Shattering The Lens

A Thoughtful Look Into Things

Archive for Public Forum

Resolved: United Nations peacekeepers should have the power to engage in offensive operations.

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Resolved:United Nations peacekeepers should have the power to engage in offensive operations.

I don’t even know what to say anymore. This is a sorely misguided topic. The UN regularly conducts offensive operations. The “peacekeeping” forces also regularly conduct offensive activities to carry out their duties. The symbolic code of engagement which theoretically prevents them from doing so is just that, a symbolic code. While their express mission is to “keep the peace,” the reality on the ground is never that simple, as anyone who has served in the armed forces will attest. Not only that, this is such an absurdly broad topic that there’s no way to actually debate it. What sort of situation would merit an offensive operation? What restrictions would there be on that operation? Is the resolution saying that the U.N. should basically have an independent military force called the peacekeepers? I hate this topic. It sucks in every way.

Definitions

U.N. Peacekeepers – The U.N. has a peacekeeping force that is sent into conflict areas. This force often delivers aid, oversees compliance with U.N. directives, and generally tries to maintain peace in the region

Power – I’m not sure what it means for a U.N. force to have the power to do something. Does this mean their rules of engagement should be changed? Does this mean they need security council approval to carry out the operation? Or does this mean they should be allowed to act independently as they see fit? I mean, technically, they have the power now since they have guns and such. This is one of the many reasons this topic is awful.

Offensive Operations – This is also unclear. An offensive operation is clearly one that is not carried out in self-defense, but there can be many different types of offensive operations. Would the invasion of a country be an offensive operation covered under the resolution? What about attacking encampments? In order for an operation to be defensive, technically there has to be an “enemy.” Who defines the enemy? Or should the peacekeepers be allowed to attack who they see fit? Is simply delivering aid to a region an offensive operation against the oppressive side?

Case Positions

Pro

1. Military peacekeeping requires offense – Defensive measures will never maintain peace. True peace requires the aggressor to be defeated. Therefore, in order to truly carry out their directive, U.N. peacekeepers should have the power to carry out offensive operations.

2. Preemptive attacks – In order to be most effective in protecting themselves, peacekeepers must be able to preemptively strike. Currently, they must wait until they are attacked (even though they really don’t have to) in order to defend themselves. If the attacks could be prevented in the first place, everyday

Con

1. Abuse of Power – U.N. peacekeepers are not a military force and should not be allowed to be one. The U.N., effectively ruled by the five nations on the security council, should not have a military which carry out offensive operations. That opens the door to vast potential for abuses of power.

2. Peacekeeping Mission – Conducting offensive operations takes away resources and attention from other peacekeeping operations like providing aid. Even though the directive of the peacekeepers would change, the resources available to them would not. Sacrificing vital operations for the sake of offensive ones is not an appropriate direction to go.

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Resolved: For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.

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Resolved:For-profit prisons in the United States should be banned.

I’m not sure how I feel about this topic. On the one hand, I think the “real world” debate surrounding for-profit prisons is quite boring. The theoretical debate about human rights and the principles of fair retribution is quite interesting, though. The debates on this topic may not necessarily have direct clash, so debaters should probably focus on having solid frameworks in place which explain the importance of the points they’re making. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the topic.

Definitions

For profit prisons – A for-profit prison is a private prison that is contracted by the government for imprisoning people. Private prisons charge fees for the internment of prisoners, and so, are free to make profits and distribute those profits as they choose. Because they are private, these prisons are often better funded and of higher quality than government prisons. That being said, being private means they aren’t necessarily subject to the same rules as regulations as government prisons. That doesn’t mean, however, that they can’t be subject to those same rules. It’s important to note that it is not up to the debaters to defend the status quo of private prisons, which is why the theoretical points can be particularly effective for this topic.

Should – We all know what this word means, but it’s important to call it out because it will define the framework of the case for this topic. Debaters must first determine how a government/society decides what it should do. Is the economic impact the driving motivator? Or is it something else, like considerations of human rights?

Case Positions

Pro

1. Human Dignity – Even though these people are prisoners, they are still human beings who deserve to serve their sentences with dignity. Private prisons result in people being treated entirely as commodities. They are tools used by the prisons to make profits, and people shouldn’t be used strictly as tools for profit. It is akin to a slave trade in which human beings are simply commodities.

2. Inappropriate Lobby – Private prisons rely on incarceration to make their money. If people don’t go to jail, private prisons don’t make money. This opens up an entirely new avenue for corruption and lobbying. There now exists an entity which will profit from an increase in crime, and it is inevitable that some parts of that entity will not be averse to doing what it takes to maximize those profits. Not to mention, private prisons are free to charge “no crime” taxes to the government for unused cells or low occupancy rates, which also motivates the justice system to incarcerate more people.

Con

1. Saving the Government Money – Private prisons often safe the government money. They are very low cost methods of incarcerating lower risk individuals that the government can ill afford to house like illegal immigrants and non-violent juvenile felons. Not only are the costs of running these prisons lower, but the government also doesn’t have to pay for their construction.

2. Higher Quality Prisons – Like with other things that aren’t run by the government, private prisons afford the opportunity for higher quality prisons. They allow for the implementation of techniques and facilities that the government cannot afford to implement on its own. Competition also spurs the development of higher quality. Private prisons must compete for government contracts, and whoever provides a better product is going to get the money.

That should help get you started. Good luck!

Resolved: On balance, the benefits of genetically modified foods outweigh the harms.

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Resolved: On balance, the benefits of genetically modified foods outweigh the harms.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more boring debate topic. The racial quality of NFL uniforms comes close, but man, this one definitely takes the cake. I get it, genetically modified foods are a hot topic right now because a lot of butterflies died because of genetically modified corn. But really, we’ve been eating genetically modified everything for ages. Most Americans wouldn’t even recognize the taste of natural food anymore. Alas, we must conduct boring cost benefit analysis and debate this topic, so let’s do it!

Definitions

On Balance – Same as the last resolution, this means “overall” or “all things considered.” Look at the whole picture. Anecdotal evidence won’t cut it here.

Genetically modified foods – This term is pretty self explanatory. Scientists, in labs, manipulate the genetics of food to get the type of food they want. For example, if there’s a gene in a plant that makes it resilient to droughts, that gene can be taken and put into another plant. These genetic modifications create genetically modified foods which are enhanced for the qualities that people want.

Case Positions

Pro

1. Benefits to Human Life – GM foods are resilient. Foods can be engineered to grow, and even thrive, in otherwise desolate climates and parts of the world. This is an invaluable benefit to third world nations, societies suffering from drought, and cold regions of the world where crops do not easily grow. The benefit of promoting human life by feeding people is basically outweighed by anything else.

2. Sustainability – Because genes are passed down as plants reproduce, GM foods are sustainable. You only need to create one generation of super-cucumber, and then it will continue to exist. Sustainable, reliable crops are necessary in a world in which agriculture is quickly dying. GM foods are a great replacement from processed pre-packaged food which is becoming increasingly popular in the modern world. What could be better than sustainable agriculture?

Con

1. Gene Transfer Risks – We don’t know what the results of gene transfer could do. We could create new allergens, inadvertently kill someone, or many other things. The problem here isn’t that the risk is a harm, but that the potential for harm is the harm. It’s unnecessary. We need to know and understand what GM foods will actually do before they’re allowed in the public marketplace. What if a kid with a peanut allergy eats a carrot with peanut genes and suffers an allergic reaction?

2. Unintended Consequences to Nature – Nature, and agriculture, depend on sustained ecosystems. As the example of the monarch butterflies demonstrates, we don’t know what impact these genetic modifications will have on these ecosystems. Although unintentional, GM foods could very well end up destroying the ecosystems upon which farmers depend. What will we do without the butterflies?!

Resolved: On balance, public subsidies for professional athletic organizations in the United States benefit their local communities.

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Resolved: On balance, public subsidies for professional athletic organizations in the United States benefit their local communities.

Wow, two good topics, PF and LD. I don’t want to speak too soon, but it looks like the NFL is getting its act together. This is actually a pretty contentious topic with decent evidence on both sides. I only hope that it doesn’t turn into a fact vomiting contest like the national finals of 2010. Let’s start with the definitions.

Definitions

1Public Subsidies for Professional Athletic Organizations – Simply stated, this is government money that goes to private athletic organizations. The government pays for, in whole or in part, for particular expenses for a sports organization. These expenses can include building stadiums, buying uniforms, training camps, among other things. Typically, the government gets some sort of return built into this investment, such as a percentage of ticket sales.

2. Local Communities – The local community is really what you would think it is. It’s the immediate locality associated with the sports organizations. So, the local community for the St. Louis Rams would be St. Louis.

3. Benefit – This will really be the crux of any case for this topic. You will need to define what it means for something to benefit a local community. The most successful debaters on this topic will have a very clear definition for this and will frame their arguments within that definition.

Case Positions 

Con

1. The Economic Benefit Doesn’t Exist – Families typically spend a fixed budget on entertainment. The increase in sales to local sports teams doesn’t actually indicate an economic uptick. Instead, it just indicates a reallocation of spending that was already occurring in other entertainment venues. If anything, newly funded government sports ventures harm local businesses, often irreversibly.

2. Sports subsidies draw money away from important areas – There are much better things that government could be spending this money on. Education, infrastructure, sustainable energy, and many other things are proven economic stimulants which can benefit from public money. Sports spending creates artificial temporary booms that do not last and harm other important areas. Even if there is an economic benefit, it is outweighed by the harm that occurs as a result of money being diverted.

Pro

1.  Sports subsidies create immediate stimulus – Large sports projects create jobs and increase local spending. In areas where the economy has stagnated, this stimulant is a necessary boost to create economic activity. This economic benefit spreads to local businesses through increased traffic and capital movement. In short, sports subsidies provide overall economic benefit.

2. Sports subsidies provide emotional benefit – The benefit of community emotional health is a unique perk of sports subsidies. Sports are unlike any other entertainment industry in the scale of community activity and gathering they inspire. They provide for an emotional fervor which spreads into all other aspects of society. This emotional benefit translates into lower healthcare costs, less crime, and more vibrant local businesses.

I hope this helps you get started. Good luck!

Resolved: Single-gender classrooms would improve the quality of education in American public schools.

Resolved: Single-gender classrooms would improve the quality of education in American public schools.

This topic is stupid, offensive, and antiquated. Also, it’s empirically false. We know that it’s empirically false, and yet, here we are, debating nonsense. Let me start by getting the potential points of definition debate out in the open, and then, we can pretend like those points don’t exist, and try to come up with coherent case positions.

What is gender? Especially in the modern world, how would you define a single-gender classroom? Are homosexuals a different gender? What about transgender kids? Do we put all of them in a separate classroom?

What is a “single gender classroom” referring to? Does that mean the whole school is single-gender? Does that mean that boys and girls go to the same school but separate when they go to classes? I’m actually not quite sure.

How do you define the quality of education? Is it measured by standardized test scores? Is it measured by a population’s innovations? Is it measured by economic prosperity? Or is it something entirely different? Again, I’m not quite sure there’s a good answer to this.

Alright, with all that in mind, let’s assume we’re going to use generic emotional definitions for the above and come up with case positions.

Pro

1. It prevents distractions – Because students clearly have uncontrollable libidos, and that is the main thing preventing them from getting a good quality education, we need to separate males from females. It prevents distractions so that students can focus on their education. This, in turn, will lead to a better education because students will learn more.

2. Single-gender private schools perform better – Standardized test scores, college acceptance rates, etc… are all greater among single-gender private schools. CLEARLY, this is because these schools are single-gender, and not because they’re better funded, located in higher class socioeconomic areas, and run by people with great connections. Therefore, it only makes sense that single-gender classrooms will lead to higher quality education.

Con

1. Gender isn’t even an issue – American public school education suffers from a variety of ailments, none of which are related to the proximity of boys to girls. Single-gender classrooms won’t do anything. The quality of education will actually stay exactly the same.

2. Separate isn’t equal – Equality is essential in our public school system, and separate schooling is inherently unequal. It will cause disparities in gender education and eventually lead to a socioeconomic divide, like it has everywhere else in the world where this is practiced.

Ok, real talk, con wins. Why? Because Pro is false. Sorry NFL, that’s just how the real world works.

I hope you can come up with some creative positions….or have super conservative judges, because otherwise, the Pro has a long uphill battle to win this topic.

Resolved: Development assistance should be prioritized over military aid in the Sahel region of Africa.

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Resolved: Development assistance should be prioritized over military aid in the Sahel region of Africa.

I’m not sure why the resolution specifies the Sahel region; it should probably just say Sudan, or Darfur. In any case, I’m not sure how I feel about this resolution. It doesn’t actually pose an interesting question, nor does it pose one that doesn’t have a correct answer. It’s also a situation that doesn’t exist in reality. In order for prioritization to be a problem, two things have to come in conflict. Why can’t we provide both? Or neither? I also say “we,” but the resolution doesn’t actually specify an actor, which is another big problem. Who is providing the assistance?

Definitions

1. Sahel Region - You should just google this to find a map. The region spans across Africa near the north. It includes the south of Sudan.

2. Development Assistance – This type of assistance focuses on development. It may include things like economic provisions, infrastructure development, technology, consulting, etc…

3. Military Aid – This is fairly straightforward. Military aid involves providing either direct military intervention or military resources to a particular group.

Pro

1. The goal is to solve the problem – Many of the regions issues are caused by resource scarcity. Conflicts in this region of the world are power struggles for what little the land has to offer. If we just provide military aid, the conflict will never stop because the development of the region will not progress; different people will just inherit the same conflict that exists now. As such, development assistance must be prioritized.

2. Just War Theory – JWT dictates that we cannot provide military aid in this region of the world. Military intervention, of any sort, does not fulfill the 5 contingencies of Just War Theory. There is not a just cause, atleast from the U.S. perspective. There is not a reasonable chance of success, and the force is not proportional to the wrong being done.

Con

1. What’s the Point? – Development assistance will be useless in this region because the people who need it will not be able to access it. Military aid needs to be provided first in order to stabilize the region before any additional development can hope to be successful.

2. We shouldn’t be providing anything – The notion of aid is misleading. Historically, intervention of any kind has been much more harmful to such areas of the world than it has been helpful. As a result, there should be no prioritization. Aid should not be provided. People should be allowed to exercise their self determination and develop nations on their own. Self determinate nations have proven to be the most successful.

Resolved: The benefits of domestic surveillance by the NSA outweigh the harms.

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Resolved: The benefits of domestic surveillance by the NSA outweigh the harms.

This is a very difficult topic, mostly because the affirmative is just factually untrue. That being said, we still need to figure out a way to argue that side, so let’s talk about the topic.

I don’t think this topic merits definitions because the words are all straightforward. What does merit discussion is the word “outweigh.” Remember, you have to prove that the harms outweigh the benefits (or that they don’t). What this means is that it is not enough to provide a list of harms or benefits, but you need to prove that one set is actually more important than the other.

For example, suppose the resolution said that the benefits of cocaine use outweigh the harms. If I said that cocaine use decrease blood pressure, increases overall happiness, and improves heart health, that wouldn’t exactly prove that the benefits outweigh the harms. I’d need to explain to you why these benefits are more important than all the harms of cocaine use.

Similarly, you can’t just get up there and say that surveillance helps prevent terrorism. You need to explain why that is more important than the harms that it creates.

Alright, with that, let’s talk about case positions.

Pro

1. Surveillance has saved lives, and life outweighs everything else – NSA surveillance has led to apprehending terrorists and fugitives, and preventing attacks against innocent U.S. citizens. These lives saved amount to a benefit that cannot be outweighed because the lives and security of a people are a government’s first priorities and cannot be overridden by other concerns.

2. What harms? - NSA surveillance activities do not have harms. The innocent do not have to be concerned about surveillance. If you don’t commit a crime, you will be fine. Mistakes which have occurred in the past have been corrected. The benefits, however, are improved security and safety for the American people, which clearly outweighs an entire lack of harms.

Con

1. What benefits? – NSA surveillance has not directly prevented any harm to U.S. citizens domestically or abroad. Intelligence which has been used in preventing terrorist attacks has been gained through other investigative agencies and intelligence gathering mechanisms. Therefore, the notion that NSA surveillance is valuable is a myth. Conversely, surveillance directly violates innocent citizens’ rights to privacy and even property (if intellectual property is no longer private). These harms are not outweighed.

2. Surveillance harms the innocent – Countless innocent citizens have been arrested and/or incarcerated as a result of NSA surveillance. If somebody makes an off-color joke or discusses a particular political issue, they immediately become a suspect. This has happened so often that the TSA has even included a “no jokes” item in their airport instructions. The reality is that NSA surveillance is directly counterproductive to justice and protection of individual rights, the cornerstones of the United States government. These harms cannot be outweighed.