Friday, December 29, 2006

Then again, maybe W was actually in one of the Jackass movies

I am in the process of waiting for notification from iTunes that they have accepted the feed of “The View from Tab” for syndication. This means a number of things. First, that I have written correct XML for the feed. Second, that I have updated my podcast page. And third, that I have recorded “The Postmodern Condition.” I like this lecture. It attempts to explain what it means to be an artist, or an architect, or perhaps most importantly, a philosopher, in an age of postmodernism. It frames everything within the concept of dialectics, and the failure of history as a dialectic. The death of architectural modernism is explained as the birth process of the actual concept of something that would be known thereafter as post modern, and it shows how all artists, and probably all thinkers, must confront the breakdown of the historical dialectic, i.e., the postmodern condition. Needless to say, it includes no quotations from Adam Sandler, George Bush or any members of the casts of any Jackass movie. It is meant as a standalone piece, a short general introduction to the idea of postmodernity as compared to the detailed explanations of Caveman.

It’s amazing what someone can do with a little free time on their hands. The point of creating “View” as a feed is so that I can post future installments to a waiting public, snicker, snicker. I have an idea for a show with me and Faux’C; more on that as it develops in my mind.

Next on the day’s agenda: making some Disney World dinner reservations. I don't know if I can keep up this amazingly hectic pace...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A little of this, a little of that...

I swore to myself that I’d be at the computer this morning by 9:00. Missed it only by about an hour. Not bad for a holiday.

In the most important piece of news, Liz has gotten a clean bill of health, and we go into 2007 a lot happier than we exited 2006. Whew.

So now we can get back to business. First up, sorting through all the invoices from the NFL and getting that check out before there’s a late fee. For some reason Safari is giving me Yahoo mail issues, but Firefox seems to be kechy peen, so the fault lies not in our account but in our software. Kate insists that I’m some sort of troglodyte for my use of Safari, but as I pointed out, the fact that at the office Firefox prints words before I type them sort of mitigates against my reliance on it. I guess that feature would be very useful if I were daunted by the blank page, but I seriously doubt if that’s going to happen any time soon.

Then there’s the discussion of our Red Light District status with the district schools. I’ve been putting off sending out a note to the schools mostly because there isn’t much to say other than file all your points, and honestly, most of them either do or don’t. I’ve been feverishly doing so lately. For instance,every time NoShow judges, there’s 4 more points in the bag. Come to think of it, I'm thinking of changing his nickname to HeWhoShowsUpEveryWeek. Woot, woot!

[Time passes.]

So, with all of business conducted, after 2 hours the mailbox is clear! The next item on the agenda, aside from getting up and running upstairs every time the phone rings, is warming up the leftover lasagna for lunch. Tuesday we had the Rubin Era alums over for dinner, and a swell time was had by all, I think. They are a rather remarkable bunch. Josh is at Harvard Law, and Katie’s at Georgetown Law; she’s thinking litigator, which means that I’ll finally have someone to defend me when the gendarmes catch up. Alexandra is drumming up business for White Plains hospital; she does PR, which I gather means going out and making people sick. I could do that. Wedro is trading stocks, and has managed to lose hardly any money at all despite the incredible bull market. Jared just got back from Argentina, having given up the literary agent trade, and he’s living in Brooklyn on the chichi side of Prospect Park (my Kate is on the Real People side). CLG is still thinking of more school, and the general consensus was that she should go to California to see how the other half lives. As I say, what a group. Although it is strange to offer them wine and beer. I used to have to worry that they might be drinking wine and beer behind my back (although I never got the feeling that they were too dicey behavior-wise back in the day, although occasionally CLG has begun to explain what was really going on and I’ve had to ask her to stop because I just don’t want to know) and now I merely have to make sure they can drive home legally. How times change.

This afternoon, with any luck, I’ll begin catching up on Nostrums. Plus, I’ve got preliminary notes on an intro to Pomo that I have to work on. And, oh yeah, I have to go out and buy a chicken for dinner.

Life is good.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Things to do:


More Christmas shopping. With things being what they are, I fell way behind, which is unusual for me, as normally I’m done by the first frost.

Buy prosecco. It goes with everything, and it’s marginally festive. Trust me on this. Make bellinis for the doubters in the crowd,

Buy groceries. I’ll do most of the cooking, as always. Today I pick up the last minute items, including enough eggs to open a hen house.

Watch a movie. I can’t remember the last movie I watched. Something soothing tonight, but I’m not sure what.


Clean the house. While Liz is recuperating, I have to do all the heavy lifting by myself. If I were her, I’d stretch this recuperating business as long as possible.

Start cooking. The more I can do early, the better. I should be able to knock off a few eggplants, for instance (no relation to the eggs, mentioned above).

Go to the Big Apple circus. I’ll see you there if you’re at tomorrow’s 4:30 show. Go, Grandma!

Go out to dinner. We’re thinking ribs, which are very holiday-ish, somewhere, I’m sure. Hush puppies. Dark southern beer. Hmmmm.


Christmas eve breakfast. This is a new wrinkle, as the rels will already be installed on various cots, couches and beds of nails around the house and will need nourishment.

Cooking. Mostly final prep for D-Day. Soak a bean or two, study the menu closely and prrioritize, that sort of thing.

Go out to traditional Christmas Eve movie. We’re thinking Happy Feet as the perfect crowd pleaser, as it has tap dancing and penguins and high praise from all and sundry critics.

Baking. This is different from cooking. There’s nothing like the scent of chocolate wafting through the house after a traditional Christmas Eve movie.

Traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Which, curiously enough, is all new this year, because my cousin who’s staying with us doesn’t eat nuts. Her father used to live on nuts. Who knew? Think beet carpaccio, scampi, risotto with squash. Nice.


Presents, cooking, eating, presents, cooking, eating, digesting, traditional Christmas movie at the chez home theater (last year it was Shaun of the Dead, which has gone down in family history as the best Christmas movie ever), eating. This no doubt is what the entire VCA will be doing Monday. Deck us all with Boston Charlie.

And so, Merry Christmas to all—as Bill O’Reilly would insist on our saying—and to all a good night. I’ll see you on Tuesday or Wednesday. (Given that last night I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and stumbled into the living room where Pip TW and I read a piece on postmodern dance by the light of the Christmas tree before re-retiring, I’m sure I’ll have something to say when the time comes.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A <> A+2

I’m always thinking about novices. Virtually all of what is called by some progressive in LD—and note that the word progressive is taking on the cloud of connotations nowadays that the word liberal used to have in the mouths of Reagan conservatives—is antithetical to working with high school freshmen if for no other reason than that they’re not ready for the material. That is, even if so-called progressive—and I just can’t write the word progressive straight for fear that you might think that I mean that somehow this material is, in fact, progressive—LD is superior, or right, or true, or best, or however you want to portray it against traditional approaches, it is nonetheless none of those for 14-year-olds. The reason is simple. They’re not old enough. They haven’t been around to learn enough yet to synthesize this sort of material. I mean, you can’t read critiques of Kant until you’ve read Kant. You can’t understand the futility of post-historical narrative until you understand the gist of the historical narrative in the first place, and then have a sense of all the factors that mitigate against it in contemporary society. Bebop makes no sense without swing. And youth per se has nothing to do with achieving these understandings except insofar as the younger you are, the less time you’ve had to get your initial grounding. It’s not a question of maturity (or at least it doesn’t have to be a question of maturity): it’s not the quality of one’s time on earth but the quantity.

Last night we had a chez attended primarily by the Plebes, and I was struck by the difference between that session and the one the night before with the upperclassfolk. Primarily the ucf never shut their yaps, while the Plebes hardly ever open theirs. To a great extent this is a factor of their unfamiliarity with me (we haven’t spent that much time together yet), and they’re unsure of how much I really want to hear from them, versus how much I want to tell them what to think. But also they don’t have that much to say yet. I mean, if we’re sitting around discussing Enron, WalMart, Apple and Nike, in the space of about two minutes, what exactly do they know about the nature of these corporations, and the impacts these corporations have on the world. We did manage to determine that LPW owns no Nikes and that Richard’s size fourteens are awe-inspiring, however. One of the Plebes, having discovered (albeit not read) Rousseau, has already worked out an affirmative position based on some random quote from good old Jean-Jacques (which was pronounced anything but Jean-Jacques), eliciting from me a momentary blast on general will and some misgivings about the effect of civilization on the poor noble plebian savage, after which I suggested that all resolutional pegs cannot be hammered into the hole of social contraction.

As I said, they’re young…

Anyhow, going forward, I’m thinking that, for brainstorming purposes, it’s probably not a good idea to isolate young and old. Granted the old will do all the talking, but a good stew needs seasoning. And the young ‘uns will learn at the knees of the elders. I hope. In any case, young and old will now go forward and research Jan-Feb over the break. Again, I hope. May God have mercy on their heathen souls.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Waiter, bring me shad roe

What a group. Yeah, the "i" in idea is the kicker. I wasn’t even thinking of that. Alec Wilder could learn a few things from the VCA. It’s nice to know that American popular song lives on.

(And “Scrambled Eggs,” of course, was the working title of “Yesterday” before the words were written. Everyone my age either knows this, or, well, they don’t get to sit with the cool people. Try it out on parents of your own if you’re willing to subject them to the acid test of hip. There’s nothing worse that finding out your parents actually are, or aren’t, hip. Either scenario just isn’t…right. Parents should be ahip, which is like amoral applied to coolness. It’s the best solution all-around, definitely.)

Last night we assembled an upperclass chez, and kicked around a few topic ideas concentrating purely on conceptualizations of corporations. I wanted to get away from the initial pure morality issues that I had brought to the original brainstorming session (although I did shoot out my notes from that session to the Sailors on the listserver, itemizing the various pure morals arguments that were theoretically possible). The more you discuss this topic, the more you realize that it will be hard to argue anything meaningful regarding corporate ethics, although we are zeroing in on some basic concepts. No doubt everyone else is zeroing in on the exact same concepts (or so far off base that they’ll never be heard from again). Tonight there’s a session just for the plebes; obviously I’ll steal all the good ideas from last night and act as if they were always my own, and plant them in the virgin brains of the newbies, but mostly I’ll be browbeating them to research and work over the holiday. No sitting around playing Gears of War. No watching all the Star Wars movies from beginning to end. No going to grandma’s house. No sleeping.

My plans for the break? Well, there’s that pomo View from Tab that I’m still cogitating over, there’s the morality and justice units for the Hillary Duff, and I did start playing RCT3 finally while I was hanging around the hospital (there’s a bright side to everything) and it’s every bit as mind-sucking as the earlier PC versions I played back in the dark ages. On the other hand, the Wikipedia timeline of Back to the Future that’s circulating over the blogosphere has set me to thinking I’m due for that particular trilogy again. And I need to catch up on my sleep. Which means I’ll be doing what the Sailors better not be doing.

It is nice being the grownup. And not a particularly hip one. Except for Scrambled Eggs. And, oh yeah, the dirty words to “You’re the Top” written by CP himself. Some day, when you’re grown up yourself, I might share them with you…

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

How many points for understanding the eggs reference?

It should come as no surprise that I am a bit overzealous about the American Songbook. So the idea that “I Get a Kick Out of You” is a Frank Sinatra song, mentioned in a recent comment, is not exactly wrong, given that it is one of his signature tunes, but first and foremost it is a Cole Porter song. The analogy here might be, when you get on an elevator, the 1001 Strings version of “Yesterday” (which at one point, and this may still be true, was the most recorded song ever) is indeed a signature tune of Muzak, but first and foremost it is a Paul McCartney song (or, arguably, a Beatles song, but that’s neither here nor there to anyone who knows their Beatles at this point—scrambled eggs, anyone?).

Porter is one of those amazing people who did lyrics and music both. These are two rather different skills, and it is unusual to find anyone who can do both well, although in rock music it is not unusual to find people who can do both adequately. As a rule, though, one will be excellent, the other rote. Dylan, for instance, didn’t break much ground in harmonics but knocked off the odd memorable phrase now and then. I mention rock because the 60s were the dawning age of the creative performer, and if a rock group or single expected serious consideration, original self-generated material was a must, so the idea of mastery of music and words isn’t as staggering today as it was in the golden age of American song when the Porters and Gershwins and such were doing their thing. Porter, knowing language and music, and singing, which is important if you want people to be able to successfully put your music across, and these folks were always writing for other people, phrases things in a most amazing way:

I get no kick [beat] from champagne

That is, in fact, 8 beats. I love that implied pause.

Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all

Note the internal rhyme, alcohol with all.

So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you

Then on to the lovely

Some get their kicks from cocaine

which is bowdlerized by Sinatra into

Some like the perfume from Spain

which just isn’t the same. Ask any smelly crackhead. But the next section is the top:

I know that if / I took even one sniff
It would bore me terriff / ic’ly too

This is the sort of phrasing that I think absolutely requires the lyrics and music to come from the same brain. And it’s fun for a performer to sing. Then, of course, speaking of merging performance with the words and the music there’s the rising notes to accompany the flying words of

I get no kick on a plane
Riding too high with some guy in the sky [three internals, four if you count the I in riding]
Is my idea of nothing to do
But I get a kick out of you.

I have nothing against Sinatra, witnessed by my ownership of, I guess, almost every album he ever recorded. But he’s no friend of the composers: he makes all songs into Sinatra songs, which is his great strength as a singer. If you want the music distilled, the way the writers wrote it, there are other singers you should visit. Fred Astaire is one of the best for direct interpretations of songs as written. Ella. Feinstein. These are orthodoxies. But my absolutely favorite singer, other than Sinatra? No contest. Louis Armstrong. If Sinatra is pop’s God, Louis is God’s pop.

Monday, December 18, 2006


It's going to take a little while to get back to speed. Liz was eating chicken when I left the hospital today, which I take as an excellent sign. And she's coming home tomorrow. I've asked Tik (pronounced tik) to pick up a few of the Christmas decorations he's been grabbing off the tree while no one is looking, but so far he acts as if it's my job to clean up after him rather than him cleaning up after himself. The noive! Pip the Wondercat, on the other hand, looks forward to another lap to purr in when we are all together again. Never underestimate the therapeutic value of cuddling cats. Come to think of it, someone was on the hospital floor today with a therapy dog, a hound of some sort that couldn't get any purchase on the polished floor, which made him look like Bambi on the ice. Very entertaining. Never underestimate the therapeutic value of any entertainment, especially stupid pet tricks.

So, getting back to the old stand... I did begin recording the epistles of St. Jules to the forensicians last week. I had thought they began with number 33, but in fact it was number 32, so I put out a special edition with just some of the old email, including kudos from the legendary Soddy, one of the original fans of the lads’ work. I may or may not get any more episodes out before Christmas, what with everything else going on, but I should put a few in the can immediately following 12/25. I did create a new general introduction telling any yabbo who stumbles across this stuff that they should start at the beginning if they wanted to make any sense out of it. Speaking of which, now that I have a gargantuan ancillary hard drive semi-permanently attached to Little E’s firewire slot, I’ve been thinking of acquiring the latest iLife suite, which allows the ability to create podcasts in GarageBand (although, come to think of it, if I wait a couple of months I can get the next latest iLife suite, but then again, that might be Leopard-only and I am loath to upgrade operating systems, being from the school that if you want to cause damage to your computing life, start with an OS upgrade). Little E’s only inherent problem is his small hard disk. Put an OS and a couple of apps, plus Virtual PC, and 30 gigs disappears in a puff of computing smoke. Make this a rule: when you buy any sort of storage, either separate or a part of something, go for the max. You’ll never regret it.

One of the joys of insomnia is reading at three in the morning, and I've been doing some pomo work that is encouraging me to do a new View from Tab, yet another entry hook into the whole shebang. Again, maybe next week. Tomorrow and the day after the Sailors are in for a couple of chezzes on corporate ethics. Oh, the humanity.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I've been out of commission for a while, and will be for a little while longer. Short reason: my wife has just had an operation. The good news is that everything went well, she is doing fine, and the prognosis is excellent. Curiously enough, there is a computer in the solarium of the hospital, although there is no sun, so I had a minute to log on and write this. She should be going home either Monday or Tuesday, and normalcy should set in roughly by the end of the week.

By the way, driving home last night I heard Garrison Keillor rhyme hiatus with potatoes (pronounced pa-tay-tas). I could use him the next time I go into my Dr. Seuss mode.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I get no kick from sham pain

I have always found it curious that much of what I don’t like about debate is totally ass backwards. The article on performative college debate referenced on ROTC points out that this style of competition arose from the need for undersized teams to level the playing field against the big combines. Usually these funky new teams were less well-endowed financially than the old, established teams. The running of kritiks in high school policy has a comparable history: small teams unable to compete with big teams’ research-cutting abilities resorted to different tactics that would eliminate the size differential. But here’s the rub: in LD, there is no reliance on quantity of evidence. With some minor demurral, you’d have to admit that in LD a small team has exactly the same access to physical resources as a big team. Add to this the curious twist that it tends to be the $ircuit teams that more often gravitate to theory and critical debate than regional teams. That is, the teams with more money—which not only translates into more ability to travel but also a greater likelihood of assistant coaches, who in my mind are often akin to the Miltonian minor demons—are using the tactics devised by the teams with less money, substituting parlor tricks for resolutional analysis despite the fact that they have equal access to resolutional material insofar as there is no quantitative advantage to having “more” material in LD, as compared to having more research in the tubs in Policy. It’s a bizarre situation. Thank goodness it’s better to have a handful of clever upperclassmen win rounds by whatever means available than to ground a dozen novices in elementary ideas concerning morality and ethics and the various issues of the resolutions! At least I know where my priorities ought to lie.

Last night we did a demo round, and while I like doing these, I’m a little wary of the vulture mentality that seems to strike afterwards, where everyone in the room wants to have at the poor demonstrators with their own unique criticisms. “Hey, Menick, I didn’t get to tell them yet which particular idiots I think they are in my own special fashion.” While the upperclassmen bring experience and good advice, the underclassmen—I hate to say it—don’t know their patoots from their bezoots, otherwise they’d already all be qualified for States, TOC and early admission to at least 3 Ivy League universities. So I do try to limit critiques to the captains and the novice coordinators, who have earned the right to give their opinions. Oh, yeah, and me. Although mostly the others do the job well enough before me, and I just bat cleanup.

Anyhow, all this thinking about morality arising from the next topic is pointing me to adding a good unit on the subject to the Hillary Duff. Ditto the previous topics’ pointers at justice, another gap in the Duff. One must evolve with the times, although how I left these out in the first place is beyond me. At some point I should also port over the Foucault from Caveman, but as I was saying to OC over the weekend, what I need to do is decide what book to recommend to the Sailors as their Foucault intro (fooko intrault?). Ah, the joys of reading Frenchmen for pleasure! Absent Flaubert, Gide, Zola and, I’ll admit it, Robbe-Grillet, I hardly ever do that. I mean I read them, but I get no pleasure from it. Oh, well…

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

F Lit, Humpty Chomsky, Lost Luggage, Awakenings, Sleep

So, enough about politics, new and old. I don’t think we said anything conclusive, but it was interesting for me to rattle the mental cages in which I keep my Founders info. I’ve been a major devourer of Founder Lit for years, because there is something intrinsically intriguing to me about these people and their creation. For those of us who, in theory, sit around designing the best societies, it is educational to study those who sat around and attempted it for real.

I did give a lecture on the new topic last week. Or, more to the point, I gave a lecture on absolutism v relativism, pointing out all the hooks for a pure morality argument. Obviously, I don’t like these approaches, otherwise I wouldn’t resort to my Dr. Seuss mode to critique them. I do not like them, Sam I am: throw in one more iamb and you’ve got pentameter and I’d be burlesquing Shakespeare. (Life is tough, you know, but at least now you’ll never forget that the difference between Geisel and the Bard is a mere two syllables.) Tonight some of the plebes will do a practice round, then next week we’ll have a couple of chezzes to discuss corporate ethics before heading into vacation. Either people will debate corporate ethics, or they’ll debate pure morality. Honestly, for once I can’t say that the latter is non-resolutional. Whoever does the wording for these resolutions needs a few years in the box with some of my day-job copy-editors. Words do not mean what you want them to mean… (I have this sudden vision of Chomsky and Lyotard in fierce debate with Humpty Dumpty. Great Googly Moogly!)

Last weekend was Ridge. The ever amusing O’C arrived with fewer than 3000 novices, and wasn’t even the last to show up. His definition of punctuality, of course, is not that he arrives on time, but that someone else arrives even later. This has always been the Bronx definition of punctuality, and I wonder if O’C was always this way or merely acquired it when he started teaching at good old Scientology. In any case, he managed to arrive without having any case, i.e., his suitcase went back to the Bronx on the bus without him. This rendered him, at the very least, less than sartorially resplendent for the weekend. Fortunately he did bathe Friday night, which helped a little. Those of you who have watched O’C at a tournament know that he spends most of the time typing away, reporting every hiccup to WTF. Every time he moved away from the computer in tab to check on whether the Scientologists were still in the tournament, Dario or I would go on his machine and type something seditious. O’C swears that there is a vast audience of mooks out there glued to their computers, following from afar every batting of the forensic eye, but somehow I doubt this. If there are such mooks, their need of a life is profound. I mean, haven’t they ever heard of Gears of War? Or Saved by the Bell reruns? Or maybe even reading a book? Jeesh!

I got to tab Pffft, which was not hard. Aside from a little smoke and mirrors on one round where I went from double to single flights, plus some minor pilfering of judges from LD, it was all according to Hoyle. There’s this thing at Ridge where, at exactly ten o’clock at night, the computers shut down and eat all your data. Fortunately Dario was ready for this Cinderella moment, flashdrive in hand, after having suffered absolute meltdown last year. It’s a curious phenomenon, with shades of Oliver Sacks and selective memory, where everything is new again the next day. Weird. But at least once you know about it, you’re okay.

I won’t be at Regis this weekend—I’ll explain why soon—so for me the debate calendar year is about over, absent these couple of meetings. I could use a break. A little sleep never hurt anybody.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Final entry on politics in our time

So the conclusion I draw is that it was not the times that made the Founders out of whatever raw human material was at hand, but that the Founders themselves, who made an extraordinary contribution that defined self-government on the planet, did so on the basis of their inherent, unique talents,. One could extrapolate from this that today’s politicians, for some reason, lack those talents, and that the people today who do have those talents are not politicians. There are exceptions of course (there were some dull politicos in Philadelphia in 1775, and there are some crackerjacks in DC in 2006), but few would argue the basic premise that today’s best and brightest are not in public service. The question is, why not?

There’s an easy answer going into it. The 18th century citizen of wealth and power was, to some extent, a member of a clearly defined aristocracy for whom public service was expected as a matter of noblesse oblige. In fact, a lot of what these guys were debating about was the concept of aristocracy in a democratic republic, including either maintaining a clear-cut upper class or eliminating it, but whatever their thoughts on the subject, they had been raised to expect as aristos to contribute to governing, and so they did. Combine to this the meritocratic concepts explained by John Adams, the Yankee belief that there should be an earned rather than an inherited aristocracy, and you get to include the Ben Franklins into the mix. This aristocracy was its day’s best and brightest, the most educated, the most capable. And those who were not members of this aristocracy accepted that the aristos would go about the business they were born to. Class didn’t die on 7/4/76, not by any means.

But the world has changed. While we may field the odd dynasty once in a while, we don’t expect to do so. Joe Kennedy may have been breeding his kids for politics, and Prescott Bush may have managed to find a generation or two of his progeny odd jobs in the company business, but they are exceptions. There is not a sense that rich and/or powerful people have a duty to go into government service. It is not in the air that they breathe, as it was for the Founders. Nor is it in the air that we commonfolk should be thankfully supporting the power of these aristos. None of us, rich or poor, have true aristocracy in our genetic fiber, as the 18th century people did, regardless of which side they were on, or whether or not they supported it. It was part and parcel of their culture. It is not part and parcel of ours. My guess is that more people voted against JFK for being Joe’s son than the other way around. Come to think of it, JQA wasn’t the world’s greatest vote getter either. Maybe we’ve always been okay with aristocrats but not with inherited monarchs…

In today’s world, because there’s no other expectation, the best and the brightest get to pick and choose what they want to do, and the idea of becoming a statesman doesn’t seem to make the grade. There are very bright people in politics, but they are not necessarily the politicians. Do you believe that the smartest people in DC today were the ones who were elected? Far from it. Electability requires a number of things, and quite honestly, smarts is not only not one of those requirements, but intelligence is often seen as a negative. Adlai Stevenson was perceived as too smart. Bill Clinton was smart but played it down in the feeling of others’ pain, and given his lack of personal control in the oval office, he wasn’t so smart after all. Gore was seen as a stiff and a brain, and lost (so to speak) to plain-speaking, heartfelt good-old-boy-ism. Hillary may be seen by some as a vicious pol willing to do anything, but she’s also seen as an intellectual calculating vicious pol willing to do anything, and it’s the calculating intellectualism that could be the worst part of it. And everybody else? Average. Not stupid, probably, and maybe clever, but not special. Not excitingly inventive. Not capable of creating a new country from the raw material of disparate colonies.

Why not? If those sort of people exist, why have they mostly gone to ground insofar as politics is concerned? Well, the public scrutiny, for one thing. It’s not that your life is no longer private so much as not one single second of your life is private anymore. You don’t have to have something to hide to want at least some measure of privacy for yourself and your family. And there’s the sense of futility to political life: who’s made a difference lately in a good way? Even if you have something to say and something you want to do, you know you’ll never get elected without a smear campaign, and you’ll never get results of your ideas without selling your soul. You’ll never even get noticed by the electorate unless you can field a fairly large fortune in the first place: where’s our last US president who wasn’t already, shall we say, well-to-do? Hillary spent more money than anyone ever, in the history of the US, to win her senate seat this year, against an opponent no one had ever heard of, who never had a chance. That money has to come from somewhere, either one’s own pocket or the pockets of others to whom you become immediately beholden.

So the best and the brightest, seeing that the most they can hope for in politics is no personal life, little chance of making a difference, and a hole to throw their money into if they have any, look elsewhere. The Founders, unfortunately, quickly found in their own day that they lost personal lives (which is why we know today still of all the dirt on Sally Fairfax and Sally Hemings and such), much of it to an unbridled press that printed what was not necessarily true: hence the Alien & Sedition Acts. But, still, the Founders felt that they had a duty to government, and a belief that they could govern effectually. It was not a frustrating job that inherently went nowhere; you could fail, but you could also succeed. Without that possibility today (how would you like to be the next president of the US cleaning up the Bush mess?), the b & the b go into science and the arts and business and stay there, where they can indeed make a difference. And they do.

It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is. And as far as I can tell, no one knows any way of changing it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

FFs Forever

Remarkably enough, there's internet access in the Ridge tab room. O'C is sitting in the corner posting pictures of the schematics. All they need to do is throw in some champagne and lobsters and my day will be made.

You'll recall--or you won't recall, depending on a combination of the quality of your memory and the depth of your interest in things Coachean--that we were talking about the uniqueness of the Founders. Of the US, not of LD. I've decided not to say much about Madison and Hamilton, because I'm not particularly expert on them. They were both certainly instrumental in getting the Constitution ratified, and given that we still consult and quote the Federalist Papers is almost comment enough on these two gents. But I will point out that Al, who was GW's protege during the War, later wrote a visionary paper, the Report on Manufactures, that is remarkably eloquent still and explains as well as anything I've ever seen how to turn a backwater nation hanging on by a thread into the United States of America. It's worth your time to read it.

So are the Founders essential and unique? Or merely honed by the times? The more you know about them, you've got to think of them as special. But let's look at my personal favorite FF, Mr. Jefferson. I have read more books about, and by, TJ than any other prexy. I admit I worship at the altar of his complexity.

TJ is the most complicated bundle of contradictions you can imagine. If GW was a rock, TJ was a mosaic. Mercurial. Full of ideas. A true visionary, in a way much like Hamilton, but with radically opposite visions: compare Jeffersonian agrarian democracy to Hamiltonian big business. TJ comes up to Philadelphia to the Continental Congress as a young hotshot Virginia lawyer/landowner who's done some good writing back home, and he gets assigned to write the Declaration, with Franklin and Adams as his editors. What was passed by the Congress isn't much different than what TJ wrote, although it is interesting to compare his draft to the final. Pauline Maier's book American Scripture makes a good case explaining that this particular document, intended to be exactly what it calls itself, became the soul of the United States, the Value statement of the place, if you want to look at it in a debaterly fashion. (This is thanks to Lincoln; to find out why, read the book.) TJ was a Romantic in the poetic sense, and tended to get carried away by ideas like revolution, making the comment, for instance, that the tree of liberty needed to be watered occasionally with the blood of patriots, a quote that makes for great copy but rather dubious practice. I mean, try that one on GW Bush! This romanticism enamored him to the French and their revolution when he was ambassador, and when Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite went south into head-chopping, later enemies of TJ were quick to remind him of his support of the Gallic Repubilc. Oops...

TJ was a scholar, an inventor like Franklin, and like Franklin, an amateur scientist in the golden age of amateur scientists, when they are virtually undifferentiated from the pros. He was an architect, an oenophile and a musician: my favorite of his letters is when he is trying to import four Italian laborers to so some vineyard building for him, and adds to the request that they also play string instruments so that at night when they're not digging and constructing, they can act as a quartet and hammer out some Mozart to entertain in their spare time. Talk about killing many birds with one stone! Among his achievements he was especially proud of founding the University of Virginia, which since its inception has been nationally acclaimed as the party school in the US.

Of course, if you mention TJ in front of a group like the Sailors, their utterance of the name Sally Hemings isn't far behind. The idea of Sally goes back to TJ's own day, and biographers have all had to deal with it since. Most, for hagiographic reasons, discounted it. Dumas, the definitive biographer, absolutely refused to accept it and blamed a Randolph cousin for the red heads and Jeffersonian features in the Hemings clan. But DNA talks, and the controversy has been settled, and no one seriously believes otherwise anymore. Which does not leave a good taste in the mind of those who practically worship the man. How can someone so committed to human dignity commit such an act of human indignation as to, to our minds, not only own slaves but to rape them? His writings about his slaves are not happily modern: he did not believe that blacks were the equals of whites. He probably couldn't believe that and still enslave them. But at the same time, how does he not believe it and then sleep with a black woman? And have children by her? It boggles the mind. It is, in a word, incomprehensible, at least to me. I simply don't understand it. I wish I could do better than that, but I can't.

Anyhow, the original question. Were the times such that your average batch of yahoos was elevated to become special, or were we just lucky to have a special batch of people when the times needed them? For my money, these people would have been special no matter where or when. Jefferson and Franklin would have been just as famous, although probably in the arts or sciences and not in politics. Adams and Madison would have been the richest lawyers or the most famous judges. Hamilton would be a CEO or a Nobel economist. GW probably would be totally unknown, and very happy. Put them all together, they are SO the right people in their times. Think if those times were now? Would the equivalent folks be likewise Founders who would change the world?

Read the paper today. Look at the leaders.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Short hiatus

I've been up to here with stuff, with no time for blogging at the moment. I shall return shortly; maybe I'll get a chance to pontificate a bit down at Ridge over the weekend.

Keep the aspidistra flying!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In the immortal words of Popeye, iamb what iamb

I am a corp, and so you see
I can be what I want to be.

If I decide that you can’t live
It’s cause my Ms are relative.

My actions are protected by
A legal fiction, my oh my,

That since I am incorporate
I’ll kill and get away with it.

One man can’t kill: you’d tan his hide.
But two men? They can genocide!

A corp can sell you tainted veal,
Use child labor, lie and steal,

Stick its hand inside your pocket,
Pander on the open market,

Act like WorldCom, or like Enron,
Profit, e’en, from Armageddon,

And come out smelling like hydrang’
Because it’s on the Stock Exchange.

I’m afraid that I don’t buy it,
But henceforth I will be quiet.

I’ll go back to Founding Daddies,
LD rules, the VB laddies,

I won't say another word
About this rez, which is a [insert word here that rhymes with “word” that indicates something less than desirable that would have destroyed the magic of my poetry if I had done it myself.]

Monday, December 04, 2006

Predictable rant: flatfish souffle served with root veggies on a bed of bile

Let me see if I get this straight.

Actions are either moral or not moral, depending on two possibilities (unless of course you want to discount the idea of morality altogether).
1: Actions are either moral or not moral in and of themselves
2: Actions are moral based on who performs the actions.

Now, I might have missed a few pages of the last couple of thousand years of philosophical writing, but I’m pretty sure the gist of things as they stand today is, excluding an exception discussed below, tending toward the first choice of the above. The generally accepted idea is that an action isn’t moral because it’s performed by a moral person, but because the action itself is moral. There’s a number of ways of evaluating an action’s morality, but none of them include interviewing the actor to find out if, underneath it all, he’s a really nice guy.

If an action is moral or immoral absent the actor, there can be little meaningful, or interesting, argument about the actor in measuring the morality of actions.

There is an important exception to this. The morality of one culture may not equal the morality of another culture. This does not disprove that actions are moral or not moral in and of themselves, but it does require one to either accept or dismiss relativism. We might even get in interesting discussion going, if you wish to defend the acts of a given culture as somehow acceptable because they are a part of that culture while I might find them inherently “barbaric” (for example, the rather uncivilized albeit internally accepted practice of capital punishment in the United States). The real argument here would be moral relativism versus moral absolutism. There’s plenty of ammunition for the moral relativist, up to and including the idea that each individual may acceptably have a different moral compass. Which, unfortunately, would mean that there is no moral standard on either side. Which I guess you could argue, but please do so while I’m somewhere else.

The real problem with a manageable approach to moral relativism, i.e., multiculturalism, would be that, in the resolution, the corporation and the individual are, presumably, in the same culture and performing the same action. I don’t think we want to argue that Unilever should be held to the standards of the Oogabooga tribesmen, even if the action takes place in Oogaboogaland. How cockamamie is that? So the relativism we must apply, and we must apply relativism in order to be resolutional, states that a corporation is different from an individual, and therefore different rules apply to the same action. Sure. You don’t believe that any more than I do. Given that a corporation can be as few as one individual, how does being one individual in a corporation differ from being one individual not in a corporation? Because you have the burden of a shareholder, your actions, which would be wrong if you performed them as an individual, are now right? Sure. Again, you don’t believe that any more than I do. I can’t cheat you but Enron can? Or vice versa? Unquestionably my priorities in conducting business may change in view of my ownership, as well as plenty of other conditions, but there is no license to a new morality that arises simply from filing some incorporation papers.

So it seems that the resolution forces the negative to take a position of moral relativism. What fun! And how wonderfully appropriate for high school debate. I never should have ripped up my Legion of Doom membership card. Damn!

To be honest, the real bottom line in this resolution, as with many that do not find general favor with the hoi and the polloi like me, is that I have never once sat around bloviating about the difference between the moralities of individuals and corporations. It is an issue of no moment in the real world. Corporate malfeasance is fascinating; the responsibilities of global corporations are intriguing; the nuances of cross-cultural business and the problems that can ensue can keep you up late at night and make your hair stand on end. Unfortunately, none of them are this topic. At the point when we’re not arguing meaningful resolutions, or meaningful moral dilemmas, we are in the business of treading water. As always, we’ll try to cover meaningful subjects in the topic research, and people will learn a bunch of things, this time out on corporate ethics. But when they go to tournaments won’t be arguing anything meaningful. You can’t get turnip juice out of a turbot.

Trust me on this.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Note: No mention of Amos the mouse. How can that be?

Corporations? Jeez, Louise. I really should switch over to Pffft. At least there, no matter how idiotic the resolution, it only lasts a month. I mean, what’s the alternative to the aff? Higher moral standard, in which case for all practical purposes both sides are arguing the affirmative? Or lower moral standard, where the neg gets to stand for child labor in developing nations, or maybe that Enron isn’t all that bad after all? Or, of course, the perennially annoying kritik, in this case that corporations are not moral entities?

Sigh. And sigh again.

Anyhow, back to the business at hand. I’m no Benjamin Franklin scholar, but perhaps of all the Founders he’s the easiest to understand, then and now. Ambitious, witty, imaginative, wise, charming, earthy—pulling himself up from poor beginnings by his bootstraps and becoming a pillar of every community he happened to be in. I see him as the ultimate Yankee, out there inventing stoves and bifocals and practically getting himself fried in order to demonstrate that lightning is electrical in nature. (Electricity, at the time, did not come out of wall sockets, and was quite the lively object of curiosity.) Aside from T. A. Edison, Ben is about the inventingest person you’ve ever heard of.

There’s an interesting fact of those times: a person who was interested in science could, for all practical purposes, know all there was to know about it. You can say this was a Golden Age of amateur science, or maybe you can say that there was no great line between amateur and professional scientist. Today, if you can vaguely understand genetics and string theory and organic chemistry, you’re something of a novelty, and you’re a dabbler of the first order with knowledge as thin as mist. Then, you were a renaissance man, and really could know your stuff in detail. Of the Founders, both Ben and TJ were of this ilk, devoted scientists among their other interests, which evidenced a curiosity about the world in general and as a whole: there was nothing in creation that wasn’t worthy of study. Which means that among the primary of the Founders, we had not one but two of these polymaths.

Ben provides to the Founding mix the wisdom of age. He was already an old-timer in ’76. (In fact, he had already signed up as a stamp issuer a few years previously, until the response to the Stamp Act put the kibosh on that.) He famously put his imprimatur on the Constitution by saying it was the best possible, even if one couldn’t agree with all of it. His representation of the US in Europe was remarkable, and he became something of a rock star in France: his picture was on all the tee shirts and he sported a coonskin cap as did all Americans at the time (yeah, right—he was no stranger to public relations). I think maybe it was his practicality that made him a key figure in the establishment of the US, especially when contrasted against the thorough lack of practicality in his visionary compatriot Mr. Jefferson. And he was a warm, friendly sort as compared to the gruff Mr. Adams or the fairly unapproachable General Washington. Every organization needs its eminence grise, for private and public purposes, and that was BF’s role for a couple of decades. It still is, to some degree. Take a trip to Philadelphia. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a BF statue, memorial, diorama or souvenir cart. You can still buy the tee shirt, in other words. Which is as it should be.

(And going back just a bit, Ewok offers in a comment to yesterday’s post that the Aliens were really screwed by the A&S Acts, and I wasn’t saying that the acts were good, simply that their effect on the times wasn’t great. Keep in mind the outcome of the election of 1800, and the workings of the electoral college. How much of the immigrant vote are we really talking about? Not that much has changed. Look at the recent dirty political tactic of telling recent Latino citizens that they couldn’t vote… Oh, yeah, we’ve come a long way. Say what you will about Adams, you couldn’t call him devious. He didn’t have the ability to believe he was wrong, or the modesty not to declare his rightness from the rooftops, however wrong it was.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sit down, John

So your point is, no doubt, that one iconic, unique individual does not a founding of fathers make. What about that awful John Adams?

If I was recommending Flexner on George Washington, on Adams I’d recommend McCullough. For a biography that arguably weighs more than its subject, it is compulsively readable and thoroughly entertaining and enlightening. It also demonstrates what most people know, which is that Adams was, if nothing else, an annoying pain in the patoot.

John Adams was that really energetic person who sat next to you in school and always did better than you and was always telling you how much harder he was working than you were which explained why he was so much smarter than you. He was the kid in the room who always had his hand up to answer every question, from the day he was born to the day he died. He was the person who never shut up. He was virtuous to a fault, and made sure you knew about it. He had an opinion on everything, and aired it, regardless of your interest in it. He was a workaholic. He had more energy than you ever would, and more complaints, and more to do. As I said, Adams was, if nothing else, a pain in the patoot.

He was also a man of deepest principle, and included in those principles was a belief in the sanctity of law. Why else would he defend the British in the trial of the so-called Boston Massacre? Regardless of his opinion of the British at the time, it was hardly a popular position to take. I would imagine even then that the event was mostly being billed as a momentous attack on innocents rather than a free-for-all from a bunch of hooligans. History has, to some extent, beatified the victims, especially Crispus Attucks, but there is much to be said in defense of the British at the time. I would advise you to study this in detail yourself, if you question my analysis. In any case, Adams defended the bad guys, so to speak, and you don’t do that if you don’t hold the law in high esteem, protective of all people regardless of circumstances.

My guess is that Adams, a thorough intellectual niggler, would have made a great debater, willing to argue forever any side of any argument. He was one smart operator, and he had the wisdom to marry a woman every bit his intellectual partner, very much a point in his favor. He was one of the chief architects of the revolution, as a great theorist of government, and also as one of the biggest mouths in Philadelphia, but then again, the need for revolution was greatest in Boston where the British were actually on the ground; Bostonites like Adams would be expected to be the strongest proponents for action. JA eventually moved into the diplomatic side of things (which seems remarkable given the sense one has of him being anything but diplomatic), and seems to have done quite a good job of it, at least in England and the Netherlands. And, of course, he was chosen as our first vice president, no mean feat in itself, and took over the numero uno position when George Washington trundled off back to Mount Vernon.

As a brain, I don’t think we do much better than Adams among the Founders. Read into him and find out why for yourself. I wish we had people today in politics about whom I could say, Jeez, that’s one smart operator. I can’t. Old Bill strikes me as no dummy, and Mrs. Bill probably makes Bill look like a grammar school dropout, but you’d have to look far and wide to find another CIC, real or potential, in my lifetime who was much on book learnin’. But keep in mind that Adams was acting at the time with a couple of other brains like Jefferson’s and Franklin’s, so we’re starting to get some amazing intellectual synergy. I don’t think GW was in that category by any means. He brought strength of character to the job. Adams and company brought strength of mind.

Unfortunately, however, brains aren't enough. And Adams’s personality torpedoed his presidency. It’s interesting that when you say JA, the Sailors immediately say, Alien and Sedition Acts. These controversial laws (at the time) have become to a great extent Adams’s legacy. Which is too bad because, in the event, they weren’t that big a deal. To some extent they are representative of a new government finding its way, and especially of a new form of executive finding its way. The immigration side of it may be moot, but there is no question that journalists of the day were way over the top, and to some extent this was Adams (unfortunately) blowing his top and saying that enough is enough. Anyhow, the A&S Acts weren’t that big a deal insofar as they didn’t lead to much action, and they may live on today as much because of their mellifluous sound as their import in history. Whichever. Anyhow, by the end of his presidency it was Adams's losing control of his party that cost him a second term in the White House (which, by the way, he was the first prexy to live in). Interestingly, it was one of Adams’s last acts, the appointment of judges at the end of his term, that may be the most important thing he did in office. When those appointments were later challenged in court, in a case known as Madison v. Marbury, the end result was the establishment of the abiding power of the Supreme Court through judicial review. Indirectly Adams ended up defining the purpose and scope of the Supes.

What makes Adams most interesting theoretically is, perhaps, his thoughts on aristocracy. Or better, meritocracy. He absolutely believed that there were people who ought to be a natural aristocracy, based on their abilities. This comes through in his ideas on bicameral government, constitutions, etc. Read his letters to Jefferson written after both men had long since been president and healed the riff that had grown between them as leaders of opposing parties for the clearest coverage of this. And, for that matter, a good sense of these two incredible statesmen at an incredible time.

Also, of course, for what it's worth Adams sired the first of the American political dynasties. And he and TJ, in an act of pure high operatic drama, both managed to die exactly on July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day after you know what.

But the initial question was, is Adams special as part of a unique moment, or was Adams’s uniqueness creative of the moment? With his smarts, combined with those other smarts, I’ve got to think that there was a special synergy there because of the qualities of these specific people. Put all these guys in a room together, and sparks are gonna fly. Or Declarations of Independence. Or other such results. I don’t think you can get that unless you have these people. I really don’t.

Still to come, Old Ben, Jemmy, the Hothead, and TJ.

The times that try men's souls

We talked about justice last night, and I’ll come back to that eventually, but I’m more interested in a side conversation at the moment. We get a lot of side conversations in our meetings; my guess is that thoughts in the adolescent mind do not flow in a deep, wide river but instead are shot willy nilly from random points in the brain and sent to carom wildly against whatever they come in contact with. I have had to learn to deal with this over time, as I come from the business side of life where a premium is usually placed on keeping one’s attention focused on the matter at hand. Even business brainstorming sessions pale against the sturm und drang of team brainstorms: oldsters drizzle where young ‘uns thunder. No surprise there.

Anyhow, you can’t talk about no justice without you talk about ol’ Plato in there somewheres, which means that the subject of philosopher kings will arise, as it did last night. Trained professionals in the business of distinguishing moral right, and acting on it, seem so much more desirable in office than mere politicians, or at least that’s what Phil liked to say. (Caveman fans are aware that Plato’s first name was Phil; you now know that too.) Which last night led to the challenge, Name one politician you respect, which was met with numbing silence, or at least what suffices as numbing silence in a roomful of teenagers. Eventually we were able to dig down to some local types whom no one could indict for any particularly offensive peccadilloes and who seemed to be motivated by principle, but mostly there was a sense of our government being led by a fairly uninspiring batch of individuals, and of having been so for quite some time. Why is that? Is it that the intensity of modern media exposure renders all people as something less than heroic? Or is it that modern politics, by its nature (and including the prospect of all that media scrutiny), for some reason attracts people who are something less than heroic? Or is it something else?

What you need to do is compare to some other group, a control, so to speak. So we briefly mentioned the Founders. The Sailors briefly ticked off a few well known issues that seemed to indict them as well, and we moved on, but I’d like to concentrate on that a little. Were the Founders (formerly known as the Founding Fathers in less PC times) a unique group of individuals who accidentally came together and managed to create a long-lived experiment in self government, or were the times unique, allowing almost any well-intentioned group in place to eventuate roughly the same results? One could no doubt argue either way, but I tend to lean toward the former interpretation. I’ve read heavily into the literature, perhaps because I’ve been so interested in the results—the creation of the US—and therefore curious about the people involved. So let’s look at them.

In terms of starting the revolution, I’m less inclined to think that the body of people involved were that special. Plenty of people have started revolutions, and it’s the business of finishing revolutions that separates the potatoes from the monkey guts: you have only to look at the French or the Russians as major examples of that. But one thing that the Americans did early on was enlist the person of George Washington as the colonial military leader and, to some extent, colonial figurehead. GW had a certain reputation as a military man (although some would say that he wasn’t exactly the world’s greatest at the game) and also as the kind of guy people could accept as a leader. Flexner’s biography was entitled “The Indispensible Man” for a reason. GW’s character was perhaps a little dull (the liveliest the stories ever get are the rumors about Lady Fairfax) but it was also notoriously straight. He wasn’t one of the guys, shall we say, but you knew you could rely on him if you had to. So we did. And after a long bunch of fighting years, and, as Mark Twain put it, pulling a couple of jokers out from the bottom of the deck, GW finally managed a victory for the Americans. And here’s where GW demonstrates uniqueness, because when the war ends, he goes home. Previously winning generals in this sort of situation simply marched the troops into the capital and declared themselves the supreme ruler. Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and a few years after GW retired to Mount Vernon the Little Corporal put the imperial crown on his own head in Notre Dame. But GW didn’t expect nor seek power after the war. He sought home and farm. And he wasn’t dissembling. He really meant it. (As an aside, awe of generals, including those who don’t simply march from field to throne, seems to be a universal trait: even in the US we’ve felt that the heaviest hitters deserve to be rewarded with executive power: GW of course, but also most noticeably in big contests Grant and Eisenhower, not to mention Harrison and Taylor and Jackson and maybe some others that I can’t bring to mind immediately.)

The creation of the federal government in the summer of 1787 was a complicated affair bringing together the various state representatives to figure out some way of concocting a centralized power to solve for the issues of dealing with each other and foreign countries and suchlike. This assortment of regional interests required a leader everyone could trust, and GW was hauled in yet again, this time to run the constitutional convention. And as the idea of a strong federal government began to take shape, it quickly became clear that only one man could be expected to run it out of the starting gate. There are all sorts of stories about how GW did nothing to grab for the power, and those stories are true. He accepted it not as his due but as a trust given to him by the people. He wasn’t necessarily a reluctant president but neither was he an aggressive one. He was no idiot, and understood his own position in American politics. In fact, he realized that as first president, he would set the tone for generations to come and, perhaps more importantly, set the tone for the time of how, exactly, a non-royal should conduct executive power. Remember, everyone else holding his job at the time was a king or a queen of some sort. He was the one and only elected president in the world. And much of the world, most notably the kings and queens, were hoping that the whole American republican experiment would close out of town, because if the idea of self-government were to become a hit, then no doubt it would eventually send a road show to their towns and, well, put them out of a job. It’s nice to be king, you know?

So everything GW did for the next 8 years was the focus of the times, and of history. He was not a pushy executive; he believed that congress should make laws and that he should execute them, and he proposed no legislation nor offered no plans of action. His view of the presidency was anything but imperial, and deliberately so. And he understood that leaving after two terms would set a precedent. And even after he returned to Mount Vernon, presumably for the last time, he was available yet again to put down rebellion under his successor: once a general, always a general. And once a symbol, always a symbol.

Because of the qualities that made him the perfect, “indispensable” first president, GW isn’t very easy to warm up to. He is, however, inspirational, in that the more you know about him, the more you’re impressed by him, but he’s not exciting. You sense that he’s as human as the next yabbo, but he was in control of his passions—such as they were—and didn’t go about making a muddle of his life, unlike many of us, and certainly unlike many politicians today. We can’t sit around in present times and marvel at all the dirt about GW that has finally come to light because, plainly and simply, there isn’t any. The best we can do is brush away the Weemsian cobwebs of veneration, like the cherry tree, or the little legends like the wooden teeth (although it is true that he did have false teeth, and that the grim expression you see in the paintings of him from life are the result of dental distress) and learn a little more about the very real man who was, as Henry Lee eulogized, First in War, First in Peace and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen. It is quite possible that without the very specific individual known as George Washington, the United States of America would not exist today. So, at least with politician number one, strike a chord for the unique individuals team.

More politicians to come, heaven save us…

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ceci n'est pas un Pip, either

I've just updated to the new version of Blogger, so please allow me to catch my breath.

Meanwhile, the lengths I go to to please the VCA…

I finally found this in my old Geocities account, under the correct name, betrayal.jpg (“Betrayal of Images” is the name of Magritte’s painting), and I revive it here for all and sundry.

It’s quite the toss-up whether one prefers this or the Prince Charming pic I cited on WTF. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess—unless you’re David Hume, or Kant, or any number of philosophers attempting to understand what art is, as I’m learning from my art theory reading. My guess is that Kant would prefer Prince Charming, but, as I say, that’s just a guess.

Monday, November 27, 2006

When Irish eyes are smilin', chez chores, pots

It seems as if O’C has finally listened to my interview with him. Why else would he be demanding an opportunity for a do-over, including strafing my house with machinegun fire from a Fokker triplane over the weekend? (All right, I’m exaggerating, but I’m sure I heard something about Fokkers… And matrons?) I can’t imagine why he’s not satisfied. To tell you the truth, as I ponder the concept of a View from Tab podcast, lately I’ve been thinking of including him in those recordings—him as in the avatar, that is. Jon Faux Cruz, or Faux’C. Why not? Gives me someone to talk to who won’t say anything unexpected, if you know what I mean. I’ll continue to meditate on this. While ducking the machinegun fire. And the matron Fokkers.

It was nice to take a break from all things forensic for a few days over Thanksgiving. Of course, I have been reading a postmodernism anthology, and an art theory guide, both of which I count as moderately of the activity, but I haven’t been paying attention, at least to the former, as the writing is execrable for the most part. Considering the role pomo plays in litcrit, you would expect more than just the occasional literate critic, but that’s just not the case. I continue to recommend the Very Short Introduction (look in the right hand column) as the best intro to the field. I also started reading Casino Royale just for the hell of it, to compare it to the film. And I have laid in some Kant for the cold winter months ahead, and I need to look at the NFL CD/SH guide. And I keep wanting to play some RCT 3, but I never get around to it. I spent a lot of time over the weekend straightening up the chez, putting away Bump crap, counting the money from the candy sales, making notes on what to do better next time, reheating turkey, Christmas shopping, wishing the new topic was released already… You get the picture.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be a pot pourri, or potluck, or potlatch, or pot au feu, or pot roast, or something all mixed up, to cover the odds and ends I’ve been bypassing lately, to fill the last session before Jan-Feb brainstorming takes over. I’m especially interested in discussing justice, since it lately seems to be the coin of the resolutional realm, and no one in the real world, much less the debate world, understands it. We’ve never really beaten justice down all that much in the past on the old ship of Hud; one just accepts it conceptually and moves on. But I think we need more than that, given the complexity of the concept. It may be intuitive, but if anything that makes it harder to pin down. This should be fun. Add into the pot roast a soupcon of practical discussion, and the unveiling of the 2006 Top Ten, and the time should pass like a monkey. [Note: if you had inserted your own metaphor for some thing that goes really fast, you wouldn’t now be trying to figure out the speed of lower primates, but oh, no, you were too busy to do your share of the work, you spalpeen! I know who you are! And you’re not getting away with it! Feh.]

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Rules, Part Five, les ballots

Last night, after assembling the nautical horde for a team photo or two for the yearbook, we had a practice round. Ordinarily I figure they’ll have plenty of practice rounds without me, and the advice of the varsity is always top-rate and mostly what I would say, but I’m curious about the new breed of Plebes, and figured it was a good chance to watch a couple in action. It worked out well, and I’ll do some more of these after we settle into the new topic, which is coming soon to a debate team near you. New topics always concentrate the mind for a while before you get tired of thinking about them, and the Jan-Feb has the extra attraction of being the TOC topic, with a whole extra layer of thinking, although we don’t looked poised for any trips to Ky at the moment. Since no one has signed up for Harvard or Emory, there’s not much for anyone to pin their hopes on, and I guess that will be that. I’ve been sort of looking for a break from it, to tell you the truth. As you know, I’m no great TOC fan, although I’m not terribly against it. It’s just that, as I always say, if TOC didn’t exist, I wouldn’t invent it. On the other hand, I’m almost banking on qualifying folks to CatNats, just because we’re due, and although it’s always an odd tournament, I don’t hate it as much as some other people do. Granted it’s usually so poorly run that we all get thirty or forty stories a year to tell the grandchildren, but it’s also usually someplace interesting, and I like all the people, so one muddles through it. And when it comes to muddling through things, I’m a pro.

Meanwhile, there’s the new LD rules, which we haven’t visited in a while. We were up to the new ballot. Here’s the instructions:

1. In LD debate, the resolution to be evaluated is a proposition of value. Values are ideals held by individuals, societies, governments, etc., that serve as the highest goals to be considered or achieved within the context of the resolution in question. A proposition of value concerns itself with what ought to be instead of what is.
2. Each debater has the burden to prove his or her side of the resolution more valid as a general principle. No debater can realistically be expected to prove complete validity or invalidity of the resolution. The better debater is the one who, on the whole, proves his/her side of the resolution more valid as a general principle.
3. Students are encouraged to research topic-specific literature and applicable works of philosophy. The nature of proof should be in the logic and the ethos of a student's independent analysis and/or authoritative opinion.
4. Communication in LD debate should emphasize clarity. Accordingly, a judge should only evaluate those arguments that were presented in a manner that was clear and understandable to him/her as a judge. Throughout the debate, the competitors should display civility as well as a professional demeanor and style of delivery.
5. After a case is presented, neither debater should be rewarded for presenting a speech completely unrelated to the arguments of his or her opponent; there must be clash concerning the major arguments in the debate. Cross-examination should clarify, challenge, and/or advance arguments.
6. The judge shall disregard new arguments introduced in rebuttal. This does not include the introduction of new evidence in support of points already advanced or the refutation of arguments introduced by opponents.
7. Because LD debaters cannot choose which side of the resolution to advocate, judges must be objective evaluators of both sides of the resolution. Evaluate the round based only on the arguments that the debaters made and not on personal opinions or on arguments you would have made.

Needless to say, most of this just recapitulates the rules already discussed, but for many judges, the ballot is the first and only thing they see where there’s any sense of rules being established, so one simply has to ask, if a judge were to read only these guidelines, and were to follow them, would that judge be able to honestly adjudicate a round? The answer, I would suggest, is yes, provided that the debaters also read and follow them. At the point where the debaters are better than the rules, and wish to do things like argue about the rules, then the judge who follows these rules has no choice but to drop that debater. The debater who wishes to critique the resolution should do so with due trepidation: it isn’t impossible, but you’d better be resolutional. You’d better speak so that you can be understood, and you’d better be civilized in your treatment of your opponent. The judge new to LD, from this ballot, will expect these things. It won’t educate the judge about Kant or Derrida or Locke or whoever you’re citing, but if you’re arguing that authority alone is a warrant, or if you’re not explaining your sources, you still deserve to go home without a trophy in your bag. Simply put, I intend to put this text on my Bump ballots starting next year (which is easy enough, having run out of Bump ballots this year). I can imagine no greater affirmation of the text of the ballot.

I’m a little less happy about the speaker points, which as far as I can tell are never discussed anywhere in the new rules, and simply presented thus:

Below Average 20-21
Average 22-23
Good 24-26
Excellent 27-28
Outstanding 29-30

My problem with any point system that goes against the norm is that it is, indeed, going against the norm. Some judges will follow this, some judges won’t. I’m withholding my final determination at the moment. I always tell people at MHLs and CFLs that it’s 29-30 as a Grade A, 27-28 is a B, 25-26 is a C, 24-25 is Unprepared, less than 24 is totally unprepared and/or unacceptable behavior. I think it’s easier for people to think in Grade Point terms, and this system does result in reasonable points, with a decent spread. I may use my approach on the Bump ballots. That remains to be seen. Of course, since points don’t matter in NFL rounds, that may explain why not so much attention was given to them. On the other hand, at least I think we’ve seen the end of the cockamamie Legion of Doom All Points Lead to 25 approach. Oy. What a dog that was. Aside from 2005 Manchester-Under-the-Sea, I don’t know of anyone who ever attempted them. And, of course, Manchester almost sank under the sea the one time they tried. Requisicat in pacem, good buddy.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tab tales, Holden's favorite novel, a farewell to Coaster Boy, and Shaolin pie for dessert

The VCA knows well that I am a fan of what I call Classic TRPC, the pre-2003 version (N.B., not the Mac version) that is about as stable as [insert humorous Gibraltarian metaphor]. Granted that it can’t do everything that the newer version can do, most notably the printing of ballots, but I’ve run everything from events with divisions of a handful of people to the forensic armies of Yale, and at this point, there isn’t much that can happen at a tournament that I don’t know how to handle with that software. This is simply a factor of experience, as compared to wisdom: I’ve been doing this long enough now that if I were not able to handle pretty much everything that can happen at a tournament, I should be reevaluating my tendency to hang out in tab rooms every weekend. For that matter, the software is seductively simple, new or old version, and if everything goes peachy, and there’s a lot of people, and they all show up and keep showing up, and nothing happens other than a lot of debates, any damned fool can do it. This illusion of simplicity does indeed attract any damned fool, which is why there are often mishaps in tab: it’s not as easy as it looks, and in the real world, people all don’t show up or keep showing up and amazing things happen that you weren’t expecting. But again, one can muddle through these with a little care. When all is said and done, an understanding of what, exactly, is supposed to happen in pairings is absolutely essential, regardless of what software you’re running, because sooner or later the software is going to poop out on you, at least in small contests. This always happens at our CFL Grands in March, where I manage to get half of one round paired automatically, and the rest is done on index cards. It happened at Li’l Lex this Saturday as well, in both the novice and JV divisions. You click on automatic pairing, and the screen goes back to the main menu. You do it again, and the same thing happens. You sigh, and you print out contestant cards, and you do the pairing by hand. The reason it won’t pair automatically are that there is a combination of side-restraints and pull-ups that are simply unforeseen in TRPC’s philosophy. Some things you just can’t do, unless you do them by hand. You can decide that it is better to ignore side restraints if it prevents the 0-3 from debating the 3-0, for instance. Anyhow, you lay out all the cards in order in the brackets, by side, and do your best. Pull-ups are done blind, by two people, to prevent any hint of bias; needless to say, regardless of whether you’re laying out cards or clicking the keyboard, at any point one could do the odd manipulation that would theoretically put one’s own debaters in a better position, either running their preferred side, or in front of a favored judge, which is why all tabbing should be a two-person operation at all times. Frankly, I trust all the tabbers I know, but there’s no reason why people out on the floor ought to trust us, so building in a bias protection makes them feel better, and it helps minimize errors in tab, so it’s inherently a good thing. In any case, I would strongly recommend this to anyone planning to run a tournament, to wit, make sure you have a couple of people who understand pairing in the tab room. Secondly, if you plan on running a lot of tournaments, learn pairing for yourself, both manually and automatically. But never, under any circumstances, tab a tournament of which you are the tournament director. Tournament direction includes all sorts of problem-solving far removed from tab room concerns. Getting tied up in the latter will allow you to botch up the former, or vice versa. Don’t go off thinking you know what you’re doing unless you really do know what you’re doing. The down side of screwing up is that it is amazingly public, and affects an awful lot of people who are wondering when the damned schematics are going to be coming out. Having screwed up myself a few times, and learned from my mistakes, believe me when I say I speak from experience.

I failed to mention previously the great literary salon we conducted at the Yangtze Friday night. I ended up at the Plebe table; we broke down into two groups because of our size, and the grizzled veterans went to one side and the newly spawned to the other. While I have already mentioned the general breakdown of civilization insofar as the usual attempts to eat Jello with chopsticks and an abundance of crab shells surrounding the odd novice, I left out the worst part of all, where everyone complained about Charles Dickens. I didn’t get it. The complaint was about the problem of finding the thematic subtexts in David Copperfield. Considering that DC, one of my favorite books which I’ve read numerous times, is one of the easiest, most up-front books ever written, in a way I didn’t blame the bairns for their suffering at being asked to look for the wrong things in the wrong place. I mean, aside from the personal connection of the story to Dickens’s own life, you couldn’t ask for a more straightforward batch of storytelling. Take a look at all that bling on Miss Murdstone, for instance. This is about as obscure, and about as funny, as a Robin Williams routine. As always nowadays, students seem to be forced to navigate through the great books, and the great reading experiences, in such a way as to detest the journey, thus spoiling them on the idea for all time. Of course, on the bright side, at least they weren’t reading ATOTC, the least Dickensian work in his oeuvre, albeit the shortest, which is why it’s always assigned. The man was a rambler, for Pete’s sake. Enjoy the rambling.

On a note of personal loss, I will point out that the CoasterRadio podcasts have come to the end. Sigh. This was fun theme park stuff done at just the right level of enthusiasm sans nerdiness. The guys that did it were professional broadcasters, and fun personalities. They will, no doubt, come up with something else eventually, but I’ll miss this one. Sigh, sigh, sigh. My addition to the castopshere last night of yet another Nostrum will, no doubt, do nothing to alleviate the suffering.

And finally, if you’re looking for some way to pass the time over the coming weekend, I recommend Iron Monkey, a fine Hong Kong film presented by the annoyingly ubiquitous Quentin Tarrantino (who does, nonetheless, do an interesting interview on the disk). The most curious thing about the film is determining what language it’s in. No matter which spoken language you choose from the menu, the lip movements never match the sound. I ultimately opted for Chinese, which if not synched at least seemed to make some visceral sense. Not that it matters all that much, though, because who watches this kind of movie for the nuances of the screenplay? Anyhow, trust me. You’ll digest your turkey all that much better Thursday if you segue from the dinner table to the rec room to watch this film.

P.S. You really don't want to know what Dartmouthians look like...

Monday, November 20, 2006

The next Lex is Bi'g

If any further evidence is needed that certain people have gone off the deep end, then I will refer you to the coachean podcast page, where you can pick up a copy of the reconstituted O’C interview. All I can say is that all most some of the words are actually his own, and all of the sentiments expressed reflect the sentiments of the real O’C. Other than that, we’re talking avatar. How close is your Second Life avatar to your real world self? Given the circumstances of losing the original interview, this rendition is probably the best we will ever have. Then again, anyone who has ever been interviewed by the ubiquitous Mr O’Cruz will no doubt feel that justice has been done. And I, for one, can finally put this episode of my life behind me.

If you’re looking for a boost to your self esteem, I cannot recommend highly enough that you play the game Set with someone who is colorblind. I had this pleasure over the weekend with Lexwegian Gabe, who kept asking, “Is that red?” while I kept grabbing set after set after set, piling my cards ever higher, thinking the only other person I can beat this badly is my 80-year-old mother who’s never recovered from being insulted by the host of You Don’t Know Jack. Other than setting Set records, Li’l Lex was quite the usual enjoyable weekend. I ended up not driving up behind the bus, as Emily much preferred the discomfort of standard bus access to the discomfort of listening to my music choices for eight hours roundtrip. Which discombobulated me somewhat, as I had no entertainment planned for a bus ride. Fortunately Chris Palmer was in the tab room at Lex. Chris travels around recreating the Harvard network wherever he lands, so there’s 30 or 40 computers and plenty of wireless transmitters and printers and routers and mysterious gear no one including even Chris understands as he hacks his way for the old Crimsonians, or whatever the Harvard junkies call themselves. (In my mind, all Harvard students look like junkies, all Princeton students look like game show hosts, and all Yale students look like Beth O’Connor.) I took advantage of this benefice to hook up to iTunes and download some entertainment for the MegaPod for the trip home. Henceforth I will never travel without 3 or 4 hours of TV or films on the mighty pod; you never know when you’ll get caught with too much time on your hands and wishing you could watch a Tiger Woods how-to video.

Li’l Lex also served some valuable purposes for the Sailors, who had a fine weekend. It’s nice to get that 4th round in after a few MHLs; 3 rounds are nice, but 4 rounds allows you to have a bad judge fit and still do well when the day is done. Of course, I also like Li’l because it introduces people to sleepovers and long bus trips and Spades and table manners. As far as the latter is concerned, good old LPW (a new nickname derived from a record-setting abundance of same) had to have set some sort of record for lack of civilization, but I think of that not as a problem but a challenge. I love a challenge. I think back to the Olive wearing his spoon on his nose as a novice after NFA, and remember that there is no nut that can’t be cracked, at least a little. Burgers was judging PF, and managed to be assigned one whole round, but worse things have happened. Someone won the Yale Harvard game, but not so’s you’d notice. Apparently there was also a football game this weekend somewhere in Ohio. Whatever. What’s more important is that Ewok and I got creamed in Spades on the ride up. Oh, the shame…

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Short message to Lexwegian members of the VCA

You have a challenge. A big one. You MUST improve the soup.

Failure is not an option.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Coach's log, supplemental

I'm on the way to Lexington in a few minutes, and I just read Ryan's response to the theory/natcirc article by Kiri Camara. RH says much of what I would, so I won't bother adding much to it, although I do admit that I read the thing with a measure of dropped jaw that probably hit the ground lower and faster than any other Doomer you can think of, including Smilin' J, who alerted the Legion to take a look at it. (Membership in the Legion of Doom seems to include paying no attention to the world of debate, especially WTF, which is one reason I'm on the outs with them, but that's neither here nor there.)

I will simply quote one line from the article. "We will spend about $32,000 on out-of-state tournaments alone for a 10-debater national-circuit squad." Am I misreading this? Is there more to the squad than ten people? Or are they spending 32K on the circuit plus more for those ten locally? Regardless, that's about twice what I will spend on a 30-40-person team mixing speech and debate. If there are benefits of forensics, shouldn't those benefits be spread around as much as possible if one truly believes in education? Maybe I'm just extrapolating the wrong thing from this. Anyhow, any question of whether to call it the national $ircuit has now been removed.

We really are doomed.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

RSS, 6s & 7s, feverish recourse, spreadsheet dogs, Li'l and all the other Lexes

What I don’t know about RSS would fill volumes. I do manage to screw up Nostrum postings about twenty-five percent of the time, but eventually I do get them straightened out again. Essentially what I do is copy the code for an old episode, paste it at the bottom of the file, and update it with the new info. You’d think that would be a piece of cake. But it’s easy to put the main codes in the wrong place, or miss something, or generally wreak havoc. Also, the simple browser access to my host site doesn’t allow for editing of xml files, so you have to download it, strip it of some tags it acquires during the download, and then upload it in its corrected form, which means that if I’m home, I just use the FTP program and that’s that, but if there’s an error I’m correcting on the fly from a computer other than Little Elvis, there’s a whole other layer of error potential. And I, for one, embrace layers of error like [insert humorous metaphor for ecstatic voluminous layer embrace]. Anyhow, at least according to my Yahoo page RSS, there are now 2 new Nostrums floating in the castosphere. That subset of the VCA known as the Nostrumian Brigade can breathe easy and plug in their earbuds. I know I will. I’m especially looking forward to the point a week or two hence when the Epistles of St. Jules to the Forensicians recommences. More on that as we get to ‘em.

Meanwhile, I’m at sixes and sevens over the whole lost O’C interview. I mean, yeah, I could do it again, but the thrill is gone. How many times can he tell me about his collection of Darth Vader pajama bottoms? What I’m thinking of doing is recording a prĂ©cis of the original interview, which is still on the MegaPod, just extracting the good parts, and doing it mano a mano but with only one mano, so to speak, i.e., me. We’ll see. He does claim to be game for a redo. However I do it, I obviously need to test the process a little better first.

The plebes were, as I suggested yesterday, intrigued by their first exposure to varsity LD at Bump. I put one in each Octos room as the runner to collect the ballots, but of course also to watch and learn, and then they went where they wanted in the subsequent outrounds. My favorite thing they got out of this varsity exposure was, as I said, the feverish need to run the criterion of “recourse,” which they continued to expound upon yesterday on our listserver. My final coachean deed last night was to suggest that they actually look the word up in the dictionary. This could have the effect of them potentially making some sense, or abandoning it; I’ll take either result.

And I am beginning to feel normal again. One forgets how much a tournament takes out of one. With all the changes for next year, I have already begun the fun thing of reworking my Excel master registration sheet. I’m turning it into a database that ought to work for any tournament, including MHLs, and I’m putting such niceties into it as automatic generation of the skem name (i.e., taking Muck Stewedprune from Lexington and turning him into Lexington MS to copy over to TRPC), plus macros for the sorts (housing, division, etc). That’s the kind of fun thing I really enjoy. I’ve been an Excel dog going back to the days of being a Lotus 1-2-3 dog. I can make Excel sing, dance and take out the garbage. But I’ve never done much with it for Bump aside from storing information. The time has come, eh?

And tomorrow we’re off to Li’l Lex. La Coin runs 3 tournaments to my one; this is masochism of the highest order. Presumably Li’l Lex warms her up for Bi’g Lex, and then she coasts through Mi’d Lex. Whatever. One’s enough for me. Anyhow, Li’l is, as I say on our schedule, one of the high points of the Sailor’s social season; everyone signs up in droves and a swell time is had by all. I’ll be driving up behind the bus with a couple of the ABs, and the only thing I need to work out is what, exactly, our entertainment will consist of. Amy Sidaris? TAL? Wait, Wait? Penn? So much entertainment to choose from. Plus a night at the Battle Green Inn. Does it get any better than that?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


There’s a former debater from the Northeast who has, if I’m not mistaken, not one but two parents who are judges. Federal judges, that is. Judges who sit on the bench adjudicating the cases that provide the conundrums that we like to explore in debate resolutions. The problems of Kelo, or Battered Women’s Syndrome, or justifiable homicide, or culpability. People immersed in argumentation, where the outcome of these arguments may be life or death, or may be precedent for legal action for years to come. These judges, of the federal persuasion, often have judged people of the LDish persuasion. That is, these parents have quite regularly sat in the back of the room with a flow pad. Which raises a very simple question. How would you rank these judges? I mean, if you could give them an A and put them in every bubble round, would you do it? Or would you relegate them to the 0-4s and the 4-0s, where they couldn’t do any, shall we say, damage?

Interesting question.

Needless to say, I want to live in a world where a really good LDers are the debaters who want to convince these judges that their side is the correct one. That their side is true. That their case is the better one. I would propose this as a paradigm to every single LDer on the planet today: these are the people you want in the back of the room in every single round, otherwise you’re not a very good debater. If your cases are written to convince only a handful of college students of their correctness, and if you present those cases in such a fashion that only that handful will even be able to understand a word you’re saying, you have chosen a path bounded by incredible limitations, of value only insofar as the literal walking of that path has some (if any) inherent value. It is a path to nowhere. It is all in the journey, and it is a sterile journey without a destination. On the other hand, if your goal as a debater is to develop the skills necessary to win over a federal judge, those skills will serve you beyond the path, long after the journey has ended.

So, if you are a debater, ask yourself, am I spending all this time and energy to convince some yabbos who have nothing better to do in college than hang around with high school kids on the weekend, and their ilk, or am I spending all this time and energy to convince some federal judge who gives up the occasional weekend to support their son’s team, and their ilk? Given that the time and energy spent will lead to different results, and, for you, the development of your skills in different ways, even if you prefer the former, you will have to admit that you can see why so many educators are hoping that you would prefer the latter. As a group, we are hoping that someday all of our ex-debaters will be federal judges, as compared to all of our debaters having nothing better to do in college than hang out with high school kids. While I love the idea of my alums helping out once in a while, I would prefer that mostly they do college things while they’re in college. And when they do become federal judges, and I am arrested for a federal crime, I hope that they will be malfeasant enough not to recuse themselves from my case, and set me free the minute they see me.

By the way, as a general rule, the cases that will win over federal judges will also win over college yabbos. No doubt I’ll eventually explain why, but just trust me on it for now.

I mention all of this because last night, during the Babel portion of our meeting agenda, we spent a lot of time stripping down all the jargon and bull-ogna from the cases the plebes had heard at Bump. The inspiration for this was the claim, “I’ll be running recourse.” [Feel me shudder.] I think, perhaps foolishly, that our team discussions ought to be in English, conducted so that everyone in the room can understand them. I feel the same way about debate cases. On the down side, I got the impression last night that this blog has been outed by the plebes, and I can no longer freely discuss them with an expectation of their obliviousness. So it goes. You know you’ve turned the corner when one of them comes up to you after the meeting and complains that you’ve spelled her name wrong when you signed her up for the NFL. Piffle, says I. And it’s easier for you to change your name in the real world than it is for me to change it with NFL, so henceforth, you’ve got two Fs, so deal with it!

Feel me shudder.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tragedy strikes, policy disappears, Babel rises from the ashes

Oh, the humanity… I’ve lost the O’C interview. I consider this a tragedy in line with NASA losing the Neil Armstrong Apollo 11 tapes. I copied it over from the MegaPod (where I can hear it fine, which I’m afraid was the only testing I did), but in Audacity, even though the tracks look to be brimming over with ex-cruz-iating information, no noise comes out. No amount of coaxing the file into various other formats seemed to work. Losing access to the actual recording before porting it didn’t help. I’ll try a snort of Senuti next to see if I can retrieve the original, but the VCA and the rest of a waiting world may end up in a state of permanent depression. Consarn it!

I did at least put up a new Nostrum Sunday (not that I could find it yet yesterday via Senuti spelled backwards). Which means we’re slowly returning to normal, whatever that is. This morning I met with the Sailors’ principal and did a post mortem on the weekend. As a result, we have officially dropped policy from future Bumps. As the VCA knows, I’ve been leaning toward at least dropping one policy division and replacing it with Novice LD, but dropping both makes more sense. Simply put, any dubious activities over the weekend inevitably fell on the policy side, and this has been the case in the past as well. LDers are no angels, but if nothing else I know most of them, and all of their coaches, and I’m in control. With policy, that’s not the case. But even absent that, the policy numbers just aren’t there anymore. I’m selling all the slots early, but then everyone sends up sending fewer than they had originally planned. Not much point in that, whereas there’s plenty of Novices in LD just looking for that first two-dayer. What I’m thinking is Varsity LD up at the HS, Novice LD and PF down at the grammar school. We’ll make less money, perhaps, but we’ll have fewer incidents and an easier tournament to run. I’m all for that.

Tonight, back to meeting on Tuesday. Much talk, no doubt, about the topic, now that the plebes have been exposed to it by watching break rounds. I’ve got a feeling that we’re about to embark on a jargonfest, where all sorts of fancy terms for the obvious are thrown around in such a way as to obfuscate even the simplest issue and confuse even the most hardened veteran. It had to happen eventually. I fear that they’ll all start talking like Termite, and then they’ll start erecting this really big tower out on the football field trying to reach heaven, and the next thing you know…

Monday, November 13, 2006

What they won't tell you on VBD

So, sez you, how was Bump?

The thing I was worried about most was getting started, given that we weren’t allowed to let people in until 2:30. This certainly meant there was gridlock at the registration table, but the call-in process, where everyone telephoned in any changes, meant that we had schematics hanging on the walls by 3:30, and all rounds in full swing by 4:00, and best of all, everyone housed and out by 10:30. So, we can do it, with that time restriction. Also, everyone did fit into the cafeteria for the opening ceremony, which was another fear I had. I would prefer to work otherwise, but I now know I can work within these limits. I will add a new wrinkle next year, though, which is Express Check-in. I will send out pdfs on Sunday after registration closes to every school with their information. If you have no changes from that pdf, and you have a check in hand for that amount, you just get your name checked off the master list from the Express Check-in person, and you’re done. We’ll send someone to you when things settle down to pick up your check and provide you with a clean receipt, while you get to avoid the dreaded Table of Slackers, Miscreants, and Coaches Who Haven’t Digested Their Machiavelli and Let Their Kids Be the Princes.

As for the rounds themselves, the next big issue was fitting in the required 6 LD prelims. Thanks to a combination of starting at 7:30 on Saturday, which mostly happened, and single-flighted doubles, and JV’s reluctance to wait any more than two seconds after schematics are posted before herding people into their rooms, at gunpoint if necessary, we managed to have the final round in the can by around 9:00 Saturday night. Outstanding! It’s great that JV is now a regular in tab rooms: he provides a much needed permanent threat of nuclear explosion that people like me only get worked into once or twice a day. We may have to install blood-pressure-testing equipment in tab in the future, just in case, but until the inevitable aneurysm, we’re doing just fine. My problem is that I do yell at everybody once or twice during the tournament just to put the fear of God into them, and it works, but then I have to immediately storm into the tab room where I break up in inordinate giggles at the whole thought of it. It’s not easy being tough.

The other divisions went off well, too. PF judges did seem to disappear the moment their names were inked onto a skem, and there was the usual inordinate amount of coaching of the Polician novices in their 0-3 rounds, and at one point it looked like we’d have varsity finals judged by the pizza guy, but everything did ultimately sort itself out. The high school does labor under the burden of spread, unlike the grammar school, where you can see everyone at almost every moment. The complexity of the former building does slow things down, but their smaller number of rounds means that they all ended up with us about when they should.

There were the inevitable Great Moments of Bump. The Porn King explaining at great length (and with great error on both counts) that Moby Dick sucks and that I was the writer of Nostrum; O’C’s camera battery running down—a true, benevolent Act of God—enough that I didn’t have to have a picture of me, him and The Middle-Aged Woman’s Guide to Morality, which was this year’s O’C Award, which is awarded annually to O’C for no discernible reason; the dispensing of the Double-octo awards by the crack heads of the LD team, who managed to forget to actually give them the award and only gave out the crappy prize; the message to Ewok when the LD strike sheets appeared on the policy table; the sinking of Battleship; the beautiful weather as compared to last year’s blizzard, for which I will be eternally grateful to the NFA coaches; NoShow demonstrating a running style that will become paradigmatic among the Sailors (and will earn him Wrangler stripes next year); the unexpected breakup, as in, who knew I’d actually be right?; the migration of the judges who don’t speak English from LD to Pffft—thank goodness for Sailor parents filling in le gap, or el gappo, or die gappe, or whatever you would call it in the languages spoken by the Pfffterfolk; and most of all, the triumphant return of the alums in years ranging from Marc to Kt to Noah to Wedro and Jared to CLG to Burgers to Ben and Becker to Emcee and Sam. Whew! What a great group! The only problem was finding a decent restaurant for the celebration afterwards, since everything in Montrose closes at about sundown. We ended up at an Irish bar; we could have done worse.

Anyhow, it’s all over now, and aside from a few odds and ends, I don’t have to think about it again until next August. Ta-ta, Bump. On to other people’s tournaments! Huzzah!