Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The best wine comes in old bottles

I just sent in the Scarsdale registration. We've got a pretty full contingent, I think, and I'm looking forward to it. Last year the tab room was colder than a penguin's be-hind, but I'm trusing that the Scarswegians have paid their heating bill since then, and that every word we say won't be frozen in midair.

A call came in that I need to go meet with the District over budgeting next week. I had been warned about this; it's a result of all the chicanery in the Roslyn district, where apparently some school administrators took the district to the cleaners for umpty-ump and a half dollars, got caught, and as a result caused ripples throughout the state. Whatever. I can't imagine any accounting system that wouldn't show that the money I spend is less than the money the school gives us, and that it's all going to legitimate debate outlets. I mean, we've been pretty tightfisted ever since we sold back the team Harleys. Those used to be the days, everyone on the team arriving on their Hogs at Lakeland or Monticello, the wind blowing through our hair (all right, blowing through their hair), outracing the cops at two a.m. driving back from NFA... Ah, the glory days. We had a fleet of twenty motorcycles, some of them practically brand new. We sold them all to a dealer and got enough money to send two Speecho-Americans to Harvard, provided they didn't mind sleeping on the T. Oh, how the mighty fell!

I keep forgetting that someone from Eastchester is expecting some sort of seminar and demos at Scarsdale. I trust they'll remind me as we get closer. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I'll figure out something.

And O'C is sending me this barrage of emails telling me that I'm over the hill. He wants to have all Big Bronx rounds in the future judged by AARP members or something, and he has me at the head of the codger line. We'll all be judging with pencils in one hand, ear trumpets precariously balanced in the other. Aaargh! I'm not old, I'm vintage.

Monday, January 30, 2006

This oughta hold 'em

"This" is the second LDEP missive. As I suggest in it, I don't think that I would vote for all these things myself, but there's none I'm dead set against. We'll see if the momentum continues. At the point at which this grinds to a screeching halt, that'll be the end of it, I'm guessing.

One nice thing about WTF is that if one does have the odd debater off in the jungles chasing baboons, one can read about the hunt minute-by-minute, thanks to O'C and the Universal Intergalactic Wireless card the gents at HQ bought for him. Emcee seems to have enjoyed Atlanta a little bit. And just when I thought he was about to go over to the dark Pffft side. Then again, he had been making noises about using Putnam, which is Emcee's Swiss Army evidence. He's used it on every resolution from community standards to Re-elect Bush! It never fails him.

BTW, O'C insists that I have some sort of vast readership of this blog, which would be very saddening if it were true. People could be out planting potatoes or reading Kant, and instead, they're reading this? I don't believe it. Aside from that one you-know-who who shall remain nameless, but if I knew how to put spyware on your machine, I'd be staring at you through the chips 24/7, you spalpeen!

Tomorrow night I've set up a demo round at the school that will allow us to finally see NoShow in action, vs MT, who was running non-citizens' right to bear arms, if I'm not mistaken (and the scary part is, he wasn't even running it for the non-citizen resolution). That should be quite the entertainment, and it will get us over the hump till the new rez arrives.

The latest on the Bump date move is that it's pretty likely to get green-lighted. I should hear soon. You'll know when I know (except for you, you spalpeen; I refuse tell you, ever, no matter how many boxes of Leonidas chocolates you send to my house).

Saturday, January 28, 2006

States, again, on a Saturday, no less

This is a continuation of my dialogue with Bro John. His message was written with some personal asides that need not be repeated, so I'll just give my responses. It should be clear enough.


[There is a chestnut that goes around that, somehow, States rewards bad debaters.]

One clarification. I strongly disbelieve that bad
debaters win States; I never meant to give that
impression. To the contrary, one must be very good to
do well at States. I agree with you there. There's
noting "illegitimate" about this win. Anyone in the
know looking at the winner lists over the last few
years would agree.

I do feel, however, that plenty of other good people
aren't on those lists. One inarguable reason is that
they don't come in the first place. Fixing that may be
beyond anything immediate we can do. But taking some
preliminary steps might help in the long run.

[BJ suggested that, if we used upperclassmen, they would somehow be second-tier, because all the good ones would be in the competition.]

So what to do about judging? Well, I disagree that we
would be bringing in a lesser caliber person if we
brought in upperclassmen; why aren't they competing
themselves if they're so good, you asked. There are
plenty of high quality upperclassmen who don't compete
themselves at the tournament, for lots of reasons. I
know that I've always got a bunch. Some of them just
have senioritis and haven't felt like preparing for
yet another tournament so late in their career. What I
see here by using them as judges would be a stepping
process: we create a better pool of judges for the
underclassmen, which allows us to (somehow) improve
the pool of the varsity. NFL awards kids points for
judging because there's a good reason for them to sit
at the back of the room.

[He mentioned some of the notorious incidents that give student judging a bad name.]

Honestly, I find that plenty
of kid judges are, in fact, stinkers, but at least
they're experienced stinkers. And at MHL we now have
strict rules to prevent what we can call those rap
incidents: any judge found guilty of same must provide
us with the names of the teams that he or she wishes
to forfeit out of the tournament. That is, if you
cover 2 policy or 4 LD kids, and we have to pull you
from the judging pool because of inappropriate
behaviour, you need to take the teams you're covering
with you. I announce this rule at the beginning of
every meeting, and suggest that judges planning on
screwing up should discuss it with their coaches now
to select the names of the forfeiting teams so that
there's no confusion later on. And they know we'll
enforce it. And incidents have disappeared. (For that
matter, we also have a rule that, if your cell phone
rings, and you're debating, it's an automatic forfeit.
That opens a few eyes when I announce it!).

But that brings us to the bigger issue, which is the
judges of the varsity. So let's assume that we've
allowed underclass judging (and again, I can't imagine
the body of LD coaches disagreeing with this, given
that it is already the norm), then what do we do about
the adults. Well, first of all, there's now fewer of
them. Now coaches won't have to rely on less than
trained individuals, or at least will rely on fewer of
them. That's a start.

I'm a firm believer in lay judges, but I also believe
they need to know what they're watching. You make good
points about blaming judges for losses, but that's not
what I'm talking about. The real problem is judges who
are totally clueless (and I blame the coaches and the
kids for that). If you watch a tennis game for the
first time, and don't know that each player gets two
attempts to get the ball served over the net, you'll
judge the match quite differently than if you do
possess that information. Now to begin with, we have
to rely on the coaches (or kids) to vouch for and
train their parents, but what if they don't, or can't?
Well, we can do two things. First, we provide a NYSFL
How-to-Judge-LD brochure. Post it on the website, and
give it out at registration. (There's no reason not to
provide how-to's on other stuff, too; I love the CFL
speech how-to guide.) Second, we train at the
tournament. We provide a half hour presentation for
all varsity judges before the tournament. That way
even if they haven't read what we've given them, we
still get to talk to them. This may be a little
ungainly, but the results would be to everyone's
benefit. It's not much, but it's something.

[I had suggested hiring judges, but BJ wisely pointed out that in my LDEP diatribe I was striking out against college judges. He also claimed it would be a major undertaking, and everyone was already up to the old eyeballs.]

As for hires, you have hoisted me on my own petard
with that one, because we could be bringing in the
people I'm warning us against! But would we? What if
the hiring was through the participating schools? That
is, while I might be less than interested in [name any
10 you want] the stinkers that think Baudrillard isn't
a fruitcake, what of
alums? Restrict the pool to NYS former debaters. Hire
through the coaches. That is, I go to Joe Vaughan and
ask him to bring extra judges (or something along
these lines, I'm thinking out loud here) and NYSFL
pays for them. They are, in that case, products of the
system, chosen by reliable coaches (and I only listed
the schools with big programs, but it should include
any school in the league). You would visibly raise the
level of judging by bringing in experienced former
varsity debaters who, for the most part, would have no
particular axes to grind (or who I wouldn't want to
grind with my axe!). Make it invisible to the coaches
being asked to bring the extras, or provide them with
some tangible benefit, and you remove some of the onus
of acquiring these judges in the first place. But
whatever is done, I think the presence of such judges
would be highly regarded by all.

As for rating judges, I'm constantly torn on this one.
Usually I rate them myself when I tab, because I know
everyone, but that just allows me my personal bias.
Any tabroom rating is personal bias. At Bump I was
going to try ratings from the schools providing the
judges, but never got to implement it because I
cancelled the tournament. So maybe you go with what I
think was an LDEP suggestion, namely, all-random
judging. If your pool is better trained and includes
those alumni above, a student ought to be able to pick
up any given ballot. But allow a small number of
strikes. I honestly have nothing against strikes, and
from my tabroom perspective I've seen them used a lot
lately. Inevitably a handful of judges, the ones who
are notoriously pig-headed, are the ones who get
struck. Bad news travels fast. It happened at
Lexington, Bump and Bronx. A bazillion judges, but
only about 8 or 9 people struck to death. From the
debaters' point of view, it does allow them to remove
someone who has dropped them for the last four years;
when I was regularly judging there were people I
couldn't pick up ever, and I hated myself for it, and
they hated me for it more. I can understand why they
might like to block me; it would be an act of
self-preservation in the competition, rather than an
attempt to move LD further off the cliff.

This whole move to change the judging is predicated on
the assumption that it would improve the tournament
and make it more attractive to competitors. As you
say, word gets out, and the buzz against States is
persistent. And there is a real problem underlying the
buzz (which is, I agree, out of proportion to the
problem). Ignoring the buzz doesn't make it go away,
and probably exacerbates the problem. We have an
opportunity to provide an exemplar LD tournament, or
not. Why wouldn't we do the former?

[He talked about why we have the generous regionals tournaments.]

As for the whole regionals thing vs top competition, I
can't make a strong argument either way because I
don't feel strongly either way. My hope would be that
if you attracted the strongest competitors in the
state, that would be good; there is nothing about the
regionals process that discourages them that I know
of. Regionals would allow less strong debaters enter a
big state tournament they might not otherwise attend,
and that's not a bad thing. But the better the
tournament is perceived to be, the better it is, in
their minds, to attend.

My guess is that taking even a small number of steps
in aid of what I've been suggesting would be perceived
as a big move on the part of NYSFL. I certainly
perceived the organization as monolithic and
uninterested in the community it serves: you've
already put paid to that (and I've made sure that, as
much as I can, everyone knows it, just as I told
people I had issues in the first place—you've been
greatly responsive and helpful). I don't know of
anyone who doesn't want a great state finals. We don't
have a great state finals now. There are improvements
that can be made. If we demonstrate a desire to make
them, we immediately improve the entire operation.
Obviously the one thing I think would trump all is the
underclassmen judging; some of the other suggestions
might help too.

[If you're really clever you'll notice I never volunteered to do any work. I'd be happy to do so, but I do not want this to look as if I am in any way interested in running things in the league. My complaints are being made because I believe they will get a hearing, not because I believe we need new people running things. There's nothing wrong with the work these folks do, and they do plenty of it. I just want them to do it differently.]

[And it may be that I really am starting to believe that LD just might be going over the cliff, and that now is the time to do something about it, that has me fingering so many pies all of a sudden. But then again, empty bloviating is a bit pointless. I'll get a new LDEP thing up shortly, plus the great novice proposal, which I just began outlining. I've got to get all this stuff moving before golf season! It was 50 degrees today. Goodbye, TOC, hello Fore.]

Friday, January 27, 2006

Lighten up, Dude!

It's been an interesting week. I'm still getting email practically busting the old virtual mailbox thanks to LDEP. Still no rousing rebuttals, although a few cavils plus some different little peccadillos bothering others of the assembled multitude. As I said, I'll try to sort it out this weekend.

Somehow in all of this, I forgot to point out that in my once-a-semester trip to the debate mailbox last week, I managed to pick up, along with the usual copies of Rostrum bound together by plastic tape so strong no amount of postal sabotage could ever separate them, a Christmas card. Hey, man. Happy Holidays, as they say in Secularia. And guess who it was from? Why, my buddies at WTF, of course. Needless to say, I was taken aback, and then some. Whoa, said I to myself, and I was going to buy them a tie or a sweater or something really useful, and then it just slipped my mind... Sorry guys. You all have a happy new year and whatnot. Now that the website has practically granulated itself out of existence, you've gotta wonder what's going on there at Hell in a Handbasket. Then again, they aren't the first souls to screw up a site. My home planet has been through about two thousand websites before finally getting it right, plus about two thousand web designers and web marketers and all manner of job descriptions beginning with web. So a false step or two by amateurs (meant literally and not as a pejorative) is understandable. O'C says I should buzz HIAH HQ immediately to set them straight. Sure. I know they're waiting for my call. But then again, they did send me that nice card... Na'ah. Forget about it. I'll send them the sweater I should have sent them in the first place.

I need to revise the podcast list over there on the right. At the moment I'm evaluating Penn Jillette. I like him in many situations, but I'm not quite sure how they're cutting the podcast. Apparently he has a commercial radio show in LV and they just grab some piece at random. If it were a little more directed... And I got tired of the Supreme Court Watch whining about Alito. Not that I became enamored of Sammy the A or anything, but a little whining goes a long way. I'd be more interested in analysis of cases as they're presented, the way NPR does it (Go, Nina T!). I'll keep the subscription for after-the-inevitable and see what happens then. TWIT, Coaster.com and Leonard Lopate remain my main favorites, depending on my mood. Maybe I'll start podcasting this blog. That would be a hit. It's bad enough you're ruining your eyesite reading it; imagine if you had to listen to it.

And speaking of ruining one's senses, I've finally heard from the Nostrumite again after lo these many weeks. His blog had stopped for some reason, even though he wasn't even writing it anymore, and I didn't have a chance to catch up with him over the holidays, and he never showed at Bigle X (or more to the point, we were never in the same building at the same time), so I assumed there was lots of news to report. But there isn't. The lad is in a state of permanent get-me-to-the-birthery-on-time what with Odelie entering her third trimester, but the TWHS team hasn't been disbanded, the school hasn't gone into lockdown, everyone is still on the team that was on the team, but what has happened is that the Mite has felt that too much time was spent creating the aura of having a forensics team rather than having a forensics team (and I have to admit, I didn't like the look in his eye when he said that to me, even though it was in an email). So he has clamped down on everything but working on cases and research. He's even making everyone do Pffft before the school year ends, although he's not too happy about the Feb topic because, as he puts it, this one really requires work. Oy. I know the feeling. Most of us prefer to argue whether b-ball players should have to wear long pants. Anyhow, the Mite does say that he may allow the team back online soon, but told me not to hold my breath. So, I won't. And he wouldn't give me even a clue as to what names they might have chosen for the Son (or Daughter) of Mite. Maybe we should offer a prize for the best suggestion. A crappy prize. A really good crappy prize (if you can wade through the oxymoron of it all). Start sending in those cards and letters now!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Who gets to decide the purposes of LD?

Scott poses a core question. It's worth looking at.

An activity like LD is created for a reason. We all seem to accept the mythology that LD was created to provide an alternative to policy, which had become too parochial. Certainly policy today bears no relationship to policy in the 60s, when I had a short debate career. We had a shoebox of index cards for evidence, and we talked like normal people. Nowadays, a shoebox of evidence and a normal speaking style will get you laughted out of Declamation! Policy had, obviously, evolved between when I did it at the point LD was created. Even removing a value judgment from the mix, it's easy to see that LD as proposed was different enough intrinsically from policy (one-person, underlying propositions of value) to distinguish the two activities.

Regardless of whether LD was created to "correct" policy or simply augment it as a choice on the forensics menu, it had a definition different from policy, in that the enactment of policy wasn't the point. Simple enough.

I was not in on LD at the beginning, but I have been in on LD for about half its lifespan. So I've seen whatever has happened, if anything, in the 90s and 00s. I am limited by my own experience, of course, but I have gotten around a bit, so I think I have a fairly decent sense of where we are. So let's get back to the question, who gets to decide the purposes of LD?

There are a number of forces involved in any academic activity like debate. There is the force of the educational goal of the activity, for one. There are educational goals in wrestling just like there are educational goals in LD; they are different goals, but they are presumably good and reasonable ones, or else we would eliminate the activity from the school menu. The educational goals of LD are tied into forensics in general: teaching students public speaking, of course, mastering the preparation of materials, doing research, etc. These will shift a bit depending on which forensic activity we're talking about;there's a lot more research in Policy than in Duo, but a lot more emphasis on presentation in Duo than in Policy. But wherever the emphasis, the educational goals of any forensic activity are relatively clearcut.

Another force involved is the force of competitiveness. When competition is thrown into the mix, it has an effect. And it has different effects on different people. Students actually in the competition probably want to win, and focus on winning. Coaches may or may not focus on winning; they certainly have more choice in the matter than students. Some coaches may have pressure from their schools to present a winning record or a wall of trophies, and there may be career self-preservation involved, or at the very least, team preservation. That gets complicated.

Another force is the students themselves as the entity on the ground. Unless an activity is absolutely rigidly defined, and LD certainly isn't, definitions become what you want to use as definitions. You make them up as you go along. What I mean is, at some point the students doing the debating pick and choose what they like and don't like, for whatever reasons, and as a group they make the activity into that thing by pursuing that thing. LD, for instance, and I think this is true of all forensics, is remarkably social. Everyone from all the teams not only knows everyone else, but they all hang out together. Something tells me that when the Hen Hud football team is scheduled against the Scarsdale football team, they don't ride together on the same bus, eat at the same restaurant, and hang out together during halftime. Forensics doesn't have to be social; it could be much more competition-based, us versus them.But it isn't. I, for one, like that.

There are other forces as well. The force of authority, for instance. If you make rules of any sort, and people follow them, you have that force. NFL has a strong force of authority. CFL does too. TOC does, but for different reasons than NFL or CFL. Even regional leagues like MHL have some force of authority. For that matter, anyone running an individual tournament has the force of authority over that tournament. How any of these authorities use that force determines to a great degree that authority's success or failure. If I create some cockamamie tournament that no one comes to, my authority over it was complete, but my effect on LD was a bust. If I create a tournament that is attractive to a large number of people, the reverse is true. How I mold Bump, in other words, is a measure of what I like or don't like in debate, and attendance is the measure of how well I've chosen among those likes and dislikes. I didn't offer MJP, but I did offer strikes. I hired as large a pool of extra judges as I could. I went to six rounds. I was making specific choices about the nature of LD with each of those decisions I made. Those choices, and Bump itself, would have a lot smaller effect than the choices made by NFL, obviously. But still, a team chooses which tournaments to attend by how the tournament makes those choices. Anyone running a tournament plays into the dialectic of what debate is or should be.

Other forces, without going into any detail, are the coaches, the judges, the parents, the school administrations, etc., that is, anyone who touches this activity, with varying degrees of effect.

So we have all these forces at work, all of them forging what the activity will be. The thing is, however, I don't think that all these forces are of equal merit. This is not a marketplace where the forces of, shall we say, LD economics work however they work, and the end result is whatever those forces make it. But I have seen an argument of this sort made, that LD should become whatever the LDers decide it should be, some combination of the students and the competition and the judges, and if it evolves into a fairly complex and swift competition addressing cutting edge theory, that is what it should be because that is what those forces have made it. I would agree if we were talking about, say, scientific progress. I would like to think that science is the result of trial and error and scientists testing things and what scientists say is science fact is, indeed, science fact. The marketplace of ideas applies to science, in other words, is I guess is what I'm saying. I believe in the dialectic applied to a lot of things. Throw all the ideas into the hopper and may the best idea win. There's plenty of places where that makes sense.

But I don't believe that an academic activity, or at least this academic activity, ought to be allowed to evolve via the design, intentional or unintentional, of the students. I don't necessarily believe that the educators will always make the best decisions, or that they can't be patently wrong, but nevertheless, as LD is an academic activity, taught at schools, by schools, for schools, paid for by schools, put down on resumes by students at schools (i.e., high schools) trying to get into other schools (i.e., colleges), educators should hold all the trump cards. It's a poor educator indeed who doesn't have an ear to the ground to know that there's good new stuff always out there that ought to be incorporated into the activity (e.g., that certain modern theorists have something to offer high school students who need not be locked into Locke or ground down by the same old Mill-stone in all their cases), but I would leave it to the educators to ultimately make that decision. They are just better able to do it than the students. Any of us who have actually lived through university study of postmodernism, to use a relevant line of analysis, are probably better equipped to discuss it than some high school junior who saw "Simulacra and Simulation" flash by in "The Matrix" and who suddenly thinks it holds the key to the universe. (Although as I've said many times, my biggest beef with LD isn't with pomo per se, because I think pomo falls on its own lack of merit when debated.)

So teachers ought to get to choose the curriculum, in other words. That's what we train them to do, and what we pay them to do. We should no more allow the students to determine the curriculum in LD than we would in mathematics. Good educators need to listen to the students, especially in a forensics activity devoted to communication, but ultimately, yeah, educators get to decide the purposes of LD. And if they choose wrongly? Personally, I think all the forces at work will correct for that. What I see as the problems now are caused by the educators NOT taking control where they should. I don't blame one student, or one college kid who just read Derrida. I see the educators shaking their heads and tut-tutting, but I don't see them doing anything, even in areas where there's virtually universal agreement. Some seem more willing to dump the activity and try something else like PF than to stand and fight for LD (which I personally think is the best version of debate we have). And what a lot of people in the community (and here I'm talking about some of the students and college folk) seem to miss is that, in our present economy, forensics is hanging by the proverbial thread. Without strong support of parents and administrations, programs just die, simple as that. We need to keep the activity relevant (if you'll allow me a value-packed word) if we wish to keep it alive. We need to keep parents involved in it if we wish them to drive and judge and chaperone. We need to have demo rounds that our principals can walk away from with a spring in their step rather than rock in their craw. We need to have an activity that colleges look at as having molded great potential students and not a bunch of isolated intellectuals. We need to have an activity I can teach to novices, for pete's sake! After all, there are thousands of novices in the activity every year, versus about 27 national circuit folk. Why would the styles and content of the 27 dictate the needs of the thousands?

The one argument that concerned educators who have been in this activity for a long time continue to make is that LD is becoming policy, not in its intrinsic styles and content, but in its support from the schools, and in its potential for the future. In the northeast, policy continues to die the death. Aside from the UDL community, every year we have fewer schools with policy competitors, few trained policy coaches, and fewer people showing up at policy tournaments. I await the demise of policy at 3 schools within 30 miles of me over the next couple of years, and I'd be happy to put money on all three of them. And once they're gone, they won't come back. The argument of the LD coaches comparing policy to LD is that LD will, soon enough, follow these policy teams into oblivion, and that there was a time when the policy coaches could have grabbed control and brought policy back and saved it. They didn't. And it's a shame. With great power comes great responsibility. If the power of authority rests with the educators, so does the responsibility for saving the activity. I am, despite my hare-brained portfolio, one of the educators. It is my responsibility to do what I can, while I can. If I fail, so be it. If I don't act, I deserve the consequences.

So, in a word, it's people like me, rightly or wrongly, who get to decide the purposes of LD.

And ain't that a kick in the head?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

That woke 'em up!

So the LDEP listserver, which has been about as active as a termite in a teddy bear (don't ask), has sprung to life. Lazarus should have been so sprightly. Mostly people agree with me, but I'm guessing that it just takes longer to write up a note of disagreement. I'll wait till the weekend, then I'll summarize what's been said and see if we can make anything out of it. Not to sound impatient, but my guess is that if we don't do anything now—anything really meaningful, that is—we never will. I'll try, anyhow. I'm sanguine about making at least some difference.

Curiously enough, one person did come forth in favor of not knocking postmodernists on face. I didn't, I don't think; I mean, yeah, I knock them all the time, but I didn't say we should ban them. They sort of ban themselves (and teammembers can read my handy how-to-beat-pomo diatribe in the files section of our private db) by virtue of never providing empirical links to reality. But I do feel that the materials are generally inappropriate for the high school curriculum, and it is unlikely that many educators would disagree, regardless of their opinion of the material per se. Still, even I venture forth with the occasional pomo discussion; I didn't spend all that time on Caveman for nothing, after all. Much modern theory is fun; some is perhaps true: critical theory arguments, for example, although they are merely restatements of other arguments. We didn't need people devising Critical Race Theory, for instance, to recognize the lack of Civil Rights in the country since the early 17th Century. We don't need legal theory to know that US law has been in the hands of a White elite, or queer theory to know that homosexuals are not always treated fairly. These academic theories sum up the obvious, so the fact that what they're talking about is true is where their relevance lies; their existence as academic analyses is almost beside the point.

Anyhow, last night's meeting was a bust, if I do say so myself. Midterms have mown down much of the usual assembled multitude, including taking away their seats (all of which had been moved to the gymnasium). Plus there was some disciplinary breach at the school resulting in a minor lock-down, although they let in the Speech and Debate Banditos; no real threat, I guess. We talked a bit about IPR, which I find an inappropriate argument for Neg in this topic (I'd already sent out a good essay on same), then we played the odd game of CX resulting in the distribution of some crappy prizes, then I bloviated about some meaningless general nonsense for a while. I need a better plan for next week. Something with more meat. A glimmer of the new topic would be nice, but it's allegedly not released till Wednesday. Oh well, I'll come up with something.

And one last thing. I haven't complained about O'C for a long time here. He's been keeping pretty clean lately. Maybe he just knows that I find the new WTF website so confusing that I've about given up on it. (Before I had given up on it for content; now for form. It does keep me guessing.) The site keeps spawning; the next thing you know it's going to pop out of my stomach and run down the hallway some day. Where is Ellen Ripley when you really need her?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Or, Let's Do Exactly Pnothing. (I do wish a synonym for nothing starting with P would occur to me, but then again, pnothing is so much more entertaining.)

You're going to love this. So Jason B sends a message out on the LDEP listserver bemoaning that Emory will offer Mutual Judge Preference. Of course, I'm no fan of MJP, but curiously enough, he drew no responses. I signed up with LDEP last year, thinking that, yeah, I like the idea of preserving what I see as the educational benefits of LD, so why not. Unfortunately, in that year, exactly bubkes has ensued. (Pubkes? Pbubkes?) So I figured, what the hell. I'm already a crackpot; why not make it official.

Here's the message I just sent to the lords and ladies of the esteemed LDEP:


There’s a great line from Boston Legal. When Betty White gets arrested for murder, she has only one request: “Can I have the Robert Blake jury?”

I have never been much of a fan of MJP for a variety of reasons that I think are pretty valid. Some people are fans of MJP for a variety of reasons that are also pretty valid. But the real issue is not choosing your own jury, or more to the point, the real problem facing LD at large is not as simple as this one thing. I wish it were.

I just went back to look at the LDEP mission statement. And I’ve recollected why I liked the idea last year when I first heard about it, and why I signed on. And, of course, I’ve been spending the school year coaching my team, and learning the latest trends and following the continuing drama.

I do this job because I believe in debate as a superlative tool for developing skills in high school students that are valuable and, to a great extent, unattainable through the normal curriculum. Chief among these are some elementary lessons in ethics that instill an understanding of some classic philosophers, exposure to some of the chief problems facing the world today and studying how ethical solutions can be applied to them, an ability to research at a deep and thorough level, an ability to create logical and persuasive arguments for a particular point of view, and a mastery of public speaking in aid of making those persuasive arguments to an audience. As many of you know, my chief employment is not academic; I’m a book editor. I’ve also managed editorial, administrative and IT personnel. All those skills I’ve just mentioned are the skills that I see (or don’t see) every day; mastery of those skills can easily be the difference between success and failure in one’s career. As we, as educators, can therefore train students for that success, it would seem to me that we should do everything we can to make sure that we are indeed doing it. But, of course, I am preaching to the choir, if you’ll allow me a cliché. You wouldn’t be reading this as members of LDEP if you already didn’t know and believe what I’ve just said.

A number of issues face the LD community at this time. I think most of us agree that these are not simply a natural evolution of the activity, a growth and development based on experience and knowledge, but are instead changes in course that threaten the acquisition of those skills I outlined above, while offering no replacements in kind. The academic benefits, in other words, are being diminished. And this diminution is not the result of differing opinions of the educators involved in the activity, but the result of a small number of individuals wielding an inordinate amount of power: Insofar as the direction of the activity is set by the example of the strongest, most successful competitors, those competitors, and their coaches, send a message to the entire LD community that their way is the way that it should be done if the goal is competitive success. Thanks primarily to the Victory Briefs website, the information about these students, their successes and their styles and their cases, are quickly and thoroughly disseminated throughout the community. The key to winning, it would seem, is in doing whatever these winners do. I can hardly blame the students from trying to emulate them. While as coaches we know that the competition is merely the means to an end, the necessary evil involved in achieving the academic goals of the activity, to the students, the competition is what it is all about. As a coach, I can provide all the direction that I can muster when it comes to how to debate, or how to interpret a resolution, but if some cockamamie interpretation of the resolution is the one that is winning, or if some argument denying the existence of the resolution is the one that is winning, my advice and instruction, which will no doubt lead to a losing record, will not stand against the possibility of winning some other way. My voice will only be heard by my students to the point that it is useful for them to hear it; at the point where there is a more useful voice elsewhere, they will seek that other one. I don’t blame them for that. The students are not to problem here.

So if the students are merely doing what students would predictably do, which is follow the winners, and the coaches are doing what they are supposed to be doing, which is instilling the basic skills of debate and providing reasonable interpretations of resolutions in keeping with the intentions of the framers (which would seem to be an absolute necessity rather than a debatable issue—if the resolution is meant to address, for instance, the power of eminent domain in a Kelo v. New London context, there is vast meat on the educational bones for all of us by sticking to that context rather than seeking some other sideways approach that bypasses the context), then we have to wonder where, exactly, does the problem lie, and what can we do about it. Quite honestly, I doubt if anyone reading this doesn’t know where the problem lies; unfortunately, we’re not doing anything about it.

Just to be clear, let’s outline what the problems facing LD are. The ones threatening the acquisition of all those great life skills mentioned above, that is. They include the use of resource materials and arguments of dubious merit, the rejection of the resolutions on face in favor of critiques, and a swift style of presentation that precludes all but the most experienced auditor from understanding what is said in the round. Simply put, there are cases out there that are non-topic-specific that can be run in bald disregard of the resolution, based on cultural critics of what can most generously be described as writing at difficult levels of comprehension, which are run at blazing speeds and which, unfortunately, win tournaments. (Perhaps they win because no one knows what’s being said, or because the judges are enamored of the particular critic being cited, or because the judges simply enjoy the obfuscation. I don’t know.) The question is, what can concerned coaches do about these problems? Better yet, what can concerned coaches do when those coaches are in a position of authority in the activity? Not to put too fine a point on it, but the power of authority that could be wielded by the membership of LDEP is monumental. At the moment, it is also dormant.

My sole contention (that’s a little LD humor) is this: the adult coaches and educators in the activity are being overshadowed by college students with little or no interest in the long-term educational value of the activity. These college students act as ad hoc coaches to high school students because they sell themselves as dispensers of expertise unavailable elsewhere. They provide materials that may be appropriate to college education but not to high school (e.g., postmodern theorists). They often write cases or at least outlines for their students. They work for hire at summer labs where their measurable goal is to polish the top competitors in the country for the so-called national circuit. They regularly judge at high school tournaments favoring their own styles and materials rather than styles and materials that further the activity, yet when it is time to rank judges, they are perceived as the As while many coaches and certainly all parents are perceived of as Cs. They are set on no path as future educators and have no interest in education (and believe me, I know college kids who indeed planned to become forensics educators in the future, who worked with kids during their college careers and who are now teaching high school and who can be accused of none of what I’m indicting here). I do believe that it need not be any bad motivation on the part of these college students I am singling out that results in these problems: I do not accuse them of being motivated by malice or any particular anti-educational agenda. They’re just kids, often just a year older than the ones they’re “coaching.” Blame it on their youth. That’s not the point. Also, let me point out that I do not indict the former debater who shows up occasionally to make a few bucks by judging and/or to give back a little to the activity they loved in high school: these are some of my favorite people (who, by and large, tend to quickly become quite conservative in their evaluations of rounds, and who tend to bristle at the thought, held by many debaters, that since this person once debated at a high level and is now in college, any kind of pomo kritik nonsense will somehow be mother’s milk to them).

(I could provide a second or third contention, and point to other causes of what I think are the problems, but I would prefer to move on to the solutions. Obviously a similar evil to the one above is the lone high school student, the maverick debater from no team bent entirely on competitive victories. Others reading this can perhaps point to other causes of the problems. But as I said, let’s look to solutions.)

Thus we identify (some of) the serpents in the garden: college student “coaches” who are not trained as educators. If this contention is true—if we can isolate a small group of individuals as illegitimately wielding too much power in the activity—then if we can act to limit their participation in the activity, we will presumably act to return the power to the true educators, with whom it belongs. And there are ways of doing this. To wit:
1. Eliminate mutual judge preference.
Allowing students to select their adjudicators allows students with dubious materials to find judges who prefer dubious materials. On the most basic level, can I get the Robert Blake jury? More importantly in the long run, enhancing the skills of public speaking will not ensue if you get to decide who your public is that you are speaking to. I wish that all the times I have given presentations at work my audience already knew what I was talking about when I was presenting complicated technical material. I wish they all agreed that the steps I was proposing were the right ones for the company to take. I wish that—and this is a major one for me—they all had English as a first language. Often I have been hamstrung by all three of these, but I’m a better speaker as a result. I present my materials more clearly, I offer more logical rationales and plans for change, and I talk so that my colleague from Thailand understands what I am saying. To the extent that we remove preferential judging from Lincoln-Douglas, we similarly make our students better speakers.
2. Mandate adult chaperones at tournaments.
There is, shall we say, roving bands of debaters, usually singletons but occasionally small groups, led by a college student coach. Absent any issues with that coach’s educational stature, if there were to arise any problem whatsoever with any of those students—from hiccups to heart palpitations to sexual harassment—that college student is not equipped to handle it. Worse, there are singletons who register with no coach (and inevitably those singletons are prepared to debate with the worst possible materials). Who attends to their hiccups or heart palpitations or sexual harassment? The tournament director? Not me! I direct my own invitational plus a regional league with monthly tournaments, all of which have one hard and fast rule: no teams without an adult (i.e., over 21) chaperone. There is a practical side to not accepting unchaperoned minors; if an issue arises, each team has an adult to handle it. There is probably a legal side as well. However you look at it, I won’t do it. And by not doing it, I coincidentally eliminate some teams of questionable provenance. These are two good things at once.
3. Bar “independent” entries.
There are almost no good reasons to accept teams that compete without the approval of their schools, but from the point of view of LD, there is the greatest likelihood that these teams will be the most focused on competition per se, and the least interested in the educational benefits of the activity. Regardless, the liability issues are simply too dire to entertain, for all the reasons cited in #2 above.
4. Institute a speed limit (noted clearly as part of the tournament invitation/packet).
This will be controversial because it is subjective, but then again, it does benefit a speaker to know that the person being spoken to understands what is being said. This rule could work quite simply. A judge would certainly discuss in advance of a round any speed issues he or she might have, and a good competitor would comply. However, sometimes one person’s blazing speed is another person’s lumbering gait. So, a judge may call simply “Speed!” when a debater is talking too fast. No penalty, and the debater should slow down. A second “Speed!” can be called if the debater doesn’t comply with the initial request. Still no pentalty. A third call of “Speed!” mandates that the debater receive no more than 25 speaker points. The debater will have had 2 chances to put on the brakes. Refusing to do so will and should result in guaranteed low points.
5. Mandate that students debate the resolution (noted clearly as part of the tournament invitation/packet).
This is the toughest one. There are certainly all sorts of interpretations of a resolution that may be fine to one person and off-the-wall to another, where reasonable individuals can hold differing opinions. On the other hand, there are cases that clearly critique the resolution on face, claiming that it is, for one reason or another, inarguable. It would be the tournament’s stance that this resolution having been chosen for this tournament, the debaters must agree to argue it. If a debater comes to that tournament and argues not the content of the resolution but that the resolution does not make sense, that the resolution cannot be argued, that the “theory” of LD makes the resolution invalid, or that the writings of any individual make the resolution immaterial, then that student is not sticking to the bargain struck by accepting the invitation. That student would forfeit any round running that case. This would probably have to be adjudicated by the tournament director. That is, the round would run and the judge would let it conclude as any other round, but would claim afterward that a challenge will be made of irresolutionality (there’s a word the spellchecker doesn’t like). An opponent could make a similar claim. All such claims would be decided by the tournament director. (Let’s face it. This issue is probably what bothers us most. My solution would address it head-on. If we don’t address the issues that bother us most head-on, we might as well give up now.)

You may or may not agree with these steps. You may have others you would add. We should discuss these.

But here’s the thing. I look at the names of the directors of the LDEP: there’s a lot of TOC bids there. I’ve got sway over my tournament’s bids, obviously, and I doubt if few of my colleagues in the northeast would seriously disagree with what I’m saying here (being that we’ve all said much of it in our various get-togethers). If we band together and institute an LDEP seal of approval or something like that, based on the criteria above, and we enact these same things at all our tournaments, the result would be major. If one of us does it, the result would be meaningless. We should probably go so far as to enact that any tournament with TOC bids subscribe to them, and that TOC itself subscribe to them. While I do like the idea of the LDEP providing educational materials, that’s not enough. And personally, even though I worked on the ballot model, I’m not that pleased with it, especially the whole speaker-point thing, but more importantly, as one of my judges said to me, it merely replaces one set of instructions she didn’t read with a different set of instructions she didn’t read, so that’s not enough either. These are baby steps that have little real impact on the problems we all see. Mandating the 5 actions enumerated above, on the other hand, or others like them, would address the problem at the core. Granted, I may be wrong about some of this stuff, but the challenge then is for someone to come up with an even better way, and I’ll be there standing right next to you. But if we don’t do anything, we only have ourselves to blame as more and more of our students opt out of the activity and into PF because they understand it better, or out of forensics altogether because they’re simply too frustrated. We will have only ourselves to blame if the vast majority of the TOC Advisory committee is struck as judges by the students at the tournament because we are out of touch with debate reality. We will have only ourselves to blame if we walk into a round and have no idea what anyone is talking about. We will have only ourselves to blame when the parents won’t come and help out any more because it’s all over their heads and they don’t want to feel like idiots in the presence of fifteen-year-olds. And we will have only ourselves to blame as school after school eliminates its programs because the activity has been rendered meaningless to the academic community it is supposed to serve.

Let us please take action, and soon. I’m asking a lot. But I fear the consequences of not doing a lot.

Thanks for reading this.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The last stretch

I'm in the middle of this hiatus, unlike most coaches who are in the middle of heading down to Atlanta for Emory. The closest I've ever gotten to the Georgia gala is when Toast and Speedy almost went, until they learned that they had Regents exams they couldn't miss, the blighters. I mean, I had never really wanted to go (the thing seems to take itself way too seriously for my taste), but I had finally given up the fight, and lo and behold, at the last minute, nothing happened. My feelings at being stymied were a mixture of joy and rapture that has bouyed me since in continuing to not go. I have plenty of other trips if I need to travel with the odd debater. For that matter, I have plenty of odd debaters, but you knew that already. And besides, now that Cruz has that new PCMIA card that plugs him directly into the Force, I don't have to go anywhere anymore. I can just stay home and have the tournament wash over me, or better yet, I can have it steam around me like a Finnish sauna as Cruz tosses hot news onto the cold rocks of my interest. Aaahhhhhh.......

So for me, as I say, it's a hiatus. And it is the beginning of the last stretch of the year. The younger team members are about done, except for those going to States. The older team members have a handful of qualifiers to fight through. And then there's TOCs, of course (for which I need to make reservations soon; I have no idea what I'm waiting for). So the tone of the meetings changes. There's still some general stuff to cover, of course, and the March-April topic (and, presumably, the CatNats topic). But the momentum is slowing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but one of my friends actually suggested that we head to the driving range yesterday. I fought off the temptation and worked instead on some MHL odds and ends, but if that wasn't a sign of spring, I don't know what is.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Take my weekend. Please.

Don't you just love tossing around the old political football? Or maybe it's the old hot potato. Maybe it's the old hot political potato (which hasn't been heard from since Dan Quayle left the VP's office). Whichever.

So I haven't made a secret of my desire to move Bump to the NFA weekend. I lust over the idea of an extra day once in a while to start early (the Veteran's Day holiday), plus there's other factors like weather and getting judges. In my humble o, it was something of a trade-off, one big tournament for another, with little rock of the region's roll. Well, one man's weltanschauung is another man's you've-got-to-be-kidding-schauung. Lakeland has also considered moving to that weekend rather than the weekend after Bronx, which I had thought was a done deal, and emails have been flying throughout the policy community about how if Lakeland has the NFA weekend they'll have a solid varsity pool and whatever, with bids up the wimwam. But Lakeland is pretty much unable to host any LD division.


So messages have been flying, and there is a little rancor in the air, but I've gotten to the point where I write my rancorous message, trash it, and then send something all sweetness and light, in my sweetness and lightness way (which no doubt is seen as categorically rancorous, but at least I tried). The thing is, I get mixed thoughts in my head. If Lakeland conducted a policy tournament on NFA weekend, why couldn't Bump run LD and PF that same weekend, with maybe a novice LD division to boot? The problem is that we'd be dumping policy, which I don't like to do, because once dumped, it's hard to bring it back, and policy's been berry berry good to us. Or if our admin keeps us where we are, why not Scarsdale LDing on that weekend? So I don't see it completely as a horror.

But here's the backstory. Why doesn't Bump have a policy bid? To be honest, all I know is secondhand, but none of it is good, and I won't repeat it here. Suffice it to say that people who would like nothing better than that Menick fall off the face of the earth would sooner give a bid to bin-Laden than to bin-Bumppo. Maybe, on the other hand, Osama might see this as worth the truce. We give him a policy bid or two, he doesn't send in his suicide bombers. Do you think JW would accept the tradeoff? There aren't very many bids in the northeast, granted, but there's absolutely none in the Mideast. The time is ripe!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I am now officially one day behind

We had no electricity last night when I got home. It was still off this morning when I left home. Debate life, as a result, is in limbo, since I've got a whole stack of presumably live email of a venomous nature just waiting for me to find the time.

What I don't understand is, if they can have wireless everything else, why can't they have wireless electricity? That way, the wind wouldn't blow it down. (According to patent law, if someone now invents wireless electricity, I get a piece of it. Seventeen years of pure heaven!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

One is the loneliest number

Oh, Nilsson, you were so right!

Never enter data alone when you're tabbing. It's as simple as that. I know this, but I don't always act on it. Knowing what you should do and not doing it is all sorts of wrong. Morally, intellectually—you name it. Henceforth and forthwith I swear it on my pimp belt buckle: never again. I will grab anyone I can to read ballots and watch me enter them. I have a hundred various excuses why I should not be blamed for the errors at the RR, but I don't buy any of them. Oh, well. Live and learn. Again. (I mean learn again, not live again. If I do come back in another life, I think I'll skip coaching the next time around and concentrate more on the old golf game.)

It was an eventful weekend, in many ways. First off, we learned that BG won't be happening, which is quite a disappointment. I saw a note from their coach saying that they simply didn't have enough entrants to expect to be able to pull it off. But the thing is, coaches are notoriously late in signing up for tournaments, unless they expect a waitlist; it's the nature of the beasts. Even Bump allows me the unfortunate opportunity to reply to about a dozen or so coaches way before the deadline that there isn't enough room; I do this year after year and still people wait till the last minute. I can't make it any clearer that late is a bad thing, but coaches operate on Coach Time. Which apparently, at least to some extent, helped torpedo BG. Too bad.

As a result, we're back in the States business. I mean, we will probably field an entry at least of novices. I had a long talk with Bro J about my latest letter at some point during Bigle X, and he definitely seems to be doing what he can. No one expects changes this year, of course, but changes in the future could be really meaningful for debate in NY. I look forward to it. I do so much want a solid state final at the end of the season; it's my disappointment in not having one that got me going on this in the first place, and not any anger against the folks in the hot seat. So, I'm sanguine that improvements will come.

Tabbing the novice tournament with The Enforcer was a piece of pie. Plenty of judges, to put it mildly, although not as many as the varsity division. We all started out in the high school, which meant in Lynne's classroom. We had begun entering judge strikes on the ride up, since Kaz was in the car with me. We tried to create a set of team blocks to prevent the Singleton Anomaly, where all the singletons hit each other in the random rounds, but the program balked after the fifth block, so Kaz and Father Hahn simply handled the issue manually on the schems (but they did handle it). Once at Lex, Kaz and Fr H did their thing, I did mine, and Chris Palmer, handling Pfft, did his. This was the first time I met Palmer, and we talked a lot later. Primarily we talked about Yale. He works their speech tab, and he's working toward getting them to set a solid limit on all the divisions. I actually told him I'd volunteer to help tab if they kept to 160 entries for which they would have complete access to 40 rooms, and I meant it. I would love Yale if it were manageable. It's a great setting, it's a great time of the year, their parli judges are probably the most capable of the Ivy folks in adjudicating LD. It's their lack of understanding the problems of tournament direction that kayoed them in 2005. If they learn from their mistakes (is there a theme to this entry?) then things could be quite promising for 2006.

While I would like to claim that the Enforcer and I managed to escape the tournament for great amounts of debauchery, on Friday the best we could do was sneak off to Yangtze for some kung pao beef, but that was fine. I really enjoy the E's company; he's one of the few right wingnuts I know who has the armaments to back up his opinions. We tree huggers need more wingnuts in our circle of acquaintances. It keeps us honest. I'm reminded of my conversation with our bus driver back at Lil Lex: he mentioned that he was going deer hunting the following week, and I told him I had one serious question to ask. He pulled himself up and girded his loins, because I guess he thought I intended to vilify hunting, but my question was, given that I can walk out into my back yard and pop half a dozen deer over the head with a frying pan before they even register my presence, what's the difference of shooting them in the wild. He explained, and I was satisfied. I mean, if they are that easy to pick off, where's the sport? In real life, you have to throw the frying pans at them, and that's a lot harder.

Saturday the E and I moved to some grammar school, where we had a lovely large library to ourselves where we could hear the rain falling on the roof with the force usually associated with Armageddon. We couldn't even pretend to escape for debauchery this time, since we were the titular adults in charge, so lunch was the cardboard box that some pizza had once traveled in. It wasn't good, but there was plenty of it! Plenty of Diet Coke in the judges' lounge, too, and DC is the fuel that really runs tournaments, as anyone can tell you. The Huds didn't exactly tear the place apart, but Termite managed both to break and to solidify his new nickname. He really was using the teddy bear with the termites example. Where do people come up with this stuff? After octos we headed back to yet another school for the winding down, rejoining the Pfffters and the Varsity tabbers. Remarkably enough, the tournament ended about 9 or 9:30, which must be some sort of record, enabled by the 4 single-flighted Varsity rounds the previous day. The Sailors, as Noah called them, left around 8:00 or so, into the miserable weather that was arriving from the west, so miserable that some parent woke me up on the cell phone in the middle of the night to ask where the tars had gone, and I wondered for the bazillionth time why my gobs don't exactly explain to their p units what the plans are. How would I know the wherabouts of the swabbies (is that enough synonyms for sailor to shut you up for a while)? Call your a.b. yourself (there: I threw in one extra; I don't do crosswords for nothing, my friend). Oh, well.

I never did get much of a chance to chat with Noah, aside from listening him to him rant about the end of debate as we know it. Given that I slept very little the first two nights, I lay awake thinking about the end of debate as we know it myself, and I have some ideas. I'll get to those in a day or two. So, I still need a larger shot of Noahification; it will come soon, I hope.

Just to establish if, indeed, this is the end of debate as we know it, I visited a couple of the RR rounds. One was rather excellent, Tim v Matt, both arguing quite well that it is NOT the end of debate as we know it. Tim's aff about urbanization may lack a link to reality (really!) but it's meaningful, and both debaters argued clearly and strongly. And they both do very well everywhere they go. Thank goodness! There's hope yet that all is not lost.

Sunday night at dinner I sat next to Case and Rhoads and we talked about this and that, shopwise, especially about developing novices, and I picked up some good advice. I also managed to have the brainstorm of all brainstorms. Every year we start our novices on the track that NFL randomly lays out for us, to wit, the Sept-Oct resolution, quickly followed by the Nov-Dec. It is mere coincidence if these topics are actually good for training newbies. So why not take a topic that IS good for training newbies, and start them on that? Every year, which would mean that you as coach would be able to develop training based on a predictable starting resolution? And run it through November (or maybe even December). I realized that I have the authority to pull this off, as long as I can get a few others to agree. Which means that the heads of the families need to confab. Lynne is the head of the Massachusetts territories; I run New York, and we're both on board with this. That leaves the City, and Don DeMichele, who I do think will agree. My leaning is toward the no-gov/opp-gov. Lynne was thinking free speech. Whichever. We'll narrow it down, pick one, and go on from there.

If they only paid me, I'd really be earning my keep around here.

If there was any high point to the weekend, it was trying to get into my frozen-over car Sunday night. The only ingress was the hatch, through which we unceremoniously tossed Craig in the hope that he could break through from the inside. Eventually we got one back door to open, and after an ad hoc game of Twister we managed to get the old Zamboni started. We drove around for a while just to see if anything else would de-ice, but without much luck. After dinner I drove CLG to Alewife, which helped some, and then it didn't get all that cold Sunday night, so by Monday morning three out of four doors worked. And three out of four ain't bad.

For the ride back we had the extra added attraction of Claire, for reasons I won't trouble you with, although she seems happy enough to share them on her own. Much Spades was played, since we now had 4 passengers, plus much singing of Disney songs, which were an unexpected hit. And a new rule was established: If "It's a Small World" comes on the box, you can't skip it. It's the price you have to pay for all the good songs.

Back home, all was calm. Until I read my email. About which more tomorrow, since I would imagine the soap opera has continued (I haven't checked my mail yet today, since I can live without the stuff for hours on end and never notice).

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bigle X tab

One could, if one were willing to find where in the house one secreted one's floppy drive from one's Dell, export the tabroom.com data directly into TRPC Classic. Little Elvis types could export the tabroom.com data directly into TRPC Evil Pomo version. Which means I had to resort to copy and paste, since I won't use TRPC Evil Pomo version unless there's no alternative. There's about 70 souls in the novice division; more than enough for a nice rowdydow this weekend. I have privately established that breaking will count as a qual toward novice BG. Something to shoot for, eh?

I passed along my thoughts to Lynne and Kaz on the Bietzean Singleton Dilemma, where lone entries all tend to hit each other in the random rounds; he showed us this at Big Bronx. When many of your singletons are Round Robinskis, this can be a problem. I was going to block singletons against each other in the random rounds at Bump just as an experiment; at Bigle X, the need might be more pressing. And it's not hard to do. But it's not my call, of course. In fact, plenty of the singletons at Bigle are not Robinskis, so it could be more of an aesthetic issue than anything else. Still, worth mentioning.

People have been sending me cases, and they've been pretty good. My ranting and raving have obviously paid off. Some teams, of course, make it a requirement to send the coach their cases, but I'm not at that point exactly. If you're—what's the word?—confident enough (or is it or dumb enough?) to think you don't need advice, well, you're the one who has to stand up there and debate. I'll be in the tab room playing Jack. Although I do think I'll watch some RR rounds. I'm curious to hear from this year's debater vintage. But then again, I'm also bringing RCT, a Looney Tunes disk and some Seinfelds. Eminent Domain vs Master of One's Domain. Tough call.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What you would hear if you were on the team

I'll print the beginning of the lecture I gave last night. I'm not big on lectures, because most people don't need some schmegeggie yapping at them for 45 minutes at a stretch, but there comes a time when a coach has to do what a coach has to do. Nothing here is particularly proprietary, and if you're actually interested in the core material, I might be happy to send it to you. I do believe that the world would be a better place if LDers debated the resolutions once in a while.


The use of the state’s power of eminent domain to promote private enterprise is unjust.

The logic of the resolution, absent the content: The use of X for Y is unjust.

Logical possibilities for the aff
X is unjust, even though Y is just. If aff proves ED unjust, aff wins
X is just, but Y is unjust. If aff proves PE is unjust, aff wins
X is just, and Y is just, but the use of X to promote Y is unjust. If aff proves that use of ED to promote PE is unjust, aff wins

Logical possibilities for the neg
The use of X is just, and promoting Y is just, and the use of X to promote Y is just. Neg must prove that the use of X to promote Y is just. Depending on what aff does, Neg might first have to prove that X is just, and/or Neg might first have to prove that Y is just

The content of the resolution:

Contention of most honorable coach: If the wording committee had intended to argue that, A) Eminent Domain is unjust, or B) Private Enterprise is unjust, the wording committee would have provided us with one of the two following resolutions:
1. The use of the state’s power of eminent domain is unjust.
2. Private enterprise is unjust.
The wording committee instead provided us with this resolution: The use of the state’s power of eminent domain to promote private enterprise is unjust. Honorable coach may be off honorable rocker, but maybe that’s what they intended us to argue.


From there I gave the assembled multitude arguments on the justice or lack thereof of Eminent Domain and Private Enterprise. Then I gave them source arguments for the actual resolution. In short practice rounds two specific lines of analysis worth pursuing came up (role of gov in private enterprise, consequentiality). Personally, I've also always liked discrimination.

Anyhow, my hope is that any of the Hen Hudders, if they absorb this stuff, can walk into a round at Bigle X or thereafter and successfully defeat debaters who aren't running the rez. Beyond that, they're on their own.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Goy of Tournaments

Actually, this has nothing to do with debate gentiles, but I've been wanting to use that phrase for a long time and have given up ever finding a context for it. It will make a good punch line for someone, some day. Feel free to take it as your own when the situation arises.

And how come Bigle X gets 60 degree weather and we get the blizzard of '88? Well, I'll tell you. In a word, global warming. Two words: Bush's global warming. All right, three words. Whatever. Bah!

Last night I broke bread with Rubin and Olivieri, something of a makeup alumni dinner. The gents are doing fine. The Olive is on his way to Firenze for a few months, the dog. We told him where to get hot chocolate and that he should read B's Dome and whatnot. I've said this before: I want to take a semester abroad. The only people who did that in my day were the hoity toits; now both the hoi and the polloi seem to travel by the horde to all these foreign climes. And they get full credit or more just for showing up. Not that I consider John either hoi or polloi, mind you, but you get my drift. I was born too soon. They didn't even have Europe when I was a kid. It was just a blank space on the map.

Tonight is the first regular meeting in a while. D&J&PFIML and Nicole have weaseled out of Pffft at Lex (they'll be paying for their crime in the judge pool, among other penalties), so there's no need to present my dazzling I.D. aff or my exceedingly clever I.D. neg. Too bad. I had good stuff, and I was so looking forward to getting fired for teaching/not teaching religion to debaters. Of course, I don't think much that gets said in the meetings travels much further than that room. For that matter, I often wonder how much of it even gets into some the harder skulls actually in the room, much less being transported thence to their heirs and assignees. We'll also catch up on much general business, and rouse ourselves with one last blast of Jan-Feb before a short hiatus (there will be no meeting next week, since I'll be too pooped to pop debatewise).

(Anyone wanna buy some good I.D. cases? Cheap?)

Monday, January 09, 2006


Let's see. First of all, they still don't seem to get it. Lord knows I've tried. Tomorrow will be my last hurrah. If, after that point, my team wishes to argue against ED on face, it's their problem. I'll be bringing my measuring forceps, to gauge just how thick some of these skulls actually are.


Ridge was a peach. It's not that bad a drive down there, about an hour and a half, which makes it just about the distance of Monticello from home base. Plus, it's on some road (287) that most motorists don't seem to have discovered yet. Aside from the occasional screech of the governor when we topped fifty-five, the ride was most pleasant and straightforward. Once there, Dario & Co pointed us to a nice registration room where Kurt and I collected money and names respectively. Turnout in the one division of novice LD was fine, somewhere in the 30s. Policy, on the other hand, was curious. One school that will remain nameless had originally registered about 145 teams and showed up with none, then four plus a maverick whom we immediately sent to the minors, then five after enough time had passed to make arriving something of a strategic error on the part of that particular pair of dawdlers. So, their 4 original teams hit 3 other teams with all the predictable byes, which was made even more interesting when one of the teams not from this school allegedly had no affirmative case and therefore forfeited to a team that had already bye'd. This being January, i.e., the year being half over, makes not having a case something of a curiosity, if you ask me. Anyhow, after round three Kaz and I were at the Excel spreadsheet trying to establish who conceivably could have won, what with all the byes and whatnot. Fortunately, two teams won 3 and no bye'd team won two, so there was no problem there, and third place similarly played out in a natural manner. Even speaker points didn't have to resort to too much magic. So we did it, but it was not without a little hi-di-hey and a little hi-di-ho, all legitimate but all of the seat-of-the-pants variety.

On the LD side, there were 6 undefeated teams, and Jeff managed to top them, meaning a nice first place for the good guys.

We returned home via the new Mexican restaurant. I'm going to come down negative on this one. The food is okay, but it's awfully noisy (beware of roving bands of singing guitarists) and expensive—especially when you're with our novices who have no idea how to wrangle a dollar bill out of their pockets, the cheapskates! YOU go out with them. I'm willing to gamble again, probably after Newark, but this time it will be at India House, and there will be a serious check of the check when it's time to do the rendering, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

And oh, yeah. Strangest event of the tournament. Some yabbo wanted an autograph. Mine. Apparently this yabbo collects debate people like baseball cards; I am considered a catch somewhere beween Marv Throneberry and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Go figure.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Less fun than a barrel of novices

Last night the varsity met at the chez to discuss Jan-Feb. In truth, this meant that The Superhero Without Any Superpowers, met at the chez to discuss Jan-Feb. My, that boy can talk! Isn't there an activity called after-dinner conversation at some state FL or other? Presumably passing the conversational ball around once in a while is a point-getter, in which case good old TSWAS isn't going to take top speaker, if you get my drift. Now he's off to New Jersey to try out his cases, and to decide whether he's right or I'm right about them. I mean, what are the odds?

Tomorrow the newbies and I head on down there to join him for a small MHL. For some reason we got few teams signed up for this weekend. I can't imagine why. You'd think that at least the LDers would want to be practicing their chops for Bigle X. Maybe some unsigned-up folks will show at the last minute; that would be nice. As it stands now there will be just one division of LD and one of Policy. In and out and don't take any prisoners. And stop at India House on the way home!

I have a message about MJP and LDEP and yadda yadda yadda in my inbox. I've got a bit of a cold at the moment so I'm not quite up to that right now, but the more I think about it, the more I hear CLG saying, If you can't pick up X's ballot, you shouldn't be in LD. So true, so true. I'll talk about that more next week when I'm presumably back in the pink. It may be time for LDEP to fish or get off the pot.

I never did mention that, when I was up with the relatives over Christmas, I got to see the Nostrumite. (I didn't get to see either Star Wars or the Milennium Falcon, however, as the MOS was sold out, which is how I found Nostrumite time, and I'm just going to assume that the girl Burgers met on the T was right and that I wasn't missing anything.) Odelie is now halfway between not pregnant and her firstborn, and she looks great. The Mite is studying carpentry so that he can build the perfect nursery, starting with a crib. This I've got to see. If there was ever anyone who doesn't know a hammer from a hog call, it's the Nostrumite. No child should have to sleep in a crib of his creation. Odelie simply gave one of those giaconda smiles that anyone married to the Mite has to master early in the relationship, the poor girl. A reproduction of the Nostrumite! The mind boggles. With luck, the little pooper will veer toward the matrilineal in its gene draw.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

More fun than a barrel of novices

Actually, there really isn't anything more fun than a barrel of novices. The turn of the year usually marks the moment when I know all of their names and half of their foibles, so it was rather entertaining last night to chez 'em up on the new topic. Of course, we first had to eliminate Pip, as it took all of about three minutes for Liza to melt into a sniffling mass of dander sauce, but otherwise it was a normal sort of meeting.

The idea of eminent domain seems to be an elusive one for newbies. Or maybe it goes as far as the real point of the resolution is elusive. Simply put, the rez poses the rightness or wrongness of a paradigm shift from a traditional (and pretty much universally accepted) exercise of eminent domain for purposes of public use to a more elusive privatization of resources that will, presumably, result in a public benefit. Reading the history of US constitutional ED, one easily follows the evolution from pure public to Kelo and private. But that doesn't make this privatization of public use right or just, which is why there's so much disagreement on the relevant cases: even Kelo was 5/4. And this chasm of opinion ought to make for interesting debating, because there really is a meaningful difference of opinion on how far governments can go in exercising societal rights of property over individual rights of property.

Am I only dreaming that people will actually argue the above? The resolution, that is? It hasn't happened much yet this season, where people were arguing that non-citizens should vote and that judicial activism = judicial review. I've always been appalled at the weak writing skills instilled in the youth of America; I'm beginning to shiver and shake comparably over the weak social studies skills. Maybe we should bring back civics. Current event classes. They used to put me to sleep, but at least I understood by about fifth grade a model of the structure of society that the interceding fifty years or so hasn't been able to diminish.

Anyhow, the advice for the novices, and maybe it's the first time they've actually heard the term, was a CBA. After all, on either side we're weighing harms versus benefits, and a given side outweighs the other or it doesn't. If they can frame cases on that simple basis, they should be in good shape. Of course, I did drop some ideas like a CRT aff, but only to make them understand that there is more in heaven and earth than is known in their philosophy, to quote the Bard.

It will be interesting to discuss the same material tonight with the old folk. There are plenty of different ways you can look at the rez, although as I told the young 'uns, it's probably best to work themselves off a set of constants (ED is intrinsically ok, fair compensation means just that, public use is potentially open to all the public without barriers) and to argue the evolution to privatization after accepting these constants. That doesn't mean, of course, that all debaters will accept them. A large percentage of bad affs will, no doubt, attempt to invalidate ED on face, or on the bases of unfair compensation or even denying public use, but those are weak approaches that anyone ought to be pre-prepped against with decent blocks. For that matter, running such silliness could actually invite the topicality debates that one dreads so much, but if a debater refuses to or is incapable of understanding a resolution, the opponent has to do *something* about it, right? I love that whole T business. Back in the day we just used to call it a sucky definitional debate, when one side's defs were too whacked out for decent argument, and it was argued down much the same as it is now. But we didn't have the luxury of imperfect jargon borrowed from policy... Oh, those edenic dark ages!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My first official act of the new year...

... is to cancel tonight's meeting. Ain't that a kick in the pants? So much for a roaring 2006.

I won't bore you with the details of my break, since they had little to do with debate, aside from the great alumni dinner at India House at which representatives from the Dark Ages intermingled with representatives from the Future, and even the food was pretty good. If we had also managed to have had Bump, the night would have been a complete success!

Other than that, there's two new additions over on the right column there. There's the Dome book, which is a knockout. If you liked Lattitude, or you're just interested in the subject (and if you want to understand Caveman all that much better), it's a strong recommend. And also, while trawling through iTunes, I found the music choice. Magnifique, as these guys would probably say, considering where they come from. You probably haven't ever heard anything like it.

Meanwhile, I'm back at work. Before long I'll catch up on Burgers and Hell in a Handbasket and whatnot. And, oh yeah, I did send a second letter to Bro. John about States. There's a link on my home page.

So, slowly, we get back into the debate universe.