Monday, July 27, 2015

In which we bask in the glow

I did very little productive work over the weekend. Having acquired a new Civilization game on my desktop machine, I had no choice but to play it. And as any Civ player can tell you, the best way for the clock to get out of your control is to be deciding whether to build frigates or monuments, and whether to agree to a treaty with George Washington.

Playing Civ was why I showed up late for my own retirement party. Actually, it was my second R.P., having already had one with the present Sailors. They were both great events, but different. Few if any of the kids still in high school brought their babies with them, for instance. A unifying factor was crappy prizes, not surprisingly. You gotta get a gimmick… Given that the rule is that you can’t dispose of crappy prizes, ever, I wonder what I’m going to do with this stuff. Proudly display it, I guess. Behind something else, in a couple of cases.

For some reason the Hud seems to have spawned more than its share of doctor types. Plenty of lawyers too. Financial wizards. A professor or two. Lots of folk still in school, depending on age. Sports commentating. Our ex-pornographer couldn’t make it, unfortunately. Two library science people (one in training, one in the NYPL system) were there. Journalism, film-making, politicking. Some of what I would call good works (probably to balance the pornography). One or two between jobs, which is to be expected in this day and age, where the likelihood of having one career over one’s lifetime, much less working for one company, is practically nil.

On the other hand, at least half of them are living in or moving to Brooklyn. There is one in Astoria, which is the New Brooklyn, and I think that also counts.

Oh, well. I will be savoring this weekend for a long time. And meanwhile, the old Coachean mailbox is beginning to fill with debate mail of one type or another, and the opening gun is this Saturday. We’ll be getting down to business again soon.

It’s about time.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


There are a number of possible captions for this picture.

“Oh my God, they’re headed for the tab room!” is one. “On, no, I accidentally voted for Donald Trump!” is another possibility. You might be able to come up with better ones. Give it a shot.

In reality, this is me looking down off the deck of CLG’s house, and discovering a thundering herd of my ex-debaters shouting, “Surprise!”

I think I look surprised.

Claire pulled it off perfectly. She put together a private group on Facebook and got the invites out, while telling me she and Erin were in town for the briefest moment, and they wanted to take me out to a local restaurant I’ve been wanting to go to. By throwing the party, this means I still haven’t gotten to that local restaurant, but I’m not holding that against them. I had no idea what was really going on.

The VCA knows that I’ve retired from coaching; this party was in honor of that retirement. In a word, I retired because I felt the time had come. I have not yet retired from debate, however, as it now seems that I am tabbing virtually every tournament in the coming season that I tabbed in the previous season. But tabbing and running a team are entirely different animals. But that’s beside the point.

I have never doubted that being a debate coach was a good thing for me. I learned things I would never have dreamt of. I studied books that would otherwise never have come into my house, and argued ideas that are among the most important possible, about how to live in a moral and just fashion, and how to describe a society that is moral and just. Most people don’t do that sort of thing. I should point out that I also have a pretty interesting day job editing books, which also feeds my imagination, and perhaps my intellect, but never as ferociously as debate has. This would not have happened if I had merely done my stint as a parent judge, but the fates allowed me to become a coach, and to take on the responsibility of imparting what knowledge I could to a serendipitous group of high school students for a span of twenty years. It changed my life completely.

The attendees at the party were alums going back to the very beginning of that twenty years. They had come from seriously wide and seriously far; a few sent messages from either wider or further (or, in Noah’s case, from a bus broken down somewhere unknown on the Eastern corridor).  They’re all out of college now, and many are established in their adult careers and lives. Some of them have kids. Most of them seemed pretty happy, and I hope all of them are or soon will be. All of them claimed to have gotten something  life-changing out of debate. For some, it was direction. For others, it was much more.

If you are an educator, this is probably not new to you. For me, I certainly thought I had made a difference in people’s lives, but to actually have those people all together in one place telling me about that difference? It was one of the most emotionally profound days of my life, as simple as that.
I love these people. They are as much a part of my life as can be imagined. I love following their continuing stories on Facebook. I love seeing them in person when the opportunity arises. And I want to thank them, not just for tossing a party for me (although I do thank them for that too), but for letting me into their lives. When all is said and done, I am the biggest winner here.

Thank you.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In which we consider much needed updating

The time has come for me to start updating my website as I go into that brave new non-coaching world. I’ve been holding back because I think it will be a lot of work sorting through things, and more to the point, throwing things away. Anyone can hoard. Saving only the good stuff, especially if the stuff you’re tossing is something you created? Not so simple. I’ll try to start working on it this weekend, as I don’t have much else planned. What a wonderful way to spend a summer day!

Speaking of not tossing stuff I’ve created, I have been plodding through Nostrum 2, although not at a particularly rousing rate of speed. Other things are taking precedence, but I certainly haven’t given up. I guess I’m about halfway through. What I’m really curious about at this point is the N3 material. They were only a handful, and I just sort of knocked them out quickly. What I’ll do with them I’m not sure, beside a quick polish. Mostly it will depend on how much energy I bring to the task. Stretching this whole thing out endlessly has the virtue of not getting me bored with it. I do know one thing, that when I'm revising my website it will be especially hard to figure out how to design the Nostrum stuff, given that there’s online and ebooks and audio and all manner of things overlapping like some really overlappy kind of thing. Oh, well. I’ll figure it out.

Updating sites also probably means updating this page. It’s been a while. Not that I’ve ever changed it too dramatically, but I have made some choices over the years. Whatever. I’ve been at it for ages. The readership fluctuates, but there still remains a loyal VCA. If I write something especially juicy, we get a lot of lookee-looks who want to see what limb I’ve climbed out on this time. And usually the burlesques pull well, beyond the faithful. I’ll be digging into all of this over the next few months.

Registrations open on 8/1. Topics released on 8/15. Griping about topics on 8/15 (later that same day). The final list of potential LD rezzes is up on NSDA, by the way, which is a little different from what we saw earlier, with some of the looser language tidied up. People are going to have to vote for them, and PF (which is offering reparations as its opening possibility, presumably because it won’t be coming up in Sept for LD, although I wish it would, both for the resonance and because I think it’s a great subject).

Drink plenty of water and get a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

If this is Wednesday it must be Nostrum

Some gleanings from the next batch of epistles.

“Everything on Broadway is pyrotechnic Puccini, and not even good Puccini, and I don’t even like Puccini, so there!”

So sayeth the Nostrumite.

The next epistle, curiously enough, talks about George Pataki's second run for governor of New York, and possible run for the presidency sometime in the future. Which is now. The Mite wasn't particularly sanguine: "Another empty suit...spending umpty-ump dollars." Well, he was wrong there, since old Georgie's campaign today doesn't seem to have two dimes to rub together, but that's probably only because the Republican PACs are handing out the money evenly to all the candidates, and a billion dollars only goes so far when there's two billion office seekers. On the other hand, the Mite does give a shoutout to a long-age Presidential crook: “He wasn’t much in some respects, but at least Warren Harding knew how to play poker. Where are the heroes for the new millennium?” The Nostrumite was nothing if not full of opinions.

As we continue to read... After thinking of converting from Ethical Culturism, the Mite gets a job at the Cambridge Ma ‘N’ Pa Video Bazaar, run by a man named Mr. Ma ‘N’ Pa. Then Jules goes on his own mental jaunt:

The Tango Incident, which like all of Nostrum is “based on a true story,” is the subject of this week’s episode. We put “based on a true story” in quotes to reflect a touch of grammatical irony. We could have even been more ironic and said, Based on a “true story.” Or even, Based on a “true” story. Or best of all, Based on a true “story.” Our favorite quote marks are in the phrase: Out of “Order.” The irony added to the word order is, as far as we can determine, a hermeneutic commentary on the postmodern state of existence, where the signified and the signifier can no longer be connected. “As seen on TV,” for instance—which hardly seems to be much of a recommendation for anything because what isn’t seen on TV? -- becomes much more interesting when phrased, As seen on “TV.” Or best of all, As “seen” on TV. Of course, there is a possibility that we are reading too much into this. After all, last week we saw a sign that said, For sale, Beanie Baby’s. Beanie Baby’s what, was our first response.

Punctuation, like handguns, should not be put into the hands of the untrained. 

And, well, then we go seriously into Nostrumite land:

The Nostrumite is in a state of permanent depression over his latest assignment at the Cambridge Ma ‘N’ Pa Video Bazaar. Apparently the owner, Mr. Ma ‘N’ Pa, read an article this week about how computers can now generate artificial speech well enough to conduct reasonable business conversations, and how a lot of big companies like United Airlines are doing just that. Not wishing to appear to be behind the technological curve, Mr. M. N. P. has appropriated the idea of speech synthesis, but unfortunately his organization does not yet have to means to appropriate the apparatus. The Mite’s job now, therefore, when he’s not recommending Home Alone 3 in person to some poor family with six kids in tow and what they really want to watch is Boogie Nights but they’re all pretending to be church-goers so they ask for something with Pat Robertson’s seal of approval on it, is to answer the telephone and take orders while pretending to be a computer. Seriously. According to the Mite, it goes something like this:

“Welcome to the Ma ‘N’ Pa Video Bazaar. “ He claims he does all of his talking sounding like a mix of Hal 9000, C3PO and Cruella de Ville. “Hit the number one if you have a touch-tone telephone.”

The unsuspecting caller inevitably hits the number one. Who doesn’t have a touch-tone phone in this day and age?

“Thank you,” the Mite says. “Would you like to reserve a video?”

“Damn it, what number should I hit?”

“You do not have to hit a number. I can understand you if you talk slowly and don’t mumble and you don’t have some un-American foreign accent.”

“Okay. I’m down with that.”

“Yo, phat, dude!” The Mite likes to keep the lingo current.

“Yeah. Right. Anyhow, do you have The Searchers available?”

“Was that The Searchers or The Surgeons?” If the Mite sounds too human, no one will believe he’s a machine.

The Searchers.”

“Excellent choice.” The Mite stares at the shelf in front of him while the caller thinks he’s surfing his internal database. “We do not have that film in stock. May we suggest a similar film?”


“Did you say ‘sure’ or ‘shirt’?”


“We do not have shirts.”

"I said, ‘sure.’ “

“Yes, sir. Shirts. Sure.” Pause. “May we recommend, for those who like The Searchers, Babette’s Feast?’"

"Babette’s Feast? As a substitute for The Searchers? What are you, nuts?”

“According to my data, they are very similar movies. Please hold.” When in doubt, you can never hold too much. “Yes. According to my data, John Wayne, Denmark, very similar. May I reserve this film for you.”

“Forget it. How about Citizen Kane?”

“Please hit 2 on your touch tone telephone.”

The unsuspecting caller hits 2. This serves no purpose whatsoever, but it does satisfy the craving for physical activity.

“We do not carry Citizen Kane,” the Mite now says.

“What? It’s the number one movie of all time. How can you not carry it?”

“It may be the number one movie of all time, but no one has ever seen it, no one wants to see it, and we do not carry it. We do however have a large supply of copies of My Stepmother is an Alien if you would like to change your request.”


“I’m sorry. I am not programmed to accept vulgarities.” At which point the Mite hangs up.

Needless to say, he hasn’t cut too many deals yet in his digital persona. As you can imagine, the Mite is not cut out for this sort of thing.