by the best staff in the country with about two weeks
    of work. I mean c’mon Babb, if there is one criticism of me which definitely
    does not apply it’s that I can’t get things done. I started a business at 19,
    coached a TOC champ at 20, all the while taking enough classes to finish
    college in 3 years. You might think I’m evil, but I’m probably not incompetent.

    To
    be completely honest with you, I thought up a version of the alternative I am
    defending here at the beginning of last summer, but I did NOT want to create an
    NSD VBD. This is because *gasp* I really do think control of communal goods and
    services by private monopolies is generally undesirable. Sam Duby and others
    can attest to this: I’ve been bothering people about this for months. The main
    barrier I ran into was coordinating support from other groups in the community.
    That people at VBD would react positively to this kind of suggestion admittedly
    exceeded my hopes, but I was simply wrong.

    As
    an aside, I find it really interesting that you are willing to openly describe
    VBD as playing a central role in the VBI business model. Usually the argument
    on here when people raise the specter of private interest against VBD is that
    VBI is really a quasi-public institution that only cares about the welfare of
    the community, and then we are usually treated to a longwinded account of how
    Victor Jih is the Big Daddy Warbucks of debate, and how all he cares about are
    the poor starving orphans, and how we are all idiots for supposing that anyone
    at VBI could possibly care about something as lowly as making money. I
    appreciate your candor, but how do you not see this as an enormous takeout to
    the “Jon Cruz is your homie” argument?

    “And
    then you end with a slippery-slope impact story, which appears empirically
    ludicrous given that the recent growth of VBD has not led to less camp
    competition. Stanford and Kentucky might be smaller, but NSD has grown, and a
    number of regional camps have grown or been started. There will be at least 4
    in Texas this year alone.”

    NSD
    probably wouldn’t have been able to make it without a vibrant lddebate.org, or
    at the very least, it wouldn’t have had anything close to the success it’s had.
    Beyond that, though, I’m not sure why it’s incredibly far fetched to think that
    it isn’t conceivable that VBI could attain a monopoly. Draw in tons of kids
    through the website, subsidize all the good debaters in the country to come
    using some of the surplus from the inflated numbers afforded by the website,
    hire back all the top kids while working hard to buy up anyone else who coaches
    good debaters. Numbers aren’t really tough to translate into quality, and
    quality more or less drives the camp market. I think VBI actually could’ve
    become a monopoly around 2003-2005 when Iowa, Stanford and KNDI took big hits.

    “Which
    is a very convenient way to remain victim to “the monopoly”.”

    Honestly
    Babb this stuff is stupid. NSD has a cap. We’ve met the cap every year. NSD
    gets tons of good kids and has a great staff. NSD really doesn’t have much to
    gain. I seriously think the community would be better off with another forum.

    Lastly,
    I want to address this “agenda” stuff.

    1.Babb
    accuses me of lying when I say I’m not trying to hate on Cruz or Bietz and that
    VBD should still exist. I talked to Bietz about the alternative I’m proposing
    today. He is a very reasonable and nice guy. I called conspiracy on Jon Cruz
    last year, but I’m not sure why that means I have a big axe to grind with him
    or something. Babb is calling conspiracy on me right now. I don’t hate him over
    it or anything like that. Sometimes it’s good to call conspiracy on people. If
    there isn’t one, you make people more attentive to avoiding implying that there
    is one, and you make them explain the real reasons behind the problem in public
    view, which helps curb the spread of rumors. If there is one, then calling that
    to attention helps to check against it. This is pretty much the gist of
    Michael’s original argument – the fake veneer of politeness actually makes
    disputes fester. I’d rather call people out and hear the explanation of why I’m
    wrong than sit around and stew. If I had a problem with their actions
    specifically, I’d call them out like I called out Stacy Thomas last week.
    Simply put, I’m done with fake politeness.
    2.As I’ve said, NSD in particular has very little to gain from VBI taking a
    hit. We are pretty much operating at full capacity as is. Other camps might
    gain more, but I don’t run them. More importantly, all of my arguments are
    anti-monopoly, not anti-VBI. It just doesn’t make any sense to read the agenda
    “overthrow VBI and take over debate” onto me. Every argument I’ve made cuts
    against that just as strongly. I’m not even saying VBD shouldn’t have
    discussions. I’m just saying it shouldn’t be the only place for those
    discussions. I have argued that there is always a structural flaw in VBD acting
    as a forum for discussion: that the existence of private interest opens the
    floor for accusations of bias, but I have also argued that we can take the
    sting out of that. And Babb, you are out of your mind if you think I want to
    destroy VBD. Do you really think I want to collect tournament results and take
    pictures of people at tournaments? I just want a way for people to start
    discussions of their own and not just depend on the VBD staff to happen to come
    up with the same idea.

    So
    here is my agenda: let’s have multiple sources of information so people don’t
    have to get everything from one company with an agenda of its own.

     

     

    • Anonymous

      Ernie,

      I think wanting there to be more media sources in the community is a valid concern, but I don’t think the scope of the problem is as big as you think it is (or rather, the conversation you posted implies it to be). 

      VBD isn’t shut down; it’s in a lull while they transition away from Cruz. LimitlessDebate also exists as a forum that anyone can post in, and it is unaffiliated with any institution. Finally, if my memory serves me correctly, NDF is planning on launching its own site some time soon (I was filmed for a feature on it, I believe, which you moderated). To be upfront, I certainly didn’t read the whole conversation you posted, but I think we aren’t in too poor shape on multiple media sources. If you’d like there to be more, you’re more than welcome to create another one.

    • Anonymous

      “So here is my agenda: let’s have multiple sources of information so people don’t have to get everything from one company with an agenda of its own.”

      Thankfully, it is no longer 2007, and the agenda I then harbored has since been realized.  Today we have NSD Update, VBD (its purported collapse comes as news to me – the website appears to have been updated twelve times in the past three days), the forum put together by the people over at LimitlessDebate, and your very own NDF blogs. 

      By the way, may I suggest that you avail yourselves of our content submission page if you want a thread for the issue you’re raising (http://nsdupdate.com/submit-your-articles/).  I would not ordinarily worry so much about that sort of thing, except for the fact that this thread is a serious discussion of domestic violence and the appropriateness of the topic. That is an important discussion, and not the sort of thing I want to see derailed in order for people to be treated to dredged up VBD posts from my 21 year old self.

    • Rebar Niemi

      debateaction.org isn’t associated with NSD in any way, at least to my knowledge. i am however curious what the stance of the USchool is on the domestic violence topic. Considering Steve is an NFL Chair and Ernie/Tom are very highly respected/successful coaches, I am sure you guys have something relevant and insightful to contribute to this discussion. You don’t even have to post a response here. limitless, debateaction, victorybriefs.com (I hear they’re moving to that website), facebook, etc. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m not looking to discuss this but have you guys heard anything back about changing the topic? I wanna know so i can know which topic i should be prepping. 

  • I mentioned this in the other thread, but I think it would be useful to restate here:

    Why are we JUST NOW demonstrating some concern over the potential effect that debate topics could have on the people that debate, coach, and judge them? It is really troubling to me that this topic has been singled out for its potential to revive painful and unwanted memories about a troubling and deeply personal subject matter. As I stated earlier, I personally know one person in this activity who has watched a sibling struggle repeatedly with drug abuse. This student’s sibling has gone in and out of rehab on multiple occasions, and the whole thing has had a profound and divisive effect on this student’s family and personal life. It is an extremely sensitive issue that this student does not readily talk about. But, I highly doubt this student is the only member of the debate community who has been directly or indirectly effected by drug abuse. In fact, I remember judging a round on that topic in which a student mentioned, in round, that multiple friends of hers from high school had been to rehab for drug addiction, and the student became very emotional in round. When the drug abuse topic came out last year, however, not one goddamn person publicly denounced that topic for its potential to force students to confront deeply personal issues in a public realm. While it is obvious that domestic abuse represents a traumatic and profoundly painful experience that is all too common, I hardly think that issues like drug abuse are any less painful or common. Where was everyone a year ago standing up on behalf of debate people who had either been addicted to drugs or had watched loved ones suffer through drug addiction at some point? 

    To be VERY CLEAR, I am personally sort of ambivalent on the issue of changing this particular topic. It seems to me, however, that if we are going to establish a precedent that we can waive topics in light of their potential to force confrontation of deeply troubling memories, there needs to be more consistency and less hypocrisy in how we apply such a precedent. 

    • Rebar Niemi

      fritz, i’ll respond to you. i think you’re right its inconsistent. I personally had no way to challenge the topic in 06 being a totally ignorant and very bad at debate high school junior with zero understanding of how topic selection worked beyond that it “happened.” in fact, i was pretty darn insensitive in how i handled this topic as a debater. looking back, i’m ashamed and don’t want that to happen again. i’m sure you’re familiar with this phrase the global community has… never again?

      now as a coach i’m more sensitive and engaged. I don’t think its hypocritical though. You want to know why? the drug abuse topic never forced debaters to make any sort of statement on what drug abusers themselves should do or how their families should judge them or anything like that. yes every topic forces confrontation of personal issues. but not every topic literally forces every round to lay judgment on a group of victims that you either have no right to comment on or would prefer not to comment on based on your position. also, no one on drug abuse was forced to defend a monolithic conception of what the moral status of the actions of the subjects was – just that some legal response was necessary. i guess i’d refer you to the below debate between quinn and adler. ultimately, this distinction is pretty meaningless. if you think we shouldn’t try to do better now because we were irresponsible in the past, then you’re right – we should have been more responsible. that’s no excuse for not dealing with this now. and hey, you’re right. we should have spoken out against drug abuse maybe. although in a lot of ways it was a significantly better worded topic to handle the nuance of its topic area. this topic is not.and also, if you really wanna bring up a past topic that was iffy – 2008 March/April. Hate crimes. That was a serious bummer to debate. frankly, the more i think about it, the more upset i am with the fact the topic committee holds closed meetings/gets to pick the ballot w/o any community input except at the beginning/the NFL doesn’t have any accountability or transparency in terms of releasing voting results or demographics/seems to enjoy recycling topics while there are so many pressing moral and political issues in our messed up world. 

      • Dave McGinnis

        Rebar writes:
        “frankly, the more i think about it, the more upset i am with the fact the topic committee holds closed meetings/gets to pick the ballot w/o any community input except at the beginning/the NFL doesn’t have any accountability or transparency in terms of releasing voting results or demographics/seems to enjoy recycling topics while there are so many pressing moral and political issues in our messed up world.”

        As someone who has served on the topic wording committee I would like to address this briefly.

        First, the NFL Topic Wording Committee gets all of its topic ideas from members of the community who can always submit ideas by going to this page:

        http://www.nflonline.org/StudentResources/Topics

        and clicking on “Click Here To Submit LD Topic Ideas.”

        The wording committee meetings are OPEN meetings. I know this because the first set of meetings I sat in on took place while I was not on the committee, and they listened respectfully to my thoughts and ideas. And every year there are a handful of people not on the committee who join the group to share their thoughts.

        Also, the committee actively seeks input from people both at the NFL national tournament and around the country via the internet during the wording process. In fact, a tremendous amount of time is spent during the committee meetings correlating the input from the various people who have provided their thoughts and ideas. 

        Finally, once the list is set, it is voted on by coaches around the country. I have no idea how the NFL would go about providing “demographic” information — do you want a list of which schools voted for which topics? Should we determine, for each school, the gender, race, and age of the coach with voting authority? Of what use would that information be? Also, what would “accountability” look like? Do you want the home addresses of the committee members so you can come egg our houses when unpopular topics are selected?

        As for the “recycling” of old topics: We take the topics that are submitted as a starting place. Many “old” topics get resubmitted because they were popular and/or because the debate on those topics is perceived to have gone well. 

        Of course, that isn’t to say that the topic selection method can’t be improved. There are diminishing returns on adding members to the committee but more input is always valuable. I’m certain that if the current concern had come up during the topic wording process (or even prior to the voting process?) that something might have been done to change or eliminate the topic. I don’t necessarily agree with the concern, but I think it’s sincere and widespread enough that, coming at the right point in the selection process, I expect it might have been a strong enough concern to shift us onto another topic area. That didn’t happen, so this is what we’ll be debating. Let’s all try to be sensitive and responsible as well as clever and strategic, and try to make the upcoming debates as educational and positive as possible.

        – Dave

        • Rebar Niemi

          Dave, I really appreciate your response. I’m assuming that this is not an official response.

          That “topic suggestion” link redirects to the NFL’s general email account. I’ve emailed them countless times. I have never ONCE received a response or even a “sorry, we’ll get to this later.” I have submitted topics. I have NEVER ONCE received a thank you or any acknowledgement that they go anywhere. For all I know that email redirects to someone’s trash. 

          And for someone like me, a meager non-diamond coach, it probably does. The NFL isn’t a democracy – its an oligarchy. It’s frustrating to want to make honest contributions and be a part of the solution but ultimately be limited by what appears to be an invisible and impenetrable hierarchy. 

          I will be at that “open” topic meeting next time. I’m looking forward to it quite a bit. Could you post more information on that here so anyone else who would like to attend can?

          • Anonymous

            I agree with Rebar’s sentiment that while the NFL means well, it isn’t optimally democratic. More information related to this will be posted in the coming days. In the meantime, I just want to note that not everyone has the means to fly to Nationals for those ‘open’ meetings, nor will non-connected community members likely be solicited for their feedback. I do not question the NFL’s intentions, but I do question whether the present system is as transparent and democratic as possible. More to come.

          • Dave McGinnis

            Rebar: Trust me, all the topics that are submitted make the list. There are dozens and dozens and dozens on that list. If you sent in topics, they were on the list.

            Adler: Where and when do you propose the NFL hold topic selection meetings so that everyone in the nation can attend? How about we hold a giant meeting where we invite people from all of the NFL districts in the whole nation to all get together in one place at the same time and THEN have the meeting?

            Oh, wait…

            My point is: The NFL sets up a system that tries to access as much input as possible in the production of topics, and you guys are complaining because the system doesn’t access ALL of the input and include equally the voices of every single individual involved in debate. No system could do that. I don’t think the current system is perfect, but I have a hard time imagining a system that could produce workable topics with more input than the one now in place.

            Say that (instead) we did topic selection discussions online so that literally everyone could (conceivably) participate. (1) The threaded discussions and arguments would be hundreds of pages long and no one would want to read them all; (2) No conclusions would ever be reached because there would be no way to obtain consensus; and (3) you’d still exclude masses of the debate community because (as I have observed before) it is only a small minority of the debate world that ever, EVER looks at one of these boards.

          • Anonymous

            You can be flippant about a big meeting if you want, Dave, but policy has successfully implemented online discussions. I’m not going to deal with ‘line-by-lining’ your responses for now, but I think you assume a flawed implementation that is not what I would advocate. I think you also don’t give credence to what is a slight drawback vs what is actually worse than the current system.

          • Dave McGinnis

            The NFHS holds a topic selection meeting in policy every August. It’s a separate event — you have to go to it just for the purposes of voting on the policy topic. I’m sure the topics get discussed online, but online discussions are not “incorporated” into the vote. The NFL, the NCFL, and the NDCA have voting privileges over the 5 topics presented. In the NFL, each chapter gets a vote to determine what the NFL will back. 

            The one aspect of the policy topic selection process that is not mirrored in LD is that the topic ideas are available for discussion for a long time before the wording process takes place. In LD the wordings are set and then made public, THEN the topics are voted on. 

            This probably has something to do with the fact that the policy topic shapes debates for a full year while the LD topic only lasts for a couple of months. 

            Maybe there’s a way that LD topic areas could be made public prior to the wording process and opened up to community discussion. But internet-based wording and/or voting (ie, trying to come up with a topic wording based on a threaded discussion like this one) would be nonfunctional for reasons cited above.

          • Anonymous

            Again, I will not be line-by-lining your response, because you assume a bunch of things about what I’m saying that are not true.
            I am not advocating for wholly implementing the policy process for voting. You are also incomplete in your account of the policy voting method–yes, the NFL, NDCA, and NCFL each get a vote, but they are not the ONLY voters; others vote too.
            Regardless, this conversation isn’t productive, because you still assume I’m calling for some voting based on a massive NSD Update thread, which I’m not.

          • Dave McGinnis

            Then what are you calling for? This whole argument started when you said the NFL system was undemocratic, I argued it was pretty close to as democratic as it could be, and then you asserted that the policy topic selection process involves “online discussion,” and I sort of and sort of didn’t disagree with that. Are we even arguing any more? 

          • Anonymous

            I said in my initial post that I will be publishing a lengthier article in the coming days; that article will outline my stance. (I do understand the ambiguity in my referring to the policy process–my mistake.)

            It’s important to note, though, that I don’t think the NFL should necessarily be scrapped–your points about its impressive feats of coordination are well-taken. I just think it could be more optimally democratic and transparent beyond what it does now. I certainly appreciate the efforts of its committee members, yourself included, but I think there are better ways to accomplish its goals.

          • Yes, there are “other” voters. Each state’s HS activities association gets a vote. In fact this is what makes the Policy topic selection process so BAD. The majority of the people who vote have no involvement in debate of any kind. They are usually athletic directors. In some cases they poll their member schools, but not always. Believe me, as a coach with Policy teams, I can attest to the fact that the Policy topic selection process is less than ideal.

  • I wasn’t at all surprised to see my facebook feed blown up with debaters complaining about the topic selection on the day of the release. Everybody was stoked to debate targeted killing, and the NFL (as is its wont) voted for a stupid topic in lieu of one that debaters were actually excited to research. At first, I didn’t take them seriously.

    As a high school debater, I routinely bitched about the topics I just didn’t want to debate. I distinctly remember debating the merits of exit exams for two months my junior year, after getting my hopes set on torture warrants. As far as I was concerned, everybody was just whining about a lame topic.I’m blessed to have never had to go through something as traumatic as domestic violence, and to my knowledge neither have my close friends or family members. I suppose that means I lack the perspective or insight of someone who has. And after having read some of the accounts and emails of those who have, I feel it necessary to boycott the topic.Debaters frequently run kritiks of standing on an ivory pillar — we read so many nuke war scenarios that deaths become statistics, and the more lives that are poised to die in a potential nuclear assault, the better the impact. I feel as if this is more or less the same thing. Those who crafted, worded, and voted for this topic are (much like myself) so far removed from the realities of domestic violence that they found it acceptable to force high school debaters and judges, several of whom are potential victims, to engage in the subject for five months at some of the most prestigious and biggest tournaments in the country.As of a week ago, I would have thought nothing more of this topic than a regurgitation of a similar one five years ago. The beauty of debate, aside from the sense of community it fosters and the friendships made through it, is its ability to act as medium to explore topics we wouldn’t otherwise explore and critically examine our own feelings on those topics. Everybody runs arguments they don’t agree with, or that they think are dumb. But I feel like this goes beyond that. More and more it’s becoming apparent to me that forcing people to relive some of the most traumatic experiences of their lives (in a public forum, no less) is incredibly damaging and insensitive.

    By no means am I trying to blame anybody that was behind the selection and wording of this topic, because until recently I was just as ignorant as they worth. But in light of recent discussion, it’s become obvious that this was a bad idea. The NFL was willing to recall an inappropriate topic last season for Public Forum, there’s no reason they can’t do the same with Lincoln-Douglas. And if not, I feel as if the directors of tournaments such as Emory, Harvard, and the TOC should nullify the topic on their own terms (and preferably all use the same topic).

  • Anonymous

    I was curious what people in the actual field of domestic violence have to say about arguments advanced by proponents like Chris Palmer and Mike Bietz–ones that I agree with–so I contacted the Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. It turns out that she very much agrees the topic should not be debated. Here is the email transcript:

    ME:
    Dear Ms. Smith,My name is Steven Adler; I am an assistant Lincoln-Douglas debate coach at Lexington HS in Massachusetts. Recently, the nation-wide topic for the months of January and February was released as, “Resolved: It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a deliberate response to repeated domestic violence.” We are of the belief that this is too sensitive and personal a topic to force former victims to debate and judge (as outlined in a blog post here: http://www.azuen.net/2011/12/02/the-silent/), but we were curious what someone with more experience in the field would think about some of the issues.One argument being advanced by proponents of the topic is that debating such a personal issue will force former victims of abuse to confront their personal trauma and perhaps empower them to speak out about their abuse. We think that this conclusion is somewhat silly, and that it is far more likely that the abused will remain silent or leave the community, but we also don’t have the hands-on knowledge to speak from authority. Do you have any thoughts on the possible ramifications of forcing people to engage such a topic?Thanks so much for your time,
    Steven Adler

    REPLY:
    Steven, The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence does not support this kind of activity. Victims of domestic violence must have the right to control when their story is told, to whom it is told and how and when they seek assistance. They are already being controlled by their abuser, it is not appropriate for their community to try and force them to do or hear anything. Victims need support to make decisions that will work for them, and often those decisions may not be the ones we think we would have chosen. As their life is the one at risk, and they have learned how to survive the violence up to present, trusting them to know if they should leave, when to leave and how far away they need to go to be safe is imperative in helping them be successful. Forcing them to participate or witness a debate on this topic would either traumatize them, isolate them from possible support, or make them really mad, none of which would be helpful to the recovery and healing process. As for the topic premise, NCADV does not encourage the use of force or violence. We do understand why some women choose to take that action. As long as communities do not hold abusers accountable, and there are not enough services to assist families fleeing abuse, victims may feel so trapped that they don’t see any other option but to use lethal force. Unfortunatley, that usually ends up with the perpetrator dead and the victim serving a very long prison sentence. No one wins in that scenario, so our work is to provide services to everyone who is in danger so that the choice of lethal use of force becomes much less frequent. Over the last 30 years, we have seen a significant drop in the number of men killed by intimate partners, and I believe that is almost entirely due to the work of local crisis shelters who have opened their doors to protect women when they are most afraid of serious injury or death. We have not been able to reduce anywhere near the same number of women dying in those 30 years, and so we still have a lot of work to do. With the reduction of men being killed, that means that we have prevented not only their deaths, but helped the women get free and stay out of prison. Good results for both parties. Acting like an abuser, and telling victims what we think they need is wrong, it does no help them and it prevents them from seeking assistance from us when they most need it. Hopefully this has helped you with this issue, and thanks for inviting me to the discussion for just a bit. Rita Rita SmithExecutive DirectorNCADVwww.ncadv.orgME:Ms. Smith,Thank you very much for your reply. I’m sorry to hear that the harms of this topic would be as dire as we had supposed. Presently, we are trying to get the topic changed; hopefully we are successful. If you were to add your name and qualifications to the ‘Share & Support’ function for the change at the bottom of the page here (http://debateaction.org/category/campaigns/jan-feb-2012/), it’d be much appreciated.Thanks so much,Steven

    • Quinn Olivarez

      I’m gonna play devil’s advocate here, and go ahead and point out the issue of uniqueness again. I believe the same question can be posed in regard to any topic and will produce the same results. Furthermore, if someone is the victim of unreported abuse, and this topic helps a teacher or peer fill in the blanks, that seems like it would only help the situation, not worsen it.

      • Anonymous

        I think Chris makes a good point in the distinction of a topic that discusses an individual’s action as opposed to a government action that regulates individuals. I also think Chris makes good points about the wider scope of these victims in debate as opposed to other topics, and to the unique effect of the abuse perpetrated by family members (and thus increased silence because of the domestic nature).

        Re: reporting being a good thing, the Executive Director of one of the nation’s largest resource centers seems to disagree about whether the topic would do that in a good way, but I suppose you’re entitled to disagree.

        • Quinn Olivarez

          -The govt’ / individual action distinction, I think, is problematic, for two reasons. 
          1) Gonna beat a dead horse over this, but this distinction also non-unique: moral permissibility tends to play a large part in law-making. Furthermore, the *moral* permissibility of an action tends to suggest an evaluation of its effect on society, inasmuch as ethics tend to govern social interaction.
          2) The individual / govt action distinction is a method of arbitrarily personalizing / de-personalizing issues. You don’t think people are deeply and personally affected by the decisions passed down in courts? That seems silly.

          -I think you’re bending the words of Ms. Smith. She does not say that reporting would hurt them. Surely, there are lots of kids who keep their mouths shut out of fear and do not understand that seeking help is the best option. She says making kids talk about the issues is troubling. It may seem rude or insulting, but kids don’t have to debate the topic, which evades the problems she actually outlines. Debate is something that can become personal in a wide variety of ways (as I’ve argued for), and we aren’t taken aback when a student is uncomfortable about participating on other topics.

          Let me just add that I’m curious as to why the outcry on this topic this time around is so much more robust compared to 2006. There are names  who are now decrying the topic that I don’t remember being so vocal 5 years ago. Is it perhaps because it’s the TOC topic this time around and not the relatively uneventful (save for AV and GBN) November-December topic? Would we all be freaking out if it was the March-April topic? I’m inclined, based on the past, to say no . . .

          • Anonymous

            I’ll keep my post short so it’s followable.

            I think there’s more of a distinction than you believe. Even if permissibility can be associated with legality, there’s still some difference in not explicitly framing it that way. Similarly, there’s still some difference in the personalness of evaluating one’s own actions as opposed to the government doing so–even if deeply affected by each.

            Re: Ms. Smith, I don’t claim that she says reporting is bad. I am saying that she says a debate topic that antagonizes them en route to reporting is bad (see: last paragraph re preventing their seeking help when most needed). 

            I won’t dignify with a response your comment that certain abused debaters can just not debate.

            I wasn’t in debate in 2006 and can’t really speak to it. My suspicion is some are self-motivated by wanting a different topic, but that the majority of the most vocal (Chris, Bietz, etc.) are being genuine.

          • Quinn Olivarez

            If you can coherently and rationally illustrate the difference, I’d love to hear that. Seems like you’re trying to split hairs on an issue with a dull knife. The fact of the matter is, if the distinction exists, it’s a pretty superficial one. Like I have said before, maybe this is the product of an activity like debate in which the generally well-off participate and, consequently, don’t have to face the interaction of the legal system and individuals, save for their parent lawyers complaining about work.

            The point I’m making with the ‘debaters can not debate’ argument is directly tied to the issue of uniqueness I’ve raised in several posts. If you re-read them, maybe you’ll understand the issue I’m raising here. Also, Alex Smith makes a good in another thread on this issue that I think is valuable.

            I think Ms. Smith, when talking about the ‘telling them what they need’ stuff, is addressing the act of debating the topic, not the act of a teacher reporting when they think something is wrong at home. Subsequently, I think the point I’m making about the topic potentially acting as the indicator that helps stop domestic abuse makes it immeasurably beneficial.

            I’m not going to call anybody individually out, but like I said, there is a BIG difference in people’s reaction to this topic at this particular time, and I can’t help but think it’s because of the topic timing rather than the topic content. 

          • Anonymous

            The only issue I wish to continue discussing here is the Ms. Smith comment. I think we’re at an impasse on the stuff re: individual v government, but I’m happy to discuss it further in-person if you’re so inclined.

            I agree Ms. Smith is referring to addressing the topic of debate. What I’m saying is that she’s illustrating that using ‘what they need’ in the context of the topic as a way to determine whether they need to be reported would be counter-productive.

            To be clear, I don’t think Ms. Smith is saying reporting is bad. What I do think she’s saying is that having debaters engage the topic so that a teacher/coach can recognize the signs and report the abuse would be counter-productive.

    • Anonymous

      I think there’s an important detail in this email that seems to go overlooked.  If the Executive Director of one of the nation’s largest resource center seems to err neg on the topic (“As for the topic premise, NCADV does not encourage the use of force or violence.”), it seems as if the whole “forces people to take the side of the abuse/ignore the victim’s plight/belittle their experiences” line of argument is sort of silly.  Also, Steven’s question seems rather leading as it implies that the topic would necessarily force victims to tell their story (something that I don’t think is true).  

      • Anonymous

        I think that the Director supports negating does indicate that debaters might not have to trivialize the abuse as much as previously supposed–that’s a fair point. She still concludes, though, that the topic shouldn’t be debated because of its inflammatory nature even with that mitigation.

        I don’t think my question is leading beyond giving context of the situation. I also don’t say debaters would be forced to share their experiences–I say they might have to confront them, Phelan,  which I recall you repeatedly claiming was good in a certain abrasive Facebook thread.

        • Anonymous

          Let me clarify, Steven.  I think that the topic offers an opportunity for everyone (both those personally affected by the topic and those who arent) to confront their biases in regards to the topic/potentially share their experiences (if they are comfortable doing so).  I don’t think I said that victims should be “forced” (your wording — “…such a personal issue will force former victims of abuse to confront their personal trauma…”) to delve into a personal narrative about the topic.  I certainly think such a strategy has value both at a personal level and at a strategic level, but my point was more about the ability of people to confront predispositions on an issue that maybe they aren’t extremely informed about that is relevant to today’s political situation (and will remain relevant presumably into the future).  Also, I didn’t mean to insinuate that you were malicious in your question wording, I just think that the response of the Director (which does provide some support for not debating the topic) seemed to interpret your question as saying “this topic forces victims to tell their personal story and debate it, what do you think?” which i think is unfair.

          • Anonymous

            I disagree with your reading. You assume I mean confront personal trauma in terms of sharing one’s experiences; the way confronting trauma has been discussed elsewhere allows for confrontation via discussing DV in general without sharing one’s specifics. Each is a confrontation, and I did not imply the former.

            I understand how you could come to that reading, but it’s clear to me Ms. Smith didn’t interpret it that way–that’s why she indicated even witnessing a debate on DV could be harmful.

          • Matt Zavislan

            My reading of the email seemed to imply not that Ms.Smith and the NCADV favored the negative, but that it is their belief that the subject is impossible to actually resolve either way because there is no clear answer. 
            Also, while I think discussion of this topic is important, the way in which debaters will tend to interpret it strategically is what worries me. There are lots of arguments about people being hurt and forced to confront their fears and I think its impossible to really come to a conclusion on that discussion because it will be entirely personal. Where I see the biggest problem is that we turn both the abuser and the abused into chess pieces whose actions, emotions and dispositions are strategically manipulated to win rounds. While I certainly think there are ways to avoid or minimize this harm, I also think we are teetering on the edge of a dangerous cliff. I don’t necessarily think that Adler and Phelan are as diametrically opposed as they think, but rather just thinking about the topic on different terms and giving different weight to different issues.

  • Quinn Olivarez

    -Doesn’t changing topics just further engender the problem of silence?
    -I’m pretty sure there are non-offensive ways of negating this topic. The word pic can be a debater’s best friend… Can’t debaters just not make offensive arguments, as judges and coaches typically demand of students already?
    -Aren’t the problems of the topic being ‘deeply personal’ pretty non-unique? I mean, couldn’t one have had a relative who was a juvenile tried as an adult and was deeply shaken by the topic at-hand? The same can be said about people who have been punished criminally for drugs, for those who have lost their homes to eminent domain, who have had foreign relatives suffer at the hands of strict sanction enforcement, etc etc. No one was crying out over these topics being overly personal then… seems to me that such a suggestion is a ploy to cause topic change.

    • – Changing topics shifts the discussion to venues more appropriate to the issue, and doesn’t require a victim to choose between debate and confronting these issues on their own terms.  

      – Domestic abuse and similar types of repeated and traumatic abuse are uniquely and deeply personal.  This may reflect our unique culture, but then so be it; we are in our culture and there’s little point denying that we’re far far far more likely to have a debater affected by domestic abuse than the other topics.  Eminent domain and even deaths of loved ones, no matter the circumstances, do not leave nearly the psychological or emotional burdens that continued abuse do.  The drug abuse topic had the potential to be this kind of a topic too, I admit, but wasn’t phrased in nearly such stark, personal terms; it talked of society’s responses, not an individual’s actions.   And I can’t believe anyone would seriously compare a history of repeated domestic abuse with losing a home to eminent domain….

      – That implies the only mechanism we have for talking about topics is debate.  It is not.  These topics are already privileged.  We’re dealing with minors here, and questions of their privacy.  Do you go  around asking people in the halls if they’re domestic abuse victims?  Then why make victims or past victims debate it in such a way that could unveil their status? I agree domestic violence is a good topic to spotlight, but the mechanism of the debate round is a terrible one to do it in.  Switch side debate implies that both sides can be equally approached by most participants.  That is simply untrue on this topic; it may be true of other topics, as it was of the PF mosque topic, and if it were true I’d encourage those who saw it so to speak out as well.

      Lastly, most debate coaches and teachers are mandated reporters by law.  That means if they suspect, or have reason to believe, abuse is occurring they are required by law to report it to authorities.  Should they report if a debate reads a narrative a little too well?

      Basically this kind of topic takes a substantial class of people and makes them choose between debate and their own privacy or legal and professional responsibilities.  Some will bravely decide to go forward and tell their stories, and that’s laudable.  But there will be a silent and significant group of those who don’t, and can’t.  No matter how sensitively we as a community treat the topic, there simply will be collateral damage, and it will damage we don’t even see as we inflict it.  

      • Quinn Olivarez

        -The first of your two arguments necessarily rely on the legitimacy of domestic abuse being unique in its impact on debaters. Like I said before, this swings one of two ways, both of which I don’t think you’re paying adequate lip-service to. Either:
        A) The uniqueness is lacking, which I think is the most compelling problem. Firstly, there’s no evidence to suggest that debate students are more likely to have experienced the trauma of domestic abuse over, say, watching a loved one (like a sibling or cousin) who is a juvenile go to prison for a lifetime because of an act committed as a juvenile. The same can be said for the debater who has a relative go to prison over a drug-abuse offense and suffer unending physical and psychological torture in the penal system. The whole ‘the topic talked about society’s response’ doesn’t make the problem any better – social judgment is something deeply effectual and can be damaging, too. Don’t make claims about something you can’t back up, and about an issue in which you may not understand the emotional complications involved. I think a compelling case can be made for the lack of uniqueness, on almost ANY topic.But even if I’m wrong on the uniqueness issue,B) The uniqueness indicates the privileged nature of debate. This suggests it’s easy to talk about problems when we de-personalize them, because at that point we can engage in debates over body count or policy issues without having our feelings hurt (this isn’t meant to say I see the victims of domestic abuse as having their feelings hurt). This mindset to me is deeply problematic; it numbs kids and teachers alike to the reality of suffering and consequence, something that is a pervasive and troubling issue in society today.-The issue of privacy is a bit more compelling than the uniqueness issue, but to me, still must undergo the scrutiny of uniqueness, and like I said, I think there are positions one can take on this topic when negating that do not cause a conflict of opinion. At least not any more so than on any other topic. Furthermore, if I’m a teacher and the engagement of this topic causes me to notice a pattern of behavior that suggests a student of mine is a victim of domestic abuse when I was previously blind to such a fact, I think that the topic becomes beneficial in that regard inasmuch as it can help to end the abuse.

        -The reporting issue is also a bit tricky, but what’s the real damage that comes from falsely reporting when one’s instincts are wrong when compared to the positive benefits that come from correctly reporting on one’s instincts?

        Like I said, changing topics further engenders the problem of silence, and I think the last two points I make here point out how the engagement of this topic can serve to correct problems that are currently in the margins of thought. That aside, the issue of uniqueness either is untrue, or is true, which could potentially be worse in the long-run.

        • I wonder if you’re really listening to yourself, or just trying to cover the flow.
          The uniqueness, if it be called that, is empiric.  I’ve seen the effect it’s had on my friends.  I’ve seen the effect it’s had on my students.  I’ve never responded to a topic like this before, and I’ve never seen a debate team react this way to a topic before.  I’m not entirely sure if I will ever vote for a
          topical neg myself.
          This isn’t theory.  This is life.  We’ve gone so far as to notify our guidance department that this topic could pose a problem.  They agreed.  The executive director of a leading victims advocacy group agrees.
          I wasn’t coaching LD in 2006; I was in extempland then.  But I’d never have written this topic as even an extemp question, which a student would have to deal with for only 40 minutes, and could decline to choose.
          Perhaps I’m more sensitive to it in particular, for a number of reasons.  Perhaps the debate community is more in touch with this issue than issues of criminal justice and drug abuse.  We can pretend our context doesn’t exist all we like, but essentially that means telling DV victims to suck it up and cope because others have had to.  A lack of response for one potential injustice does not mean we forfeit the right to be silent for all of them.  If someone had felt that previous topics were difficult or impossible for some groups to debate, I would have been behind them.  I spoke actively against the mosque PF topic for exactly the same reason.
          I’m hearing subtext here that domestic abuse is only being objected to because, to put it bluntly, it’s a White People Problem, and that we’re only sensitive to it because it hits home.  That’s callous, to say the least, but it’s also untrue.  Rates of reported domestic abuse are far greater among lower income families, despite reporting rates likely being lower.  Don’t assume the people objecting to this topic are speaking from a position of privilege.  I have extensive first hand  experience in my family with drug abuse, poverty, and the criminal justice system.  I also have personal experience of discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexuality. 
          And again, I’ve never reacted to a topic this way.  Ultimately you’re trying to deny me and others the uniqueness of our emotional reaction to a topic.  When I say it’s undebatable for me and for others, you cannot prove to me that I’m wrong.  If we have other topics that are widely undebateable, or even perhaps narrowly so, maybe we need to look again at the way we choose topics.
          If we really want to stick it to the Man, let’s debate the estate tax topic.  If someone really want to start questioning my warrants as to whether a domestic abuse victim’s suffering is less or more than a overly taxed heir, they should really quit debate and interact with people more.