Thursday, June 30, 2005

Countdown to WTF!

I have received the following from my trusty correspondent at you-know-where:

Mr. Menick:

H. I'd spell out "Hi," but we're too rushed here at WTF HQ. Only 4 more days! Holy Hannah's Hosiery! Or as we say here as we zip about, HHH!

Needless to say, we are agog, agape, atwitter, amok—some of us are even akimbo. Being the only debate institute in the country is not easy. We are expecting countless thousands of innocents to descend on us this weekend, each one with a nice big check payable to the WTF Beer and Retirement Fund. We've got former debaters who know everything there is to know meeting with these innocents and telling them everything they need to know so that they too will know everything there is to know. It is as if the entire sum of all knowledge ever will be contained right in our hyper-modern meta-dorm! If we all jump off a chair at the same time, people in China are going to feel the bump.

I may not be able to communicate with you for a while again, until the brouhaha bubbles down some. I know you wish you could be with us, especially when we cash some of those Beer and Retirement Fund checks. We are well aware that the only knowledge we won't have here will be yours and a few of the other dinosaurs', but we figure if we train people to use enough speed, no one will ever know.

Have a happy 4th! Our fireworks here will be all mental! May you and yours be mental as well.

Your f (I'm too busy to type out the word "friend"),

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Pffft? Pfui.

Sabrina has finalized the Monticello invitation. I feel as if I'm late already. Where's the Bump invite? After last year's installment, I sat down and wrote up preliminary changes to the invite, mostly telling people that if they brought brain-dead judges we would draw and quarter them (and their judges), but I've quieted down a tad since then. Still, I will be sending out how-to-judge instructions, and handing them out, and maybe reading them during the rounds. I do like lay judging, but not so lay that they've been blindfolded, gagged, kidnapped and dropped into the round directly from some non-English-speaking country and now they're wondering if 14 points is enough to give because it says right here on the ballot that 14 points means I am in Ecstasy Listening to your Greatness! (Actually, the judge will come up to me and say something like, "Kerfloyin-ze mala oola mintz?" At which point I draw and quarter them.) (And I am in Ecstasy Listening to your Greatness sounds like— No, I won't go there.)

So, I've got to polish up my judge instructions. I have my tried and trues, plus Ewok's mom's notes, plus Matt J's fine discussion. I will put these all together and see what happens.

As for Monticello, I am happy to see that the JV division is eliminated. I do feel that second-year folks can do fine in an open division, and will encourage the troops accordingly. (If you're a troop of the second-year pursuasion reading this, consider yourself encouraged.) I also see that Pffft is going to be happening. I might start encouraging a little Pffft. Why not?

(Only 39 hours till DOA begins. I am all atwitter. Throw water on me, please. Throw water on them, please.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Supes go on hiatus (just in time to lead their labs at VBI)

The two Supreme Court decisions on the Ten Commandments yielded enough opinions and dissents and concurrences to keep interested parties busy forever. Keep in mind that Nino believes that all law comes from God, an opinion that I will not allow in our debate discussions unless the person offering that point of view offers an inarguable warrant. I mean, did Nino *see* God do this? Can we go to the videotape? It's an argument that doesn't stand up in court, if you know what I mean, personal beliefs notwithstanding. Anyhow, the point is that religion in public life may be the most hotly contested issue of the day, in that, as you well know, religious beliefs can inform all actions. This part wasn't written down, but Nino verbally decried those who were standing up for religiosity v. irreligiosity, saying that there was no way the Constitution defended the rights of the non-religious.

I love Nino. I can just imagine the homosexual agenda people getting together with the atheist agenda people. Maybe they can all go fishing with Nino next time he heads out with Dick Cheney on the old private yacht. That would be one hell of a party!

Additionally, the Court continued what the Times seems to feel is its assault on the Press. You should read the analysis of that in today's paper. Does the media deserve special protection (what we associate with the First Amendment) when it doesn't warrant special protection? Raise your hand if you can tell me the name of Tom Cruise's fiancee but not the name of the winner of the election in Iran. Then ask yourself, which one is Bush more likely to invade (no doubt because God tells him to)?

I assume most people did follow through on the emininent domain discussion recently; as DOA pointed out, it is potentially a topic next year. In a way, it's a classic: how about a quote from Mr. Spock? "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Those Vulcans were obviously of a modern Utilitarian bent.

So now the Court is done for a while and no one quit in a huff. The prospect of a congressional battle over Rehnquist's replacement just has to have your juices flowing, but we won't see it for a while. Maybe old Bill is waiting for Jeb to take over the White House.

Long live the Bush dynasty! Semper arbusto (or something like that, as the Romans used to say)!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Memo to Tom Cruise: Take her away, please.

Obviously I saw Batman Begins this week. Aside from wondering whether Katie Holmes is a dropout from the same acting academy that flunked Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, one has to say that, finally, someone has gotten Batman right. Then again, watch Pacino in INSOMNIA. Nolan knows how to direct actors. Simple as that.

They also showed a long preview of Charlie and the CF, speaking of directors whose Batmen were near misses, making one wonder how JDepp manages to get weirder with every single picture. All right, every other picture, if you count Neverland.

And I heard from the Nostrumite last night, who claims he is in a state of permanent depression over the fact that, with the school year ended, he now has to make the rounds of institutes, where he is teaching his fine brand of polician strategy and tactics across the country, leaving Odelie behind for weeks at a time with no company other than the Nostrumutt, Pecksniff the Nostrumian Applehead, and her congregation of High Episcopalians. Oh, the torture of a busy life. I prefer my existence, where all I have to do is dig up old juvenile justice files and send them to the team and go back into estivation. (That's a great word, estivation. Feel free to take it and use it yourself, whenever it seems to fit. Tomorrow's word is musth.) Anyhow, the lad vows to keep up his TWHS episodes, a new one of which he promised he would post this morning. I haven't checked yet, but I've never known the Mite to back down on a promise, except that time at the baccarat table with the go-go dancers back in Monte Carlo, but we won't go there. This time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I can't wait

I've found the perfect crappy prize for O'Cruz.

Now he has to do something crappy-prize worthy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Why I can't retire

You know, I'd be inclined to send money to these Nigerians if only they were better spellers. If I ever go into the SpamScam business, I promise that everything, including my phony name, will be correctly spelled. Maybe I'm supposed to trust them with my money because their crappy spelling is proof positive that they're really Nigerian? Is that how you can identify a Nigerian in a lineup? "Hey you, number six. Spell Mnemosyne!"

Anyhow, speaking of crappy stuff, I have been amassing tons of it. My office is overflowing with crappy prizes, including a real find, a 1972 Guide to Being a Secretary. I also have Hans Blix's book on how to disarm Iraq. All kinds of good stuff. Which is why I can never retire from the Digest. If I did, I wouldn't have a source of crappy prizes anymore. None of this is Digest stuff, of course, just the detritus that floats up on our shores. By the same token, I can't retire from debate because I keep bringing this stuff home and my house is filled with it, and I have to have something to do with it because I don't think the local sanitation folks would pick it up for love or money. Then again, I could leave it out on bulk pickup day. Neighborhood scavengers will take anything! Finally, someone who really wants my Andrews Sisters LPs.

Craig tells me they're arguing juvey justice at VBI. Talk about chestnuts. I'm pretty sure this was a good topic when we last did it, about 3 weeks ago. It's sort of real. Most judges just decided on the basis of, if one of these two kids killed the other one, would I want to send him to Old Sparky? Nasty SOBs were dropped left and right, while saintly, naive looking puppies picked up like it was going out of style. Try to look innocent! That's the best advice I can give (until I go home and dig up my research). I wouldn't be surprised to see it get voted in, precisely because the coaches won't have to do much work. God, we're a pathetic lot.

Friday, June 17, 2005


I heard last night from the Nostrumite, who is in a state of permanent depression over the end of the school year up at TWHS. "My first season in the place and I haven't accomplished anything," he told me. Nobody at TOCs, nobody at CatNats, nobody at LapsedCatNats. It's not easy working with a new team, he says. "I'm still married, though, so I guess that's something. And we did spend Bloomsday yesterday reading aloud, as all good Joyceans must. 'Stately plump Buck Mulligan... ' "

Ah, Bloomsday. June 16th. The novel Ulysses takes place entirely on that day, and many people celebrate the occasion by hitting up the old tome again. In some places, they actually have public readings of the entire thing. I'm glad that the Mite is keeping his hand in literary affairs, despite his self-described poor showing in forensics. "If I could write like Joyce," he says, "I'd be an Irishman now." Which is probably true. Of course, if he wrote like Joyce most of us wouldn't be able to make any sense of TWHS, which he has just updated. "My plan is to throw up a new episode every Thursday or Friday," he says, "give or take the odd Thursday or Friday, and factoring into it Odelie's plans, whatever they may be, and traveling with the team and everything. But this coming summer should be okay. Having just gotten back from a honeymoon, it's not like we're going anywhere else for a while."

Too bad he couldn't be at LapsedCatNats, though. It was bad enough he missed meeting O'Cruz in Milwaukee, but to also miss him in Philadelphia? Jeesh. We could even have gotten a picture of the two of them with Soddy. Maybe that would clear all of us of the charge of actually being one another.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

News from my favorite correspondent

Dear Mr. Menick:

Hi. How are you? I am fine.

Things are winding down here in Philadelphia. As you know, there was a lot of talk about replacing some of the statues of Ben Franklin with statues of Jon Cruz, but the mayor finally decided that the time just wasn't right yet. Next year, maybe. After Villiger.

It's been pretty hectic here, as you can imagine. Most of my time was spent trying to figure out which code was which person. Keeping everyone's identity a secret is really important, as you know. It's like Batman and Bruce Wayne; if everyone knew Batman's secret identity, he'd win a lot more rounds than he would if he just went on talent alone. Or something like that. Anyhow, you can imagine how hard it is to find out that 14393023-A34-B34^^7&-X is actually Joe McDoakes from Kalamazoo. There's like twelve thousand people here, and usually the minute I found out their code, they dropped out of the tournament. It's been a busy week for me.

Too bad you can't be here. You'd get a lot more NFL points if you actually showed up some year. I know you think that NFL points aren't worth all that much, but Mr. Wunn is working on an arrangement where they can be exchanged for frequent flier miles on TWA (which will be great if TWA ever starts flying again).

After this is all over we head back to KGB headquarters to get ready for our annual summer camp. "That's when this forensician idolatry all pays off," or at least that's what some instructor from another institute told me. "They tell the little bastids how cool they are, and then they soak 'em all for a couple of Gs each. What a scam!" Of course, that's all sour grapes, I think. Our KGB camp really is better than the one that guy has in El Paso, for instance. I mean, yes, they can cross over the border for cheap dentistry, but we've got Forensic Idols!

May all your Christmases be white.

Your friend,
Herman Melville
Cub Reporter

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


I decided to start walking in the mornings for a change. For a while now I've been on the treadmill, which has its advantages and its disadvantages. Obviously, it's indoors and therefore not dependent on the weather. And you can time it, and you can sense pretty easily whether you're giving yourself a decent workout by just looking at your speed setting. The thing is, when you rank the most boring things in the world, being on a treadmill has to fall somewhere close to judging declamation. So to make the time fly, I bought a little TV/VCR combo, and I watch stuff that works in a treadmill situation. Poker works real well. Fifty-seven-part series on the Civil War don't. You need something that's not too good or too dull that you don't really have to listen to, given that you're making a racket already. AFI's 100 Best Puppy Movies works. Rat Pack bios are perfect. Star Trek Enterprise is good, because it's so lousy you'd never actually sit down and watch it, but no one ever really does get enough Klingons in one's life so this is just the right fix. I have high hopes for Battlestar Galactica. I've been watching the miniseries, and it's quite good. Sexy cylons was a mighty inspiration! In my day they were just clunky robots, which may be why the original series fizzled out. Sexy robots, on the other hand, and the thing would probably still be in syndication. I've got the whole show on tape, ready for the treadmill. I just hope they don't default back to clunky robots.

But walking is different. You plug the old iPod into the old earholes and head out. The music is quickly inconsequential, provided that it's lively enough to keep you moving. That is, your Kindertotenlieder probably won't get you to the corner, if you know what I mean, and Gregorian chants would have you run over by the first Suburu to come along, but a little Steely Dan is just what the walking doctor ordered. Except maybe Boddhisattva. That one always stops me dead in my tracks. And to think, ol' Skunk is now a stockbroker.

Anyhow, as I was saying, walking is different. When you walk, your mind is free to work. And work it does. I had forgotten that. You just start traveling down various mental paths and working things out, your legs pumping away, the rhythms subconsciously keeping all your physical systems on go. After about 45 minutes I get back to the house with ideas for MHL trophies, a completely functional generic response to resolutional critiques (which I was clever enough to write down, with Pip's help—downside of any of this noodling is that if you don't take notes fairly quickly, you might as well have watched sexy robots on Battlestar Galactica), menu ideas for the next week and a serious longing to participate in the 50th Disneyland Anniversary. That's just one day. I'm going to get back into this for a while. Maybe I can come up with another novel.

Sexy robots will just have to wait.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Am I the only one...

...whose immediate thought yesterday was, "Great; now Michael can dedicate himself to the search for the real molesters"?

Over the weekend I updated the Hen Hud rules, a holdover from the meeting way back when with the speechifiers. They were mostly interested in internal stuff, such as how many tournaments you need to attend and issues like that, which has never been much of a deal on the debate side. The only thing I've ever really held out for is that you can't judge if you don't debate. There have been occasional rollovers who sort of want to lord it over younger kids, which strikes me as a bit of a crock. I certainly have had students who have given up debating but still judge, like Burgers or Ben or Sarah, but they've maintained their connection to the team by attending meetings and shown a willingness to pitch in where needed. What bugs me is folks who want weekend vacations with the team who I never see any other time. That doesn't work. Still, I didn't bother including that in the rules; that's a case-by-case issue. There are some new rules, however, that you might find interesting. Dave is going over this stuff now, and it won't be official for a while, but I thought I'd give you a sneak preview.

1. No singing on the bus. Anyone caught even humming while be dropped off in Hartford.
2. No bathroom breaks in Connecticut. It takes long enough to travel route 84 without having to take bladders into consideration.
3. All debaters must learn to play Spades.
4. Roulette and craps will no longer be allowed at team meetings.
5. All discussion of postmodernism will be conducted in French, but with Canadian accents.
6. Any student caught robbing a Seven-Eleven will be suspended from the team for three days.
7. Any student who can install a wireless network in Menick's house will be allowed unlimited Seven-Eleven robberies without suspension.
8. The song title in question is "Take Me Down to the Prairie Dog City." This makes more sense than Paradise City, and is much funnier.
9. Anyone qualifying for tournaments during golf season can haul their own butts to 'em.
10. The VBD website is permanently blocked. Anyone found gaga-ing national circuit debaters will be sent to a correctional institution in Juarez for six months with no personal items except a copy of O'Cruz's Star Wars Christmas album, a jar containing Dan Bruno's burgered-to-death appendix, and a 1943 Vassar class offering guide (There's a war on, ladies!).

Otherwise, mostly it's status quo antebellum.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Tim Averill sucks

I just read his interview on DDT. I mean, the interview was fine, and I like Tim and everything, but I've known this guy for ten years and not once—I repeat, NOT ONCE—have I ever gotten a lobster out of him. Nor a crayfish. Not even a shrimp. Go to his tournament and they feed you chicken soup and albino bagels, while in the back room among the elite apparently it's all lobsters and caviar and Waiter, bring me shad roe. Jeesh. But here's the big question. Averill and I are pretty much the same age. How come he can retire and I can't? It makes you wonder. Of course, my understanding is that most of the northeast is looking forward to a tournament without another Tim Averill Retirement Tribute. We can all finally breathe easy again.

I heard from the Nostrumite last night. He's in a state of permanent depression mourning the death of his PDA. It's an old Handspring that, as he put it, "died and died again." Apparently it winkled out on him, taking all his unsynchronized data with it, and although he thought he had fixed it, it winkled out again a day later, this time beyond any hope of resuscitation. "I didn't really lose much data," he says, "but that little black box has been an old friend to me. I've known it longer than I've known Odelie." It's always a bad sign when a newlywed compares his wife to his Palm Pilot. "The real issue is, what to do about replacing it. Get a new model? Switch to the—AARRGHH—Microsoft platform? Or blow off the whole thing and spend the money on something else I really want?" And then he goes on to ask me if I've looked at those new PSPs yet. Will this guy never grow up? What kind of choice is that, a data machine vs. a PSP? Should I buy a PS2 or a microwave oven? Jeesh. Given that the Mite is up there in Averill country, maybe he should just invest in some lobsters (God knows he isn't going to get any freebies out of the old Timster). Anyhow, he told me he'd posted a new episode of TWHS, so losing the Palm hasn't set him back all that much. I wonder if TW will serve lobsters next year at its tournament. It's worth considering...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Duck Soup

Last night the Brewers let me down. I hereby withdraw my support. Anyone who has thought to turn to this weblog as their primary source of baseball news will have to look elsewhere.

While thinking of things filmic, I happened to notice that Duck Soup is on TCM tonight. If you've never seen it, I strongly recommend that you correct this deficiency in your personality ASAP. It is the best of the Marx Brothers movies, which is saying a lot. I fear sometimes that the Bros and their ilk (e.g., W.C. Fields, whose Bank Dick is also on tonight) are sort of lost to the NapDyn generation. I was raised on that stuff; they always seemed to be on the TV on rainy afternoons on those stations in the corner of the dial. Remember, I grew up with seven stations. There was no such thing as narrowcasting. So if I was singing "Hail Freedonia" you know that a couple or forty million other baby boomers were doing likewise. Nowadays they probably play Duck Soup just as often, but how do you find it in a universe of a bazillion channels? On top of that, there is a (rather philistine) mindset that one should only watch new movies, as if films are comparable to milk, turning sour if they're left in the fridge for too long. Granted that many films don't hold up, but age alone is not a count against them, just as age alone isn't a count against, say, paintings. "I only like new paintings." Who says that? For that matter, who says, "I only like old paintings." What Duke Ellington said about music is true of all art forms, that there are only two kinds: good, and everything else.

Speaking of quotes, U. S. Grant was cited as saying, "I have two favorite songs. One of them is 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.' The other one isn't."

Humor was so much easier a couple of centuries ago.

I heard from Herman Melville last night. PCP's cub reporter is already in Philadelphia, apparently manning a booth in the airport so that the PCP website can photograph everyone as they pick up their luggage. "It's not very comfortable, sitting next to carousel number eight for twenty-four hours a day, and the federal security people have been giving me the eagle eye, but it will be worth it if we can get a shot of one of PCP's recently announced instructors as they scoop their laundry up off the conveyor belt. That's what the fans want to see." I guess so. Which brings me back to W.C. Fields, and quotes. On poker, when asked if it was a game of chance: "Not the way I play it." Given one last request when about to be hanged: "I've always wanted to see Philadelphia." And allegedly (you can look it up and disprove it) printed on his tombstone: "I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

Phildadelphia doesn't have much of a reputation; Babylon on the Delaware it isn't. Still, I love the State House area, the sense of history of this place, the Founders roaming around (probably making Philadlphia jokes), the funk of the South Side, the market, statues of Ben Franklin everywhere. It's a nice little city. I wish I could go. Someday, if I'm still in this activity but no longer in the Day Job...

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Actually, I did chuckle over the time machine...

If this keeps up I'm going to start reading the sports section. Go Brewers!

And, oh yeah, I managed to get that box against the wall in God of War, and my next challenge is battling the Hydra. I am probably the worst video game player in the world. I just sit there randomly hitting the buttons over and over, hoping something will happen. Eventually something does, or I give up. As you play any of these games they're always slow-feeding you instructions on new subtleties, presumably at the point at which you're ready for them. Tap lightly on L1 while breathing garlic on the X button twice, then let go of R2 for special Groin of Power Spell. Like anyone can remember that stuff. Just hitting the buttons at random is enough for me. It's thoughts like these that will probably stop me from spending a fortune on a PSP, despite the attraction of instantly available games for all the debate down time.

I'm always doing my best not to spend money. It's not as if I have all that much of it, but I would like things like the aforementioned PSP, an iBook or 12" PowerBook, a portable DVD player, a cellphone smaller than Chihuahua, a new PDA. I may or may not get anything of these things, depending on forces of lust beyond my control. I did just get a standalone hard drive, however. This way I can dump all my stuff in one central place for both my active home machines, and not have to think about it again. Seems to be working fine, so far, but I haven't tried hooking it up to the Windows 98 machine yet. That's tonight's challenge. Then I'll take on the Hydra.

And I've come to the conclusion that Napoleon Dynamite is simply the bright line between blind youth and benign old age. I have yet to find anyone past one score and five who likes it, or anyone under that age who hasn't memorized it. Fortunately, it's easy to memorize. One viewing was all it took for me; it only has about four pages of script, recited very slowly. What I'm thinking is that I can drop little Vote For Pedro references into my everyday conversation in order to look cool while I'm husbanding my Tots. That ought to fool the little buggers!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Addendum re Brewers

Okay, I was half right. The Yankees still suck. And the world is going to hell in a handbasket when AL plays NL. Jeesh.

Ask me about the Mets pitching staff; I'm ready!

I now know everything there is to know about baseball. The Brewers beat the Yankees last night. This means that, A) the Brewers are probably in the American League (I was wondering about that), and B) the Yankees must really suck. With this information in hand, I'm ready for everything. Maybe I'll take up sports betting...

And then there's the Lincoln-Douglas Education Project ( Going back to my ruminations following TOCs, apparently the fears go deeper than I had understood. I just got an open email from Jason Baldwin explaining that the feeling is that this is the moment to save LD, otherwise it's over. That's sort of scary, because if these feelings have spread as much as they have around the coaching community (Timmons, Wycoff, and Miller are among the founding board members of LDEP) then we're talking serious fears. I've been protected by being in too many tabrooms and by not giving a horse's patoot about national circuit. The good thing is, LD is held together by a pretty thin thread, that thread being the handful of folks who actually throw tournaments. If all the tournament directors are in agreement about stuff, and can actually come up with ways to improve that stuff, we could really see positive change. I have, of course, signed up to join this illustrious group. It will be interesting to see what we come up with. I, for one, look to lay judging as one possible savior. The further we move away from general (albeit informed) adjudication, the further we move toward specialized and possible agenda-laden adjudication. Regardless of what that agenda might be, it would undermine the academic value of LD: learning to read, write and speak. Implicit in RWS is that students read, write and speak English. At the point where it's Chinese, or meta-Chinese, it's policy with one person per team. At which point, no parent chaperones. At which point, fewer participants. At which point, Hello Public Forum.

The possibilities are mind-numbing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Settling into Summer

I'm making the reservations now for the Yale hotel. It's just around the corner (the tournament, not the hotel). I would love to let one year rest before beginning the next year. But we're also hacking around the MHLs, I've begun instilling some discipline on myself on the team webpage update, and I hope to have the Bump site up before 9/1 for a change. This is ridiculous.

I also wonder if I'm cut out for video games. I am stuck on God of War after putting in about 11 minutes of game time. I know what to do; I just can't do it. I keep pushing this block toward the archers, and they keep shooting the block. #&^%^$% archers! When this begins to get me down, I say to myself, Yo, let's watch a movie. Everyone recommends Napolean Dynamite, so what the hell. Pop it into the old DVD player. Hmmm. Good credits, but that was about it. Here was a movie that, if you ask me, definitely could have used some archers. Why is everyone recommending this to me, not just teenagers but adults (all right, stunted adults to be sure, but adults nonetheless)? It is, I grant, unique, but would it have killed them to actually be funny? Nothing worse than staring stone-eyed at the TV for an hour and a half just wondering about the state of mind of those people who liked this thing. When the most amusing thing in a film is 'Tater Tots, you know you're in trouble.


The answer to the question, by the way, is City of Glass by Paul Auster. The book, not the graphic novel (no cheating!). I mentioned this earlier as the perfect postmodern novel, but never actually named it. It distills all the themes of narrator/narration/language that I'm working on in Caveman. I'll analyze it there, but if you're curious now, check it out. Don't expect to actually enjoy it, in that boring conservative pre-modernist sense of a good read. It's not a reading experience the way, say, The Hobbit is a reading experience. But you may find it fascinating.

Finding time for Caveman is getting difficult. We're on summer hours here, which means a longer day and golf on Friday afternoons. I keep thinking there's a joke somewhere in the concept of Sumer hours, but I can't really figure one out (as in Sumerian, not icumen in). I'll leave it to you. (I know, if I were smarter, I'd be funnier. Yeah, yeah, yeah.) Still, if I can give just one night a week to Caveman I might have it finished before the summer is over (Sumer is already over).

I need to concentrate. Settle down a little. It's summer. Enjoy it. Debate is over. Ahhhhhh...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Lightening up

All right. Enough already. I'm running out of words. When do I get my paycheck for this stuff, anyhow?

I heard from the Nostrumite last night. He's in a state of permanent depression over having to get back to the real world again after his honeymoon. He and Odelie mostly just lapped up sun and pina coladas for a couple of weeks while the rest of us were in Milwaukee (his guys hadn't qualified, which was too bad, because I wanted to see the expression on O'Cruz's face when I introduced him to the non-existent Mite). As proof of his return, he has posted a new installment of TWHS, and he claims he is back in business sharpening his metaphoric pencil and bearing down hard. So marriage obviously hasn't addled him all that much. Yet.

As for me, I've got a couple of things to do. I want to break down the PF Nationals topic (preferably with an Uzi), I'm looking forward to my first free Saturday since April to continue my fruitless pursuit of wirelessly connecting my home computers, I'm back on the golf course on Sunday with all new grips (when people tell me to get a grip, I do just that), last night I embarked on God of War, the galleys of the new Doctorow are on the credenza (but first I have to finish the Eco), Caveman continues to beckon (I did very little in Wisconsin), my fingers have forgotten what the piano keyboard feels like, the new Paul Johnson Art book is sneering at me from the coffee table, there's the summer reading list to settle, much hassling over MHLs for next year, etc., etc., etc. You know, maybe I should have retired when they gave me that award!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Tale of Three Cities, or, Walt was Wrong

In the last few weeks I have worked my way through the cutting edge of urban critique. Las Vegas, Santa Fe and Milwaukee; from these three cities you can learn just about everything there is to know about the unreality of everyday existence and the death and life of great American cities, without having to read Jane Jacobs or Jean Baudrillard. It's amazing how our lives are sometimes much more interesting than they appear on the surface. Somewhat along the lines of my favorite quip—if you were smarter I'd be funnier—there's the idea that if you just pay attention a little bit, and think a little bit, you'll find a lot more than you were expecting.

At some point in the mid-twentieth century, urban planning was the replacement of rickety depressed areas with new subsidized housing. You can get a great sense of this when you're on the train passing through Harlem going into Grand Central. You can see some decrepit, crumbling streets, and you can see some big, ugly, anonymous apartment buildings. The theory was that replacing the crumbling streets with these apartment buildings would somehow alleviate the problems that had led to the crumbling streets. At the same time, at least in New York, there was enormous destruction of neighborhoods in general in aid of the building of roads and bridges under the vision of master builder Robert Moses. Moses, in his lifetime, was responsible for practically every major artery in New York, including the city, Long Island, and all the way up to Niagara Falls. He built the Triborough, the Whitestone, the Throg's Neck, the Verrazano. He build every major highway on Long Island. He built Jones Beach. He built much of the Taconic. You name it, he built it. The problem was, or at least one problem was, that Moses had little or no regard for the harm that his constructions did to the areas in which they were built. Quite famously, the stretch of highway through the Bronx from Van Cortlandt Park to those small bridges like the Alexander Hamilton was once a tight, low-income neighborhood that was ripped apart in a blood battle that may not even have had to happen if Moses had simply routed his Cross-Bronx Expressway a few blocks away. But Moses, who was a compromiser like George W. Bush is a francophile, wouldn't even listen to the idea of an alternative.

In the early 60s, Moses was planning the Lower Manhattan Expressway, an elevated eight-lane highway through Greenwich Village connecting the East River to the Hudson River. The damage to lower Manhattan's neighborhoods as neighborhoods is probably incalculable. Jane Jacobs was among those who stood up to, and eventually defeated, the most powerful man in NY. Jacobs' urban theory is a simple one, that the life of a city is in its diversity on the streets, the interplay of people in neighborhoods, the humanization of what is otherwise the enormous scale of place. There are 8 million people in New York City, but to individuals there are only familiar families and familiar shops on your street, where children grow up playing in the parks and the old folks sit in the sun playing chess—you get the picture. Jacobs was right, and she wrote about it, and she is a key figure in understanding modern urban thought. Which is why Walt was wrong. His view of EPCOT, the city of big buildings of commerce separated from residence, is an extremely clear portrait of the modernist (and now discredited) view of urban planning. That city is, ultimately, devoid of life. A living, breathing city is a hodgepodge of residence and commerce and young and old, and that diversity is not only the sign of urban health, it is the cause of urban health. Walt, by building a city that would prophylactically solve for the urban problems that do exist (slums and everything that goes along with poverty), would create a lifeless shell of a city that would never survive. Urban problems must be addressed, but with an eye on the people, not the architecture or the roads. (Malls, of course, are another jejune answer to the problems of the city.)

The other thing Walt did, and this is why we enjoy reading Baudrillard, is create Disneyland, where reality is refined into themes of unreality (e.g., compare a real main street with Disney's Main Street). Disneyfication begins to pervade modern thinking, and over time, back in the real world, designers start emulating unreal themes into so-called actual existence. That is, architecture becomes consciously disneyfied to the extent that we are living in a total world of unreality, or at least a world where the real and unreal are indistinguishable.

So, a tale of three cities. Start with Milwaukee. What marks downtown Milwaukee and connects it to the themes of modern urbanization, is its skyway (or whatever they call it). This is a series of passageways about one flight up above ground level connecting apparently all the main downtown buildings. I took a long walk through it Sunday, and it was deserted. At one point I entered the federal building and went through metal detectors and saw the only other human beings (uniformed guards) in the system. This kind of skyway or something like it has been built in a number of cities, ostensibly to connect hubs and to protect people from the weather. But what they do is remove people from the commons of the ground level. You don't need permission, you don't need to look employed, you can be any kind of bum or race or religion on the streets, but indoors, in the seemingly private sphere of the skyways (even if the skyways claim to be public) you have what is essentially the mall mentality vis-a-vis security. No hare krishnas. No homeless. No teenagers hanging out. No one of dubious ethnicity being dubiously ethnic. The end result of this elevation of traffic from the streets is, literally, the death of the streets. After walking the skyway I did the same trip on ground level. Mostly there's empty storefronts. Whether or not the skyway has killed downtown Milwaukee, it has certainly killed downtown Milwaukee's streets. They are dead. I would guess that they are also rather frightening at certain times, since all the "safe" working people are up above, these dead streets are inhabited by the hare krishnas, the homeless, the teenagers and the dubious ethnics. (There's an essay in Variations on the Theme Park about all of this.)

Las Vegas, of course, is the theme capital of the universe. Arabian souks, Parisian streets, St. Mark's square, ancient Luxor, Manhattan... You've seen the commercials for Steve Wynn's new hotel, the hook of which is, it has no theme; this being Vegas, you would have to say that its theme is themelessness. You can write your own analysis here of the city as a whole, or reality versus unreality, whatever. One analysis is as good as the next. Either you find the place fun or you think it's hell only hotter; it's almost the same thing with WDW: either you find the place fun or you think it's hell only hotter and more humid.

The more interesting place, caveman-wise, is my third city, Santa Fe. This is one of the oldest cities in the western hemisphere. It's got an "old town" that is, allegedly, the old part. But is it? All buildings, young and old, are built to look as if they're old adobe. The new buildings look just like the old buildings which means, in fact, that the new buildings are themed to resemble the originals. Are those real Indians selling real artifacts or real Indians selling what tourists like, and has what tourists like replaced what Indians make? Maybe they're just not real Indians. The whole shebang represents to some extent all those horrible things you hate about commercialism, but then again, some of the stuff is nice. I bought some. And as for all that adobe, why is the rest of the city also adobe? Or more to the point, built to look like adobe? Has the alleged unreality of the old city spread into the new city? What is the bright dividing line?

Fun stuff to think about. These three cities, one after the other, had Menickean juices flowing, anyhow. Which means I'll probably finish Part 5 of Caveman in the year 2008.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Resolved: Apples are the best fruit

One imagines that the contestants at CatNats were all complaining about the judge pool. This is only fair, since the judges were all complaining about the contestant pool. Curiously enough, however, the elimination-round contestants were uniformly a strong, experienced group representative of elimination rounds everywhere. So this judge-pool-lite that is CatNats must have somehow managed to figure out, despite its incredible randomness, who the strongest contestants were. Which is a tribute to the contestants, who must have appropriately adapted to their general audience. The Old Farts maintain that this is one of the underpinnings of LD's value, the need to adapt to audiences (it is an important aspect of any speaking gig, throughout life). The OFs don't say that you should have to adapt to someone who's never heard of LD, but you should be able to pick up ballots from someone other than a former TOC debater. The more parochial the activity becomes, the less catholic it will be (if you'll allow a little vocabulary borrowed from the moment).

Meanwhile, there were those other contestants. I was judging up a storm (for me, which means I still probably managed to get more time off than anyone else), and I was astounded by some of the things I saw and heard. My average points were about 24. I saw some good debaters, but seldom in the same round. [Note to the kid who came up to me afterwards and said he read my blog, I thought you were good. If you had told me ahead of time that you read my blog, I would have thought you were great.] [Note to everyone else going forward: If you're not on my team and you read this blog, keep it to yourself. It's bad enough that my life is empty, but for you to be with me in it does not reflect well on you. Log off and read "Moby Dick."]

What bothered me the most was the almost uniform lack of negative advocacies. I was even told once that the rules of LD place the burden of proof on the affirmative, while it was hit or miss whether the negative would tell me that all the neg has to do is prove the resolution is false (or the affirmative wrong) in order to win, or whether it would simply be implicit in the argumentation. Now I've been down this road in the past, but that never stops me from taking another trip. As you know, I am cursed with a rather profound innate understanding of the English language. Not only can I interpret straightforward sentences such as debate resolutions, but I understand with hardly any need to be bopped in the head the implicit aspects of these resolutions. Often a topic, like CatNat's "imparting of knowledge ought to be the primary goal of formal education." looks to the uneducated, non-English-speaking eye like it is about one thing, in this case, the imparting of knowledge. But Menick, recognizing the clever trickery of those Catholic resolution makers, sees that the focus is, in fact, the question of what should be the primary goal of formal education, with the imparting of knowledge posited as the affirmative advocacy. (Some CatNatites argued on the aff only that education was a good thing; these folks obviously had had little, at least insofar as debate theory was concerned.)

But this is too hard to understand. So let me try something else.

My point is that there is no such thing as a topic where all the negative has to do is prove the affirmative wrong, where the affirmative has an advocacy and the negative doesn't. Just because the neg advocacy is not explicit doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I mean, you could debate this way, but it doesn't make much sense. If the negative advocates no postion on a topic, then if any piece of the affirmative advocacy survives the round, the affirmative wins. In the unlikely event of no pieces of the affirmative surviving, since there is no alternative offered, we have a draw; however, since we can't have a draw, we rely on the judge to intervene. How, strategically, does this make any sense for the negative? Unless they argue perfectly, they lose, and if they do argue perfectly, they ask the judge to toss a coin. If the negative does have an advocacy, however, an alternative position to the affirmative, then the neg has an alternative to offer after having shot down the affirmative. Now the judge smiles and writes NEG on the ballot in big letters (unless of course the affirmative shoots down the neg advocacy, and we're back to the coin flip again, but that's another matter altoegether).

Let me provide an example that is metaphorically identical to CatNats. Resolved: Apples are the best fruit.

The aff value is health, with a criterion of varied ubiquity. Contention 1: Apples provide more vitamins and minerals than any other fruit. 2. Apples are easy to come by in a variety of flavors, more than any other fruit. 3. Apples can be made into a lot of different products, more than any other fruit.

The bad neg value is autonomy, with a criterion of protection of rights. The neg's sole contention is that some people don't like apples, and making them eat apples dehumanizes them.

Now, you should be able to see the problem here for neg. Aff has had 6 minutes to declaim on all the positive virtues of apples; neg will no doubt use a lot of its NC time to refute these claims, but some of these claims are pretty good. And all neg says in its own constructive is something that is, well, not constructive. Think about that good old English language again. Both sides give a constructive case. But this neg didn't construct anything, this neg simply attempted to tear down the affirmative construction. The likelihood of tearing down the entire construction is slight, and even if you do tear it all down, every last apple branch crushed in the dust, without any construction to consider, what is a judge to do? Not only that, but the neg has put the entire debate on affirmative ground. All we're ever arguing is apples; apples is catnip to the affirmative, and the affirmative wants nothing more than to discuss apples. Yeah, great strategy, neg: keep the entire argument on aff turf. Do you think the US would be independent of Great Britain if Washington had had to fight in downtown London?

You can boil what I'm saying down to something so elemental that even a CatNatite can understand it.

"Sith is the best Star Wars movie because of its special effects."
"No it isn't."
You be the judge. Based on the argument above, what is the best Star Wars movie?

Negative positions are always implied in the resolution. A comparison is suggested even if not clearly stated. Some of those implications are easier to divine than others, but they're there if you do a little research. But, come to think of it, there are even times when there is a clear comparison in a resolution, and some debaters STILL don't offer a true negative position. Remember, this isn't only about theory, it's about practicality. The odds of winning on the neg without a clear constructive position are against you, and certainly your odds of winning on the neg are always better when you propose a clear position of your own. This is pure strategy. It's obvious.

And Sith is so far from the best Star Wars movie that I don't even have to offer any arguments. I dare you to refute this.