Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Ten years after

I've been with debate eleven or twelve years, but there's no rock band called Eleven Years After that I'm aware of, and by their titles, ye shall know their blogs... So, what I've seen in 10 years:

Phase One -- Everybody reads Mill and Locke. This is a good thing, because high schoolers can, in fact, read Mill and Locke, and perhaps enjoy them, but certainly understand them absent any enjoyment. If you want to create a class of philosophers, start them there.

Everybody runs Mill and Locke. This is not due to intellectual vacuity, but because they apply to most of the resolutions, which tend to revolve around the role of the individual in society.

There are weasel cases out there. Favorite example is the topic mentioned by Noah, about voluntary organizations. The rez obviously refered to country clubs; one school, Weasel High, ran Exxon as a voluntary organization, and proceded to apply straightforward discrimination slash civil rights arguments that were unassailable. The only problem? They were irrelevant. Weasel High, it turned out, always did something like this. Their coach explained to me that, yeah, he knew it wasn't true, but if the opponent bought it, you won, and if the opponent didn't buy it, you just stepped back into truer VOs. Great strategy. That's why I think of them as Weasel High.

And there were plenty of speeders. Regular judges learned to judge speed, or else debaters learned to slow down for irregular judges.

Phase Two -- later that decade. People got tired of Locke and Mill and the topics became more parochial and specific. Natural ebb and flow, I'd say. But to debate these topics, you had to do parochial and specific research. Capital punishment, for instance, ended up hinging, first, on the ability of both sides to moot the other's body count (pro had DNA, neg had recidivists, with about equal body count). Then you could go on to, well, not Locke and Mill, really. You studied Supreme Court decisions and read about penology.

There were lots of topics like this. Most of them, actually, except the NFL Finals topic, which was always something like communism, good or bad? To argue these topics, you needed evidence. So, LD went through its Bad Policy period. People had evidence, but poorly cut by even novice policy standards, seldom conforming to evidentiary requirements if one was going to offer the evidence for examination. People played with policy terms but really didn't understand them, so mostly you got LD without an identity of its own.

You also got plenty of weasels. Not necessarily Weasel High, but debaters or teams who thought they could cleverly elude the real issues with something akin to the Exxon approach. Great strategy. That's why I think of them as weasels.

You needed even more speed, and if you were a Polician manque in front of a parent, you might have well just have handed the round to your opponent.

The positive side of all of this was the ever-changing topics really did change, and you always had to go in and explore new areas. I think that's one reason why the coaches were voting for these topics. We had nothing against Mill and Locke, but we wanted new ideas charging around in our own brains.

Phase 3 -- today.

We are confused by our trees, ye forestless folk. Here's what hasn't changed: most LD is not the so-called national circuit. There are thousands of LDers out there. They don't travel very far or very often. They are, I would imagine, getting most of the benefits of the activity. If they're lucky, they'll go to a big tournament near them once in a while, and swell the ranks. It has probably been ever thus. Included in this are traditional programs that go on year after year developing debaters who last for a couple of years, get lots of benefits, and move on. Adolescents have a habit of doing that. (So do I, but I've often been accused of arrested development.)

Meanwhile, a handful of schools are well-endowed enough to go to lots of big tournaments. They also hire good teachers to work with their teams, and they have good results. That's nice for them. They are barely a blip on the screen, compared to the vast number above. They are honorable. They probably also have well-funded football teams, and that is honorable too.

Then there is a small culture of university academics running a small number of teams with a high profile. These academics, trained in the (to me) jejune area of critical theory, apply CT to today's topics. There is also a small number of former debaters who are attempting to achieve the TOC bids that eluded them as high schoolers, and they use their way too many years of debate experience to craft positions that are the modern weasel so they can vicariously achieve those lost bids through their puppets. And there's a handful of essentially coachless but brilliant debaters who seem to have absolutely no lives other than this activity, and have the bids and the portfolio of cases to prove it.

The influence of these small groups is magnified by the perception of "national circuit." National Circuit is that elusive realm of the really good debaters, the theory goes, the paladins and ronin who travel week after week wherever the bids may lead them. They have developed, again in theory, a whole new set of positions, a new approach to debate that is somehow better. It is, of course, the amalgam of second-rate critical theory and weasel kritiks that is fun once in a while but is hardly the reason LD exists in the first place. Or why LD exists now. The magnification is through, you guessed it, the glorification of these debaters through Once we start treating them as something special, the perception is that they are something special. My fear is that the narrow lives of these special debaters is perhaps harmful. No offense, guys, but you're not special. It's nice to think you're special, it's nice to be lauded on a website, but even if you're far from being a weasel and are running Mill and Locke, I hate to tell you this, but IT"S ONLY HIGH SCHOOL DEBATING, BUB.

And that's all it is. If the only lesson you learn is how and when to run a K, you've wasted a lot of time. If you've only learned to be friends with other people who can run a K, worse yet.

Anyhow, the topics seem to be improving, at least in theory (in practice, the wordings are a little lame, but that's always been the case). I think the coaches in the great gray army that isn't national circuit are interested in cycling back to basic philosophy again, simply on the old rotational basis. We've all gotten tired of faux policy.

And the critical theory and K crowd? They may be merely a blip on the screen, but they will remain a blip on the screen, and in some areas, a meaningful one. Caveman is nothing less than a longterm project to train my team in the vapidness of these positions, and not an attempt to train them to run them.

God forbid.

And Noah wonders why I never cared much about national circuit?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Gods and heroes

First, read the article about Scalia in last week's New Yorker. Nino could easily be the next Chief Justice, but that wouldn't have much of an effect on the court overall. He's a fascinating character, and my money is on him to be, if not the smartest justice, the most lively. I love hearing him, I love reading him, I love reading about him. I also disagree with virtually every position he takes, but that's beside the point. I like what he says about a lot of things, and as the New Yorker article points out, if there's one thing he isn't, it's a relativist. He responds to what the words say, not to some hidden, secret meaning. For instance, he points out rightly that there is nothing in the Constitution about a wall of separation between church and state. That is not in the first amendment. It's in a letter Jefferson wrote. Scalia's job is applying the Constitution to cases brought before the court, not applying the epistles of Thomas Jefferson (who, of couse, had little hand in writing the Constitution).

I too believe in what words say. I like the fun aspects of relativism, but I apply strict interpretation to debate resolutions. It's a much thinner gruel than interpreting the Constitution, but I know I'm not on Bush's short list for the court, and I accept that.

It boils down, maybe, to being in the word business. I've been writing since fifth grade. I've been published a few times. I've been an editor since high school, professionally so since 1971. Words are the air I breathe. I'm very good at manipulating them, and pretty good at understanding them. And while I like the Humpty-Dumpty approach to words meaning what I want them to mean, and while I like occasional critical analyses that turn words upside down to show their "real" meaning, I pretty much go for the straightforward. You should be able to tell that from reading this blog. Which makes it something of a dance to be working so hard on a treatise about modern theory, since I only like it the way I like Prince of Persia on the PS2, as a game that eventually grows pretty tiresome and which is no substitute for reality. But I do like exercising my brain, and it does do that. And I get to write about it, and I like that too.

I like to write. So shoot me. One of the things I like about debate is that I meet up with the occasional good young writer, and there is a meeting of the minds. Being a good writer is a nice skill if you're a debater. Writing a clear case is, shall we say, a leg up. Not only does the presentation of your ideas work, but good writing forces you to work out your ideas clearly before you have a finished product. You can't write well about something about which you know nothing. Or at least you can't be very persuasive about your areas of ignorance. At least not for long.

Secondly, for those of you who remember there was a first in this entry, I don't disagree much with Noah's version of events. (Noah is one of those good writers. So is my daughter. There are others.) I continue to learn how to handle a large team versus a small salon, but what I've ended up doing is, when I can, breaking the large team up into small salons. I also know what my skills are, vis-a-vis training debaters, plus what my limits are, and I don't try to overstep either. My goals are not competitive, although Noah is correct that I have appreciated the effect competitive success has on individuals. I do like you to win, in other words, because that will make you feel good, but if that is all you get from three or four years of me, the ability to win debate rounds, I have done a piss-poor job indeed. Granted, I don't connect with everyone -- who does -- but I do connect with a good number. If I do connect with you, you'll know more than you started out about a lot of things. I'll get a lot out of it too; I've learned a hell of a lot in the last decade in areas I had never cared about previously. It's been fun.

(Sounds like a retirement speech. It isn't.)

Third, I think that one of the reasons I prefer tab rooms these days, aside from the fact that I'm experienced enough to tab like a house afire, is the remove from the field. I'm like Noah. I like debating the topic. I believe strongly that arguing important ideas of value improves our society, even in the narrow realm of academic debating teams. Those ideas stick with us in our lives outside the tournament. If we argue separation, or cultural diversity, or the problems of democracy, we make ourselves better citizens overall. When we duck the content of these arguments, when we don't take clear positions on one side or another (regardless of our belief in those opinions), we are no better citizens and do nothing to improve society. Then, well, it's just words. And while I like words -- hell, I love words -- words used in this fashion are pretty sterile.

That's my brief against must of modern theory, for that matter: it's sterility. Academics qua academics.

Once again, pfft!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Nostrumite's Adventures in Encyclopedialand

As I was doing my best to separate faith from reason in Caveman yesterday (I'm getting into the Dark Ages, or the Middle Ages, or whatever you want to call the period when everyone in Europe was sitting around trying to figure out how best to draw the map of themselves), I received a message from the Nostrumite that put everything into perspective (which, by the way, was invented around the time of the Renaissance; before that the world may have not been flat but the paintings certainly were). The lad is in a state of permanent depression over his war with his computer which is now being raged with dueling copies of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

He's the only person I know who can spend all day installing one program.

"I've got my crummy laptop," he writes, "plus I've got Jules's old desktop that he left behind when he went to Moldova." Julie is presently doing his best to bring peace, joy and prosperity to Central Europe, and keeping his head down, just in case. "Both computers have a copy of the 1999 DVD of Encyclopedia Brittanica, the features of which only worked for a while. Eventually you could browse major topics, like agriculture, but if you wanted to look up agriculture in, well, Moldova, the search function wouldn't work. You had to pore over the entire agriculture article, or the entire Moldova article, to find what you were looking for. Which, if you were wondering, is grapes and a long history of supplying plonk to the Russkies."

I'll take his word for that. It could explain why we don't hear all that often from Jules.

"This is a documented problem with the software," he told me. "I like that. The stuff doesn't work, but at least they're aware of it. So stop your whining, I guess, is the message they're trying to deliver. We know you've got a problem, and we don't want to hear about it."

I have to agree with him there. I love documented problems. They're sort of the flip side of irreproducible results. And they are somehow more comforting, although I don't know why.

"So meanwhile I'm on Brittanica's mailing list, having dutifully registered the program when I originally bought it, and keeping it to myself that I was loading it on every computer within a fifty mile radius. Every now and then they would tell me about a cheap upgrade, which I would ignore because how much has happened to agriculture in Moldova since 1999? I could always get the core story from the disk I had, and Google any updates. But, ultimately, I got tired of the search function not working, so a couple of weeks ago I ordered the latest upgrade for fourteen bucks."

Any choruses of, You get what you pay for?

At that point, the Mite loaded the new software on his crummy laptop, and removed the old software. "I now had about 6 bytes of memory left over, even after I deleted all the podcasts I didn't even know were on the hard drive. Since there was hardly any available memory, the new software, which is Encyclopaedia, thank you very much, where the a and the e are attached like Siamese twins, is slower than taking the T to the library and looking it up in the damned books. Plus there were these great error messages telling me that I had to be out of my literal mind, although the term they used was virtual memory."

If he'd just buy a new computer with a bigger hard drive, none of this would happen.

"So after crashing a few times, or suffering through crashing boredom, I went over to Julie's desktop. This thing is running Windows 98, has a ten gigabyte hard drive, three gigs of which are filled, and the damned Encyclopaedia runs like a charm. So I took Encyclopaedia off my crummy laptop and reinstalled the 99 DVD Encyclopedia."

None of which sounds particularly exciting, but this is how Nostrumites spend their free time.

"When all was said and done I had recoved about 3 gigs of space on the laptop, mostly by cleaning out iPod files. I mean, once they're on the iPod, you don't need them on the hard drive anymore. Did you know that if you delete the files from the iTunes library it does not necessarily delete the files from your hard drive? Does Steve Jobs think I'm made of memory?"

My Sunday was, I think, more profitably spent Googling St. Augustine. Once you get past Florida and into City of God, you're home free.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

For those who wonder

Noah seems to think that Caveman is a prelude to a treatise on self-help. For those who wonder, est, or Erhard Seminar Training, was the brainchild of a man named Werner Erhard. I don't know what happened at est sessions, that not being exactly my cup of Diet Coke, but they were a phenomenon of the 70s, legendary for lasting forever and not letting anyone go to the bathroom.

I, for one, am against self-help.

I am not rallying in Caveman Pt 1 that you are the creature of your own making, and therefore capable of change by remaking yourself. I am simply observing that, according to some schools of thought, you are the result of your own Narrative. These schools seem never to have heard of DNA, or any of the latest advances in behavioral science. It's nice to live in a vacuum of theory.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a critical theorist. Read the review of Camille in today's NYTBR -- she and I are on the same wavelength. (Shoot me now!) I believe that art is the expression of humankind's highest achievements, an ennobling of souls, an enrichment of the beholder and the creator, a transcendent act. I do not believe that art is how we hide who we really are so that second-rate critics can tear us apart for the art we didn't create.


As for self-help, well, I'm not particularly against people trying to better themselves. I wish more people would. But I am against the concept of self-esteem valued above accomplishment. Accomplish something, then feel good about it. Now, granted, if you're in some truly objective dump and all you have left is intrinsic human worth, we'll start with self-esteem and work our way up. But if you can afford a three-day est seminar, and have enough self-control not to go to the bathroom during the sessions, you are not exactly in an objective dump. If you have the blues, however, I recommend doing something as a cure. Creating something. Doing something constructive.

I guess I'm an existentialist, if you want to label things. We are how we act. And I'm a friend of the arts. We are how we create. All acts of art share in the ennobling of the human spirit. Or, plant a potato. It's useful, it's time-consuming, and eventually you'll reap potatoes.

I spent all day today working on part 2, which is a very selective history of art. I managed to make it to the middle ages; I give myself a bogey as far as accuracy as concerned. I also spent a little time looking at educational theory. Talk about one wide open nut ready for the cracking! Plato, Rousseau, Dewey, Peirce (who knew?), Montessori, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum. I'll even admit in print that grasshopper wasn't terribly wrong intuiting that moral training may have something to do with it (except, of course, that horrible word training is the antithesis of teaching).

I also worked out all the money Hen Hud owes me, ready to send in for reimbursement. I even ran all kinds of diagnostics on the old PC, loaded the new EB on the other PC (this one is too tight memorywise), surfed around for some new podcasts to try, and made one hell of a good dinner.

A day of accomplishment. No self-esteem for me. I even consulted VBD to find out what the well-dressed nerd is wearing. Of course, I think they'd better lighten up on the push of the summer camp. "Money money money money money money money money money money money money money."

I am so ready for the next revival of Cabaret.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Caveman Pt 1, Draft of text version

[I did promise to publish this here first. It's raw, but not that raw.]

This is the story of Narrative. Understanding narrative is as good a way as any of understanding many of the chief concepts of postmodernism. It’s also a pretty good way to understand a lot of other things. Narrative is, of course, another word for story. And everyone loves a good story. They always have; they always will. We are going to explore why.
This is a story told in multiple parts; only the final part actually discusses contemporary critical theory, or more simply put, postmodernism. To understand postmodernism, you need first to understand modernism. And to understand modernism, you need to understand the past.
So, we begin with the past. Or more specifically, we begin with the dawn of narrative.

Part One Narrative

If this is the story of Narrative, we should start with a definition of Narrative. I’m using a very specific definition here (and I’m not alone in this; there are plenty of Narrative theorists out there, so rest assured, I’m not just making this up). The concept, as I’m referring to it, will come up again and again.
Narrative, simply put, is connecting the dots.
The dots are the disparate pieces of perceived reality.
So, Narrative is the connecting of the dots that are the disparate pieces of perceived reality.
Which may sound like a load of jargon, but it isn’t.

I could simplify this, and say that Narrative is connecting the dots of reality, but that would assume the existence of reality. We don’t want to do that, not when we’re going to end up talking about postmodernism. Most philosophers, and for that matter most of your average schmegeggies on the street, will tell you that there is such a thing as objective reality. There is a rock over there, there is a tree over there, we are on the earth, we are breathing air. That person standing over there is my brother Kermit. But it doesn’t hurt anybody to say I perceive a rock over there, I perceive a tree over there, I perceive that we are on the earth, I perceive that we are breathing air. I perceive that that person standing over there is my brother Kermit. If in fact there is such a thing as objective reality, I am perceiving it. No objective reality has been damaged by our adding the concept of perception.
So Narrative connects the dots of perceived reality. There’s all kinds of stuff out there, all kinds of dots, and Narrative connects them. Why? Narrative at this level is the attempt to find order in what is apparently a random universe, to connect the dots of perceived objective reality into a subjective understanding. Narrative is attempt to understand the world around us.
Or at least that’s one kind of narrative. There’s others, but they’re all connections of dots.
Narrative, simply put, is connecting the dots.

I personally maintain that the instinct to Narrative, the instinct to make stories out of things, is what makes us human. Things happen to all species. Cats and dogs live in a world of trees and rocks and air just like humans do, but only humans try to make sense of everything, and the way we make sense of everything is the thing called Narrative. Unlike cats and dogs, humans connect the dots.

And here’s an important concept: I’m not just talking story here—that is, Narrative as story—although the end result may be a story. I’m talking the process of connecting the elements, which is also the creation of a Narration. The instinct to Narrative is both the instinct to make sense of things and the instinct to make sense of things in a certain way. The human mind understands stories. Understanding stories and creating stories are two examples of how the mind works.
Humans love to tell stories, and they love to hear stories.

The is actually a history of story, a story of story, if you will. We’ll start at the beginning, at the dawn of history.
Let’s set the stage: This is the period when early humans are living in sod huts and caves, wondering where the next woolly mammoth is coming from. They’ve got a couple of chiseled pieces of flint they use as tools, and with any luck, someone in the group has a way with fire (woolly mammoth sushi is ok, but woolly mammoth on the grill—umm-umm!).
This period is the Dawn of Narrative. This is the beginning of attempting to make sense of the world in which we we live. How does woolly mammoth guy do this? He connects the dots of his (perceived) reality. He creates a Narrative to explain his world. By so doing, he invents Science and Religion in one fell swoop. (Science and Religion are one and the same thing as far as woolly mammoth guy is concerned.)
The first human Narratives are stories of Animism. Animism is the application life to inanimate objects. This same root word is in animation, where somebody makes squiggles on film come alive; that person is called an animator.

an·i·mism n
1. the belief that things in nature, for example, trees, mountains, and the sky, have souls or consciousness
2. the belief that a supernatural force animates and organizes the universe
3. the belief that people have spirits that do or can exist separately from their bodies
(Thus spake the Encarta dictionary)
The first two definitions are the ones we’re interested in.

Animism imbues inanimate objects with “spirit,” or as the definition would have it, with souls or consciousness. The rocks and trees are somehow alive. Additionally, the phenomena we observe can’t just happen—the sun doesn’t just rise in the morning by itself. The sun is not an inanimate object. The sun is not a ball of gas 93,000,000 miles away. To woolly mammoth guy, the sun is a living thing, an animated thing. Woolly mammoth guy has no tools to measure the distance to the sun, or the chemicals that comprise the sun. The only tools this guy has are a few flint knives and his own eyes to see with. But he perceives a certain reality. He sees the sun in one position in the sky in the morning, and another position at dusk, and nowhere at all at night. His instinct to Narrative forces him to make up a story to explain it. He connects the dots of his perceived reality. As a result, he comes up with the story of the sun god.
Let’s look at the Greeks, which is a few thousand years down the line from woolly mammoth guy, but a good indication of how the story developed over time. In Greek mythology the sun was a chariot on fire, pulled by two winged horses, used by the god of the sun to drive along the sky during the day. Though Apollo was seen as a god of the sun, bringing life-giving heat and light to Earth, he was never expected to carry out this charioteering duty. This work was still done by Helios, apparently another sun god (I’m no expert on myths) who kept his own identity totally independent from Apollo.
The Greeks (or woolly mammoth guy) looked at phenomena they didn’t understand, and turned it into something they could understand. They got it right as far as bringing life-giving heat and light to earth. They created stories, which we refer to as myths, to explain these phenomena. They connected the dots the best way they could.
Look at the stars. Woolly mammoth guy did. Cultural history is full of stories to explain the lights in the sky, stories that have nothing to do with faraway suns. Woolly mammoth guy, with his instinct to narrative, couldn’t just look up and see dots: He had to connect them. Woolly mammoth guy connected the dots and made constellations out of them. This was a pretty common practice, apparently, among all cultures (imagining constellations, that is). There’s nothing a human hates more than random unconnected dots.
There is an area of study on this, religion in cross-cultural perspective, that you can pursue further on your own if you’re interested. Curiously enough, there often great similarities in Narratives from one culture to another. There’s not only a need to explain the same things, e.g., creation, but a similarity in the way they’re explained. There’s a common thread of Father/Child the pops up often. In some Native American creation stories, the Father sends down Coyote to earth, and Coyote somehow ends up siring the race of humans. Prometheus steals fire from Zeus and gives it to humans. In historical times Krishna and Christ are fairly contemporary, bearing comparable messages. It’s no great surprise that humans feel compelled to concentrate on the same subjects, like Creation, the First Cause, but it is surprising how often disparate peoples come up with comparable Narrations. Why are they comparable? Another very arguable area of study altogether.

So, we feel compelled to create a story of things. Why? The making of stories is a part of human nature. But not only are people instinctively narrators, they like to hear stories. Hearing stories is the other side of the Narrative coin. Not only do we like to organize random data, we like random data when it’s organized by others.

This instinctive drive to Narrative as discussed so far, the attempt to explain perceived reality, to connect the dots, to process the random information around us, gives us a number of things. Woolly mammoth guy’s attempt to connect the dots provides us with the beginnings of both science and religion. They start out as one and the same, Animism, but soon become quite different, at least as far as Narrative is concerned. But there’s another take on what narrative can be, and WMG practiced this too. Narrative can also be the pure recording of facts–“Let me tell you what happened.” So the other big thing WMG invented was history.

“Let me tell you what happened.” WMG is going to relate a sequence of events to you. He’s going to tell you about the hunt today. How he and his brother Kermit subdued a woolly mammoth as big as his mother-in-law’s cave. Killed it with one blow. Cut off all the meat in half an hour. Brought it home to great acclamation from the crowd back in the cave.
That is history.
That is the narration of a series of real events.
Except, of course, the narration is selective. The narrator picks and chooses what he wishes to include in the story. That picking and choosing, that selectivity, is part of the process of narration. I don’t tell you everything; I tell you what I think is important to tell you. I can’t tell everything, I’ve got to pick and choose.

In science, there are seemingly infinite phenomena. I have to pick the ones to study, I have to pick the way to study them, I have to pick among the parts of my observation to select the relevant and irrelevant (rightly or wrongly).

In history, there are seemingly infinite phenomena. “Let me tell you what happened yesterday.” There are 6,500,000,000 people on the earth. I can’t tell you what happened to each and every one of them yesterday. And why yesterday? Yesterday where? The historian is a great selector. There are schools of history that prescribe how the selection should be made (history as the story of great people or great events, history as the story of everyday life, history as determined by geography).

WMG was unquestionably an historian. Selectively, of course, but an historian nonetheless. As a matter of fact, WMG left behind some of his narratives for us to study: the hunt paintings on the walls of the caves in France (which just goes to show you how French this whole subject is). These are probably the oldest narratives in existence, texts independent of the narrators, still surviving to this day. When we look at these paintings, we should ask, why this, why not something else? Why did the narrators select this part of their lives to record?
Why? The selection indicates, if nothing else, its importance. They could have painted anything; there could also be paintings of gathering apples or making pancakes. Were these activities not considered as important as the hunt? Should we interpret that the hunt was the most important activity of WMG’s life since it was the only one he permanently recorded? Or should we guess that the painters in the tribe were the same folks as the hunters, so they just happened to draw what they knew?
For that matter, are we sure it’s history?

At some point in the history of Narrative, embellishment comes along.
“Let me selectively tell you what happened.” And in the telling, we not only pick and choose, we embellish a little. We make up a few details. We make the killing of the woolly mammoth a fight to the death, blood spurting out of every tusk. We make it a better story. The audience eats it up. And we embellish some more.
And at some point we just make things up whole cloth, and the creation of fiction takes place.
“Let me tell you what happened.” Except it didn’t happen. It’s a narrative connecting not the dots of perceived reality but the dots of subjective fantasy. But it’s still a narrative, and it still connects the dots.

We’re almost ready to summarize now.
Narrative is the connecting of the dots that are the disparate pieces of perceived reality. Narrative is the processing of random information. Narrative is the selecting of which dots to connect. Narrative is the connecting of dots that don’t even exist.
Narrative is a lot of things.
1. The collection of random narratives of how things happen = Science, religion, cosmology, First Causes
2. The collection of random narratives of what happened = History
3. The collection of random narratives of things that didn’t happen, Narrative for Narrative’s sake, to fulfill that innate desire for narration = Fiction

But we’ve left out perhaps the most important form of Narrative, at least as far as modern theory is concerned. There is one other major aspect of creating narrative, and that is the creation of the self – what we know, what we remember, what we choose to define ourselves with as individuals.
The individual — the concept of the individual — is the narrative that we create for ourselves. Narrative is the connecting of the dots that are disparate pieces of perceived reality. Every individual human constantly performs this act of narration as a part of conscious existence. Our brains are filled with random data. How we connect these pieces of random data is how we define ourselves. What we remember and what we forget is the process of selection that is essential to Narrative. We select among phenomena to create our personal beliefs, we select among events of our lives (which are 24 by 7) to create our personal histories, we embellish, we even make things up whole cloth. We create ourselves.
Each of us, each individual, is a narrative. A narrative of our own choosing, as each individual is his or her own narrator.

Narrative is the connecting of the dots that are the disparate pieces of perceived reality.

Each individual comprises a connection of the dots that are the disparate pieces of his or her perceived reality.

The individual is a story of his or her own making.


My head hurts from reading about three paragraphs of this stuff. Is there any area with so much demurral as modern theory? They'll start with something like, "Saussure said this, but Peirce said that, while modern semioticians, influenced by the Marxian model, concentrate on some other thing, except for Eco, who says yet something else altogether." If you simply are looking for the core concept, it's almost impossible to find. Which boils down, as always, to being forced to read the actual people themselves. In this case, my recommendation is Peirce, who may be old-fashioned, but at least is literate (as in readable).

Whatever happened to readable, anyhow? Why is modern theory, which has some perfectly good and fun aspects, so bogged down in bad writing? Is it simply a factor of most of your modern theorists being raised in the educational world where self-esteem trumped spelling and grammar? That may have something to do with it. And, of course, there is a need for academicians to cloak their prose in mumbo jumbo in order to make their thoughts look profound. This is a basic need of all shamans, be they adademicians or accountants or choreographers or, well, shamans. If you just say something simple that everyone can understand, you probably don't deserve your position of high authority. But if you say something complicated, then the mumbo jumbo effect is so much stronger, and your audience is wowed and cowed, and you've cemented your authority that much further. Profound thoughts in themselves are, of necessity, simple. But so few people really have any profound thoughts, or at least any profound thoughts of their own, that something must be done to make this not appear so obvious.


This, of course, does not take into account the incomprehensibility of the French. Then again, what could?

We're going to start with the concept of narrative, because that does underpin everything I want to say about mo and pomo (funnily enough, the deeper I delve, the more fun I find mo and the less fun I find po). I'm reorganizing the caveman notes to make one complete unit on narrative alone, beginning with the concept at the dawn of time and taking it straight through to semiology. I will publish it all here, and in the Hillary Duff, and try to make notes of it at the same time. My estimate now is that the next version of the lecture will take place in 2007. Save the date!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the tournament

Hey he posted it first

Dear Mr. Menick:

I hope you get this photo. I took it myself at the Perelandra District tournament. This is the winning DUO team. Their piece was from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." Something to do with Sunny Jim home from college...

Your friend,

Herman Melville
Cub Reporter

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Peppy's Diary

Well, he seems pretty peppy to me. I'm not sure why he sent this to me, but here it is. Make of it what you will.

Dear Mr. Menick:

I thought you my be interested in my diary. This is just for one day, mind you. They keep us awfully busy here.


5:00 Reveille.
5:25 Fell out for inspection.
5:35 Breakfast
5:45 Entered first post into website announcing names of remaining 27 LDers in the Guam District.
5:50 Checked AP, Reuters, UPI, Yahoo, Fark and for late-breaking news
6:03 Signed out offficial cub reporter's jeep from VBD motor pool and drove to first venue of the day, the Shazam District tournament at Billy Batson Middle School
6:29 Arrived at BBMS. All doors locked, building deserted.
6:31 Broke into tab room
6:38 Worked out predictions of next set of downs and outs
6:39 Entered second post into website announcing names of Billy Batson Down and Outs, including photographs of empty coffee cups strewn around judges' lounge.
6:41 Back into VBD jeep.
7:55 Arrived at Fulsom Prison five minutes ahead of schedule
8:00 Interviewed Prisoner #48302398 (former LD champ of Simoleon District)
8:02 [Laughed.]
8:45 Entered third post into website, transcript of interview with former LD champ of Simoleon District
9:03 Entered fourth post into website, "Did You Know" teasers about former LD champ of Simoleon District
9:14 Received TRO regarding interview with former LD champ of Simoleon District. Logged on and deleted same.
9:22 Left Fulsom Prison with a stern warning from the warden never to darken his door again or he'd send me into cellblock eight where nice boys like Herman Melville are never heard from again.
10:02 Arrived at Bartholomew Cubbins HS. Changed hat. Responded to 13 comments on deletion of former LD champ of Simoleon District interview
10:11 Knocked down surly ballot table OI freshman girl to gain access to Bartholomew Cubbins HS psychotropic laboratory, where they were tabbing the Oobleck District. Contretemps resulted in much sturm and drang. Stole 3 DUO cards, photographed them.
11:15 After a short visit to the Oobleck County Hospital and Plumbing Supplies emergency room, found Starbucks and logged on. Entered fifth post, Photos Live from Oobleck of 3 DUO cards.
11:17 Entered sixth post advertisting summer camp.
11:18 Checked for latebreaking news.
11:22 Ordered mocha latte lite half caf with biscotti.
11:45 Back in jeep, heading for Beth Israel CFL Debate Grands.
12:33 Arrived at Beth Israel. Donned yarmulke and attempted to enter tab room. Three Dominican nuns, a Swiss guard and a yenta blocked passage.
12:35 Posted seventh entry of the day, reporting no news from Beth Israel Archdiocese.
12:36 Checked for latebreaking news. Learned that former LD champ of Simoleon District had escaped from Fulsom Prison. Feared for life.
12:48 Found deli across the street from Beth Israel. Ate lunch.
1:01 Posted eighth entry, describing lunch, complete with photos of fat trimmed from corned beef. Computer crashed.
1:05 Headed back to HQ for further orders.

I can send you the afternoon if you wish, including the SWAT team standoff with former LD champ of Simoleon District. Just let me know.

Your friend,
Herman Melville
Cub Reporter

Monday, March 21, 2005

Trade secrets

So when you finish Districts, if you're one of a handful of randomly select people, then you go on to sorting at-large bids.


I feel a need to maintain some secrecy about this, although I wouldn't be surprised to find my selections, in order, on DOA. They probably knew my choices before JW. But, you might find the process interesting.

Every committee member seems to have knocked out an individual system for ranking the candidates. We are presented with a list of tournaments and results, plus some cumulative numbers expressing win/loss ratios in prelims and elims. This year, as an extra added attraction, there were comments on the reverse of some of the ballots.

My process is this. First, after assuring myself that there are no good bribe possibilities, I go through the pack, eyeballing them and separating into four piles. The first pile and the fourth pile are the smallest; they are the WOW pile and the YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING pile. The second and third piles are the look good and don't look so good piles.

Next, I carefully go through each pile, making sure each candidate belongs in that pile. I'm still at a gut-level assessment. There are usually lots of adjustments, and no guarantee that any ballot will stay in any pile. Now I have four piles that are pretty carefully determined.

Next, I REALLY evaluate, putting each pile in order. There is still a good chance to move from pile to pile. I literally look at every tournament attended, how well they did, comparing to others in the piles who went to the same tournaments. I make value judgments about the tournaments ("Pip could have broken at that one," for instance, or "I'm impressed, not even Pip could have broken at that one"), I assess how far people got, I look at the numbers. The result is four piles, in order, from best to worst.

Finally, there's the challenge round. Every ballot in order challenges the ballot ahead of it. If it wins the challenge, it challenges the next ballot. Very time consuming, and this is where I read the info on the back. There was an interesting variety in the comments people made, but not one person assured me that a deposit had been made into a Cayman Islands bank account in my name, so I was forced to take them at face value. I won't say what impressed me or didn't, because what impressed me might have made another committee member fall off the chair in gales of mocking laughter; feel free to write what you want, fellow.

Then, I fax back the results.

Curiously enough, recently JW has been revealing to us the results individually, that is, he shows us how we all voted. While inevitably we all have one kid way up who everyone else panned, and one kid way down who everyone else lauded, it is absolutely remarkable that we almost completely agree not only on the top picks, but very closely on the order. Which shows that either the committee mostly looks at the same things, either because those things are important or because the committee is a bunch of like-minded poops who think the exact same unimportant things are important. I prefer to think the former.

Anyhow, it's all done now. I can sit back and relax, knowing that debate is over, except for CFLS, NFLS, States, and (I hope) TOCs. Which I guess means, it really ain't over till it's over. I do see an open week in July, though. Thank God I have nothing to do with institutes. I mean, does debate really have to stretch over 64 weeks of the year?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

What really happens at Districts

You can run just about any tournament the way you feel like running it. It will succeed or fail on its own merits. But a Districts tournament must run according to the rules established by the NFL in 1807 (updated for the new technology -- the invention of the Cyrus reaper -- in 1834).

Every piece of information you receive from the participating schools must be copied over to a card. This is not the worst problem, because given the numbers of attendees, cards make sense probably for just about any district. Even the rules governing how the rounds are set make decent enough sense. But, everything submitted to the district chairman must have more names and information and signatures than an Iraqi election ballot. And it has to be exactly just so, and it has to be delivered by camel (email or fax, since they came after the Cyrus reaper, are not acceptable), although I tend to ignore that rule and allow delivery by horse or mule, provided the horse or mule is not plugged in. The amount of paperwork that ensues during the tournament is the real boggler. I have just spent two days copying information over and over and over. My favorite example of what Ripon supplies is a spreadsheet of the cumulative points the schools get during the tournament. This spreedsheet looks exactly like the piece of paper I have to submit. And it has the exact same amount of functionality. Don't these people know that spreadsheets can do arithmetic? Don't they know that if we enter it once into the computer we won't have to enter it a hundred times again because there's such a thing as copy and paste? Do they really want to read my handwriting?

Oh, well. The tournament was okay, I guess. Who knows, because I spent two days writing up stuff. There were some noticeable great moments in forensics, however. To wit: the sight of all that candy table money sitting unattended while Craig when around getting people to sign petitions allowing schmoozing to be recognized as an official NFL event; the sight of O'Cruz walking around my house with only a single thought in his head, "All this crib and no camera"; the sight of a good half dozen parent judges coming into the tab room and saying, "I don't know nothin' about birthin' no PF"; the sight of the APs with their rifles aimed out on route 9, waiting to ambush any bus arriving before 2:30; the sight of In School Suspension kid reading Buffy novels; the sight of all those policy teams when they read the names of their judges; the sight of everyone leaving on Saturday... Of course, I did spend a couple of more hours today on paperwork, but now, it's over.

And what's next in my exciting life? Evaluating at-large bids. Whoopee!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

As the bullets whiz by

I just received the following from Herman Melville, Cub Reporter.

Dear Mr. Menick:

I thought you would be interested to hear that I have been stationed in Baghdad by VBD HQ. My new assignment is to report back on forensic war stories.

Yesterday was a good example of what it's like out here. The sun rose hot and dry, and by seven o'clock our affirmative platoon was baking in its boots. Private Parts, our leading social contract man, was at his post overlooking the Cheney Memorial Oil Refinery when he spotted guerillas riding in on mules from the northwest. Parts immediately sounded the alarm, and within minutes Corporal Punishment, our utilitarian, and Private Keepout, our deontologist, were by his side, bazookas at the ready. I don't know if you've ever seen a brigade of Derridean guerillas in full armament, mounted on their magnificent steeds, heading in your direction with only one thought in mind: Critique! Critique! Critique! (All right, maybe that's three thoughts, but they're three of the same thoughts.) But it's one stirring sight, I'll tell you.

The first shot was fired, perhaps unintentionally, as Private Parts, quoting Jean-Jacques Rousseau, vowed to take no prisoners and requested that in the future his morning omelet be served cooked perhaps thirty seconds less to keep its insides the consistency of a baby's dribble. Punishment and Keepout, brandishing their swords, their plowshares and their copies of the shooting script of Howard the Duck, returned the guerillas' fire with a lob of pleasure calculus to their left flank and a categorical imperative to their right.

But the guerillas were only beginning. Their leader, a rogue law student dressed head to toe in a jellaba over his doe-colored Armani suit (an ill-fitting irregular purchased at the local outlet souk), ripped out a copy of The Geneology of Morals and had the temerity to light its fuse and toss it over the barricade. This started a charge of existentialist propaganda, liberally laced with synecdoche and metonyms, that took Private Parts completely by surprise. He was wounded in the exchange, and quickly retreated to the 4077th R*A*W*L*S field hospital for treatment, leaving Corporal Punishment and Private Keepout to defend the camp.

The ensuing battle was ruthless on both sides. Venom was spewed, spread and rebutted like peanut butter in a nursery school. Back and forth, forth and back, thrust, parry, en garde, avant garde, flaneurs falling like greased boas from a banana tree. [Note to self -- polish metaphor skills]. In the end, no one was left standing. When Private Parts rushed out of the 4077th, where he had been protected by a veil of ignorance, there was nothing left but carnage. "No one wins," he crystallized, removing his helmet and filling it with sand from the great desert.

And that was just one day, just one forensic war story.

See you soon.

Your friend,

Herman Melville, Cub Reporter, VBD

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Caveman challenges Fidel Castro for longest speech world record!

Some thoughts on Caveman.

There's really two things going on there. First, there's a history of major philosophical concepts, and second, an attempt to explain the major aspects of postmodern critical analysis. The second may or may not naturally flow from the first, but if you don't know the first, the second is pretty hard to follow. It's pretty hard to follow if you DO know the first.

Added to that, throughout, is an attempt to relate contemporary thought (at varying moments) to what is happening in the world (primarily the arts). Everything is connected, in other words, or maybe it's better to say, seeing things that are connected is helpful in understanding those things: philosophy in a vacuum is pretty dull. The breakdown of the art world in the 19th century is a good example of what I'm talking about. Mainstream French art was thought to be this one main thing, and a bunch of impressionists artists came along trying to do something else. The mainstream refused to allow the upstarts into their galleries. The upstarts started their own galleries. While this was going on, communism was invented, Tschaikovsky wrote the Pathetique, Italy unified, Freud was working on Interpretation of Dreams, etc., etc., etc. Individualism was on a roll and about to mutate into relativism. Impressionism, a last big gasp before abstraction, was just one piece of the cultural puzzle.

Getting all this across takes a lot of energy on the part of the presenter and of the listener. Caveman, in its initial presentation, was too long because it tried to do everything at once. Yet at the same time, it avoided some areas completely, especially an exploration of existentialism. I also think more art examples would be useful, and better ones can be found. The explanation of critical theory has a ways to go. And some of the earliest caveman stuff can be trimmed down.

I see the next version as a three-parter. 1 -- Broad history of philosophy and ethics from Plato to Existentialism, 2 -- History of narrative from Caveman to Semiotician, and 3 -- Modernism/Postmodernism. What I'll do first is post my notes on Pomo in the next day or two (they're home and I'm not and there is Districts going on) just so people can read the toughest part. We'll have at least one seminar at a chez. Then I'll start writing for the Hillary Duff, which should help focus things in my brain.

My guess is that by 2014, I'll have this thing knocked. Probably around April of that year, if the weather holds.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Putting it together

You know, we all could go to the Sondheim event in NYC this weekend, and blow off Districts altogether. Oh, the temptation.

Putting together Districts, with all of about 10 schools, is about a billion times harder than putting together a normal tournament with 50 schools. In a normal tournament, people send you names, which you copy from their email and paste into your tournament software, and then on the day of the tournament, you compare the names you have with the names of the people they actually brought, and true the two up. Sure, there are always issues, like the English Language Exam I'll be giving to judges next year at Bump, and there's housing and feeding and whatnot, but you do it every year and get better at it every year, and there you are. But with Districts, everything is out of your hands. Your roster of attending schools is proscribed, comprising those institutions that want to go to Finals in whatever godforsaken wilderness has taken the bit this particular year. There's degree points and fees to be sorted out, and every couple of days Ripon sends an update, much like the grupenfuhrers bidding down to the poor functionarities at the front with order after order, any one of which obeyed incorrectly could result in disaster that could bring the world of forensics to a crashing halt. Forms fly faster than even Plato could have imagined; they must all be signed correctly, filled in correctly, typed (although no one does), never photocopied or faxed (dream on, Wisconsin). All this paperwork arrives on my desk, and I sort it out onto little index cards covered with my basement mold until the numbers add up correctly. (This does, at least, remove some mold from the basement, which is one positive benefit.) Every year Ripon sends me enough supplies for a three-year mission to Mars, and I've been doing this for 4 or 5 years, so you can do the math. Double entries, which are rife, must be marked and asterisked. No one ever tells you who's judging, so you put down what little information they do supply, and then in the bustle of registration you try to get the rest, and then about 11:00 on Saturday they come and complain that some judge you didn't know existed hasn't adjudicated any rounds yet.

Of course, since we have no rooms to hold the event, I shouldn't worry. We'll do speech at Stephen's and debate at Ewok's.

My biggest worry, of course, is putting a lid on the media. O'Cruz will be there, a neutral judge with camera and pith helmet, reporting back every flip of the cards in the tab room. The eyes of the world will be upon us!

Friday, March 11, 2005

Spud, I am your father!

Darth Potatohead is as good an indication as any that the steam has run out of Star Wars. I mean, that assumes that the content of the new movies wasn't good enough evidence.

I remember back to 1976, when the first movie came out. Bogle and I popped over to see it, literally on opening day, not because it was an event, but we wanted to go to a movie and that was what was playing. I don't know why Liz didn't go. Anyhow, they gave us buttons that said "May the Force be with you," which was pretty cool, and then there was the movie itself... Bogle's complaint was, really, "Of course they had to make Darth Vader Black." I ended up seeing it in the movie theaters two or three more times immediately thereafter, and then about a dozen times since. Like most people I still maintain that Empire Strikes Back was the best of the 3, but the first time I saw them in sequence, one immediately after the other, I was really suprised how much they held together as one film. Anyhow, Lucas is one of the folks responsible for the demise of film as we know it, as much from the success of the trilogy as anything else. It's a shame that the new films have all the bad parts of event films (you've got to see them three days after opening or they're gone from the mall, and they are disappointing on a truly core level, and you can't keep yourself from going nonetheless). There must be a true sickness unto death of the poor folks assembling the final one. Still, they all make a bazillion bucks, so I guess when all is said and done they deserve Darth Potatohead.

I see O'Cruz is back from Florida; there were 325 new posts on BVD today. This guy needs to take up a new hobby. I would suggest shortening the names of the Bronx kids so that it doesn't take half an hour to type every individual into TRPC at every tournament, but when I suggested that last weekend to some kid who had more letters in her name than BVD has cribs, it was taken askance. Where is Ellis Island when you need it? (Municiello, if you must know, getting off the boat. Menick/Menicke getting off the island. I think I prefer Municiello.)

Ewok (keeping with the Star Wars theme, and a Tater Tot if there ever was one) tells me that the hardware engineering of Districts is totally under control. Yeah. It's amazing that the present team of Hardware Engineers that was capable of engineering a bus monitor to Newark can't get 3 crummy rooms Friday for Congress. Oh, the glory that was engineering in the good old days, when we had firehouses and could find all the trophies after Bump.

CFL Grands tomorrow looks as if it will not be hurt by the weather. Tabbing Grands is always a pain. TRPC doesn't like small tournaments to begin with, then you add three judges double-flighted and you're looking at index cards pretty much from round one. But the computer will be good for things like printing ballots and results.

And, think of that, Districts is next week (at Ewok's house). I have done absolutely nothing to get ready. Which means Sunday will be the day from hell sorting everything out.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Is Robbie's brother prolix?

I just read his post on my favorite website. Took a few hours, but it gave me a distraction at the office. If you would prefer a nutshell:

1. For those of you who can't remember back to the first week of team meetings, I'll re-twitter the haunting refrain, "If you don't read the Times every day, you're an idiot." You'll recall my gently sending you favorite articles of the day until I felt that you had been spoonfed enough. At that point you carried on for yourself, or went back to Spongebob reruns. If you thought we couldn't tell the difference, then have another crabcake.

2. Argue the topic, you schmegeggie!

As I said, Robbie's brother was able to say this in many more words, but that's probably from lack of English, as he himself would probably be the first to admit. Not that I'm saying that great minds think alike or anything -- I would find it frightening to agree TOO much with Robbie's brother -- but as far as debate goes, knowing what you're talking about, and then talking about it, seem to be pretty basic concepts of the old Hen Hud "Home of the Antichrist" Team.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Magic Kingdoms of the world, unite!

I've been reading Disney Wars; anyone who knows me knows that I've been reading Disney Wars, so is it sheer coincidence that the following bulletin was in my mailbox this morning?

For Immediate Release, March 9, 2005 -- VBD-Disney Merger Announced

Representatives of VBD and The Walt Disney Company announced today their intention to merge their two corporations, pending government approval.

“It’s a perfect fit,” said soon-to-be-panhandling-on-Times-Square Disney CEO Michael Eisner. “Disney has the content, and VBD has the global reach.”

“We feel that the theme parks are especially important to the VBD vision,” said an unnamed representative presently holed up in Orlando, Florida, home of the Walt Disney World resort. “Having had my boat break down, stranding me for three and a half hours on the It’s a Small World attraction with no break from the delightful tune that accompanies the ride, has opened my eyes to numerous new possibilities, many of them short of homicidal rampage.”

The deal with the VBD team was conducted in the strictest secrecy by representatives not only of the Disney management but of the vocal Dump-Eisner team led by Roy E. Disney. Final agreement was reached on Pleasure Island. “We had to get the VBD guy pretty inebriated,” Marty Sklar, Chief Imagineer reported, “but it wasn’t hard. Two cranberry martinis and he was doing the hula on stage with Minnie and promising to promote our cribs the first chance he got.”

Media pundits are cautiously optimistic about this surprise joining of two mega-corporations. “It’s a chance for VBD to reach the preschool market,” commented Objectivist Philosopher Alan Greenspan, “while for Disney it’s an opportunity to acquire an entire collection of schematics readymade. Both sides could benefit, but there is a chance that the sheer size of the operation could be its downfall.”

Disney (DIS) and VBD (TOC) both trade on the NYSE.

For further information, contact Herman Melville, Cub Reporter, at VBD.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

You say tomatoes, I say two mottoes

I'm disappointed that the weather will postpone the caveman to Frenchman lecture, unlike the team, which will have to hold their disappointment until after they hear it. I also need to throttle Ewok for not engineering the room hardware for Districts, which we'll probably be holding on the football field. Oy.

Meanwhile, my tireless correspondent from you-know-where has sent me the following press bulletin:

March 8, 2005 -- For Immediate Release

The challenge format used at Vassar (“Where the men are men and the women are still pissed off about it” is their motto) has proven such a hit that VBD will be introducing “The Iron Debater” this summer at its legendary Golden State institute (“20 Graduates and Still Going Strong” is their motto).

The Iron Debater is a challenge format originally developed by the Japanese as a part of their Meiji-Perry Debate format. (Meiji-Perry is Nippon’s answer to Lincoln-Douglas; “President Fillmore now named Pierce” is their motto.) Every tournament begins with a flashy moderator (tentative choice for emcee at this moment is Jon Cruz; “I’m the only one reading this blog so it had better be about me” is his motto) entering the stadium and announcing this week’s single ingredient, which the opposing sides have one half hour to craft into positions. In the past debaters have been forced to create entire cases out of Rawls’s Theory of Justice, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Putnam’s Bowling Alone and George W. Bush’s French in 10 Easy Lessons. A mixed panel of judges, including a parent judge, a Texas coach and Paris Hilton, are the final arbiters of each debater’s skill. Points are awarded for presentation, understanding of the premise, refutation and best tie. Female debaters are additionally graded on choice of cowboy hat.

“Iron Debate is a whole new dimension in forensics,” says VBD founder Dick Cheney (“Constitution? What Constitution” is his motto). “Most debaters are handed their positions by their coaches, which they run blindly with no understanding; we force them to come up with their own ideas, but on a very limited slant. No longer will you hear high school students expounding ideas that only a college freshman could understand. Now you’ll hear high school students expounding positions that no college freshman could understand in a million years. It promises to be debate at its finest.”

The Iron Debater is expected to begin webcasting Friday nights in August on VBD, in between schematics postings from the Central European Forensic League district tournaments (“We’ll debate until Russia gobbles us up again” is their motto). For further information, contact Herman Melville, Cub Reporter, at VBD International Headquarters (“Today debate, tomorrow declamation” is their motto).

Monday, March 07, 2005

More of the world according to Hermie

Dear Mr. Menick:

I thought you would be interested in the following unsolicited endorsements for our website. These are just a representative few from today's mailbag.

“Thanks to VBD I didn’t miss one moment of forensicana during my entire incarceration.” – M Stewart

“VBD provides all the heart, all the soul, all the excitement of being there in person. I mean, when I read that Dario had handed in his ballot, it brought a tear to my eye. Thank you, VBD!” – R Blake

“VBD marks the difference between going to high school and going high to school.” – P Spector

“At Neverland, VBD is what separates the men from the boys.” – M Jackson

“The only thing that keeps my search for the real killers going is the tireless team at VBD.” – O Simpson

“I just can’t get enough of those cribs. Go, VBD!” - S Peterson

“VBD is one phat website. Knowing that it will be there no matter what happens to Social Security is what our boys are fighting for in Iran.” – D Cheney

Mr. Menick, you are probably the only person on the planet who isn't on board with us. Shame on you!

Your VBD correspondent,

Herman Melville
Cub Reporter

Sunday, March 06, 2005

More news from Herman Melville, Cub Reporter

This guy, bless his little heart, will not stop. Why me? I ask. Why me?

Dear Mr. Menick:

We trainees began our first live reporting sessions this weekend. The new interns at HQ were flown around the country for their first taste of forensic action. “You represent the lifeblood of schematics to a concerned and panicked international consituency,” we were told by Ms. Morgana, our mentor. Since we’re just starting out, management didn’t feel that we were ready to cover “real” events, so my assignment was the last CFL meet of the year at Scarsdale High in New York, a small but important tournament not on many (if any) team schedules. I know that I had never heard of it until I arrived at Scarsdale International Airport and was met by school limo. Who knew there was this much money behind one public school team?

I think you’ll agree that the reportage that I filed with HQ brings the tournament to life!

Dispatch #1, 8:52 a.m.

The first bus has arrived for the Scarsdale High School CFL! This is cub reporter Herm Melville reporting live for NC-17, and I’m standing on the sidewalk watching as, yes, our first bus has arrived, pulling up right in front of the high school. And, let’s see--it’s from Kate Hudson HS!

Welcome Kate Hud!

Dispatch #2, 9:03 a.m.

Tournament Director Mighty Joe Vaughan has just entered the building. He is wearing a gray scarf today and looks like a war-tossed orphan. (Mighty Joe Vaughan is scheduled for one of PCP’s “Debate Makeovers” in the near future, so stay tuned.)

Dispatch #3A, 9:04 a.m.

Tournament Director Mighty Joe Vaughan has exited the building and returned to his car. It’s anybody’s bet if he’ll return for the day.

Dispatch #3B, 9:05 a.m.

Tournament Director Mighty Joe Vaughan has returned to the building with a full complement of ballots, flow pads and lab animals.

Dispatch #4, 9:22 a.m.

The first doughnuts of the morning have been spotted in the judges’ lounge. Check out photo number one. The smell of coffee stretches all the way to the custodian’s closet. [Note: The photos did not print successfully to my blog. Sorry. JM]

Dispatch #5, 9:38 a.m.

The LD tab room, under the direction of Jim (“Antichrist”) Menick from Kate Hudson HS, has issued its first warning: Do not drink the water in the 3rd floor ladies room!

Dispatch #6, 10:13 a.m.

The schematics for Round One have been released. Check out photo two to see the pairings for yourself.

Dispatch #7, 11:02 a.m.

The schematics for Round Two have been released. Check out photo three to see the pairings for yourself. It’s getting pretty exciting around here. Rumor has it that round two was paired completely at random, but no one will officially comment one way or the other.

Dispatch #8, 12:18 p.m.

Pizza trucks have been spotted along the Post Road, and the buzz in the cafeteria is that they’re delivering to the tournament. In an exclusive interview, Tournament Director Mighty Joe Vaughan pointed out that the pizza will be sold at $1.50 a slice, which is $.70 less than NYC prices. Think of it: excellent debate, plus good food at reasonable prices. Yummy!

Dispatch #9, 12:28 p.m.

The first debater to purchase a slice of pizza for $1.50 was BRONX RS (Rick Soddy).

Dispatch #10, 1:48 p.m.

Things are pretty quiet as we wait for the Round 3 pairings. Check out photo four to see a cafeteria seat where Doug Lieb, Dave Lebowitz and Matt Shields are all rumored to have sat at some time in the last 4 years (but not at the same time).

Dispatch #11, 2:12 p.m.

The schematics for Round Three have been released. Check out photo five to see the pairings for yourself.

Dispatch #12, 2:33 p.m.

Things are quiet around here. Too quiet.

Dispatch #13, 2:52 p.m.

There is a mall not very far from the school, where your DOD correspondent is pleased to report that there’s a great sale on cotton V-necks at the Gap.

Dispatch #14, 3:51 p.m.

They’re offering free samples of corned beef and cabbage cookies at William Sonoma.
Check out photo number six. This is one really great mall. Thank God I had the limo.

Dispatch #15, 4:45 p.m.

Everyone is gone from the high school. The tournament must have ended. This is Herm Melville, Cub Reporter, signing off for STP!

Friday, March 04, 2005

I have apparently struck a nerve

People could just comment on posts. But, oh not, not this guy.

I reprint his email in its entirety.

Dear Mr. Menick:

You do not know me. My name is Herman Melville (no relation), and I’m writing you unofficially from VBD headquarters, where I’ve just been hired as a cub reporter. My first assignment here has been to go through the morgue (that’s a journalism term that means old crap) and look up you and your blog and your relationship with our operation.

It is not a pretty picture.

I think you do a serious disservice to our operation. When I was hired and flown into headquarters, I have to admit that even I was surprised by the scope of the VBD empire. The campus here is a marvel to behold. After you get past the guards you drive up a long winding road to a fabulous building that I understand was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in between the Guggenheim and the Johnson Wax headquarters. It’s called Passing Winds, and it’s simply phenomenal, aside from the leaks. It’s pure prairie, long and flat and built into the mountainside. The photographs do not do it justice.

I was met at the receptionist’s desk by a woman named Morgana, who is the head of the VBD intern program, which handles all the cub reporters, among other new hires. She told me that I would join this year’s contingent of ten new journalism interns, for what she knew was another great career at VBD. She then proceeded to outline the outstanding benefits package. The pension plan has become the model that many forward-thinking media corporations have recently begun emulating, including Google and Fox News. “Stay with us for forty years,” Ms. Morgana said, “and you’ll retire a rich man.”

When I finally joined up with the other interns, each of us with our “New Employee Guide” binder and our freshly minted ID cards in lanyards around our necks, we were taken on a tour of the premises. We were driven in one of the corporation’s new environmentally beneficial electric jitneys to each of the main divisions of the place. Some of them were within the main building, while some were spread over the grounds. (R&D, for instance, has a completely separate facility due to its hazmat needs.) Mr. Menick, even you would have been impressed! From the stables to the main factory to the administration building to the new VeebeeDome Stadium, it is one of the most spectacular capitalist enterprises you can imagine. And when construction is complete on VeeBee One, and the tallest building in the world is back on US soil, I have to believe that you will agree that you have been maligning us.

But as I say, I am merely a cub reporter here. And this letter bears no official weight. But if you were to come out to Euphoria yourself, if you could see what I see, if you could watch as thousands of our dedicated employees put their collective pedals to their collective forensic metal, I think you would change your tune. I would be happy to act as your guide and escort. Just say the word.


Herman Melville
Cub Reporter
Euphoria, ND

P.S. If you can arrange a trip for the weekend of 4/16, you would be on hand for the launching of VBStat, our latest news satellite. I am told that the satellite launches are big party events not only for the corporation but for all the surrounding countryside. You wouldn’t want to miss that!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

My adventures in instant messaging

I post this correspondence thread as it occurred.

“Yo, that’s a little cold, Menick. I mean, why would you attack poor Vassar? They’re just trying to throw a tournament. You should support them. Have you no sense of noblesse oblige or eminence grise?”

“I have nothing against Vassar, which you know perfectly well. I love Vassar. My daughter almost thought of applying there! My point is not that Vassar is having a tournament, but that VMI is covering it moment-by-moment. While they’re also covering tournaments in Texas, Guam and Nova Zembla.”

“So what’s wrong with that? The world wants to know, eh? They’re providing a service. They’re like a gas station open all night, and debaters are like cars that are about to run out of gas on lonely roads in the middle of nowhere.”

“The legendary Nostumite way with a metaphor… Anyhow, who died and made me eminence grise, anyhow?”

“You’re putting me into a state of permanent depression. You have POWER, for God’s sake. The power of experience. People look up to you. Well, maybe they don’t look up to you, but they look at you as being old and wise. Well, maybe not wise, but old, anyhow. You’re probably the oldest person associated with debate on the East Coast now that Sodikow’s retired. You should act the part.”

“The part of Sodikow?”

“The part of wise and productive old age, you randy fart.”

“When you start referring to me as a randy fart I think we have crossed the line!”

“All I’m saying is that you should be kinder and gentler. It won’t kill you.”

“You’v done your own share of taking pot shots at GTA.”

“But I’m like Claire’s b.f. I speak from a position of anonymity commingled with lofty intentions.”

“This has nothing to do with either Phaeton or lofty intentions. I’m simply making a satirical comment that perhaps DNC is taking itself a little too seriously, and that maybe 24 by 7 is, perhaps, 20 by 5 too much.”

“Let's cut to the chase. Are you going to let up on the poor yabbos?”

“Does the pope wave out of windows?”

At which point my cable service went down.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The production crews are rolling in

(According to a certain website, there will be live coverage from Po'keepsie this weekend for those forced to stay home.)

Let me tell you, you can't move out there. The traffic is completely out of hand. The production trucks started moving up the Taconic before dawn this morning, and the eyes of virtually the entire Hudson Valley have turned northward. Not since Woody and Soon-Yi shot their wedding video in Nyack has so much show-biz been seen south of Schenectady (or, for that matter, north of synecdoche).

Classes at the college were shut down by ten a.m. to make room for the technicians. All the buildings on the campus are being rewired, and a KritiKam is being installed in every room where the rounds will be taking place. You'll be able to watch every turn, every refutation, every drop, every point on every flow, right from the comfort of your own home! Why brave the crowds when the KritiKam is as good as being there? Maybe better? Interestingly, some rounds will be judged remotely, if the participants so choose. This is a response to Critical Debate Theory; the goal is to remove the judge's possible tainting of the round by his or her race, age, sexual orientation or garlic breath. Pundits claim that the resulting results will be the least tainted since, well, Woody and Soon-Yi's wedding video.

The tearing down of the administration building for the erection of the temporary Challenge Courtyard Tent is the most controversial aspect of the proceedings. The tournament directors were able to assuage the fears of the college by promising that the tent would be a lot more "with it" than that old-fashioned ivy-covered gothic stone monstrosity it's replacing (one of which is seen, let's face it, at practically every college campus). Additionally, the tournament directors promised that if any of the deans and their families were interested, they would be welcome at lunch on Saturday, provided they were willing to judge a couple of rounds of Public Forum and didn't mind ziti.

Hackers, meanwhile, are said to be drooling over the prospect this weekend of practically every computer in the country online to one event. The FBI reports that they have already intercepted two viruses, one of which (FooKooKoo) drives either you or your computer insane; the other (codenamed Chipsallin) takes every last bit of your money while masquerading to coaches as a nice quiet game of Hearts. One of the great fears of this much concentration of the country on one spot is the possibility that, in between rounds, the entire country will flush the toilet at the same time and cause the greatest water shortage since Woody and Soon-Yi's wedding video. Water Works authorities are reported to be standing by. Meanwhile, airports, train stations and cargo container ships have already notice a marked increase in people leaving the country to avoid the likely confusion. Homeland Security is raising the alert to the very highest, and both George Bush and Dick Cheney have been safely transported to separate, secure, underground bunkers in undisclosed locations.

Perhaps the most telling comment describing the weekend that will change America forever came from Woody and Soon-Yi. "This is what happens when you let men on the campus," the happy couple agreed.