Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In which we start planning DisAd14

All right, enough of this debate nonsense.

The DisAd14 is myself and spouse, my cousin (a veteran of the DiDeAd), my daughter and her recently acquired spouse (he’s first-time Disney), Kaz, O’C and JV. Eight people is quite a crowd, and it’s a pretty disparate group at that. I mean, I know that right now you’re trying to imagine JV with Mickey Mouse ears and for some reason failing to have the picture form in your mind. (Actually, none of us are of the mouse ears persuasion, but I’ll at least wear a WDW t-shirt. JV refuses to wear any writing of any sort on his clothes, so there you are.) We scheduled for August when everyone could make it and there was a reasonable hotel discount, as that counts as off-season for most people, as schools around the country are already back in session, and we don’t start until after Labor Day. Needless to say, in certain areas of the debate community, the existence of this trip is looked on with something akin to complete disbelief. I think the quick take is the unlikelihood of a bunch of debate coaches actually liking one another, and then secondly, the unlikelihood of a bunch of non debate coaches putting up for a week with a bunch of debate coaches. But yes, we do like each other, as witnessed by our enjoyment not only of our shared tab rooms but all the meals and whatnot surrounding them. We even occasionally get together when there isn’t a tournament anywhere near us. And we don’t talk about debate on the trip: it virtually never came up on the DiDeAd, nor will it on the DisAd. Why would it? It’s off season, and you’re in a totally set-off world, created to remove you from the daily woes and wiles. Give in to it, and enjoy it. If we wanted to talk about debate, we could argue with each other on the coaches’ listserver.

A cold shiver goes up my spine at the very idea.

A lot of thought went into the early planning, especially with me and Kate and O’C, as the seasoned veterans. One key thing this time was the need to go to Universal. Last time we didn’t, and only Kaz got to see the Harry Potter stuff. This time there’s not only Hogwarts but Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express, both presumably opening any minute. We’re ready for this stuff now. Plus there’s plenty of other new Universal stuff worth seeing, and plenty worth revisiting (e.g., is Spiderman still the best dark ride on the planet?). Originally we set aside a day for Universal in the middle of WDW, but giving it some thought, it seemed to make sense to actually stay at Universal for a couple of days. First of all, if you stay at one of their hotels, you get early access to the parks (and Harry), bypassing some serious line-age as a result. And second, you get instant back door access to everything else other than Harry, meaning for all practical purposes, no lines. I figure about a day and a half will do it, including two mornings, one starting at Hogwarts and the other at Gringotts.

After that, it was simply a matter of adjusting the days at WDW in a reasonable fashion, allowing sleep a couple of mornings (although, let’s face it, you don’t go to WDW to sleep). And then arguing over which meals where. Et cetera.

I know. Either you wish you were going, or you can’t imagine a worse fate, including the coaches’ listserver. There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t. And those who can’t wait for the DisAd, and those can’t wait long enough. So it goes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In which we catch our breath for a minute

I’m beavering away on a new website for NDCA. I’ve cracked most of the learning curve issues, or climbed them or whatever, and now it’s mostly just laying the bricks. And the coaches’ listserver has gone in the direction of creating a Council of Tournament Directors, which I am all in favor of, and having passed some of my documents along to others, I’m happy to let them all percolate as they wish. The idea precedes me; I just want it to come to fruition.

The listserver originated over discussions of the Student Advocate, which quickly veered into discussions of race and privilege and diversity. The SA sort of got lost in the shuffle, but I have some ideas about doing an end run of sorts. No one objects to safety at debate tournaments, but everybody’s got an opinion on everything, and it’s easy to stray into other territory. Threads get tangled. So it goes. Give me a little time on this, and I’ll figure it out. In any case, I really don’t have the energy needed to get involved in everything that’s discussed on the list; it’s a Day Job all its own, and I’ve already got one of those, plus a night job, plus a desire to beat 2048 (thanks for nothing, Bietz). The diversity issues, the more one studies them, become progressively more interesting. I in no way understand the full picture, but I’m plugging away. As are, I think, a lot of other people. But in my day, I'm still limited to a mere 24 hours. I can't do more than that, no matter how much I try.

The immediate plan for the future is: 1) get the NDCA site ready for review, 2) start podcasting TVFTish stuff again, broadcast for live participation, at least via a chat room, 3) stopping debate for a little while to enjoy some other things, like DisAd14 and nice weather. The thing is, the debate season begins in August with the release of the new resolutions, and if you let it, it ends in August with debate camp. Sure, we’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid, but at some point you’ve got to give it a rest. It is, when all is said and done, the bloody high school debate team, for God’s sake! It is not the center of the known universe, or if it is, you should get out of the house and go know something else to go along with it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

In which the Bronxwegians croon, "Come Fly With Me"

Although I traveled on my own heading west, I came back on the same flight as the Bronx team. This was, of course, a mistake any sane person would have avoided. Flying with the Bronx team is a leap of faith most people are unwilling to take. There are special apps for the iPhone that list all the flights the Bronx is potentially going to be on for any given day, so that everyone else can avoid them.

We were scheduled to take off at 5:15. Then 5:45. Then it was anybody’s guess as they announced mechanical difficulties, which is something you never want to hear in regards to getting a machine the size of an apartment building off the ground and keeping it off the ground for 2000 miles or so. With you in it. Then there was the other plane they were flying in, just in case this one was totally unflyable. Then they started serving pizza! From the looks of it (I had already eaten by now), it was crappy pizza, but what do you expect? Airline food is airline food, both on the ground and in the air. And if they start thinking that the passengers are all about to pass out from hunger any minute and start flinging free food at them, you know they’re not particularly sanguine about the chances of taking off any time soon.

Of course, the Bronx Scientologists had no difficulty putting away the pizza, they being adolescents and pizza being, well, pizza, no matter how you slice it. When they finally certified that the original busted airplane was busted no longer and dared us to board, we all sheepishly headed down the gangplank, fingers crossed, and squeezed ourselves on board. Mirabile dictu, the middle seat next to me—I was in the window seat—was vacant for the flight, allowing me to spread out a tiny bit. As it turned out, the flight was from that point uneventful, and aside from the fact that I got home at about 3:30 a.m., I can’t complain too much.

I’ve been sleeping ever since.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In which we judge PF in Utah and religion in general

Here’s the thing. If you’re in Utah in the morning, don’t count on being able to find coffee. You may, or you may not. At Weber, host of the NDCA, they served an elaborate breakfast on both days, entirely caffeine free. Nonetheless, there was a Starbucks open for a couple of hours in the student center, plus a secret location unbeknownst to the students for “judge coffee,” thus raising the question of how evil the Mormons think a grande skim milk latte really is. Maybe old Joe Smith just didn’t have a taste for coffee. Beats me. Of course, there’s also bans against alcohol (although I wasn't expecting them to serve alcohol for breakfast). The effects of demon rum seem a lot more manifest than the effects of demon cups of joe, and there probably is some balance where the two, taken together, average into normality, but I understand this one better. I gather that you can’t walk into a restaurant and order demon rum unless you also order some grub to go with it. That’s a state law. If I recollect correctly, SLC is a lot drier (on both the java and demon rum fronts) than the burbs like Ogden, forty-five minutes’ drive away. But I’m not casting aspersions at the Mormons. I did have a conversation with someone over the weekend who was talking about his fasting for lent, specifically Roman Catholic meatless Fridays. The night before he had gone out for a full course meal featuring what he claimed was excellent grilled shrimp. I’m fairly sure that when the Vatican came up with meatless Fridays, it wasn’t suggesting giving up pate de fois gras in favor of beluga caviar. I guess I could give Pope Frankie a ring and ask his opinion on all of this, but I can already predict his answer: “What do I know?” Jeesh. Anybody can be infallible if they never actually answer the question!

Oh, well. Enough religion for one entry.

I was at the tournament ostensibly to judge PF for Bronx Science, and judge PF I did. Not a lot, because there were a lot of judges, but enough to earn my keep. The speed was a little surprising, but nothing terrible, and after all, one ought to be able to go full-bore at a national championship. There were some odd arguments, but nothing crazy. Quite honestly, the only difficult thing was keeping everybody straight on the electronic ballot, not, I would suggest, a problem specific to the E version of the beast. No wonder so many poor parents are hopelessly confused about who they voted for. My recommendation for any PF team is to have some really memorable gimmick to make you stand out. I voted for the team with the mullets, or I voted for the team with the snoods, or I voted for the team in the plus fours—these are the kinds of statements that help certify that the correct decision was rendered. Other than that, I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know. If you want to win, pick the best arguments and weigh them against your opponents' arguments. Don’t pick every argument, because if each team has three voters based on different criteria, I have no choice but to decide for myself what was important. As a rule, you don’t want your judges in that position. Decide for them what’s important, if you want them to vote for you. Anyhow, I didn’t change my opinion of PF, aside from thinking that I need to rework my team materials just a bit, moving my advanced suggestions to the initial suggestions page. That’ll give me something to do to fill the empty hours of the summer.

Although I wasn’t tabbing, I did mostly hang out with Kaz and Bietz in the tab room when I had free time. Good conversations about all sorts of things: I miss talking to Bietz since we let TVFT dwindle off, and I haven’t been in the same state with him since Bronx in 2012. CP was also marginally helping tab from Massachusetts, and when a minor problem or two arose, he was able to sort it out. This whole not-being-in-the-room-to-tab is rather amazing, possibly the best tabroom feature of them all. Now if CP could only get the program to serve coffee in certain states where it is otherwise unavailable, he could consider the job done.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In which we begin to talk about NDCA

This last weekend was my first NDCA as a board member. The event remains dominated by policy, and for many circuit coaches it serves as their culminating event. There’s apparently no love lost between some folks and the TOC, but to be honest, I really don’t know much about the genesis of NDCA so I can’t go into any real detail. But I like the idea of an organization for coaches, first and foremost. And I like the idea of a traveling tournament. This year it was in Ogden, Utah, a gorgeous spot north of Salt Lake City surrounded by snowcapped mountains. The venue was Weber State College, which was a phenomenal host, which hosted NDA not long ago, proving their ability to put on a good show. The next couple of NDCA Championships are, first, Las Vegas, and then Orlando. I can’t get too wildly excited about the Orlando one, though. The tournament is around Easter break every year, which means wall-to-wall people at WDW, not really worth the battle. But then again, there’s enough fun venues of the non-Disney persuasion to keep things interesting.

I flew out early on Friday because I wanted to participate in the opening night reception. Good flight out into sunny, warm weather, looking out the window at those forbidding mountains and thinking when you reach SLC that, yep, if I were Brigham Young, I would have stopped here too. Found Ogden and the hotel easily enough, thanks to the aid of my trusty Google map GPS, found Kaz easily enough, thanks to the aid of my trusty text message service, and immediately headed out for a snack, knowing the evening was going to be something of a gastronomic bust. We found a nice place and secured a dinner reservation for the following night; we know a good thing when we see one.

There was a short board meeting at 6, at which we talked about this and that, nothing earth-shattering. I did get agreement to proceed with the website update. Then we headed off to the reception, which wasn’t very well attended—maybe the potential reception attendees, realizing what state the town was in, knew in advance that the Hawaiian Punch really was just Hawaiian Punch—but following that was an 8:00 panel discussion that drew a full house. The agenda subjects were women in debate, privilege and inclusion and the student advocate, and communications, but mostly we talked about inclusion and race. I have to admit that I was in some back pain and a bit zonked by the time change and the long day, so I contributed virtually nothing to the discussion. But I enjoyed hearing it. These are subjects about which there is a lot of controversy, not necessarily about people being excluded, but how to deal with it, and what is and isn’t appropriate for the high school community. Listening and exchanging opinions in person can be a lot more effective than sending emails, in which the tone and sense aren’t always clear. Also, in emails, it’s awfully easy to move away from one topic to another and lose some important areas off to the side. That’s one reason why I want to do broadcasting, where live interaction can take the place of written communication. Written is good, but finding the right medium for a subject at hand is important, if you want to get beyond just opining.

After the panel I had a short talk with J Alston about MJP (which I’ll explain eventually in some update notes about the subject as a whole), and then went off to bed to try to regain myself for the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

In which we ponder size

Final-editing Nostrum has been mostly fun. I’ve said this before, but I really had no idea that the original series was quite that long. When you put it all together it will easily be over two million words, quite outpacing War and Peace, the inevitable albeit perhaps tired length standard. It’s more like Game of Thrones length if you need a more modern comparison, and, sadly, just as incomplete. Except I make no pretense of ever adding new episodes. I might, but I doubt it. I don’t know enough about debate anymore to talk about it in such depth. There are also, unlike GOT, neither dragons nor naked people in Nostrum, a real oversight on my part, I admit, but they did not have those in debate back in my day. The last episode I was working on, 110 or so, was published in March of 1999. Which means that it was written before literally all of next year’s novices were born.

I’m nothing if not relevant and up-to-the-minute.

Anyhow, I’m still pushing to get it out by September as a free e-book. Whether anyone wants it or not is another question, but nobody writes that much and doesn’t take care to preserve it, if possible.

I’m mostly packed for NDCA. Needless to say, the three pairs of socks are the easy part; it’s the decision about which devices that challenges the mind. I noticed with a tear that CP had ported the LD and PF data over to tabroom, where I will not be working on it. Sigh. There seems to be a long stretch of restaurants behind the tournament hotel, which is a good thing. I do hope there’s an Indian restaurant, as I have a feeling all judging all those PF rounds is going to put me in the mood for some rogan josh. (No, not chicken tikka masala, a thoroughly English dish that’s never really appealed to me.)

Needless to say, the interwebs are rife with impassioned pleas and condemnations and whatnot over who’s not getting into the national tournaments for whatever reason. I just happened to notice this by accident as I was trying to get some transportation data on the Utah trip. All the usual suspects are pretty much in place, bandying about half-truths and suppositions and serious concerns willy-nilly, which really doesn’t serve anybody in the long run (and, most likely, doesn’t get anyone into TOC in the short run). Although the means have changed, it has ever been thus. I think back to all the nonsense on the old ld-l (excluding, of course, the magnificent announcements about this week’s Nostrum), and how there were times you just had to turn it off or go bats. Probably before computers the airing of the grievances was conducted in hieroglyphs on papyrus scrolls. I have a little patience with the adolescents involved, blaming it on their youth; the adults, on the other hand, ought to know better, not necessarily to hold the opinions they hold, which may be correct, but to jump into the playground and declaim them as fervently as any 16-year-old. Seriously now. (Not to mention those with no portfolio whatsoever.) It’s a master class in internet trolling that repeats every year or so over some horror or other, real or perceived. I guess the folks in San Juan Capistrano feel this way every year around St. Joseph’s day. They expect the swallows, but sometimes they forget to wear a hat that day, with the inevitable results…

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

In which we stew

Because I’m involved in some serious discussions of case content, I thought I’d watch some LD rounds. And I tried, lord knows I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t follow them. In a word, I’m am finished. I can’t analyze what’s right/wrong in LD if I can’t follow it from word one. [Sigh.]

In a way, this causes me to care a little less than I should. I hear the pleas of people who claim they are trampled on one way or the other, then I try to get an understanding of it and my only thought is that, if you can find yourself being trampled in this meaningless wash of words where as soon as someone finishes talking the other person grabs the flash drive to get a copy of their case to read it and find out what was said, you’re a more patient person than I am. I’ve always maintained that speed per se is not a bad thing, if you’re willing to isolate the tiniest of audiences for what you’re saying. In LD, where a lot of people are complaining about certain judges and certain ideas, and claiming that those judges and ideas are ruining debate, at the same time we’ve created an activity that is intelligible only to those judges. At the point where control has already been wrested from the coaches, the coaches have a job of work ahead of them getting that control back.

Talking about the problems in debate can be frustrating. Talking about anything with debate people can be frustrating, let’s face it, but as a general rule you can at least take them to account with not answering arguments. But in the discussions I’ve been having, the distrust and mistrust and general negative feelings have been enervating. But I guess this has been building over a long time. It will take a long time to fix, if it’s fixable.

Even the simple stuff seems to engender arguments. There isn’t much I’ve said about MJP that strikes me as particularly far out. CP has been helpful to me privately in differentiating my own experience from the policy universe, so I’m more than willing to limit my conclusions to the LD community. To wit, we’re already limiting the pool to the top third or so of the judges 93% of the time, or put another way, 7% of all rounds are 3-3 or worse (and that includes 1-2s). That 4% of rounds are 3-3s has, to my mind, rendered the idea of tossing 3-3s for 1-2s relatively moot: it’s virtually a statistical deviation not worth arguing about (especially when you realize that some of them don’t have 1-2s to fall back on). And when I made that statement publicly, I was excoriated for some sort of mathematical heartlessness. No one’s bothered to try to understand what I’ve been saying would be worthy of a best practice, to set whatever number of tiers makes sense if there’s 8 or 9 or so in each tier. 3 tiers? Fine. 11 tiers? Fine. No one’s bothered to understand that preffing isn’t limited to circuit teams, and certainly no one’s worried about the effect of preffing on teams that don’t pref, which tend to be traditional/conservative but who, by not preffing, get circuit judges unfriendly to their style, or at least more friendly to their opponent’s circuit style. Everybody immediately wants to try some other way, which will probably be no better or worse than what we have, before we’ve really looked at the way we have it. I daresay the first numbers I’ve seen on MJP were the ones I posted myself. This is new stuff, but there’s an awful lot of egos in the coaching room who have it all figured out how to do it better, based on... What? I don’t know. When I argue with CP about the math, for God’s sake, the man’s a freakin’ mathematician! He enlightens me. But when I hear from some other people who haven’t run 10 billion tournaments, much less written the software to run 10 billion tournaments, I’ve got to wonder.

Oh, well. I needed to get this out of my system. I’m going to Utah with a goal of coming out with some avenues for better communication among coaches. I needed to put this rant aside before somebody hits me over the head with a frying pan.