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.