Monday, February 28, 2005

This is not a good house...

,,, they don't have any Wodehouse.

I can't remember where I picked up that piece of doggerel, but it's true, of course. Apparently MC has been brought over to the positive side of the force through exposure coming back from Harvard. I thought I was the only one listening, since no one commented. But Mac is apparently now joining the legion of people who recognize the name Gussie Fink-Nottle, which is much to his credit. The thing about Plum is that you can listen, and it's like being washed over with hilarious poetry in a language you marginally recognize, or you can do the work and read it yourself, and either way you're in for a treat. I figure every convert I collect is one more cow creamer on my path to heaven.

Keeping up with my personal rush to eclecticism, the new Zatoichi film is a pip. I watched it yesterday while I was dying of this cold my daughter brought back from Japan, which I guess was some sort of sympathetic magic approach. Anyhow, can you not love a blind samurai movie that ends with a big dance number? I was always a fan of the original Ichi, and didn't even know till recently that there was a whole series. I miss samurai films. We used to go to theatres that were showing them by the bucketful back in the 70s; I don't know if there's anything analogous today. We'd sit in the smoking section up in the balcony for what seemed like days on end. Ah, wasted youth. (Did I really smoke a pack and a half a day? Ah, wasted lungs.)

Does anyone watch movies by the bucketful anymore? Do people care about films much anymore aside from their value as something to do when hanging out requires some content?

Final recommendation: Get Bruce. You probably have to be a little show-bizzy to enjoy this one (you know you're a little show-bizzy when a credit at the opening of the film says "Music by Michael Feinstein" and perk up a little) but it's fun, and if you're interested in behind-the-scenes at the Oscars, for example, it's a film to see. Behind the scenes has to be more interesting that in front of them, if this year was any indication. I just don't care anymore. So why do I always watch anyhow?

Friday, February 25, 2005

Vrot Splinky, International Declamation Champ: The exclusive MVP interview!

MVP: [Smiles] So, champ, tell us about yourself.
VS: There’s not much to say.
MVP: [Snorts] How did you get into declamation?
VS: Well, it was easier than the other IEs because you didn’t have to cut a piece. I just stole mine from my coach’s cousin.
MVP: [Gasps] What pieces did you do?
VS: Just the one. “I’ll Murder Your Children if You Don’t Rank Me a One.”
MVP: [Chortles] You were pretty much a picket-fence performer from the get-go.
VS: Sure. If they wanted their children to live past the weekend.
MVP: [Trips on mop] Did you do anything other than declamation?
VS: Dec was my life, dude.
MVP: [Inadvertently logs off server, crashes, reboots and trims fingernails] You never wanted to expand into, say, JV interp?
VS: Are you calling me a wimp? Nobody calls me a wimp.
MVP: [Lifts eyebrows in classic fear reaction and ducks under table] You’re only able to do declamation for two years in the CFL. What happened after that?
VS: I dropped out of school. I mean, life was pretty much over. I got a job at IBM designing medical software.
MVP: [Scratching like baseball pitcher] That sounds awfully difficult.
VS: Not for a declaimer. Besides, the only other people applying for the job were women, and you know what that Harvard guy says about them.
MVP: [Mentally sorting Critical Feminist responses] Are you still at IBM?
VS: I’m on sabbatical until the lawsuit comes to court.
MVP: [Chewing cud] Can we see your crib?

(And no, I had nothing to do with this. Address your comments to the Nostrumite. Spend two hours with the guy and he wants to co-opt your blog! Then again, it's a slow debate week.)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sixes and sevens

I'm sort of at loose ends this week, for one thing or another, none of them worth describing. I do have a couple of tight ends worth mentioning, though.

First, Matt J's judging paradigm on BVD is the cat's sleeping attire. I will be trying to figure out a good use for it. It's over the head of newbie adults, of course, but it might be a good handout to starting varsity kids when they begin to judge. And maybe also to parents after they've been on the bus for a while. Whatever. It's a document of great sense. Of course, I'd enjoy it more if it also showed his crib, his pimped ride and a couple of schematics from round three.

Jon O'C is going to interview himself? My mouse is at the starting gate... (What would I do without DVM to razz? I wouldn't bother if it didn't have enough good stuff—and the audience—to demonstrate the potential for so much more.)

"From Caveman to Frenchman" is now finally complete. I realize I've been dragging this out since October! But I think I needed it to come together in my mind before I could pretend to know what I was talking about. (Now that it HAS come together in my mind, pretending to know what I'm talking about will be a breeze.) The problem with critical theory and pomo and all that stuff is that there is no bright line. Everyone disagrees internally with his or her own writings, much less trying to find someone to put a coherent overview on it. And pomo has more spikes and offshoots than a Rasta on a bad-hair day. Not to mention the inherently bad writing. One of my problems was going back too far, I think; maybe I could have skipped the cavemen? We'll see. If it actually goes over well I'll write it up for the Hillary Duff.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Imaginary friends

Harvard was a big weekend for magic and mystery. Oh yeah, and shopping. I bought an Edith Wharton book illustrated by Maxwell Parrish for the spouse, a lifetime supply of red ink for my Dr. Grips, Fluxx, a Martin Greenberg anthology, chocolate pudding ice cream, and untold numbers of Brazilian CDs (Caetano forever!). I'll also admit to a Rosie (a Concord album I've never even seen before). In terms of torturing people with canned entertainment, in the car we listened to Jean Shepherd, Bertie Wooster, Elmore Leonard, Warren Zevon and The Rocky Horror Show. We'll sleep when we're dead!

The biggest mystery was the imaginary friend. Now, Lord knows, I go back with this woman for years now. I've known her longer than I've owned many of my socks. I've never known her to get "creative" in all that time (give or take the odd adolescent overenthusiasm). But I have fully come to believe that the new b.f. simply does not exist. How come he could only meet with us Sunday night? Did he know that the weather would be bad and we'd missing breaking by the breath of a speaker point and hence hit the road? Not to mention all those other times I've never seen him. At this point, I've come to accept that Clayton doesn't exist. Maybe it's Claeton, spelled to rhyme with the Rolls Royce. Or Claethon, as in Phaethon, and he's the son Helios never liked to talk about. Whichever. Clayton: if you're reading this, I know you don't exist, so you can stop right now.

As for magic, I did get to hang with the Nostrumite Saturday night during the 4th round while everyone else was debating or judging. We sat in some burger joint and waxed nosty on old times and alternately watched the BC/Syracuse game on ESPN and the crawl on CNN. The lad was sent into a state of permanent depression when we read that doctors had removed some baby's extra second head. Fortunately, the crawl said, this condition was "rare." We hadn't known this. We thought that two-headed babies were as common as Frenchpeople at a Dump Bush convention. Of course, this is the sort of thing that starts the Mite yapping for hours on end, decrying the poor usage of the English language and spewing forth on the over-reliance on synecdoche in critical animal rights theory and ultimately telling me in deepest confidence that he's heard that the PETA people are trying to ban the playing of "Fur Elise" on the local classical radio station. Don't even ask about his reaction to the women who refused to go wild for Koko the gorilla. There are nights like this one when I wish Jules weren't still in Dahomey or wherever he went. (Now I know it wasn't Dahomey, which really does sound like someone from Dahood, but that's just too easy.) Maldives? Whatever. The Mite says Julie should be back toward the end of spring or the beginning of summer. Good. The Nostrumite always needs someone to keep the lid on. Maybe he should get married again. He's about due. Come to think of it, there is no Claethon, so maybe there's a possibility there...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


I’ll be getting together with the Nostrumite up at Cambridge this weekend, needless to say. In fact, checking in with the lad is one of the reasons I’m going to Harvard in the first place. Maybe the only reason, except perhaps for some residual insanity in the Menick DNA. The Mite, who is now coaching policy for Tennessee Williams HS, a small venue right outside of Boston, somehow expects that the two of us will spend the weekend pub crawling. The idea that we are both the responsible adults on this expedition seems so far to have eluded him. It will be sad to see the effect of the news when it dawns on him that our greatest kick might be an extra shot of espresso at Starbucks.

Anyhow, I was amused to learn that the Nostrumite is in a state of permanent depression over what he refers to as Defeat Longjohns Intermittently. He firmly believes that he can pin the magic date to within three hours when the chickens will come home to roost. “Don’t these people know that at three a.m. on the Wednesday of the third week of October during their junior year in college they will suddenly remember what they posted in their Cribs piece, and realize that they are scarred forever and that their lives will suddenly become a living hell of self-recrimination? That you never overcome the photo of the George Foreman grill where you cook all your tuna melts, or the image of the Freddie the Ferret doll you’ve been sleeping with since kindergarten, or your painting of Bietz Contemplating the Bust of Jon Cruz, or the picture of the room where your Uncle Ralph was sleeping when the local constabulary nabbed him for—well, we won’t talk about that one.” Why is it the Cribs that always brings out the worst in people? “If you ask me,” the lad continues, “DLI is missing some good opportunities.” And, of course, he proceeds to list them:

Pimp My Bus Ride: Pictures of the school buses the debaters arrive at tournaments in
Debate Makeover: Take some nerdy guy in a suit and tie and patent leather pumps and subject him to the real world. Throw away his jacket, pull out his shirt tail, get him into some $200 sneakers and put a backwards baseball cap on his head—Voila! The transformation is complete: an LDer turned into a Policy person.
Emory Poker Championships: That one is self-explanatory, perfect for both the Travel and Weather Channels.
Iron Chef Forensician: A look into the cafeterias at your favorite debate venues! Today’s ingredient? Ziti!
The Biggest Loser: Enough with all these good debaters. How about profiling a few real stinkers for a change, those people who show up week after week and go 0-6? The salt of the debate earth, so to speak.

The Nostrumite goes on and on with this, but I won’t bore you with the rest of them. If you see us in Cambridge, join up with us as we pretend to pub crawl. I’m sure he’ll be happy to regale you with another hundred or so.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Inside the trenches

Herewith, a self-explanatory note from a parent judge. This is what keeps this activity valuable beyond its own little borders. If you intrinsically can't pick up her ballot, you're not that good a debater, bub, and this activity has been worthless to you in the grand scheme of things.


On Being a Mommy Judge

When my son became a debater, I was told that I would have to get involved as a judge, especially if my son wanted to go to many tournaments. I decided that I would support my son in this activity. As an English-speaking mommy, I was only required to invest 1 hour in judge training. From then on, I received on-the-job training, starting as a novice and advancing to varsity.

When I agree to serve as a judge at a tournament, I accept full responsibility. I don’t leave unless I am “dismissed.” I check the schematics to make sure I get to where I am supposed to be when I am supposed to be there (I admit that one time the “judge squad” had to find me to tell me that I was supposed to be judging when I was sitting around gabbing with other mommies; I was embarrassed and I hope that never happens again). I make sure my ballots get to the tab room, even if I have to bring them there myself. I read my son’s cases so I have some knowledge and understanding of the resolution (sometimes he asks me to read his cases to make sure it can be understood by a mommy/daddy judge). I flow the debate and try to follow the contentions, subpoints, blocks, rebuttals, harms, values and warrants. I try to write something meaningful on the ballots. After a tournament, I read my son’s ballots to try to gain insight into other judges’ insights. I have been operating with two basic assumptions: 1) this is the way adults behave and 2) I need to be a role model for my children and other people’s children, not the other way around. Apparently, some mommy and daddy judges should be taking grown-up lessons from their children.

Last week I judged 5 varsity rounds and I found myself pushed to the limit of my debate judging skills. These debaters were moving so fast, that it was difficult for me to follow their arguments. Flowing became almost impossible. After they read their cases, I found it easier to spend more energy on listening instead of flowing. I tried to see the big picture instead of all the little pieces. I found it difficult to write something on the ballot that would support my decision. I gave it my best shot, and that’s good enough for me. When I found myself as one of three judges in the first break round, I had to disclose, and this was after the God-coach of debate gave his treatise on how and why he made his decision. That was a hard act to follow, and although I accept the basic premise that debate is an activity that can and should be judged by mommies and daddies, I was a bit intimidated. I had been exposed as a mommy judge.

So what’s the payback? Why do I make the effort and “volunteer” to serve as a judge? I get to sit around high school cafeterias eating not hot pizza, cross the Bear Mountain Bridge in a school bus, and watch the steam rise in a stifling hot classroom when it’s below freezing outside. I also get to see my son put on a suit and tie and engage in an activity that I know will serve him well today and in the future. I leave these debate tournaments with a renewed faith in American youth. The writing, thinking and speaking skills that are on display really blows me away.

I know that there are some mommies and daddies that are better judges than me (my husband for starters). Apparently, there are far too many that are worse, simply because they don’t make the effort. I have decided that I need to be the best judge that I am capable of being. My son is entitled to no less than that from any mommy or daddy judge.

Rochelle Mozlin Insler
February 15, 2005

Monday, February 14, 2005

Inside the bunker

This weekend's tab room at Lakeland was, perhaps, emblematic. It was also hotter than Baghdad. You should know what goes on in there.

First of all, the judges were, again, one step ahead of us. I thought that the fact that they often don't speak English and that they know every hiding place in every school was trouble enough, but they pulled a new one on us this time. They went home. One of them left a note at the ballot table Friday night informing us that he would not return on the morrow. Another simply didn't return, with no notice whatsoever. That both these judges left in the middle of the tournament, in one case abandoning a team completely, is beyond my understanding. I wanted to toss the teams out on their butts, but I was only running the computer, not the tournament. It gets harder and harder to like lay judges, but the real issue is the kids, not the judges. There is no question that the teams involved knew full well that their judges were blowing off their obligations, just like kids know full well that they haven't bothered to train their judges, but don't give a damn, because their bad judges will be out judging someone else. The notoriety of a handful of teams, and a handful of judges, because greater and greater. I guess the offenders simply hope that we'll stop scheduling their lousy judges and let them off the hook. Now THAT is sleazy. And deliberate. I'm tempted to start posting the names of the schools and judges to avoid. And I can't wait to write the judge section of next year's Bump invite. Don't even think of signing up if those notables are any of yours. You know who you are.

There were plenty of bright spots, though. While I alone was left to defend Moby Dick as a regular reread (the various coaches assembled were almost unanimously strong supporters of tossing Melville overboard completely), and also seemed to be the only person who liked Dickens AND Austen, we could at least all agree that The DaVinci Code is the only bestseller in recent memory that actually delivered on what a bestseller ought to deliver. In other words, it was only as philistines that the coaches could find unity. Then there was the Menick evidence against kritiks, or something along those lines. Let's put it this way. Some yabo quoted this blog in his case, against a Hen Hud debater, and WON! I don't know which is more embarrassing, that the yabo didn't have a clue to the credibility of his source, or that my guy lost to it. Heads should seriously be hanging in shame today. And then there was the usual schmoozing and gossiping about various and sundry. Mr X with his ego being the only thing bigger than his mouth was roundly savaged, and everyone hopes he will be going away at the end of the season. Ms Y, it turns out, was given the boot; I didn't even know her but I was glad to hear it. And the disconnect between what everyone says the TOC is doing and what the TOC is doing was remarked upon yet again; as a member of the LD advisory committee, I am ever astounded at the things people say we're up to!

And on the local front, a commitment was made to keep the MHL together in the face of Bill Barthelme's leaving Bergenfield. News of how we'll do things will be reported eventually, but expect at least as many tournaments as in the past, and an active website for signups and information.

And not that you really care at all, but Lakeland was yet another example of why you can't use the "new" TRPC software. Every version after 2002 has faults. The runover of divisions is well-known, but this time we got incompletely filled-in schematics, plus total inability to find extra judges that were clearly available in the data. If you plan to run a tournament and need the old software, let me know. It's on my flashdrive and it's yours for the asking. If you use the new software, you're on your own. The only good thing it does is print ballots, if that's your fancy. The only way to use it is if you have one and only one division of something (and even then you'll run into trouble, e.g., it forgets how to print a schematic). I use these programs week after week after week, and while the old version lacks a few bells and whistles, it's solid as a rock, and Rich Edwards is my god! As for the new version... I prefer index cards.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

You know who you are

Yeah, you, You're the sort of debater who believes that all a negative has to do is say that the affirmative is wrong. As much as possible, you avoid a position of your own.

Here's how you'll do this in March-April.

Now, I grant you that this is a mushy topic, which is why no one voted for it (it only came in #2 out of 10—who are these people, for pete's sake). I know my team didn't vote for it (I save our ballot). The thing is, I can't imagine more nebulous constructs than community or national standards. (I won't even talk about where civil liberties comes in!) Even the Supreme Court has gone to great lengths to not define the two, but simply to leave cs in the hands of the sitting jury facing the evidence in hand. You're the community, folks: have at it.

So, in the event, the aff will have no choice but to define and defend community standards above national standards. The negative, even your negative, will have to concede that, if protecting cs "better protects" civil liberties, it has to actually be better than some other thing. The natural (preferable, and ultimately stronger) negative is that, no, ns better protects, and now let us compare the two. I say natural, because it demonstrates an intuitive understanding of the English language, that better implies a comparison of two items. Also, debating thus will provide the neg not only with reasons why cs is not good, but why something else is indeed better, which is a strategically strong position all negs should attempt to achieve in any resolution. Neg's advocacy should always be equal to aff's, if for no other reason than that this strategy forces aff to address strong arguments other than refutations of aff's own (putting aside kritiks, of course). You never listen to that, though.

Anyhow, here's what you're going to do. Rather than explaining why nat stds better serve civil liberties than com stds (which, of course, they seem to do, at least if you don't think about it too hard, which means that neg has an intuitively stronger case if neg grabs the topic by the tail and stares it straight in the eye), you are going to argue that:
1. It is difficult or impossible to differentiate between ns and cs
2. Because of 1, we can't know which is which
3. Because of 2, we can't choose between them
4. Therefore, the aff is not true because we can't tell which is better because we don't know the difference

Keep in mind, when you make this argument, that it is paradigmatic of bad debating. That won't stop you, but at least you'll know what you're doing.

According to my calendar, I probably will not be judging this topic. Lucky you.