Thursday, April 23, 2015

In which we say so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye, but not really because we're tabbing every weekend

This Tuesday night, when we’d normally be having our debate meeting if our season weren’t over, the Sailors threw me a nice retirement sendoff. We had dinner at a hibachi restaurant where the cook throws food at you, which seemed appropriate with this group. We reminisced, they gave me crappy prizes, and I have to admit I was touched by it all. I really can’t keep managing the team and doing my DJ, and honestly, there were things about team management, none of them having to do with dealing with the any of the members of the team, now or ever, that were getting me down. For instance, the stress of running Bump. It’s one thing to angel someone else’s tournament, but the worry of running your own from top to bottom is murder. This is probably why most people don’t do it in the first place, and why of those that do, not all are successful. There’s a million pieces to contend with, all the while worrying that some 15-year-old yabbo is going to fall into boiling acid or something on your watch. I recall, unfondly, when about 500 people had just descended on the school on Friday afternoon, clogging the hallways and filling all the crooks and nannies, and the head custodian came up to me and told me I had to send them all home because there was a water main break and no plumbing in the building. That’s just one incident. Then there’s the paperwork of running a team, which this last year blew up exponentially. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I might not mind so much if I hadn’t also gotten those new DJ responsibilities. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t working hard enough before, but then again, reading and editing aren’t exactly backbreaking. But now there’s all kinds of new business stuff and different sort of books (nonfiction vs. fiction), and the move from the revenue that is earned from regular series payments to the need to get revenue from each individual title in the stores. Big difference, and a lot more stress. And who needs too much stress? Action, yes. Stress, no. Anyhow, as I’ve said, 20 years of doing this as a volunteer night job is a lot, and although I regret leaving behind the students, who over the years have made my life so much more rich, it is time to move on. I only hope they get someone else to take over and keep things going for them. On the immediate front, though, they have committed parents who will certainly get them to tournaments, so they won’t miss out altogether.

Time moves on.

As I was writing the above, I realize that I’ve hardly ever said much about the DJ here. Of course, this is a blog about debate, and will continue to be so, even though I won’t be directing a team anymore. I’ll still be plenty involved in the activity, as long as I’m behind the curtain at my various tournaments that I tab and/or angel. Nevertheless, some of the DJ stuff is intrinsically interesting, and I may start sharing more of that. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear me talk about me reading books all day?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

If this is Wednesday it must be Nostrum

You might recall that, last week in the Epistles of St. Jules to the Forensicians, we had learned that the Nostrumite had a problem with his job at the meat-packing plant. The following is extracted from a subsequent exchange with a fan:
Things at Nostrum World Headquarters have not been going well lately. The Nostrumite came home today from a long day at the meat-packing plant, threw his briefcase at the cat, collapsed onto the couch and uttered vulgarities which I won’t repeat, as a prelude to his announcement, “Lips that touch meat will never touch mine again.”
Turning assorted mammals (and the occasional marsupial, not to mention a 5% allowance for insects and other items that sort of fit in with those vulgarities I didn’t wish to mention) into hot dogs has made the poor fellow an unwell man.  

Jules and the Mite certainly did have a busy existence. As is made clear in this later epistle:
We almost didn’t make it this week. The Nostrumite is in a state of permanent depression because he bet Vestavia to win in LD at the NYC and when I told him going into the sixth round to cover himself with Manchester or Valley, he just laughed at me. Fortunately he has the lucre to cover his losses because, well, those debate bookies in the Bronx are tough, and they were there collecting even before all the plaques were given out. According to the Mite, the reason he lost was that he misread the Racing Form stats because he was so upset over Mason And Dixon not getting nominated for the National Book Award. What’s wrong with these people, he keeps asking me. How do I know? I keep answering him. Do I look like Michael Korda or something?
Anyhow, you’ll be happy to hear that the M is still employed at the hot dog factory, but the mystery of the overages continues. If you don’t remember it, for every ton of meat that walks in on the hoof, an average of one point two tons rolls out as wieners. The M is working with his MIS department to come to terms with this, and he tells me they print report after report, filled with facts and figures and analyses, and each report weighs about twenty pounds and stands half as high as the Mite himself (which of course isn’t all that high, unless you actually happen to be the Mite), but nowhere do they seem to be able to figure out this modern-day loaves and fishes, or as the M calls it, the Miracle of the Frankfurters.
At one point I was going to work a parimutuel theme into Nostrum, and even came close near the end of Series One, where Griot is discovered as a handicapper by the mafia lawyer, but that was right around when I hung up the pen. The first time I hung up the pen, that is.
In any case, shouldn't you be reading the ultimate version of Nostrum right this minute? After all, TOC is coming up this weekend. You know you want a distraction from that particular heartache. You can read it during the protest marches.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In which we meditate on the insanity in our activity

There’s bunches of comments on Facebook from people going to TOC. They all sound about as happy as cows on their way to the abattoir. Somehow this tournament has become identified with sheer torture, yet as far as I know nobody who has qualified has refused to go on the grounds of maintaining their sanity. At the point when the big tournament of the year is no longer exciting in a good way, or generally fun no matter how you slice it, one has to wonder why it remains the big tournament of the year. I mean, we have plenty of big tournaments at the end of the season, whether it’s state tournaments or national tournaments. An embarrassment of riches, you might say. Does anybody really have to go to all of them? Or even the majority of them? Is that what teenagers do nowadays, drudge themselves along from one tournament to the next, week after week, far and wide, so that at the end of the season they can go to even more tournaments, week after week, further and wider? Doesn’t anybody just stay home and hang out and read a book (i.e., a book that’s fun to read, as compared to a lot of the debate literature that is impenetrable drivel)? Or enjoy the nice spring weather with one’s local friends? Of course not. I am obviously missing the whole point of debate. Soddie always used to say that competition is the means to an end. Not the most original thought in the world, perhaps, but one that bears repeating often. Ask yourself this question: What is your debate goal? Ask it regardless of whether you’re a debater or a coach or a judge. If the answer is no more complicated than, “Win a lot of debates,” well…

TOC does bring out the philosopher in people.

Tonight is my farewell to the troops, as in, dinner with the team. I will no doubt be warning them about foreign entanglements and the like. Meanwhile, I have officially started working on the tabroom setup for Big Bronx, after many discussions about the tournament with Diane S in Vegas, plus discussions with Kirby. Everyone is on the same page. I’m not running it, by any means, just facilitating it. And tabbing it. And doing my best to make it fun and exciting in a good way.

Plus ca change, eh?

Monday, April 20, 2015

In which we look at professional (and to a minor extent debater) conduct

A lot of what the NDCA board does is management of its tournament, or management of the organization in general. The organization seems to be thriving, which is a good thing. I like the idea of a national group dedicated to helping coaches (the open evidence project alone is worth the price of admission for the policians). I like being a part of that group. I had considered perhaps packing it in before my term ends, but over the tournament weekend I realized how much I was bringing from this group back to my own work with various tournaments, and decided to stick it out.

What we didn’t have this year was something we had last year, which was an open forum on the latest tough issues. We were talking about that at one of the board meetings, and wishing we had done it again this year, and agreed to do it again next year. The thing is, while all of us talk among ourselves about this and that, I don’t really know of any open discussion among coaches in general about these important issues. What important issues? Well, for instance, what is and isn’t acceptable as content in a high school debate round. Needless to say, free speech is not an unalienable right in high schools. I think that the debate community, hinging its activity on a dialectic exchange of ideas, is by and large more willing than some to work with problematic content, but even so, there are probably some objective limits. The difficulty is establishing what those objective limits are. The opportunity to talk about this, to find out what other people are thinking and doing, is important, and I think unique to NDCA.

The board is also looking at establishing a rule of conduct for coaches and judges. This is, I think, a simpler matter that is easily within their purview. What would be considered non-professional behavior in what is a secondary school academic activity? The professionals, i.e., the judges and coaches, are indeed acting in the role of professional educator, even though some may not actually have that role outside of the tournament. Once they accept that role within the tournament environment, however, they cannot, for instance, cuss out a debater after a round during an oral critique, any more than a math teacher could do that at a teacher-student conference. The same set of standards ought to apply. That's definitely the sort of thing I can bring into the invitations from other tournaments once NDCA hashes it out.

I expect there to be a lot of heated discussion on the subject of content. There are some who want to make a list of things you can't say/do; there are some who think anything goes. It being high school, undoubtedly anything does not go, but where are the lines drawn? And are they drawn on a personal basis, with each judge having his or her own guidelines published in a paradigm? We'll see. Before long the conversation will commence on one or more of the NDCA venues. Be on the lookout for it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

If this is Wednesday it must be Nostrum

I am knee-deep in the editing of the Tennessee Williams High School chronicles. Or more to the point, in the rediscovery of the TWHS chronicles. I simply recall none of this, and will testify thus in a court of law, if required to do so.
Meanwhile, at least the editing of the Epistles is done. I thought I’d offer a taste. Each episode of Nostrum was announced by Jules O’Shaughnessy to the ld-l listserv, and there were a couple of standard lines. One was that we almost didn’t make it this week, and the other was that the Nostrumite, Jules’s writing partner, was in a state of permanent depression over…something.
We almost didn’t make it this week, primarily because right before I logged on to post the new episode I was setting up the VCR to record this week’s Voyager (the Nostrumite has a serious thing for the character referred to in one of the ads as “Part Borg, Part Human, All Woman”), when lo and behold, Jeopardy came on, and one of the categories was Hittite Hodgepodge. Whoa! This was obviously not celebrity week. So that killed an unexpected half hour. Of course, even the fact that he knew that Ramses II was Egyptian (I mean, let’s face it, my cat knows that), the Nostrumite is in a state of permanent depression over his new job at the meat-packing plant. The good news is that at least he’s management. The bad news is that apparently animals are herded in one door of the plant in a literal menagerie—cows, pigs, sheep, armadillos, peccaries, you name it—and come out the other end as hot dogs. The Mite’s job is to make sure that the weight of the menagerie going in equals the weight of the hot dogs going out. Usually they lose about 5% in the processing, but two days ago they gained 20%. This is not good, and the Mite had to put in a lot of overtime trying to get to the bottom of it, to no avail. Which meant that he wasn’t able to read as much as he wanted of the pirated copy he received of the manuscript that purports to be a translation of the journal of a trader who preceded Marco Polo traveling to China (the Mite knows a couple of people in publishing, if you’re wondering how he gets special privileges). You might have read about the controversy over this book, where some readers have questioned if our traveler could have truly seen what he saw, or be so interested in affairs “de coeur,” as you might say. The translator, quite a legitimate fellow it would appear, claims that perhaps he just made a mistake or two in his translation, but the Nostrumite strongly feels that the reference to heliports should have been a dead giveaway to one and all that something was amiss.
Anyhow, I recommend that you avoid hot dogs for the next few months.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In which we follow in Bugsy Siegel's footsteps

The northeast acquitted itself admirably at NDCA. A bunch of new PF folks from around here went, and dominated the speaker awards, and, well, Poly Prep won. Very nice.

I will admit to having gone in with mixed feelings about my own continuing participation in the group, but as we were having our board discussions I realized that much of what the organization does is directly filtered down to what I do with colleges. Participation rules (i.e., official school entries) and conflict designation are recent examples. A most interesting discussion on harassment will also, no doubt, flow down. I’ll talk about that separately. Anyhow, while I obviously have no horses in the race for the actual competition, I have a spiritual horse in the race for what the organization does and how it does it. There’s a lot of minutia that goes with board-ness, but a couple of important things as well. The important things outweigh in the end.

Meanwhile, there was Las Vegas itself. I arrived very late on Thursday and directly tucked myself in. On Friday I drove down to Hoover Dam, and met up with Palmer. We took the tour, but in a way that was unnecessary, albeit interesting enough. The real impact of the place is simply the place. The geography is amazing. You’ve got to love the mountains and the desert, at least insofar as they are places to see. You’ve got to love signs that warn about mountain goats. You’ve got to love a drive at about two miles an hour that scares the bejesus out of you as you feel as if you’re teetering on the brink of doom. And when you get there, you’ve got to love the human accomplishment of building such a marvel. The engineering prognosis is that it’s good for about the next 2000 years. 2000 years! The only other thing I can think of that seems to last for 2000 years is the Clintons and the Bushes. I’ll take the dam any day.

The tournament started on Saturday. There was a board meeting Friday night, and another Sunday afternoon. Other than that I mostly hung around, as board members are prohibited from tabbing. I marginally trained a few PF judges, as we had a herd of communications majors from UNLV enlisted for a round each. They were amazing. They really got into the thing and wrote up amazing ballots. There is minor controversy over whether they should be judging a championship, but it seems to me that solid PF teams ought to have no qualms about trying to pick up the ballot of a committed communications college student. The teams got to this point by winning a lot of ballots from parents, after all, who are a much dicier brand of adjudicator. This all seems to fit in with PF’s original brief about appealing to the interested community member at large. A good fit all around, I say.

We had a lot of conversation with Diane S about the Bronx tournament. In a word, they need to begin planning now. As I’ve said, I’ve also talked to Kirby, so we’re going in with six buns glazing. Continuity over a rough stretch is the goal, so that when they finally have their new team organization in place, they’ll be where they were when they left off. Hooking Diane into the old tabroom files gave her access to a lot of things she might otherwise have to guess at. I'd say she's on her way.

I have to admit that I had no trouble walking around in the nice desert 80 degree weather every day. No trouble at all. And Saturday night Kaz and CP and I went to a nice tapas place for dinner, so we got to see the strip in action on what I would assume is its busiest night. I could do that brand of people-watching till the cows come home. Monday morning before my flight home I did a full-on strip walk, camera in hand. I’m a student of the sort of cultural studies that encompasses Las Vegas, of course. And I always enjoy the architecture, the Venturi ducks and sheds. But this time out I was left with one big question: 

Why are there cup holders in the urinals at New York, New York?

Answer me that, boyo. My initial thought that it had something to do with urine tests and annual checkups is probably not correct.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

In which we head out to Sin City

Off today to Las Vegas for the NDCA tournament.

While the numbers for PF and LD continue to grow, there’s no question that the northeast does not embrace this tournament much. We’ve got a few new folks coming to do PF, I’m happy to see, and they’ve got strong, competitive teams. But as far as LD goes, well, the tournament of choice is TOC. Go figure. One of the good things about NDCA is that it’s run by coaches, an elected board, and there’s votes and whatnot, so it represents a democratic process at least to some extent. TOC? Beats me. Hell, I used to be on the LD advisory committee, and I don’t know why I got on it or why I got off it (although I have my suspicions). But the organization seems to abound with controversies about all sorts of things, starting with bidworthiness. Still, it holds a sort of spiritual hegemony over the nature of LD. Everything that I tend to dislike about what has happened to LD over the years is rewarded and applauded by the circuit, which is blindered in its run toward the TOC. I don’t think you can blame the institution itself; it’s all the people wearing those blinders. If we all close our eyes and wish it so real hard, then we can define TOC styles as the best styles because, well, they’re the styles that win the TOC. But it’s the proverbial vicious circle, feeding on itself. Meanwhile, there is apparently a universe of LD out there that is nothing like circuit debate. Given that the so-called national tournaments are attended by the same teams year in and year out, plane ride in and plane ride out, the circuit couldn’t be more parochial, the ultimate provincial mindset when you think about it. Oh, well. I really don't think about it much, and I’ve certainly made my views on it clear here over the years. As I’ve always said, if the TOC didn’t exist, I wouldn’t invent it.

NDCA, of course, has much of the same national constituency, but it does have the flow-through of coachean oversight. And so far, so good with PF not taking on some national, circuit style that separates the way it’s done by one group from the way it’s done by some other group. I mean, I’m certain there’s school and regional differences—how could there not be?—but overall, it is what it is. If it’s going to be the great provider of debate rounds for most new people in the future, so be it. I miss the philosophical underpinnings of old LD, and don’t see anything comparable in PF, but if debate is inherently good for students, and PF provides lots of debate for lots of students, I’m good with that. Maybe teams don’t travel so much, or get on a path toward some higher objective aside from NatNats and CatNats? I’m good with that too.