Friday, September 29, 2006

La vie en rose

After all this discussion, I decided to listen to “Urinetown,” and found out that I had the songs in the wrong order. No wonder I never felt it was an “Oklahoma” for the new millennium. And so much for ripping CDs when you’re not online. Anyhow, I’ve corrected the problem. The next time I listen to it, probably some time in 2014, I’ll be able to judge it much better. JV, who is in Ireland for the Jewish holidays (and there’s a joke in there somewhere but I can’t quite articulate it), is probably listening to it right now, sending those bog trotters into a true tizzy as he whistles along.

The third way--if you’ll pardon the expression—of dealing with the NFL red light crisis is to dissolve, and according to Ripin’ Ripon, if we do dissolve, our schools can move to another district at full strength. There seems to be equal portions of pissed off and pissed off on our side of this; regardless of how one feels about the organization, and whether one goes to NatNats or not, the idea that you pays your money and you get bounced is beginning to rise to the surface. How it will resolve I don’t know, but if we do dissolve, my guess is that a good number of the schools in the district won’t bother re-upping. I still haven’t paid my money for this year. And on top of it all, I just got the request for info on our District Tournament. The right hand doesn’t know… Ripin’ Ripon is apparently waiting for my call, but I want to sit down with my colleagues first, at Monti, before saying anything I might regret (although I have no compunctions about writing something I might regret—just call me the Little Sparrow for the new millennium).

(I figured that Little Sparrow would send some of the VCA to the Google box, so I checked, and sure enough, she pops up right at the top. Whew! The allusion, btw, is to “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.” Curiously, right after Piaf, Dolly of the Partons then pops up for the next 243,394 hits. I like Dolly as much as the next person, more or less, but she ain’t no little sparrow. And speaking of obtuse references:) The glossary seems to be a hit with the VCA. I don’t know why. I think I write in perfectly understandable and acceptable English, but apparently only the crème de la cognoscenti have a bloody clue. But of course, by definition the VCA is the crème de la cog, so there you are.

Last night was the plebes’ parents’ meeting. As always, about half of the mob turned out. Given that forensics requires strong parental support, in equal proportions mental, physical and fiscal, and that all parents don’t support equally, it’s interesting to see the first fall-off occurring before we even get started. One or two may have had a good reason for not showing, but not a full half. But this is not something I don’t expect: it happens every year. It is merely something I don’t understand. High school is an exciting time for kids, and why parents wouldn’t want a big share of it, especially since at the end, when the spawn swim upstream to college, you’ll be lucky if you ever see them again for anything other than the ritual dropping off of the laundry, is beyond me. I don’t think there’s too many (if any) parents in the VCA. That would be too much even for the most dedicated, so I guess I can speak freely. But then again, the parents who are in the VCA are the parents I’m not complaining about. It’s a dead-end situation. It has been ever thus.

Anyhow, it’s interesting to meet with the parents and spew for an hour plus without a breath and then tell them I’ll teach their kids to speak both well and to the point. Wouldst that I could demonstrate same, they all think in unison. I do tend to go on (do tell, Mr. M!). But then I do so love watching them blanch when I say, among other prize moments, that they’ll be picking their sugarplums up at 3:00 a.m. after Manchester. And one year, I know it, Dave will also be at the meeting to represent the Speecho-American side of life, not that I can’t do it, but he was unable to attend, which is too bad because it’s a good idea that he be seen too, as sort of a counterweight to me. The more counterweights to me, the better, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

And Juan, Kwan and the stoners are at full bore. The basement (i.e., Chez HQ) has been stripped bare in preparation for the long heralded arrival of the carpet today, yesterday the painter flew off his ladder to great discomfort of all and sundry, the automatic garage doors appeared last night with merely the single flaw of our having no discernible way of opening them, and I haven’t played the piano in God knows how many weeks because of the work on the window in the living room. The fingers itch. The mind boggles. The work goes on.

I shoulda gone with JV to the old sod.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Red Blues (with apologies to Cole Porter)

(Then again, “Red Blues” wasn’t exactly CP’s finest moment, so maybe he should be apologizing to us. And we won’t even mention Fred dancing “The Ritz Rock and Roll.”)

We got the word yesterday from Ripon that we are officially a Red Light District. There is a whole bunch of numbers and degrees and bologna in the message, but it boils down to either we sign up all sorts of new suckers or kiss the New York State District goodbye. Although actually, it was worse. It read as if, although eventually we would indeed kiss the New York State District goodbye, first we’d be punished by being forced to run a limited district tournament with only one qualifier in each category, a torture I think they picked up by using a GW Bush interpretation of the Geneva Convention.

Thanks a lot, Ripon. Now I know where my $100 a year goes.

If you’re not a New Yorker (and I know that a substantial portion of the VCA is, indeed, of that unfortunate non-NY persuasion), you may not understand how tangential the NFL is to our forensic life. We operate no tournaments (other than districts) under the NFL aegis because we have two active leagues (the Mid-Hudson League and the NYCFL) that conduct contests on literally every weekend during the year (with the exception, in the case of debate, of when there are invitationals in the region). And because NY conducts mandatory Regents exams, and pretty much everyone graduates the third weekend in June, attending NatNats is a dicey business at best, because it is well nigh impossible to get out of Regents, and most parents like to see their kids graduate, not to mention the fact that it is as difficult for many teachers to get away during finals as it is for students; Dave, the Rear Admiral of the Sailors Speecho-Americans, was unable to go with our qualifiers last year for just that reason, which meant I had to enlist the kindness of strangers, yadda*3, you know the drill. So even under the best of circumstances, NatNats is never, well, under the best of circumstances for us, plus we get no other benefits during the year from NFL, so when you add it all up, what we have is a point system with some nice stickers (and, honestly, I could set up my own point system in Excel and give crappy prizes at the milestones, and it would be just as meaningful). I’m not knocking the NFL for schools that are actively interested in their membership, or who strive to attend NatNats, or who look to the organization for leadership (which it does provide). I’m just saying that, is this really what I specifically need for my specific team? Lying awake staring at the ceiling last night, I found it hard to come up with a yes answer.

It’s not that I mind running the district tournament. I’ve gotten the hang of it and it does fill up the empty hours, such as they are, but then again, it’s not the most fun of the tournaments of the year, especially since I know that my entry, even if they qualify, is unlikely to go. Last year Ewok dropped out within 24 hours. The amount of money it was going to take eventually kyboshed Hush and Emcee. And that money thing continues to haunt me because, if I get no real benefits from the NFL, why am I spending team money at a time when we our school district is operating on a contingency budget? I have to ask, what would happen if we removed ourselves from the league? Would the students miss it? It’s hard for me to think that they would.

So, I’m torn. I want to do my bit as part of the local gentry, and I want to support our teams friends in the district. But at the same time, if it went away, I wouldn’t miss it, because honestly, I’m not in a position to take advantage of it. And until I navigate the Sailors across the Hudson and down the valley and into New Jersey, the situation isn’t going to change.

Rough seas ahead, the way I see it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Recidivists and ribbon clerks, terminal haranguing, volunteerism, please take young children by the hand

The cutting of the ribbon clerks has definitely begun. Apparently a few of them (who, frankly, hardly looked like debaters to me, and I do believe that there is a debate look, and that Policians look different from LDers) have gone over to the Speecho-American side. But we’re finally down to manageable numbers that should remain constant henceforth. That does not, however, account for the recidivists, who seem to fill half the upperclass population these days. People who haven’t debated since the Harding administration are suddenly showing up, some because it will look good on their resumes (and I applaud such forthright explanations), some because they just like to get out of the house, some because I may be the only person they know who regularly makes throwaway jokes about postmodernism. Whatever. The room is full no matter how you slice it, and will remain so for a while.

Last night with the plebes we began with my annual read-the-Times bit, where I explain how to do it (including pointing out the page 3 hottie, which is as Star as the Times ever gets, if you know what I mean and I think you do) and threaten terminal haranguing (terminal insofar as I harangue them until I get tired of doing it). Then we went into the good old V/C discussion, as always concentrating on the minivan and the convertible. Then as the elders came in we segued into logical fallacies, which was sort of fun, but most of the night it was just me talking, and that’s starting to get a little old, plus I worked on this whole plebe introduction to logic that I forget to print up for the Cur, so I had the odd bit of starting friction (and so much for owning 4398 printers). Next week we’ll have a new resolution; much more fun than a lecture, although part one of the meeting will be the Hillary Duff. Which reminds me: there is now a coachean glossary on this page. As new members are inducted into the VCA, they may be at a loss to understand VBD we’re talking about. This will help, or discourage them immediately from ever coming back. Either result is fine by me.

We didn’t get any new Bump parent volunteers, which isn’t good. Dave will be pounding the pavement to enlist a few, especially in the judges’ lounges and in the contributions area. We did have leftover money from last year, which won’t hurt (leftover, if you don’t recall, because we were blizzarded out in ’05). At least for now our honchos all have experience one way or the other, so ’06 is as secure as it can get. I think I’ll go to Bora Bora for ’07. I’ve heard from the grammar school, and they’re on the case with room lists, thanks to our Hardware Engineers, past and present. High school should be forthcoming. Registrations continue apace; there’s a bunch in my mailbox I haven’t looked at yet.

And, oh yeah, Kt and I have begun the heavy lifting for WDW. We now have a Google calendar and a TUG website, and we’ve already committed what would otherwise be the outright heresy of planning MK for the last night instead of the first, but as it turns out the last night, a Saturday, will be a very long day (open till midnight, I think), so it can be a slam-bam finale. V&A is moved to mid-vacation. Aloha fills in for Hoop, since we haven’t been since Kt was 5 or so; she’s older now. More details as they become available. Feel free to join us for the trip; the more the merrier. And I need someone to sit with on the roller coasters.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

General Grumps (USAF, ret.)

I look forward to seeing those novice faces looking up at me tonight with uncorrupted innocence in their eyes. Not one of them will ask me if there can ever be such a thing as a just government. And they will go home to sleep the sleep of, well, the just, as a result.

When last I visited the Legion of Doom I did put up a post on the whiteness of the whale the justness of government. Someone had contended not simply that this would be run on Sept-Oct, but that it was reasonable to run it. I haven’t gone back yet to see the responses to my post; I keep my visits down to a one-a-week maximum, since I seem to be roughly 90% of the Legion’s posting population; even I don’t find my opinions all that interesting. Still, the idea that a government cannot be held up to some sort of test of whether or not its actions are just strikes me as a rather bizarre position for anyone to espouse. Even if I don’t approach it from a logical perspective, and I assure you I could, and did, I have to wonder how many, or how few, years one needs to live on the planet to reach a point where one believes that governments are above or beneath justice. Or aside from justice. Are the USA’s actions regarding Guantanamo just? That would be arguable, on either side. But to say that justice is inapplicable? At that point, I would probably have little or no interest in discussing the matter with you any further. Perhaps instead we could discuss the number of angels dancing on the head of this pin I just happen to have with me.

If LD becomes jejune sophistry (is that redundant?), it will bore me to tears. Historically the angel-counters were of the highest intellectual ability, but they were still angel-counters in the long run, so saying that this is “high level” debate because its practitioners are really smart is like saying [fill in your own metaphor for the source of some thing being irrelevant to its quality].

For that matter, there’s the debate debate. The debate debate is a case with 75% setup of standards and a brief run past some argument that may lightly contend a position regarding the resolution, if one can even remember the resolution at this point. And then of course you win because all you have to do is uphold the fourth tine of your criterion fork. Jeesh! If I wish to train my new parent judges that one ought to be able to make an ethical choice based on what one just heard in the round, that an inclination to take action for one side or the other is a good way to gut-adjudicate a round (which is what parents mostly do, starting out), I can imagine what ethical decision they’ll make when it all boils down to not what the decision is but the nature of the decision-making process. I refuse to use the word hermeneutics in newbie judge training. Or upperclassman judge training (which I have to do in a couple of weeks). Or any other judge training. First of all, it sounds to me like a naked Munster, and, second, I think if you look up hermeneutics in the dictionary, it has a picture of jejune sophistry to illustrate it.

Anyhow, tonight the newbies will be browbeaten about various and sundry, including signups on the listserver, at which they remain steadfastly lax. Then I introduce them to V/C. (Yeah, yeah, I can hear you murmuring that I’m ruining another bunch.) Then a dose of elementary logic, vis-à-vis the rez. Then the tutti of my fruttis will join us for a deeper look at some logical fallacies. I’ve never really dwelt on logic much in the past, because I think for the most part the level of logic we employ remains at the instinctive. But for some people, logic isn’t an instinct, so this should be fun.

(And, curiously enough, no one has yet noticed the Easter Egg on the Bump invite. Why do I bother? And Policy is almost sold out already. Unbelievable.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

“How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle?”

My guess is that that line, in Double Indemnity, was written by Raymond Chandler.

Walter Neff: You'll be here too?
Phyllis: I guess so, I usually am.
Walter Neff: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis: I wonder if I know what you mean.
Walter Neff: I wonder if you wonder.

That exchange, however, strikes me as pure Billy Wilder, the other acknowledged writer on the script. Whatever. I don’t know about Chandler working on this picture; I do know about Strangers on a Train, though, and to put it mildly, the only way they could get any pages out of him on that one was to keep him liquored up in front of the typewriter. The famous authors, whether literary or genre, who gave in to the lure of Hollywood comprise an interesting group with interesting stories. Faulkner, Hammett, Fitzgerald—the names are big and the number is huge. But Hemingway said it best: a writer should drive to the edge of Arizona, throw his book over the border to California, and then run like hell in the other direction.

I saw the Hadid exhibit Saturday, and I’m glad I finally made it. Anyone interested in architecture should scurry on over before it closes in October. ‘Nuff said.

I received a gift from the gods yesterday: golf was cancelled. So I spent the afternoon finishing—yes, finishing—the Caveman lecture. It is now complete, in all it’s boring glory. Someday I’d like to give it again live, maybe in a series of 4 nights, but till then, the canned version is the one. Or the printed version, which has different charms, because different people glean different things from reading and from listening. So, with my postmodern credentials intact, I venture forth.

On the Bump front, I did send out my judge request, and registrations are beginning to trickle in. At this stage of the proceedings I always wonder if I’ll get more than a mere handful of people. It’s amazing how much one worries about such stuff. There will be a meeting tomorrow night for the parents who run housing and food; people who run tournaments that don’t offer meals and beds have no idea of the extra complications these add. Feeding four hundred and sleeping two hundred is no mean feat, especially if it’s done efficiently. Food has to be decent; I’ve spoken in the past about debate ziti, which includes pretty much anything that emits from a high school cafeteria. Not that we exactly get Escoffier out of the grave for the weekend, but our Friday dinner is pretty good, with lots of variety, and it’s fast so that it doesn’t hold up rounds, and it’s easy to set up and clean up. And housing? Well, talk about nightmares. But our housing person, for reasons that elude me, claims she will continue doing it for the next few years despite an apparent lack of forensicians from her household; well, I’m in the same position, so the fewer questions asked, the better. Still, I’m hoping to enlist some new parents of the sophomore persuasion, to learn the ropes and take over the heavy lifting as time passes. None of this stuff is easy, and I can’t do it myself because I have a tournament to run, and food and housing, remarkably enough, are only a part of that tournament’s running. My idea is that I am the manager of the weekend, and I have managers under me doing various things, and I just try to be everywhere at once making sure everything is working. Like any business. And anyone who tells you running a tournament is not a business has probably never run a tournament, or at least run one well. You have tab staff, housing staff, food staff, judge lounge staff, and an army of forensicians to assign hither and thither. Piece of cake. Which is why Tournament Directors don’t sleep much in the two months before their events.

And, oh yeah, I bought this microphone at the Apple store Saturday that attaches to the BigPod. I figure I can use it for portable recording for the nascent View from Tab podcast. I have my first interview planned. Yep, you guessed it. I’ll corner him at Big Jacob Bronks (or Big Jake as its fans knowingly refer to it), and he’s already agreed. I think of this as throwing down the gauntlet to PCP. Take that, you dogs! Live interviews of your own minions! If that’s not worth $5K, I don’t know what is.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Not gloomy--profound!

It’s not easy admitting being wrong, but according to the comments, JV listens to “Urinetown” on a daily basis, and my daughter, the old f&b, spends her days in the scullery singing Czolgosz at the top of her lungs.

This is why some people turn off comments.

Yesterday at the school there was what was described as a mandatory meeting for co-curricular advisers. All things considered, I figured I’d better show up; for all I knew, they were disbanding activities altogether. It’s sort of strange attending a meeting of my virtual colleagues, because one or two of them know me, and to the rest, I don’t even rank as a shadowy figure, despite having one of the largest activities in the school for the last decade. A curious position to be in. Anyhow, I learned a few things and probably got a few points just for showing up, since I’m not quite sure of how they define the word mandatory in high schools. (Note to pedants: In good writing, if you use a phrase like “define the word mandatory,” there is no need to put the word mandatory in quotes or italics, because the word “word” already does the job, whereas a phrase like "the word 'word'" requires a set-off for reading purposes [there’s a sentence to send your copy editors into hyperdrive].) I also talked to the principal a little about Bump, and told him we were already getting started. He reminded me of the overtime aspect of Veteran’s Day. I’m thinking I can dump the Xerox person; we can use my little copiers for enough skems during the tournament (hell, it worked at Yale), and then I can scan the results packet and just post it on-line. We’ll save six rain forests plus one two-day overtime salary. It’s worth thinking about. Unfortunately, I hate to admit it, but I’ve never scanned anything in all my born days. Either one of the printer-copiers will do it though, according to the FMs. I’ll do some testing this weekend before making a commitment.

Since I took the afternoon off for the meeting, I also picked up a whole boatload of printer cartridges for the Epson and the new HP, a battery for my timer (which BenT tells us is no longer being sold by Radio Shack, those sons of mothers) in case I ever need it, and ordered a run of Pffft trophies. For those who have no memory for weather, I have all the other trophies I need in my basement, left over from last year. For the Pfffts I created generic awards. They say how well you did, and that you did that well at Bump, but they don’t exactly say in what activity you did it. Given that I am in turmoil over what activities I’ll be offering in the future, and I’m not sure that Pffft will pull in the 40 I’m hoping for, the idea of trophies good for any activity sounds like a good idea.

I also picked up the mail yesterday at the school, which was a packet of NFL recruitment materials. Jed Glickstein, the LD Bullpup, is the posterboy on one of these brochures, weighed down by two or three hundred pounds of Finals trophyage—now I know where I recognized him from!

When I finally got home I was greeted by Juan, Kwan, and the stoners, plus the painters. The electrician had just left (taking some of the electricity with him, I thought, until Liz started flipping switches in the circuit box) and the garage people called to say they were coming. I hied my way to the back room, where I managed to update the Bump registration workbook. So I am now ready with that. I also sent out the MHL announcement, so that’s done too. The only thing left is Bump judges, which I’ll do today, come hell or high water.

By the end of the day yesterday my cold had caught up with me enough so that I just sat with BigPod and copied over show tunes. Including “Urinetown.” I plan on listening to it every day from now on. (Except, all right, I’ll admit it: this morning I ended up listening to Night Music instead. Soon. I promise. Soon. Later. Now...)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The lessons learned from Yale

First of all, listening to people talk about this season’s new designer collections is exactly the same as listening to people talk about sports. I used to have to feign interest in the Green Bay Packers, which I gather is a group of like-minded fellows who get together on occasion to pass around the old pigskin; how successfully I pretended to be interested remains to be seen. On the other hand, I did enjoy the Brewers game at CFL, because I was introduced to the concept of “brats” (and yes, I realize that the Brewers do not play football). I guess I can feign interest in fashion in a comparable bratlike way because I’m rather amused by the anorectics-on-parade angle (maybe they’ll start banning skinny people from commercial airline flights), plus if I ever become rich and famous I will have no choice, like all rich and famous people, to attend the Fall showings, so at least I’ll be prepared. That’s the problem with being rich and famous: your life just isn’t your own.

Secondly, the whole concept of lesbian restaurant eludes me. I realize that Yale’s lesbian restaurant is a Michelin 3-star attraction for some teams, but I fail to see the link between the noun and the modifier. I do understand, say, the concept of a Mexican restaurant, because they serve Mexican food. And I was unable to discover if there was any link because, although they serve breakfast, they do not open until 10:00 a.m. When we went in, there were only a couple of Latino guys cleaning up. I won’t say that this was one of the great disappointments of the weekend, but it was indeed one of the true imponderables.

Third, there is no question that the only music that works in tab rooms is music you already know. Or more to the point, music everybody knows. Familiar stuff with a little energy, but not too much energy. Madeleine Peyroux sank like a stone. The soundtrack of "Grosse Point Blank" had ‘em dancin’ in the aisles.

Fourth, I concede to JV that he knows way more about stage musicals than I do. He even claims to listen to all those obscure cast recordings that he has on his mini, while I maintain that he simply is NOT listening to "Urinetown" more than once a year. I know that I was carrying "Assassins" in my car for over a year before I finally threw it into the CD player, mostly because when you’re driving, you’d rather sing along with “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” than with “Ballad Of Czolgosz.” Still, I would put my knowledge of the American Songbook against anyone’s, including his. Go ahead, ask me about George or Ira or Cole or Irving or Jerome or anyone between 1900 and 1960. It’s just not going to happen.

Fifth, if you need an example of Gothic revival, Yale is hog heaven. Even the recycling plant is Gothic (although I guess that’s neo-gothic, or Baudrillardian gothic, or maybe just goth). If you know nothing else about architecture, all the stuff surrounding you all weekend, well, it was in the gothic style. What we need is a tournament at the University of Virginia, to see the other side of the coin.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I have entered the names of the newbies into the great spreadsheet of life. 21 of them, not counting the Speecho-Americans. Blackjack! We’ve already lost some; there were faces from last time that didn’t pop up again, so we are cutting out some of the ribbon clerks. If we hold true to form, we’ll hover at 20 or so for a couple more weeks, take a drop right before the first MHL, and cruise out with that number, more or less, till the end of the year. 15 is my estimate come April.

More than the whole team put together last year. Including NoShow and DebateIsMyLife, both of whom made appearances last night. Will wonders never cease?

There are certain things that always baffle me, chief among them being why it is so hard to get a 14-year-old to sign up for a listserver. I mean, don’t these people spend their entire lives buzzing their imaginary friends on MySpace and downloading music where, if there’s a third chord, it’s a miracle? Is it too much to ask that they buzz a real person or two every now and then? So far I’ve only got half a dozen of the 21 on board electronically. Every year it’s the same thing. I can’t wait until they start installing brain chips in people at birth; then all I’d have to do is activate them, and we’d be done. I’ll send out invites to the laggards, since I now have their emails. That should help.

The meeting last night, which obviously packed them in and which was rankly hot and airless, was on the introductory stuff, which the Red-Headed League of Novice Coordinators will follow through with today. We covered the parts of a round, that sort of thing. Then the elders started pouring in, and we talked about the topic. Needless to say, the odd bit of rousing was required after the weak showing at Yale. First of all, the CP was sent, I hope, down the terlet. Here’s the logic:

X is good
Y is better
Therefore ?

Well, it certainly isn’t Therefore, X is bad. All the novices agreed to that without any nudging on my part. Unlike the Elders, whose judges were, apparently, the first folks they encountered who, like the novices, also agreed to that. With luck, the era of the HHHS CP is now dead. It lasted one whole weekend. Counterplan, we hardly knew ye.

Then we talked about a general set of arguments with premises that are quite acceptable, and logical conclusions that are quite acceptable, and all you have to do is flesh it out. That is what the plebes will work on for their couple of novice tournaments. After that, they’re on their own. I mean, I probably could outline case positions every week or so, but it’s not my job. I’ve got enough to do. If debaters can’t come up with their own case positions, they should be doing Oral Interpretation. I mean, if someone tells you what’s to run, what’s the difference between that and reading Amy Lowell? Although, of course, I have nothing against telling people what NOT to run, or providing hints of what makes sense to me. But case positions? I don’t think so.

Meanwhile, Bump and a lot of other things are sinking under the weight of the new season, but I should catch up shortly. I still haven’t chivvied the judges because what I thought was my fresh registration spreadsheet, custom-honed after a decade or so of Bumpage, was in fact a Districts registration spreadsheet, similarly custom-honed but for very different functions. I’ll get one up by tonight and kick in. I do begin to worry (imagine that, worrying about Bump) that we are, as George Clemens put it, part of the trifecta including Apple Valley and Glenbrooks. That does put some burden on travelers, but then again, they just might split up, as was done last week with the Greenhill, Wake, Yale trifecta. And Glenbrooks is limited, after all, so it’s not like whole squads can go. But if I had to choose between Apple Valley and Hen Hud, with their octos bid, they have to look a lot more appealing. On the other hand, their lack of crappy prizes has to work against them, so that’s at least something in our favor.

Anyhow, tonight it’s Bump judges, Pffft trophies and an MHL broadcast announcement. And, maybe, finishing the edit of Caveman. And blowing my nose, because I have a cold. Which is good, because I’ll get over it before I really have to do anything when does the season kick in for real. When does the season kick in for real, anyhow?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Josh Rubin

Last night I sent out the Bump notice. Registration is now officially open. On the bright side, the whole thing will be over in less than two months. Some time today I’ll tap the Sailors emeritus and my few other hole cards for judging, and the game will be afoot. (Which makes me wonder: if there were two games, would they be afeet? Or am I just being effete? Whatever.)

One thing I’ve been putting off talking about, I was nudged on yesterday when I went through the mail that had been collecting at the school since last season. To those who say that after they graduate the Hen Hud team goes straight to perdition, if they weren’t there already, I can point to our illustrious Josh Rubin, who was named this year as a Merrill Presidential Scholar at Cornell. This is a serious honor that comes with an incredible legacy: thanks to Josh’s hard work and dedication, Hen Hud now has as a very tangible benefit, an annual Cornell scholarship to award. (I think Josh also got a tee shirt, but I haven’t seen him to verify it; I trust that the Bump team reunion dinner will remedy this—my seeing him, that is, not whether or not he got a tee shirt. If he didn’t get a tee shirt, if I were him, I’d write a letter to somebody to complain.) The reason I didn’t report on this immediately is because the honorees get to name a high school teacher who has inspired them, and Josh named me. I’m a little embarrassed, but more than that, incredibly honored (especially considering all those times I stopped at that ridiculous stop sign in the middle of nowhere at Glenbrooks, not to mention the fact that I was a little leery about the barbecue eating contest against LWF, and more than once I threatened to take his TV away from him). And when the scholarship is awarded at HHHS, it will be in my name; Platon Dickey took it in 2006. That is amazingly cool, but of course Josh did all the work. I am seriously impressed.

Now if I could only figure out some way to use this to make Bump disappear completely…

Monday, September 18, 2006

Yale tab

I arrived in New Haven early Friday with the three sophomore Sailors (not to be confused with the sophomoric Sailors, whose number is legion). We managed to get away from the school with no issues; the combination of permission slips we’ve cooked up seems to finally be the right one. Hallelujah! Driving up the parkway made for an easy trip, mixing “Wait, Wait” and the Beatles, and there we were. I even liked the hotel; it’s a tiny drive, but only a tiny drive, and it was quite pleasant, and also cheaper, which make it a likely venue for next year, all things taken into consideration.

Once we arrived on campus there was plenty of time before registration to sort out rooms, which at an event like Yale is a real issue. It’s one thing to have rooms on the second floor; it’s another thing altogether to have rooms on the second floor of the Yadda Yadda building but only on Friday, and which buildings are closer to tab so that the ballots get back the quickest and all that sort of thing. And I got to double-check my data, which was a good thing, so that when registration started, we were ready. There were surprisingly few changes at the table, and if I remember correctly, we had ballots ready at the appointed hour for the first round.

As always there is starting friction in any tournament, and here it was compounded by the Thunder Gods and the sheer volume of competitors. Everybody had to get somewhere without being struck by lightning. Or, if they were struck by lightning, they had to do it after handing in their ballots. Fortunately we had Beth O’C (a real O’C, unlike some) with us in tab, who has been attending Yale tournaments either as a competitor or manager since 1492, so when the time came to push ballots, she knew everyone who was who and got them going. The fact that people had to pay fines for missed ballots may have had some effect, but there were still plenty of schmegeggies who managed to miss rounds for one reason or another. And we started pushing for all the rounds usually as soon as Joe V got antsy. Those who know Joe V understand that Joe V is not slow to antsy up, if you know what I mean. And his enforcement skills are unparalleled. Which made for a great tab team, with me and Lynne and Joe V and Beth, plus assorted Bullpups with various assignments all there and doing their thing. A great team.

Anyhow, Friday we managed to get the rounds finished by about 11. Joe and I talked a lot about ways to improve that, but ultimately we couldn’t come up with much, and frankly, if you start at 4 and end three rounds later at 11, and you’re all over the map in a virtual hurricane, that’s not so bad. I’ve been at way smaller venues doing no better. We did lag-pair round three, after consultation with the TDs, who understood the need to get the day ended as reasonably as possible (which is, of course, in keeping with the Legion of Doom running-on-time issue). In a six round tournament, with the quality of judging we had available to us, with As in all the down-one and down-two rounds, this would have little or no effect on the results when the breaks were announced.

Saturday we alternated JV and Varsity, and managed to keep the judging pools separate, which meant a nice leisurely day for all and sundry. And then, in a miracle of tab management and judge strength, we put out simultaneous single-flighted double-octs for both divisions at 8:00, exactly as we had hoped. Which meant that the day was over for just about everyone at about 9:00 or so. The Four Horsetabbers of the Bullpupalypse even got to go out during doubles for a really good spicy penne all'arrabbiata, except for Lynne, whose spiritual name is She Who is Allergic to Everything, who had some other nice thing that didn’t send her to the hospital, which is all we ever ask of a tabfolk dinner.

And Sunday it was just a matter of putting the best possible panels together, and again, given the quality of the field, we were able to put together panels most debaters would die for. The final round was judged almost entirely by Pups, all of whom were ex-debaters of the seriously good persuasion. Excellent.

Through it all--and all is a good word for it because entering that many ballots, with time pressure, is pretty time-consuming--the tab room was a place of high spirits, with music and crossword puzzles (which I only do nowadays to impress other people) but mostly work. I didn’t get much done that I had planned to because there was always something that had to be done. The sheer volume of the thing accounted for that. And I did not have internet access, so I couldn’t beat Anjan to the punch, but I gathered he was photographing skems and the like. We had his flashdrive in tab once or twice to put stuff on it, but I don’t recall giving him much that was of use. If he had come in himself I’m sure I would have been more helpful, but I guess he figured that he didn’t want to spark a disinformation competition, and he did things the hard way. Given the scarcity of skems (we photocopied them on my new little printer, which did a bang-up job), he had his work cut out for him.

So, in the end, kudos to the pups. They wanted a good tournament and they enabled a good tournament, and they had a good tournament. The number of people was manageable, and we were able to accommodate them with the least amount of discomfort. And the pups had solid judging, and plenty of it, including from their own quite respectable ranks. A great way to kick off the year, if you ask me.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I never used to use words like tsimmes (var. tzimmes)

I have spent an inordinate amount of time getting the new printer/copier operational. It’s fine on Little Elvis, but it squares off against the old Dell like Pip v Tik pronounced teek in their daily battle over the evening’s offering of canned whitefish with horsemeat flecks. But after much tsimmes, I think I have gotten things under control. I still haven’t decided whether to do Yale on the Dell or Little E, but I’m still leaning to the Dell because it will free Little E up for other things, like Jack (I want to reinstall The Ride – that was always the most fun, and we only played it for one season, and this way I’ll get CLG’s name off the #1 slot). I’ll probably decide when I get there tomorrow (although God knows where there is, because the invite doesn’t quite say where to go, and there’s been a dearth of info forthcoming from the Pups). In either case, the tournament will be happily ensconced on my flash drive (it already is), and it will be backed up regularly, so no amount of all hell breaking loose that I can think of will keep the Pup Brigades from their appointed rounds.

I see that Anjan will be reporting live from Yale for WTF. I do so hope I have internet access, so that I can report live from Yale too. I mean, who ya gonna believe? Guy inside the tab room, or random guy photographing schematics? But then again, I think only O’C photographs schematics. He’s offered to show me the framed collection hanging in the apartment he shares with Tim Burton, and which dates back to the original Big Bronx in 1588. I’ve put him off so far, but I will admit to having downloaded the walking tour podcast he created (that’s why I had to get the bigger iPod). Some day, definitely.

Tonight I’ll update everything on Yale, so I’m as current as possible. All the data is in except rooms, and I’ve printed it all out, and now I’ll doublecheck against the live registration. I’ve sent out marching orders to the Sailors which should get them through the school bureaucracy tomorrow and up to New Haven in roughly one piece. I’ve made an offering to the rain gods to keep me dry when I’m schlepping around equipment or seeking out Thai pad. And that’s about it. If there’s internet access, I’ll send you a picture of Anjan photographing the schematics. Otherwise, TTFN.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

And the season begins

Last night was the first meeting of the year, with all the new recruits. And the question you immediately ask is, how was the turnout? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but next week I’m bringing in the Hells Angels to work crowd control.

All right, let’s face it. We’ll lose a quarter of this teeming horde by next Tuesday. And then another quarter will drift away in the two or three weeks after that. But still, we’ll easily have 15 left, a flotilla of noble warriors joining the ranks of the Sailors, and I think that’s great. And not only was their number beyond comprehension, so was their gender (and I don’t mean this in the Freudian sense)(yet). I haven’t seen this many girls in one room since [fill in blank with your own clever lots-of-girls-in-one-room metaphor]. Maybe we can be like Scarsdale and have an article written about how we have girls on the team for the first time. Maybe I can get CLG and Kt to co-write it.

Of course, a large class brings out my greatest inadequacies. I’m better with smaller groups than bigger ones. But we learned to handle some of this stuff over the years beginning back with CLG’s vintage, and later with chezzes and split meetings and the like. One way to keep the crowd down is to break it down into smaller groups. Another way is to keep cracking what I consider to be jokes that no one understands (never forget our slogan, “If you were smarter, I’d be funnier”): that usually sends them packing. The biggest problem for me will be the names, needless to say. I have trouble with my two cats, and I’m always calling them either by the other’s name or by yet some other cat’s name altogether, usually one long dead. A couple of dozen new kids with all new names? No question that I’ll be calling all of them the wrong name, confusing them with one dead cat or the other. But still, I’m excited about this. I always want the big group. I like diverse ideas, fresh blood, new minds to corrupt. And this year it looks like we’ll be doing land-office business.

On the business front, I have made Nicole and Robbie our novice directors (backed up by Captains Ben and Eric, of course). This decision is based, first, on their skills and my belief that they will do a good job, and second, by their red hair, which makes them stick out in a crowd (98% of the people in the world do not have red hair, a fact I learned when I was about eight years old, and which is probably either still true or never was). If they work out well, I will make red hair a permanent requirement in the future. I also kept Nicole on as Communications Liaison, because she was doing a fine job of it, and why rock the boat? And finally, ending a year of suspense, I appointed Termite as Hardware Engineer. It just seemed to be the right thing to do. In the past, the HE position has been held by some of our top team members, so Termie is taking on an important and weighty mantle. This day having also been Primary day in New York, it was only fitting that such power be vested at this time. Hillary and Bill did send congratulatory telegrams. As well they should.

It’s the beginning of a new era.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Frankly, my dear, IDGAD

Yeah, yeah. Whenever I buy an iPod, the next week they come out with the new iPod. But the thing is, since I hardly ever watch TV on my TV, and had little expectation of watching TV on my iPod, and would much prefer in those situtations where I have time to watch a movie to watch on Little Elvis, I'm not really upset by this, and was actually sort of expecting it. I was more upset when Gen 5 followed so quickly my purchase of the Nano.

On the other hand, they're using the MacBooks in my office now. That is a hot little machine. But Little Elvis still has plenty more years of life left in him (although he is missing his hunka hunka burnin' love, and the new hunk hasn't arrived yet).

The new Nano is thinner? Lawdy, now that's something.

Anyhow, rule number one in tech: buy what you need, and devil take the hindmost, because it won't be long before there's something better on the market. It's not about the black box, it's about the output. You can have the newest computer in the world, but what are you creating with it?

Spend your time working on your novel and stop lusting after hardware. And as far as iPods are concerned, if you're listening to the crap I think you're listening too, long-playing phonograph albums are probably too good for the likes of you.

Monday, September 11, 2006

It all begins with Catholicism

Saturday was the annual NYCFL moderators’ meeting down at Iona. For me, this always marks the official beginning of the season. One sees a bunch of the old faces, catches up on the local forensics news, and eats a fine corn muffin. The corn muffin alone would be worth the trip, but the other aspects are nice too.

In terms of things worthy of reporting, the first is that Lakeland has agreed to host a novice/jv championship on their weekend for both LD and policy. This is the old Bishop Guertin event that disappeared last year. NFA had talked about taking it over, and Sheryl and Michael were reporting this arrangement with Lakeland, which if you ask me is a sterling deal. There is no sense that there will be any changes in States forthcoming, so here is an opportunity for a real 5 rounds and a fun end to the season, and it’s just around the corner! Let’s hope it works out.

We laid out the calendar, and I’m happy to report that the Scarswegians will take on Districts again this coming year. Stuy is hoping to bring Grands back to their venue (Chinatown dinner!!!). Most of the other events were where they usually are. One interesting item is the question of how CFL will handle Pffft nationally. It looks like they’ll add CatNat competition, which means that we will add local competition. What we agreed was to add Pfffft to the 3 tournaments with LD; since two of these are at Regis, which is a big Pffft school, this makes sense (although it’ll be a tight squeeze in December). I’m hoping to get more Sailors to take on Pffft during the breaks in LD (for instance, Nov-Dec). I think it’s no big deal for LDers to do both (easier than, in some respects, LDers doing Extemp, and just as desirable for stretching the breadth of one’s experience and skills). In any event, I’ll tab the Pffft for the time being (and borrow and steal judges liberally from and to the LD pool).

We also agreed to institute LD training, a la the way they do speech training. People observe a round, then during round 2 we discuss stuff and do Q&A, then they go off to observe a third round. I see no reason not to attempt this in MHL as well. It will help relieve much parental pressure, no doubt.

JV was there Saturday, and he briefly went over the list of Bullpup judges, which we assume is still less than complete. He suggested that all judges serve in either pool on Friday, then we break into separate pools Saturday (excluding literal Bullpup judges, who can adjudicate till their brains fall out, which is SOP at all tournaments) until Elims, when everybody is back on board again. Shouldn’t be a problem. After the meeting I went home and spent way too much time entering data into TRPC, but I have to admit I was satisfied at a job well done when I was finished. I needed that block of time, otherwise I’d have been scrambling all week. Tonight, after registration closes, I’ll pull a final list of judges for input, and run off copies of the info, and compare it to mine. By Friday we should be all on roughly the same page. Should be fun on a stick, as they say. All this delving into leaves me with much respect for it on most counts, but a sense that it is wild overkill for the MHL, into which I had originally been planning to introduce it. I’m now officially moving away from that.

And finally, I think we are, indeed, final on the trip Friday, with various cars and various times. I’ve sent a message to the proper authorities at the school explaining the details. It’s damned complicated, but short of spending too much money on buses, that’s how it’s got to work. Are there any topics on the upcoming NFL list about increasing funding to high school forensics teams?

Friday, September 08, 2006


Well, the thing about Wikis is, if you get caught out claiming you have the oldest tournament known to man, you can sneak in during the night and make it “one of the oldest tournaments known to man.” I’m referring to O’C’s comment on my Speaker Awards post, and the Big Bronx Wiki at WTF, which I only referenced because I wanted some speaker data. Tsk, tsk. What he doesn’t explain in the Wiki, by the way, is sextodecimofinals, which has always bothered me. Quite honestly, I always felt that Soddy was pretty damned brilliant about debate stuff, but from this evidence, he didn’t know squat about math. If one does want to be precise, the word would be hexadecimal, not sextodecimal—ask anyone who’s ever programmed in 8-bit machine code. Sextodecimal is reminiscent of a marginally inept navigator trying to note the position of a ship lost in the horse latitudes. I also noticed no reference in the Wiki to the Big Bronx rallying cry. Tsk, tsk again.

Meanwhile the Sailors are bumping their heads against the walls scrambling to recruit this year’s midshipmen. They’ve got a couple of days. Good luck, guys, though as I always say, people come into the high school genetically wired to debate or not to debate, much like they come in wired for, say, football or cheerleading or tropical fish club. Each year has its own vintage, and I for one wait for this particular uncorking with both bait and breath, as the saying doesn’t go.

If you have a hankerin' for seeing your name in print, Smilin’ J is looking for Rostrum writers. Harumph. I didn’t get the traditional WTF $5K for my article last year, and they challenged the word schmegeggie, but I have to admit that I did get a nice little certificate. Next time I’d only do it for the $5K.

I’ve got the new printer working fine, thanks for asking, and I’m happy as a clam over being back where I (will soon) belong. I even recorded another piece of Caveman last night. One more to go, and it’s a done deal, then I can start up The View from Tab. Speaking of which, I’m pretty much figuring on one iteration of Classic TRPC for both divisions of Bullpups, given that they say there will be much sharing of judges. I need to get my hands on that data, but Chris Palmer is MIA at the moment, and he’s the man with the passwordage. I’ll keep bugging him. I would hate to wait till Monday night to start. 160 varsity, 100 JV – that’s a lot of meatballs to drop into the sauce, if you know what I mean.

Speaking of which, I just read Robbie’s aff. He’s running Auguste Escoffier. This is, I think, a first. The only way the case makes sense is if you eat it during prep time.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Speaker awards

O’C poses an interesting question about speaker awards on ATM, although the ensuing thread isn’t all that exciting. I figured since I’m paying the big bucks to Blogger (and unlike O’C, I don’t get $5K per post for my gambling purse) I’d post some thoughts here rather than there. For that matter, I think ATM should hire me as a correspondent, or more to the point, host my blog, because I could really use that $5K per, especially when O’C and I go on our Monti bender. We could go from there to Vegas, and maybe pop up to Foxwoods once in a while when things are a little slow at the MHL.

Anyhow, speaker awards. Which means speaker points. And the first curious thing about speaker points is that no two people seem to agree on what they are. There’s no objective criterion for awarding points, no Olympics-like structure where a double axel is worth 2.5 or a drop impacted back to both standards is 5 points or whatever. There’s no sense of what points are for: are they for quality of presentation, or are they so-called debating points? Of course, points are usually used for organizing brackets in tabulation, but even there some demurral occurs, and people suggest things like opponent wins or judge variance should take preference. Since no two people agree what points are, as soon as any two people begin discussing them, the discussion tends to go nowhere because of the lack of common ground. Still, speaker awards are not uncommon, which means that more often than not, awards are being given based on a system that can be seen as complex, at best, and totally confused and meaningless at worst.

And then there’s the proposed Legion of Doom speaker point system, which I adamantly opposed. I don’t know if I posted my thoughts on that here for the Vast Coachean Army, but in a nutshell, the proposal was that points should range from 20 to 30, with each judge charged to assign an average of 25 by the end of the tournament. They would use the whole range (although, let’s face it, it’s not really the whole range because there’s that 0-19 group that would feel so left out and would get depressed and end up doing crack and robbing convenience stores), with 25 as the center. You can extrapolate the numerical outcome from there. I think this proposal was predicated on, if you have all those numbers (excluding the convenience store robbers), you ought to use them. My arguments were, first, that the present system wasn’t particularly broken and didn’t need fixing, and second, that this system was so contrary to accepted practice that it would be impossible to institute, and that nothing would be more catastrophic than a tournament where some judges were using the old system and others were using the new system. One man’s 25 is another man’s 28? There’s enough confusion already. Did we really need to add a whole new level of confusion to make it worse?

But as you can see, my first argument was that the present system isn’t broken. So that’s what we need to talk about here. If there’s so much confusion, if there’s no common ground, and no agreement that awards are justified (although I would suggest that the majority of the LD tribe does like speaker awards and that the no-award contingent is a very small minority), how can we say that the present system isn’t broken? Because, in a word, it works.

Regardless of how I award speaker points versus how you award speaker points, at the end of every tournament there is an ordered list of speakers, from top to bottom. And the very top speakers are consistent from tournament to tournament, in front of the aggregated judge pool across the country. The top speakers at national $ircuit tournaments are the top speakers at regional tournaments and CatNats and NFLnats—the whole banana. And I’m separating these from the winners. That is, it is not unusual for the top record, the 6-0, to not be the top speaker; although it is unlikely for consistent winners to be consistently poor speakers, it certainly does happen. It is more unlikely for top speakers not to be at the very least consistent breakers, if not necessarily winning finalists. But my point is that there is a distinction, often enough, between the top finalist winners and the top speakers. Somehow or another different aspects of the debates are being adjudicated in the win/loss and speaker point areas. And while we may disagree on what each of us is doing when we’re assigning points, somehow we seem to come up with the same results despite those disagreements. So there seems to be pretty compelling quantitative evidence that speaker points are separate from simply winning. They may include winning, but they mean something else too.

Which leaves question, is that something else worth rewarding? That is, even if we grant that the winner of the tournament is not the top speaker often enough to demonstrate that speaker points are awarded for some other criteria than win/loss, are speaker points worthy of recognition just because they’re different? They would have to be different in aid of something good or positive or worthy of recognition in order to garner that recognition. And here it might get a little more ethereal. While it may be acceptable to grant that the process of awarding points is a black box, is the fact that it’s a consistent black box make it a valuable black box? Here we have no choice to look at not the regularity of the top speakers but the identities of the top speakers. That is, quantitative analysis won’t answer this argument; we need to look at qualitative analysis. Let’s take a representative sampling, from Big Bronx (which thinks it’s the oldest continual tournament in the country, except that it’s younger than Bump):
▪ 1999: Noah Grabowitz - Hendrick Hudson High School (NY)
▪ 2000: Elizabeth Wrigley-Field - Hunter College High School (NY)
▪ 2001: John Olivieri - Hendrick Hudson High School (NY)
▪ 2002: Kendra Oyer - Wooster High School (OH)
▪ 2003: Matt Scarola - Syosset High School (NY)
▪ 2004: Caitlin Halpern - W.T. Woodson High School (VA)
▪ 2005: Jacob Levi – Berkeley Carroll
Of those 7, only one, the talented and lovely Mr. Scarola, won the tournament. And I would suggest that if you look at just about any tournament, you’ll see similar results (including at Bump). A consistent list of very strong debaters with undeniable skills, separate from the list of winners (obviously also very strong debaters with undeniable skills). So what’s the difference? Well, despite all the confusion over what makes a good speaker, or why speaker points are awarded, and my resulting willingness to consider the process a black box, THESE PEOPLE ARE ALL REALLY REALLY REALLY GOOD SPEAKERS.

Imagine that. An activity that requires public speaking plus competitive chops that somehow manages, successfully (and in a pure cloud of ignorance), to reward both.

So, yeah, it’s a system that seems to defy analysis, but it works, if we agree that Noah and Liz and the Olive and company were all exceptionally capable of impressing their audiences. And if you don’t agree with that, I’ll probably want to strike you next time I get the opportunity.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Returning to semi-normalcy, mathematic nostalgia, spalpeen deficiency, Dubya does Greenhill

It’s not that Juan, Kwan and the stoners are anywhere near finished, but Kwan, the carpenter, is near the end of the chez HQ phase of the operation. Which means that last night I moved in Little Elvis, the hard drive, the modem and more wires than you’d think necessary, and tonight I’ll follow up with the new printer (which is still in its box) and a few other bare essentials. And for the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to work in my new little corner of the chez, until the ruggers come by and install the new Tabriz (all right, it’s some wall-to-wall thingie more suitable to Sailors than your, dare I say, Persian carpet), at which point I’ll have to move out for a day or two, which is why I’m only installing the bare minimum of, roughly, 237 pieces of equipment. But soon—maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow but soon, and for the rest of your life—we’ll be moved in completely. I even plugged in the cable box last night, but it simply stared at me, told me to boot, then laughed mightily at any steps I might take to get it operational. But who cares? I’ve got so many wires behind the newly arranged TV with umpty-ump recorders of all stripes and polka dots, that I was able to watch House without benefit of box, and was fine with it. Take that, Cablevision!

I’ve sent O’C my Excel matrix for RRs, which he stared at apparently much as I stare at Juan, Kwan and the stoners, with mouth agape and ready to head for the hills at the first sign of danger. So I sent him another one modified for Vassar. Jeesh. Don’t these people learn math nowadays? That’s the problem with us practically perfect people: we keep expecting others to live up to our incredibly high standards, and they’re always falling short. Excel is the only vestige I have of all the algebra I used to ace in high school. I always thought that stuff would be totally unnecessary, but I can make Excel do tricks that would make you want to bury yourself in your mediocre math boards, you spalpeen!

Whatever happened to the spalpeen, anyhow? Gone to ground, I guess. Must have graduated. Hard to imagine, eh?

After much initial noodling with the bullpups, and my expectation that we had launched into a veritable Treaty of Versailles level discussion of what to do and how to do it, or put another way, after I sent them a miserably complicated set of questions that sort of left little to the imagination, they too have gone to ground. Maybe they’re looking for the spalpeen. Maybe he went to Yale. Na’ah. JG is at Yale; if there’s any spalpeens there, he’d have flushed them out on his first day. I’m still vacillating over Classic TRPC v. Live Dangerously TRPC, all depending on how separate the judge pools will be. I guess I’ll have it sorted out soon enough, given that two weeks from now it will all be over. I like it better dealing with O’C over BB. I hear from him, and vice versa, more regularly than Bush announces that he’s right about everything. Speaking of which, that might be the perfect paradigm for LD. All rounds have to be argued in such a way that GWB could understand them. Can you imagine? My guess is that he’d invade Emory, Glenbrooks and TOC in a three-pronged offensive before the first kritik was over. Can’t say as I’d blame him, either.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Split-level debate

Smilin’ J just pointed the assembled Legionnaires, through the listserver, to the comments on Eric’s interview. The thread is pretty much dead, but it’s interesting enough. Mostly, I’m struck by the apparent need of some of us to work through, in writing, the ideas of LD, regardless of our positions on those ideas. In a way, WTF and the Legion, with their various modes of communication, certainly do aim at some (extremely distant) intersection point, at least as far as the airing of views is concerned. The more views that are aired, and the more often views are aired, no matter what they are, can only result in a betterment of LD, at least for those of us who trade regularly in (what we believe is) the marketplace of ideas, or any comparable sort of Hegelian dialectic approach.

One of the biggest issues the existence of the Legion engenders, and it’s a hardy perennial, is that of the educational value of LD. There’s a lot of pieces to this issue. How much say do the educated get to have in the process? How much do we let the competitive aspect of the activity drive the nature of the activity? How do we deal with the fact that the lifers in the activity tend to get removed from active regular in-round participation? All of these, and more, are raised one way or another in the comments to Eric’s jabfest with OC. There is even a question about whether debate is, indeed, educational, and theoretical questions posed about whether we could somehow evaluate the worldly success of former debaters twenty years later.

Something that gets lost in this verbiage, at least on WTF (the Legion is too young to show its inherent flaws yet), is what we can call the split level of LD. Those who actively comment on issues on the various Victory Brief sites are a handful of members of what is called the National Circuit (usually referred to here as the National $ircuit, for self-evident reasons). The National Circuit, as far as debaters are concerned, is a small community of mostly top-level students and their coaches who can afford to seek out the toughest competition in the country. Their number is small enough and their inherent resources (intellectual and financial) powerful enough that, for all practical purposes, the NC is a tribal community of like-minded souls who control a certain arena of the activity, to wit, those tournaments that become recognized as National Circuit tournaments. To some extent, each of the NC tournaments is populated by the same members of the NC week after week. Pick a number: 20 or 30 NC folks pretty much dominate the dozen or so NC tournaments (and big finals) of any given year. They debate each other, adjudicated by their own or aspirationally like-minded judges, and they set a particular standard of debate that is, regardless of what one wishes to say about it, intellectually challenging at a very high level. It is also unique to the NC, which is a semi-closed system operating on its own dynamic, good or bad.

In the past I have sent cannon shots across the bow of VB for over-celebrating this small number, and to the credit of OC and company, they have agreed, and presently the NC is much more a part of a whole rather than the almost sole focus (although NC folk still tend to dominate VB discussions). The thing is, there is that other tier of LD, that other level. And honestly, this level is vast compared to the NC. If nothing else, this level is the first- and second-year debaters on those NC teams, the ones who don’t go to Glenbrooks but stay home and go instead to The Boondocks Memorial Potluck Invitational the weekend before Thanksgiving. Add to that the number of not just schools but entire states who take no part in any NC business but have enormous interest in forensics. They seldom see NC debates (even at Nats, where the NC folk tend to adapt to a presumed non-NC paradigm). They don’t argue kritiks. They don’t teach Zisek to their 14-year-olds. And they are, simply, the core of the activity, or at least they’re the core if you go by simply numbers alone.

And there’s the problem. A vocal minority of NC folk presume to speak for the entire community of LDers, whereas in fact, they have no idea about the needs or concerns about the vast majority of LDers around the country.

Neither do I.

Although I can certainly speak to the educational differences between my varsity and my first- and second-year folk (which is why we don’t always meet together, although I do think it is important that the older debaters mentor and lead the younger ones as often as possible), I couldn’t tell you what’s happening in Kansas. And my fear is that the Legion’s bbd will become simply a bizarre mirror of WTF’s discussions, where a handful of people with post-itis take over and attempt to set ground rules for the teeming masses, with no idea what the needs are of those masses. Or more to the point, are we gearing for a coaches-in-tab vs weisenheimer Circuiteers dialogue, missing the really important input of the rank and file of the LD universe?

It’s an interesting question. And I have no idea how it will be answered. But I do know that, even if we firmly believe that students should have a say in the nature of LD, it can’t only be the tiny number of students from the National Circuit, who represent only themselves, and not LD as a whole. And I do believe that students should have some say, that the activity needs new ideas and new concepts, if for no other reason than to keep it fresh and interesting, so I certainly don’t want the dinosaurs in tab (like me) calling the shots either. But as we keep moving forward in opening our lines of communication, my hope is that, as I say, we’ll all somehow intersect, for the betterment of everybody. I am, at heart, an optimist.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The calm before the schoolyear storm

Curiously, someone asked that I distill the discussion of truth and ethics. Well, if I could do that, we probably wouldn't need the discussion. But how about thinking that I'm proposing that, in LD, the affirmative's burden is to ethically support an afffirmation of the resolution, while the negative's burden is to ethically support a negation of the resolution. This is radically different from saying that the aff must prove the res true, and the neg must prove it not true. See? It may even force both sides to have offensive positions, but I haven't thought that through yet. As I've often said, the strongest negative positions are inherently offensive, but there are plenty of negs out there that simply say no to the aff, and there's more to it than that, or there should be. The phrase, the best defense is an offense, isn't a cliche for nothing.

We are about 90% ready to move back into chez HQ, although there's some rug-laying that will hold back finality for a few more weeks. I spent the entire weekend throwing away books (actually, putting them out to be donated to the library) and dusting off the keepers. One does accumulate a lot of crap if one is even a marginally big reader, and when there's two readers in the house (and there used to be three), the accumulation is pretty wild. Meanwhile I've been holed up upstairs, endlessly ripping disks. It turns out that too much meditation was worthless. A 60 gig iPod holds just about everything you want it to hold. Some things don't make sense (really sensitive Faure, for instance), but there's no point picking and choosing among show disks: just throw on all the ones you like. Kt and I had much discussion of Sweeney, and I think we agreed that it was the blasting of the pipes that kept it from being something you wanted to listen to through headphones.

Also, I'm prepping up for the opening meetings. The cur is okay for kids, but needs a whole bunch o' work on the parent side, especially with an early Bump. Sept and Oct are going to be awfully busy with two or three meetings some weeks, what with parents and breaking up the team into novices and fogies, and chezzes and the like, and Bump planning. I'm going to enjoy this last week before the storm, and take a break from any Nostrum recording or anything like real debate work (aside from reading Robert the G's cases for the RR).

And finally, a question. Couldn't they find any British actors to play the leads in V for Vendetta? I mean, their accents weren't bad--there was no Dick Van Dyke-like Berts--but there's this whole island of pretty decent real British people, so why use ersatz British people? Quid pro quo on Hugh Laurie? Oh well, that's what I mean by taking time off from real debate work, and concentrating on the important things in life.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Legion of Doom, when it's at home

Here's a thread (unedited) from the new Legion bbd that you might find of interest. The posts accrue slowly (unlike ROTL, where everyone posts faster than a speeding Ferengi). I don't know if we're getting anywhere, but I love clearing my head through writing (as if you didn't already know that).


From Menick
Re: Truth

I realize that this connects to the tournament policy about the resolution, but it seems to me a separate enough issue beyond policy-setting.

I am among the first people in the room to insist that debaters argue the resolution. But for some reason that I simply cannot put my finger on, the idea that the aff must prove the resolution "true" and the neg must prove it "not true" does not seem to capture what's going on. In a post to the recent interview on VBD, Dave McGinnis explains how, given the philosophic impossibility of proving truth, by this token, it is possible for the aff to always lose. ( comment #12 to ). This isn't my issue with the idea of truth, but then again, he is absolutely right that such a construct almost begs for a kritik.

So I look at, say, Sept-Oct. A just government should provide health care to its citizens. When I look at this, my first thought is simply that the aff must prove that a government must provide HC (whatever that means) to be just. And then I think that the negative must prove that a government can be just, or isn't unjust, if it doesn't provide HC. This feels to me like relatively equal burdens, and I do believe that both sides should have relatively equal burdens/advocacies for any resolution. The thing is, I don't approach it from an angle of truth. I don't reduce the topic, I simply take it as it is. That is, a resolution provides something to be determined, one way or the other (i.e., aff or neg), and I just take it at face value. Now, maybe one can structurally reduce all topics to...something...but is it a good idea to do so? And, if they can be reduced, then is it a proposition of truth that they can be reduced to?

I think that my big problem is that while a lot of people are out there in rounds arguing theories and reductions and spikes and T, I'm sitting around wondering whether a just government is obligated to provide health care to its citizens. And as as result, I think I must be missing something.


From; Scott Robinson

The question that remains from your discussion is "what should we reduce the topic to?"

In the case of the current resolution, I think your reduction of the topic to a necessary conditions test (is the provision of HC necessary for a just state) is a reasonable interpretation, but there are other reasonable interpretations.

Is the resolution "false" if there is no such thing as a just government? Is it false if there is no such thing as justice?

These are reductions of the topic that I would anticipate seeing at some tournaments.

The trick is establishing that one's reduction of the topic to dichotomous burdens is superior to the alternative reduction offered by one's opponent. Students seldom seem to offer defenses of their reduction and when they do - they seem to swallow the entire debate in T or theory or whatever.

I sympathize with students who are confused. They are experience (and are told about) the strategic and intellectual advantages of clarifying or simplifying the topic. However, they are not equipped with the skills to defend their attempts to do so. If they do defend their attempts at simplification, they are criticized for focusing on T and theory.

I can definitely see how students (including many coaches) are turning to an attitude of "screw it, if you want specific I will offer a plan."

This gets back to my comment a year or so back. I think many coaches share only a false consensus on the so-called truth burden. Many like the idea of dichotomous burdens - of roughly equal threshold. However, proof of truth claims assume propositions of epistemology, ontology, and even pedagogy (in our case) on which there is little agreement.

The first panel of 5 LDEP board members that hears a debate over this topic wherein the negative claims to prove the topic false by denying that any government can be just (or denying the linguistic coherence of the concept of a just government) would likely reveal this false consensus.


From Menick:

>>Is the resolution "false" if there is no such thing as a just government? Is it false if there is no such thing as justice? <<

Whether this answers the issue of truth being beside the point for the moment, this is exactly where I have trouble with today's LD. And why the position that sides must prove truth falls short.

We posit a resolution that says, in effect, "debate whether X (a specific action) is, somehow or other, ethical (just/moral/right/preferable -- there's a variety of options here)." Most if not all resolutions fall into this pattern, don't they? But rather than debating by proving that X is or isn't ethical, some debaters (on the negative) argue that there is: a) no such thing as the ethical consideration posited by the resolution; b) that there is no way that the ethical consideration is applicable to X, either pro or con. The affirmative, by accepting the terms of the resolution, defends a position that the negative says is meaningless on face. Of course, there are ways out of this for the affirmative, but regardless, this is hardly why I paid my money for the show in the first place. That is, going into an LD round, I'd like to know whether X is the right thing to do; but if the aff says yes, and the neg says I'm asking the wrong question, I never get a real debate of the correctness of doing or not doing X. Where's the point of that?

If one assumes that one of the points of this activity is to learn about the subjects of resolutions, then this approach at best only forces students to learn one side (the aff) of any resolution, which hardly makes for well-rounded thinkers, especially when resolutions are comparative (X is more ethical than Y). Worse, the negative can, for the most part, rely on a rather small bag of tricks decrying dichotomous thinking, and with little variation argue identically on every resolution for 4 years. I have no brief against philosophers who claim that dichotomous thinking is erroneous, but that isn't really the issue at hand in an LD round, or at least that shouldn't be the issue. The issue should be that, faced with X, what are you going to do? Saying that it's impossible to make a decision, as the nattering neg will do, doesn't help us take action, but we have to take action. The non-resolutional negative leaves us rudderless.

At least, that's what I'm telling my new judges when I train them this year (i.e., the poor parents who are the biggest sufferers in modern LD, and who are also the sine qua non of most LD, at least in the northeast, where they chaperone and judge at almost every tournament). Listen to what the debaters say, I'll be telling them (I'll also be telling them a lot of other stuff too, like explaining drops and extensions, so don't get me wrong here, I'm just distilling, but I'm putting this right at the top). At the end of the round, if you had to act on the resolution (in Sept-Oct, for instance, you get to be Dubya and you get to say we're going to it or not do it), would you or wouldn't you? It's hardly the sophisticated (?) T debate or standards debate or whatever that some debaters think should be happening, but isn't that roughly what LD set out to do when it was invented? To find the rightness or wrongness of actions, as compared to arguing the effects of various policy actions in specific situations?

So I guess my question evolves from, "What do we do when truth is not a good test of LD," to, "Is there somehow a better test of LD in asking a judge to accept the sides of debates as rationales for actions, and to choose to act on the resolution affirmatively or negatively based on the arguments from the sides?" Obviously, this is outrageously bad wording, and misses a lot of issues, but is it what LD is trying to do?

These are the thoughts in my mind as I backed away from the word truth in my tournament (Bump, Hendrick Hudson) in November.


From: Robinson

Does a "rationale for action" justification put us squarely in the role of policy evaluators? If not, why not? It seems a safe starting assumption that an evaluator for any "rationale for action" should consider the action for which the rationale is given.

What happens, in this case, when there are competing proposals as to which action for which the affirmative is asked to provide a rationale?

Should we let the aff choose the action within the confines of the resolution? If so, we are squarely in a policy maker framework - a place in which I don't think many in LD are comfortable.

Should we compare the example action(s) of the affirmative against examples action(s) on the negative, again with the constraints of the topic? If so, we are squarely in the hypothesis testing/counter-warrant world of CEDA debate a couple of decades back. I was not around but when I ask about it - the reply from those who were around usually involves a shiver and rolled eyes.

Should we reject the notion of evaluating "actions" entirely and focus on... well, what would we focus on? If we actively forbid or discourage the evalution of action we end up defining out of the event major schools of philosophical thought like utilitarianism and pragmatism. We end up in a world where - as a Rostrum article a few years back argued - the only legitimate LD arguments are "consistency with a value" arguments of a Kantian mode. This is a limited space of arguments - and seriously misrepresents the literature on political and moral philosophy.

Is there an option I am missing between policy maker, hypothesis tester, and principle evaluation? I don't think do. As evidence I would recommend one think about the various attempts to find a magic bullet in topic wording to focus debate away from examples. Pithy attempts to get around the problems by including phrases like "on balance" or "in principle" don't actually resolve the problem. They just invite students to appeal to judge's preference without attempting to support their interpretations of the terms and their significance in the evaluation of the resolution. By far, the most common explanation I have heard for such phrases has been some form of "this means we can't debate examples and that I don't have to provide a reason why we don't debate examples. On to the value."

I am looking forward to someone setting me straight because an inability to define a clear alternative to policy-making and hypothesis-testing leaves LD without a distinct identity.


From: Smilin’ J

Jim, I'm glad you raised this topic, but I still don't understand what your reluctance to think in terms of truth and falsehood is. To say that (e.g.) the affirmative must prove the resolution is true is simply to say that the affirmative must prove that a just government should provide health care to its citizens--i.e., that the affirmative must do exactly what you seem to think it should be doing. The truth-burden in no way limits what kinds of reasons the affirmative can give as to why just governments should provide health care. What it does do, potentially, is render irrelevant arguments to the effect that, e.g., it's socially desirable for people to believe that a just government should provide health care to its citizens. An argument to that effect would be about what beliefs about government health care have socially beneficial consequences, not about what a just government should do vis a vis providing health care to its citizens.

Truth is internal, so to speak, to the notion of academic debate--unless two people disagree over the truth of a single proposition, there is no debate. So there's no question that where there's debate, there is a disagreement over the truth of something. The only question is, what proposition will debaters disagree about? Will it be the resolution itself, or will it instead be some other proposition, such as that "It is socially desirable that people believe the resolution" or "The affirmative constructive provided a convincing proof of the resolution." Those of us who say we want students to debate the resolution usually (I think) mean that we want students to debate about whether the resolution itself is true or false--e.g., whether governments should provide health care--not about one of the these other propositions that embeds the resolution but is really about something else.

I probably disagree with you about the range of legitimate negative strategies, but I'll let that go for now to keep the focus squarely on this truth issue.


From Eric B

As if people haven't heard enough from me about truth burdens in LD, here I go again, mainly because I worry that Jason may have missed the point Jim was trying to make. While I think that everything Jason said is accurate, Jim’s point seemed to be that the truth burden approach to LD invited a particular kind of stock NEG position on virtually every topic. Specifically, positions like moral nihilism (by which I mean a denial that any moral claims can be true because there’s no such thing as morality) and other similar stances could be used by NEG debaters to TRY to win every round where the AFF stakes out a substantive moral position.

Abstract example resolution: “X is morally better than Y.” AFF offers reasons based on moral theories and principles to support the truth of this resolution. NEG gets up and says that morality does not exist (or something like that) and so the resolution is not true, indeed it cannot be true because it is simply nonsense – nothing can be morally better than anything else.

If this kind of NEG position works for virtually every resolution, then all debaters need to do is to learn to deliver these skillfully to have a good shot at any NEG round, and (as Jim points out) we lose half of the interesting debates. [Do I have your concern right Jim?]

If Jason is also right that any debate must be (by its very nature) a disagreement over the truth of SOME proposition, then I take Jim’s challenge to be: Well, there must be some approach to LD which let’s us move from a resolution to a disagreement over a related proposition. For example, perhaps the proposition: “Since we’ve got to do something regarding the resolution, we should do X instead of Y when those are our choices.” I’m guessing that Jason might come back and say that then we might as well just keep the truth burden and adopt that as the resolution, but Scott’s remarks remind us that writing good resolutions is hard, and it’s not easy (though it may be possible) to write resolutions that stop bad debate (like the kind that vexes Jim, along with the rest of us). I see two ways to address this problem in an intellectually honest and responsible manner.

First, you can endorse the position that in a debate activity that focuses exclusively on various normative issues, there is a foundational presumption that the resolutions are talking about something – that they are meaningful, not meaningless. If the stock NEG stance against morality is right, then the resolution “X is morally better than Y” isn’t just false, it’s nonsense because the concept MORALLY BETTER is meaningless. Similarly, the proposition “The largest number is odd” is nonsense because the phrase “the largest number” is meaningless.

Second, we could just teach students to be particularly good at beating these silly incarnations of moral relativism/nihilism, which is what all these stock NEG arguments boil down to. If the stock NEG arguments lose, they will cease to be appealing strategies.

The former is the top down approach, and it involves teaching judges that they need to ignore certain kinds of NEG arguments, even if they do seem to show that the resolution is not true. (I’m still not convinced that they show the resolution to be false, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable basing the argument on a potentially contentious position in the philosophy of language. The latter is a bottom up approach and I don’t know how feasible it is. It may not be that hard to teach particular students to identify and beat these arguments, but it’s hard to teach everyone.

There are other options, but I find them unappealing. For example, one could have an explicit preamble on each topic that would forestall this kind of stock NEG argument. The resolution would then read something like: “If anything is ever morally better than another thing, then X is morally better than Y.” More generally, a preamble like this would probably always work to stop all NEG strategies of this kind: “Presuming that disputes over values are meaningful, …” Maybe this isn’t so bad, but it seems like if you are going to tag the same basic clause on each resolution, then you might as well just make it a presumption of the whole activity and save the ink – which brings us back to the former top-down solution.


From: Menick

First, Scott correctly sees the problem with my formulation of action as I wrote it. My problem is articulating exactly what I'm thinking (which is why I'm appealing to the group). What I'm thinking is that my understanding of LD is that it is an attempt to justify action on ethical grounds, as compared to policy debate, which is an attempt to justify action on essentially consequential grounds (i.e., do this, and this will happen, which is or isn't desirable). Or, we decide to do something because (LD) it is right or wrong, or because (policy) it can or can't be done (or will or won't work). There's a big difference between not doing something because I think it's the wrong thing to do, and not doing something because it's not going to work.

As I say, I find this hard to articulate, which is why I go on at length rather than having some concise phrasing that says it in the proverbial nutshell. But I seek the nutshell: it's something to substitute for that "a proposition of value" on that NFL (or any other) ballot.

As for truth, my issue with truth as the nutshell is even harder for me to articulate. While I feel that often debaters may be arguing the truth of a resolution, I don't see truth as the absolute reduction of all resolutions. Further, a case itself perhaps could be an attempt to see the truth, so called, in a position, or maybe better the "rightness" of that position, but in the actual debating, truth sort of falls by the wayside, and I don't necessarily make an adjudication based on which side was more true. I have a feeling I'm not alone in this reluctance to reduce to truth, otherwise we wouldn't be discussing it so much.

Eric correctly points out the fears a lot of us have of off-resolutional arguments that can result from an inefficient determination of what, exactly, we expect LD debaters to do in a round. And that's the bottom line. If we feel there should be some things that are right (or right ways) to debate, and others that are not, these things or that way needs to be so clearly and precisely defined that there can be no question what is meant. And while we all seem to generally agree on examples of what we don't feel is right, we aren't coming up with the paradigm of what is right, of what LD should be. The context of the vague rules posed by NFL have led us where we are today (although some changes to those rules are in the works, and could trickle down to other venues than NFL contests). A practical reading of those vague rules resulted in the value/criterion structure, which worked well for a while (and may still work well). But those vague rules, including a provision for the two debaters making ad hoc determinations in a round of how the round should be adjudicated, have also led to debates not about the content of a resolution but about the form of debate itself, including the undebatability of the resolution at hand. If we don't like this, for whatever reasons (which need not be elucidated here), a preventative is required. And as I say, and as Scott confirmed, I don't think that arguing the truth of a resolution is enough to solve the problem.

Which, in the discussion so far, may bring us back to square one, but at least a clearer square one.


From Eric:

My main issue with what Jim just wrote is in how he distinguishes LD and policy debate, which may or may not be central to the point he is making. LD is about ethics, but (as Jason pointed out) lots of ethics is about consequences. LD can't be good ethical debate if real world consequences don't play a role (unless we totally abandon the kinds of resolutions that have been popular, which center around current issues of public concern). Of course, they shouldn't play the only role, but consequences shouldn't play the ONLY role in policy debate either (and when it's good, they don't).

The primary distinction between LD and policy seems to be the existence of a VERY broad topic in policy debate that invites a specific plan, and then the plan (not the resolution) becomes the focus of the debate. Another important difference seems to be that LD resolutions are GENERAL claims, not specific action claims. Ideally, this generality makes specific evidence less decisive and thus encourages students to look at the broader issues at stake using theories and principles as their primary tools instead of facts and prediction (though neither kind should be entirely ignored in either event).

Would it make sense to get away from current events in LD resolutions and try to focus on more classic, perennial and abstract issues? For example: “Individual spending on luxuries is not morally justified as long as millions of people lack basic necessities for life.” I’m not sure it is the answer, but maybe it would help.


From: Smilin’ J

One way to try to make progress on the sort of project Jim seems to have in mind (providing a concise, perspicuous statement of expectations or requirements or event-defining parameters for LD) might be to list lots of very specific examples of what you do and don't want to see LD debaters doing, and then try to isolate what, if anything, the items on each list have in common.

I predict that if we did that, considerable disagreement would emerge even among LDEP-types about how to classify various examples. I, for one, would not put making arguments for moral nihilism on the list of bad practices, but others would. If there were any hope of compiling useful lists, everyone would have to start by accepting some kind of distinction between, on the one hand, what he or she liked to hear, and, on the other hand, what he or she thought should be required or officially endorsed in the structure of the event.

For what it's worth, I'm not convinced that it's fruitful to define the essence of LD in distinction to policy debate. The notion that a plan was required, or even sufficient, to affirm a typical policy resolution would strike many competent language users as a strange use of "affirm." I agree that if there are further restrictions we (the community of event-sanctioning educators, I guess) want to put on LD beyond that students attempt to prove or disprove the resolution, we should be very clear about what those restrictions are. But I'm not yet convinced there should be any more restrictions. Why isn't it enough for students to try to prove or disprove whatever resolutions we give them using whatever arguments they can muster?

From Mazin Sbaiti

Hi Guys . . . I'm new to LDEP and thought I'd check the boards out, and here are several old friends . . . very exciting!

I don't have much to add, but I do have a couple of questions for my own edification -- if you'll permit.

1) If I understand Jim's original question, he was basically asking whether, as a judge, there was a theoretical justification for excluding arguments that either skirt the issue presented by the topic or in other cases, collaterally attack the topic or the forum itself. i.e., to be able to say that negatives attacking the notion of a just government are properly rejected for a reason other than that Jim thinks it's a bad argument and doesn't really negate.
Assuming that sufficiently describes the point, my question is why Jim wants something more than the fact that he is a judge, and he thinks the argument is not persuasive, or that it simply does not negate given his understanding of the resolution the issue it raises? Maybe the issue is also one of on what ought a judge reasonably and legitimately base a decision. For instance, I vote strictly on persuasion -- substantively and formally -- and I'd like to understand the basis for the critcism/scrutiny that Jim is sensitive to.

2) I'm not sure I follow Scott's dichotomy of policy-maker vs. hypo-testing. I just didn't catch how they were different in a material respect. I'm not asking for a lengthy clarification, but I'm interested in seeing how that might cut given Jim's query.

I'm clearly way in over my head here in the middle of three Ph.Ds. I hope to see many of you again upon my return to Big D.


From Menick

I love reading interpretations of what I was trying to say. Even I don't know anymore!

I think we'll all agree that LD is about ethics, which I think is a point I was trying to make. I compared it to Policy because, even in its very name, Policy is not (necessarily) about ethics but about setting courses of action (usually based on consequences). Ethics precede actions. If there is an argument about ethics, and that argument has a winner and a loser, the winner is pointing out a rationale for action. So, yes, I am saying that ethical arguments indeed have consequences, and at the moment I am training my occasional parent judges to weigh the arguments they hear in the light of actions resulting from the rationales for those actions that they've just heard.

By default, arguments that do not provide ethical constructs preceding action would, at the very least, be jejune. Or they could be sophistic in the most perjorative sense. We don't argue ethics so that at the end we sit paralyzed into inactivity, we argue ethics to help us make tough decisions. If I were to nutshell (there's a nice coinage) many of the problems with LD argumentation at the moment it would be to point out that the arguments avoid the tough decisions. They duck and weave and do everything they can not to address the issue at hand, and they certainly don't aid anyone in deciding how to take ethical actions, or make ethical decisions. In a normal world, these sort of arguments would die on the vine because of their inaptness, but somehow they have become all the rage. This is either a fad, or the end of meaningful ethical discussion in LD. If it's the latter, most of us will be coaching PFD and Extemp in a couple of years.

So I guess I've veered away from my challenge of the position that LD resolutions are to be viewed through the lens of truth, which we haven't ever (to me) sutiably proven. I know Jason isn't serious about listing all the topics for distillation purposes, and without going into any detail on this here (although it is a good subject for discussion), personally I have no terrible brief against the resolutions coming out of NFL. It's how they're being debated that's bothersome.

So in light of this, here's what I'm telling my people on Sept-Oct. On the aff, you must prove that there is something about HC that makes providing it (loose def of providing) just. On the neg, you must prove that the government is not obligated to provide for all needs of its citizens, hence a government is not unjust by not providing HC. I am telling them that arguing that HC doesn't work (which is, of course, not true globablly, and the topic is not limited to US), is beside the point. I would hope, if they argue along these or comparable lines, they will offer their judges decent rationales for agreeing or disagreeing that a just government should provide HC to its citizens. All of which is premised on what I'm saying about ethics.

Back, then, to Square One? Again?