Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Well, that was fun...

I just spent quite a bit of time not creating a new entry here, thanks to my new Mac, new operating system and new browser. I hate losing my cookies...

As we go softly into the half year mark—yes, it's the half year; for those of you who have been waiting for the season to start, Adios, amigos—I am struck by what has become the rather bizarre spectacle of LD as, well, bizarre spectacle. The last I heard, and I haven't seen much evidence to the contrary, forensics is an activity for a fairly, shall we say, select few. These select few are unique among their peers. They probably find few people in the old home room willing to take on the subject of why the name Etzione should never be uttered aloud, even if you occasionally agree with him. They do not now, nor have they ever, hung out in a mall. They own more dress suits than the average Supreme Court justice. They travel in the company of coaches who, in a word, are adults with nothing better to do both on Fridays and Saturdays than hang around with teenagers who shun Etzione, malls and casual clothes.

Having been once a debater and being presently a coach, I include myself in the above criticisms, so even if you do take it personally, welcome to the club.

So here's these select few, spending their weekends going from debate to debate, little verbal warriers on a quest for nothing more than better and better verbal wars. In the normal universe, they would travel in the dark, able to recognize each other in bus terminals and fast food outlets only by the twirling of a pen caught out of the corner of an eye. Their existence would be known only to their parents who wonder where they are this time, and each other (and it's dubious whether their parents, or each other, really ARE aware of their existence), but for one thing: The web site that dare not speak its name.

All right, I won't speak its name. You might, but I would stumble over the words. I, for one, remember when this little outfit was known entirely for writing terrifically bad case positions and selling them to unexpecting or lazy or unexpecting and lazy debaters who couldn't come up with their own material. Now, they provide real-time peeks into that fascinating world of debate, reporting online from, hot off the presses, drop everything and check this out Martha, places like (yes, yes, tell us!!) HENDRICK HUDSON. Can you imagine that? Live reporting from Montrose, New York. Wow. Montrose will never be the same. There's stars on this site, too. Famous people, with glimpses into their famous lives, their minds, their cribs (oh, the irony of that word in this context). Hell, I was one of those people, now forgotten in the continuing wave of newer famous people.

The fiction that the site supports is the one that there is a fraternity of national debaters worthy of immediate knowledge. Pictures of the little verbal warriers sitting around in cafeterias. Interviews with them. Minute-by-minute reports on how they're doing. And my personal favorite, photographs of schematics as they are released. Thank God for the Internet.

Of course, I don't blame the subjects of this site for the site's content. And to be honest, I don't find the site's content particularly bad, in the moral sense. I guess it boils down to everyone needing to be a member of something, that human urge to huddle. The groups we huddle in tend to be collectively identifiable as the groups that are just right for us as huddlers. The hundred or so people who comprise "the national circuit"—teams with enough money to go out of state to tournaments—stand in for the thousands of local forensicians who simply plod from local event to local event, that army of real world faceless gray debaters, if you will. This site presents a few real faces, removing the gray and showing them in living color. Oh, to be a celebrity. My only fear, and my warning, is that you don't take this stuff too seriously. Because, my friend, here's the dirty little secret behind the whole enterprise: it's only high school debating. It's an extracurricular activity with a great academic benefit (obviously, or people like me wouldn't bother with it), but, to put it bluntly, it is not important. Web sites like the one at hand make it seem way more important than it is. But it isn't. It's fun, and you should learn a few things (to paraphrase the wise Mr. JG, so recently interviewed therein), but that's about the end of it. Then you get senioritis (maybe) and then you graduate (probably) and then you forget you ever debated (if you're lucky, except when I need to hire you to judge, at which point you're only in it for the money).

So, as we enter this holiday season (some of us with Saturday's generously ecumenical prayer of Sister Raimonde still ringing through our brain), I ask merely that you remind yourself what we're fighting for. We are weird little warriers in a tiny universe, doing our best to sharpen our brains (an intrinsically good thing). And if we become the best weird little warrier there is, and it could happen, we will still be just a weird little warrier.

In other words, keep a sense of perspective.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

English-speaking only!

Putting a tournament to bed is the best part of the adventure. You spend weeks organizing registrations and food and housing and whatnot, hoping it all comes together and the bottom doesn't fall out of everything. Our biggest kick this year was the lack of the dome. The poor assistant principal had a heart attack at the sight of 150 policy teams cum tubs and suitcases, plus 113 LDers sans tubs but with the rest of their baggage, plus assorted coaches, judges and sex criminals milling about the place. There just wasn't room for them in the building. So we got started early, sent everyone off in the right direction, and while it was a little discombobulating to me, no one else seemed to suffer. After that, it was duck soup. Which is nice. And so, back in the box until next year (assistant principals willing, that is).

But of course, there's a beef. It's not a new one. I am a strong supporter of so-called lay judges. At the point where LDers can't convince the average intelligent person of a position, LD loses any real point. Or at least much of its point. It becomes so parochial that only a handful really care, supporters and administrators think of it as gobbledy-gook, and we threaten ourselves with isolation. From an academic viewpoint, that's a big risk (and one, I think, that policy has long ago taken, not to its benefit). When the only people capable of understanding positions are those who judge weekly, positions become impossible to understand by anyone else. But keeping lay judges in the mix forces debaters to pick up ballots from folks who don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no fem Ks. That's a good thing. HOWEVER, a lay judge is not a total idiot straight from the cabbage patch without the slightest clue of what is expected from them. Three teams brought these cabbage patchers to my tournament and told me they were judges. One of them didn't even speak English.


Is it so much to ask that teams train their judges? I mean, the judges in question are usually a parent. Are they so hideous a reflection of humanity that their kids can't explain the activity to them for half an hour? What really burns me is that the teams that bring great judges are the ones who get judged by the cabbage patchers, while the teams who bring cabbage patchers get judged by the great judges. Nice trade-off. Fortunately we sorted them out in the tab room and dropped them from the pool, but that is no benefit to the tournament, merely less of a harm to the debaters.

Next year's Bump will ask for judge qualifications. It will insist that judges speak English. And I will post HH's judging instructions to the website. I do not believe that this will help (I won't detail the 3 schools who, rather than try to pull a fast one with bad judges, simply told me that they had judges that literally didn't exist, which is a much faster one, until the point I hunted them down and collected extra judge fees from them), but at least it will help me sort things out a little better.

I know who you people are. You are not going to do it again. At least not to me (or anyone else in whose tab room I may be lurking).

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Menick

There is that mania that comes over one as the major tournament draws near. Everybody wants more slots than everybody else, there's a waiting list of people who can't be bothered to follow the invitation, there's people who remind you that you promised them slots that you do sort of vaguely remember and so you add them to the list hoping that the shortage of flu vaccine this year might save your bacon at the eleventh hour, there's the usual suspects whom you haven't heard from and you've poked and prodded and nothing's happened and as a result you've made yet another enemy... No wonder one becomes something of a monster. And one does see the source of some of the so-called politics of the activity. It is, people need to remember, only a debate tournament. One of many. Yes, it does offer a large can of soup to the top LD speaker, but that's hardly a reason to make enemies-for-life over it. (If you signed up early, you'd be set, hint hint. But why would anyone do that? Do all debate teams run on fumes?) There are just so many rooms in the buildings, and so many families that will house, and so many slices of the dreaded vegan wedges. And to be honest, going over 120 in LD doesn't make a lot of sense if we break to doubles, because 5 rounds is a decent enough sorter for that number, but any higher and you'd really need 6 prelims, and God knows THAT isn't going to happen.

Good grief.

On the bright side, I've heard from the Nostrumite, who's doing his best to juggle his schedule to come back and judge for us again this year. Unfortunately he's in a state of permanent depression over the health of poor Pecksniff, the Nostrumian Applehead (and, as most people know, a littermate of Pip the Wondercat). Apparently the old Peckeroo has developed a case of feline diabetes, "which is just like human diabetes," the Mite reports, "only it's transient and you can't prick a cat's fingers to do a blood test." To cope with the situation, the Mite is giving Pecky a couple of shots of insulin a day, "which isn't as hard as you'd imagine," he says, plus giving him salve for his rheumy eyes ("which is like playing pin the tail on the eyeball") and forcing a snort of cherry-flavored antibiotics down his gullet once a day ("the fallout spray is like being anointed with holy water at an overeager Easter service"). But the hardest part, the Mite reports, is performing the regular urine test. "You have to understand that a cat just isn't going to pee in a jar," the lad says. "So what you have to do is follow him around all day, but secretly"—I have this vision of the Mite undercover in his trench coat and porkpie hat, dodging around the corners of his Cambridge apartment— "until you see him heading for the litter box, and then you sneak in underneath him with this cardboard strip that turns all shades of mud when he pees on it, and you've got to time it to the correct shade at the exact right moment, and then decide whether to increase or decrease his insulin dosage." Without Jules around to help out, this is driving Doctor Nostrumite a little batty. "At least the Nostrumutt is okay," he tells me. "You walk him a few times a day, he poops it, you scoops it, everyone's happy."

Presumably you can get further details from the lad himself next week when he once again descends on Bump.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Pre-Bump is pre-er than usual this year. We've already filled up policy, and LD is tracking over 100, and it's another week till the so-called deadline. Most of pre-Bump is spent worrying: is there enough housing/food/ballots/trophies/runners/handcuffs? It ought to be more relaxed every year because we've proven that we can do all of these things pretty effortlessly, but I challenge anyone to toss a shindig for over 400 people and not get a little wrapped up in it.

No one needs to identify the present wav file, since it identifies itself. I couldn't resist it.

So, if anyone cares (and I know YOU do, if no one else does), here's the thing about Nov-Dec. As it turns out, Aff has a fairly easy time proving that a gov has a moral obligation to folks outside its boundaries. What aff hardly ever does is show that it's an obligation to promo DI. The ob (which has nothing to do with democracy but with humanity) is simply to value other people, nothing more, and certainly nothing more specific. Sure, if there's a natural disaster, national boundaries are meaningless. The best example of that was the Iranian earthquakes, which killed something like 30,000 people. We were there in a blink, and the Iranis accepted our help with open arms. This was as it should be. A couple of weeks later, they were the axis of evil again. My point is, negs should look for a pretty solid explanation of what, exactly, the MO is and why it applies to DI. That's the core of the aff burden, and that's the hard part. On the other hand, negs have to be a little careful about sounding as if they're anti-democracy. The thing is, and from the start I've thought that this is the good neg position, the US promotion of DI comes with all the baggage of its being from the US. Is US democracy extricable from US capitalism? It's a question of cultural imperialism, which may be a hard concept either to understand or to sell. To wit: "culture" is a term that sums up all the values of a group. It is the combination of their religion and their politics and their food and their housing and their literature and their schools and their clothes—the full banana. It is the well from which individuals in the group draw the cores of their selves, i.e., their personalities, their identities. Individuals do not exist aside from their cultures; individuals are a part of slash a result of their cultures. If we value individuals, we must explicitly value this wellspring of their individuality as much as they do implicitly. What we have to do is look at what happens when two cultures "clash." We obviously see culture clash in today's world on a daily basis in all cultures: no one is immune from, say, the internet. Each culture does whatever it does to maintain itself in a positive way from what it might see as the negatives resulting from the clash. That's always been the way, since time began. Sometimes cultures take from other cultures, sometimes they don't. The Pennsylvania Amish don't drive Harleys; students at Penn State don't drive in horse-drawn carriages. The problem with the US culture vs other cultures is somewhat analogous to the situation of the US military vs other militaries: it's not a fair fight. Just as we can outshoot pretty much everybody with our guns, we can outculture them with our brand of capitalism. US culture works in other countries the way heroin works in the bloodstream, replacing the natural with the artificial. It can be seen as just as heinous. Why do you think it was such a big deal when Pepsi (not Coke) was the first to be sold in the Soviet Union? Or why is the Coke bottle among the universal icons on the planet? Does Mickey Mouse a mere cartoon, or is it a symbol of the cultural poison seeping through the veins of every potential consumer in every country on earth? God, even the French were worried about the effect of Euro-Disney (now called, by the way, Disneyland Paris). The phrase was, "a cultural Chernobyl." The US specifically promotes its democracy through its pervasive capitalism, and by so doing overwhelms the existing cultures. And the next thing you know, they're wearing Nike t-shirts in Afghanistan and the women are not wearing veils and the children don't listen to their parents anymore to honor the old ways... This is an extreme way of putting it, of course, but it does sort of sum it up.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Our story so far

For all practical purposes the debate season is now in full swing, so let's see where we are.

We've migrated many of the meetings to the chez, and I'm starting to push for more meetings at other chezes. It's a lot easier, as I've been saying, to talk among a handful of people than the entire 13th tribe of Israel, and more gets accomplished. On the down side, half the team (the rawer recruits) haven't figured things like, if they sign up for a meeting they should look on the signup sheet to find out when the meeting is, or that since all of the team business is conducted through emails, that it might be a good idea for them to read their emails once in a while. I still sense that brain-fog attrition is not yet concluded for this season, and that we still stand to lose one or two more. Considering that there is a tournament virtually every week, and no one seems to know this other than me, we're not in the greatest of shapes. Where are the hungry people? Well, I oversimplify, because there is at least one hungry novice (she knows who she is), and maybe more. On the plus side, I'm seeing more JV hunger. Not that I'm all that in favor of hunger per se, but total lack of same sort of baffles me. Back in the day, there was so much hunger it used to scare the pants off me. What I'd like to see is balanced hunger.

Bump is filling up frighteningly fast. At least other teams are hungry! I've sold out all my hired judging, and filled up most of the policy slots two weeks before the deadline. I do hope that we really DO get more rooms in the future. Although I like to blame everything on my hardware engineers (because I like the looks on their faces when I do), it's not their fault we don't have a basement. Maybe next year. Bump assignments will be made at next week's tutti meeting, when all the forensic fruttis are tossed in together. I have a feeling a lot of people won't be happy, but I can't just give jobs to people because they used to be a part of the team...

Judging all weekend at NFA was rather enjoyable, as it turns out. I'd forgotten that I like judging, although I do also like sleeping and eating, neither of which comes easily at Newburgh. Still, it's fun to get into the trenches for a while and see who's who and what's what, and it's also illuminating to hear a topic argued, especially early in its life. I think I did get some good stuff to pass along to people, although no one bothered to comment one way or the other when I did. Come to think of it, maybe they didn't give a raccoon's patella. You know, I didn't have to be there, you ungrateful louts! I could have been golfing! (Except for the snow and ice.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Chaos theory

I've really grown to hate big meetings at the school. Nothing is communicated effectively, except maybe about 10% of the intended information. There's no real dialogue, no real imparting of anything in any direction. I can't figure out why half the people come in the first place, and those rare moments when everyone is engaged, they're all engaged in different directions. It's like a bad rehearsal for a half-written play with all understudies and no director. So, I will retreat further into specialized meetings. The chezes on the topic have been fine, as have been the odd special novice session. Plus now we're starting the demo rounds, and that fills up the empty hours. I think what I need to do next is strategy and tactics for grownups, which I marginally touched last night, but poorly. In other words, a session or two for varsity only. In any case, I see this as an incurable problem, the big meeting miasma, that is. Or I see it only as curable through regular injections of short meetings. I will stick with biggies for initial topic brainstorming, though, which would be the first couple of weeks of December. Then back to splinter groups. So it goes.

Or is it possible that I am getting tired of doing this? I don't think so. I'm just tired of doing it poorly.

Contrary to expectations, instead of having more policy rooms at Bump, we'll have fewer.Thank God the school has completed its enlargement program! Actually, I think it's the basement construction that is holding us back. Ewok is on the case trying to get more space, but I doubt if he'll be successful. You can't get classrooms from a turnip.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

None of the Above

I enjoyed this week of chezes discussing the topic with a small number of people. It reminded me of the good old days, when the entire team fit into the backseat of a VW Beetle, and meetings were exclusively topic discussions at the chez, or close to exclusively topic discussions. We would talk about other stuff too, but mostly it was like fine dinner conversation without the fine dinner. I don't love these because I get to stay home, but because everybody gets a chance to talk fairly equally. There's a big difference between Menick at a blackboard and Menick in a comfy chair, at least in the playing out of chitchat. I'm going to institute a weekly topic analysis session, at the chez, on Wednesdays, from 7-8. With a signup, limited to 7 people (more than that would get out of hand). People can come or not, and the session would occur provided that there's enough interest (i.e. 2 or more people on a given week). We'll see how it works out.

I also like the fact that we've now isolated the three sides of any debate round: affirmative, negative, and none-of-the-above. The fashion of NOTA drives the average coach crazy, for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that LD is intended for reasoned discourse on the theoretical problems of the day, and NOTA encourages mere academic flummery. The new topic, for instance, asks to evaluate whether the US is right to push its democratic ideals in foreign nations. This is an interesting question that raises many issues of history and politics and cultural identity and hegemony and whatnot. NOTA looks at the topic and says, for instance, that governments are intrinsically amoral and therefore immune from questions of right and wrong. This would be run, presumably, as a negative, but it isn't. It supports both sides (or undermines both sides). A NOTA., by definition. Of course, at least that particular argument is orthodox NOTA. The latest NOTAs take recent postmodern scholarship (which is something of an oxymoron) and apply that to the topic: On one level or another, relativism precludes the resolution; pick your pomo guru to support it. Preferably a Frenchman.

The French have a lot to answer for.

The thing is, that's the stuff colleges teach nowadays, and a number of LD folks are in college or recent graduates immersed in this stuff. Literary and linguistic scholarship is often conducted only at the level of structuralism and relativism and deconstructionism. Study of the narrative has been replaced by the study of narration. Now I'm as into heuristics as the next guy, but sometimes the text is the context, and the subtext as the signifier of the inherent non-relativistic ur-texts worthy of disputation is a lot of ... malarkey. Or as the French say, "la malarque." Indeed, Derrida, before he "died," was working on a book with that very title, "La Malarque," in which he admitted that he was in fact an illiterate wrangler of truffle pigs who just happened to strike it big on the pomo market when some hapless graduate student mistranslated his as-told-to book "Les Champignons de Provence" as "No God, No Radio."

The problem that results from this scholarship is simple. A small coterie of pomos push their ideas down on high school students. At the very least they divert these students from the real text of the resolutions, and at the worst, they force these students to study texts that are simply beyond their educational training. Debaters are probably the smartest 16-year-olds in the universe, but should we be teaching them the latest fashion in philiosophy before they master the norms? Did Picasso paint abstracts before he learned to draw figures and mix paint? High School LD is about the only active venue for high schoolers to study any philosophy at all. And maybe, ever again. Being canonical may be dull, from the post-graduate point of view, but isn't it best for the students? It is probably not a winning approach, compared to running some hifalutin case that only a mother (or a pomother) could love—or understand—but it would much better serve the purpose of the activity.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

An instant classic

Headline from the Onion: Jacques Derrida 'Dies'

In other news, the Caveman to Frenchman lecture continues apace. The nice thing about pomo is that it is all so contradictory and senseless that you can say virtually anything and have a decent crack at being accurate. Whatever accuracy is. Speaking of which, I was just looking at something talking about Realists and Neo-Realists. I don't know about you, but I am happy that reality has been replaced by neo-reality. Reality was getting so ... old.

Last night Noah returned from the grave of post-neo-reality and worked with the upperclassmen on the new topic. He's actually taken a course, apparently, in Democratic Peace Theory, or at least a course with a Democratic Peace theorist, so he had a strong take on it that I liked. His blackboard scribblings had all sorts of things like Values and Criteria noted. My blackboard had all sorts of algebraic equations demonstrating imaginary numbers left over from the school day, all of which I was afraid to erase. I would have no trouble erasing real numbers, or even neo-real numbers, but I'm not messing with any of those imaginary numbers. No sir. My mama raised me better than that.

The novices read aloud last night—at least those who remembered the assignment, God love 'em—an interesting mix including Tolstoyesvky (literally, thanks to Robbie), Al Franken and Neil Gaiman. No stone of literature was left unturned. All the readers did a pretty good job. The point is to learn to read cases with some emotion, rather than just vomit out a string of words that's hard to follow. We also talked about how to argue, but they all argued against what I was saying. Not to mention my work with them on the new topic, where it seemed as if the materials I've been forwarding simply never existed. Imaginary research, I guess.

Thank God, when all is said and done, there is no reality. Because if there were, I'd have to be agnostic about it.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The greatest joys

One is torn when it comes to deciding which is the greatest joy: seeing the expression on debaters' faces when they win their first trophy, or seeing the expression on parents' faces when you hand them their first ballot and tell them they have to go judge. It's a close call. Grown men and women, who have no compunctions about telling their teenaged children how to live every aspect of their lives from dawn till dusk till dawn again, somehow feel inadequate to evaluate teenagers' opinions on society. I still recall my earliest judging experiences. Now, granted, I may be an aberration, but I got a kick out of it right from the beginning. Sure, timing was tough until you got the hang of it, and flowing wants experience, but listening to what was said and evaluating who had the better argument was absolutely no big deal, especially at the novice level, where we dump most parents in their early going.

Another great joy is listening to your new surround-sound setup. To inaugurate it last night I watched ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. Not for any particular reason, other than being a big JD fan. Anyhow, most of the movie consists of JD whispering to AB, or JD or AB whispering to someone else, punctuated by serious gunplay. The whispering was not enhanced by surroundage, since that all came from the front, but when the bullets were flying, there was enough bazzooom in the room to knock me off my chair and then some. Tonight I'll spend some time figuring out how to lower the volume of the subwoofer.

I'm giving up on the present wave file. If these people can't identify a line from The Matrix, they're beyond me. I thought that one was a gimme. Live and learn.

Anyhow, the Bronx was small but profitable. Junior R earned a 3rd-place speaker award, quite an accomplishment. And in the MHL, Nicole came in 3rd, which is an excellent way to begin one's career. The other novices all seemed to enjoy themselves, which frankly is the real reason we have this beginners' event, to get the old feet wet and to feel out the activity in the trenches. MHLs are always a tough animal. You have to be good to win trophies, but not winning trophies is not a measure of not being good. There are so many factors involved, chief among them being the judging. In a three-round tournament, if you lose one round, you're out of it. Which means any one judge can pull the rug out from under you. Given that most of the judges are varsity debaters, a group I rank quite low in the overall hierarchy, well, you get the picture.

Monday, October 11, 2004

My season begins

I had all intentions of judging at Monticello, but because Bill Barthelme was sick, I ended up filling in for him. Lots of tabroom issues, not the least of which was the software refusing to print schematics. I had to paste into Word, which does the job well enough, but looks a little too much like happy hands in the home for my blood. And the host team was a little lax in checking to see if rounds were getting off, and once or twice eliminations folks just sat around waiting for no-show judges for half an hour, or sat on their ballots for half an hour, easily fixed running/table situations that caused the whole shebang to go about an hour later than it should. This is where the runner wrangler comes in!

By comparison, Bump is run with the precision of a POW camp. I think of it as maybe just a notch down from Abu Ghraib. In a good sense.

This was Rose J-T's last tournament as director, and she wrote a nice farewell piece in the packet. It looks like Bergenfield won't be able to travel out of district, at least on school buses, so they're out of commission. Lexingon has a new policy coach. Averill's retiring this year. Etc., etc., etc. The face of the business is changing dramatically.

But we had good results. First timer GS went 2-3 with outstanding speaker points, so it was no mistake to put him in JV. Little Roth and Bent broke, as did E-Rin, but they were all caught in the upset sweep of the first elims, where all the top seeds went ... to seed, I guess. Still, trophies beat no trophies. Ewok was just a couple of speaks away from breaking himself, so it was, overall, a good weekend. We topped it off at the Beach Chinese, where I was shocked and appalled to see not just Ewok but McCricht stir their noodles with their hands. Good grief. In the olden days (ah, the olden days), this incident would occupy at least three subsequent meetings, and prominent mention in my memoirs. Oh well, at least no one pasted a spoon to their nose, although this may just have been a factor of there being no spoons available.

Meanwhile, does O'Cruz include Flashman in the quest? I realize it doesn't fit, really, but... On the other hand, can one ever top the word Dotheboys? I can't imagine the reading list. [For the rest of you, don't ask.]

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Eddie Haskell disappears into the sunset

I am saddened that no one was able to identify the clip from "Leave it to Beaver." Obviously it's a generational thing, but I figured that most people were just asking their parents about these sounds. I don't seem to be able to pick right: either I'm giving away too many or too few crappy prizes. You can't win.

The more I look at the democratic ideals topic, the more I imagine a shootout at the outre corral. You can run practically anything on this, all sorts of diatribes on imperialism and capitalism and feminism, and those are just off the top of my head. Judges at national circuit events will be running for the hills, pretending to know all nature of obscure and not-so-obscure critical positions. The thing is, democratic ideals means whatever you want it to mean. There's going to be a lot of history tossed around, among other things. Any wonder why I tell folks to read the paper.

Speaking of which, I've decided to send a daily bulletin of what they missed that day, at least for a little while. I mean, people will either read the paper or they won't. I do have to admit that this morning's edition was a dog, except for the Dylan article. I was never an acolyte, like some, but I had the odd album. I used to know people who really did idolize old Zimmerman, who'd memorized all the lyrics, who compared him to Whitman, etc., etc. If anything, I was the odd man out because I had no passion whatsoever, on either side. When it came to Dylan, you had to be passionate. Which makes his revelations (or what I'll read of them in the Times) so interesting. He wanted to run a wooden leg factory? Something tells me he's creating his apocrypha more than his memoirs. He is Dylan, after all. In any case, I spent so much time reading that article I didn't have time for the local papers. I hate missing the comics in the morning. The day just doesn't go right after that.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Meet the parents

I'm always amused when I get more novice parents than novices at parent night. Something tells me there will have been a few discussions of bait-cutting last night, and we've seen the last of the logy. Aye, we hardly knew ye.

So the new topic is a moral obligation to spread democracy? Talk about penumbras. Talk about definitions. Oy. It reminds me of some other topic, and I'll dig back in my files, but meanwhile, by saying it's the US, it implies that the US has some special responsibility a la the old superpower analysis. If you're going aff, try to get GWB as your judge...

Speaking of which, I just heard from the Nostrumite again. He's in a state of permanent depression over last night's debate. "I watched it on PBS," he said, "where they followed the rules and only showed the speaker, not the reaction shots." Apparently things were jumping over at CBS. "They were scratching themselves, flipping each other the bird, coughing the word bullshit into their cupped hands. And all I saw was George W doing the watch-my-grimace-turn-into-a-smirk bit." Which doesn't mean the lad intends to vote Democratic. "That Kerry looked awfully tall," he reported. "You've got to watch out for those tall guys." The Mite, of course, is about the size that P.T.Barnum liked to feature as headliner, which may factor into it a bit.

Anyhow, the season begins today as the swallows return to New Haven. Vayos con dios, amigos. Vayos con los debate dios.

Or something like that.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

How to be a debater

If I had to outline certain defining characteristics for being an LD debater, this is probably how I would prioritize my list (which has, as it turns out, exactly one item).

#1. Debate. Debate, that is, as a verb, imperative. I attribute it to the lack of good TV on Tuesday nights, but I have never had a team with so many people showing up for meetings, and never debating. For some reason, of course, they nonetheless consider themselves adequate to judge others. Last night, having a tutti meeting, aka a tutti fruitti, we had people hanging off the rafters. 4 years worth of them. Half of them haven't debated in this calendar year, and show little interest in changing the status quo. Two of them volunteered to judge at Regis.

So I guess my next rule is, no judging unless you're: 1. a senior whose survived three years of me; or 2. an active debater. You prove yourself to be an active debater by having debated since 9/1/04. Inactive debaters will not be solicited as judges.

Inactive debaters, in my estimation, fill a much needed gap. I certainly don't need them at the "lecture" meetings, where I talk endlessly and amaze myself with my garrulousness. I can't imagine why they would want to listen to the 88th lecture on the definition of rights, or the 195th browbeat on signups. And I don't need their input at chezes, because there's only room for real players at the chez, not fellow travelers. I guess there is a place for freebooters at the brainstorms. The brainstorms are, theoretically, beneficial to all of us as we explore the deep background of topics. It's educational. That's about the only place the debateless are welcome.

I'll start acting accordingly next week. Meanwhile, no one identified the Zardoz quote. I only put it there because I'm tired of everything being too easy. Henceforth, whenever I blog, I'll do a new wave, and vice versa.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Ac-cent-tchu-ate the negative

Last night's chez was an illuminating affair. The topic has resolved itself into very simple brackets: should a society value higher the claims of self-determinism or social welfare. Sort of like Debate 101. Or maybe Debate 1. Not that cases will all be so elegant—Justin warned us of the feminist negs, for instance, thin slices of the pie used as full pie plates, a word for which is had by your local pomos—but at least the underlying goals aren't whacked out. Which makes it so easy to work with the novices.

Speaking of which, we lost a few of them this week, but maybe not. There has been much tsimmes over the lack of an announcement of the second meeting. (There is no greater joy than a non-event fomenting revolution. Even the cavalry known as the former Javelin charged in.) In any case, the Novice Coordinators will go shrimping over the next few days, collecting their catch at a Monday afterschool meeting. We are still encouraging raw recruits to fall in. And we will almost definitely be folding a couple of Middle-Schoolers into the group. I'll have to talk to Kaz about that, as she also has had Middlers in NFA's program. Whatever's fair, we'll do. Should be interesting.

For the record, I am exceeding dubious about a certain young woman's ability to identify wave files. Unless there's a list somewhere that I don't know about, the new one should do the trick. For that matter, I am exceeding dubious about a certain young woman's familiarity with Big Blue Bear, or whatever the hell it is. Can she also identify each of the Teletubbies? Read a book, consarn it!

And finally, is it really true that Captain Ben has gone over to the dark side?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The thunder down below

So I just sat in this meeting for an hour during which my stomach rumbled incessantly, and at high volume. People look at you when this happens, wondering what it was you ate for lunch in the cafeteria, hoping that they didn't have the same thing. It's nice to be back in my office again.

Debate team meeting number two is tonight. Two novices have actually signed up for the team, so I'll remember their names, plus there's Perry, which gives us two Perrys, and no poker player worth his salt would forget that, especially if he's holding three of a kind. There were some other folks too, who I'll know when I see them, if they return. One of my novices, it turns out, is a junior, so we'll fast-track him. Maturity is something of an advantage in this game, and an unfair one. A stiff learning curve for the junior then, but he strikes me as up for the challenge.

Meanwhile, I've switched to the Prince of Persia. Neither Ursula nor that thing in Montro's belly were responding to my attacks and it was getting tiresome. And the clicker that tells you how many hours you've wasted on a given game was running out of digit space. Of course, the new game has all the controls in a different place, and I gather that mastery of the medium requires mastery of the idiom. So be it. Until I get so frustrated that another disk goes flying out the window.

Tomorrow night, a chez moi for topic discussion. Justin seems to have a nice fix on the neg that should pin things down for everyone. And so to Yale...

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I am atwitter...

... over the prospect of tonight's first meeting. I am so atwitter that I've opened up the wave file db again. The new one is an easy voice (if you're an old fart) but a tough film.

By the way, never actually say the word atwitter out loud. Nothing good will come of it.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Let us pray

Saturday was the CFL directors' meeting. And a splendid time was had by all. To begin with, Marcia discovered square bagels. These are not to be confused with Manchester's albino bagels, but they did set a comparably goyische tone for the proceedings. There was lots of juggling of dates and locales, perhaps the most important being the creation of one Grand Grand rather than two separate Grands, this in response to some conflict with an NFL thingie. The debaters amongst us ironed out most of the debate dates. Lakeland is now in February, with Scarsdale filling the open slot. This leaves an October weekend perhaps permanently open. The MHLs have landed, and Bergenfield's been cleared up. Not much left to do but show up.

More discussion of the use of old OOs in Dec than, literally, any other item. Who knew how tender a topic this was? The National CFL wants to allow it, and that will probably ensue. Nats is in Milwaukee next year, for those who are interested. Not a bad venue; if you fly that Midwest Air or whatever it is, they serve homemade cookies. Now that's aviation!

O'Cruz says he's now looking at March again. Ah, the Wandering Tournament. I remember reading about that in the Bible. He could also conceivably take the open October weekend, but that would be a stretch planningwise. Speaking of planning, the Bump invite is now done, including the pdf. Has anyone ordered the food yet?

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Meat and potatoes

We seemed to agree easily on the aff Tuesday night. Privacy in support of a variety of ends. Why privacy is important enough to be worth it in the first place. Folks have various ideas about what its worth is, but that's the gist of it. And it is an easy topic to research, insofar as there's about a bazillion articles and books out there. As we always say, read the articles for their positions, not for their quotes. Still, the neg is a little foggy, at least in my mind. It's that bright line connecting the pieces that I'm missing.

The Hunk looked loaded for bear. I'll tell you, one day you're an Ewok, the next you're the VBI Hunk of the Day. Where do you go from there? Of course, Ewok is the best nickname since Wheaties, and I can't even take credit for it.

Saturday is the CFL meeting. I have to say, I have an awful lot of conflicting schedule information. When is Lakeland?When are the Bergenfields? The MHLs? Regionals? Lots of stuff to be ironed out.

I gather that the Nov-Dec resolution ("Using guides in videogames is morally corrupt") will have special meaning to some of us. There is a feature when I save KH that shows me the number of hours I've spent (AKA wasted) on this thing. Who are those hearty souls that play these games without help? I think I'm sort of tiring of this one, and have a few others cued up. Different universes and all that. Too bad I don't know anything about sports. Those games look really good. But just when I'm about to throw Donald and Goofy to the wolves, I make a breakthrough and run through a new hour of cutscenes (thank you, IGN). We'll see.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Filling up the empty hours

Since the inaugural meeting is next week and not this week, I had oodles of time to upload the pdf of the speech judging rules from the CFL. Oodles turned out to be less than sufficient. I can see the thing when I open it straight, but it keeps getting "damaged" when I ftp it. So, if anyone wants it, I'll mail it to them. It's way too long to print multiple copies.

I've coordinated my thoughts on privacy for a, well, private meeting with the Yale folks Tuesday. But they do need to get started. I still haven't sorted out how I'll separate oldbies from newbies in the meetingage at the school versus the chez, but I'll figure it out eventually. They all do need to be together a little bit at the start so that the newbies will recognize their elders, if there's ever a lineup or anything.

In a rash act of forensic violence, I ripped Holy Cross from the sked and added Villiger. In either case it's a pay-as-you-go for Speechifiers, but Villiger remains strong and HC has gone to hell in a handbasket, or so I am told. No point in not spending your parents' money on the good stuff.

If any sophomores are actually interested in volunteering for scut-work team positions, btw, now is the time to let me know. And if one more person tells me it's Spock on the wave file... Of course it's Spock, you ninny! You should give me a crappy prize for that one. It's a nice way to ease the newbies into the site, n'est-ce pas? Vulcan utilitarianism.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Slouching toward Montrose

So we've set the inaugural meeting for Wednesday at 7:00. That's always a fun event, seeing the eager faces of all the prospective newbies. We also get to see the eager faces of the returning oldbies. One wonders who won't be showing up this time out. I've got a few guesses, but I'll keep them to myself. I've alerted the capitans and hardware engineers to set things up for the library.
Polished up the invite some more. I think it's ready to pdf. Hell, we've already got an entry, some guy from Arizona. If registration continues at this pace, we'll be filled up by Yom Kippur.

Finding myself desperate for distraction, or distracted for desperation, I visited the VB site. Jeesh. I noticed there was a loosely inaccurate version of our invite, for one thing. I was afraid that maybe Bent or Matt might have taken over Hunk of the Day from Ewok, but young Insler's place in debate legend seems secure. I was seriously amused, or amusedly serious, over the discussion of elitism in debate. Let's think about this for a second. A few dozen schools in the country can afford to send kids on airplanes to faraway hotels with hired judges for a selected group of tournaments. Most school systems can barely afford books. How many parents can or are willing to pay the bucks themselves? Elitism? Not deliberately. Social Darwinism. Mais sur, mon ami.

It does seem like VB is the website to be if you're a debater with an enormous amount of time on your hands, in any case. One longs for the days of the LD-L, when the baloney was delivered straight to your mailbox. I'm not quite sure why I go out of my way to annoy myself with anything relating to "the national circuit."

George Soros rules!

Monday, August 30, 2004

Bump invitation

So I updated the invitation this weekend, online and hardcopy. Still need to proofread it, but you can check out the online version if you're interested. I am assuming that we'll have more space thanks to the construction. I'm also assuming that we can run final rounds this year, if people want them. My thing has always been not stretching past 12 hours (which already seems ridiculous, but it is coin of the realm). We ought to be able to do it, given our tab rooms, if we continue to break to quarters in policy. And keep the judges' bloviating to a minimum in all the divisions. And if we actually have the judging available. Anyhow, I'll polish it all up over the next few days, and then we're ready.

I also moved the wav file so that I'll have access to it from anywhere. This means I can update it more regularly, which means that I can start offloading more of the crappy prizes in my closet.

We should have a Yale deadline shortly. After that...

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The word of the day...

... is morganatic. This is a great word. Unfortunately, one hardly ever gets to use it in everyday speech. (Reminds me a little of the discussion of the beautiful word carminative in "Point Counterpoint," if I remember correctly. Carminative is a word that you *prefer* not to use in everyday speech.)

Pip has been very listless lately. Considering that he's usually quite listful, I'm not quite sure where this lacksadaisicality comes from. I trust he will be his old eager self in time for the new season. I mention this because I am figuring, on the assumption that there will be another boatload of newbies, that we will have more breakout sessions of varsity at the old chezmoi, and they aren't the same without PTW. And also, we never finished up the demo rounds last year, for one reason or another. We probably should.

You've noticed that the S-O topic says claims on both sides. No mention of rights whatsoever.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The days dwindle down

School starts real soon now. I'm thinking we'll probably do a newbie event on 9/8 or 9/9. Everything's so late I'd hate to lose a week. I'll confab with MF after the wedding, which I would imagine is concentrating her mind at the moment.

I've been marching the new topic through my brain on off hours. There is a 600-pound gorilla, which is that there is no worthy argument against abridging RTP when boarding a plane. I ask interested parties to consider this. I've got ideas, of course, not for arguing the above, but for the topic overall. I'll put them down shortly, but they stem from that gorilla. (If you think I'm wrong and you can argue the gorilla, remind me not to fly with you any time soon.)

It's been a bit of an old-home week. Had a lovely lunch with CLG and K2. Katie is on her way to Italy for a semester, which I hate her for. I want to go to Italy for a semester. I could study something. Food? It's a great thought. CLG has already signed up to judge Manchester and Harvard (and Bump, if she knows what's good for her). Also heard from the Nostrumite again. He's in a state of permanent depression over the Olympics. It's not so much the doping or bad judging (sounds like LD) or even the fact that every time he turns the TV on he has to look at Bob Costas. "There need to be more synchronized events," he says. He loved synchronized diving, and is a well-known collector of tapes of historical synchronized swimming competitions; he's never gotten over the end of MGM's run of Esther Williams movies, or so he claims. But why are all synchronized sports wet? "You could have synchronized everything," he says. "Synchronized shot putting, synchronized pole vaulting, synchronized marathon racing. For that matter, the running events could even be three-legged, like field day when you're a kid. A three-legged twenty-six mile race would be a real test of teamwork." Perhaps. My favorite field day event was always potato racing, which unfortunately is no longer an Olympic event. Synchronized potato races would be a real crowd pleaser, if you ask me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


So I threaded my way through the various monsoons last Friday to Eagle, among other places. Had a lovely chat with the powers that trophy. In a nutshell, the acrylics cost about what everything else costs, and there wasn't a lot of point to changing things. Using more smaller ones was an option, however, and I will do that. We'll save a few bucks, anyhow. I'm especially concerned about the cost of Districts, since I went way out of pocket last year. Shrinking them should help even things up. I'll continue to get mugs for the lesser Bump awards, but I'll upgrade them a little, and get them from Eagle instead of the source I used last time. One-stop shopping and all that.

They had some nice stuff there, but mostly inappropriate. People do give out lots of trophies to themselves to mark their passage through life. There were some new ones that struck me as tres Franklin Mint, metallic things with figures on them busily hitting tennis balls or gazing into outer space (both of which are, apparently, trophiable). If there were one of these just jabbering, we could call it debate and be done with it. Expect to see them soon at least somewhere. Maybe we can get O'Cruz to use them. He can upgrade from the Croix de Po'keepsie and the French cheek kisses. (Although, to be honest, they really don't do the cheek kisses. Or French kisses. They just hand people the medals and look embarrassed as if they should have kissed them. Think of the germs!)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Why did I know this would happen?

It didn't take long for the Nostrumite to get in touch with me after that interview in O'Cruz World. Nothing would be guaranteed to put the lad in a state of permanent depression more than yet another spalpeen claiming that the Mite and Jules don't exist. Tell that to the Moldovans (Moldovites? Moldwegians?), the Mite exclaims. That's where Jules is now, working as a Peace Corps volunteer. Apparently he's helping the Moldwegians set up small internet businesses. Not that the Mite claims to know much about Moldava, and I can't say as I had ever even heard of it. Oh, well. The Nostrumite is doing quite well on his own, these days, thanks for asking. He's working on his novel, which he claims is coming along swimmingly. He is not happy about losing Nicky after her recent trip to the altar, however, if a Vegas wedding chapel can be said to have an altar. The Mite has always had high hopes about marrying money, and now his only hope as far as the Hiltons are concerned is Nicky's older sister. "I'm praying that she's mine one day," the Mite reports. "I'm even going to church regularly. Paris is worth a mass, if you know what I mean."

He also points out that a quick Google search did not come up with anyone else attempting that lame joke. I don't believe him for a minute.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Another reason to love Melville

"It is better to fail at originality than to succeed at imitation." That's a Melville quote. Of course, I got it secondhand, through Legal Affairs magazine, my latest favorite journal, or at least my latest favorite journal in a dead heat with Gourmet. (If you're not interested in chevre avec habitants there's always the David Foster Wallace article on killing lobsters.) Is it time to read Moby Dick again? Some of us are constantly asking that question, although since my ETA on finishing Caro is 2006, I'm not too atip at the prospect yet.

How to drive to work: Listen to the unabridged Bergdorf Blondes. I'm sorry, but it's funny. Who knew?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

What more could you ask for?

"Individual claims of privacy ought to be valued above competing claims of societal welfare." So reads the Sept-Oct topic, and by George W., it's a winner. Mixing standard philosophy with current events. Handmade for novices. And a great get-back-into-it for everyone else. As soon as I find out when school opens, and when the first meeting should be, I'll dip my brain into it.

I'm getting more misinformation on next year's sked than I would have thought possible. Lakeland has become the Flying Dutchman of Forensics, now appearing on every weekend possible, with the exception of Christmas. At least Newark and Emory have settled down. The new sked I've posted is pretty good, but it still can't accommodate O'Cruz's flight of fancy until one knows where all the other chips are falling.

The good news is, no one has signed up for Yale yet. We'll probably shut down registration before school opens. Oh well, if on one wants to go, I can't force them. The Rothsteins will have the place to themselves.

Is there any way the new name for Ewok isn't Hunk?

And I think I'll block the wave file for a little while. Enjoy the latest obvious selection. Try not to talk back to it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

How important are Gummi ship upgrades?

My day is getting odd. First, there's three miles on the treadmill watching part of an old Enterprise episode. Then there's work, editing our version of the next Fannie Flagg book and promising not to reveal the contents of the Godfather sequel, et al. Then there's messages from Claire only slightly longer than the contents of the Godfather sequel, and trying to find J.C. Glendinning's home address to send her a Duo tape, and some bezoot from Edgemont trying to get info from me on the Georgetown Day tournament. A nice quiet dinner that usually requires stopping off at Turco's—but I love stopping off at Turco's. There's fish in the air tonight, so to speak. What kind depends. Then there's hitting the old Yamaha for a while. Then a marginal moment of guilt for not having sorted the Family Night pix yet (or the Scandinavian pix, or the World's Fair pix). Then a little TV (a West Wing rerun, in honor of it being Wednesday and WW being pretty much the only regular show Liz ever watches, new or old), then I'll look at those damned instructions for building Gummi ships. At least I'm pretty much done with phase one of the game, and am apparently about to visit Agrabah (although there's still the issue of the bell and the gizmo shop that I haven't sorted out yet.) And finally, a little time with the Caro Robert Moses biography which I've just started. Caro is the nuts, as literate poker players might say.

My understanding is that Kant lived a similar life.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Crappy prizes

We're moving our offices at the Digest, which means true bounty in the c.p. area as people start casting off the bric-a-brac. I think I've already found next year's topper: a 15-disk unabridged audiobook bio of Jim Morrison. Altogether now: "Mr. Mojo risin'."

I visit Eagle next Saturday to negotiate down the trophy costs, presumably by negotiating down the trophy quality. Oh, these are troubled times!

And I hear there's a new principal. This will be my 48th. I hope he's into forensics. Shanker was an old congress hand himself, so he was a presold supporter.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Back from Scandinavia

And there's a bunch of messages about debate in the old in-boxes. There's the MHLs to sort out, and O'Cruz is moving his shindig around, and I have much conflicting information about Emory... It'll get organized soon enough.

This is the month when I get the odds and ends done. We do need to negotiate new trophies, both for Bump and NFL. We're spending all our (or in the case of NFL, my) money on acrylic. I hate to reduce the level of tin distribution, but we are only in this for the money.

Bronx, of course, is now totally bereft of TOC bids. And Columbia has one at finals. So there's a net stasis in the northeast, as far as I can tell. But I'm betting that Columbia will conflict with Newark (it always does), and there's no way I'm supporting a college above a high school. I may be the only person in the universe who thinks that this high school activfity should, when there's benefits to accrue (e.g., revenues from tournaments), benefit high schools. And while I have no first-hand knowledge of Columbia, as a rule the college tournaments aren't all that great. Yale has too few prelims for the numbers, Harvard has the triple octos judges from hell, Princeton has the worst pool of home-grown judges imaginable... AND most of these folks charge a premium, not to mention that they don't feed, they don't house—you get the picture. Every time the TOC decides to promote a college tournament and demote a high school tournament, I think they do so in (perhaps willful) ignorance of the impact on the high school community.

Am I beginning to sound more and more like someone who just thinks the TOC is more trouble than it's worth?

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I admit it

I've been burying myself in Kingdom Hearts.
Soon, vacation, to Scandinavia. Fortunately I already speak fluent Scandinavian.
For those who care, the Sept-Oct topic will hit the charts around 8/15. If anyone is interested in Wake, you'll have to arrange it yourself, and you might want to start thinking about it early. Other than that, there's Yale, and I'll start official browbeating in early August. Parents will be required in great numbers.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Nobody reads anymore

The statistics published in the Times yesterday were seriously depressing. According to the numbers, more than half of you never read anything. Ever. Except, of course, the wonderful books on our required reading list. Since summer is just beginning, you needn't worry about that yet. Read something else. Today's pick is Chabon's SUMMERLAND. It's not the world's greatest, not as good as Cavalier and Klay, but it's got its moments. And after all, he did work on the S-M2 story.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

You've got to start somewhere

Posting to the team website is a bit of a hassle, because I can only do it from home, and only from Liz's office, and only from the one computer. It's one thing to go through all that rigamarole during the season, but not now (and not so much even then, to tell you the truth). So let's try this for a while and see what happens.