Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Moving right along, Criticism #12.5

12 1/2. Discussion of CX on VB, thumbs up. All right, I admit to asking the team to create a VB in a barred circle graphic for me, but I do like discussions like this one. First of all, it demonstrates that most people take CX very seriously, plus it gives food for thought to debaters on what to do with it. But more to the point, I like a place where people can discuss debate theory, which a site like VB can do nicely. On the other hand, I really don't need to know what brand of toothpaste is used by the guy who made it to doubles at the Pago Pago Prep Chowder Society Invitational. But if you want wheat, I guess you have to sort through some chaff. (Has anyone posted the photos yet of the PPPCSI? I understand a lot of people where seen in classrooms wearing suits. I can't wait!)

The eleventh criticism (and a half)

I was wrong. I am big enough to admit it.

11. Carvel: thumbs up. Wally the Whale rules (or, as Elmer Fudd would say, Wally the Whale wules).

11 1/2. Claire. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Ten criticisms, during an off debate period

The young 'uns are doing midterms this week, which makes me wonder how many will turn up at tonight's meeting. So, if they wish to pass the time not studying and not meeting, they could pursue some of the following.

1. The Last Samurai, thumbs up. Lots of people refuse to see Tom Cruise movies on face, which is a mistake. They should only refuse to see some Tom Cruise movies on face. He's perfectly good in this one, which is a nice sequel to Pacific Overtures in my private little universe. I did not, however, watch the supplemental second disk of extras. Even I draw the line somewhere. My only complaint about the film is that it needed more Billy Connelly.

2. Coffee and Cigarettes, thumbs all over the place. Worth watching, I guess, especially if you're up late nights wondering about RZA and GZA and if your daughter is insane for liking the Ghost Dog soundtrack.

3. Legal Affairs magazine, serious thumbs up to keep the brain juiced. For instance, read this on Intellectual Property:

4. NPR online, thumbs way up. For instance, sample Johnny Carson:

5. The next Robert James Waller novel, thumbs down for anyone who doesn't think they're a cowboy. I just put this one down on my desk. This guy is a little undisciplined, a little interesting, a little terrible, a little cute.

6. The next Trevanian "novel" is nicely thumbs up. No one remembers this guy, who wrote Shibumi, one of my favorite silly thrillers. His autobiographical novel of his youth in Albany is a real wallow. Makes you glad you missed the 30s and the Depression, but if W gets his way economically, we may get to see similar times again soon. Oh dollar on the international market, we hardly knew ye.

7. Under the Tuscan Sun, thumbs way down. Of course, you get to look at the Tuscan scenery, but if you are thinking of suffering through a chickflick for the sake of balancing your Blade collection, look elsewhere.

8. Slow-cooked duck, thumbs up. 325 for 3 hours, 400 for 1/2 hour, thank you Nigella.

9. Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed, thumbs up. Nice kids children book that was sitting on my pile that I read over the snowy weekend.

10. "Men are smarter than women" sez Harvard honcho. Thumbs way up. This is getting more ink than Iraq, Social Security and Brad-Jen combined. I, for one, didn't know men's brains were (proportionately) 16% bigger than women's, as reported by the New York Times. No conversation with a Harvard girl (like Claire) is now complete without a nod toward Larry Summers. I don't think I convinced Claire to rethink her computer science career choice, but with that missing 16%... I don't know. Sounds like trouble to me. Fortunately she can always get her old job back scooping ice cream at Carvel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Great moments in debate

The average weekend is full of them, if you know where to look. Being buried in the tab room often cuts you off from the ebb and the flow of things, but I did manage a couple of magical moments.

For instance, there was the judge who decided to riffle through the teacher's desk. While this is in itself an extraordinary event, in this particular case the teacher happened to be in the room! The judge made an attractive nuisance defense (the drawer was open and looked interesting), followed by a we-always-riffle-through-the-teacher's-desks-in-Texas defense (which is, I guess, a sort of Rehnquistian anti-federalist ploy), followed by the oh-shucks-what's-that-printed-on-the-ceiling defense. Some people are born with a silver foot in their mouth.

Then there was the moment when I went over to see if all the judges had turned up for the novice finals. As I entered the room, Robbie, rather than proceeding with his 1AC, interrupted the proceedings to take a call on his cell phone. Presumably it was his broker, or bookie, or bag man. Hard to tell. Harder too to turn your cell off, when you're expecting a call from your broker, or bookie, or bag man. Then again, maybe it was just Noah calling in with a turn off negative's second contention.

My only hope is that everyone was on the bus when I sent it home Saturday night. I still have a vague sense that someone was left behind. Has anyone seen NoShow lately?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

My Keeper's Brother

It was suggested to Robbie last weekend that, in fact, Noah had written his cases.

If they only knew the truth.

I remember back to those so-called days of yore. Noah, as we all knew at the time, was incapable of holding two sequentially coherent thoughts in his head for more than three seconds at a time. He was completely dyslexic (in fact, his mother was very active in DAM, the Mothers Against Dyslexia). And if that wasn't enough, he had a tendency to overpack for short trips, bring every article of clothing he had ever owned even to tournaments where he wasn't staying overnight. I had warned the family that there was no way I could turn this frail wreck into a debater, and suggested that he think about the wrestling team as more suitable to his talents. At that point his mother took me aside and told me about Robbie. "He's only a first grader," she said, "but he really understands Lincoln-Douglas." She surreptitiously handed me some papers. When I read them later, I realized that they were cases, two sides of the current resolution, the best I had ever seen. An affirmative, and a negative, and both of them were true. And they had been written by Robbie, during recess, while the other kids were falling off the jungle gym.

In the following four years, it became progressively harder to hide the fact that Noah's success was based completely on running Robbie's cases. Fortunately no one ever noticed that Noah's knobby fingers were incapable of typing, much less knocking out case after case after case. Robbie used to prep Noah on a daily basis, giving him drills, trying to keep his attention pinned to the topic at hand. It wasn't easy. And there were a couple of times when Noah simply wasn't up to the task, and we substituted Robbie in his place. (This was especially difficult at Glenbrooks, where Robbie, in the third grade at the time, had a lot of difficulty adjusting to the time change, the cold showers at the tournament hotel, and the combination of the names of the coaches running the thing, viz, Whipple and Belch.)

Anyhow, Robbie can now finally come into his own, and no longer has to prop up his degenerate brother. And I for one say, it's about time.

(PS: Noah is now in Israel learning Hebrew so that he can study international law in Jerusalem. How Robbie is managing to both write cases and prop up his degenerate brother in Israel is beyond me, but my guess is, he's doing just that.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Windows for Nostrumite, V.666

As I've been sorting out the next few weeks of judging and visiting Massachusetts, I touched base with the Nostrumite, who almost didn't make it to return my emails because he is in a state of permanent depression over his recent attempts to upgrade his computer. "I shoulda bought a Mac," he told me glumly. "A couple of weeks ago I got an error that my PC's hard disk was out of space, with marching orders to erase or die, and since then, every day a little death doesn't begin to describe it." You've got to hand it to him: even in the midst of core meltdown, he manages to toss in a Sondheim reference. That's my boy!

He began by eliminating some of the games he never plays anymore, he told me. He has a habit of buying a game, playing it for two hours until he reaches some particular difficulty that will take some clever offense, and then tossing it on the cybernetic ash heap. "I got rid of Age of Mythology, which I never liked, and Age of Empires, which I bought because they said it was just like Age of Mythology, which should have been a warning rather than siren call, but in any case, after that I blew away American McGee's Alice and a few unintellible zip files and a couple of copies of the TRPC software, and I was cooking with gas. Megabyte after megabyte fell like scales before my eyes." Unfortunately, by this point, the machine was slogging away at the speed of a Commodore 64 or Lionel Richie, whichever seems slower to you while sticking roughly to the same metaphor. "My virus definitions were older than a Commodore 64," the Mite said, "or older than Lionel Richie, so I downloaded and installed a new version of Norton. While I was at it, I scraped the bottom for spybots. I really felt as if I was cleaning up dramatically." But he had as yet gotten no increase in speed. Far from it. "So I went for the Big One, and loaded up good old Service Pack 2, which is the Godfather 3 of operating system upgrades." Which solved the problem? "Now it takes me ten minutes to start up, which means I'm afraid to ever turn the machine off." Any plus sides? "Well, once I got into the upgrading mode, I upgraded iTunes so that I could buy the Triplets of Belleville theme song"—that, I will add, was my recommendation to the lad, who fell in love with the tune at first byte—"but then I couldn't offload to the iPod which also needed new software, so I upgraded that, and lost about half my music, that is, anything I had put in with any software other than iTunes. At which point, I would have murdered Commodore Perry, or Sophie Coppola, or anyone else who got in my way."

But the machine was now back to fighting speed? I asked.

"I shoulda bought a Mac," he replied.

It ain't easy, being a Nostrumite.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Ten criticisms, following the Christmas break

1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: Thumbs down. You read 800 pages waiting for the story to get started. The author has a creamy, readable style, but substance here is sadly lacking. If you're looking for Harry Potter for grownups, read Harry Potter.

2. Finding Neverland: Thumbs up, provided you attend with the requisite three hankies. Still waiting for the mythical bad Johnny Depp movie.

3. Triplets of Belleville: Thumbs up for the theme song alone, much less the curious animation style. No Spirited Away, but a winner.

4. Robert Caro: Thumbs up for anything. This man cannot write a bad word. I'm back in Robert Moses land again. What a bastid!

5. The new Pacific Overtures: TU, almost as good as the original (high praise indeed). But not as good, when all is said and done. Nevertheless, clever staging, and with that score...

6. Avenue Q: TU, although you never know whether to look at the puppets or the people.

7. The Terminal: TU. Which is more awesome, Hanks's talent or the built-for-this-movie set?

8. Bubba Ho-Tep: Reluctant thumbs down. Once you know that Elvis and JFK (who has been turned black) are living in a nursing home, you can write the script yourself. Too bad. Should have been a lot funnier.

9. Postmodernism: TD. The "lecture" continues apace, now that I've caught up a little with M. Foucault. My problem? I can't get past relativism. Anyone claiming that there is no objective reality needs to be hit over the head with a golf club.

10. Speaking of which, Golf: TD. I got worse this year. The team tried, getting me a great playing lesson. I played exactly one good round the whole season, the very last one, in October. At which point I grabbed the clubs out of the car and hid them in the basement. Unfortunately, I will no doubt remember where they are when April starts piercing at the old root.

So as you can see, my life is dull. Things seem to be jumping on the debate websites, though. They even had a Round Robin New Year's Eve. Can those forensicians celebrate or what?