Thursday, October 08, 2015

In which we pack our bags for the frigid north

I’m about to go into the woods for the next few weekends, with varying sorts of trees each time. It’s been a while, and I’m looking forward to it.

Monticello has always been a straightforward event. I started going back when my daughter was a sophomore in the JV division. The tournament then had a semis TOC bid, and Varsity and JV divisions, and offered both policy and LD. It was a big event. When I first started coaching, I used to go up with my debaters on Friday, and a busload of novices would come up on Saturday to watch rounds, and we’d all go home together Saturday night. It was the first opportunity noobs would get to see what the world was like, not just in rounds but in the cafeteria, where the community was really happening. If they liked being there, both in the rounds and in the cafeteria, they were in for the duration. I didn’t start tabbing the thing until one year when the scheduled tabber got sick and I filled in, back when I was just learning myself. I had started tabbing, on index cards, at our MHLs, under the direction of Richard Sodikow. The first official invitational I worked was Newark. Then came Monticello and, well, eventually, everything else.

The history of Monticello’s Kaiser tournament is not unusual. They had TOC bids, and everyone outside of the region whined that the region had too many TOC bids, and Monti got clipped as—there’s no better way to put it—low hanging fruit. Unless a school is politically graced, its bid status is a crapshoot. I could attempt to explain the TOC politics, but that would require more time than I have at the moment, and it is, in fact, the story of LD itself, in many ways. We won’t go there now. The problem is, when a school has bids, people are attracted to its tournament. When a school doesn’t have bids, people are not attracted to its tournament. And this creates the proverbial vicious circle: are you losing bids because you’re not getting the draw, or are you not getting the draw because you’re losing bids? As I say, long story. In Monticello’s case, that’s why I wanted to try the Academy idea (among other reasons), to provide a level of debating that was otherwise overlooked. I can’t say if the jury is still out or not on the Academy issue. The two big reasons Monti will be small this year are the absence of the Bronx, which is still getting its act together, and the absence of Policy slash New Jersey, which are two different subjects entirely, but in a word, Policy is virtually dead in the northeast except for a few major program holdouts, and NJ has been building its own more robust leagues without needing to travel the distance out of state.

Is this complicated or what?

The point is, Monti bumps along, and it’s certainly runnable this year, and I think the attendees will enjoy it. And RJT will probably keep running it, and next year it should perk up with the Bronxians back, and there you are.

The weekend after that is Big Bronx. That deserves its own post, n’est-ce pas?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

If this is Wednesday it must be Nostrum

I have spent zero time on N3. I have, however, spent way too much time trying to figure out why I can't access all my Dropbox files from all my devices. 


The following is an intact epistle, apparently based on an actual news item. You can Google it if you want. I'm too busy trying to figure out Dropbox.

We almost didn’t make it this week. The Nostrumite is in a state of permanent depression over this whole business of buying and selling Pennsylvanian body parts for transplants. Not that the lad has anything against recycling humans; far from it. There are a number of people he suggests should be recycled immediately, including Celine Dion, Cher, and John Tesh. And he’s all in favor of the US government having declared organs to be a national treasure; he even claims that some of his organs go beyond national treasure straight into landmark status. No, his issue is with the assigned dollar amount. “Who came up with this three hundred dollar business?” the lad asks. “Three hundred bucks for a liver, three hundred bucks for a spleen, three hundred bucks for a small intestine. Shouldn’t there be some scale applied that values the human heart above the brain, or vice versa?” He was not persuaded by the fact that brains would not be part of the bargain. “Of course they’re not part of the bargain,” he riposted. “Who in their right mind would want to have the brain of a Pennsylvanian?” At which point the rest of the people in the room were stymied. “Idahonians, on the other hand,” he began, but at that point the Falutins and I went back to analyzing our summer vacation plans. The last thing I heard from the Mite was something to the effect that Massachusettsian brains would be used as loss leaders.... 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

In which we work on the nitty and the gritty

I think I should put more pictures in here. It perks things up, don’t you think?

I’m in that limbo with Rather On The Large Side Bronx, where I’m not really running things, but I send out all kinds of messages so people think I’m running things. Which raises the question of what, if anything, I do run. I godfather Penn, the Tiggers and the Gem, I’m halfway between godfather and uncle at the Pups because I start working with them early but MV takes over when there’s issues, and everywhere else, I’m just some schlub in the tab room. ROTLS Bronx is an unusual situation this year, with the old-timers brought in to provide normalcy during a rough transition for the school. I find myself giving advice more than normal to a high school tournament. I don’t have to give advice to JV, for instance; he knows how to run a tournament, and while he might solicit opinions from his experienced friends, he’s absolutely in charge. I don’t even attempt to give advice to CP about Lexington, because he sets it up his way and that is a joy to work through because he knows where all the bodies are buried and does things, theoretically, perfectly vis-à-vis tabroom. Which doesn’t mean I necessarily go forth afterwards and do exactly what he did, but I’m close, and I can learn the odd new trick, but I don’t bother changing when the old trick still works perfectly well. In any case, I certainly never get involved in anything other than the tabbing at these venues, whereas at ROTLS Bronx, where for many people I am the one constant—I’ve been tabbing there since Kirby and company were there last—I am the person they ask questions of. So people send me questions about invoices and I pass them along, or they ask to bend the rules and I pass it along, or they ask silly questions about self-evident items that I calmly and nicely answer myself (while making fun of them on Fb or Twitter).  In other words, limbo.

The TBAs disappear tonight. CP has always maintained that this simply tortures the good citizens, who are forced to enter bogus names, but even if that is partially true, it does clear out the riffraff. One thing that is problematic at a big tournament like Bronx is, when people drop their teams, they don’t necessarily delete their entry, which often leaves vestigial judges. Which we always find out about somewhere in the middle of Round 2, with lots of attendant banging of our foreheads with our closed fists. At a small tournament, it’s easy to keep track of who’s coming. At a big tournament, it’s practically impossible, short of doing the boring grunt work of looking at all the entries. There is a way to find totally empty schools, but I don’t think that data dump works on schools empty of entrants but not empty of judges. I’ll find out in a day or so, when I start grunting through it.


[Later that day: There is a report of numbers per school that shows both judges and debaters. So there is indeed a place to find the loose cannons. So it won't be quite as grunty as I thought. Whew!]

Monday, October 05, 2015

In which, after a short break, we get down to business

We spent the weekend up in Stockbridge, enjoying the retirement gift from the alums, a stay at the Red Lion Inn. We’ve been there before and love the area. It was a little on the cold side, more of a shock of the new than actual cold, given how warm it was the previous weeks, but otherwise it was fine after a little dribble of mist Saturday morning. Saw Naumkeag, a nice little Gilded Age house and garden, and Chesterwood, home of the creator of old Abe’s statue in DC and the wonderful Statue of the Republic from the '93 Columbian Exposition, et alia. French was nothing if not a big thinker. Plus of course, we visited the requisite antiques and garden shops and whatnot. A splendid time was had by all, and I’m considering retiring again to squeeze another trip out of the alums.

I had been vacillating about going to the Kaiser, because it was looking small and perfectly manageable for Kaz on her own, but I thought better of it when I realized that it’s going to be small and sort of nutty. I like nutty, the coming up with solutions that are not of the tabroom persuasion but of the tab room persuasion. How can we get these people into that round that they really don’t belong in, is a thought that requires a fairly deep cut into what can and can’t be done at a tournament. That you can torture tabroom around it is a relative given, although tabroom won't do it on its own. The fun is in figuring out what will make the teeming masses in the field happy. The rest is just overriding the defaults. Much different from the needs of running a big tournament, especially with MJP and, as we’ll have with Biggo Bronco, varying commitments. More on that as I learn it myself.        

After I got back yesterday I updated all the hired judging from BB and hired everyone out. We did pretty well. The Bronx Bigwigs, or I guess the Big Bronx Wigs, have been coming through with pretty decent coverage. I’d still like to see more, but what tab room doesn’t want infinite judging? What field doesn’t want infinite judging, for the matter? The more judges, the more likely you’ll get satisfactory prefs, and my sense is that satisfactory prefs is the top measurement device for most folks of a tournament. Debate ziti is debate ziti no matter how you slice it, a comfy judge lounge has its charms, and a schedule that would warm the heart of a cruise director is nice, but lots of 1s that are real 1s is something you can take to the forensics bank. (Then again, in my estimation of a tournament, nearness to good restaurants comes first, with nearness to Starbucks a close second, but I don’t really care who wins or loses.)

Tomorrow we fry the TBAs, and I’ll go through and find those schools who dropped their entries but not their judges, which always causes the odd burp during round 1, since there’s no device I know of to find these via tabroom other than brute force. But then again, I’m the right brute for the job.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

In which we are stunned by the unlikelihood

I like both the new LD and PF topics. I can't remember when that's ever happened before.

Granted, in LD, the topic doesn't matter much at a lot of tournaments, but the whole idea of a jury's ignoring the law is a fascinating one. If I remember correctly, earlier versions of this rez had judges actually advising the juries to ignore the law, which is a non-starter, but here it's just juries coming to a conclusion dissimilar from statutory dicta. Which, of course, is occasionally what the Supes do. Fun stuff. Not a bad roll-off from the Modest Novice either, come to think about it. Hello, legal positivism!

In PF, I can't imagine a more timely topic, and the wording is fine. This would have been a home run topic in the old days of LD, with social contracts and the like in play. What PFers will make of it is probably something else, but the wisest ones will at least learn those particular Lockean ropes, and make what hay of them they can.

The NDCA has reared its lovely head recently, in aid of this year's board elections. If you're a member, or want to be a member, make sure you've paid your dues. The tournament this year is in Orlando, and I'm willing to predict that it will be pretty much shenanigan-free. Why the LD community hasn't embraced this one in droves is beyond me. Then again, sheep are notoriously...sheepish.

I'm going to be out of commission for a couple of days, coming up for air on Sunday to start clearing Rather Large Bronx judge requests. Then we slide into Monticello and, a week from that, RLB itself. May the Force be with us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

In which I don't care if it is Wednesday: No Nostrum for you!

Things are really crazy at the DJ. And hellzapoppin’ at the NJ too, so time is not necessarily readily available for bloviating here.

First of all, Monticello still pends. For some reason, people are staying away in droves, including bunches of local schools that need to support one another. I can’t make them do it, but I can grit my teeth and wish evil things on them. Avada Kedavra, sez I. And, oh, while I'm at it, Feh!


On the other hand, Somewhat Largish Bronx is barreling along. At its most amusing, I tried some ill-advised changes that somehow landed the Lexwegians with an $18,000 registration fee. Kaz complained about this, which I think is rather ungenerous of her. Next thing you know, she’s going to want another strip of bacon. I set it back the way it was, and we’re looking at other solutions to the problem I was attempting to solve. More on that in the future.

The Bronxwegians wanted to do the presets as random rounds, and we found that setting and turned it on. KC entered the regions and made the assignments. We used to do that at Bronx and a couple of other places, back in the old TRPC days. It’s just as easy in tabroom, once you know where to look. I think it’s a good idea at a national tournament. Intelligent randomization, you might say, with an eye on providing a satisfying response to the comment, “Why did I spend eighteen thousand dollars to debate with the team at the school down the road that I could have walked to fo nothing?”

$18,000 will now and forevermore be the predicted cost of registering for any and all tournaments. Of course, in reality, it’s only true of TOC and NatNats, but it’s still funny. At least I think so.

I’ve been inputting the hired judge names, and plan to assign what I can by Monday. On Tuesday we’re jettisoning the TBA names. Inch by inch, we’re getting closer. I look forward to it, and then I look forward to something simple the week after, the first NYCFL event of the season at Regis. Grandma Julia’s judge lounge? Not a single morsel of debate ziti in site. Mmmmmm......

Monday, September 28, 2015

In which we pass the torch

I met this weekend with Kathy S, who will be heading up both Speech and Debate henceforth at the old battleship of Hud. The previous suspect got a better teaching job elsewhere, which is why he didn't climb on board. Kathy has been doing speech at the Hud for a number of years now, and certainly knows her stuff there. I have little doubt she can figure out PF as well. I mean, I know kids in high school that do it. So I'll bet she can do it too.

What advice does an Admiral, Ret'd, pass along? First, regardless of what a lot of people think, PF requires very strong classic speaking skills because its audience is primarily lay judges. Corollary to that is that if it works with lay judges it will also work with experienced judges, while the opposite is not true, i.e., what works with experienced judges doesn't necessarily work with lay judges. This would seem like a basic fact of life, but most second-tier debaters don't get it. Yes, PF is a debate activity, but presentation skills are the means for engaging in that activity. Poor presentation skills will sabotage excellent debate skills every time. Having a pro on speaking like KS should be a real boon for the tars, provided they take advantage of her skills. I've never known a good debater who doesn't take good advice from wherever it comes. Second-tier debaters take advice only from sources they've determined must be good because, tautologically, they've decided that only those sources are good sources. Learn whatever you can from whoever is teaching it: it's the knowledge that matters.

I did pass to her my standard process. First week after a rez is released, deep background on the subject. Second week, brainstorm arguments. Debaters often like to skip the deep background, on the mistaken idea that they can develop good arguments with only a superficial understanding of a topic. Given that their adult audiences have lived those topics for decades, these debaters don't realize that the opinions of an adult on whatever the rez might be, might reflect what the majority of adults at the back of the room might be thinking. There is often a pre-established mindset on an issue. That is, we all share the zeitgeist of our generations, and you should take that into consideration. Then again, I've always maintained (and of course I'm not alone in this) that the number one priority in public speaking is to know your audience. Or judge adaptation, if you want it translated into debatese. Moving along, the third week is probably best for practice rounds, where you can see what works and doesn't work in action, and also critique speaking/debating styles. As for the fourth week, that's usually a Jewish holiday or a snow day, and it need not be taken into consideration.

After that, we just hashed over the rules of the Huddish road, who pays for what and goes where and the like. The number of debate opportunities absolutely eclipses the speech opportunities around here. You can debate every week, if you're so inclined, but you can't necessarily do your OI. Such is life on the wild side, which is probably the hardest thing for a speechifier to accommodate. She'll learn.

I wish her well.