Monday, July 31, 2006

Summer filler

I’m glad to see that I’m not the only person around here interested in architecture (if one goes by some comments from the Vast Coachean Army). To tell you the truth, for me it’s a recent affair. For the longest time I couldn’t imagine anything more deadly dull, probably because I considered it mostly memorizing the differences between the different types of columns, which I find a virtual impossibility, even though even Jerry Garcia could almost count them on the fingers of one hand, back in the day. That’s the problem with a lot of academics, isn’t it? The important thing is not that you know that Doric columns bulge (which they do because they start with the letter D, which bulges, and which marks the alpha and omega of my architectural mnemonic devices), but that people who build structures to emulate ancient Greek/Roman stuff are making a statement different from people who build structures to emulate so-called Middle Ages stuff. That is, why is Washington, D.C., neo-classical while Westminster is neo-gothic? The answer is deep, and tied into history and culture and all that interesting narrative material I’m always harping on.

I’m in the middle of Architecture: A Very Short Introduction, the second book in this library of essays that I’ve found very useful (the first was on postmodernism). The author does not give us a survey of great buildings from the Pyramids to the erotic gherkin, but instead talks about the meaning of architecture. Our kind of stuff, eh? And, you can read it in a couple of sittings. And, it’s well-written. An instant addition to the old recommended list on the right.

For what it’s worth, I’ve got a couple of ideas for fillers over at DVM. They are so obviously going through a drought; you think I’m dull off-season? Anyhow, here’s a few questions you can ask the body forensic at random (send the $5000 for each of them to my home address):

  • Who’s your favorite stooge (excluding Shemp)?

  • Why should Wil Wheaton be hanged by the thumbs?

  • What’s your favorite insect bite?

  • If you could pick from any LD topic ever that never existed, what would it be?

  • What’s the best necktie to wear when running critiques?

  • What is Jon Cruz doing with all those $5Ks he’s collecting?

  • Which pomo philosopher would you marry, if they were all hotties and roughly your age and correct gender preference, when it came time for you to settle down in the ‘burbs and buy a raised ranch?

  • Since TOCs spelled backwards is Scot, should all national-circuit tournaments in the future make similar subtle reference to Sean Connery?

  • Which part of the country has too many or too few TOC bids, and should we nuke them?

Hell, what am I going to with all my $5Ks????

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Arguing the resolution

I don't know. This came out of nowhere. It's not really a blog entry, so I've entered it into the book of eternity on my podcast page. It is, indeed, a podcast on arguing the resolution (with a supplementary pdf of same). Needless to say, I come down in favor.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


New York City, by design, does not allow much space for buildings. Thanks to the grid, where every block is pretty much the same size as every other block--excluding what we’d call the Old Quarter if we were in some other country, to wit, downtown, where it’s tiny, twisty streets laid out centuries ago--there’s a limit to how big a building can be in breadth. For that matter, there are also zoning regulations regarding height, going back to 1916, when it was noticed that these newfangled skyscrapers were taking up all the sun and leaving the ground level in dank, dark shadow. These zoning laws are the reasons NYC skyscrapers are shaped like ziggurats, or are stepped back from the sidewalks.

The City didn’t have to be the way it was, as Delirious New York explains. There were plenty of alternate proposals for the perfect urban landscape, but once the grid was in place, there wasn’t much one could do. Le Corbusier (who, remarkably, is recognized by my Word spellchecker), envisioned the modernist urban design as broad parks dotted with enormous towers. A perfect example of this can be seen from the north looking down on the Corbu-influenced UN building. Seen as you drive down the FDR drive, it is the perfect example of this sort of modernism, and one is taken by the difference between this perspective and the more quotidian views from street level facing east, where while the building is certainly somewhat set off, it is, more or less, just another building. It may have the tower and the park, but it doesn’t have the majesty that’s apparent from the northeast perspective. The grid makes it more mundane than it really is, even though it is not a part of the grid itself.

Because of the sheer number of people in the City, space, both horizontal and vertical, is at a premium. There simply aren’t very many expanses that aren’t filled up, with the wonderful sanity-preserving exception of Central Park. Most of the buildings, designed as they are for commerce, don’t give up a lot of their space to pointless aesthetics: the space is for offices, or shops, not breathing room. There are places to go in NYC, however, where there are enormous open indoor spaces—the cathedrals. NYC is chock-filled with rather impressive religious spaces very much in the tradition of the classic Christian spiritual building. They have great high naves that inspire awe and provide an experience analogous to, if not identical to, communion with a higher spirituality. That’s what Christian churches do, whatever city they happen to be in. In New York, where most of the buildings are those chock-filled business, the punctuation marks of churches with vast open interior spaces are, like Central Park, one of the things that make this otherwise overpopulated island bearable.

Walking around in the City Saturday, we popped into one of these churches, a not particularly important or famous or unique structure on Madison Avenue. On a hot day it was a cool open space with a vast nave and a fantastic wooden altar, a great oasis of urban anomaly. You wonder how this got there, and you’re thankful for it. Later, as we were in the neighborhood, we decided to drop by the Hearst Building.

I absolutely love this building from the outside. I love the mix of the original façade with the new, the blending of the ideas. I love the greenness of it, the light that must inhabit most of its interior. I love the fact that the structural elements determine the cut-glass façade of the tower, and I love the physical mathematics of the structure. I love the open public space—wait a minute. What open public space? You come through the entrance portal on ground level, expecting what you’ve heard from the reviews, the largest open space in Manhattan, but what you get is a constricted series of heavily guarded stiles keeping you away from entry unless you have the proper credentials (also known as stinkin’ badges). You can stand there with you nose pressed up against the figurative windowpane and look at the admittedly impressive waterfall and get glimpses up high at the edges of great expanse and you can wonder how the hell the number of people who work here can get in and out every day through those stiles and up or down the 3 thin escalators that take you to the elevator banks without a serious traffic jam. And then, oh yeah, you look it up and you realize that the open public space is there, all right: on the next floor! Yep. Look at the link. That big expanse is at the top of the escalators. Damn! What a disappointment. It looks fantastic, but it’s only open to that select membership of the public that, one way or another, gets past the guards at the stiles at the level below. (For more on the barring of the public from public spaces, see Variations on a Theme Park.) Fortunately I had had a dose of open public space earlier from that wonderful nondescript cathedral on Madison Avenue. I love you, Norman Foster (he’s the architect of the Hearst building) but I don’t love that your minions have kept me away from the good parts. I guess I’ll have to satisfy myself with the exterior view.

As I say, space is at a premium in New York City. Interior or exterior. You take it where you can get it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I never met a meta I didn't like

Life is such an adventure. If it isn’t one thing, it’s the other one.

The reason architecture is interesting to the scholar of metanarrative—see what I mean, it’s one damned thing after the other—is the intrinsic importance of a culture’s structures to its values. What people build says something about those people. The more important the structure, however you wish to measure importance, the more that building is saying.

I bring this up as some corollary material to Caveman that I’ll be adding in over the short term. I talk a lot about architecture, but pretty much elide the 19th century, which makes sense in terms of the Caveman theses, but does leave a pretty big gap in the architecture narrative. What I talk about in early times is mostly cathedrals, the primo structures of pre-rationalist western civilization. But cathedrals do not stand alone. There’s the buildings of governments, which by the time we reach the post-Renaissance start rivaling religious buildings on all counts on a regular basis. And then, starting in the Industrial Revolution, the buildings of businesses, which start rivaling religious and governmental buildings. The Woolworth Building, after all, was described as a cathedral of commerce, the tallest building of its day (and still pretty cool). What I need to put into Caveman is a clear explanation of why I’m concentrating as much as I am on architecture, to demonstrate that I’m not just riding my hobbyhorse. Additionally, it’s a lot easier to “read” a building than it is to read, say, Wittgenstein (unless you start him early, like 4th grade, if my friend Herman M is to be believed). Cultural studies, which is to some extent merely the attempt to understand what’s going on in the world, can be approached many ways. One can be all pomo and semiotic and parochially dense, or one can be general and sociological and, well, sensible. This is not to say that pomo doesn’t make sense—I am not educated enough to make that determination—but rather that it is far from intelligible to the average schmegeggie, and at the point where some other approach to the same material is intelligible to the average schmegeggie, go with that other approach. And if the VCA isn’t composed of one average schmegeggie after another, I don’t know what is.

I did manage to upload a new Nostrum last night. I’m sort of in the groove now. I’ll do the architecture corollary tonight or tomorrow, and just keep on truckin’. Oh, yeah, and the Bump edits. I’d like to have that ready real soon, so that I can open registration the beginning of September without having to worry about it again.

The bullpups have let it be known that the way to the Omni is not the way to the other tournament hotels; I know that I was flummoxed by them originally as I scoured through the New Haven hostelries. But I’m not interested in changing at this point. Our place sounded quite nice, it’s substantially cheaper with guarantees on all the necessary bedding, and the only hassle will be driving in those couple of times. Hardly the end of the world. And I’ve even managed to acquire our own Ms. Im as a judge (we need the speecho-American coverage badly), which will be a little more economical than not having her. August being next week—NEXT WEEK—means that the summer is just about over. They’ll be releasing the new topic any minute now.

Great galloping gophers!

Tik pronounced teek came through the op with flying colors. The vet said that he had to give him way extra drugs to knock him out—no surprise there. When he came home he was supposed to be groggy and sleep through the night, but mostly he was wobbly and poking around into everything Tik-style, intimating that while he may not fill his pants with quite the same elan as he did a couple of days ago, he is no less demented than he ever was. The bottom-lobotomy, in other words, was only successful on one level. Oh, well. What did we expect? If he wasn't demented, he wouldn't be Tik pronounced teek.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The chez goes under the knife (and so does Tik)

And so begins the chez reconstruction project. The basement (or LD HQ, as it is often known) will grow a new door where the TV is now, the computers will go across from that door, and that whole area will be for the future lounging of Sailor chezzers. The area previously used for Sailor chezzer lounging will be the new TV area, where I will be able to keep up with the three TV shows I watch on anything resembling a regular basis, plus the umpty-ump DVDs (note to NY Times: there is no apostrophe in a pluralization) I keep renting from NetFlix which keep me from having to subscribe to much in the way of cable TV. (I’ve been time shifting since two days before Kt was born; NetFlix takes time shifting to new heights/depths.) In any case, during the renovations, I have no idea how much of the family room will be available, so I’ve moved up to Kt’s room (note to NY Times: there is an apostrophe in a possessive) for the duration. Unfortunately, the wireless can’t get past the forcefield of the cordless phone in the kitchen, so I’ll be scrambling hither and thither for a lot of stuff, but I will soldier through like the brave coach that I am. Must I FTP from a comfy chair? Then I shall FTP from a comfy chair. Nothing will stop me from my appointed rounds.

I think I finally have all the podcasting stuff working correctly. I found the amplification controls in Audacity, which means that in order to hear something you won’t have to listen in the vacuum of space in the future, and I’m quite comfortable with all the hardware. My only issue is that Audacity is tetchy once in a while; as a precaution, I simply open and close it a lot, since it works fine when it’s fresh. I’ve looked at other software options, but they all look so complicated, and not free. The only thing I’d consider at this point is GarageBand 3, but I’m not going to upgrade iLife just for that. Of course, I could RTFM and figure out how to record voice in GB2, but life is short, and so are many of the people in it, especially the younger ones, so the chances of that are slim, unlike most people, except for the younger ones. And there you are.

When I last saw him today, a hungry (but stalwartly demented) Tik pronounced teek was biding his time before his operation. This is the one that's like a lobotomy, only from the other end. Or, bris gone wild, as some like to call it. There is some hope that having him switch operating systems to Unix may make a difference in his behavior. Pip and I, for two, however, are not holding our collective breath.

And, from the all-you-have-to-do-is-ask shelf, I have just received the following from good old Herman Melville:

Dear Mr. Menick,

How are you? I am fine.

Things are incredibly busy here at LD Ground Zero as we prepare for our next wave of hardy summer debaters. We will be studying Marx and Lenin, and hoping nobody gets the Trotskys from the food in the cafeteria (ha ha – that’s a little Communist humor that someone your age will probably appreciate). We have added some fine new staff; you may have missed their profiles on our site, so I’m including my favorite here.

In a surprise coup (it wasn’t easy, but we beat out Kentucky for him in what will enter the history books as a truly titanic arm-wrestling contest), Antonin Scalia will be joining us for the second session. Nino, as he is known by everyone who’s ever been judged by him, all of whom received 20 speaker points and were dropped, has a fine, sturdy background in constitutional law, which, however, he will not be drawing on this summer, as he will be leading our Hindus for Jesus program. Additionally we know that Nino makes a fine hunting and fishing companion, provided there’s a free seat available on the junket, so he will be leading our more adventurous students on treks into the foothills to scavenge for diamondbacks for our chef’s famous Stew Surprise. We are lucky to have Nino for these two weeks; normally he spends his summer vacation at Ann Coulter’s house, drinking mojitos and generally raving it up in high conservative style. We are sure our campers will welcome him with open arms, and one hand on their wallet at all times. (Please note that the Bill of Rights will not be in effect during Justice’s Scalia’s stay at the camp.)

We will also be inaugurating our latest new innovative program, Preteen Pomo, aimed at incoming Middle Schoolers. We here at Defeat Longjohns strongly believe that no student is too young for Derrida, Foucault and the vast host of postmodernists that make our contemporary world go round, in a manner of speaking, if speaking does, in fact, exist. Our Preteen Pomo group, comprising elementary grades 3-6, begins with a study of Nietzsche, then a quick survey of Wittgenstein (we do expect them to have done most of this reading before they arrive at the camp), at which point we shift their little paradigms and assign them to translate Paul Auster novels into French for the vast, hungry Gallic audience (we split the translation fees with them 50/50). It is our hope that by the time they reach high school, our PPs as we call them will be ready to critique anything that hops, flies, swims or crawls on its slimy little belly in whatever ooze it happens to find itself. We are expecting this program to be exceptionally popular; two people have already signed up, mere days before the camp opens.

We do wish you were able to join us for this late summer session. The rumor around our campfires is that you have found our standard $5000 fee (5K a pop for just about everything, that is) unsatisfactory. If this is true, maybe we can do something about it. As you may know, we are about to run our annual Clam-Digger Sale, where our famous designer men’s high-water pants (also known as Capris or pedal-pushers) will be available at half price. Displaying as they do our camp logo, and being especially useful when you’re up to your ankles in b.s., we trust that once again our Clam-Diggers will be a solid hit with male LDers around the country. If so, perhaps we can sweeten the pot for your participation in the camp. All of us here long to sit through your legendary and apparently eternal lecture, From Neanderthal to Neufchatel, as well as your ruminations on Beauregard, Beauchamps and Beau Bridges. It is time for you to share the wealth of your scholarship, such as it is. Please do consider joining us for our end of summer conflagration. If you’ll even nod in our direction, we can no doubt throw even more money in yours.

Your friend,
Herman Melville
Camp Counselor

Monday, July 24, 2006

Coda, epigrams, the missing Renaissance, Be a Dentist

I probably do need a coda on quotes.

To wit, if one doubts the “best practice” concept, one need only take a walk down the corridor to an extemp round. My understanding is that there is some controversy over the anecdotes extempers use at the top of their speeches, the one-size-fits-allness or the painful repetition driving judges crazy or whatnot, but they do use them and the concept is comparable to what I was talking about last week. Or look at a DI or HI or Duo round, with their teasers and intros. Same church, different pew, as they say. Secondly, I should admit that one of the reasons quotes went out of fashion may be that they became too pro forma to be useful. That is, there would be a random quote at the top, or worse, an unimaginative standard quote everyone used although no one read the source material. A good quote should be from a reputable (and if possible impressive) source, should be unique to your specific case, and should connect to other quoted material in your case. In other words, it should be from a book you read in your research, and a book worth reading. At the point where people started quoting Spiderman and RZA, you knew you weren’t getting what I would call top of the line material, so what was the point? The thing is, of course a bad quote is a waste of breath (except insofar as it is intended as a breathing starter), but a good quote can be a meaningful addition to your case. Eliminating it altogether, as fashion has done, is, on balance, a bad thing.

By the way, take a look at all the epigrams at the beginning of Moby Dick if you want to see an author blowing up a head of steam before dipping his pen into the inkwell. If you don’t get a kick out of all those quotes, put the book down and step away slowly and wait three years before trying again. Moby will still be there when you’re ready.

I’ve posted part 3 of Cavemen, during the recording of which I discovered that I had omitted the Renaissance from part 2. My understanding is that, as a general rule, it is not a good idea to omit the Renaissance from art surveys, so I fixed the elision, and part 2 is now in three renumbered sub-parts. Part 4 is coming up next, which is the section on Modernism. And it’s about time. (Talk about blowing up a head of steam before dipping the old pen in the inkwell!)

Meanwhile, I haven’t looked at old DMV much lately, so when I dropped by today (I sort of thought I’d pick up my $5000 check), I was taken aback by how much I had missed. Fortunately, none of it was important, but at least it’s nice to see that they have something to say other than Hi, Mom. I’ll have to touch my old friend and correspondent Herman M for an update soon. I’d hate to miss out on something. I begin to wonder if I’m the only person around who thinks that there should be an off-season. LD has become basketball; it never ends. There’s never a point where people go off to the beach to relax and not be LDers. I can see the value of being, say, a medical doctor 24/7: one never knows when the person sitting next to you is going to come down with some House-type rare disease that you’ll want to cure them of without any fuss or muss. But then again, even doctors take vacations. I know my dentist takes vacations, at least. Every time I go to him I pay him enough money so that he can visit Bora Bora with the entire extended family. And he does. You debate people might want to think about that. Philosophers, especially postmodern philosophers, hardly ever go to Bora Bora. They’re lucky if they get to Brooklyn on a good day. But dentists get to see the world. You might want to rethink your career strategy while there’s still time.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Two curiosities in LD, or, how things have changed

It would seem as if what OC wanted me to write about for WTF was debate practices, which I guess means what happens in a round, and two things occurred to me fairly quickly, things that have changed in my remarkably long tenure in this activity. Of course, by writing about them here I obviate the need to write about them there, but I never did hear anything from him about paying me that $5000.

First of all, in the golden days of yore, also known as the Periclean Age because debaters felt some pressure to argue the actual resolution (which is not what I'm talking about today), it was common practice to lead off a case with a relevant quotation. No one flowed the quote, or cared about it for the most part, but debaters put it in there as a kickoff for their speech. Today, at best someone says, “I affirm,” and then dives in headfirst, and the game is afoot.

One can see why the quote has been lopped off, from the tactical standpoint, since it never mattered. If no one flowed it, or really seemed to listen to it, and certainly never argued it, why bother? Hopelessly un-hip in certain circles, I would imagine. That is soooo ‘90s.

But the point of the quote was never for it to be flowed or argued, although it could be listened to. The quote is, or could be seen as, a piece of public speaking tradition. Since LD was born of public speaking, it brought with it certain best practices of oration. And one of those best practices is to lead off with a piece of business. The business in a standard speech can be germane, like a quote, or intriguing, like a rhetorical hook, or an ice-breaker, like a joke at the beginning of an after-dinner speech. This business, whichever it was, had certain goals. First of all, you would make a connection immediately with your audience, either through a challenging statement of some sort or an attempt to make a personal leveling diversion. Speakers want to be listened to, and loved; there is nothing worse than giving a long speech that no one likes, or listens to. The business helps you connect, and to overcome quickly the space between speaker and listener. Secondly, the business gives you, as the speaker, something to say before you start talking. It’s a warmup, a chance to move your mouth with something easy before the hard part—maintaining audience interest—comes into play. This is especially important for unhardened speakers, newbies to the ranks, who may be nervous speaking in front of a group. By the same token, the business gives the listener something to listen to before you start talking. A chance to say, oh, the talking has begun, I’d better start listening. And third, with any luck the business could indeed be relevant to the later content in such a way to amplify that content, or simplify it, or point a path through it.

In LD, all this was true. A short quote allowed you to get started, to clear your throat, and to get your listeners’ attention. A good, germane quote could have value as it resonated through your case, or it could just be revving the engine to get it started. Without this quote, you’re on your own immediately.

I have been training, rather futilely, that people use quotes, regardless of fashion. Those are the reasons why. Yeah, you’ll probably be hopelessly un-hip, but you’ll connect with your listeners and get your engine and your listeners’ engines revved up before taking off. That’s why it’s a public speaking best practice. At the point where LD is no longer a public speaking activity, then you can lop off the quote.

The second practice of the modern age is the ubiquitous single contention. “I have one contention,” the debater begins. And then a number of things might happen. Mostly, the debater has more than one contention, but the fashion is to have one contention, and no one wants to look like they don’t belong in the national $ircuit, so a number of ideas are all jumbled up as if they are one. This is tantamount to writing an essay without breaking it into paragraphs. A paragraph contains an idea, drawn out and examined, and then there’s the next paragraph with an ensuing idea suggested by or led to from the previous paragraph, and so forth and so on. If you’ve ever read a book that doesn’t have very many paragraphs, you’ve probably found it dense. Likewise, a case that isn’t broken down into “paragraphs” or contentions is similarly dense. And this density is a burden on your listeners. If a judge is taking notes, and you’ve got everything as a single, unbroken contention, the judge has to figure out where the emphases are, where the tags are, where the meat is—in other words, what the hell you are talking about, with little help from you. Is your intention to confuse the judge, or make it easy for the judge to follow you? If you do, indeed, have a single contention, which is highly unlikely on the aff, okay. But if you have multiple ideas, or multiple ways of looking at your main idea, and you don’t make it easy for the judge to see those multiples, what are you gaining? Oh, yeah, that’s right. You’re being hip and modern. Which is invaluable in winning a debate round.

Of course, as I say, and you’ll notice I have correctly begun a new paragraph here, you could perhaps truly have one contention. This would be a strategic mistake for the simple reason that the fewer offensive missiles you lob at your opponent, the easier it is for your opponent to fend them off. If you make it easy for your opponent to summarize what you’ve been saying, you’re making it easier for your opponent to win. Even in the Periclean Age there were folks who had one- or two-minute negs of virtually no content. Not taking an offensive position in a round, or taking a negligible offensive position, is simply a bad strategy.

So when I hear, “I’ve got one contention,” I know that either you have more than one contention and I’m going to have to sort everything out, or I know that you have a short, weak case. And do you really want me knowing either of those two things if I’m in the back of the room?

(Reprint rights available to WTF. Starting asking price: $5000.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Snakes on a Blog

I’m going to be honest. I really can’t hear much of a difference between the old and new recording equipment. Thank God no one is actually listening to this stuff. It would be much worse if not only were it futile but also publicly embarrassing. Being a solo operation as it is now keeps it between me and, at best, Pip, whose voice is the only other I’ve attempted to record so far, although I do vaguely remember chasing Tik pronounced teek across the desktop while the program was running and the young demented one was attempting to unattach every wire that he found inedible. There was some recorded screaming and gnashing of teeth there, if I'm not mistaken. Ah, those were golden minutes! Now I just lock him out of HQ and that’s the end of it.

I posted another Nostrum episode last night. I do have the Nostrumite sending me occasional updates of the Rocky and Bullwinkle bits at the end, some of which are hopelessly outdated and, as a result, unintelligible. He obliges, but refuses to go so far as to correct any errors in the actual texts, no matter how blatant they may be. He’s too busy singlehandedly raising the Nostrumette (Odelie is on a proselytizing trip to Paris at the moment, which hardly sounds like a hardship tour but then again let’s see how well you do turning those randy French Catholics into randy French Episcopalians), which is too bad, because there indeed are errors. If anyone reads it, they’ll see not exactly typos but more like extra words or wrong words. I attempt to fix them in the narration but if the Mite is too lazy to update the written canon, far be it from me to do it for him, the ingrate! Go ahead and change diapers. See if I care.

Yale is fairly well finalized, and I sent out all the arrangements yesterday to the Sailors at large. We have enough parents to bypass the expense of a bus; I’ve put everyone in rooms and cars and I’m ready to sign them up when the moment arises. It seems amazing to be this organized this early, but given the hotel situation, there wasn’t much choice.

And I do just love the whole Snakes on a Plane thing. (Apparently it’s opening soon, without, surprise, critics’ screenings.) I mean, I can just imagine the creators saying that this is the hook, the highest concept ever, or at least as high as you can get, and selling it to some studio on that. And then they just never ever came up with a title for it. I mean, what were they going to call it? Flying Fangs? So they just stuck with the concept and it became the title. Sheer genius. Or sheer creative bankruptcy, although I prefer the former. In the age of everyone’s a Hollywood player, where the weekend grosses are above-the-fold news for the teeming millions, we don’t need titles anymore. Just tell us the concept, and we’ll show up. The creative act, already rendered inconsequential by the quality of the films, becomes reduced to its germ. We could even go back in time and redo some of my old personal favorites. Kid on a Raft. Psycho on a Whaler. Girl in a Hole. The possibilities are endless.

Speaking of snakes on a blog, OC wants me to write something for WTF. I can’t imagine what I would say there that I don’t already say here. He also thinks I should be re-interviewed; I guess he thinks I’ve changed my mind about everything I said last time. That may be true, but I don’t want to go public with it. I contradict myself? That’s okay. I contradict Whitman too. (Wha???) Anyhow, I think they pay about $5000 an entry, so maybe I’ll reconsider. I could use the money to pay for the upcoming feline procedure (the one where he goes in like a lion and comes out like a lamb). From that perspective, it’s worth considering. And it does explain why OC publishes so much there himself. 5K a pop? So, how are you spending the rest of your summer vacation, anyhow?

I wonder how much they pay for comments?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Chompers, legionnaires, pops and snips

More regarding linguists (and H_Man): I suggest reading Pinker’s The Language Instinct. It’s not philosophy, it’s science. It may or may not be correct (he’s a Chomper, and there’s certainly controversy in Chomperism, and recent findings suggest that the core instinct thesis may be invalid) but at least it’s readable and it has all these things we’re not used to in debate: they’re called facts. Facts sit on the table looking so much more appetizing than semantics. I was brought up on facts (in my own short debating career which was pre-LD), which I guess is why I kinda like PF, which is reminiscent of policy back when I did it (it was the Olden Days, and there were fewer facts then, so we just used shoe boxes, not shipping tubs, to file them all). Arguing theories, especially epistemological theories in translation, is a mug’s game where everyone loses. If I can actually prove something empirically, whoa Nellie! (Although Lyotard would say that I’m merely legitimating the scientific process.) When was the last time anyone attempted to prove something empirically in an LD round? Ah, those were the days. Any wonder why all the dinosaurs are lumbering off to the graveyard?

Speaking of which, either the Legion of Doom is disbanded or the entire brigade of them is on vacation. I tried to ask what happened in Texas at their meeting on the listserver and was met with a resounding blast of silence. Their perceived antagonists never shut up, while they never open up. Curiouser and curiouser. If you detect growing ambivalence on my part about the whole operation, you’ve got the old detection apparatus working quite properly.

For the morbidly curious, I got my pop filter in the mail yesterday, and it does seem to work, reducing the effect of P and T sounds, which otherwise sound like, literally, pops in the recording. Witness this, for example. Those who feel that this blog should have more cats, on the other hand, might enjoy this. Poor, poor, pitiful Pip. The Demented One continues to harass him every time he makes a move. But there are plans afoot to nip The Demented One in the bud--so to speak. Yes, sports fans, the dreaded op is soon to happen. Watch this site for further details (if you dare)!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

And the Colombians have 27 words for snow

Every now and then I get a mysterious Yahoo request for people I’ve never heard of, with very mysterious email addresses, to sign up for the Hen Hud Speecho-American listserver. Presumably it’s some sort of complicated spam, where they use Oral Interpretation to get money out of Nigeria. Damn, these people are clever. I just can’t keep up with them.

Things are awfully quiet, otherwise, and I won’t bore you with the details of nothing happening. I will point out, however, that today most linguists accept that language does not precede thought. There used to be an idea that, if you can’t say it, you can’t think it. (I even posited this as part of the creation of the artificial intelligence of Lingo, back in the day.) This is no longer accepted on the linguistic level: the nature of language is such that its mechanics do not determine what we can or can’t think. How well we can express what we’re thinking, of course, but not the thoughts themselves. For example, only the Germans have the word schadenfreude, but you don’t need to be born in Berlin to enjoy the misfortunes of others. By the same token, or conversely if you want to get all logicky on us, you can’t change people’s thoughts by changing their language (which is what Orwell claimed, clearly demonstrated in 1984, and I only bring this up because of the Orwellian mention on WTF, which has, thankfully, sent everyone home and lightened up on the Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah malarkey). The question could be, then, if this is true, and fairly common knowledge, what exactly is going on in the language games that politicians play, if they objectively cannot change thought through language. I think we may venture into areas of pomo with that question, where the nature of language games is very much grist for the mill. But pomo or not, the politicians make the language, and something happens. What that something is makes for great meditation fodder.

But I offer a different line of thought. Flag burning. It’s not linguistic, but it’s an analogous area, in that it's definitely a political game. Whenever the night is darkest, and all around them are losing their heads, and every program and policy is failing miserably, Congress rouses itself to propose a Constitutional amendment banning flag burning. The fact that they come as close as they do to making this happen is astounding. The thing is, everyone knows that, well, there is no flag burning. It’s just not happening. The streets are not littered with the ashes of Old Glory. It’s an issue with no instances. Worse, presumably there isn’t more than a handful of people in Congress dumb enough not to understand the First Amendment and the meaning of flag symbolism well enough to know that the former is what the latter represents, and the minute you curtail one of them you’ve curtailed both. Yet this august body is willing to spend however much time and energy would be required to propose an amendment, get it reviewed by all the state legislatures, with all the ensuing yakking and yakking and yakking, with an end result either of enormous time wasted when the country is in crisis and should have been solving problems that exist, or worse, a Constitutional amendment that limits the exercise of free speech.

Talk about language games!

Anyhow, as I said, things are awfully quiet. And if nothing is happening, there isn’t much to say. So, I ramble…

Monday, July 17, 2006

Reading, writing, relief, remembering, recording

HoraceMan TSWAS recommends Zizek. All right, but at the bottom of the pile for a while. I’ve gone back to the Gabler Disney bio, which I’d only read half of (it’s in manuscript, and its great length makes it one clumsy suckeroonie to read without it spilling over on to floor, cat and who knows what all). Then there’s the Moorcock, the Foucault, the Pinker and some random crap I’ve tucked into my Amazon wish list so I won’t forget it. (Speaking of which, random tip: you can create a playlist comprising songs from the iTunes store that you haven’t bought, which suffices as an iTunes personal wish list.) So my reading program is set for the next few weeks, barring any unforeseens. I need a break from philosophy. Disney is doing the job.

Speaking of unreadable writers, there’s Noah’s commentary on soccer, in a recent comment. I think. It may be a commentary on Fever Pitch, the book. Hard to say. To be kind, let’s assume that he was writing it late at night. I think the gist is that Noah’s maligning my impeccable sports credentials. The nerve of the guy. I’ve got a Yankees cap, damn it. (Well, I think it’s a Yankee cap. It might be a Mets cap; I’m not sure, but it does say New York on it somewhere and it seems relatively baseballish, so Yankees are a pretty good guess, all things considered. I know it’s not the Giants or the Dodgers, anyhow. Or the Jets.) I’m not creating a top ten here with the GRL, just a list of books relatively guaranteed to be liked by non-readers of the XY chromosome persuasion. Jeesh! How about Money Ball? I really liked that. Or better yet, Summerland! That’s it. Goodbye Hornby, hello Chabon.

Sorry, Kt. Take it up with Noah.

Meanwhile, a thankful nation breathes a sigh of relief now that WTF has released their first batch of hostages. I know that I’ll miss them mightily. No more camper of the day. No more camp counselor of the day. No more camp philosopher of the day. No more kamp kritik of the day. What’ll we all do till the next session? I, for one, plan to see if there’s any news from the Middle East. I’ve been concentrated so much on California that I’ve lost track of everywhere else. Probably all’s quiet over there though. I mean, what could possibly be happening that would be important enough to replace the WTF Camp Haircut of the day?

Speaking of thankful nations, I spent a lot of time yesterday working on the Bump invite. By Jiminy, but November seems awfully close. I’ve got it to almost done; all I need to do now is some proofreading, then some resting to allow whatever I forgot to come back to me. The problem is that I took voluminous notes of things to change, but I have no idea where they are. No doubt they’ll turn up after the tournament. This is the problem of running different computers, one of which (the work PowerBook) is in virtual lockdown: there’s no unified data storage. All the flash drives in the world aren’t the same as one central data center. I am using my website space for that these days, and I’ve got my new PDA, so maybe going forward I may get on top of stuff. Probably not, but it’s worth hoping for.

I also posted a new Nostrum yesterday and finished editing part 2 of Caveman. I’ve ordered a pop filter for the Snowball (to tone down the Ps and Ts) and when it arrives in a day or two I’ll go on to part 3. I must admit that I learn a lot from listening to Caveman as I’m editing it: half of that stuff comes as news to me! When did I ever actually know it, much less commit it to paper? If any of that information is actually correct, I’m going to be a lot smarter when this is over, or at least until I forget it all again.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

If you got a warrant, I guess you’re gonna come in

Being neither a philosopher nor a philosophy scholar, perhaps I can be forgiven the following LD heresy: philosophers are the most boring people on earth. I mean, don’t any of these people ever take writing lessons? We’re talking a 10 to 1 ratio of dreck to good stuff, and that’s overall oeuvres. Unfortunately it’s someone like Nietzsche, who is a totally loose screw, who can make words sing on the page while your more, shall we say, useful thinkers write as if they wouldn’t recognize understandability if it hit them in the head with a brick.

Which doesn’t make our job particularly easy. That is, if our job is to begin understanding the universe, it would be nice if those who make some claim to insight would do a better job of sharing the wealth.

Case in point: Lyotard. As I’ve said, his material is not bad, and I find the gist of what he says reasonable enough. But he is writing only for professional philosophers (in which I will include serious undergraduate students of philosophy). He seems to have no interest in saying anything to the great unwashed, which is fine, I guess, except that his thesis on postmodernism is about the breakdown of the metanarrative and his own writing (for the predisposed) is a perfect example of what he is citing as the problem. Thanks a lot, you #$%^&* French person! At the point where philosophy is only accessible to philosophers it is completely jejune. Or precious. Or whatever you want to call it. One of the goals of debate would seem to be to introduce new students to philosophical ideas, but most of your garden variety philosophers aren’t much help here. And it’s not just pomos (although some of them do, by their nature, take unintelligibility to great depths). All philosophers who limit philosophy to scholars--people sharing their own ivory towers--deserve to be taken out and made to read Garfield comics until their brains fall out. Which, one would imagine, wouldn’t take too long.

What I miss from Lyotard, style and strategy aside, is facts. Warrants, if you will. He claims that the cultural metanarrative is over, but he doesn’t give you a lot of feel for what that means (which is what I tried to do in Caveman). Still, I think he says a lot of true stuff (although to him, things don’t seem to be provable as true, but merely capable of being legitimated, and most of the text is about the process of legitimization). Take the narrative of science (and I’ll skip the gobbledygook here, which means that if you’re a philosopher yourself, you probably won’t understand what I’m saying). Whatever it is, it is a broad story with a simple process of truth-testing: you can prove or disprove a statement of scientific fact, because that is the very nature of science. The structure of scientific information transfer (since Lyotard is writing about knowledge per se) is either educational or research-based. That is, either a teacher who knows something is relaying information to a willing student who doesn’t know, and the provability of the statement is the legitimization of this process of education, or we have a scientist proposing to a willing colleague a hypothesis, and the two together can investigate the proofs of that hypothesis through research. The problem in the postmodern age is the atomization of information. Science becomes little islands of scientific knowledge that become difficult to legitimate because of their isolation from one another. The structure of science (the metanarrative of science in culture) falls apart. Education and research can no longer be legitimated. A new process of legitimatization is required.


I do accept much of this. Given that we live in a country where most people do not accept science on face (evolution, most notably), we’ve got to believe that something is wrong somewhere. It would seem that we have clearly lost the metanarrative of science in American culture, which is rather odd given the “Yankee ingenuity” that informs our character. We’ve gone from a supposed nation of clear thinking, practical, amateur engineers to know-nothings who refuse to believe in engineering. No wonder we’re attacking countries at random for no apparent reason. You can easily apply the breakdown of knowledge and legitimization to the political arena, except here we’ve replaced any sort of factual legitimizing--e.g., there are no WMDs, therefore, Oops, we’re wrong--with conceptual language games--our troops are fighting a war and we can’t abandon them, or we’re fighting a war on terror which excuses all actions because we can glibly create a verbal smokescreen that confuses terrorism with whoever it is we happen to be shooting at. The concept of a war on terror is meaningless, once you understand the various politics and beliefs of the players involved. There is no monolith. And in a way, almost any action we take against this war is seen as fuel for the conflict on the side of the terrorists. There’s a nice pickle for you. And the creators of this “war on terrorism” are aware of these issues. My worry is not so much that in US politics that language has replaced reality, but that so many people buy the replacement. You could probably argue that, to some extent, this acceptance of language to replace reality is a rather pathetic attempt by Americans to believe the metanarrative of American historical global white-hat-ness, a concept that should have been put to bed after Vietnam. We’re just another bunch of schmucks on the global stage, albeit rich and powerful schmucks, and we don’t like that, so we cling to the old narrative. Over the next few centuries, as presumably China becomes the biggest global superpower, we are still probably going to cling to our dead fictions, but at least then we’ll be all snarl and no bite. Sort of like postcolonial England: the Empire is no more, so deal with it. It won’t be long before the American Empire will be no more, too. Oh, we’ll still be rich and powerful, but we won’t be supreme: we will be long past any postmodern conundrum into being just another country. Like, say, Norway. Our metanarrative as supreme will be, I hope, long exhausted.

If you’re still alive a couple of hundred years from now, send me a postcard and let me know how it’s working out. I’d be curious to know if I was right.

Friday, July 14, 2006

iPods on the soles of her shoes...

I do long for the new two-ounce iPod that has 150 hours of battery life, a wide screen for video display, wireless connection to everyone’s library within a 3-mile radius as well as to one’s own earbuds, and a 2 terabyte storage capacity flash memory (upgradeable to 4 terabytes). Unbreakable, of course. And I’d even settle for the white one, to minimize scratching. On the other hand, I’m not in the market for an iPod I can put in my shoe. Even when I ran every day I wasn’t in the market for an iPod I could put in my shoe (nowadays I walk the same distance I used to run, at roughly the same speed, which says nothing for my walking ability but speaks volumes of my general running fleetness, and I do it with El Nano around my neck on its lanyard). Because I’m on their mailing list, I get messages from Apple every time they do something new. This one I’ll skip. Although I am beginning to think that, along with that iPod described above (let’s call it the Gen 6 for argument’s sake), a nice iMac with Leopard installed might not be a bad idea either. As you can see, I’m storing up imaginary lusts for the winter. Then, maybe next spring, we might go shopping and buy Little Elvis a big brother…

Speaking of big brothers, Tik pronounced teek continues to harass Pip the Wondercat regularly. In fact, he seems to attack the old guy about as regularly as WTF updates with yet more news for a waiting nation. It’s painful to watch. Pip walks along and Tik jumps on him from one side, Pip growls and shakes him off, walks another couple of steps, then Tik jumps on him from the other side, Pip growls again and shakes him off again, continuing until eventually the old guy finds some sanctuary too high for Tik to jump up and join him. Yesterday I caught Pip reading the bulletins from WTF; I guess the pain of the one distracted from the pain of the other. Oh well. It’s better than being lonely.

Having not read Fever Pitch, but seen both films and read just about every other one of his books, I’m willing to add it to the GRL. Kt wonders who exactly I’m targeting, and I’m thinking of, simply, smart guys who have given up on (or never taken up) reading. I’m proselytizing with this, doing my best to sell to some great unwashed something I strongly believe in. I strongly believe in a lot of things, but some are easier sells than others. I strongly believe in music, for instance. But that requires no cheerleading from me. Who doesn’t listen to music? Sure, I may occasionally buy my mother a Madeleine Peyroux album as a measure for expanding the ear pool, but teenagers don’t need me pointing out stuff because they’ve got plenty already. Doesn’t matter much what it is. It’s around the age of the early 20s that music will become an issue, the age when one has pretty much heard enough rock and roll to know that, like it though one may, it isn’t going to change much, and it’s time to spread the ear pool a bid or condemn oneself to a lifetime of “Stairway to Heaven” (in the case of my generation; probably for today’s Sailors it’s a lifetime of Fiddy’s or Diddy’s “Yo Mama’s Yo-Yo Ma” or whathaveyou—I don’t exactly keep up with everything, if you know what I mean). There comes a time to put kid music behind you and explore everything else: there is more music in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our adolescent philosophies. Classical music, standards, jazz, a couple of hundred countries in the world with their indigenous musics—it’s all a lot of fun, and I’m sure you’ll do it without any help from me (although I’m happy to recommend all kinds of starter sets if you want something really obscure). You’ve heard me on movies already; I love movies but I’m getting bored with them, or at least with the mainstream films, which seem to be in an endless rechurn of previous mainstream films. I don’t mind watching obscure foreign films with subtitles or indie films that send me into a state of permanent depression, but every now and then I want to eat popcorn with air conditioning and be carried into mass fantasy, and Hollywood is failing me on this. We were going to go to the movies last night but decided to go out for Mexican food instead. Probably a wise choice. But again, people will go to movies regardless of what I say, and mostly I’ve only felt an itch here to point to movies beyond the bland norm. Books, on the other hand, sit unread on shelves for a lifetime while people while away the hours playing World of Warcraft. As a result, some muscle of the brain will atrophy, and eventually rot and fall out completely. And then where are you?

Speaking of brains falling out, I’ve put up the first piece of part 2 of Caveman; the rest of part 2 should go up over the weekend, then I’ll record part 3. Unfortunately the chez will be going through some renovations soon; I may have a week or two of roughing it. I do like my creature comforts, everything in its precise place, more or less. The end result of the renovations should be a more agreeable chez meeting spot, among other benefits of interest only to the home team. But first there will be some displacement. I’ll soldier through, somehow.

If you’re wondering, the tornado that ripped through Westchester a couple of days ago was south of here, roughly on the horizontal with Hawthorne. Scary stuff. This is what’s supposed to happen in Kansas. It’s all Dubya’s fault!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Explanations of past biliousness, electronic updates, and dim movie night prospects

I am not simply bile on a stick.

I say that because I don’t want to confuse anyone with my occasional shots at WTF. I have nothing against camps in general, or this camp in particular, or the people who attend it or the people who run it. I went to camp myself once; it was between 4th and 5th grade, and I broke my arm and got sent home after a week, although I’ve worn the scars for life. My thing about WTF is more of a Spidey issue. That is, with great power comes great responsibility. As their website has de facto become LD Central, when they go off on a toot it has effects far beyond what they are intending. With the camp, they’re merely connecting with attendee friends and family, but co-opting LD Central to do it makes them look slightly venal, as if they’re devoting the site to drumming up business for themselves. And when they’re giving microsecond-by-microsecond reports from national events, it overburdens those events with a weight and importance that they don’t deserve. I’ve always maintained that the WTF folks need to atomize these activities on the site. That is, it’s fine to do it if they want to, i.e., there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but don’t give over the whole site to this coverage. In a word, some of us don’t care, and it undermines the real cultural value of the site to devote so much real estate to items of such parochial interest. Unfortunately, when they did atomize the site last year by breaking off the three pieces that now reside under the fold, they simply lost those pieces to twilight zone. Bottom line: if anyone is going to be LD Central, the crack heads of WTF are fine folks I’m perfectly willing to accept. But I wish they’d come to terms with their centrality and separate the wheat from the chaff just a little bit better. Not so much that I can’t continue to rib them, but enough that I’m more willing to check the site more regularly.

Of course, if they wanted to, they could fire back whatever shots they want across the bow of yours truly. It’s not like I don’t have my own little peccadilloes. For instance, the new microphone arrived, and it seems to work fine, although it’s not as sensitive as I expected. Or, more likely, I haven’t figured out quite how to set it up yet. It’s a cute old devil, though. Looks like a real mike. It words fine with Audacity. Then I had all sorts of frolicking fun trying to figure why the last iTunes feed didn’t take. Finally I went to some site that analyzes your feed and tells you line for line what’s wrong, and found that the code I had added to meet Apple’s new category requirement wasn’t working correctly. It looked fine to me, but what can I say? I deleted it, pinged the feed, and we were back in business. I’ll put another new Nostrum up in a day or two so you can hear the difference in mikes (if you’re one of the pathetic few who actually listen to this nonsense). And, of course, I’ll use it for the next parts of Caveman that I’ll be recording.

And by the way, when did mike become mic? I never did get the memo on that one. So I’ll ignore it. Jeesh.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about movies lately, and the fact that I simply can’t get myself to go to one. And I don’t think the problem is me. Look at what’s playing at my local Cineplex: Cars, The Devil Wears Prada, The Lake House, Pirates of the Caribbean, Click, Garfield, Nacho Libre, Superman Returns. Now, I’ll buy the disk of Cars eventually because I like Pixar films and usually enjoy all their extras; if I had a kid around, I’d go see it now on the big screen, but I don’t so I won’t. Prada is a rental from the getgo; why pay movie money to see a glorified sitcom? All the reviews of Keanu meets Sandra (oh joy, oh rapture, they’re reunited) make it sound like the Korean original would be better, and that’s not saying much, but again, a rental from the getgo as it might pass a couple of hours inoffensively. And speaking of remakes, didn’t I already see Pirates? I’m as big a J. Depp fan as there is, but I’ve already done my two and a half hours of Jack Sparrow. As for the idea of paying any money at all for Adam Sandler, well, that is inconceivable; until he starts paying me to see his movies, and paying me a lot, it’s just not going to happen. Obviously Garfield is not aimed at me. And the Jack Black sounds like yet another rental; given my opinion of N Dynamite, I’m not holding my breath, but I am a JB fan, so a year from now I’ll report back. Which leaves Superman, which has the benefit of presumably having good effects worth seeing on the big screen, but the reviews make it sound mopey. I mean, if I were the Man of Steel, I would get over it, whatever it is. You’re the Man of Steel, for pete’s sake. What more do you need? And Lois Lane has a baby? Not Clark’s? The whole point of the Superman fantasy is that it is angst-free, unlike the point of the Batman angst, which is that it is fantasy-free (I won’t go into the Marvel universe here, which is another thing altogether). Superman should be fun. We all should fly and be invulnerable and look different when we take off our glasses. End of story. And the whole idea that the original (so to speak) Superman film with Chris Reeve is some sort of canon on the old Kryptonian? Come on. That was a dull film with some fun moments. Supe 2 was the only truly good one of the series. Revering Supe 1 is like revering Star Trek: The Motionless Picture (as Harlan E was the first to call it). It wasn’t good. Deal with it.

So, given this unattractive menu of choices, I end up staying home, but I may bite the (faster-than-a-speeding) bullet and do Superman Thursday, just to get out of the house for an evening of air conditioning. No doubt I’ll marginally enjoy it, but ultimately feel I coulda stayed home and prayed for a Firefly revival.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Nostrum, Minnie Mouse, Lyotard, NatNats and Mr. Howard

I posted a new Nostrum last night, but I don’t see it yet on iTunes. I was having a hell of a time getting my connection working, for some reason. The AirPort didn’t want to see the router, and everything kept hanging, so finally I just jerked the Ethernet out of the router and plugged it into Little Elvis, and everything started cooking again. But even El Nano suffered in the confusion, and I don’t seem to have any updated podcasts, which is like taking away my main drug. I’m starting to itch and crave Hershey bars. Fortunately I do have a few leftover Lopates to get me through the day. I should get everything back on track tonight.

Meanwhile, I did order a new microphone—I don’t know if I mentioned that or not previously--and it should arrive today or tomorrow. I should stop sounding like Minnie Mouse going forward. Or, I mean, going forward, I should stop sounding like Minnie Mouse. As soon as it arrives I’ll start back on the Caveman podcasts.

I’m in the middle of Lyotard, by the way, The Postmodern Condition, which HoraceMan, the superhero without any superpowers, recommended as a readable text I’d enjoy. And he was right. Lyotard writes from a classical philosophical base, with reasonable premises leading to logical conclusions (although with a lot of hot air, but then again, bloviation goes back at least to Plato so that’s hardly a failing confined to pomos). Mostly he says what I say in Caveman, except I write more clearly and seldom have to be translated into English. I had considered a Lyotard lecture, but the book is as plain as the nose on your face, and it’s shorter than G.W. Bush’s list of positive accomplishments, so if you’re that interested, you can just read it yourself. It’s not like Baudrillard where, when you read it, you know less than when you started. The old Baudleroo is untouchable in that arena.

I never did hear what transpired with the Legion of Doom at NatNats. They do have an annoying thing about keeping their profile down to a low mumble; I’ve emailed the listserver for an update. Jeesh. I’ve also begun organizing to collect more folks to support the tournament policies (provided that the outcome of the NatNats meeting wasn’t the elimination of me collecting folks to support the tournament policies). Now that I’m tan, ready and rested, it’s time to do some work.

For that matter, I never heard what happened at the Purity of Essence LD meeting at NatNats either, although for that one I actually hadn’t expected a report, aside perhaps from something anecdotal in passing. Changes (if any) would be sent to the board and acted on officially and reported back through Rostrum and the District newsletters. I’m not expecting the end of life as we know it, but one or two small steps in the direction of simplicity couldn’t hurt. I would like to get a shot at polishing the wording of resolutions after they’re approved at NatNats, for instance. This year’s list isn’t terrible, but the judicious use of the old pencil would plug a couple of holes that may have us (all right, you, since this is all behind me now) pulling out hair for two months. Of course, I haven’t studied the list in much more than quick, cursory detail. But it looked fairly orthodox, as I remember it. I’ll dive in more deeply when it gets to be time to cast the old vote. Usually we end up getting about one out of five…

And finally, spurred on by my correspondent, young Mr. Melville, I do feel that I’m being remiss in not announcing the Students of the Day, as they do over at WTF. So, to keep parity with O’C, my choice is shown in the photograph below. Beats their folks hands down.

(Thank you, Wall of Shemp!)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Coachean blog supplemental (i.e., 2 in one day, so keep scrollin', pardner)

Oh joy, oh rapture: an email from my young friend at you-know-where.


Dear Mr. Menick,

We had a very busy day yesterday, and I thought you’d enjoy hearing about it. We really miss you here at DVM; we think you would fit in like a trombone at a Sousafest.

Anyhow, here was our day:

6:00 a.m. DVMers had their choice of 16 different calisthenics programs, ranging from Lockean leg presses (we kick up a storm the old-fashioned way) to Theoretical Tai Chi (campers imagine themselves writhing in unison in a public park to Wu-Tang Clan sing-along hits) to Lyotard in Leotards (which is pretty much what you think it is, but we advise you not to think about it). Calisthenics lasts from five minutes to two hours, depending on the physical shape of the debaters and/or their calisthenics leaders (which is something else we advise you not to think about).

8:30 a.m. Breakfast. A choice of pancakes, flapjacks or griddle cakes was offered at our fine Habermas Havasnak Cafeteria. We recommend that each camper consume at least four buckets of coffee a day, and that they take their first bucket now.

9:00 a.m. Drills. DVM firmly believes that the best LD is a combination of fitness, fatuousness and ferocity, and at our drills we work on all three. We begin in our first sessions with exercises where debaters speak with pencils in their mouths; by yesterday, our debaters had advanced to speaking with other debaters in their mouths. This is known as a Round Robin, and is only recommended for rising seniors.

10:00 a.m. Yeast injections. This is how we make sure all our debaters are rising.

10:10 a.m. Lectures with Lechers. This is a chance for our older instructors to share their wealth of information with the assembled multitudes. Each day one of our senior instructors concentrates on his or her major subject area, sharing the wit and wisdom of three millennia as we study everyone from Plato to Coulter. Yesterday the main lecture, conducted by Opie Taylor, was on the famous Frenchman Zinedine Zidane’s theory, “Apres le tete, le deluge.”

12:00 a.m. (Or is that 12:00 p.m.? They don’t teach us that here at DVM. Anyhow...) Lunch. A choice of heros, grinders, wedges or submarine sandwiches was offered at our fine Nietzsche’s Noshes Cafeteria. Yesterday’s filling of choice was either chicken of the sea or tuna, accompanied by a Name-The-Simpson Trivia Quiz (we provide a famous quote and you have to decide if it's from Homer, Jessica, Wallis or OJ).

1:00 p.m. Labs. Labs are very popular here at DVM. So are terriers and poodles, but that’s another thing entirely. Yesterday’s labs were on how to rewrite cases that were given to you by your coach. As you know, often these cases are completely unintelligible, which, while making them hard to run, nonetheless pretty much guarantees you’ll pick up the ballots of most college students and half the parents (we call this the Emperor’s New Case Syndrome). Our goal is to maintain the unintelligibility (since that’s the element that wins the round) and to work on finding any words that are in Webster’s 11th Edition and selecting substitutes that are either in French, in Latin, or in Wu-Tang Clan. I realize that makes two references to Wu-Tang Clan in one message, but I know that you are a ODB if there ever was one, or at least that’s the word around DVM.

4:00 p.m. Field trip to Urbane Outfitters with Bubba Chutney, O’C and Uncle Wiggly. Yesterday I purchased three pairs of camo pants, two home-boy style denim short pants ensembles, and a pair of $400 Nike Airheads.

6:00 p.m. Dinner. A choice of pasta, macaroni or noodles was offered at our fine Chomsky Chompers Cafeteria.

8:00 p.m. Last night, for any DVMers still in possession of energy, we had a Star Trek film festival featuring a complete screening of the Academy Award winning performances of William Shatner. This meant an early night, with plenty of rest to get us ready for the morrow.

As you can see, we lead a busy and productive life here at DVM. Our website ( will fill you in on anything I may have missed here.

Your chum,

Herman Melville
Camp Counselor

I write the blog that makes the whole world schwing

I’ll go with Walk in the Woods. As for Hitchhiker, I’m not that big a fan myself; plus, it doesn’t have, shall we say, the gravitas I’m looking for.

I’ve added a couple of movie items (or I will, before the day is out). I don’t want to overrate Nine Queens, but if you like that kind of movie, you’ll like this one. I mean, how many Argentine films have you actually seen, that you can start caviling over including this one? And there’s no point in my recommending obvious stuff, even though I do consider the Firefly Continuum pretty mainstream (although if it were all that mainstream, it would still be running as a weekly series). That whole obvious tag is what stays my hand on the GRL. That and, as I say, gravitas. But I’ve enjoyed the whole Firefly Continuum business way too much not to push it on others, so that will go on there too.

I do love when a private in the VCA scribbles something elliptical, as in a comment I just read to the effect that people (the government? the IRS? Valerie Plame?) are reading this blog and reacting to it with their own blogs. What? I have great fear of starting a trend where every dumb coach in America feels some pressure to blog just because I do; one dumb coach ought to be enough! And I hardly believe that we are setting trends here. If that were the case, TOC would do the honorable thing and evaporate, the Legion of Doom would report what mischief they were up to in Dallas, O’C would turn off his computer for a week and concentrate on the moment, the entire country would rise as one to support the Modest Novice, someone would volunteer to adopt Tik pronounced teek before he completely destroys the chez, the new Bump invitation would write itself (as would my new how-to-judge materials), someone would offer me 10 of their Yale rooms within walking distance (I think our hotel, nice as the sales guy was, is in Cleveland), et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Anyhow, if someone is blogging about debate stuff, regardless of whether it’s in reaction to CL, please point me to it (provided they have some staying power). I don’t exactly consider myself a voice crying in the wilderness, but if there are other tumbleweeds blowing across the net, I’d be interested to make their acquaintance.

And one last thing, a propos of nothing. I don’t think I mentioned that last week the Spawn treated me to the Cyclone and all the Nathan’s hot dogs I could eat. Let me put it this way, roller coaster fans. The Cyclone is about 75 years old. It is about as smooth as a rockslide. As far as air time is concerned, at least from the back seat (which is, of course, the location of choice on a wooden coaster), the real issue is that there is not enough seat time. About two minutes after embarking, one pulls oneself off the rickety thing battered, bruised, and confident that this contraption isn’t going to last another day. In other words, this is as good as it gets. Keep your metal coasters. Keep your half-metal coasters. Wood all the way. And classic wood, if you can get it. Yeah, I’d still like to do the Beast and a couple of other modern marvels, but the Cyclone sets the standard. Don’t believe it? Disagree? Feh! Keep it to yourself.

What LD needs is more rolling and coasting.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Well, that was interesting

I knew that the VCA was weird, and now we have confirmation over the GRL issue. All the females like guy books, all the guys like female books. CLG accuses me of already promulgating guy books. Termite recommended a bunch of books that really didn't need recommending (I mean, teenagers read too much Vonnegut already, even non-reading teenagers). I may not have clearly defined the point of the list. I want the books to have a bit of weight and merit, and, while one can arguably attack one or two on this count, some sort of "classic" status. The thing is, the market we're addressing, guys who read my blog who don't read much for entertainment, can already be presumed to have some measure of education, a whole bunch of assigned novels that they've blown off and watched the miniseries instead, the drive to be smarter than everyone else they know, and the ability to understand Baudrillard and Nietzsche. Now that's a unique individual, and there's a lot of them out there. (I love writing sentences like that...) As for Kt, I'd include Dune but I didn't like it myself much. Hornby is male enough (especially the total failure How to Be Good which he writes as a woman), but I find him narratively weak. Kipling??? As in,

Q: Do you like Kipling?
A: I don't know, I've never kippled.

If Burgers wants to give me a specific Bryson, I might add. I've dabbled at BB (except for the science book, which I read in semi-full) and he's fun. He may be someone people might otherwise not come across. My inclusion of Salinger may have been a mistake, if he's already assigned to death in school (but he's one guy you won't be seeing the miniseries of any time soon). I'm going to add Roots. I find it curious that so many of the titles I thought of address race issues. There's no agenda there, just coincidence.

Anyhow, on another subject altogether, it's the end of an era. I saw Serenity last night. The Firefly saga is all over (except for a few extras I'll watch in a day or two). Back to the old TNG episodes. According to O'C, Wil gets good someday. Feh!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Where's my rut when I really need it?

I still don’t feel as if I’m in the swing of normal life yet. The long weekend didn’t help, although I must admit I enjoyed having it. I need a whole bunch of work days and evenings to do the stuff I normally do to get back into the rhythm of life (and if those last three words make you think of Sammy Davis, Jr., you have seen way too many movies and know way too much about musicals). (By the way, I do have a Sammy Davis riff or two, but I’m saving them for when I run out of more au courant stuff. Unless the demand from the VCA is overwhelming…)

I popped over to WTF for a second to try to get back into the same old same old, but the cacophony there was pretty overwhelming. They’re into their second-by-second camp-reportage mode, the sort of stuff only a parent could love, and even then, it would have to be one hell of a child-starved parent. Knowing the ilk of most of these debaters as I do, and having a sense of their parents, most of the adults are happy to get rid of them for a couple of weeks, and aside from a general sense of knowledge that they are alive and safe, forget pretty quickly that their offspring even exist as they spend a couple of weeks wining and dining themselves and acting childless again. That is, of course, what summer camps of any sort are all about. They are not, repeat not, for the benefit of the child. If it were legal, most parents would simply opt for locking the young ’uns in the basement for a couple of months with a TV and a couple of comic books, given the fact that this is no doubt the cheapest summer option, and then going about their blissful adult existences in happy ignorance of the little devils. Throw them a box of White Castle burgers every day or two, and what more do they need? Unfortunately, 21st Century childcare etiquette demands slightly more of a hands-on approach. Which makes most adults long for the good old days of the 15th Century, when as soon as a kid was old enough to hold a hoe, you had him where you wanted him, and that was the end of it until he died of old age a few months later. Ah, the good old days.

I did get another Noscast up. I need to get going with Caveman again (I’m halfway through editing part 2), and decide about Fast Freddy (I hate to waste all that reading time I spent on the old dork without getting some mileage out of it), and increase Nostrum production, not to mention various new horizons. For instance, Horaceman, the superhero without any superpowers, got me on to The Postmodern Condition, about which more as I work my way through it (although—spot check—so far, so good). I’m also considering a better microphone. The one I have now sounds okay, but it picks up T and P sounds and turns them into amateurish pops and clicks that are, shall we say, on the unmellifluous side. I heard the Blue Snowball on the Maccast podcast, and was really impressed. It’s a USB-in (some mics require a pre-amp or mixer, and I just don’t want to get that involved, as I’m already running out of room in my chez office: the table is covered with about three layers of things to do as it is, plus 2 computers, endless boxes for this, that and the other—there won’t be room for me or Tik pronounced teek in there if I add anything else.) I’ll probably decide by the end of today which one to get.

For those keeping score, Tik pronounced teek had a few days of mature, sane growth earlier this week. Unfortunately, last night he had a relapse, and he’s now more demented than ever. Poor poor pitiful long-suffering Pip just soldiers on as the attacks continue. Some day, I tell him. Some day. Maybe we should just give Tik one of those 15th Century hoes.

There is some blowback on the Modest Novice front worth mentioning. I mean, it really is a good idea and I really want to do it, and now Jonathan who also really wants to do it is making another push. The real issue for the MHL is the CFL on two counts. First, the October CFL contest would, in the normal course of events, run the Sept-Oct topic. Modest Novice would require a rules change to add a second novice topic, whether or not it ran simultaneously with the NFL topic du jour, not to mention the complicated, but manageable, tabbing of the event (complicated tabbing of multiple topics is one of the reasons the Modest Novice was shot down). The second count is, if one sizeable faction doesn’t want to do it, and there is overlap among the factions, do we want to set up an internecine conflict? As I said in my announcement of the Modest Novice not being put into place, these are parlous times for LD; I wonder if we want or need a lot of fighting inside the tent. But if it’s that good an idea, would we be punishing future LDers for the sake of minor political peace? Tough calls all around. I’m communicating with Jonathan and O’C on these issues; I’ll also be asking Joe V to chime in (I gather he’s out there with Uncle Wiggly herding a couple of hundred happy campers through their paces) as it affects Scarswegians probably as mightily as anyone.

Finally, there’s the old Legion of Doom. I have been remiss in my poster boy duties, but I’m about ready to dive back in. I’ve heard from one big tournament, and I now need to start working. I’ve decided among myself which tournament to go for next. I promise you, you’re going to love it!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

With apologies to those of the female persuasion

I was listening to an interview with some educators this morning about young persons of the male persuasion and reading. As in, young brains are different male/female (they mature differently until about the age of 22 in females, 30 in males [I think those were the correct average ages], whence they’re pretty much identical). So, the things that appeal to young males and females in the book department will be different. Unfortunately, assigned reading, even through college, tends to be more female-oriented. One good example given was the assigning of Toni Morrison, an indisputably important American author who won the Nobel prize, is much more frequent than the assigning of Ernest Hemingway, an indisputably important American author who won the Nobel prize. Yet it’s pretty easy to predict that young males will respond more viscerally to the latter than the former. If you’re specifically talking about African-American themes, another example would be Beloved vs. Invisible Man; the latter book is just more up the young male alley brain-developmentwise, and if you are not teaching Morrison per se but teaching about the Black American experience to young males, you’d probably be better off with the latter book.

And I’m not asking you to subscribe to stereotypes here, just to generalities. Hell, I always liked Jane Austen, but that’s just me (and maybe you too, fella—I’m not the only exception to the rule). I think the first page of P&P is hilarious; if you read it and don’t think it’s hilarious, and it’s assigned to you in a class, well then, you’re pretty much doomed for the next couple of hundred pages. All guys are not all one way, but there is no question that objectively young males generally respond to books differently than young females, and that they generally respond positively/negatively to specific books differently. And the end result is depressing; just look at the numbers. Most males are lost to reading by their adulthood. I’ve been in publishing my entire life; most of the books published in America are for women because women read more than men. That’s the way of the world. The numbers are indisputable.

Once upon a time I felt I had a mission to rip out the brains of the debaters who crossed my path, wash them thoroughly, and replace them filled with the stuff I thought they should be filled with. Unfortunately, some of my debaters felt (rightly) otherwise, and my total brainwashing program languished. I concentrated instead on debate stuff, which was more than enough to fill the empty hours (although I would define debate stuff as including leaving a tip plus tax, removing your hat while you’re at the dinner table unless you have a note from your cleric explaining otherwise, and turning off your cell phone the moment you are within a hundred yards of me). Still, I have added the odd non-debate book to the Hen Hud reading list, yet I can’t say that I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the whiteness of the whale with the male Sailors over the years. Not since the earliest days, actually. Voracious male readers who are on the team will usually focus their voracity on books they believe will relate to the activity. They’ll read Kant till the cows come home, but if it’s not debate-related, they sniff at it and back away slowly, until, presumably, they bump into Nietzsche from the rear and they’re ready to go on again. The well-rounded (and perhaps well-grounded) Sailor becomes progressively more elusive. One of the reasons I ask for readings from a favorite book from novices, in addition to simply evaluating presentation style, is to see what books they choose. Some of the choices over the years have been, well, less than profound, but always interesting.

Nevertheless, we unquestionably do have plenty of avid young male minds at the ready. And most of them are staring at the Prides and Prejudices of life with a blank expression, and rather than ruin them for all eternity by having them read books too soon (they’ll love P&P 20 years from now), or maybe more precisely, since we can’t sidetrack all the P&Ps of life, at least we can augment them with something more calculated toward young male readers, something that might connect before it’s too late and all the connections are permanently switched off. To that end, I propose my own “Guy’s Reading List: Books smart young males of the forensician persuasion will probably like, to be enjoyed for their own benefit because reading is a really good thing, even better than going to the movies because it’s cheaper, the experience lasts longer and you can take it with you anywhere, and even though you can’t go there with a girl it will give you something to talk to girls about when the time comes to actually do said talking.”

Is that too long a name? Well, Guy’s Reading List is probably good enough (despite the unfortunate acronym). So, I start it now. I will keep it live at the right, and I welcome suggestions for additions. Since I have no idea what books are on any particular curriculum--primary, secondary or college level--I may be redundant with a selection or two, but there’s worse things in life. My initial picks?

Autobiography of Malcolm X
Invisible Man
(Ellison, not Wells)
Catcher in the Rye
Brave New World
A Clockwork Orange
The Maltese Falcon

Care to suggest any others?