Thursday, April 17, 2014

In which the Bronxwegians croon, "Come Fly With Me"

Although I traveled on my own heading west, I came back on the same flight as the Bronx team. This was, of course, a mistake any sane person would have avoided. Flying with the Bronx team is a leap of faith most people are unwilling to take. There are special apps for the iPhone that list all the flights the Bronx is potentially going to be on for any given day, so that everyone else can avoid them.

We were scheduled to take off at 5:15. Then 5:45. Then it was anybody’s guess as they announced mechanical difficulties, which is something you never want to hear in regards to getting a machine the size of an apartment building off the ground and keeping it off the ground for 2000 miles or so. With you in it. Then there was the other plane they were flying in, just in case this one was totally unflyable. Then they started serving pizza! From the looks of it (I had already eaten by now), it was crappy pizza, but what do you expect? Airline food is airline food, both on the ground and in the air. And if they start thinking that the passengers are all about to pass out from hunger any minute and start flinging free food at them, you know they’re not particularly sanguine about the chances of taking off any time soon.

Of course, the Bronx Scientologists had no difficulty putting away the pizza, they being adolescents and pizza being, well, pizza, no matter how you slice it. When they finally certified that the original busted airplane was busted no longer and dared us to board, we all sheepishly headed down the gangplank, fingers crossed, and squeezed ourselves on board. Mirabile dictu, the middle seat next to me—I was in the window seat—was vacant for the flight, allowing me to spread out a tiny bit. As it turned out, the flight was from that point uneventful, and aside from the fact that I got home at about 3:30 a.m., I can’t complain too much.

I’ve been sleeping ever since.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In which we judge PF in Utah and religion in general

Here’s the thing. If you’re in Utah in the morning, don’t count on being able to find coffee. You may, or you may not. At Weber, host of the NDCA, they served an elaborate breakfast on both days, entirely caffeine free. Nonetheless, there was a Starbucks open for a couple of hours in the student center, plus a secret location unbeknownst to the students for “judge coffee,” thus raising the question of how evil the Mormons think a grande skim milk latte really is. Maybe old Joe Smith just didn’t have a taste for coffee. Beats me. Of course, there’s also bans against alcohol (although I wasn't expecting them to serve alcohol for breakfast). The effects of demon rum seem a lot more manifest than the effects of demon cups of joe, and there probably is some balance where the two, taken together, average into normality, but I understand this one better. I gather that you can’t walk into a restaurant and order demon rum unless you also order some grub to go with it. That’s a state law. If I recollect correctly, SLC is a lot drier (on both the java and demon rum fronts) than the burbs like Ogden, forty-five minutes’ drive away. But I’m not casting aspersions at the Mormons. I did have a conversation with someone over the weekend who was talking about his fasting for lent, specifically Roman Catholic meatless Fridays. The night before he had gone out for a full course meal featuring what he claimed was excellent grilled shrimp. I’m fairly sure that when the Vatican came up with meatless Fridays, it wasn’t suggesting giving up pate de fois gras in favor of beluga caviar. I guess I could give Pope Frankie a ring and ask his opinion on all of this, but I can already predict his answer: “What do I know?” Jeesh. Anybody can be infallible if they never actually answer the question!

Oh, well. Enough religion for one entry.

I was at the tournament ostensibly to judge PF for Bronx Science, and judge PF I did. Not a lot, because there were a lot of judges, but enough to earn my keep. The speed was a little surprising, but nothing terrible, and after all, one ought to be able to go full-bore at a national championship. There were some odd arguments, but nothing crazy. Quite honestly, the only difficult thing was keeping everybody straight on the electronic ballot, not, I would suggest, a problem specific to the E version of the beast. No wonder so many poor parents are hopelessly confused about who they voted for. My recommendation for any PF team is to have some really memorable gimmick to make you stand out. I voted for the team with the mullets, or I voted for the team with the snoods, or I voted for the team in the plus fours—these are the kinds of statements that help certify that the correct decision was rendered. Other than that, I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know. If you want to win, pick the best arguments and weigh them against your opponents' arguments. Don’t pick every argument, because if each team has three voters based on different criteria, I have no choice but to decide for myself what was important. As a rule, you don’t want your judges in that position. Decide for them what’s important, if you want them to vote for you. Anyhow, I didn’t change my opinion of PF, aside from thinking that I need to rework my team materials just a bit, moving my advanced suggestions to the initial suggestions page. That’ll give me something to do to fill the empty hours of the summer.

Although I wasn’t tabbing, I did mostly hang out with Kaz and Bietz in the tab room when I had free time. Good conversations about all sorts of things: I miss talking to Bietz since we let TVFT dwindle off, and I haven’t been in the same state with him since Bronx in 2012. CP was also marginally helping tab from Massachusetts, and when a minor problem or two arose, he was able to sort it out. This whole not-being-in-the-room-to-tab is rather amazing, possibly the best tabroom feature of them all. Now if CP could only get the program to serve coffee in certain states where it is otherwise unavailable, he could consider the job done.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In which we begin to talk about NDCA

This last weekend was my first NDCA as a board member. The event remains dominated by policy, and for many circuit coaches it serves as their culminating event. There’s apparently no love lost between some folks and the TOC, but to be honest, I really don’t know much about the genesis of NDCA so I can’t go into any real detail. But I like the idea of an organization for coaches, first and foremost. And I like the idea of a traveling tournament. This year it was in Ogden, Utah, a gorgeous spot north of Salt Lake City surrounded by snowcapped mountains. The venue was Weber State College, which was a phenomenal host, which hosted NDA not long ago, proving their ability to put on a good show. The next couple of NDCA Championships are, first, Las Vegas, and then Orlando. I can’t get too wildly excited about the Orlando one, though. The tournament is around Easter break every year, which means wall-to-wall people at WDW, not really worth the battle. But then again, there’s enough fun venues of the non-Disney persuasion to keep things interesting.

I flew out early on Friday because I wanted to participate in the opening night reception. Good flight out into sunny, warm weather, looking out the window at those forbidding mountains and thinking when you reach SLC that, yep, if I were Brigham Young, I would have stopped here too. Found Ogden and the hotel easily enough, thanks to the aid of my trusty Google map GPS, found Kaz easily enough, thanks to the aid of my trusty text message service, and immediately headed out for a snack, knowing the evening was going to be something of a gastronomic bust. We found a nice place and secured a dinner reservation for the following night; we know a good thing when we see one.

There was a short board meeting at 6, at which we talked about this and that, nothing earth-shattering. I did get agreement to proceed with the website update. Then we headed off to the reception, which wasn’t very well attended—maybe the potential reception attendees, realizing what state the town was in, knew in advance that the Hawaiian Punch really was just Hawaiian Punch—but following that was an 8:00 panel discussion that drew a full house. The agenda subjects were women in debate, privilege and inclusion and the student advocate, and communications, but mostly we talked about inclusion and race. I have to admit that I was in some back pain and a bit zonked by the time change and the long day, so I contributed virtually nothing to the discussion. But I enjoyed hearing it. These are subjects about which there is a lot of controversy, not necessarily about people being excluded, but how to deal with it, and what is and isn’t appropriate for the high school community. Listening and exchanging opinions in person can be a lot more effective than sending emails, in which the tone and sense aren’t always clear. Also, in emails, it’s awfully easy to move away from one topic to another and lose some important areas off to the side. That’s one reason why I want to do broadcasting, where live interaction can take the place of written communication. Written is good, but finding the right medium for a subject at hand is important, if you want to get beyond just opining.

After the panel I had a short talk with J Alston about MJP (which I’ll explain eventually in some update notes about the subject as a whole), and then went off to bed to try to regain myself for the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

In which we ponder size

Final-editing Nostrum has been mostly fun. I’ve said this before, but I really had no idea that the original series was quite that long. When you put it all together it will easily be over two million words, quite outpacing War and Peace, the inevitable albeit perhaps tired length standard. It’s more like Game of Thrones length if you need a more modern comparison, and, sadly, just as incomplete. Except I make no pretense of ever adding new episodes. I might, but I doubt it. I don’t know enough about debate anymore to talk about it in such depth. There are also, unlike GOT, neither dragons nor naked people in Nostrum, a real oversight on my part, I admit, but they did not have those in debate back in my day. The last episode I was working on, 110 or so, was published in March of 1999. Which means that it was written before literally all of next year’s novices were born.

I’m nothing if not relevant and up-to-the-minute.

Anyhow, I’m still pushing to get it out by September as a free e-book. Whether anyone wants it or not is another question, but nobody writes that much and doesn’t take care to preserve it, if possible.

I’m mostly packed for NDCA. Needless to say, the three pairs of socks are the easy part; it’s the decision about which devices that challenges the mind. I noticed with a tear that CP had ported the LD and PF data over to tabroom, where I will not be working on it. Sigh. There seems to be a long stretch of restaurants behind the tournament hotel, which is a good thing. I do hope there’s an Indian restaurant, as I have a feeling all judging all those PF rounds is going to put me in the mood for some rogan josh. (No, not chicken tikka masala, a thoroughly English dish that’s never really appealed to me.)

Needless to say, the interwebs are rife with impassioned pleas and condemnations and whatnot over who’s not getting into the national tournaments for whatever reason. I just happened to notice this by accident as I was trying to get some transportation data on the Utah trip. All the usual suspects are pretty much in place, bandying about half-truths and suppositions and serious concerns willy-nilly, which really doesn’t serve anybody in the long run (and, most likely, doesn’t get anyone into TOC in the short run). Although the means have changed, it has ever been thus. I think back to all the nonsense on the old ld-l (excluding, of course, the magnificent announcements about this week’s Nostrum), and how there were times you just had to turn it off or go bats. Probably before computers the airing of the grievances was conducted in hieroglyphs on papyrus scrolls. I have a little patience with the adolescents involved, blaming it on their youth; the adults, on the other hand, ought to know better, not necessarily to hold the opinions they hold, which may be correct, but to jump into the playground and declaim them as fervently as any 16-year-old. Seriously now. (Not to mention those with no portfolio whatsoever.) It’s a master class in internet trolling that repeats every year or so over some horror or other, real or perceived. I guess the folks in San Juan Capistrano feel this way every year around St. Joseph’s day. They expect the swallows, but sometimes they forget to wear a hat that day, with the inevitable results…

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

In which we stew

Because I’m involved in some serious discussions of case content, I thought I’d watch some LD rounds. And I tried, lord knows I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t follow them. In a word, I’m am finished. I can’t analyze what’s right/wrong in LD if I can’t follow it from word one. [Sigh.]

In a way, this causes me to care a little less than I should. I hear the pleas of people who claim they are trampled on one way or the other, then I try to get an understanding of it and my only thought is that, if you can find yourself being trampled in this meaningless wash of words where as soon as someone finishes talking the other person grabs the flash drive to get a copy of their case to read it and find out what was said, you’re a more patient person than I am. I’ve always maintained that speed per se is not a bad thing, if you’re willing to isolate the tiniest of audiences for what you’re saying. In LD, where a lot of people are complaining about certain judges and certain ideas, and claiming that those judges and ideas are ruining debate, at the same time we’ve created an activity that is intelligible only to those judges. At the point where control has already been wrested from the coaches, the coaches have a job of work ahead of them getting that control back.

Talking about the problems in debate can be frustrating. Talking about anything with debate people can be frustrating, let’s face it, but as a general rule you can at least take them to account with not answering arguments. But in the discussions I’ve been having, the distrust and mistrust and general negative feelings have been enervating. But I guess this has been building over a long time. It will take a long time to fix, if it’s fixable.

Even the simple stuff seems to engender arguments. There isn’t much I’ve said about MJP that strikes me as particularly far out. CP has been helpful to me privately in differentiating my own experience from the policy universe, so I’m more than willing to limit my conclusions to the LD community. To wit, we’re already limiting the pool to the top third or so of the judges 93% of the time, or put another way, 7% of all rounds are 3-3 or worse (and that includes 1-2s). That 4% of rounds are 3-3s has, to my mind, rendered the idea of tossing 3-3s for 1-2s relatively moot: it’s virtually a statistical deviation not worth arguing about (especially when you realize that some of them don’t have 1-2s to fall back on). And when I made that statement publicly, I was excoriated for some sort of mathematical heartlessness. No one’s bothered to try to understand what I’ve been saying would be worthy of a best practice, to set whatever number of tiers makes sense if there’s 8 or 9 or so in each tier. 3 tiers? Fine. 11 tiers? Fine. No one’s bothered to understand that preffing isn’t limited to circuit teams, and certainly no one’s worried about the effect of preffing on teams that don’t pref, which tend to be traditional/conservative but who, by not preffing, get circuit judges unfriendly to their style, or at least more friendly to their opponent’s circuit style. Everybody immediately wants to try some other way, which will probably be no better or worse than what we have, before we’ve really looked at the way we have it. I daresay the first numbers I’ve seen on MJP were the ones I posted myself. This is new stuff, but there’s an awful lot of egos in the coaching room who have it all figured out how to do it better, based on... What? I don’t know. When I argue with CP about the math, for God’s sake, the man’s a freakin’ mathematician! He enlightens me. But when I hear from some other people who haven’t run 10 billion tournaments, much less written the software to run 10 billion tournaments, I’ve got to wonder.

Oh, well. I needed to get this out of my system. I’m going to Utah with a goal of coming out with some avenues for better communication among coaches. I needed to put this rant aside before somebody hits me over the head with a frying pan.

Onward.

Monday, April 07, 2014

In which we plan to head West

I’m getting ready for NDCA next weekend in Ogden, Utah.

First, there’s a tentative website switch from the present WordPress site. I ported that site over to Squarespace.com this weekend, and most of it came over fine, if not exactly where I wanted it. That’s a good start. Mostly all I have to do is convince the board to spend $8 a month where now they’re spending $0 a month. Honestly, I think most of them would kill to get my cockamamie blog off the front page, which a switch would do, so $8 should seem well worth it to them.

There’s also a panel on Friday night, ostensibly about communication. I have a feeling it will devolve into a discussion of what anyone wants to discuss. Nothing wrong with that.

There’s also a Council of Tournament Directors kicking around, and I’d like to get in on that. Having put together the Toolkit makes me at the very least an interested party.

And then, of course, there’s the job I’m going there to do, which is to cover some PF judging from the Bronx HS of Scientology. Having been basically barred from tab because I’m on the board, aside from hanging out with Kaz, I think I’ll actually see some rounds. This is good, because it means I will marginally know what I’m doing next year when I start up coaching the event again. O’C has asked me to rent a van so that I can transport some of his judge thugs around, so I guess I’ll be doing that too. And breathing that clean Utah air blowing off the mountains. And, I hope, getting together with some people I’ve been talking to online about some very serious issues to discuss them in person.

After that, I am officially done for the season, although I think I’ll have my hands filled with the results of all the various discussions. But I will be switching here mostly to DisAd14 mode. If there’s one thing I know about the VCA, they may be forensicians at heart, but when the tournament is over, they really want to go to Disney World.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

In which we end the season with blank stares

As always, we ended the season in a trivial fashion. It was debaters vs. Speecho-Americans all the way, and I’d guess I’d have to say that the S-As won it in the end. It was a bleak, albeit entertaining evening. Apparently today’s adolescents have not seen a movie older than Expendables III (coming out this coming August), read a book not written by J.K. Rowling, or seen a TV show without a character named Spongebob. They’ve never traveled further than the outskirts of town, think Michelangelo is French, thereby assuming that someone else wallpapered the Sistine Chapel, cannot identify a single Rolling Stone, much less the dead one, and think every name they don’t recognize must be a character in Oliver Twist. My “expert” on James Bond films wasn’t able to identify correctly the star of any of them. Amanda Wingfield should have roused at least one S-A, you would think? Blank stares all around. Good luck with your own gentleman callers, ladies.

Try a test:

I am the monarch of the sea
The ruler of the queen’s navy
Whose praise Great Britan loudly chants—


What comes next? If you are not ear-wormed immediately with sisters and cousins (whom he reckons by the dozens) and his aunts, woe is you. Granted, I don’t expect teenagers to get this, but to suggest that it is somehow relevant to a certain Major General put my fellow coach on my little list, needless to say. Still, there were no answers Tuesday to rival the former Bean Trivia all-time classic, identifying a certain green Muppet as Hermit the Crab.

Next time out it’s going to be all Disney. Maybe they can identify which Disney princess doesn’t have a leg to stand on, for instance. I dunno. It’s a tough group.

In which we publish a random list of policy teams from 1999

Philomena Pettigrew and Voluptinia Boynken - Head Trip, CA
Cloakus McGuirker and Bella Bellbell - Peatmoss, NM

Barnabus Blusternoph and Rogan Josh - Lexluthor, MA

Dirk L. Pernicious and Tippitoes Malaprop - Barber College Prep, CA

Baskin and Robbins - George Bernard Shaw, IL

Erhardt Luftwaffemachen and Julio Joop - George Bernard Shaw, IL

Pap Spinachspoon and Leung Ago - Collage Prep, IL

Mordecai de Chevre and Sven Oleo - East Linens, MI

Horrowfonken Bloot and Straussen Waltzen - East Linens, MI

Mick and Ernie McInerney - Old Giveitup, IL

Thronk Fallow and his chorus and orchestra - Pants, TX

Thegre Atgat Sby and Tende Risth Enight - Bellaryourown, CA

Penumbra Brightonian and Salman Spawnin - George Bernard Shaw, IL

Oop Brzsynkfmskwi and Joe a la King - Brophy, AZ

Dermis Pffinchster and Auld Ascii - El Burrito, CA
Flit Zinger and Mano Amano - Head Cold, CA
Ian Out and Peechy Keen—Jesuit Inquisitor Prepatory , TX
Tuckenin Shirtails and Brimly Ornfartor—Uppada Creek High School, CO

(From episode 97 of Nostrum TOS)