Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sit down, John

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The times that try men's souls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More politicians to come, heaven save us…

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ceci n'est pas un Pip, either

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

When Irish eyes are smilin', chez chores, pots

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Rules, Part Five, les ballots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2006

The next Lex is Bi'g

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

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Short message to Lexwegian members of the VCA

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

Failure is not an option.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Coach's log, supplemental

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

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

We really are doomed.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


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

Interesting question.

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

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

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

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

Feel me shudder.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tragedy strikes, policy disappears, Babel rises from the ashes

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2006

What they won't tell you on VBD

So, sez you, how was Bump?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Final pre-tournament rant, then once more unto the breach, dear VCA

You don’t want to know.

I can’t remember so many schools changing so much registration so late in the game. Last night I finally threw up my hands in ire and put an automatic response on the email telling them to [insert metaphor here for something really drastic that makes people disappear from your life in an oh so poetic way]. Something tells me they’re not making the same sort of changes for their Glenbrook entries. Next year I’m not only fixing fees on the prior Sunday, but fixing names. No name changes accepted; the only modification allowed will be drops (which you will pay for at par). I never even got to entering the strikes last night because of all this nonsense. Not to mention teams changing judges they’ve never entered, or telling me all of a sudden how so-and-so won’t be around for this-or-that round while somehow expecting me to cover for them since their debaters do intend to be around for this-or-that round. “If you can’t judge the round, don’t come to town,” as Johnny Cochran might say. All of the registrations are from educators; must they all be so disorganized?

Menick's Rule #28 for Coachean Success: Here’s what you do. You go to your team and tell them to sign up for a tournament by some sensible internal date. When that date arrives, you send those names to the tournament you want to go to. Then, on tournament day, you bring those people. If someone gets sick, too bad, suck it up and pay the extra fee while they lie in bed watching “Saved by the Bell” reruns. If someone drops out for an unacceptable reason, on the other hand, suspend them from the team until they reimburse the team for their fees. Other than that, end of story. The fact that every tournament every year takes place at the exact same time in the exact same location makes doing this a piece of cake for even the least sentient coach. But I am not alone in paying the price of doing extra work to make up for someone else’s lack of control/organization/cojones/gray matter. Almost every tournament director I know goes through this, and much of the dialectic of direction seems geared toward solving for this situation, until finally you’re TOCs and people pay you just to have you think about letting them come.

Sigh. At least yesterday Rummy [insert another metaphor here for something really drastic that makes people disappear from your life in an oh so poetic way], so it wasn't all bad news.

So tonight I’ll enter the strikes, and tomorrow I’ll go to the school and know that I’ve done what I can. Morituri te salutamus, as they say in the Beltway.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I'm calm, I'm calm, I'm perfectly calm

(I mean, all I want is a long column of news entries on one side, and easy navigation on the other side. Like pretty much every other site in the universe. Like it was before the latest iteration, for that matter. You’d think I was asking for something really unusual. Aaarrghhh!!!!)

In the never-ending drama of running a tournament, getting entrants to sit still may be the hardest part. Everybody wants to keep changing everything. That’s why you set fees early on: if they must cause a ruckus, at least they’re paying for it. Bump doesn’t charge any nuisance fees, but I’m having second thoughts about this in the future. There should be some penalty for changes, otherwise people just keep changing things. Honestly, aside from kids getting sick at the last minute, I don’t understand it. You tell them to sign up by your internal deadline, they do, and then you register by the tournament’s deadline, and that’s the end of it. Wouldst that it were true…

Tonight I’ll have all the strikes and rankings, and I’ll enter them into the system. And that’s mostly it, short of actually doing it. I’ve bought supplies, got the trophies, uncovered most of the stuff in the basement from last year, boxed the crappy prizes, sent out the necessary messages—that’s about everything. And the weather forecast is gorgeous. What’s so hard about running a tournament, anyhow?

[Note to self: Do not threaten the debate gods! Anything can happen, and will. Wait till it’s over, and then keep your mouth shut. That’s the best way to handle these things.]

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Only one person will read this post, and you know who you are

Well, I don’t think much of his timing, considering that I’m up to here in Bump (rooms are slipping from my hands, there’s not enough housing, a couple of random people have gone ballistic on me and threatened my cats, and it’s only Tuesday), but it is always nice to hear from Herman Melville, my contact at ROTFL. Printing his note in its entirety will save time for me to on with things Bumpianic.


Dear Mr. Menick:

How am I? You are fine.

I have been promoted again, and now have the title of Chief Information Officer, or CIO. My CIO responsibilities here at WTF include IT, CSS, HTML, FUBAR and GNSTDLTBB. In other words, I am now in charge of the PCB website, and while it chagrins me to say so, or fills me with chagrin, or puts a chagrin on my face—I’m not sure which is the correct phrase—I am not happy with your comments about the new design of our website. Please understand that the website is entirely my bambino, as they say in Italian IT departments. I am the one who calls the shots on it. It is the way it is because that’s the way I like it. Perhaps if I explain it to you in detail, you will understand it better.

First, we have specifically decided to only use a couple of photographs in the header. In the past we shuffled through our vast library of pictures so as to embarrass virtually everybody in the debate community. We know specifically that nothing incensed you as much as seeing your own grumpy visage gracing our home page, and that it would ruin your day for weeks. Because of the threat of lawsuits, blended with a fear of the unknown, we have decided that using the same ugly mugs over and over again is a better idea. And, of course, it allows us to save money on having to design a logo. Not that we wish you to see this as an editorial comment, but we do not want to sink to the level of something as crude as public domain dinosaur clipart. We have higher aspirations, but at the moment, we can only afford to aspire, as compared to actually doing something. But isn’t greatness measured by aspirations as well as accomplishments? Where would Jerry Springer be today, for instance, without aspirations? And without a mean dip on the dance floor, I might add.

Secondly, in the past we listed the news entries, for which we pay Mr. Crux the going rate of $5000 apiece, in a continuing column on the left. As a reader you could go back in time for decades (or at least 20 entries) scrolling down to find where you left off since your last visit. This approach, which is known in the website trade as “normal,” or, sometimes, “good,” was not the one for me! Our approach, a couple of entries at the top, and then a list of scumpty-eighty-ump unintelligible headlines on the right, serves two important functions. First, it renders the entries incomprehensible, and second, it keeps anyone from reading them. The past dies the minute it is no longer the present. This does seem a more valuable approach to Mr. Crux’s hard work, and I’m sure you’ll agree that having the information disappear as quickly as possible makes a lot more sense than allowing people easy access to it in a meaningful fashion. On your Quackean website, where you just post so that anyone can easily go back in time if they are so inclined, in logical order, most readers find themselves so confused as to what’s where that they immediately call the consumer hotlines of their computer manufacturers to demand a complete refund. We have learned a valuable lesson from this.

Thirdlyish, we do feel that it makes sense to put the navigation tools below the fold where no one can see them, and to make them so complex that no one knows what they are for. Most websites put their navigation at the top, where people are expecting it. But this is simply playing into cultural expectations, bowing to the semiotics of the website experience. There is much analysis of this in the readily available Critical Surfer Theory literature. We here at ATT may not support postmodernism in our debate rounds, but we infect it into our daily lives everywhere else. We suggest you do the same.

Fourthmost, we too have no idea what those two champs, Jed Nfl and Larry California, are selling, and why they take up so much space selling it. Nonetheless, they are making money hand over fist for us, and we have no intentions of either moving them, shrinking them, or explaining them. To do so would shake our economic underpinnings to the very root!

So, while ordinarily we feel that you are useful in your way, for once you are completely in the desert, or at sea, or up a tree, depending on how you like to put it. As you can see, everything on our website is there for a reason, even if the reason is irrational. And since, as you know, the site now loads as slowly as Mr. Crux’s left foot (if you’ll allow me to insert one of those telling metaphors that always seem to elude you, Mr. Knowitall), you can only applaud our technological prowess.

Which is all due to me,
Your obdt srvt,

Herman Melville

Monday, November 06, 2006

"Revenge of the Sitz Bath" just sounds so...obvious

Everyone who is paying for Bump is now signed up, regardless of whether they come. In other words, fees are set on what they told me as of last night.

As always, there’s been a last minute run on the team for more housing. I always get the impression that people think, oh, everyone needs a private suite, a valet, and hot and cold running masseuses. This is not the case. Everyone needs a piece of floor roughly the size of a human teenager; housees are told to bring sleeping bags, and expect no better. This year, with no many novice families, the word hasn’t taken yet because they have no first-hand experience. With luck, the Sailors will be treated like pond scum at Li’l Lex, and they’ll finally get the message. Anyhow, I’m not worried about it. We’ll figure out space, one way or the other.

The Monti MHL Saturday was a good event. Lots of Policians, for a change! Nice to see. Our largest division was novice policy, which has to be a first. The plebes, unfortunately, did not show up in force due to having a whole scad or two of schoolwork due, but Alli G managed singlehandedly to uphold the honor of the tars with a 3-0 day. I’m glad she’s around, because I get to say Alli G despite the fact I’ve never seen Ali G, or Borat, or Lord God Almighty or whatever his real name is. It makes me sound irreparably hip. As does the phrase, irreparably hip, for that matter.

And I did finally get to record the interview with O’C. We discussed his years in prison, the restraining orders that are still in effect, and whether he thinks that water-boarding is an effective speaking drill for novices (as a sneak preview, he says yes, provided you do it when they have a pencil in their mouths). It will take a while to edit it—we were interrupted now and then by a tournament trying to happen around us—but I should have it up in a week or two. Unlike his WTF interviews, where people IM him stuff and he [Chortles uncontrollably], in our interview, which was live, if there is uncontrollable chortling, you get to hear it as it happens. The little mic attached to the MegaPod seemed to work fine, and the sound quality, at least from the test I tried, was quite acceptable. I do expect this to be a hot item on the $ircuit. Next up: photos of O’C’s crib, pdfs of every schematic at every tournament where the young O’C competed with Lana Lang and the other pre-Metropolis juveniles, and Star Wars, Episode Seven: The Empire Strikes the Legion of Doom Judges on the Supplemental Sheet.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rules, Part Four, or, Heah Come da Judge

It’s been a big day for me: I just changed the layout scheme of my Yahoo home page from Halloween to Thanksgiving. Most mere mortals would now take a break, would sit back for a while and recover from the exertion, but no mere mortal I. I soldier on.

Last night I attempted to back up Little Elvis to the firewire drive. Says I, let’s look at the legendary Apple disk utilities. Sure enough, there was a command there that looked to be just the one, as compared to simply dragging and dropping the whole magilla via my ftp program, which I love. Well, I hung and hung and hung, rebooted and rebooted and rebooted. What a nightmare. I figured I’d try a test first, and thank goodness, because I never got the test to work, much less the whole Little E persona. I have no idea why I was having these problems. I was simply trying to be cute, to have a full backup available when the inevitable crash occurs, but Little Elvis wasn’t having any of it. I think he’s going through his Aloha from Hawaii phase, and simply will not listen to reason. No one likes it when you plug in a new drive 4 times as big as you are; it’s like Phil Specter walking around surrounded by a phalanx of six foot six halfback bodyguards (and there’s a telling reference for you, agewise). Anyhow, I eventually calmed the storm, and got things back to normal, if not backed up. I’ll try again later, after Bump. The last thing I need at this point is for Little Elvis to fluffernutter himself into oblivion on me. He has work to do next week. Important work. Little E, don’t fail me now!

And on to notes from the underground, also known as the handout to the judges:


Thank you for agreeing to judge a Lincoln Douglas debate round. Your service is especially important as this event is designed to bring judges and debaters together in an educational, productive, and encouraging experience. This activity is designed to teach excellent critical thinking and public presentation skills. Your role as a judge is to determine which debater did a better job of convincing you that his/her side of the resolution more valid as a general principle.

They really hammer home that “valid as a general principle” idea. That’s a good one, and easy to train new judges on. They also expect some measure of “public presentation skills.” That’s always problematic in an activity in which oratorical ability is not the primary consideration, but neither is it a non-consideration. Mostly that should keep people honest, and force them to make at least some attempt to speak well, i.e., at a reasonable rate of speed. Keeping speed down may be the number one way to keep LD manageable (or, as the teleologists AKA dialectic $ircuitists AKA progressives might put it, keep it from growing).

Find out the exact wording of the debate resolution and write it down.
I should hope so.

Read and follow the instructions on the judging ballot you will receive. Well, then, the burden is on people creating/distributing ballots, i.e. tournament directors, to have meaningful information on them, most especially regarding points.

Read any additional Lincoln Douglas instructions that are provided to you. In other words, don’t go in there totally ignorant. I make the same demand (perhaps futilely) at Bump, that teams bringing lay judges at least train them about the activity. Some of them do, although not necessarily in English.

Talk with debaters before the round starts if you wish, but the conversation should not demonstrate favoritism toward a debater. I think more often than not, when a judge knows one kid and not the other, the not-known kid feels disadvantaged. It’s not really the case, but the feeling will be there. It behooves judges to act as neutral as they are.

Debaters should always be respectful of one another and of you, and you should set a tone of decorum and professionalism. The tone of the round is set by the judge. Arrive with the earbuds in and showing absolutely no interest and not taking notes and not paying attention, and problems will ensue. Mostly this affects our MHL folk, where juniors, newly empowered as judges, for some reason decide to emulate the worst judges they’ve ever had rather than the best. Bad choice.

You will be instructed as to which side the debaters have been assigned. The Affirmative debater should be listed on the left side of the ballot and you may ask the debater to sit on the left side of the room as you, the judge, look at the debaters. The Negative debater should be listed on the right side of the ballot and you may ask the debater to sit on the right side of the room as you, the judge, look at the debaters. Record each debater’s code and side. You can confirm this information with the debaters. When both debaters are ready, the Affirmative debater will stand in the front of the room to deliver the initial speech.
Obviously a tad of totalitarianism struck the committee on this one. Do people actually sit aff left and neg right? I mean, I only actively judged about 2,399,372 rounds, and I never noticed it, and never cared. Can’t hurt, but can’t help. It’s the kind of thing I can see lay people getting hung up on, though, the sort of CFLish nonsense that loses ballots. Oh, well.

While the debaters may keep track of their own time, judges need to monitor speaking times during the round. Speech times and order are listed on the ballot. Each debater has four minutes of preparation time (total) in each round which can be used prior to any of that debater’s speeches or cross-examination period. Judges need to monitor how much preparation time has elapsed for each debater.
Clearly allowing debaters to time themselves, per the rules, should be a good thing. Four minutes is perfect; the Catholic three is too few, whereas five is too many (unless you’re a rank novice). I would imagine the only drive for more prep would be among those with positions so complicated no amount of time would ever make them understandable.

During the debate, you are encouraged to take notes of the arguments made by the debaters to assist you in making your decision at the end of the round. You should also keep track of what a debater says, if anything, in response to the other debater’s arguments. To ensure fairness, your notes should help you determine if a debater is improperly making brand new arguments in the final rebuttal speeches to which the opposing debater has no opportunity to respond. Judges should not ask questions during the round. Encouraged? I guess they really can’t say mandated, so this will probably suffice. There does seem to be an awful lot of mentions of new arguments in rebuttals; somebody obviously had this burr way up the old you-know-what. Nothing wrong with mentioning it, but we get the point.

Check your codes carefully. This is especially important when marking the winner of the debate. In your written comments, please be as constructive and educational as possible. Provide a detailed justification of your decision, referring to the central issues the debaters presented in the round. Evaluate the round based only on the arguments that the debaters made and not on personal opinions or on arguments that you would have made. Please completely fill out the ballot and return it promptly to the designated location.
Yep. Menick’s Law #281: The more experienced a judge is, the more likely that judge is to make a mistake on the ballot. Personally, I find it the worst at CatNats, where everyone is a number. Screw-up heaven, appropriately enough.

Next up, the ballot.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Caution: Use of French is threatened in the following entry!

Bump is shut down. I could take a few more Pfffters, but otherwise, we’re done. We are as stuffed as we’ve ever been. The new weekend worked! (Damn. Now I can’t dump round 6 and retire into Semis expediency. There’s a down side to everything.)

For the next few days, things are easy. On Sunday I’ll dump everything into TRPC. Fees are set Sunday night, which means posting the final list of LD judges for strikes and rankings late Sunday or early Monday. The strikes get done on Wednesday. And then we have a tournament. We got the usual 36 rooms in the high school, by the way; I guess they’re saving the rest of them for marriage.

Last night we chezzed up on the November Pffft topic. I’ve got enough Pfffters going to Li’l Lex to [insert metaphor here for some really large number of people and their effect on something especially humorous]. No doubt they will take Massachusetts by storm. The real issue with this particular topic is focusing on something neither too obvious nor too obscure; it’s not like there aren’t a lot of examples there for the taking. But of course examples have to derive from something predictive; they are not arguments in and of themselves. The minute you look past Iraq (and why wouldn’t you look past Iraq, insofar as the lessons Iraq teaches us for the future are not multinational vs unilateral but instead, plan ahead, and don’t ever invade Iraq again, you muddleheaded yabbo), there’s a lot of fruitful possibilities. We touched on a bunch last night, while officially banning Termite from ever again discussing Vietnam. For that alone, the meeting was worth it.

I’m going to pass on discussing the rules today. Those suckers need a rest. I still haven’t looked at OMG for their takes on this. Since O’Cruz and O’Jih were actually on the committee, I know where the official heart mostly lies, so it’s only the malcontents that one is curious about. I did, however, take exception yesterday to O’C’s mention of me as a gadfly, a relatively pejorative term. I mean, I refer to him in the glossary here as a Debate Bon Vivant. And I do know other French words, if it becomes necessary. The reason I was visiting Antichrist Central, since I wasn’t checking up on the rules commentators, was to see if anything else of interest was happening, which is how I found reference to myself. It seems as if O’C and one or two other boneheads archaeologists are intent on archiving old schematics. I was immediately and poetically struck by thoughts of The Second Coming, The Hollow Men and Howl, and chose the latter for my comment. Here’s some words to live by: if, a dozen years from now, you still care not only how everyone did in the last novice tournament you attended back in the day, but also who they hit and in which round, then sit yourself down at the computer and type the word “pathetic” into your search bar; any one of those links will be just what the doctor ordered. If you weren’t even at that tournament, then just do us all a favor and have yourself neutered: your genes have gone far enough.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rules, Part Three, The Return of the Jedi

We’ll get to the rules in a minute, since for this particular installment of them I don’t have all that much to say.

Bump registration closes tonight. Presumably we will reach the 116 limit (in fact, we have already, except there’s 2 teams only tentatively signed up, pending this or that). Every room is taken, for policy and LD and Pfft. My fears that the timing might be affected by the bookends of Glenbrooks and Apple Valley have been dispelled. I’m a happy camper. Now I’ve got to look to the details, especially in the judging. There’s the whole rigmarole of the community rankings, which has to be sorted out. And I would be very happy to hire a couple of policy judges, just for some wiggle room there. But, mostly, it’s just paperwork from this point on. Lots of paperwork, but paperwork nonetheless.

Somehow I managed to get a new Nostrum done in the middle of all of this. One of my favorites, in fact. Monday the Plebes came over to talk about Nov-Dec. The problem with this particular group does still remain their quantity. That is, there’s an awful lot of them. Some of them seem to be non-debaters, especially the two upperclassmen. One actually didn’t show up for the CFL Saturday, which puts him almost indelibly on the coachean pooplist, and the other simply seems happy to bloviate at meetings. Whatever. Even without these two there’s plenty of others. Although getting them to Monti is proving difficult, because of other commitments (like homework and—gag me with Moon Unit’s spoon—Halloween). Only 2 are signed up, but I can live with that. They’ll find Li’l Lex all that more difficult as a result, but that’s their problem. I’ll find Li’l Lex a piece of cake! To cover themselves, they can watch some rounds next week. That should help.

Speaking of Li’l Lex, I’ve registered for both Li’l and Bi’g. There are some software issues that I’ve told Chris P about; the MFL site ain’t perfect yet. But it’s close. It mostly wasn’t recognizing Li’l judges; it told me that Becker and Burgers were unqualified. The noive!

On the Little Elvis front, I picked up a 120 gig firewire drive Monday. This will be entirely devoted to Little E, including a straightforward total backup; after all, Little E is only 30 gigs. How big that seemed then, and how small that seems now. I had also bought a new flashdrive because Tik pronounced teek—who was quite a hit with the Newbies Monday night until he started attacking them—stole the other one, but then the other one turned up behind the TV where he had abandoned it in favor of the mice he’s been dancing around with, so I cleared off the old one and, to save disk space, attempted to install YDKJ, The Ride, on the Virtual PC partition, storing it on the flash. And—drumroll—it works! YDKJ is back!!! With the best version ever!!! Tabbing has just gotten seriously more entertaining.


I’d like to go on about these at great length, but we’ve already covered anything substantive in here. I will take this material and use it, along with some other stuff, as handouts for the MHL and for my own annual judge training.

1. A decision SHOULD NOT be based upon:
a. Personal bias – A judge’s preference for a side of the resolution or a topic bias should not enter into the decision. A judge must decide the round based on the arguments presented in that round. Objectivity is the primary responsibility of any judge.
b. Partiality – The judge should not be influenced by the reputation of or relationship with the debaters, schools, or coaches. If a situation arises where impartiality is in doubt, the judge has the responsibility to report this potential conflict of interest to the tab room.
c. New arguments introduced in rebuttals– The judges shall disregard new arguments introduced in the rebuttals. This does not include the introduction of new evidence in support of points already advanced or the answering of arguments introduced by opponents.
2. A decision SHOULD BE based upon the consideration of any or all of the following questions:
a. Burden of proof - Which debater has proven his/her side of the resolution more valid as a general principle by the end of the round? No debater can realistically be expected to prove complete validity or invalidity of the resolution. A judge should prefer quality and depth of argumentation to mere quantity of argumentation. A judge should base the decision on which debater more effectively resolved the central questions of the resolution rather than on insignificant dropped arguments.
b. Value structure – Which debater better established a clear and cohesive relationship between the argumentation and the value structure?
c. Argumentation – Which debater better presented his/her arguments with logical reasoning using appropriate support? Which debater best utilized cross-examination to clarify, challenge, or advance arguments?
d. Resolutionality –Which debater best addressed the central questions of the resolution?
e. Clash – Which debater best showed the ability to both attack his/her opponent’s case and to defend his/ her own?
f. Delivery – Which debater communicated in a more persuasive, clear, and professional manner? A judge should give weight only to those arguments that were presented in a manner that was clear and understandable to him or her as a judge.

Again, they haven’t belabored an issue the Legion was gnawing over endlessly, namely partiality. They simply say, don’t do it, which I think is more than enough. And that last sentence will never have any effect on anyone, but it asks that you only vote on issues you understand; don’t be cowed into thinking the 17-year-old debater knows more than you do because he quotes Habermas or one of those other hifalutin Greeks. But no one will ever really act on that. Who wants to admit they don’t know something? “Oh, yeah. Loved your Habermas point. I’ll be incorporating it into my daily life at the absolute next possible opportunity.”

All right, I’ll admit. I’ve been reading pomo again. Including the perennially incomprehensible Habermas. Lyotard, on the other hand, remains interesting, especially when discussing the connection of modern art to postmodernism. As Caveman clearly explains, the best application of most of the ideas of postmodernism are in art, not in debate rounds. And especially in the area of architecture, where the lines are so clearly drawn (no pun intended).

Next up, the new LD ballot and judge instructions.