Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In which we put Bump to bed

There isn’t much more to say about Bump. I get stressed out by it, but by now it’s a pretty well-oiled machine. This was the first year Fr. Michael was in tab, replacing CP, and he seemed to enjoy himself. (Michael being there, I mean, not Palmer not being there.) There was the issue of tab being in the noisy library. I think next year I’ll give them a classroom and then move them over to the library for elims. That should work better. In any case, they got us out earlier than last year, even with very tight judging, so there you are.

MJP with a small pool is dicey at best, plus we just barely managed to cover everyone. Not having alums to draw on is murder. I figure I need a good 5 extra judges, plus I need schools who bring highly preffed judges to go the distance. That might mean tinkering with the results, but who’s going to remember whether they won or lost the odd break round? Speaking of which, one of my newbies wanted to see what LD might be like, and I wish to thank our semifinalists for going so fast that she didn’t even realize they weren’t talking about the resolution. So she managed to get LD out of her system and is now firmly committed to PF. And I will be doing a lot more analysis on MJP as a whole, now that I’ve started. I’m really curious to see how it’s affecting things beyond just my one tournament. Will my initial hypotheses hold up? We’ll see. I’ll pass the data along to Bro Ryan as well, since that sort of thing is right up his alley.

And now, with Bump behind us, we coast into Thanksgiving with Wee Sma Lex, which I always enjoy, and which gives the Sailors a little Bump of their own. It allows novices to get their first housing under their belt, although I sorely wish they had a novice PF division. Given how many PFers they have overall, I can’t see why not. They have a novice policy division, and a novice LD division. Just sayin’. We’re going to be trying out a new restaurant Friday night. Fred the Lion, who is semi-Chinese, declared that the Chinese restaurant in Lexington is pretty lousy, but we didn’t need this level of authority to make this determination. We’re going to try an Italian place. I sorely miss the old Italian place, and the less old Italian place that succeeded it. Italian always works well with debaters. Those who are panivorous can always eat spaghetti alla niente while the rest of us our chomping down the real food. Of course, the trip home veers off to Reins’ Deli, where no one is ever disappointed.

And then there’s a week off, and some little Tigger event…

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In which we ponder what happens after meatballs

Things seemed better in hand for Bump 2014 than in some previous years. Everything ran smoothly and on schedule round-wise, as far as I could tell. The fact that we ended earlier than usual on Saturday night would seem to confirm that.

I always pass housing along to a parent. Now that we only handle out-of-staters, the number is much more manageable, although we certainly can’t handle the load just relying on the team. So the housing person does a lot of calling around, and brings in legacies, and the job gets done. The main confusion this year was one school that a) decided to forego its housing and b) didn’t bother to tell us. There were a few panicked moments when we thought they were being housed in an undisclosed location somewhere in the backwoods of Sailorville, and there was a bit of running through the halls plaintively calling their names. I finally got the coach on the horn who gave me the oops alert, and that was that. Oops this, if you know what I mean.

Food seemed to go well. There was enough of it for everyone, that is, and it was there when it was supposed to be there. The candy Speecho-Americans kept asking me questions like, could I give them change or would they get special service credits or somesuch, and I kept looking at them as if they just escaped from a lunatic asylum, but we’re used to those sorts of exchanges. Because there had been some thefts from the high school and lockdowns and whatnot a couple of weeks ago, all the doors were closed and there was only one point of access, but that proved to be no problem. As far as I know, the lost and found business operated once again with fully one hundred percent of the items lost completely unconnected to the items found. That is always one of the great Bump mysteries. If we ever found something someone actually lost, it would be a miracle.

We gave the varsity trophies out in the rounds, but I did do short ceremonies for the speaker awards for the two divisions, about 5 minutes each. I like talking about crappy prizes, and students like hearing about them and getting them. The Traveling Tray of PF returned this year—it’s the 2nd Place Bump Speech Award from 1981—as did the Traveling (Fruit) Cup for LD. The TT of PF now has a beautifully embossed nameplate, sort of, if pasting an index card on the back and attaching it with green tape and me scratching the name of the previous winners counts as beautiful embossing. There may be some dispute over that. The (Fruit) Cup winner, whose school doesn’t usually come to Bump, had the temerity (or foresight) to leave it behind after beautifully embossing his own name on it. Which means it will find its way into my basement where TK (pronounced teek) can use it as a scratching post when he’s down there chasing mice. By the way, O’C was saying how the retired can of soup that substituted for the fruit can during the wilderness years is looking pretty dicey on its perch at Bronx Science. He says when you shake it you can hear the meatballs still bouncing around in it. I had to break it to him that it was a can of chicken stock, sans meatballs, which made him start to worry about exactly what is bouncing around in there. We agreed that not shaking it again in the future would be the better part of valor.

Monday, November 17, 2014

In which we begin debriefing on Bump

Well, another Bump is in the history books.

We started up better than usual this year. At the point where we know everyone is on their way or here, pairings can start, and they did. Since people had either texted their information or simply checked themselves in from the road, we were golden. Registration table opened at 2:30, and my team crackheads the heads of my crack team collected the money while I hovered around feeling useless. Then I made the traditional opening remarks that easily half of the people in the cafeteria are able to hear, and there we were. I did a short briefing for the PF judges in the library, then went back out to get the novices started and on their way down the hill, and we were off and running. I gather that there were some issues when the novices arrived as the assembled Mothers Against Damned Debaters grabbed their innocent children and did their best to protect them from the clutches of the PF novices, but O’C and Kaz handled the day, and soon things were on an even keel. Luckily I wasn’t there for that. It’s probably not good form to open the tournament and start beating up on the MADD mothers. O’C and Kaz are much more politic than I am.

There were some magical moments. We had a glitch with the room pool assignments, so JV quickly redid the pools. No biggie, except for the room SB-2, which is in an alcove off the main entrance of the grammar school. JV thought it was in the high school, however, so he put it in for VLD. When round one went out, the judge assigned to SB-2 in the high school, a room that doesn’t exist, picked up her ballot, announced that she knew where that was, grabbed a debater and disappeared.

Much time passed. Three other debaters who were supposed to be in SB-2 were in the tab room looking perplexed. Knowing as I did that there was no SB-2 in the high school, I was now perplexed too. Grabbing my pith helmet and elephant rifle, I went off in search of this mythical spot. I looked in the basement, but all those rooms were locked, with “Keep Out Bumpites” signs on all the doors. Back upstairs, the three debaters looked at me desperately, asking me to help them, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope. All right, sez I. This time in addition to pith helmet and elephant rifle I grabbed our major domo and the A flight debater and tried again.

This time we went down not one flight but two. There were no lights. There was merely the suggestion of a path through the dark. Down a few more steps. Up a few steps. Down a few steps. Up a few steps. Indiana Jones (to change gears on the Lucas comparisons) would have turned back long ago.

And there was the judge. In a room marked Brigadoon, chatting away with the one lone debater. The door was locked. We banged on it for an hour or so before they finally heard us. I threw in my debater and told them to have their flight and, if they could, try to get back before Christmas. Then the major domo and I hurried back the way we came, chased by a giant ball.

Who says nothing interesting happens at debate tournaments? If this wasn’t worthy of a Tale of Great Debate Adventure, I don’t know what is.

(More to come.)


Sunday, November 16, 2014

In which we learn something new about MJP - judges don't matter

I find the following fascinating. It is far from scientifically certain, but I would expect that further exploration along this line, if someone had the time and some really good Excel skills, would confirm these conclusions.

My hypothesis is simply that MJP, or more to the point, judges in general, don’t matter that much. I’ve sensed glimmers of this in the past (and reported on it), but the more I think about it, the more true it seems. Obviously there’s exceptions, but we’re talking the rule here. And I think I can safely say that as a rule, good debaters can pick up just about any judge. MJP is nice, but it may turn out to be a more important tool for lesser debaters in the long run.

People use MJP as a tool for determining their judges. That’s a good idea, and I’m in favor of it. But of course, there are some rules of engagement in the tab room. First and foremost, teams on the bubbles get first priority for their prefs, moving up the win/loss scale to the undefeateds and then going down to the out-of-contention folk. What this means is that the people who will get their highest preferences at a tournament are the ones who need them most. The opposite is also true: the people who don’t get their highest preferences at a tournament are the ones who need them the least.

The Bump tournament had a small judge pool, ranked across 5 levels + strikes. With 83 VLDers over 5 rounds, the average pref was 1.7. That seems about the way it should be.

Of course, I was not tabbing my own tournament, but I was in the tab room often enough to watch the sausage being made. One round in particular stood out, round 4, where 8 out of the 10 of the undefeateds got 3s or 4s. As explained above, this is because there were a lot of people ahead of them in the line for the most desired judges. Meanwhile, there were times in the day when people came by to query a placement of a judge that seemed low. This got the little grey cells a-glowing.

Today I looked at the top four debaters at Bump, the semifinalists, and poked around on a spreadsheet. In prelims, they won 19 of 20 rounds. The one loss was in front of a 4 judge. But here’s the interesting part. The average pref for the tournament overall in prelims was 1.7. For these four folks, their averages in prelims were 2, 2, 2.4 and 2.6. One of them, who did not drop a ballot all day, got judges preffed 1,3,3,3,3! Another one of them, also undefeated in prelims, got two 4s.

What’s the unifying factor here? I would suggest that it’s not prejudicially favorable judge placement, but damned good debating despite the judge. I know way too many coaches who question placements. I’ve already reported on my unhappy experiences on Yale when we were forced to put out less than desirable placements and people stormed the proverbial barricades. My response was that maybe you should spend more time teaching your debaters how to appeal to a broad base of judges rather than complaining that you’re not getting your preferred narrow base.

The four top debaters at Bump (and I promise you their elim rounds were no picnic either) demonstrate—if not with statistical certainty then at least with anecdotal evidence that suggests that statistical certainty is possible—that good debating, winning the ballots from the judges you get, is the key to success. Trust me: the tab room has already done its best for you, but tab can only do so much. It’s the debaters who win rounds, not the pref sheets.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In which we open the Bump help desk

This is just a mild sampling of what I've seen in the last 24 hours. It’s—almost—verbatim.

Q: Can you tell me what PF topic you’ll be using in November?
A: The November topic. From 2019. Why wait till the last minute?

Coach: Please note that one of my students is allergic to Coquilles St. Jacques.
Me: Damn. And we had already prepared Coquilles St. Jacques for 400 people. I’ll tell them to toss it out and find some leftover debate ziti from back when Newburgh had the Bump weekend.

Q: What happens if it snows?
A: Precipitation freezes before it hits the ground and turns the water into little crystals.

Q: Can I switch a lot of things around completely?
A: Ka-ching!

Q: Can I have another slot in everything, and then another one, you’re the best, please please, none of them are showing any symptoms of Ebola, much, and I wouldn’t ask except I always do.
A: No, O’C, you can’t.

Coach: Can you put another LDer in, please?
Me: We’re at the point where people are going to be debating in the bathroom.
Coach: That’s fine. She’ll like that. She’s meant to debate in the bathroom.

Parent helper: Can I have some kids to help out cleaning up Saturday? But they have to be really good ones.
Me: Have you actually ever met any of our kids?
Parent helper: I’ve given birth to some of them.
Me: I rest my case.

Q: Can you explain a lot of stuff to me that’s clearly answered in your invitation?
A: Of course. I only write the invitation to keep my hands busy during the early part of the season.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In which we Bump things up

Bump is full. More than full. All shut down, moving along nicely. There are more tables being used for rounds in the library than I would normally like, but that’s what happens when PF is double the size of previous years. Of course, I’m seeing that at every tournament I do. PF is growing and thriving. LD certainly seems to be holding its own, however, at least for the time being. There is the issue of it being a lot easier to run a squad of single entries versus a squad of team entries, for one thing. On the other hand, I continue to read a lot of articles about LD on the various sites and blogs, and I progressively find that I understand less and less of it. I’m happy to ascribe some of this to my increasing mental decrepitude, but at the point where people are arguing with a straight face whether there is a need to address a resolution, ever, I wonder if all those kids on my lawn aren’t suffering from their own decrepitudes. Good grief!

The other events on the docket are also marching along. The Tiggers is overbooked, which means that the people who signed up yesterday are expressing surprise at being waitlisted. Really? Every day I see new tournaments come up on tabroom, and if they’re tournaments I like, I grab some slots. Alternately, I could wait a month and wake up one morning thinking, I wonder whatever happened to the such-and-such tournament that usually runs this weekend that I need hotels, airplane tickets and Secret Service clearance to attend, much less slots at the tournament. Other surprises, from the Bumpish universe: I need to cover all my entries with judging? Can’t you just make this one exception for little old me? This is a skep sheep trigger: i.e., I respond by explaining to them the Tragedy of the Commons. Why are you charging me for late changes if I almost made the deadline, kind of, except I really didn’t because I’m not quite used to having set the clocks back a couple of weeks ago? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So once more unto the breach this weekend, the annual low point of my night job. Just think. It will all be over on Sunday. Ahhhhh….


Monday, November 10, 2014

In which we discuss the Universal Right to Debate

There is, apparently, a perception by some of a universal Right to Debate at the high school level. This RTD is warranted thus: Debate is a very good thing, therefore all students are entitled to it. As far as I know, but I may be wrong about this, there are no other such rights in the high school community. In the normal course of events, students take advantage of whatever program a school has to offer, and only what a school has to offer. There is no perceived right to football, or fencing, or annual musical theater performances, or chess, or any other extracurricular activity that might be a good thing. Schools are not obligated to offer a complete menu of activities beyond basic education (which, in many cases, is hard enough). If a school does not have a particular program, no matter how good that program might have been if it existed, the fact that it doesn’t exist would seem to preclude participating in it.

Not so with debate. The RTD overrides all other concerns.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t believe in the benefits of forensics. Twenty years in, weekend after weekend, on my own dime, ought to demonstrate that. (Remember, I already have a day job.) The benefits of forensics are not in question here. What is in question is access to those benefits.

There are those who give time and money to working and developing programs. The Soros Group has, for instance. Certainly the NSDA is built around developing and maintaining programs in schools. Plenty of local organizations do likewise. Meanwhile, we have a broad network of camps for training debaters, after school or during summer breaks. We also have people who sell materials to debaters to enhance their performance, including the NSDA, which is not free and which offers expensive packages beyond basic membership. There is nothing wrong with this. Plenty of non-profits take money in to support their projects, and for-profit in general is also perfectly acceptable. Offer something that people want and sell it for a price they are willing to pay? Sure. Cap Good. No problem.

A lot of people love debate and its benefits. A lot of people have built careers around it. So far, so good.

Over the years, a broad network of competition has developed around the country. One way or another, this competition is open to various kinds of participation. NSDA and CFL (and MHL and NDCA and NYSDCA and NYSFL and presumably plenty of others) impose limits on who can be a member and therefore compete. None of these is entirely open to everyone. And I’ll throw in general invitationals here as well. For the most part, all of these competitions are open only to their members. In the case of some of them, membership is determined by various rules and some sort of dues payment. High school invitationals have a more common law sense of membership, a presumption that the participants are high school students; a corollary to this is that they represent the high schools they attend, and that they are not simply random students who happen to be attending high schools. Any high school debate tournament, with perhaps hundreds of students attending, needs to proceed on generally accepted criteria. That those hundreds of students are attending with the knowledge of—and as far as the tournament is concerned, recourse to—their official administrations has always been a given. The reason for this is because of the unfortunate possibility of something going wrong. It can be accidents, illness, whatever. I have seen serious instances of both over the years. Official entries from schools are equipped (as well as anyone can be equipped) to handle these situations. Adults are in place, medical forms are viable, etc. Additionally, tournaments can only run effectively when the participants understand the obligations of attending tournaments, knowing who has to be where, and when. The fiascos resulting from being a bad guest can equal the fiascos of being a bad host.

Until recently this has all been a given, an unspoken expectation. Today, however, we have RTD debaters who feel they are inherently entitled to debate.

There are two general universes of RTD debater. The first is the maverick, the lone wolf student from a school that doesn’t offer debate. Sometimes the school knows about this maverick, and supports the student’s endeavors. Sometimes not. The mavericks might arrive at a tournament alone, or with a college student who is not legally an adult, or with a parent who is acting merely as chaperone but who is often tossed into a judging pool with no understanding of the activity whatsoever (and, often, with little understanding of the English language). The only acceptable maverick, I would say, is the one traveling with the endorsement of the student’s school, in the company of an empowered adult. This adult can judge, or not, but only if the judge is up to the task (and as a former parent judge myself, I’m pretty liberal about this, and as a tab director, I’m usually happy to enable it by putting parent judges into PF rather than VLD). Unfortunately, the acceptable maverick is being outnumbered by those pulling shenanigans. False school names. False student names. The aforementioned English-as-a-non-existing-language parent in the VLD pool (getting no rounds, of course, and then asking me what to do about lodging for the night at 10 o’clock and I’m heading out to my own warm blanket). Nevertheless, the interwebs are bustling with pleas to let mavericks debate, regardless of (and sometimes in spite of) their shenanigans. After all, debate is good, and there is a universal RTD! Yes, it is, and no, there isn’t. If your school doesn’t offer a debate program, that is not the problem of the schools that do, nor the tournaments you wish to attend. If as much time and energy were spent within the school working with the administration to start teams, to provide debate—the good thing—to as many people as possible for the longest term possible, as is spent flying lone wolves from one circuit tournament to another, we’d have wall-to-wall novices every weekend.

The other general universe of the RTD debater is the club member. Until recently I think most folks have been accepting of club debaters, mostly because they hadn’t given them much thought. The club premise is simple: you pay them money, and they train you to debate. Straightforward enough on face. But because debate is a good thing, and there is a universal RTD, the clubs feel that they should be able to debate against high schools, representing the clubs. Which has led, in (my) recent memory to a series of shenanigans and mendacity and irresponsibility that has left no club untainted. Not paying registration fees? Oh, that must be some sort of miscommunication. Fines for not meeting obligations? Oh, you never send me that email (all five times). Club debaters from schools that actually have teams ending up facing each other in rounds, and going to tab to ask for new assignments? Or club debaters pretending to be representing a school only one of them attends? No adult responsible for the club at the tournament? Oh, I don’t know anything about that, even though I’m the only grownup here. One judge covering entries from multiple (most likely unofficial) schools and weaseling out of judge fees? You mean that’s unacceptable? How can that be? We’re wonderful people who really want as many people as possible to debate.

No, you’re not. You’re in the business of selling a service, and not doing a particularly good job of delivering that service, otherwise most tournaments I work at wouldn’t have banned you, for cause, from returning. The trail is clear. The reason clubs are being pushed out is not because we won’t “give them a chance” (as one article I saw put it), but because we have given them many chances and they’ve repeatedly screwed us over. Telling me that you’re really wonderful and things will be different this time isn’t going to hack it. The lack of responsibility on the other end seals it. If we have a problem with a school (and we have had such problems), we go to the administration of that school, which takes responsibility for it. If we have a problem with a club, we go to the administration of that club, and they disavow any knowledge of any wrongdoing, and tell us how wonderful they are and how much good they’re doing for debate, then they accuse us of discrimination, or being anti-education, or whatever else occurs to them to distract from their own shortcomings.

The clubs, as profit generators, can easily solve their problem by going to the schools of their clients and working toward official entry as those schools. As for the lone wolves, they can stop thinking about their own attendance at TOC and start thinking about how they can bring the benefits of debate—which they claim is a universal right—to others. You think these efforts won’t be rewarded? You think wrong. But you think ignoring making these efforts won’t be noticed? You think really wrong. Those of us who have given their souls to debate want nothing more than everyone possible debating, not because there’s a universal right to debate, but because there’s a universal value derived from debating. But the non-school community, clubs and independents, have brought down the wrath of the school community on themselves, making a hard thing—running tournaments—into something even harder, turning registration into an adversarial process, and making people like me get progressively more angry.

C’est tout.