Thursday, March 26, 2015

In which we start the next season

It seems awfully early, but I’ve already begun working on the Pups. This year out we’ll handle the waitlist better, for one thing. We learned to hold off a couple of weeks and not go first come, first served, but instead to divvy up the slots evenly. I’ve never taken to the idea that the reason you get into a tournament is that you have your finger on the button at the right time. In the end, just about every legitimate entry gets in most places. The point of a waitlist is to strain out the illegitimate entries and to limit the legitimate ones. That is, if you have a big team, you can’t register them all no matter how much you want to. A tournament needs to manage itself, and one of the ways it does this is to keep entries fairly distributed. Tabbing small events with unbalanced fields is something I do a lot, and you see lots of pullups and the like, the sort of thing you want to avoid at a major tournament. It’s okay at MHLs or local invitationals, but when you’re talking circuit events, it’s not so all right. People may want to get 10 slots, but that probably isn’t going to happen. Anyhow, waitlist management at the big events is crucial.

Of course there remains the illegitimate entries, and waitlist does allow you to detect who is an official entry and who isn’t. When in doubt, I email them. As often as not, they are legitimate. There’s nothing wrong with a lone wolf traveling with a parent or some other reasonable guardian, provided that it’s done with the knowledge of the school the LW is supposedly representing. No one has any serious brief against that. But at the point where you’re only saying you’re representing your school, which thinks that you took the day off because you have the ague, that’s something else. I’ve gone into that plenty of times here, and the VCA knows my feelings about it. No, you are not born with an inherent right to debate, and tournaments are perfectly within their rights to limit invitations to actual school entries. As for the camps, they’re perfectly within their rights to set up their own tournaments open to anyone under the sun, and anyone under the sun can then go and whoop it up to their heart’s content. Given that my experience with the camps has been steadily negative, I probably won’t be tabbing those tournaments.

And then there’s the new business about conflicts being used as strikes. This is a relatively new one, but we should have it beaten down by the end of next season. It began with honest misreadings of the concept of conflict, but since I now send out a detailed explanation of confliction before each tournament, that won’t hold anymore.

Meanwhile, I’m sure that the community of people looking to pull a fast one will, while we’re looking elsewhere, come up with some new fast ones. They always do. That community is probably seriously pissed that I didn’t go away completely, as I am no doubt high on their enemies list. So it goes. With enemies like that, who needs friends?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

If this is Wednesday, it must be Nostrum

It turns out that I can’t offer Nostrum for free as a Kindle edition.


Then again, it is already free online, so stop your bellyaching, you spalpeen! I have to charge all of $.99 for it. That’s less than a dollar, for those of you who are mathematically challenged. It won’t kill you. And after all, this edition is not only filled with brand new annotations that make some of it marginally more understandable, but it can be carried with you anywhere on your device of choice: to the beach, to class, to work, to the Finland station, to the barricades, to hell and back, to kill a mockingbird, to a Grecian urn, to a fault, to Esme with love and squalor, to infinity and beyond, to lose one parent, toujours l’amour, toot toot tootsie goodbye, and all manner of things beginning with M. Et cetera.

Anyhow, it’s up and available, and I’ve begun working on the Epistles. I also realize that I have a boatload of work to do web-wise as a result of this publication, but I’ll be on it shortly. Meanwhile, we continue with our dramatis personae.


The central team in Nostrum, but the budget is tight, and they may be dropping forensics at whatever point this year that the money runs out. The Snow Ball is Nighten Day's own annual tournament, run every January, usually in the middle of a snowstorm.
Speechies: Mark & Noah (extemp); David (Twas) Brillig and William Hand (Duo); Kumar Juvaswami (HI); Ashley Ambrose (OO); Cartier Diamond (DI); Mordred Prentice (forensic activity unknown)
Staff: Raoul Walsh, principal; Margery Mooney, freshman English teacher; Harry Klein, teacher of Cinema Appreciation; Lav Bunbury, guidance counselor
Family and Such: The Buglaronis ; Braun Saxon (Cartier's married ex-boyfriend); Myra Moon (the mystery of Tarnish Jutmoll's past)

The Editor of Metro New York magazine, this solid, frizzy-haired, recently divorced woman is now coaching a new team for her son's new suburban high school, Bisonette Technical.

A Master of the Debate Universe, formerly of Manhattan Lodestone, now with Bisonette Technical. In his freshman year at Lodestone he won his first two Combat of Conquerors limbs, and from that point on there was no looking back. As a sophomore he took King Ivy. As a junior he made it all the way to the finals of the COC Tournament, and made it to semis in both the Catholic Forensic League Nationals and the Non-Catholic Forensic League Nationals.

A man of many appetitites. Six and a half feet tall, this African-American first appears in Nostrum as the coach of Veil of Ignorance, a history teacher, district NFL chairman, and a dyed-in-the-wool Policy-first maven.

He begins as Bill, a slightly overweight policy debater, successful partner of Tara Petskin at Veil of Ignorance. Thanks to francogrammatification, and some other changes, he becomes Invoice O'Connor, among other things.

Worm is a Bisonette sophomore recruited by Chesney Nutmilk. Dark, unshaven, disshevelled, he has a voice like a depressed turtle.

The wheelchair-bound coach of Manhattan Lodestone. A debate god from the get-go, he has been around since the invention of around. His disability is the result of an accident.

A pair of glasses, which seem to cover every part of her face that isn't hidden by her long auburn hair. Tara, a senior, is a serious Polician from Veil of Ignorance, the partner of Bill O'Connor. In her earlier debate career she partnered with Haircut Puente.

Mordred, a Nighten Day sophomore, is the familiar of Cartier Diamond. He is not known to participate actively in forensics, but he always seems to be at forensics events. Chubby, short, unattractive, usually red-faced.

Haircut, at five-foot-eleven, with a closely shaved head and a shadow of whiskers and an intense look in his eye, is the classic image of the anarchist. You could imagine him organizing Wobblies in the middle west of America or riding the train to Finland with Lenin or sipping Pernod with the students in 1968 Paris or generally causing serious mischief against The System from whatever platform he chose to preach from. One time partner of Tara Petskin at Veil of Ignorance. Creator of the enormously successful web site.

Quilty Prep is a public high school allied with no university. Its founders considered the name Quilty High to be too banal for such a tony hamlet as Quilty, New York. Quilty Prep, on the other hand, wreaked of wealth and ivy and untold numbers of strings of polo ponies, if not exactly of common sense. So Quilty Prep it was. Quilty Prep has one of the largest forensics teams in the state, spread over LD and Speech but excluding Policy.

The coach of Toulouse is a fiery Irishman of the Policy persuasion. Usually found in the tab room.

Bark is the original boyfriend of Gloria Fudless. He has long, stringy dark hair tied around at the back of his neck, where the head of a dragon tattoo can be seen riding up above his collar. Three gold earrings dangle from his right ear, and one from his left. He is a senior at Nighten Day, all of eighteen years old with a regular driver's license and his own ancient Buick.

A young married couple. Brett is working toward her master's degree in archaeology, and is forced to travel often. Nostrum begins with Braun, offstage, having recently broken up with Cartier Diamond.

Bowling fanatic and coach of the Algren-On-The-Beach, Massachusetts, team.

Rail thin and older than justice, Ms. Screeds is the coach of Andrew Johnson.

Consiglieri of the Vitelli family. The lawyer, Starbuck, is a large, tall man, nearly completely bald, wearing oversized aviator-frame eyeglasses. His size and fitness and bronze skin exude health and vitality, while his small eyes behind the glasses add a definition of intelligence to his profile.

The coach of Farnsworth Catholic.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In which we ruminate

Twenty years is a long time. A lot can happen, and a lot can change. A lot can stay the same, too.

Chief among the reasons I’ve left coaching is that I no longer feel able to carry the responsibility of a team week after week. I’ve never been one to do what a lot of coaches do, things like cutting cards or directing arguments or, heaven forbid, writing positions and cases. That’s always felt to me like the sort of thing the debaters ought to be doing, and if I were to do it, it would be a disservice to them. After all, I’m an editor by vocation. We don’t come up with stuff, for the most part, although occasionally an editor will suggest an idea to a writer. We take what writer’s write and work with them on it to make it better. We’re a sounding board, in other words, usually with pretty good writing skills of our own that we turn to use in aid of others’ writing skills. I can make an unclear sentence clear. I can tell you when a scene is too long, too short, too obvious, too obscure, too anything. I’ve been doing this for a lifetime. If I can’t do it by now, I should be looking into a new career. Anyhow, it’s easy enough to adapt this skillset over to working with debaters. I might have an idea or two, but mostly I would try to work with them on their ideas. If they were good debaters, and this is also true of good writers, they would carefully consider my advice—always advice, never orders. They might disagree, but that’s fine, provided they’d analyzed it. In the end, it’s their work. And my goal was always that the debaters would learn to do this work, or if they already had good natural talents, which was often the case, to help them do it better.

This approach isn’t terribly competitive. Then again, I’m not terribly competitive. The really competitive students I’ve had over the years succeeded admirably, so I don’t think I held anyone back, but I never valued winning all that much. The educational value of debate that had nothing to do with debate—making friendships with new people, learning to travel, showing up prepared, chewing on new ideas, that sort of thing—were always more appealing to me. I really loved the old days when no LDer worth a peanut was able to proceed without a serious working knowledge of canonical ethical literature. I got to teach people that stuff, and I was pretty good at that. In LD, of course, the canon was long ago thrown out in favor of various reactionaries, which would make sense perhaps if the students involved already understood the canon, but to go straight from Dr. Seuss to Nietzsche or Judith Butler or whatever? Not such a great idea. To understand music, you have to first learn to play your scales. In aid of the win in a round, we’ve eliminated the metaphorical scale practice in debate and gone straight to Liszt and 13-key hand-spans. Then again, putting aside cause and effect, my going over to PF obviated the need for much instruction in the ethical literature. I may harbor a hope that eventually PFers understand that there is more to a winning position than a better card, but no one is seeing that happening at the moment. With a topic a month and maybe two tournaments at most debating it, maybe never.

There’s other things though than the nature of the debate beast informing my decision. Honestly, that was the least of it. As I’ve said from the beginning, time is a big issue. My day job becoming more demanding leaves me little time (or patience) for dealing with the minutia of running a team. Who signed up for what, reserving buses, reserving hotel rooms, adjusting and readjusting partnerships, submitting paperwork for reimbursements—very time consuming. And there’s another aspect to this, the safety issue. Twenty years and we've had only the most minor of incidents, the odd scrape here and there, and that’s about it. No major medical events, no major accidents, no major nothing. A charmed life, in other words, but that doesn’t mean that one doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying. There’s serious stress involved in shepherding students around week after week. After twenty years, voila, I made it with nary a scratch. After a while you get tired of playing this particular game of Russian roulette. I took it on voluntarily. I am in awe of those who have it as part of their job for the entire span of their careers. These folks are saints, and/or lunatics. I send them my compliments.

I wish I were leaving at a more settled time. As I’ve said, I intend to continue to work tournaments for the foreseeable future, at pretty much the same rate as before. But for a while now I’ve been moving away from things like the MHL and the NYSDCA, to let others deal with the issues of those groups. The hassles of getting the region more settled in light of the poor showings at the MHLs and the continued discomfort of two state leagues are a part of what I don’t want to address anymore. Again, too much stress and time consumption, time that I don’t have to spare. And to be honest, that I no longer want to spare. I feel I’ve done my bit as a grownup in the region. I’ve run the MHL, I created the Modest Novice, I started experiments with intermediate debaters in “Academy” debate, I’ve maintained websites and calendars and whatnot. Somebody else needs to step up to the plate. This stuff doesn’t do itself. Without regional leadership we’ll have a bunch of tournaments that work, and a bunch of weekends that will probably go wanting for lack of a vision to sort them out. We’ve got a boatload of debaters in the northeast. Keeping them debating at all levels, not just aimed at $ircuitry, is a matter of great and continuing urgency.

My personal goal is to start finding more tabbers. We don’t have many people who want to work the boiler room these days, and CP’s thoughts that we’re heading towards an automated tab system notwithstanding, we need people to run things, to make tournaments happen and then to make rounds happen. Tabbing will be fully automated when all the judges show up in their rounds on time prepared to cast electronic ballots in a timely manner at tournaments that have flawless wifi. They will probably, at the same time, have to duck all the flying pigs. So I will actively be soliciting new hands. I’ve got a couple in mind already, who have done a little work greasing the machinery, and I’ll grab them. But I’ll try to grab more. It requires a certain mindset to enjoy tabbing, and it does mean not rubbing elbows with your team for the duration of the tournament, no scouting rounds, no intense prepping, none of that stuff that a lot of competitive coaches think needs to be done. Instead you’re doing the math of prefs and balancing judge commitments and throwing more wood into the engine to keep things moving. I’m not arguing which is the better choice, just pointing out that it is a choice.

So I continue to assert that I’m not gone yet. I’ve got plenty of work to do. But aside from continuing to do the work of tabbing that I enjoy so much, and which gives me needed respite from the DJ (tabbing a tournament, for me, is a battery refresher), I have set the goal of getting my replacements lined up.

Uncle Jim needs YOU!

Monday, March 23, 2015

In which we think about other things to do

As always, not going to a debate on a weekend takes a bit of getting used to. It’s not as if I don’t appreciate things like sleeping in and enjoying normal pastimes like reading a magazine and taking a walk, but I’m not quite used to it yet. Needless to say, this would be happening even if I were still coaching the Sailors: they’re season is over no matter how you slice it. I’m personally not completely over for the season yet, though; there is still NDCA. Then I’m truly done for a while. I figure about a month before we start drilling down into things like the Pups… Life goes on, and I go on with it.

I’ve been spending my writing time editing the Epistles of St. Jules to the Forensicians. Amazing stuff, in that half the time I have no idea what I’m talking about. Although I’m often accused of this in my general existence, seeing written material that has come from these typing fingers that I can’t make heads nor tails of is revelatory. Apparently I knew a lot more then than I know now and have forgotten it all, although honestly, most of it seems pretty evanescent. It’s interesting to see how much Jules and the Mite didn’t like Hillary, even then. Or Bill, for that matter. 15 years later? Same lack of love lost on my their part. Then again, the material does bring me back. The Nostumate, Unix the Nostrumutt, Mr. Ma ‘N’ Pa, the miracle of the meat-packing plant, the Falutin sisters—glory days, eh?

I have other plans for the off-season. I need to update my website for a formerly coaching perspective, for one thing. And there’s a bunch of planned writings, like my Tournament Director’s Handbook, that remain started but unfinished. Working with the folks at the Bronx talking about next year, a guide to running a tournament in-hand soonest isn’t a terrible thing. They have Big Bronx to contend with, and are coming to it cold, although they’ve already got the tab team committed, with all its attendant expertise. One of the big reasons I packed it in Sailorwise was wanting never to run Bump again, but helping other people run their tournaments? No problem. As long as I’m not the one left holding the bag when it’s over.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

In which we ramble on about why we're only partially leaving the activity

If you want people to read a post on your blog, tell ‘em you’re hitting the road. Jeesh. I got more hits Tuesday than Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron combined. (Of course, members of the VCA know full well that this metaphor did not come trippingly to the typing fingers: I googled it. The thing is, it’s probably been three or four years since my last sports reference, and I thought the time was right.)

As I indicated in that post, I’m not quitting debate altogether. I enjoyed the few encomiums that were tossed my way (much as I enjoy tossing the word encomium your way—use it three times and its yours), and it was nice to hear from some of the old-timers who, I assure you, meant very much to me as I attempted to befog their brains at the height of their adolescence. They still do. The thing is, my role in debate has shifted over the years. For a while the Sailors had real boatloads of people shipping out to all the tournaments. McLean and I were reminiscing Saturday about how we always had big buses and every flavor of debater from dabbler to debate-is-my-life. That went on for years, and we had incredible successes at all levels. But I never did have control of recruitment. Debate at Hudville was always over on the side, and never a mainstream activity. My also being over on the side didn’t help that. A lot of S&D talent is recruited mano a mano, when a teacher recommends a student to the coach, but that’s something that I was never a part of. We relied on word of mouth and sadly inadequate recruitment visits to the middle school, and not me pulling them out of AP English and sitting them down and telling them that they were debaters so shut up and read this copy of On the Genealogy of Morality.

As time went by, the team got smaller, and meanwhile I was getting more and more involved in tournament management. I’ve heard people blame the failings of present-day LD on the drift of people from the back of the room to the tab room, but that’s glib rationalization. Tournaments don’t run themselves. At the college level, the lack of stable Tournament Directors is an issue, although the ones I’ve worked with have learned well how to keep the lore in the team so that the good that TDs have done doesn’t disappear when they graduate. Nevertheless, a stable adult presence allows registrants to feel secure that the tournament will come off reasonably well. At the high school level, well, simply put, there aren’t a lot of people who want to go into the tab room, period. The vast majority of coaches prefer coaching, for some strange reason, and tabbing greatly interferes with one’s ability to work with one’s team. Plus, the vast majority of coaches aren’t interested in solving the problems that tabbing presents. Tabbing is an odd mixture of high pressure, gut math, boredom, ukulele music and coffee consumption that either you take to or you don’t. Tabbing means going out with a computer and pushing ballots on the fly in the midst of total confusion. Tabbing means holding hands of people who should have their hands held and slapping the hands of people who should have their hands slapped, and knowing the difference (which Kaz is arguably the best of us at). And yes, tabbing is giving up a lot of direct experience of rounds from the back of the room, but obviously a concerned coach can find plenty of opportunities to both tab and judge at different tournaments, if that is the goal.

Anyhow, as I said, I’m not quitting altogether. I like tabbing and will continue doing it if asked (and, if necessary, provided a hotel room in lieu of tab discounts), so that’s simple enough. But also I really feel that the region needs some new tabbers. We need to have a handful of people who can work the machines and provide mature leadership from the back room. I’ll be around for quite a while, I hope, but when I finally pack it in, someone’s got to step up and take my place. People have to learn to be comfortable with the software, and more than that, understand what tabbing is at the level of tossing cards. For a way long time now we’ve created machine plunkers, going back to TRPC, who understood the program but not the underlying process. It’s like knowing how to use a calculator but not being able to add 2 + 2. I love that calculators exist, but on the fly, I like knowing that 2 + 2 = 4. There’s a difference.

I’ll be actively trying to recruit tabbers next season. If you’re interested, let me know. I’ll be working the registration sheets to find people I can pull from the judge pools to the tab pools. When I finally do go off into the sunset, I want to go off feeling that I’m not leaving problems behind for others to solve.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

If this is Wednesday, it must be Nostrum

I'm going to guess that it isn't hard for people to connect the dots of a revival of Nostrum and my leaving the Sailors as being marginally related. That should make it clear that it's been on my mind for a while. 

I always enjoyed the real debate life on its own merits, don't get me wrong, but I also appreciated it as a source of the fictional universe I was creating. Let's face it: I'm a frustrated writer. I've had a couple of successes, but the vision I had of myself feverishing polishing my Nobel Prize speech on the flight over to Oslo never came to pass. Oh, well.

Anyhow, we continue presenting the cast of TOS. I noticed on my Nostrum website that I seemed to have intended a combined DP of both TOS and TNG, but it never happened. Maybe someday in the future, now that my time has been freed up a bit. 

And, oh yeah, I hope to get the book finished and out this weekend.

Goldbaum, Griot

Nighten Day’s smartest student, a senior who’s already racked up perfect 800s on his SATs. He is short and chubby, with curly black hair sticking up from the top of his head like a tangle of holly bushes. A long mandarin mustache gives him an air of oriental mystery, in keeping with his being the only full-blooded Inuit not only in Nighten Day High School, but in the town, the county, and perhaps even the state (with the exception, of course, of his immediate family). Griot is something of a mystic, and the number-one schematic interpreter on the circuit.

Hannah and Hughes

Hebrides High School’s leading Duo team.

Hand, William

Originally half of the blond, blue-eyed Duo team of Hand and Brillig, William has recently come out as gay. (Welcome to the Bahamas!) As an aside, William can listen to the soundtrack of “Rent” twenty-four hours a day.

Hyphen-Emdash, Tilde

Star debater from the Algren-on-the-Beach, Massachusetts, team. She is a tall, dark-haired girl, in appearance somewhat resembling Morticia Addams, only slightly more funereal.

Jutmoll, Tarnish

The Nighten Day coach. A small man, barely five feet tall, with a white goatee below a wild range of similarly white hair on his little skull. One long white eyebrow stretches the entire ridge above his dark, probing eyes. He inevitably seems to have just come indoors from a windstorm, and one might mistake him for a tiny wizard or a large elf if one is partial to fantasy universes. His main anchor to reality is his bow-leggedness, his knees seemingly far enough apart to allow the passage between them of a pair of Siamese twin toddlers clutching black market Sleep-and-Snore Ernie dolls. There is mystery in Jutmoll’s past: the accident, Myra Moon ... Jutmoll teaches Social Studies, plus a half credit debate class. He has no family.

Juvaswami, Kumar

Nighten Day’s Humorous Interper, who always seems to be in a world of his own. A senior.

King Ivy

The big Ivy League tournament in February.

Levi al-Chaim, Sister

Sister Levi is the forensics doyenne of Hebrides High School. She has been in the nun business for fifty years now.

Lewton, Val

The principal of Bisonette with a leering aspect that Amnea Nutmilk finds suspect.

Lloyd, Harold

Monsignor Lloyd is the principal of Veil of Ignorance.

Manhattan Lodestone

A magnet school. Home of the OriginalVaganza Tournament (all other Tournaments are Extra), which includes a notorious LD Round Robin.

Coach: Mr. Lo Pat; Erstwhile asst, Lisa Torte

Debaters: Kalima Milak

Marcellus, Jon

Aka Binko, a motorcyclist with a severe five o’clock shadow, although five o’clock of which day is probably up for grabs. He could be seventeen, twenty-two or twenty-seven. A cigarette smoker, he someday wants to get a major-paying job for some heartless corporation, but first he has to graduate high school and go to college, and his bet is that “having debate on my resume will not be a bad idea.”

Maru, Camelia

Shy younger sister of Jasmine Maru, and a potential Master of the Debate Universe from Nighten Day.

Maru, Jasmine

At five foot one and ninety-one pounds, she is tiny and dark and as Japanese as the Emperor. A Nighten Day LDer, serious like her younger sister Camelia, perhaps a bit too romantic for her own good.

A novice LDer from Quilty Prep, rather unpopular with the team seniors.


The Messerschmitt Mess O’ Forensics is the first major high school tournament of the school year, encompassing every forensic event. Messerschmitt College is in Miami, Florida.

Milak, Kalima

From Manhattan Lodestone, the toughest girl on the circuit, both in debating ability and life experience. She commutes over two hours on a variety of buses, subways and Conestoga wagons to get to her school every day from a foster home at the furthest reaches of Staten Island. Rumor has it that she is armed at all times, and she apparently wears a human ear as a necklace.

Moon, Myra

It will be a while before we’re ready to tell this story....

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

In which we make an important announcement

I am announcing this tonight to my principal and to my team:

I am hereby resigning as the debate coach at Hen Hud. The season this year has effectively ended, and the timing is right. I have made this decision entirely because of new responsibilities in my regular job that make it impossible for me to continue to devote the time and effort necessary to run the team.

I have been the coach now for 20 years. It has been both challenging and rewarding, and I have always appreciated the support the school district has given to speech and debate. I trust that this support will continue for the students in the future, continuing Hen Hud’s proud tradition in the activity.

Good luck with the team in the future.

Despite this change of personal direction, I am far from finished with the activity. I have made way too many friends, and enjoy the process of working tournaments way too much, to give that up. It’s the daily grind of coaching— monitoring students, arranging travel, the general bureaucracy of leagues and school rules and such— plus the headache of the full responsibility for running Bump, that I am resigning from. I do intend to continue volunteering to work behind the scenes at tournaments, and have already made numerous commitments for next season. My only request will be that schools that wish to take advantage of my tabbing and advisory skills provide hotel accommodations for me so that I don’t incur any personal expenses.

In other words, I will continue to show up at tournaments as long as the people running them want me there. I will continue to blog and theorize and whatnot. What I will not continue to do is coach any particular team anymore.

I’m not quite sure what role I will play as we take on a fairly major reorganization in the region. We have already seen a need to reinvent the MHL/NYSDCA, for one thing. And the impact of recent events in the Bronx are far-reaching and need attention (although I hasten to point out that my decision to leave Hen Hud predates those events quite a bit and is in no way related). I will do what I have to do to help out in the reorganization, but when things settle down, it should be other folks providing the future direction and leadership.

So, I will still be around, but in a somewhat modified role. You can’t get rid of me that easily.