Monday, August 29, 2016

In which we begin to feel the lapping of the waves on our bare toes

We’re coming down the wire to the new season. The NYCFL meeting has been scheduled, as usual on the first Saturday following Labor Day. Once again I won’t be able to attend, as I’ll be tabbing Byram Hills. I will miss seeing everyone, but I won’t miss the probable discussion of the finer points of Dec and Congress, if there are in fact any finer points. I know that some people, like the Paginator, think Congress (or Legislative Debate, as some people would have it) is the cat’s pajamas, and for all I know, maybe it is, but listening to the host of Catholics argue about how it should be argued is above my pay grade. Or more to the point, you can’t pay me enough, and since no one’s paying me at all, well, I’d rather be up in Armonk shuffling Byram Hillers.

In addition to the invitational, the hills of Byram are alive with the sound of a round robin on the leading Friday. That seems to be a good idea, except insofar as it interferes with getting the invitational started (although that can be solved with a little tabbing magic, if necessary). With the Collegiate RR no longer in play, there’s a bit of a hole at the start of the year where a Rising Upperclass event used to be. As it doesn’t reach for $ircuitry, BH probably won’t ever replace the Coll RR, but for the locals, it’s close enough, especially as it leads in to the big events the next weekend. Nobody likes to go to a big tournament unprepared, mostly, although the existence of Blake running Jan-Feb in December does add some spin to the idea. You would think that people would tire of Jan-Feb long before April, when it finally plays out, especially if they’ve started it before emptying the coal out of their Christmas stockings. Apparently not. Then again, I’ve never heard anything but abject praise for the Blake tournament, so I tip my hat to them. Anyhow, I always liked the idea of a warmup tournament, or more to the point, I always believed that the first tournament on a topic was always more a learning experience than anything else. Wild stuff would fly around that would settle down by the next week. That’s one of the problems with PF. With only one month (aside from Sept-Oct) for a topic, and the need for most teams to not debate every breathing moment of their lives, topics don’t get to mature much. They start out wherever, and maybe they come around by the next week or two, but by then, people are off and running on the subsequent topic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, especially since I think that the rapid turnover of topics is one of the things that keeps PF honest, but it does mean that you limit your opportunities to get a great number of superlative debates. By the time people figure out what’s what, they’re on to the next one. It’s the judges who suffer the most because of this, seldom getting the chance to hear really good debaters go at it in a really good way, but then again, given the nature of the PF pool, maybe they’ll never realize what they’re missing.

Meanwhile, Rather Large Bronx will start clearing the waitlists shortly. Kirby will be doing that. It’s going to be the proverbial bloodbath. Better him than me.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

In which we consider the young 'uns

The Kaiser at Monticello opened registration today. And the question to be answered is, will the region support itself at the younger level? Looking at Bronx, for instance, we’re thinking that folks will get maybe 4 slots, 5 at most, for the debate events. If you have 4 teams, 5 at most, you’re fine. If you have more, maybe not. Plus there’s the question of if your teams really are Bronx-worthy. Some of the top debaters in the country will be there; are your teams truly up for them, or are they going to quickly sink down among the bottom-feeders? Will that be such a great experience for them? Maybe. Will they get meaningful rounds? Probably not. The misconception many students have that they are TOC-quality debaters and therefore need to participate only at TOC-qualifying events is one of the most malicious unintended consequences of the TOC in the first place. Know theyself, you schmegeggie.

The point of Academy debate, a division comprising second- and lightly seasoned third-years, is to provide those meaningful rounds. The division is meant as a place where everyone has a chance. Monti provides those chances, and lately few people have taken advantage of them. If everyone in the region, all of whom need those chances, were to sign up, the joint would be jumpin’. I hope that’s how it turns out.

Byram Hills (which is still open, by the way, if you haven’t registered yet, you tattie howker) is a similar event. Their numbers are far from overwhelming, but at least they’re reasonable. Still, they should be more. It was originally conceived as a prep for JV and Varsity (they have V divisions) at Yale, among other things, although if you ask me, all tournaments ought to exist for themselves. That is, tournaments ought to exist to provide what a region needs, and the region ought to respond accordingly. I’ve written about this at length in the toolkit. Give the people what they want, and need.

So here we are. Two tournaments that ought to be extremely beneficial for the region. It’s up to the region to make that happen. All the tournaments can do, when you think about it, is provide the opportunity. It’s up to everyone else to grab that opportunity.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

In which we provide a little inventory

Just for the hell of it, a little inventory of things in my office at the DJ.

A small Pieter  Bruegel the Elder poster of ice skaters. A print of the Sistine Chapel. An Alice in Wonderland poster (presently on the page with Alice and the Queen of Hearts playing croquet). A Monet print of poppies on the hill outside Giverny. (I’ve seen those poppies for real.) Postcards of The Treachery of Images (i.e., "Ceci n’est pas une pipe"), Cezanne (3D), Burchfield (circular), Hiroshige (matted), another Cezanne (a backlit woman that taught me everything there is to know about photography lighting). Pictures of Cinderella’s castle at night at WDW, George Burns and Gracie Allen, the canals in Venice. Another calendar, of Kaz’s photos (presently on a London page). A printed fastpass for Soarin’ in Epcot, numerous pins of Star Wars characters in Vinylmation, Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts pins, numerous pins with dates of WDW visits, a handful of Cheshire cat pins plus a magnet of Tenniel’s C cat in the tree. Another magnet celebrating the 1939 World’s Fair. A UK Student Center coaster. Columbia, Bump, NYCFL and Bartleby the Scrivener mugs. A Bump trophy. Plaques from a couple of places who thought I was the coach of the year or the like. (I have more of these at home. Get old or look like you're going to retire, and they rain down on you.) Two photos of Hen Hud teams from different heydays. 3 Star Wars Pez dispensers. A Jedi Academy lanyard. A George Washington shaped Avon perfume bottle (with the perfume still in it). A deck of skyscraper playing cards. A small tin of emergency underpants (a gift, not something I always keep around just in case). A plate decorated with Disney attraction poster images. An American flag. The usual assortment of family photos. An Elvis Presley fly swatter. A talking Gollum mini-fig. And a few et cetera and et alii.

This list is not complete, and deliberately excludes anything work-related. It is not an all-inclusive representation of my brain, but it is certainly a walking tour of part of it.

Just imagine the stuff at my office in the chez, where I don’t have to keep all the DJ items.


Monday, August 22, 2016

In which we spend a weekend in the country

Sheryl was down for the weekend, and this and that were done by one and all. Friday we went into the city to, first, see the Moholy-Nagy exhibit at the Gug, then to have dinner with a handful of the DisAds, including JV. For a while, before the civilians showed up, we discussed debate business. JV is going to try to herd local folks into some novice scrimmages after school. With the demise of the MHL, which was for all practical purposes created to provide novice rounds, those rounds are sadly lacking in the region. The odd thing is, the MHL’s demise was all its own; there was no outside catalyst. People just stopped coming, even though the same number of people needed the same number of rounds. Go figure. Anyhow, there needs to be something for the young forensicians. You don’t get good by lying fallow. Experience is required. As a general rule, the average 4th year debater can beat almost any younger debater drawing on experience alone. This is not a guarantee, but it’s hardly counterintuitive. If you want to get good at something, practice. And if you want your novice year to go by with you doing nothing but growing moss, don’t practice. But the rounds have to be there in the first place before you can go to them. Some local scrimmages could go a long way to replacing the MHL.

Kaz and I additionally provided some input to the Rather Large Bronx folks about registration. Getting people through efficiently is always a problem anywhere there’s a lot of people, and RLB is one of the worse. Needless to say, my Toolkit addresses this. If nothing else, I’m pretty efficient and have plenty of tips to make others efficient. Whether RLB takes our suggestions remain to be seen; I’m sure they’ll take some of them. No registration process is so perfect (and no tournament is so perfect, for that matter) that it cannot be improved. I’ll share more on this as it comes to pass.

We also soaked up some other culture, like the three-woman version of the Scottish play at Boscobel and a tour of the Gothic Revival mansion at Lyndhurst and a screening of North by Northwest to educate the Hitchcock-deprived Lexington coach. Very satisfying weekend overall. And there's only a couple more before the games begin in earnest.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

In which we evaluate a few things

I am now lined up for all the usual college suspects, with the exception of Yale, which I will no longer be working. Mostly they will be the same old same olds, with the exception of the Ben Franklin folk, who are going a week earlier. I’ve talked about this before. Everything about it is counterintuitive, and counter to the original plan when it moved to Presidents’ Weekend, but their reasons for trying the different weekend were strong. It is theirs to do. I have a feeling that it will all work out fine, but the event will prove itself, or not, when it arrives. The basic hunger for rounds, at least where there’s bids attached, seems unabated, which should do a lot to remove the question mark from the new date. As far as I’m concerned, it’s much of a muchness, but there is no question that not having a team, while it doesn’t necessarily render me opinion-free, does render me relatively opinion-worthless. For instance, Kirby had some questions about the divisions at Rather Large Bronx, and he asked for thoughts from both me and Kaz. She has a whole herd of horses in the race, and I don’t. So we definitely look at things differently. Then again, even when I did have horses, it was a mere handful, which is a lot different from a raging herd. I went for years without having to decide who would get which slots, and I was happy not to have to make that sort of decision. She has to make it all the time.

All things being equal, I’m expecting to call on McGonagall and the Paginator as the latest cogs in the great wheel of tabbing. Kaz will be where she can be, which is mostly where I’ll be. I would love to work a show with CP again, since we haven’t shared the honors since, I think, Bronx in ’14, AKA the “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” Karaoke Bonanza. I’ll call on Catholic Charlie when I can; he doth protest that he’s innocent of knowledge of debate tabbing, which he then proceeds to do in his sleep. (In reality, I’m the only person who usually falls asleep in the tab room. Give me five minutes of catnap and I’m ready for anything. So why can’t I sleep in the middle of the night in a bed?)

My standing offer to bring new people into the tab room is still out there. I’ve heard people complain that tab rooms are closed black boxes and I’ve invited those people in directly to watch and learn and help, and they’ve ignored me, I guess because it’s more satisfying to carp than to do what is mostly a thankless job of blindly juggling arithmetic and trying to find you-know-who who hasn’t checked in 15 minutes after smart time. Most of tabbing is enforcement. It has ever been thus, that enforcement was required, but once e-ballots started removing the truly mind-numbing business of entering ballots, the enforcement has started to show more clearly. Anyhow, we will always need new people to direct tournaments and to understand the tabbing process. Yes, tabroom does a lot, but there’s a limit to automatic. You need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing, plus you need to move vast numbers of children (the forensicians) and lunatics (half of the judges) and serial killers (the other half of the judges) from one place to another in a timely manner such that everyone is happy and no one comes into tab threatening your life with a railway share. I've written my big old toolkit to help people out with this. But getting in there and doing it, preferably under the guidance of someone experienced, is the best way to learn the ropes.

Any takers?



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

In which we blast MSTOC

I do not necessarily have mixed feelings about debate in schools before high school. There’s a great video with Jonathan A that expresses all the excitement of working with younger kids, and the benefits to them in their education. On the other hand, when I saw on my front page yesterday that the Middle School TOC registration was open, I just shook my head in despair.

I gather that one really doesn’t qualify for MSTOC; one just signs up for it. It is, like the TOC, in Kaintuck. Which means that parents who can afford it will be able to send (and probably accompany) their 11-year-olds to a national tournament. And we need this in the debate community because…why?

The VCA knows my opinion of the TOC, and I get the impression that half the people who attend it share that opinion. The organization originally existed to promote a certain level of competition that other national tournaments did not promote. You had to perform well in tough situations a number of times, thus demonstrating that you had the right stuff on a regular basis. A variety of parameters were set for determining the toughness of those situations. So far so good. The problem is, decades later, the TOC, which was created to set a standard of high quality competition, has been overwhelmed by all the negatives that fierce competition can lead to.

First of all, the debate world has sorted itself into circuit and non-circuit. On the one hand, students/schools will travel the country, virtually every weekend, at high cost, to attend the circuit tournament du jour. One big reason that TOC is dominated year after year by the same schools is that they can afford it. They can afford the travel expenses, and they can afford the coaching that often includes a little army of sub-coaches. I don’t begrudge rich programs spending their own money, but do we really think that this in any way, shape or form benefits debate as a whole? Most national tournaments strictly limit numbers, so a big program is still only sending 3 or 4 kids into a division halfway across the country. If there’s a hundred LDers on the team, and maybe we rotate all the hot slots from weekend to weekend so that our best dozen or so (and I’m being generous here) get to travel (because since the goal is the TOC, and you need a strong debate CV to qualify, so going to one big tournament a year won’t hack it), another 90 or so debate schmegeggies are left back home, not debating. They are certainly not with their coach, who is in the back of the room somewhere ten states away. By the same token, debaters who are on the TOC path disdain non-TOC tournaments. In fact, there are whole programs that disdain non-TOC tournaments. There’s a whole long and complex story here, but the thing is, woe be the tournament director who just wants to offer some debate to students in the region who are not TOC-hungry. First of all, too many students identify themselves as TOC-worthy, even though they don’t know a disad from a cronut, and turn their noses up at the events where they might have some good competition and learn something. They might even have to convince a judge who doesn't necessarily agree with their style and approach. Oh, the horror! Shouldn't all public speaking be aimed at people who already agree with you? Sigh. Second of all, when a program starts to decide where to spend its money, a tournament without bids falls to the bottom of the pack. How many tournaments can we all name that have been eviscerated by the once-shadowy TOC advisory committee by being stripped of their bids? I’ve been on that committee. A good tournament that deserves lots of bids is a tournament close to a member of the committee; a non-worthy tournament is one is the X region, where X is anywhere else, with "anywhere else" being defined as having too many bids already. The TOC committee invented fuzzy math. A simple formula of numbers and states, which was once the guideline, would be fine. A simple formula of asking a Star Chamber to pass judgment is not so fine. Think I’m being harsh? Want a list of the tournaments that used to be strong that are now begging for people to show up?

The TOC specifically is to blame for only some of this. It’s the idea of the TOC that is the problem. Is there a coach on the face of the earth who can’t go on at length about all the benefits of debate? Do any not agree on face that competition is the necessary evil for achieving most of debate’s benefits, that the actual debates per se, and the actual debating per se, is the least of it? Yet it is the coaches who promote the TOC mentality. It’s the coaches who pick the tournaments students attend, and who pick which of the students attend them, if there are restrictions of any sort. It’s the coaches who allow their circuit-level students the vile luxury of not being required to attend non-circuit tournaments, who don’t require their best debaters to judge at novice tournaments rather than gallivanting around from week to week somewhere else. Honestly, the serious TOC-level debater is one hell of intellect. They wouldn’t be there otherwise. Are they putting that intellect into furthering that debate resume so that they get into the right college (which they probably would have gotten into anyhow) or into training their novices and junior varsity and giving something to the debate community as a whole by attending the tournaments in the region that originally provided nourishment for that debater?

It’s all on the coaches.

Anyhow, without a national circuit—which seems an unlikely prospect at best—middle schools will never suffer the worse problems of these problems. But there is no doubt in my mind that a middle school national event, and training students for that event, will result in simply making matters worse for the TOC mentality in the high schools. I see little or no educational benefit to it. And if there is no educational benefit, then, well, what’s the point?