Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sumer is icumen in

The new Nostrum episode is up on iTunes and all the usual places on jimmenick.com. It's a stinker, but I have no control over the content. But if Jules ever returns from Moldavia, he and I are going to have to have a serious talk about how to write dialogue!

Anyhow, working on Nostrum has got me thinking. Most school activities have a beginning, a middle and an end. A season, in other words. Football season. Baseball season. Track season. Tennis season. My guess is that even chess and tropical-fish-collecting have seasons.

Debate, on the other hand, goes on forever.

We start in September if you're a novice, or if you're returning, we start the minute the new topic is released in August. We pretty much go every week, give or take the odd interjected Jewish holiday or weekend in Vegas or whatever. Local finals are around April, followed by the National finals in May and June. By now we've managed to shake off a few novices who are freed up to return to something like normal non-debate life (although thank God they can follow every spread of every round at the national events thanks to eatmyshorts.com), but plenty of people remain wired through June. And then, when you'd think it was all over and school ends, there's debate camps. For those of you interested in such things, there's a complex thread on camps raging over at the Legion of Doom, and it's got a good underlying point: how does the poor schmegeggie coach in East Magillicuddy give advice to kids on the camps? How do we know? But regardless, the camp life carries you through the summer (although if you're lucky your parents will toss you into the back of the Hummer and take you to Disneyland to look at the parking lot) and then the next thing you know it's August and they're releasing the new topic and here we go again.

Is it worth all the tsimmes?

I wonder sometimes about people who are just too into this stuff. Granted, there are obsessive personalities everywhere, and as obsessions goes debate is rather harmless and perhaps at some levels even beneficial if, for instance, one spends one's obsessing reading Lyotard in the original Urdu: there's got to be some value in that as a mental exercise. But all these people who respond to every thread on WTF occasionally scare me (which is why I don't read every thread on WTF). Their voices, because they never shut up, are the most likely to be heard, yet they are most likely to be the obsessive lunatic fringe of the activity, evidenced by their never-shut-uppedness. So the bully pulpit of the national circuit is controlled by the wingnuts. This may not be the worst thing in the world, provided the pulpitees recognize that the pulpiters are, in fact, the obsessive lunatic fringe. At the point where the wingnut voice is interpreted as the voice of some particular authority, we have a problem of the sheep following not the shepherd, and not the wolf -- it's not that bad -- but the muskrat (or whatever other innocent animal you want to put in here if you're better at metaphors than I am). Not that all readers of WTF comments are sheep; often I suppose it's mostly just other wingnuts. But if the younger debaters in the community who are the most likely to be swayed by the opinions of those whose opinions are strong as compared to those whose opinions are worth heeding can be denoted as the sheep, then they definitely are being misguided by the muskrats.

One must be careful what one says, because one can be held accountable for it.

But then again, I'm not exactly blameless. What we have here is a dubious pulpit for my own dubious meanderings, and while I in no way consider myself a pulpiter with endless theories of LD preaching to some quietly sheepish horde of pulpitees, I do wish to remind the Vast Coachean Army that while I firmly believe everything I say, on any given day I will contradict what I said yesterday (unless I'm typing fast, in which case I'll contradict what I said a couple of paragraphs ago). Do take what I say with a grain of salt. I offer my thoughts as fodder for your own, not signposts of truth. I'm more of a believer in the "yes but" than the "absolute truth." If you ride the roller coaster of my thoughts, you will go both up and down a lot of hills.

Meanwhile, I obviously have nothing to say today. On other websites (I coyly mention no names) when they have nothing to say that doesn't stop them ("What are you doing with your old potato chip bags?" followed by 118 comments), so why should it stop me? Although if you tell me what you're doing with your old potato chip bags in the comments I'll just turn the comments off. As it is the comments now are a mix of stalkers, oblivious novices and Uncle Wiggly, in about equal proportions. I mean, do you really think I'm thinking about hardware engineers on Memorial Day? Nietzsche says nothing about Hardware Engineering that I can see, and that's about the extent of my debate mode at the moment (short of waiting for a few items on the Modest Novice and the Legion of Doom, about which more some other time). In other words, folks, THE SEASON IS OVER. GO TO THE BEACH. TAKE UP GOLF. READ DICKENS. WATCH CITIZEN KANE. WRITE YOUR MEMOIRS.

Take a break from debate. This is good advice. Some day you'll thank me for it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Best books of the last 50 years

I don't recall who organized this particular list-making deal, but you can get the details over at Burgers's blog. He and I were talking about it Friday night; I was over at his house for a poker game. He was not playing in the game -- Pere de Burgers was hosting -- but Burgers occasionally emerged to count up the chips and see if they'd have to move to cheaper quarters any time soon and to run his hands over the 50" HDTV (whoa!) and to surreptitously munch a few of the proverbial salty snack treats one finds at card games. Anyhow, Burgers has already had a leg up on the Morrison, having taken a course on her, and is set for the Roths in an upcoming course. My issue with the list was not any complaint about its content, as they all look fine to me, but my misery over having read so few of them. I've bought almost all of them. You can rummage around the back corners of the chez and find just about every decent author ever (unless Kt has laid claim to them and smuggled them out to Brooklyn), but buying a book and reading it are two different things. And it's not that I shy from quality or literary heft; I've paid my English major dues and I still feel that there may be another final any day now and I'm still not quite sure about the whiteness of the whale and I'm willing to keep studying, but for some reason, when the time comes to read something serious of the fiction persuasion, I do tend to go old and I really do tend to worry about the whiteness of the whale. It might be because I have so little time to read serious fiction (my brain is scrambled at the end of my workday of reading popular fiction) that I want a sure bet, and if a book has been around since the Buchanan administration, I figure it's probably got something going for it, guaranteed, while these whippersnapper books by Roth and Morrison and DeLillo and the like haven't gotten moldy enough yet to make the cut. But I will get to them. As a matter of fact, I had been looking for some travel reading, and figured it might very well be Morrison time, and I know I've got Beloved around here somewhere, not to mention an omnibus of three of her novels with Song of Solomon, but I'll be damned if I could find it. I looked everywhere. On the bright side, I did turn up a Steven Pinker book I didn't remember acquiring, so that's a good thing. But no Morrison. Come on out with your hands up! I know you're in there!

My biggest reading problem is choosing something for vacation, especially if there's an airplane involved. You don't want to carry more books than absolutely necessary, because traveling is already a weight-lifting contest. Of course, a single new Harry Potter will fill the bill and that's the end of that, but I used up the new Harry going to London. Which means finding something for the upcoming trip, the fewest books for the longest duration. As I said, I read popular fiction all the time, and while that certainly works on a plane, it doesn't necessarily work on a train, and I've had enough during the day and hardly feel like a busman's holiday. So I need something with some meat. I'm torn now between a couple of Dickens (a favorite author) and a Peter Bogdanovich movie book, with a leaning toward the movie book. It's obviously not fiction, but I like reading Bogdanovich and it's just the right mix of heft and airiness. Then again, I always like when Esther gets the pox, and Copperfield is one of my absolute favorites, so it could be one of them (I've bought new editions of both, with nice readable type for these tired old eyes). Then again, if Beloved turns up, I could take a chance... I'll probably throw in a Wodehouse too, as travel insurance. If you finish what you're reading, or it comes a cropper, it's nice to know there's a Plum in the suitcase to cover the emergency.

If I'm real lucky, I'll sleep on the plane going over, and have decent movies to watch on the plane coming back. A decent plane movie is something you wouldn't otherwise watch but you wouldn't mind sitting through; it's hardly the best viewing situation, so you don't want to waste a good film on that lo-res little box on the back of the seat in front of you. Coming back from London I watched Wedding Crashers and a Inspector Morse mystery -- perfect plane fodder. I was happy I hadn't paid money for WC (discounting the cost of the plane tix) but it did have a few laughs, and I was happy I caught up on the Morse. What more could you ask for?

On a totally different note: worst product placement in history. My first nomination: Sony Playstation and X-Men III. If you've seen the movie, you know what I mean. You've barely gotten over the Dell monitor plug (although you've forgiven the Fox Network News as obvious synergy) and then you're in the airplane... I mean, really!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Another day disconnected

So yesterday I hit the high road again, which means, in a word, doing the day job while turning off good old Safari. Au revoir, Le Legion Perdu. Auf wiedersehen, höllehandenkorb. Take a hike, Uncle Wiggly. I'm getting paid here, you know!

Which means you get things today like this (Tik pronounced teek looking cute):

or things like this (Tik pronounced teek looking insane)

Anyhow, that will satisfy the more-cat-pix contingent of the VCA.

I'm gearing up for the long weekend. I wish I were in Chicago to get my free DMV shirt from Uncle W and Cousin B. I would look so spiffy in full Defeat Longjohns regalia, especially those cute little captain hats they ask their lab leaders to wear that make them all look like an audition for HMS Pinafore at a Methadon clinic. I'm gonna miss that, I guess. Anyhow, I do like CFL. I see that h in a b is running essays on what it's like to win CFL. How about an essay on what it's like to lose CFL? I mean, there's a much broader pool to choose from if you concentrate on the people who didn't win the championship. What no one ever says is that there's a whole religious thing, where if you're doing good they send someone from Opus Dei to find out if you're a Catholic, and if you're not, well, you're going down. Winners of CatNats are bombarded afterwards with solicitations from the various orders, wondering if you have a vocation. I know for a fact that Chetan spent two years in a Jesuit seminary (the only order known to allow Sondheim) by special invitation of Pope John Paul II himself before Chetan remembered that, in fact, he wasn't Catholic, and that His Holiness had confused him with some Irish kid from East Minneapolis. I mean, the Pope isn't infallible, after all.

Oh, wait a minute.

I'm hoping to have final word on the Modest Novice after CFL. Meanwhile, this weekend has to include more prep for vacation in a couple of weeks, plus probably X-Men. I haven't been to a movie theatre in a while, because every movie I've looked forward to lately has opened with a resounding critical thud. That's why I've been digging deeper and deeper into the past. I could use a little popcorn, and a few hot sunny days.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I'm on the road today, but...

... if Uncle Wiggly or Cousin Bietz wanted to give, not sell, me a shirt, I would take it. Cruz said polo shirts. Quality! I would wear my hellinahandbasket.com shirt proudly at all Legion of Doom socials, including their annual debutante ball at the Scarsdale Country Club. Really.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Reservwar. Resevar. Reserve-ar. Reservarzyar...

I have posted the latest Nostrum recording and pdf in the appropriate places. There is no question in my mind that when the evildoers Jules and the Mite wrote these things, they knew that someday I'd attempt to read them aloud, and that I would find the task Herculean. I never knew how incapable I am of pronouncing the word "reservoir," for instance. The title of the episode (for no reason I could detect) is Reservoir Hot Dogs, three words that simply do not come tippingly off the Menick tongue. Fortunately for the Vast Coachean Army, I have edited out the clunkers, and the ensuing curses, so you'll barely notice the problem. Aaarrgghhh!

I'm rather marveling at the hoopla over the NFL committee. As you can read from yesterday's post, I'm pretty agnostic about it in general, and as I wrote to the Legion of Doom last night explaining my position, I don't believe that the committee should attempt to do too much, or expect too much in the way of impact. They are, after all, changing the very specific (?) rules for very specific venues, i.e., NFL tournaments. And even in that context, how much do debaters and judges look at the rules (which are hell on earth in the tabroom, but that's a different issue altogether)? Still, there will be an impact beyond NFL. After all, to the degree that anyone "owns" an activity, NFL owns LD. It's their baby; for better or worse, they created it. And what they say about it today will influence it beyond its natal borders (even if only to influence national $ircuit types to storm the barricades and swear off any allegiance and curse the NFL's collective souls to perdition).

I've been communicating with the Muffler (i.e., MFL's Chris Palmer) about the Bullpup tab room. I had originally thought that I might have to use TRPC From Hell, because I thought we'd need to print ballots, but that won't work, so I can see no reason not to use Good Old Classic TRPC instead. The real problem with the new version, in this case, would be its occasional tendency to mix the different divisions into one, unlike Classic, which uses a different field system and always keeps divisions separate. I have watched Monticello, NFA, Bump and MHLs all suffer through this problem, and have no intention of ever suffering through it again. But the problem of having only single divisions on an installation is the complication of sharing judges, as one would wish to do to some extent if there's a V and JV pool. Anyhow, I told the Muffler I'd enter all the data and get there early on Friday to work through registration, which should lead to the least amount of start-up glitches. We'll see.

There was some discussion of flex prep (which I really do think sounds like a good name for a shampoo) on ROTFL; NoRelation, if you ask me, had the question knocked. I stopped reading after his post, since I now felt I knew what I thought about the subject. Other than that, things are pretty quiet over there at hellinahandbasket.com. Mostly Uncle Bubba is sharpening his intergalactic Borg communication chip to bring us second-by-second coverage of the whining that inevitably accompanies any CatNat. Plus there's trying to figure out who's who, when everyone is listed by code. It'll keep the Chutster out of mischief for the day, anyhow. I've been telling him he should take up a hobby, like macrame or something. But no, he'll be in Chicago giving out hellinahandbasket.com tee shirts (or probably selling them--I wonder if they still have their donation thing going; if you refuse to support them on religious grounds, then support me: just put the money in an envelope and send it to Jim Menick/Vast Coachean Army/Good Old U S of A, and I know the post office will find me).

Speaking of religion (as we were, parenthetically), part 3 of Fearless Freddy is about just that. Religion as tantamount to (mental) slavery? This guy must have been really popular at the weekly church socials. I'll bet he never once remembered to bring the cole slaw.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Purity in LD

FYI: I am sending the following to Fred R and the NFL Committee to Ban Concupiscence in LD

-----

I wish I were going to be there to participate in full in the committee. However, I do offer my thoughts, some of which are felt strongly, and I’ve so noted them.


1. Full review of all manual items related to the event

I simply offer a little changed wording, as marked. Most should be kept as is.

In the manual:
Question: The question will be one requiring a value judgment.

And from the ballot section of the manual (which I assume means that all of this will be printed on the ballots):
1. Unlike policy debate, the resolution to be debated will be a proposition of value rather than a proposition of policy. Thus the students are encouraged to develop argumentation on the resolution in its entirety based upon conflicting underlying principles and values to support their positions. To that end, they are not responsible for practical applications; no plan will be offered by the affirmative.
Unnecessary, and confusing.
2. Delete: There are no prescribed burdens in L-D as there are in policy debate; no "burden of proof" and no "presumption." There is no status quo. Therefore, decision rules are fair issues to be argued in the round.
Substitute: There is no presumption in L-D; both debaters have equal burdens to uphold their side of the resolution. For example, in a given resolution, "X is Y," the affirmative must contend that that X is Y, and the negative must contend that X is not Y. The judge will decide the round on the basis of which side best upheld its position.
If someone can dome up with a better construct than my X is Y, please do.

Add (separate number): Both sides of the debate must accept the content of the resolution. Arguments that reject part or all of the resolution based on wording, presumed framers' intentions, etc., will be disregarded by the judge.
If we don’t come up with something like this, there’s not much point in having a wording committee…

3. Evidence is not a primary consideration in L-D Debate. Logical reasoning is of primary consideration as well as the maturity of thought. Examples and analogies are to be used for purposes of illustration only. The nature of proof should be in the logic and the ethos of authoritative opinion.
4. This event is not unrelated oratory; as such there must be clash concerning the major arguments in the debate. The clash must relate to the values argumentation. Cross Examination should clarify and advance argumentation.
5. Communication in L-D Debate should approximate superior speaking to community groups. (Definitely keep this in, not that anyone ever pays attention to it.)
6. In making your decision, be as objective as you possibly can. Remember these are value propositions upon which you may have strong feelings of which the debaters are unaware. You should judge the round as it is debated, not as you personally feel. You might ask yourself the following questions: a. Which debater persuaded you that his/her position was more valid? b. Which debater communicated more effectively? c. Which debater logically supported his/her position more effectively?


2. The Topic Selection Process

Listening to Fred explain the issues of topic selection in Kentucky, I felt remiss about my own lack of participation over the years. On the other hand, I was shocked to learn (and I assume it’s true) that only a small percentage of districts vote from the list of 10.

I would suggest the following:
1. That Ripon send out an official call for topics to the districts a month or two before nationals. We’re sort of catch as catch can now, I think.
2. That the topic committee do whatever it’s been doing at Nationals, the way it’s been doing it. I think the list of 10 shows a wide range, and pretty good wording.
3. That the 10 topics be sent to the District chairs, or perhaps a secondary broader committee, immediately after the list is decided at Nationals. My real problem with topics usually hinges on a word or phrase, the inclusion or exclusion of which would make a substantive difference in the debating of that resolution. (For instance, in the separation of church and state resolution, a large number of debaters argued “strictness,” positing loose separation versus strict separation. A change in wording would have eased this misdirection of energy, in some degree getting debaters back on topic.) To quote Twain, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. Pushing the resolutions out to the chairs for a little breather and response early in the summer could help swat away those lightning bugs. Chairs would respond back to the committee by a set date (8/15?) , and the committee could discuss via email and make its final determination by 9/1(?), allowing plenty of time in this electronic age for the committee to discuss, and the membership to vote. This keeps the responsibility within the committee, but gives the committee the benefit of the interested membership, and the time to mull things over.


3. Release of the Topic

The process now is fine, both in the number of topics and the amount of time to consider them. Don't change. The only issue I’ve seen (which I don’t agree with) strikes me as a moving target, that is, institute trainers or whoever getting a competitive leg up; they’ll get a leg up no matter what you do, once they figure it out. The process now does a good job of separating LD from Policy and PFD, separating the “purity” of each.

4. Purity in LD
5. Definition of LD Debate and Theory


The less officially said on points 4 and 5 the better. That is, the committee need not define these, and probably should not. Making select changes (such as I noted under number one) should be enough. The more that gets said, the less it will be regarded. There is a risk that NFL could be balkanized if it goes too far.

6. Electronic Retrieval Devices

I have no objection to PCs in a round (which seem to be more trouble than they’re worth in LD), but perhaps some wording to the effect that “electronic communications of any nature are prohibited” is necessary.

7. Internet Sourcing and a Review of Full Cite Source Rules

The present evidence rules require full citation, clean copies a la policy, the whole shebang. No one follows these rules, but they are good and should not be changed. The only thing that might be added is that “Providing a quotation in a printed copy of a case will not suffice as meeting the evidentiary requirements.”

8. Establishing consequences for violations or not

No comment.

9. Judge Paradigm Form

I do believe that a contestant should have some idea about the judge. Good speaking may require judge adaptation, but you need to know what you’re adapting to. Judge paradigms are probably impractical for Districts, at least when there’s a number of parents adjudicating rounds. Paradigms should be required for Nationals, though; I would suggest written, not numerical, posted on the NFL website by a reasonable date.

10. Ballot Review

30 points (even though they don't matter at NFL tournaments, they ought to be traditional), plus get rid of all those little boxes and put a big general open space on there for RFDs, comments, etc., like the normal ballots we see all the time.

11. Time Limits and Structure in LD

Don’t change. You would get something different, but probably no better or worse.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Tan, ready and rested

Three days off. What a joy. Not a debate thought coursing through my brain, aside from my grapplings with Fearless Freddie. I wish he'd come out and say something. Yeah, the courageous philosopher moving beyond received (linguistic) wisdom is a great hero, I guess because he's one himself, and the misguidance of youth is a problem, I guess because he was misguided in his. Okay, there is some positive material hinted at, concepts of morality and the will to power and all that Zen Ethics stuff we've all come to know and love, but FF is so bloody circumspect. It's a good thing he's fun to read. I like a writer who gets to the point and stays there.

Stop snickering, you spalpeen!

My return to the debate world began with a phone call from Ripon today. These people do get up awfully early in the morning. Their office day starts at 7:00. That must be hell during blizzard season, not that it ever snows in balmy Wisconsin. In any case, it was details about cancelling our poor Pffft team, and Ewok too for that matter, who as far as he and I have been concerned has been cancelled practically since we announced that he qual'd. I think that next year, all things taken into consideration, we'll pull a team at Districts at the moment it looks like they're going to qual unless we're damned sure they've got their own parent signed, sealed and delivered for Nationals. It's sort of a shame that a national tournament, and one that we strongly participate in, is regularly so inaccessible. I'll never go until I retire from Reader's Digest, because I'll never have that much time available to take off at once. I barely have enough time to take off what I do take off as it is, and still get my own vacation. No offense intended to the Vast Coachean Army, but I really don't consider debate tournaments a vacation. A break in the norm (or maybe RD is the break from the norm) but not a vacation. To me, it's not a vacation unless there's a guidebook, a really good dinner, and an endless walk through the byways photographing domes and flying buttresses. Unless you're talking Disney, in which case it's not a vacation unless you leave the Old Baudleroo out in the parking lot where he's happiest, you leave Uncle Wiggly where he's happiest on line to get Mary Poppins's autograph (and don't break it to him that it's not the real Mary Poppins), and you follow the Unofficial Guide much the same way Eisenhower invaded Normandy (you make a plan and you stick to it, regardless of the casualties). Debate is fun, but it's work. No doubt you feel the same way. If you don't, you probably shouldn't be doing it.

I managed to get way too many emails during my short hiatus. The good news is, the Muppet Christmas album was just shipped by Amazon. Piggy pudding all around! The bad news is, I've got to get cracking on my Legion of Doom poster boy chores. For those in the VCA who care, the pronunciation of the name of this blog is cault-whack-Ian, where it's cault as in Foucault, Ian as in Fleming, and the emphasis on the whack. Jim Menick, obviously, is pronounced with any appropriate shock and awe. And turn off Uncle Wiggly's email connection for just two minutes, and his whole bloody dam practically bursts from the internal pressure. Jeesh! Ever thought of taking up checkers or something, fella? Go to the movies, will ya. Or study the architecture around Washington Square. Maybe go to Tiffany's and explain the Frank Gehry jewelry to me. Or even do the Saturday crossword puzzle. Just move away from the computer, please, before someone gets hurt!

A propos of nothing, I've begun to lust after 5th gens and DS Lites. Three days off and the mind wanders.

And I've got an important question, aimed primarily at recent college graduates, or those still in college. What, exactly, is a college widow? And did/do you have one at your school? Do all schools have one, except mine? All four of the Marx boys seem to marry the college widow at the end of Horse Feathers, and the whole concept is simply taken for granted by everyone in the movie. There's a dean. There's a football team. And there's a college widow. Of course, the movie would never play nowadays because of the football rivalry between Huxley and Darwin. Ah, those were simpler (and I think smarter) times. For what it's worth, I have done my best to immortalize those times here at the Day Job: the password on all the Excel sheets that I don't want my colleagues mucking up is, of course-- Wait a minute! You don't know? You haven't seen the movie? Quick: is the source of the following quote from Quincy Adams Wagstaff, or Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche?

"Whatever it is, I'm against it!"

(Not easy, is it?)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Day Two

Day two of not checking my email. I could get to like this. Gives me more time to ponder the universe. If you really need to get in touch with me about anything, meditate deeply. I'll catch the vibes.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ignoring the ships in the bay (and they haven't gone away)

I can't drag myself to check out my email account today. I just don't want to look at the inbox. There's going to be a reply to my endless screed to the Bullpups about how I think tab should be run, and there's going to be a list of members of the Legion of Doom so that I can go forth and posterboy the tournament policies. And there's going to be something from Dr. Happychristian Dogood offering me a chance at high office in the Nigerian intelligence service. Not to mention someone expressing further disbelief that I won't be in Dallas in June to argue about T violations and purity of essence.

I'm taking the day off and working for a change. The day job, that is. Just this once. I'll think about the above tomorrow. After all, tomorrow. is. another. day.

On the you're-never-too-old-to-learn-new-bull-ogna front, I am learning that old Zen Ethics doesn't even have much truck with science! Sold me out there, I'll tell you. Oh, well. Beware of the seduction of words! he says. Not words as in the lure of writing, because if that were the case, I'd have to toss him out the carriage window. No, he's talking about the concept that words have hard-to-shake pre-existing meanings before we begin to consider them philosophically. "I think," as a concept, for instance. The words "I think" contain too many inherent assumptions for the philosopher. The concept of an I. The concept of thinking. The concept that I can think (which he warns you will conclude if you know the words "I think," hence beware the seduction of words). The concept that the agent precedes the thought. That there is indeed thought. Take your pick. I can't wait till he stops saying what we can't do and starts saying what we can do. But already one can see the intrinsic modernism of knowing that language can be a limitation of thought (although, as an aside, linguistics orthodoxy today probably doesn't conclude that we can't think what we can't say, but that's a different issue altogether, if you give a Pinker's damn).

And, I'm already starting to worry about Bump. Jeesh.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Refuseniks, Bullpups, purity, God is Dead and Cheney's bathroom reading

Great googly-moogly: the Russian philosophers really are having their day, so to speak. It's come to the point where one simply can't joke about anything. Next thing you know, it's going to turn out that George W. Bush is, like, President of the US or something.

Na'ah. Couldn't happen.

The Yale invitation went out yesterday from the Bullpups, and sure enough, I'm on there as working tab. I'd told Chris Palmer of the MFL that I'd be happy to help out because I felt that, not to put too fine a point on it, I'd had a modicum of experience in tab rooms hither and yon, with decent success. They've promised to limit their numbers, and apparently all LD is in one building, etc., etc., etc., all of which should work toward making it a successful tournament. They certainly get a good field, and always have. But the annual turnover of directors makes for discontinuity of operation knowledge, and anything can happen. Old Tim Averill, the God of Pffft, had ironed them out for a while, but now he has Pfffter fish to fry. So Chris has assembled a tab room of me and JoVan and Lynne and Minh and Jenny Cook. Jeesh! It's going to be like Grand Central in there! But we should prevent things like rounds starting after midnight and the like. I have assembed my 95 Theses which I'll be e-nailing to them shortly. It's not like I'm over-organized or anything, but I do like things just so...

I've been enjoying the discussion of the NFL LD committee over on DMV. I had thought that the purity of LD had something to do with naughty bits, but it turns out it simply means distinguishing it from Policy and Pffft. Damn. What a disappointment.

As for future lectures, if you wish to follow in your books, we're going with Beyond Good and Evil because, according to old Zen Ethics himself, it sums up his stuff pretty well. I'd forgotten what a good writer he is. I started last night and was zipping right along. It's hard not to like a guy who manages to put down religion, Plato and Kant before even getting up a marginal head of steam, and I was smirkily satisfied to see that he, too, thinks that science may be a better path to truth, such as it is, than philosophy. Still, whenever you read anything about old Fred, the author tells you that everybody else always misinterprets him (except, presumably, the person you're reading at the moment). This is a load off my mind. If I'm going to misinterpret him for my own evil ends, it's nice to know that I'm in good company.

And an interesting aside for West Wing non-fans: in the final episode when they're cleaning out Martin Sheen's office during the inauguration of his successor, they find a copy of a book by Foucault (it went by too fast for me to catch the title). If you were worried about the state of our fine country, it's nice to think that if Bartlett could sit around reading Foucault, so could Dubya. In the original Greek, I'm sure.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ruby Keeler’s Feet, or, How to Conduct an Awards Ceremony

I would like to be able to connect these two subjects, but I don’t think I can. My narrative skills fail me. It might be because last night, when I went to find my copy of The Genealogy of Morals, it had gone missing. Now, this could be a sign from the twilit gods that I shouldn’t read the book again, or maybe someone just stole it, someone uber enough to be above the morality of theft. Pip? Tik pronounced teek? Damn, the conundrums that affect us day in and day out. None of this stuff happens when I just sit around playing Kingdom Hearts.

The Hen Hud school district budget went down in flames last night. Will this affect our beloved Sailors? I don’t think much, but stay tuned. When I went over to vote after work yesterday the joint was truly jumping. I haven’t seen this many people at the polls since the Gore victory in ’00. I’ve also never seen the inside of the gym at the grammar school before, because that’s usually where the Mothers Against Debate are always meeting during Bump, and they always cordon off the area to keep out the riff and the raff of LD. Well, there’s a first time for everything. I was disappointed. I figured this was where they kept the sacred monkeys, but there was nothing but great apes eating donuts and shooting down the tax increase.

The latest installment of Nostrum has gone up successfully on iTunes, and the accompanying pdf is over on the Mite Site. I’m also in the middle of editing part 2 of Caveman, the part where I mispronounce Augustine the saint as Augustine the city in Florida. I’m learning a lot from this lecture; it’s a very strange process, because the material sounds new to me. It’s like when I write something and then read it a year or two later. It’s as if someone else wrote it. Lingo, for instance. I can’t for the life of me remember committing it to paper, and if I thumb through it, it’s totally foreign. Weird.

As for Ruby Keeler, here’s the thing. I was watching Golddiggers of 1933 and yet again wondering why, exactly, old Ruby was a star of musical comedy. It’s not that she’s terrible, not really, but she’s also not particularly good, and you can’t imagine why they hired her when there were presumably so many other people around who could sing and dance and act. Ruby is, at best, only passable at all of these, and she’s certainly no great beauty. Most remarkable is the fact that she is primarily a tap dancer, yet she has absolutely no physical grace whatsoever. A dancer’s body should anything but a physical body; tap dancers especially appear notoriously insouciant when they’re plying their trade, their hands in their pockets, wry smiles on their faces, a wink in their eyes, their feet doing the most amazing things. If they ever take their hands out of their pockets, their incorporeality will dazzle you. Ruby, on the other hand, in pocket or out, is complete corporeal. It’s as if her feet, with some mind of their own, have learned how to passably imitate tap dancing, and the rest of her is either trying to keep up or marveling at curiosity of it all. She constantly and famously stares down at her feet as if she’s never seen them before, and she’s wondering what they hell they think they’re doing down there anyhow. And, she was one of Warner’s biggest musical stars. (And Mrs. Jolson, at some point.) Go figure. Or, go into your dance. If you watch Warner films, you’re not doing it to reacquaint yourself with Ruby’s feet (much as she is doing). You’re there for Busby B, the great abstractionist choreographer. But you have to put up with a lot of Ruby to get there. Oh, well…

I am always impressed with JWP’s style of award presentation at the Wheaties (AKA the Breakfast of Champions at TOC). The Wheaties is a couple of hours of grits and speeches and awards, and if those awards were dragged out, we’d still probably be there. JWP has the perfect style, and I urge all tournament directors to emulate it. The problem with awards, from the TD point of view, is that people take their bloody sweet time coming up to the podium to collect them. The better an LDer is, and therefore the more likely to be winning an award, the further away they like to sit from the podium. They’re like tap dancers, sitting all the way in the back with their hands in their pockets, insouciant about the whole taking-tin business. When their names are called, even if they proceed with all due haste, it still takes them an hour to reach the stage because they’re starting out from six blocks west of Cleveland. Then there’s the gangsta approach. The debater’s name is called, the roof is raised a few times, and the Walk That Knows No Direction takes place. The WTKND is about as much right and left and up and down as it is forward. Watching it, you can’t believe that the perambulator is actually covering any lateral distance. This is, I guess, the hip-hop MTV version of tap-dancer cool, with about the same results, and it seems to be more Policy than LD. Maybe that’s the big difference between the two activities. I haven’t watched enough Pfffters accepting awards to fit them into this construct yet.

There is a solution to this problem, and JWP knows it, although at the Wheaties he’s mostly working with the problem of people jostling their way up through the aisles crowded with forensicians from far and wide staring at the plates of grits and trying to figure if they’re food or science project. And the solution is, you call out the name. Pause. Then you call out the next name. Pause. Then you call out the next name. Rinse. Repeat. Until all the awards are handed out. This forces people to hustle along, because the train appears to be pulling out of the station and, all matters of ego aside, no matter how insouciant a forensician is, what he or she really wants is to grab hold of that tin! The worst thing a tournament director can do is announce a name and wait for Mr. or Ms. America to traverse the catwalk to accept it. Hours can pass for each one. Think of it as the equivalent of the speecho-American single clap, where that one thunderous SSSWWWAACKK for each name keeps those speecho-As moving along at quite the clip. The rule of thumb is simple: no one cares about an award ceremony beyond grabbing their own award, if they are receiving one, and getting the hell out of there, if they’re not. I cannot for the life of me remember anyone saying, after any tournament of any stature or of any tradition, boy that was one great award ceremony. The only good award ceremony is a brief award ceremony. Head ‘em up! Move ‘em out! Your attendees with thank you for it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

About Two Hemorrhages Apiece

Or, Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut. Maybe that's what Bubba Chut's been looking for as a team name. Uncle Wiggly. Works for me. It would probably work for Bronx Science, too.

Anyhow, Uncle Wiggly was in Connecticut over the weekend, working with the folks in Newtown who were hosting an event. Connecticut has always been problematic in forensic circles. They do have local, intramural debate, and a little activity between schools, from what I can determine, but not much more. Every year, it seems, some schmegeggie raises his head and is directed to me as local NFL District Chair, and I go through the whole rigamarole and they're never heard from again, but Larry Saladin (whose team so ought to be called the Saracens) seems to be an exception. He knows what he's doing, he's run a team all year, they've shown up hither and yon, they've done well, and they look to come back even stronger next year. Hell, they even figured out to invite Uncle Wiggly with his vast tabbing skills (he is the only person known to have been thrown out of the Vassar tabroom and into the Lakeland tabroom, with similar results) and his Intergalactic Locutus Chip keeping him always in contact with DVM, me and the Borg, the end result of which was, well grab my socks and call me Shorty, a mention on old hellinahandbasket.com, right between calls for archival information on the 1927 event at Bronx Science and requests for alms to keep up the bandwidth. I truly hope that Newtown can infect other Nutmeggers with their enthusiasm. The more the merrier, if you ask me, and eager grassroots debate is so preferable to jejune national $ircuit stuff.

I posted an updated reading list on the Hen Hud team website over the weekend. I think I went into it with grander plans than I came out with. Originally Marc M had written this up for me, and I'd posted it, and over the years I'd tinker with it and add new titles and whatnot, and when all was said and done I didn't see much point in changing it too much this year. Plus I just got lazy. BenT suggested adding Al Toqueville's ON DEMOCRACY, which I think is a fine choice, but that and S&S and Putnam are the only new titles; the world of potential LD reading is vast, and what we're concentrating on here is core, as compared to elective. I put Putnam in as required Summer reading (although there is a choice of titles) because I think it's a fine start for anyone interested in sociology. It's well written, it's smart, and it even offers some communitarian thought that can be reprocessed back into rounds (as Emcee did on every topic, plus his college application essays, his driver's license and, I think, all his romantic conversations, such as they are). There's also all sorts of secondard readings on the list, a hodgepodge of novels that are either marginally debatic or simply worth reading so that you'll have something smarter to talk about on the bus than your favorite scenes from Family Guy. Not that I don't like an endless run through of "remember that scene" as much as the next guy, but only if the next guy if Heinrich Himmler.

The NFL LD guidelines committee has resurfaced. I was invited originally (only God and Scott Wunn know why) to sit on this committee, which is meeting in Dallas, but I demurred, since I wouldn't be there. But then again, old Fred Robertson who's chairing the committee sent me a document from Smilin' J, and I just couldn't resist telling Fred that, if I can, I'd like to be kept in long distance. Smiley's document is almost as long as Caveman, but better organized and less likely to be a podcast. Whew! I can't wait to read it. I've set aside July and the first two weeks of August.

Speaking of Caveman, I finished the rough of part two last night; it'll probably come in at about an hour in length when it's edited, and there's still plenty more parts to go. This isn't a lecture, it's a life commitment, and you can dedicate a whole small Nano to it. The lecture does improve some of the points in the written text, though. I keep reading and studying the subject material, so every time I go back at it, I either know more to add or find errors to correct. I have to admit I felt great joy finishing Delirious New York. Koolhas makes a lot of tenuous connections but the core idea of Manhattanism and congestion survive the text and definitely add context to modernist urbanists. I'm just about ready to give up coaching LD and start coaching the Hen Hud conceptualist architectural team. Do we have one of those? Probably not. I should give Scarsdale a call. If ever a high school had a conceptualist architectural team, Scarsdale would be it.

(Yeah, today's title, if you couldn't place it: JD Salinger. Holden C's parents would have about 2 Hs apiece if he told about his youth, and UWIC is a Salinger story. If you're curious, study the trail of UWIC into Hollywood, which explains why Jerry never let any others of his stories get sold to Tinseltown, a point he pounds home in Catcher.)

Preeminent Domains (or, Koolhas expanded)

The problem with urban planning would seem to be that, while it would be optimal to build a city from scratch, you tend to be stuck figuring out what to do with the city you already have somewhere in the middle. That’s a lot of what Delirious New York is about. Koolhas shows how NYC grew, and the ideas that went into it, and the ideas that were floating around it that tried to go into it. It’s not like a Jane Jacobs v. Robert Moses thing; it’s more of an architect’s take on the other architects, plus a meditation on the themes underlying the architecture.

There’s a number of great themes to NY. The tower is one of the most important, going back to the 19th Century’s Crystal Palace in Bryant Park (which was the American take on Victoria’s and Albert’s CP in London). There’s plenty of towers at Coney Island (one of which kept being mistaken for a real lighthouse, to much annoyance of ship captains) in its turn-of-the-century heyday. There’s the Trylon of the 1939 World’s Fair, my personal favorite. And, of course, there’s the dozens and dozens of towers incorporated into the skyscrapers that sprouted up on Manhattan over the years.

Manhattan just grew at the beginning, and you can tell this today by walking around the lower parts of the island, where the roads run higgledy-piggledy as roads will. In the 19th Century the NY grid was created, dividing the city into the streets and avenues we know now. A real grid, creating the issue of blocks. Each block is the same, inviolable. What do you do with them?

Theoretically city planning was from scratch, then, at this point, except that you didn’t have the congestion of the city, and its pressure to push the city up into the sky. Nor, yet, did you really have the structural tools to do so. But they came soon enough, and the next thing you know, you can start building skyscrapers which, as Koolhas said, originally simply reproduced the earth (and the Flatiron Building is a perfect example of this, a little triangular space with a tall triangular building reproducing the ground on every level). As tall buildings become feasible, people started imagining what they would be like, and there were theorists of skyscrapery. What goes inside a building, once it’s built? What should it look like from the outside. Koolhas discusses the lobotomy between interiors and exteriors. The outsides of the buildings start taking on their certain look, while the insides can be just about anything from (real) recreations of ancient Babylon to (real) golf courses to (fictional) little suburban houses taking up entire floors, complete with lawns and flowering shrubbery. Often a building would take over the shape of an entire block (but no more, because the grid is the absolute limit, and there are still almost no exceptions – Central Park, of course, Lincoln Center, maybe some of the socialist realist blocks of urban renewal); an entire block-wide building filled with whatever you wanted to put into it. Architecturally, from the outside, skyscrapers became monuments, or as Koolhas puts it, automonuments: monuments to themselves. The Woolworth Building is a temple of commerce, whatever that is, but really, it’s a temple calling one to worship its own existence.

It didn’t take long for a big problem with skyscrapers to surface: they cast big shadows, stealing the sunlight from the street. In 1916 zoning laws were passed that required that, while at the bottom a building could take up as much as an entire block, from a certain point up, it had to be set back. This leads to a certain classic NYC skyscraper look for 40 years or so, a large bottom with a tower in the middle, something of a cathedral with spire approach. Some buildings simply got pointy, like the Empire State or Chrysler. Models for these sort of zoning-law buildings are seen in the wonderful Hugh Ferriss paintings, models of massive buildings in a expressionistic City of Nowhere.

Through all of this, there are the theorists. All sorts of designs of what the city ought to be (many of which would require tearing down the existing city). Large areas with parks in the middle and four enormous towers on each corner. Sidewalks raised above street levels creating a Venice with cars on the street filling in for boats on the canals. Great stuff, wildly imaginative, often totally ridiculous or impossible. But a lot of what you might look at now as old-timey science fiction illustration derives at the time from very serious ideas of urbanism.

Le Corbusier (Corbu, the crow) came along in the 30s with his plan for the city, which did indeed require that the present city be torn down. He had been hawking this plan for a city around the world; no one took him up on it. It included a different kind of skyscraper, which he called the horizontal skyscraper rising out of the jungle, the antidote to the mishmash lobotomized automonumental buildings that existed now in Manhattan. These buildings can only be understood in that that are anti-Manhattanist, anti-grid, anti-zoning, anti-congestion. What you get from Corbu is the United Nations building, rising out of its park on the east side. The cleanest possible modern skyscraper. (Or better still, if you’re looking for the antidote to what came before, maybe you should look at the Mies’ Seagram’s Building, right in the thick of things, in its own little concrete park, with the modernist Lever House across the street with its own created rooftop park.)

One of the big take-aways from the book, if only indirectly, is that idea that you can’t plan a city, that they just grow, for whatever reasons. Of course, you can lay out a grid, as did New York and D.C. You can rebuild all at once, as did San Francisco after the earthquake, or Haussman’s Paris. But at the point you need to fold in skyscraper architecture, you’re probably talking about a city that is already there, and already pretty dynamic, so you’re stuck with some measure of pre-existing infrastructure. You can, I guess, build something in a vacuum as goofily postmodern as Dubai, but most cities making names for themselves today are pretty old (Taiwan and Singapore, for instance), throwing up tall buildings to make a point, not to re-urbanize. Disney planned out his Prototype Community, very much in the classic city planning approach of a Corbu, covering every aspect of its citizens’ lives, but it wasn’t his death that kiboshed it, it was the organic Jane Jacobs gospel that convinced people that cities needed to be lively at ground zero. (If the Disney Corp people had ever felt that Walt’s idea would succeed, they would sooner or later have produced it, Epcot or no Epcot. Hell, they made a movie out of Country Bears, after all.)

I love walking around cities. A city like New York, with so little history, is almost comprehensible (it’s its magnitude that does you in). I look forward to Budapest, Vienna and Prague in a few weeks. Centuries upon centuries of history. Get out the walking shoes.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Commentary

So what happens is, if you make a comment here, is that it gets delivered to my Yahoo account. I get some curious stuff. I mean, I make the odd mention about reading Foucault in the original Greek, and the next thing you know I'm getting messages from someone who indeed does that very thing, and not only that, he tells me where to get off on the subject of Eastern European philosophers. Jeesh. Just try to make a joke around here. No doubt my anonymous commenter would prefer I talk about things I know something about, but that would make for a pretty bleak and empty canvas, and I would have packed up and gone home a long time ago.

My problem with philosophy may be that I don't believe in it. It's another game. If it's an attempt to understand existence, it A) is running a poor second at best to studying science, B) is usually written by people who seem to be viciously intent on not being understood, C) is usually only applicable to the culture in which it is written, making it a subjective product of society and not an objective analysis of reality, and D) very distracting from my true interest, which is women's professional hockey.

Most of that is true (but please, don't send me any messages about women's professional hockey). If you want to understand how the mind works in 2006, a consilient approach to studying organic chemistry while dabbling in the humanities may be your best bet, that is, science with a bit of thought-study thrown in. Philosophers, in their attempt to understand whatever it is they are trying to understand, have few tools at their disposal. They have empirical evidence of their own senses, which they may or may not accept, they have intuition, which they may or may not accept, and they have logic, the skill set of objective presentation which they have no choice but to accept if they wish to extrapolate anything from their empirical or intuitive experiences. The end result is a schema through which one can explain things as compared to an actual, objective explanation of things. Philosophers lay out a schema, an approach, and overlay it on stuff, and hope that the schema explains the stuff. The more limited the stuff, the easier it is to explain, but the more limited the stuff, the less need there is to explain it. People have BIG questions that need answers. That's why philosophers earn the big bucks, by addressing the big questions. But the more philosophers attempt to answer those big questions, the more the schema fails.

None of which is a reason not to study philosophy. Far from it. Philosophy makes us think, because it attempts to explain reality to us. We just need to keep in mind that, at the core, it does not and can not ever actually succeed in the attempt.

From this, you ought be be able to deduce that I am not a student of philosophy myself, or at least of ontological and epistemological studies. I am vastly impressed by those who are. People on hellinahandbasket.com are always throwing around stuff that is way over my head. This may raise the question, what exactly am I a student of. Well, I tend more toward figuring out ethics, right and wrong, and I have a little background in antrophology so I like studying cultures and cultural studies and I'm attracted to sociology. So I'll like someone like Mill who wrote about the rights of the individual and rights of women and the conflict of rights vs rights, and wrote well in the bargain (I do like a good writer; I mean, I cried at the end of Charlotte's Web and all that). I am intrigued by Rawls right up until he rolls out the blackboard and starts doing the math; as soon as A*B is the square root of Theta, I'm out of here trying to find out if there's anything good on the golf channel. But when he's trying to figure out, in a vacuum, how to construct the most fair society possible, I'm intrigued. I'm a sucker for the Putnams of the world (Bowling Alone), attempts at modern analysis of society. I enjoy the old Baudleroo because he's a total whack writing on subjects I often read from other perspectives, like Disney and media and architecture. I guess, when all is said and done, I'm more practical than philosophical. At the end of the day (as people who always say "at the end of the day" say), I want something to happen. I want to do something. I want action. (Unless, of course, there's something good on the golf channel.)

Obviously, I'm a dilettante. A dabbler. A flaneur. But I'm not here to analyze myself; I'm here to report on what happens on the coachean side of debate life. In fact, I'm not even me. I am actually Richard Sodikow pretending to be me. (Okay, that's a lie. I'm actually Mango Chutney, pretending to be O'C, pretending to be Soddy, pretending to be Menick. Menick doesn't even have a blog. Menick can't even write. He works all day. Whaddya think, he hires illegal aliens on the way to the office to do his Reader's Digest editing while he spends all of his time writing this?)

My philosopher friend is not my only commenter, of course. Termite keeps insisting that he should have a different name, and even goes so far as to refer to himself as the Mite, which of course he isn't, because the Nostrumite is the Mite, and Termite is, well, Termite. If he were to stop insisting that he should have a different name, he might have a ghost of a chance of getting one. Not bloody likely. What are the odds he'll try again with a comment here? Another nail in the termitarium... The Nostrumite never comments, because he's too busy raising the Nostrumette and coaching Tennessee Williams High School and giving me advice on the readings of Nostrum. He had to kill his own team's blog, so he's highly unlikely to get too involved with this one.

Mango Chutney, known familiarly to his team as Bubba Chut, is also a frequent commenter, but then again, he's also a frequent subject. He represents so many things. The Bronks. Vassar. Long Island. Hellinahandbasket. He's sort of a one-size-fits-all reference whenever I need one. Without Bubba Chut, I'd be out of business.

HoraceMan TSWAS, pops up occasionally. And Emcee. Kt. CLG. Burgers. The odd coach or two (I mean, they'd have to be odd, 1, to read this and, 2, to post to it). Fortunately the spalpeen keeps his nasty little mouth shut, but then again, he probably knows that if I could track him down I'd be coming to his house with a lawn mower, a budgerigar, and a missal blessed by Cardinal Sin. I know that it wasn't that long ago when I was whining that I was a lone voice crying in the wilderness, and since then I've come to the conclusion that I am in fact the leader of the vast coachean army, second in size only to North Korea's, only hungrier and with better internet service. Then again, show me Kim Jong-il's blog. I may not know a lot about philosophy, but damn, I know for a fact that, if nothing else, I'm a funnier guy than he is. I'm probably even a better philosopher. I'll take him on any day, soldier for soldier, epistemology for epistemology, wry comment for wry comment.

You know, come to think of it, the debate season really must be over. Otherwise, why am I going on like this, and worse, why are you still reading it?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

1.618xxxxxxxxx

"Whenever one is about to do something truly horrible, we always say the French have been doing it for years." -- Stage Beauty

While we're in the snippet mode, those of you who know me well have heard me sing along with Ax'l thus: "Take me down to the prairie dog city, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty..." Well, add to that, courtesy Penn Jillette, the fact that the opening of the Immigrant Song is exactly the same as the opening of Bali Hai. "Bali Haaaaiiiiiiii-AYE!" I'll never hear either song the same again.

Take me down to the prairie dog city. Pronto.

The debate season, as it turns out, ends with a whimper. NFARR (the villain in Aladdin Part 5) has been cancelled. I was looking forward to it, a little fun at the end of the season. Sort of an antidote to the TOC (although Robert the G was allegedly running a linguistics kritik, but then again, if you can't play games at a round robin, where can you?). And finances have knocked us out of NFL and sidelined our splendiferous Pfffters Hush and Emcee. So, it's over. I'll stop blogging now.

Yeah, right.

Emcee is signing up for Emory, the dog. I mean, Emcee is a dog, not that he's going to some canine institution of higher learning. Couldn't he go to college in Montrose? First Hush heads to Snodfart, then Emcee to the Confederacy. We need to follow E Rin's fine example. More gap years! More judges!

Burgers thinks I was aiming that random movie rant at him, although I really wasn't. I don't know where it came from, except that I'm always irked when people watch crappy new movies instead of good old movies. I got the b in the b when I watched It's Always Fair Weather over the weekend, for the first time in Cinemascope (via letterbox). If there was ever a movie screwed by pan and scan, it's IAFW, with three GIs dancing but you always only see two in the old ratio. Maybe that's the reason it's one of the great underrated musicals. Situationwise, saturationwise, apologize, Jerry-Lewis-wise...

By sheer serendipity (is there any other kind) I read a posting yesterday on some link blog about the beta version of Google on a web archive site. This is one of those outfits that has taken a photograph, so to speak, of the web at various moments in time, for historical purposes. I never did look at the beta version of Google (I wonder if they'll ever catch on, if all they do is searches), but I did immediately dig up a version of the page of Nostrum that was AWOL from AOL. Gotcha! I folded it into the new Nostrum pdf page with great glee. God, I love the internet!

But here's what I want to talk about today. (What? He wants to talk about something? There's a change!) Last night I was working on Caveman and playing around with the Greeks. The Greeks are pretty interesting, for many obvious reasons. I was ruminating about their architecture. For whatever reason, even though the Greeks understood the arch, they didn't like using it in their building. Despite the fact that arches are powerfully useful structural elements, capable of bearing more stress than planes, the Greeks just didn't like the look of 'em. They found them aesthetically displeasing, unlike the Romans who pretty much arched their way across Europe (take a look at those bridges and aqueducts that are still standing) and took arches to the next step with domes (360 degree arches). The Greek ruins only show columns and planes and triangles. The columns are still standing. The roofs are gone, because they liked wood over their heads, and wood just isn't going to last for two or three thousand years.

There is a tradition that the Greeks employed the Golden Ratio in their work, although my quick research indicates that this may be more of a legend than a fact. The Golden Ratio has, of course, become something of a grail over the ages. It's phi, and you know as well as I do that I can't do the math, so look it up it you need the details. It's 1.6 something. And it's very useful, like pi. (As a matter of fact, I understand San Francisco is installing pi-phi throughout the city and everyone will be able to get free internet soon, but that's another subject altogether).

The question to ponder is from the old Pythagoreans (I'm starting to feel like Donald in Mathmagic Land). In that Greeky, Platonic way of those old hifaluters, they believed that the numbers, or ratio, preceded reality. If this were the case, then following the numbers would be an expression of something akin to the divine, or at least something transcendent. The Golden Ratio, phi, has been famously used to determine facial beauty. If the eyes are a certain distance apart, the nose, the shape, the planes, etc., if you do the math, the closer the face's ratios are to phi, the more physically beautiful it is. Now, if you (Western, Caucasian you) do all this math on various faces, you will indeed find a lot more phi in, say, supermodels than in, well, whatever is the opposite of supermodels. The Western forms of beauty definitely conform to the Golden Ratio. This is why I have a more classically appealing face than, say, Mr. Chutney. I am more phi than he is. (He, on the other hand, is more fly than I, but again, I digress.) And here's the question. What comes first? Does beauty precede phi? That is, have we determined a hierarchy of beauty over time, and then measured that beauty and found that the closer it is to phi, the more beauteous it is, by some sheer happenstance? Or did phi come first, and did the idea of beauty always have to be the closest to phi for us to appreciate it?

One must next dig into the parentheses above and ask, what about cultures where facial structures are different from the Caucasian, in isolation from the Caucasian? Say, Japanese faces in 1300, when there is no Western contamination. Does their mode of beauty conform to phi? If it does, does that mean that there's a structural/structuralist concept of beauty that transcends culture? If it did/does, then it would actually give credence to the idea that the ratio precedes the reality.

Maybe you can answer all of this. I can't. But I like thinking about it.

Pay attention, you schmegeggie!

In this case, the schmegeggie in question would be me.

Last night I uploaded the latest Nostrum podcast, which also means updating the podcast index page and the Nostrum index page. Needless to say, each has the startlingly original filename of index.html, and I managed to put the one where t'other ought to be, thus sending t'other off into the wisps of memory, and I had to recreate the lost one from scratch. So I used the CSS shell Kt gave me, and got this, which is perfectly fine except that the art isn't scaling, and what I had in hand before already included the episode titles and now I've got to type them as I go along (the Nostrumite, by the way, has no explanation for why this material has gone AWOL on AOL, a phrase he loves repeating in his Mitelike way). It'll do, but it was hardly the way I wished to spend the odd half hour last night. In any case, Episode 6 is now available, in both print and audio; have at it, if that's your inclination.

Early this week I sent a message to the Legion of Doom about a) tweaking their listserver and b) opening a communications line for all and sundry, to open up their closed and gloomy image a little bit, and to provide a place to hear what others are saying on DMV without having to actually suffer through DMVing. Next up, I've got to finalize, or drop, the Modest Novice this week too. I responded to some demurrals that did show how there would be some startup issues if we adapted, but I did maintain that over the long term I think we'd be better off. Next up after that is the MHL revamp. What? sez you. What MHL revamp? Well, not that big of a one, but after a year of operating that particular hoedown, the only thing that irritated me was keeping track of the money. And I've begun to wonder if we really need the money. Not that we're making any profit, but I'm not aware of any school that has money to burn. What if we made it a free league? That would mean, of course, no trophies, which is where the money goes. It would also mean no administrative hassles. I have no idea how this idea will be met. We'll see soon enough. People do like taking tin, as the saying goes. If we went free, they'd be taking certificates. I don't know.

Speaking of the Legion, I was thinking about paradigms for no particular reason, and I realized that my paradigmatic desire is to be able to decide on a course of action after a round. I want to know that if I do either A or B, affirm or negate, I am doing the right thing. I want walk out of a round and into a voting booth, and cast a yes/no on a referendum based on what I've just heard. I want to vote to amend the Constitution to correct the 5th Amendment to include private enterprises, for instance, or to amend the Constitution to specifically exclude private enterprises. I want my eyes opened to the right action (regardless of agency). I wonder how many rounds I saw at TOC were recommending right actions. A Policy round, generally (?), would stir me to think that taking action, or not taking action, would be good or bad because of what would happen. An LD round, generally, should stir me to think that taking this action or that action is right or wrong ethically or morally. When an LD round is simply about the LD round, it strikes me as a sterile exercise, since no action could result. This is that whole thing again, that the proper place to debate the nature of LD rounds is not within an LD round. The sterility of the whole thing is stultifying. Granted that I'm probably not really going to take an action after any particular round, Policy or LD, but if I've grappled with the issues at hand, I could. My thinking will be changed. I will have achieved mental movement. Absent that, I will have done something analogous to doing a crossword puzzle. I mean, I like crossword puzzles, but all I get out of them is a way (for me) to pleasantly pass the time. My vocabulary doesn't improve because I do them; I do them because I have the appropriate skill set to make them pleasant to me. I've already got the vocabulary as part of that skill set. As compared to, say, writing an essay, which I could conceivably publish, and which could conceivably move others to think a certain way, or not. Both actions, writing the essay and doing the crossword, use the same skill set, including the same vocabulary. One is potentially dynamic. The other is definitely static. I would prefer that LD be dynamic, rather than static. For all the reasons stated other times in this blog.

Meanwhile, Caveman, the Audio, continues apace. I've done raw audio of part one, plus maybe half of part two, and begun editing part one. This whole process is interesting both technically and spiritually. Technically you get to sound a lot better than you do in real life (once you get the hang of the software) by editing out blips. If something goes wrong, you simply say it again, then edit out the bad part later on. I wish I could speak so well in person. On the spiritual side, you get to reabsorb what you originally wrote, and maybe amend it a bit as you go, or elucidate complex points, or generally (one hopes) improve the material. Who in their right mind would listen to this (it's going to be LLLLOOOOONNNNNNGGGGGGG) is another thing altogether, but at least I won't have to deliver it in person ever again. I wonder if anyone has listened to S&S. No, there's no extra credit, but I'm curious. Sort of like that dynamic/static thing I was talking about a minute ago. Even if no one ever does, I will have performed a potentially dynamic act instead of a definitely static one. I assert that this is a good thing.

O'C, in case you were wondering, says he needs a new name. I was thinking Chutney. That would work. I mean, he needs a new name in the real world, not here. He'll always be O'C to faithful coacheans. But out there, on those mean streets, well, if he isn't a Chutney, I don't know who is. He loves the idea of experimenting with community ranking, by the way, as long as it's at someone's tournament other than his. Ah, that Chutney. He's learning fast!

And I did start an update of the Hen Hud reading page, which means of course an update of summer reading assignments. Hang tight, there, Sailors. Bind yourselves to the masts for a while or something. I'll get to it ere long.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Slow day on the blogging front, mate?

I can remember back in the Fifties going to Saturday matinees especially designed for kids. (I know, I don’t look a day over 25, but you’re just not that good at guessing ages.) You’d get a couple of horror movies (the Fifties were the golden age of B monster flicks), cartoons, a newsreel, selected shorts, the manager chasing the more recalcitrant types in a circle up the stairs to the balcony from the lobby and back again, the endless string of dopey audience comments flung at the screen that solely reflected the body-function school of humor so popular with the average ten-year-old, scarfing down popcorn and ice cream bonbons and Good & Plenty (what a great product name). I can remember paying a quarter for all this entertainment, plus the costs of the comestibles. I’ve written before about going to the movies with my parents, and going whenever you felt like it and arriving mid-movie, staying through the double feature until you got to the point, “I think this is where we came in.” There was always a television back home, and there were movies on television, but in those days going to the movies was one of the things one simply did on a regular basis. TV was going to kill theatre-going, of course, but it didn’t. Changed it, but didn’t kill it.

In high school, I still went to the movies, although the Sixties may be one of the worst periods of filmmaking ever, at least in the American mainstream. Hollywood was bankrupting itself making big, bloated pictures no one wanted to see, or big, bloated pictures that at least teenagers didn’t want to see. Thankfully, there was James Bond, so at least there was one big, bloated picture every couple of years that I was actually dying to see, and did.

Through all of this, television went about its business. When I was growing up, there was the Million Dollar Movie on WOR channel 9. They would play the same film twice each night, and then all day on Saturday. “If you missed all or part of tonight’s film,” they’d say during the final credits, you could catch up during the next showing (although who would be listening if they had missed all of the film is hard to imagine, so maybe I’m remembering it wrong). Their theme music was the Tara theme from GWTW, and they played King Kong so often (at least every three months or so, not to mention Kongie’s offspring like Son and Mighty Joe W), that when I finally saw GWTW, I was surprised to hear them using the King Kong theme music. (GWTW was never shown on TV; lots of the jewels in various crowns were for theatrical play only, even long after their original release.) There were also the Early Show, and the Late Show, movies in the afternoon and late at night, not to mention the Late Late Show, Creature Features and the like. Movie studios dumped what they considered their otherwise valueless product (i.e., old or B movies) onto television, took the money and ran (to the creation of big, bloated pictures no one wanted to see). In a pre-cable age of maybe half a dozen available television stations, it would be hard for anyone my age to have grown up not seeing a lot of old movies. They were unavoidable. They were also riddled with commercials, cut to fit time slots, panned and scanned if they were widescreen, viewed always in black and white since we didn’t get our first color TV until the Sixties, and generally about the worst way imaginable to attempt to appreciate a motion picture.

When I was in college, I began to expand my movie-going. First of all, there wasn’t all that much to do in the frigid northlands, but somebody was always screening some kind of film somewhere. They were cheap dates, and they were good movies. And they were literally on screens, instead of on television sets. There is a vast difference in the experience of watching a movie in a movie theatre and at home. Movie theatres have audiences, and that makes one difference (the contagion of humor, the collective gasp during a thriller, the shouting out of body-function jokes). The size of the screen makes an enormous difference too; no matter how big your TV is, even today, it’s not the size of a gigantimogamous Cinerama screen wrapped all around you showing 2001: A Space Odyssey (or, okay, Ice Station Zebra). The experience is different, even with normal-ratio pictures. TV is one medium, film is an altogether different medium. Go consult your McLuhan if you don’t already understand this.

In college I began to see foreign films (there weren’t many of them on the old Million Dollar Movie). I began to see the real classics of Hollywood cinema as they were meant to be seen, or at least as they had originally been seen, on big screens with big audiences. At some point I found myself taking a Film Appreciation course (a real brain stretcher if there ever was one) and having a professor not only roll out the old warhorses (from Busby Berkeley to Les Enfants du paradis) but explain them in their contexts. On top of all of it, in my senior year for some bizarre reason I got to put together my own film festival, comprising films I really liked, films I really wanted to see, and films that the %$#@*& distributors substituted for films I really liked or really wanted to see; then again, who knew that The D.I. would be that big a crowd pleaser? On the other hand, I had certainly expected that King Kong vs. Godzilla would be a sell-out (we had to schedule a last-minute extra screening). And I’ve never forgotten that urge, while sitting behind a girl who cried all the way through Camelot, to hit her over the head with a meat cleaver: talk about saps! You don’t get that at home (thank God).

The 70s, when I arrived in NYC, was a classic age of cinema. There was an exciting generation of new filmmakers on the scene creating great work, and of course Manhattan was chockablock with revival and art houses. By now I was, without being annoying about it, a cinephile. I knew and understood the classics, and revisited them regularly. I followed the new people coming along, the Scorceses and Lucases and Spielbergs. I read (and edited) film books. I joined MOMA and, when I was single with nothing better to do on a Tuesday through Thursday night, I stopped by on my way home and saw whatever movie they happened to be screening (new films from Inner Mongolia, Blaxpoitation classics, whatever). I went to 24-hour samurai film festivals. When I first got married we practically lived at Theatre 80 St. Marks, which showed classic Hollywood double features not only of the Casablanca/Maltese Falcon variety, but even more of the Andy Hardy Meets Debutante and Little Nellie Kelly variety. HBO and its ilk also came along around that time, showing uncut films on TV, for a price, if you were willing to wait a while.

Through all of this, my trivia skills increased dramatically, but that’s another subject altogether.

In 1980, I bought my first VCR. It was also my first Betamax. I was an early adapter, but I knew when Kate was born that I wouldn’t be leaving the house much for a decade or so, and time-shifted entertainment sounded like a very good idea. Before long, the rental tape came along (mostly in VHS, alas), ushering in a serious revolution in film, the effects of which we are now suffering through today. The ability to watch films at home was very quickly embraced by the American public, and it didn’t take long for home video sales to match, and often outstrip, theatrical revenues. DVDs made this even more a reality. The thing about home video, though, as that market has matured, is that the material available has gone deep. It didn’t take long to run up copies of every movie released recently, and then the marketers saw that they could sell oldies as well. Classic Hollywood. Silents. Foreign films. Often the packages were enhanced with extras: a film professor in a box, in many cases. While mainstream theatrical films have become more bloated – short-term bursts of empty calorie “events” that only occasionally shock and/or awe – almost the entire world history of cinema is now available to us for home viewing. Twenty bucks a month of Netflix can turn almost anyone into a walking encyclopedia of film (and a potentially suitable trivia opponent for yours truly).

The question is, what are you doing about this? And I don’t just mean you-know-who (because I know you, you spalpeen: you probably actually liked the Dukes of Hazzard movie). I mean you in general, you with the ability to watch any film ever made at any time. What an awesome ability. What a waste if you don’t take advantage of it.

I offer a premise that film is an art form. This is not a particularly unorthodox assertion. Plenty of people agree. Granted, film is also often merely entertainment, but that doesn’t remove its artistic potential. Novels are similar. Some are an expression of the highest art. Most are, at best, attempts at entertainment through story-telling. Often (usually?) the ones of the highest art also entertain through story-telling. The same is true of movies. Some are art, most are not. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the ones that don’t aspire to anything more than entertainment, but if that’s what you limit yourself to, and if you limit yourself to it on a timeline of contemporaneity, you are cutting yourself off from a whole world of art, and I offer another premise that art is so important that you should spend a lifetime seeking it out wherever you can. Or creating it, if possible, but so few of us have that capability to create true art, although we can learn a lot about art by attempting to create true versions of it. I’ve learned a lot about Monet by learning to take photographs, for instance. Additionally, one can get an awful lot from films that, while not masterpieces of art, are nonetheless masterpieces of entertainment. If, in the quest for art, one only finds temporary satisfaction (as compared to the ineffable eternal satisfaction/dissatisfaction of art), that is not a bad thing. You’ll enjoy yourself. And maybe even learn a little something about the world around you.

You have access to almost every film ever made. This is not unlike having access to every painting ever painted. What are you doing about it? Have you ever watched a silent movie? Ever studied a little of the Charlie Chaplin Essanay shorts? Watched Valentino or Barrymore or Keaton with no sound except a piano or an orchestra keeping up with the emotional tone of the picture? Ever watch that baby carriage come down the steps in Potemkin? Have you watched Busby Berkeley paint abstract dance machines in black and white? Have you watched Fred Astaire or Bill Robinson or Gene Kelly transcend gravity? Heard Judy Garland sing anything that wasn’t in “Oz”? William Powell shake a martini to a foxtrot? Made the cinematic acquaintance of Jean Renoir or Federico Fellini? Tried to understand the “new” (read postmodern) cinema of Alain Resnais teamed with Alain Robbe-Grillet? Ever studied why Marlon Brando or James Dean or Marilyn Monroe are cultural icons? Watched every W. C. Fields or Marx Brothers film and tried to rank them? Ever uttered a sigh of relief when Rhett Butler went out the door for the last time? Had your breath taken away by the first shot of the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach or the last shot of Ethan in The Searchers? Ever agreed with Orson Welles after watching Kane that a movie studio really is the best set of electric trains a boy could possess?

Or, do you only watch movies that came out within the last six months? Believe that black and white is pass√©? That silents are unwatchable? That if it’s old, or foreign, it’s not worth the bother? Are you limiting your scope to sequels and remakes and cinematizations of television shows and comic books? Are you shrinking your mind when you are best positioned to be expanding it?

At best, you should seek cinema in movie houses, where it is what it is in all its glory. But given the vast library available at home and the few instances of revival houses nowadays, the second-best of DVDs of classics is still preferable to keeping up with the complete output of Rob Schneider, or any output of Rob Schneider. Not seeking out these films is analogous to not reading. It’s not that your education suffers (although it does); your brain suffers. Your intellect is a puppy that needs to be taken out for a walk once in a while. Keep it indoors all day, never let it off the leash, never give it free rein, convince yourself that art of any sort is not to your benefit… You’ve as good as put the puppy of your brain to sleep.

So, I suggest you find yourself a list of the top 100 movies of all time (Ebert has one on his website) and watch all of them and see what you think. It’ll take about 200 hours. Not much, really. Then, with your brain newly polished, you might attack some of those great books you’ve been sneering at because you can’t see the point of literature because your English teachers have been crouching behind the difficulties of their careers by showing you a made-for-television movie of Pride and Prejudice instead of making you read the book. As if reading Austen is hard, or not fun, or about the plot. If your teachers could make you realize that reading Austen is not hard, that it is fun, and that it isn’t about the plot, then they’d be doing their jobs. Don’t get me started on that.

Here’s my suggestion for tonight. An easy one, already mentioned. Citizen Kane. Inevitably on most Top Ten lists, and thought of by many as the most fun of any great film ever made. It’s even in English. As you watch it, think about how the story is being told. Think about the photography. Think about the politics of media moguls getting too big for their britches.

Think about Rosebud…

Monday, May 08, 2006

More cats, less debate: New Directions at Coachean!

Well, that's what Kt wanted, anyhow. "There's too much debate stuff here," she complained. "You need more cute cat pictures." This is what comes of people graduating high school: they forget the important things. I like cute cat pictures as much as the next person, unless, I guess, Kt is the next person. I will put some new pix up when I get some good ones. Soon. We seem to have settled on the name Tik pronounced teek. This is either a result of too many trips to the Tiki Room, too many trips to Trader Vic's with the werewolves, the attempt to prounced TK as one work, or a total failure of creativity. Whichever. So until something better come's along, Tik pronounced teek it is (and yes, it is three words, like Hillary Rodham Clinton or Dick Deadeye Cheney).

Pursuing the community preferences idea, I'm pretty much settling in to the concept as outlined here, both in prelims (As to bubbles, Bs to undefeated, Cs to the rest), and elims (equality of panels across the board with blind tabbing). For the life of me I can't see women in debate as a tab issue, at least with community prefs. The women in the field all get rated, and placed according to rating. If for some bizarre reason the women are all Cs and the men are all As, aside from eating my hat, I don't know what I could do in tab. I don't think the tab room is the place to solve social ills. What if the African-Americans are rated lower than the Euro-Americans? Or, perhaps more germanely, the young folk are rated higher than the old? That's life, and working for meaningful change, if needed, would have to ensue elsewhere. In any case, we're presuming incredibly large pools and incredible freedom, whereas in reality, most pools are pretty tight. In the event, discounting your blocks, in a given tournament you could have one C judge in one random round (but all the Cs would be swimming around like sharks), an A or B on your other random, a B judge on two undefeated rounds, then two A judges on bubble rounds. That's the best of all possible worlds, assuming enough ABCs to cover the needs. And nothing limits the higher ranked judges from adjudicating less "important" rounds, if there's enough judges to go around. I've love to see As judging 0-4 rounds if they could do so with strong educational intent (the 0-4s need good judges too). But as I said, since we'd just take the majority ranking, God only knows how it will work out at a tournament. O'C asks if we'd do this at Big Bronx. It's his tournament, therefore his call, but I'd certainly love to try it. He'll have the size of field and the size of judge pool for it to be meaningful. (And if it's a total disaster, it would be his problem, and I'd avoid it at Bump!).

By the way, isn't it time to retire the concept of Big Bronx, since there aren't any Little Bronxes that I'm aware of?

I've begun recording Caveman. My goal is to ruin as many minds as possible, as efficiently as possible. Given the length of this puppy, it may take a while to finish. Speaking of puppies, I've also recorded Pip remonstrating over our aquisition of Tik pronounced teek. I've got to find the appropriate place for that. Pip is quite the chatty fellow, as many of you know. So is Tik pronounced teek, except he just sort of peeps, whereas Pip growls and grumbles and makes you think he's thinking thoughts of great evil.

Big question: what books to bring on the upcoming Europe trip. Too bad there's not more Harry Potters. Talk about perfect airplane reading! I'm open to suggestions. No Frenchies, please.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

M-G Pt 2

McLean's post assumes that a third of the field goes into each ranking. Not necessarily. The contestants choose, Then you use a formula based on the choice to define the size of each ranking pool. I have no idea how to do this without numbers in hand, but conceptually it's easy enough to imagine (Jon: since this idea is already in play elsewhere, how is it done?). Or there's a very simple way that I would use in the absence of an accepted standard (and some experience). Each judge will have a predominance of either As, Bs, or Cs. You could, most easily, go with the predominance. That is, if someone has more As than Bs or Cs, they're an A, and so forth down the line. That's the easiest way to do it (although not particularly sophisticated). If there's not enough of a given ranking, well, so be it, but you're still getting a B instead of a C when there's no As to cover. (For Bump I would still have a few strikes to cover the basic egregious judges that always drop you.)

As for elims, again, Jon, is there a standard way? I was never thinking all As in breaks; I don't think it's possible (and I *know* it's not possible as the judge pool dwindles through the rounds). The idea of manipulating male/female/young/old etc strikes me as counter to the contestant pool assigning in the first place. That is, putting in women (I hate to say it) sounds wrong (counter-feminist?), as women in the pool will already have been ranked (probably equably, but maybe I'm missing some anti-feminist aspect to LD above and beyond the simple "I wish there were more girls doing it"). I would say, put in a mix based on rank. That is, put in, if you can, all As, randomly. (Why is the tab toom's choice any less biassed than the tournament's?) More likely, put in as best you can 2 As and 1 B, if that works, 1 A and 2 Bs if that works, or one each of A, B and C if that works, evenly across all the rounds. It's fair, and the only maniuplating the tab room would be doing would be blindly working through the rankings (which I don't think TRPC does in elims). Just take the names as they come up to avoid prejudice, and there you are.

Thoughts?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday wrap-up (with chicken, guacamole and honey mustard)

In some discussions, I've made claims that pomo is far from accepted in all academic circles, and in fact may be nearing the end of its run in serious literary criticism (witness Camille Paglia's retrocritical Break, Blow, Burn staring at me from my bedside table). In aid of this assertion, I found this, which may or may not prove my point. I mention this because last night I began the narration of the Caveman lecture series, which included introductory remarks on the issue that I am not talking specifically about philosophy, because to understand postmodern philosophy one must first understand, well, everything from Plato up through Hegel, and me, well, I get caught on Pseudolus and all those other hifalutin Greeks, so don't look to me for any of that stuff. I'm looking more at things people already have under their belt (like Picasso paintings with the eyes all on one side of the head or Disney World). Anyhow, what I was looking for was one of those fun lists of papers presented at the annual MLA meetings, The Hermeneutics of Reistic Confluence in the Aleatory Texts of "Family Circus" -- Billy's Rememb'ries Deconstructed or something like that. I guess I'll just have to wait a while.

I finally passed out from exhaustion last night while reading the TOC thread on POX. Somebody at around post 4592 had just suggested that anyone with two years of high school French would have no problem reading Foucault. Sacre bleu, says I to myself, and my tete hit the floor before moi knew what was happening. I woke up supine (hint -- the up in supine tells you where you're looking if you need a mnemonic to differentiate between this and the prone alternative), with both Pip and TK licking my face, and my golf clubs beckoning from the corner to just let it all go for a couple of months. If it were only that easy. I mean, it's easy not reading POX; I do that all the time. But debate is somehow in my blood. Or dans le sang, as the second-year Frenchies say. (I knew I should have taken Russian in high school. Nobody ever suggests you read any Russian philosophers. Finally, a country safe from both the Enlightment and Postmodernism. Where's my passport?)

Meanwhile, on the listening front, I've added IN COLD BLOOD to the audiobooks list over on the right. This is one great book, and the reading of it here is extraordinary. I usually use audiobooks as a way to keep up with contemporary stuff that is patently unusable in my day job, or to absorb some nonfiction during the down time of driving, although as you know I love podcasts, which are perfect for drive-time (with enough variety for matching the moment, if you know what I mean). But this one, which I merely intended to brief myself on a book that I had never particularly been interested in reading and to warm myself up for the Capote film, captivated me from the getgo. Now I really want to see Capote. This is a strong recommend.

A second strong recommend is a book-on-paper (that's the old-fashioned kind) that I'm almost finished with, which I've also added to the list, Delirious New York by Rem Koolhas. In essence, this is an attempt to understand why Manhattan is the way it is, urban development by a Monday-morning architect. It's a lot of other things too. If you have any interest in why New York looks the way it looks, this is essential reading. The Flatiron Building, for instance, is of no architectural interest because it merely reproduces the earth. That is, the building wasn't built in that shape for some artistic/design/structural reason, it's just that the land happens to be shaped like that. So, the building goes up, floor after floor, in the shape of the land: the earth reproduced. There's also discussion of towers as symbols, the creation of the Manhattan grid (2038 blocks), the full-block building, the lobotomy of interior and exterior (the downtown athletic club with its golf course on the 7th floor, for instance), the 1916 zoning law that defined the NYC skyscraper, the Ferriss drawings (which I've always loved) which are boilerplates for urban buildings in the context of that law (and who knew the original paintings were so large?). Coney Island. Skyscrapers (before they were a reality) consisting of floors resembling a suburban landscape with a little yard and fence and a house, one to a floor. Of course, the grid rules Manhattan. Anyone who actually studied urban issues for Jan-Feb and enjoyed the material will love this book. The grid, like any rule, imposes limits, but it may be a corollary of limits that they engender the most creativity. That's a subject for deeper analysis, but in any case, I love this book, and if it's up your alley, you will too. (Oh, yeah. As I said, Koolhas is an architect himself. Very cool. Lots of wacky contemporary ideas. Pomo? Find out for yourself.)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Menick-Gilbert Judge-Rating Proposal

(HoraceMan, TSWAS, and I hashed out a lot of this on the long trip home from Kentucky. Any of the ideas you like are mine; any of the ideas that are flaky are his. Please let me know what you think.)

There can be little doubt that winning debate rounds is a (if not the) primary motivator of debaters. Debaters want to win, and whatever energy they spend on the activity, it is probably energy they perceive as working to achieve that goal. While many coaches might say that, educationally, the competition is merely a means to some other end, the students actually debating may or may not be aware of this, or directed toward this. If the debaters only wanted an education in philosophy, for instance, they would hire a tutor instead of a coach, and would take philosophy classes during the summer instead of enrolling in debate camps.

Secondly, no one possesses the holy grail of what the content of a debate round should or should not be. While I might feel strongly that a certain approach to LD is the best, someone else might reasonably feel another approach is the correct one. In an activity that inherently respects the dialectic, or at least the belief that ideas should be tested by their opposition to other ideas, it is hard to draw a line and say that a particular idea is unacceptable before it is tested, especially when the goal of most debaters is winning rounds. Let that idea go forth and see how it does; if it really is a bad one, it will fail in opposition to the good ones. It will win or lose rounds. (The only exception to this might be ideas that are generally accepted as socially abusive and preclusive of discourse, e.g. racism, but that is not an issue that need concern us here.)

Third, there is a clear schism in the LD community today. On one side are the proponents of so-called progressive debate. On the other side are what we might call the traditionalists or conservatives. The problem at hand is that, however one thinks of oneself as a debater (and there is no question that some debaters are self-described as progressive and others are self-described as traditional), when that debater is actually in a round, that debater wants a sense that the adjudicator of the round is willing to accept his or her style of debate without prejudice. That is, no debater wants to walk into a round knowing they will lose because the judge represents a different philosophy of what LD is or ought to be. Judging should, inherently, be unprejudiced. As for the two debaters in the round, it is often hard for traditionalists to accept some of the progressive agenda, and it is often hard for progressives to accept some of the traditionalist agenda. When the two approaches meet to debate, the dissonance is hard to adjudicate, if not impossible, from any other perspective than one’s one innate sensibility, regardless of how open the judge claims to be. So, while we would hope for unprejudiced judging, it is hard to guarantee. Any system that minimizes prejudice, or at least distributes it evenly, would be desirable to all involved.

The LDEP recommends a blind tab approach:
5. Do not allow judge ranks or preferences. These practices foster narrow and exclusive styles and shield students from meaningful criticism. Instead, encourage debaters to present themselves in a manner that is accessible to a wide range of audiences.

The problem with the LDEP recommendation is that while it would seem to encourage that debaters adjust to their judges, thus taking the position that adaptation should be accepted as inherent to the nature of LD (a policy to which I happen to agree), it overlooks other issues. One that bothers me especially from my own experience is that often teams register judges who are not trained for the job. While LDEP expects that judges will be trained, and offers training materials, and suggests that all Tournament Directors offer these or similar materials and give specific guidelines during opening assemblies, the ultimate responsibility for judge training falls completely on the team bringing the judges. Judges who do not understand LD, who have not been introduced to the resolution of the day, and who have no experience (and, I hate to say it, often don’t even speak English), should not be given an entitlement similar to the experienced judge, regardless of the experienced judge’s paradigm. There is a vast difference between making an argument to convince a judge who is comfortable sitting in the back of the room and making an argument to convince a judge that has no idea what to do or how to do it.

The purpose of the LDEP proposal is clear, since that purpose is explained in the second and third sentences. But those purposes miss the unfortunate existence of far too many judges who are incapable of giving meaningful criticism.

Additionally, and this is key, all elimination (and therefore TOC-bid) tournaments have bubble rounds, that is, rounds that will make the difference between making it to elimination rounds or not. It is far from unusual for tab rooms to rank judges so that these bubble rounds will be adjudicated by a pool of predetermined A judges. It is hard for me to imagine any situation where any tournament would want its most important rounds adjudicated by anyone other than its best, A, judges. The question is, what, exactly, is an A judge, given all the schismatic issues mentioned above?

There are also B judges and C judges, or at least I can create these in the Rich Edwards software. There is a tendency (sometimes of necessity, given the size of a judge pool) to place A judges on the bubbles and let the rest just happen, which means that Bs and Cs can be judging anything from undefeateds to the unvictorious. However, there are often speaker awards in contention, and certainly bracket placements depending on speaker points. For the sake of a meaningful tournament, persons who do not understand the normal processes of speaker points should not be in too much of a position to determine the winners of speaker awards. So C judges, who would, if we were using A/B/C placement, be your most (for lack of a better word) inept adjudicators, can seriously affect the results of a tournament not so much by their win/loss decision in a 4-0 round as by their lack of sense of the normative. In other words, it makes sense that a tournament would want its top bracket rounds judged at the very least by B judges, after the As were all assigned to the bubble.

C judges, such as they are, should be where they could do the least damage. They would certainly haunt the random rounds, but even there tab rooms can pretty much assure that, at the very least, no one gets two Cs in a row before the brackets kick in.

The question becomes, with all of this in mind, how do we assign A/B/C if we feel it necessary to do so? How do we, in a tab room, give debaters the best chance of doing well regardless of their or their judges’ paradigms? How do we protect them from patently incompetent judging? Well, I know how it’s mostly done now. The people in the tab room sit around and assign these rankings based on their own experiences/prejudices. In my own tournament, I allowed the registrants to rank their own judges, thus calling into play a different set of prejudices.

But the Menick-Gilbert Proposal would offer a different solution to this issue. I know of no tournament that doesn’t have the vast majority of its judges’ names well in advance of the event. Why not simply post all the judges names and let the registrants, by school, rank them as A/B/C? I post of a list of, say, 50 judges. 20 or so schools rank them all. (You could not rank a judge you strike, if a tournament offers strikes.) Then I feed them into Excel and sort them into quartiles (all right, tri-tiles). I’m not quite sure of the proportions, or how the math would work, but there’s no question that this system would give me a top-to-bottom grouping of all the judges; all I need to do in tab is adjudicate where the breaks between the groups are. My guess is that this math would be pretty elementary to anyone who was capable of entering the data into Excel in the first place.

The result would be that the tournament entrants, not the TD or the tab room, would decide who is an A or B or C (although, of course, the rankings would not be made public). With that information in hand, the tab room would place As on the bubbles, Bs on the top ranked rounds and Cs where they could do the least damage. Which means that progressive or traditional styles will win out not because of their match with progressive or traditional judges necessarily, but because the population of the tournament, school by school, has determined that these are the judges, of whatever stripe, that are best suited to decide what should happen at this tournament. No one can complain that the tournament is somehow being manipulated by progressive or traditionalist forces because the tournament population itself is in control. To the extent that judging controls the direction of LD, that direction, per this proposal, would be controlled by the population at large.

I think this is reasonable. I think this answers without prejudice a lot of issues surrounding LD judging. I will probably do this at the next Hendrick Hudson tournament (unless someone gives me some good reasons not to.)