Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wednesday is Ironman day here at Coachean

A question that must arise is if there is some value to traditional painting other than its ability to represent reality. Is there something painting can do that other media can’t do? Or do its representations of reality add something to our understanding of that reality?

These are, again, the questions that must always be asked in the post-dialectic. But, say, does Turner ask this question of himself when he paints this?

Is this realistic? Is it a true representation of a sunrise or is it a true representation of the sense of a sunrise? As a viewer, do I feel like I’m looking at a sunrise when I look at this painting? Or forget about sunrises altogether and just ask, is this pretty? Do I enjoy looking at it regardless of its content? What, exactly, was Turner up to when he painted it?

I bring all this up because what I’ve been saying has not been all-inclusive. It has not addressed all the questions of art. But maybe we do need to point out that these and other questions remain, even though at the moment they have not been our main interest.

While we’re being hoity-toity, we might as well point out that, according the Manny the K, the other chief a priori epistemological concept besides space is time. Space is that place that is the outside of us, while time is entirely within us, unrelated to space. Objects exist in a space but not in a time. Objects do not have time as an inherent quality. An object can not be in two different spaces at once, but an object can be in two different times (the way we perceive time). None of this is physical time-space Einstein but philosophical conceptual truisms. The point being, we can perceive concepts of time and space without any empirical, sensual data. They exist before we input any data. Hence, a priori.

Manny was, it appears, a Deist. When you turn him upside down and shake him, whole conflagrations of teleology fall out of all his nooks and crannies. No wonder he is the last of the old and not the first of the new…

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cinematography and the post-dialectic

I’ve claimed that it is photography’s promise of realism that began the post-dialectic in modern art. This is, of course, wildly oversimplified. Over the weekend I was reading a essay claiming roughly the same results arising from the introduction of cinematography. This raises the question of what, exactly, art is about before the modern era, versus what it is about in (or, perhaps, after) the modern era. I think Caveman stands in this analysis; I got it right the first time, in other words, but it could be put another way.

To say that art has a single goal is probably not true, regardless of the period you’re considering. To ascribe a singular purpose to painting, or even to a single painting, is probably also not true. Think of all the religious painting in just about every cathedral from the Mediterranean to the Arctic. The initial rationale might be to tell a particular story, let’s say, for argument’s sake, the Annunciation. A painting hangs in the alcove, showing a kneeling Gabriel, a perplexed Mary, perhaps the odd Ann or Elizabeth or young JTB on the side. Perhaps there is a Holy Ghost somewhere, or various plants associated with the Marian stories. All of this comes under the umbrella of straightforward, mostly, telling the story of the Annunciation. Maybe, though, the painter has included some panels somewhere of some praying supplicants, or random onlookers. These supernumeraries turn out to be portraits of the patrons of the artist or the church, or maybe one of them is the local bishop. These inclusions add a new level to the narrative, and tell us something about the situation when the painting was created, in addition to the information about the literal subject of the painting. Perhaps at the same time, the artist is working on some new approach like sfumato, which is, shall we say, completely inside baseball—or inside painting—but nonetheless enhances the purely aesthetic appeal of the work for its audience, i.e., its success as a painting qua painting, removed from its text and context. But of course, given that its text and context are its rationale, it can’t be removed from them. And if that isn’t enough, add to all of these the religious aspects of the art, the intention of allowing the viewers to make a spiritual connection that transcends the literal narrative. Even if all the artist is trying to do is tell that Annunciation story—no extras, no new gimmicks, not even any religious concern—he cannot discount his materials, his site and his choice of how, exactly, to do that telling, as elements of the storytelling. As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this one painting, and we can pick and choose which of those goings-on we want to think about, either as the artist or as the appreciators of the art.

But consider that primary purpose, which is the telling of the story of the Annunciation. The painting is, metaphorically, a snapshot of one moment of that story. It is a crucial, focal moment, but a moment nonetheless. Imagine instead a movie, for instance last year’s The Nativity Story. It’s not much of a leap to assume that it, too, tells the story of the Annunciation (and a lot more of the related narrative). The difference in realism of seeing a movie of the event versus seeing a painting of the event is titanic. If I wish to tell the story of the Annunciation, there is little question that I can do so more effectively in the medium of film than in the medium of painting. Thus the medium of painting, for the purposes of story-telling, is supplanted by the medium of film, once the latter is actually invented. The film can do a better job. And it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the Annunciation or the beheading of John the Baptist or Moses on Mt. Sinai or Napoleon at Waterloo or any story, period. In terms of visual art, a movie does more, or a painting does less. There are inherent differences. It is not apples and oranges (as would be comparing reading TLOTR and seeing the films of TLOTR, which would be a different thing altogether). It is apple juice versus the picture of an apple. But note that it isn’t quite reality. Reality would be the actual events themselves. Reality is the apple.

The point is, remove the need to tell a story from the process of painting, and what’s left? Or ask yourself, can you ever completely remove storytelling from painting? The answers don’t matter. It’s the existence of the questions that concern us in the post-dialectical world of modern art. Questions like patronage, like the nature of the media, like intent. Like the essential nature of narratives. Is a painting of the Annunciation more evocative of a religious inner response than a film? Is religion narrative? And where does reality come into all of this?

As soon as you start to ask these questions, you can never turn back.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Fighting Bivalves, A&L redux, Piker maxima culpa, merchandising nirvana

I’m trying to pinpoint the moment when Wikipedia went from, “Don’t even think about it,” to the first stop on every quest for knowledge. They certainly have no value as a primary source, but no encyclopedia does. But when I needed to verify that the Befuddled Key Coach Judging That One Annual Policy Round was not the Emory mascot, I got the correct info from W. Actually, the only thing I knew about the school’s mascot was that it probably wasn’t a bulldog; I figured that out from reading Tom Wolfe. I was rather surprised that it was an eagle, to tell you the truth. Half the schools in America have eagle mascots. Most of the rest have some manner of minority group, rendered in politically incorrect fashion, who as a result usually show up to picket the home games. There are, however, a few others, like the oysters, the goose livers and the mesclun. Go, Oysters! Trounce those Salad Greens! Pate those Foie Gras! As you can see, I am definitely a student of the game.

Over the weekend I saw a reference on A&L to an article by Pinker on the biology of morality, and another article on the dialectic of philosophy, and I realized that we need to be poring over this material with much more than just occasional spurts of dilettantism. So I have made it the de facto homepage of the Sailors. They can do worse than exposing themselves to this sort of material on a daily basis. Even if they don’t read much of it, at least the fact that it is there might sink in. What else do people have as homepages, I wonder, at least those who have something other than the default ISP page? I wonder how many do have that default ISP page, which is analogous to the clock blinking 12:00 on the VCR all those many years? Never overestimate the technical abilities of the great unwashed.

Having had a couple of weekends off, I am once again ready to dig in. I spent some time yesterday polishing the MHL LD ballot (I posted the latest version on the MHL website), adding in the MHL rules and eliminating some of the airier material from the NFL: I don’t expect novices to be running that many Kritiks, if you know what I mean. I’ve created and populated a Google spreadsheet so that O’C can capture the elusive Scientologists for himself on this shared doc, and this weekend add in as well the folks registered for the MHL through Newark and the Goy of Tournaments. I’ve begun meditating on the February Pffft topic, as we’ll have a couple of Pffffters at Scarsdale. Cost of gambling? Interesting. What I really need to do, however, is write letters of apology for the piker’s actions down in Atlanta. Rumor has it that he was tossed into the brig a couple of times for conduct unbecoming a debate judge, although I do know that he will be returning home with a newfound respect for non-resolutional arguments. [Insert snicker sound effect here.] The last thing I heard was that he had been punched out by Frank Sinatra for being too pesty a paparazzo, but that can’t possibly be true. We’ll find out soon enough.

Speaking of snickers, I went out to dinner Saturday night and saw a “Snickers” martini on the menu. Suffice it to say that, while I did not order one, I did applaud the restaurant’s obvious play to the under-twelve alcoholic market. True marketing genius, if you ask me.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Let the Eagles fly!

Noah, the piker, stole my messenger bag. Because I have an LL Bean credit card, I get free monogramming from them (as well as free shipping, the value of which should never be underestimated), which means that occasionally I put my initials on things, like this bag, so if you’re wondering, Noah’s the guy with the nice new messenger bag with my initials on it. My cell phone was also in the bag, so if you want to talk to me, you’ll have to talk to Noah first.

The piker.

Actually, Noah and Robbie had come around to the chez to shoot the breeze and eat chicken in advance of Emory. Although their arrival was surrounded by plenty of Grabowitzian sturm und drang, once we settled in it was fun, first, to hash over old times as one always does, and then to hash over Jan-Feb. As far as old times are concerned, Noah has, as Liberty Valence would have it, printed the legend. But the legend, as everyone knows, is a much better story than the reality. As far as Jan-Feb is concerned, Noah lives in a world where the negative is true, while conveniently enough I live in a world where the affirmative is true, so for the sake of dialogue, we were able to dig through it. Meaningful dialogue about topics is, in my opinion, the best tool for understanding them. But it’s hard to get such dialogue going, because it depends so much on social chemistry. In a team like the Sailors which at present is predominately Plebes and Senioritis sufferers, there aren’t a lot of people willing to offer (or capable of offering) well thought-out positions, or for that matter workable albeit unthought-out positions. That will change, but it will take time.

This week’s meeting, though, was a good example of how it can work. We picked the negative to death until we finally boiled it down to the required morally relevant distinction, framed in language that would work in a debate context, i.e., you could build a case around it and defend that case. Or at least I could, and Robbie concurred. Seeing that there’s still plenty of debate left in this particular resolutional dog at Newark and Scarsdale and Harvard and maybe beyond, it can’t hurt to comparably attack the aff at the next meeting.

A lot of people are down in Georgia this weekend, of course, doing the Emory thing. Emory is one of the tournaments I’ve never been to. I almost made it one year, but we cancelled at the last minute, and I think that knocked whatever small resolve I had had to visit the place clear out of me. My impression of the tournament is that it holds an awful high opinion of itself, and that it is more for the coaches than for the students, and preferably for coaches who have more barnacles on them than they can scrape off single-handed. The use of mutual judge preference favors the most experienced of the national circuit (I won’t go into the whole MJP rant again), while the barnacle people sit around wearing crowns and carrying scepters and generally enjoying their one annual opportunity to be treated like, if not nobility, at least gentry. Ah, the South… If they show evidence of enough barnacles, they are given a key (presumably to the tournament but maybe just to the teachers’ bathroom), and if they have the most barnacles, they get a round named after them. You don’t ask, Who’s in Finals? You ask, Who’s in Soddies? Cute. When I first started, every tournament I went to up and down the line seemed to have some sort of award the coaches were giving to the other coaches. I always found that strange, as if the coaches were jealous of their kids taking home hardware all the time and wanted some hardware of their own. Given that there were only so many coaches, pretty soon they had all won all of the available accolades, and the awards went away. As I say, cute. The awards were always named after some former luminary, of course, much as the Sailors’ tournament is named after our old coach, who was very influential in the region back in the day. O’C, the tradition maven, is big on award blitzes and names all his awards after old Jakes. There’s the “Bedroom Eyes” award and the “Doing the BB” award, and of course the Soddie, which I think was awarded the first year to, ah, Soddie. Or me. I forget. I do have my Jake award proudly displayed at the Chez. I’ll take a look and let you know (or, I guess, you can read the inevitable comment O’C will post to clarify the issue for us). It’s not that I’m not proud of it, but pride and bemusement are far from mutually exclusive.

So this weekend, since I’m home and the weather promises to be marginally frightful, I’ll do some more catching up. Or, maybe I’ll begin the next Post-Dialectic essay. Noah, by the way, claims he disagrees with me violently on my P-D analysis. Which means that no other indication is required to warrant my absolute correctness.

The piker!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I'll be damned. So will the rest of fraternity.

For reasons that are wildly elusive, I cannot get the new episode of TVFT to register with iTunes. It’s there on the podcast page, I can see and hear it, and the xml is getting it into my RSS reader, but iTunes is simply giving it a pass. Not fun. The fact that an even newer Nostrum published without a hitch just adds to the mystery. So I’ve tried it again, revising the XML and crossing my fingers and spitting into the wind and kissing a frog, all the usual solutions to software problems. Or at least those are my usual solutions. We’ll see what happens over the next 24 hours. With luck, the problem will be solved, or at least I’ll have turned yet another frog into a prince. You never know nowadays.

In talking to O’C about the usual, he mentioned the vitriolic posts following his note on WTF about the success of the Scarswegians. Now I can’t say I read too much of this, because I’m also trying to read the Times, The New Yorker, my shopping list and the twenty books I’m somewhere in the middle of and rotate exactly the way I rotate the trousers I wear to the office. If today is Wednesday, it must be the brown flannels and the Kant. In terms of time sucked away I also talked to Noah yesterday for half an hour, and that was just between the Hello and the How Are You. Still, it is marginally entertaining to watch people I don’t know rant about stuff I do know. I mean, I wouldn’t know this MM person from a hole in the floor, but I do know whence he speaks. And I can address it categorically (this being Wednesday, AKA Kant and brown flannels day).

1. Coaches and debaters exist symbiotically. (Actually, both groups are parasites on the other group, but mutual parasitism is, in fact, merely a cynical definition of symbiosis.)
2. Coaches are inherently rotten human beings. While I can provide no analytic rule for this, my own experience has found no exceptions, including myself. If there is a good person coaching debate, I have not met that person. Given the nature of the activity, I find the likelihood of that person existing to be intuitively unlikely.
3. All the coaches in the northeast, with the exception of La Coin, are devout Satanists. (La Coin is only a moderate Satanist, which comes from being allergic to cheese.)
4. The northeast maintains an outrageous number of TOC bids because of specific deals made directly by the Satanist coaches with Old Hob himself.
5. The annual LD Advisory Committee meeting is actually a Black Mass.
6. Northeast coaches benefit directly from payments made by the year’s designated “winningest” coach to the “losing” coaches. The transferred money that does not line “losing” coaches’ wallets is paid to WTF rejects to write impenetrably bad cases for the “losing” teams so that the “winning” team will collect all the bids.
7. JV is demonstrably the richest Satanist coach in the northeast, evidenced by his driving the nicest car. However, as the money pours out of his wallet into the wallets of others, pretty soon he’ll be cranking up a third-hand Yugo an hour early just to get the carburetors warmed up while the rest of us are humming by in the odd Mercedes Benz or BMW. In fact, I can attest that O’C has been haunting the local Lotus dealership, and the only thing that keeps him from committing is that he keeps having more and more money to spend and he doesn’t want to get locked into a clinker.

Vrrrooommmm, vrrrooommmm!!!!!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Smilin' Through

Not surprisingly, the Smilin’ J interview on WTF has drawn a lot of response, virtually all of it negative. The Vatican News did an interview with Richard Dawkins that had much the same result… I only read the first handful of the SJ comments, and for all I know meaningful dialogue has since ensued, and maybe even a few supportive voices have been found. Both would be nice. Unlikely, but nice. In any case, I’ll provide my own take.

There are some issues worth discussing. First, SJ does tidily wrap up all sorts of critical thought —theory, in ironic quotes—into a nice neat bundle and tosses it on the compost, based on its content, which he finds lacking. My own mixed feelings on this material are well known to the VCA, but I’m more inclined to vilify based on the material’s incomprehensibility than its meritriciousness. I have honestly found interesting ideas in the slag heaps of some of this impenetrable prose, which does not excuse its impenetrability but does question how meretricious it might actually be. My objection to using the material in LD has mostly been that the material is not suitable for its high school audience, and that the vast unwashed of 15-year-olds being introduced to philosophy are better served with more traditional and accessible texts. This does not burden that traditional and accessible material with the value of being more true, which is another issue altogether; it simply admits the obvious that philosophy is a difficult subject, and if we seriously wish to engage young students in it, we need to do so in such a way that it will, indeed, engage them. This is not so much teaching scales before you teach Chopin, as it is reading Seuss before you read Shakespeare. Your enjoyment and appreciation skills improve as you move “up” a theoretical ladder of difficulty. It would be an iffy proposition to start high up on that ladder, without having yet developed those enjoyment and appreciation skills; growing into those skills means enjoyment and appreciation all along the way. This is hardly innovative pedagogy.

Of course, there are those who claim that the material is not “above” the best of the LDers, and should not be banned just because it is not populist. This is arguable on a number of counts, but even accepting that there might be high schoolers to whom Derrida is no more challenging than a Dagwood cartoon, there is still the question of engaging in a discourse that cannot be fully understood: I don’t think anyone claims that ALL high schoolers are capable of deconstructing the great deconstructer, for instance. A desire to win an argument should be premised on setting groundwork where the argument can, indeed, be won. Throwing a lot of material around that only one person in the room (possibly) understands doesn’t sound like much of a strategy for anything except obfuscation, which is obviously antithetical to education, even if it does “win” the round. Winning, in this situation, would have been all that it achieved. No brain cells would have been stirred in the process.

Frankly, I do not think that, until we all have read all the philosophy, past and modern, that JS has, we can engage him directly on the issue of truth in philosophy, at least on the academic level. I am from the school (the Menickites) that believes that ultimate truth in philosophy is, in fact, science. Or is in science fact, to be more precise. I talk about that a little in Caveman, and I’ll get around to it more directly at some future date. In any case, I have no intentions of becoming an academic philosopher, or a student of academic philosophy, as in knowing all about all the great (or stinky) philosophers of all time. So I really can’t address that aspect of SJ’s interview. In other words, I agree with him on the consequences of using this material, but I cannot engage him on what he claims are the causes. Although honestly, I doubt if he disagrees with my claims, and it’s just that he wasn’t making those claims himself in the interview.

The second interesting point of the interview, which Duby took SJ to task on, is the disdain for first- and second-year judges, and those same folks as assistant coaches without portfolio. Or, I guess, college coaches in general, if you wish to read a full menu from the implication. Since I am on record as placing assistant coaches on a par with the minor demons of Milton, I would seem to agree with SJ’s opinion here, but I don’t know if I do. What I am against is coaches who hire college students to provide positions if not complete cases to automata high schoolers, and then who send those “assistant” coaches into rounds to flow the competition, all in aid of a bigger trophy at the end of the day. I am also against college students attempting to achieve high school glory a little too late, who do so by finding malleable Trilbys on their own and feeding them material borrowed from their college courses, and then showing up week after week at debate tournaments (and on WTF) to push their theories of debate on the general public, molded in the hot forge of being a second-rate high schooler always on the brink of getting a TOC bid. Now, okay, this is a little cold, and stereotypical, and not completely true, but I have historically run up against the least resolutional arguments and the most erratic judging from college kids who were almost good high school debaters and who don’t seem to fit in at college now and prefer hanging around with high school people. The words “Grow up!” come to mind here, at least for this latter group. I would also direct those words to the adult coaches pulling the strings the the former group. Unlike SJ, I don’t believe these college students should be arrested on sight and banned from the back of the room, but I do feel that they need to be perceived as what they are. A balance of judges is required in the pool, and use of that balance in a neutral albeit meaningful way. My solution at Bump, of course, was to create community rankings of the judges, putting As into bubbles and mixing As and Bs equally in the outround pools. This seemed to satisfy the mob.

The idea of assistant coaches ruining LD seems to be a major theme of the Legion of Doom (which, SJ says, is far from rendered moot by the new NFL rules, but nonetheless seems to be as dormant as a dead bear in a blizzard), and it’s not one I really ever subscribed to. I certainly am against mutual judge preference, but that’s a different thing. SJ subscribes to this assistant coach vilification whole hog, and may in fact be its driving force. In my experience, there just aren’t that many of these people, of either of the stripes I’ve described above, to have that much of an influence except in one small corner of the $ircuit. And since lately I’ve been questioning the true influence of the $ircuit on LD, I’m not thinking it’s all that deadly. But one thing that is true is that these assistant coaches are not spending all their time and energy working with novices. There’s no glory in that, and therefore they’re not giving good educational value for their buck, whether you like them or not, because they’re only applying themselves to very specific competitive contexts. Education of debaters means educating 4 years worth of them, whether they are good, bad or indifferent in rounds. Chauffering a moneyed elite to major tournaments around the country, even in the most well-intentioned and ethical context, does not do that. So even if that’s not what SJ refers to, it is a part of the issue. But, mostly, I think he’s talking about something that just isn’t either that prevalent or that important.

Finally, there is the air of arrogance that is a little thick about the proceedings. Although no stranger to arrogance either in myself or others, I am surprised to see SJ express views that are unrelievedly so. Specifically, it is one thing not to flow rounds, and another thing altogether to claim that it is unnecessary. Those who do inevitably claim that they are more than capable of doing the math in their heads, so to speak, or like SJ that there is something intrinsically wrong with the round that precludes taking notes. I don’t buy it. Yeah, I’m smarter than the average teenager, and often I’m writing down stuff that is fairly unimportant in my assessment of win/loss, but giving off either odor in the round is offensive to the debaters, and if I accept the responsibility of judging then I am willing to accept the formula of proper behavior that accompanies that responsibility; it’s analogous to having debaters wear business suits. I am reminded of one of my more sketchy varsity debaters in his first judging gig, who called for a runner to take his ballot after the NC because, as he said to me in explanation, as far as he was concerned the round was over and the winner was clear. I did refrain from hitting him over the head with a frying pan, but only just. I would like to think that I wait to hear the whole round before making a decision, but if you’ve ever judged, you know as well as I do that there are cases where that is not necessary. But you owe it to the debaters to act as if that is the case. They’re doing a job of work up there, and as long as they’re seriously working at it, I need to at least appear to be seriously working at it on my end, even if my mind is already made up, although I will keep my mind open till the end, because you never know. It’s a matter of simple respect, like their wearing business clothes. I do my best to listen to everything, and heed everything, regardless of its content; I am here to judge that content, but I need to know what it is—all of it—first. I want the debaters to believe that happened, for their own self-respect, if nothing else. In those situations where last year’s TOC winner hits a novice who’s never won a round in a random pairing, that novice deserves a respectful round from both his opponent and from me, even though all three of us might know the result of that round the minute we read the schematic. For many debaters, the judge’s looking busy is important. A judge who doesn’t flow doesn’t look busy. Which means that the judge is not doing what the debater thinks is important. In this case, I think that thing—taking complete notes—is worth the debater thinking it’s important, and therefore worth the judge doing it. Even when he doesn’t really have to, because he’s smart enough to retain all the germane material in his head. It just goes with the territory.

Mostly, of course, I agree with SJ on LD, which is why I was for a short while the Legion’s poster boy. What he’s asking for is that people argue resolutions in rounds, looking for and supporting the truth of their side. This leads to constructive dialogue and great education. This is major. Where we disagree is in some of the smaller side business. But that side business, once it’s printed up, must be considered. For all practical purposes, SJ has now created the longest judge paradigm on record (unless you count this blog). So be it. If I were a debater, I would want him to be adjudicating the round. I just wish he were a little less…serious. It must come from not reading any pomo. Maybe we should all chip in and get him some Derrida for Valentine’s Day. That and some chocolate. That should do the trick.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I own a Bears tee shirt for no readily discernible reason, hence I am ready for the Super Bowl. Meanwhile:

There is, unfortunately, a word spectate. You may say, with impunity—as recently did one of the Sailors—that you wish to spectate a practice round, or at least you can say it with whatever impunity is derived from Web 11, considered by many to be a reliable authority.

I have just thrown my copy of Web 11 out of the window.

Meanwhile, in the continuing annals of Kant, we can add to what we’ve already said that one a priori piece of knowledge that we are capable of intuiting is the concept of space. That is, using nothing but our reasoning, we are able to establish that there is a place that is the mind, where all that reasoning is taking place, and a place that is not the mind, that is outside of the mind. That place outside of the mind is space. This is not space in the Star Trek final-frontier sense, although the magnitude if not exactly the (physically questionable) infinity of that space is included in the concept, but simply the space outside ourselves. Which does just happen to be (physically questionably) infinite. Which is something additional, a synthesis that, using only reason, we are able to grok about space (although Manny never uses the word grok in the Critique of Pure Reason, as far as I can determine; nor does he use spectate, thank goodness). Of course, as we intuit a place outside the mind a priori, we also obviously intuit the mind, a priori. (Manny uses the phrase a priori the way some of the Sailors use the word like, although probably not for the same reasons.) As bedtime reading goes, Kant is the cat’s whiskers. More or less.

This past weekend was one of odds and ends. Prepping some new material for this week’s meeting at the school, running through all the old emails and catching up, backing up to disks, that sort of thing. I’m in the process of sorting through whom we’ll send to CFL Grands, organizing the trips to Newark and Scarsdale, haranguing the Sailors about parent judging, all the usual fandango. And I’m going to have to start thinking seriously about Districts soon, both in corralling the Districtees and in putting together our own Huddish entry. Saturday I went over to put in the trophy order, so the wheels are now officially turning. There was a small moment last year during the Red Light brouhaha when I was considering retiring from district responsibilities, but I was talked out of it. Biggest mistake of 2006!

And, finally, I will mention that last night I watched Empire Records, which I had never heard of until it popped up on Netflix. It’s something of a poor man’s High Fidelity but I do have to admit that it eventually won me over. Considering that practically every movie I’ve watched for the last month has been a total turkey, it was nice to have something to relieve the grimness. Of course, the night before watching this I had watched Follow the Fleet, so you know I’ve been doing my best to find real entertainment in this turkey drought. Let’s face the music and dance, eh? Comparing the two films, one could say that musicals have changed in 60 years, maybe a little. Judge for yourself.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Coming up: a quiet weekend

According to Kant, all empirical knowledge is conditional and all a priori (reasoned) knowledge is absolute. I just thought I’d point that out, in case you have any cocktail parties planned for the weekend and you run out of chitchat about the upcoming Oscar nominations. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what’s missing in the world today, namely, glittery accolades for the best philosophy of the year. Or best supporting philosophy. Best philosophy adapted from another medium. The whole magoo. We could all show up in our best bibs and tuckers, walking the red carpet, being interviewed by Joan Rivers.

I know. I’m a dreamer. I see things that aren’t and wonder, what time is the next bus to Albuquerque? I’m just that kind of guy.

This weekend is Columbia, which happens annually without any pother on my part, although that could change in the future. Simply put, Chris Palmer, who is the honcho of the Massachusetts Forensic League, has done great work getting various and sundry venues to get their acts together, most noticeably the Bullpups, where field and entry limits were installed making the whole operation manageable and, in my estimation, worthy of its TOC bids. He’s trying to do the same for Columbia. Aside from my old and no longer relevant complaint about the tournament competing with Newark (although honestly, I held my higher level of complaint for those schools who chose Columbia over Newark, thereby not supporting the hard work of the high schools in a high school activity in favor of, well, God knows what), the recent lack of entry limits per school does dilute the pool much like an MHL, which is fine for novices looking for rounds but hardly speaks well of an invitational. In fact, backloading with a handful of schools to buff up the numbers is the second mark of a tournament scoundrel; backloading with your own school to buff up the numbers is the first mark, at least when your motive for doing so is to paint a rosy picture of teeming multitudes to TOC. But I don’t actually think that Columbia is playing any particular game one way or another, they’re just trying to get a tournament going. But from a Sailor perspective, it’s expensive and complicated to attend because of the distance and lack of housing, so it needs to be worth the effort, and I don’t believe presently that it is. If it were to become worth the effort, however, I would feel differently. And if anyone can make it become worth the effort, it’s Chris Palmer. So, we’ll see how that plays out going forward.

Because of the snow around here last night, I ended up not going out as originally planned, so I did manage to post a new Nostrum, making me rather up to date in most of my forensic enterprises. Over the weekend I’ll sort out whatever other odds and ends remain loose, including a bunch of email discussions that need to be addressed. And I’ll sleep in. Twice. And cook. And take naps. And sit by the fire with a cat on my head reading Kant. (My cats are notoriously fanatic about their Kant, and read him every chance they get.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Big 5-00, a view of tab, all gloves on sale at half price

I am told by the Blogger software that this is my 500th posting. Lawdie, Lawdie, Lawdie. There’s probably enough verbiage here to single-handedly short circuit half the brains in high school forensics. Then again, if I were O’C, my bank book would now read $2.5 million samolians. I’m working for the wrong website.

To celebrate this far from momentous event, there is a new TVFT podcast, a commentary on the highlights of Lexington tab last week. Literally. I’m not sure if my intention is to de-mystify tab or de-mythologize tab or re-humanize tab, but I do feel that there are people who fear to cross the threshold of any tab room for fear of… something. Granted, there are a couple of tab rooms closed for rules purposes, namely Districts and CFL Grands, where everyone is so worried about doing things absolutely by the book that anything that might jeopardize rule adherence is shunned, barred, banned and burned. But normally, aside from the need for quiet so that we can work undistracted when the times arise and rounds need to get out, and aside from not letting random people go through the results if a tournament does not wish it, a closed tab does not mean that the door is closed to visitors, but merely that results will not be shared William Nilliam. I’m all in favor of people popping into tab if they’re the sort of people I might be interested in seeing, or if they have questions, or even if they want to help out (although often the people who offer to help are desperately needed somewhere else, to wit, on the judging floor). I’m even willing to provide the staff of WTF with information for posting for the eagerly awaiting teeming multitudes, provided that I am allowed to give them a good, swift kick in return. As a point of curiosity, in Nostrum tabbing requires chanting in dead languages and the sacrificing of various barnyard animals; this indeed used to be the case, but later, more developed versions of the software have obviated the need for both singing and bloodletting.

And here’s an anomaly. At the Plebe meeting Tuesday, we talked a bit about moral standards from culture to culture. The middies were perfectly content, mostly, to accept that cultures were within their sphere of moral rectitude to punish the theft of a chicken with anything from a small fine to the cutting off of a hand. On the other hand (no pun intended), they all seemed to agree that stealing a chicken was wrong in any culture. In response, I refer you now to my essays on Cognitive Dissonance, You Kant Always Get What You Want, and, most germane of all, “101 Ways to Cook Chicken” (subtitled, “50.5 Ways to Cook Chicken if You’re One-Handed”).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The taint

I’ve been watching this phenomenon for some time now, and finally reached a point where I can isolate it and, perhaps, understand it. Correct me if I’m wrong.

In the olden days, when dragons roamed the land and portable music players had cassettes in them instead of mp3s, LD cases began with a construct of value and criterion, plus whatever definitions were necessary for meaningful discussion of the topic. This would be followed by what were called contentions or lines of analysis, which were the arguments the debater was offering to support a side of the resolution. The lion’s share of time and energy was spent on these arguments. An argument could be one long, complicated presentation, broken down into easily understood chunks of point and subpoint, or a debater could offer a couple of complementary or even independent arguments to support a position. If I remember correctly, at the time Taft was in the White House, and they had just installed his special supersized bathtub.

Then things changed. Because there was almost from the very beginning a reliance on the V/C construct to help judges evaluate the arguments, and because suddenly there seemed to be debate camps in every Middlesex village and town, not to mention on the moon, under the Atlantic, and presumably in Hobbiton as well, there came through the various lands new emphases on these V/C constructs, made again and again by those to whom these constructs were very important, i.e., the judges who used them to evaluate rounds, and the camp instructors (often the same people) who used them as something to talk about at their institutes when they ran out of ribald stories about the coaches of yore and their heirs and assignees. The shapes of cases began to shift, and instead of a balance of roughly 1/3 setup of construct and 2/3 argumentation, it began to be about half and half construct and argument. In other words, debaters began to devote half their debating time to analysis of how to analyze their debating, and half their debating time to, well, debating. Creative minds could and did wreak havoc with this new allotment of time, and introduced all sorts of off-case, independent, sub-dependent, non-dependent, theory-based, topic-critical, acritical, you-name-it constructs that obviated the need for argumentation, and occasionally even vilified it. Less creative minds simply proffered increasingly muddled V/C constructs at great length, often listing multiple criteria with various rules and regulations for adjudicating a round depending on which criteria/criterion was used for the adjudication, much like an old make-your-own-adventure-game approach, where if you go down this path, this happens, and if you go down that path, that happens. Turn to page 33 to continue, if you know what I mean.

Now, in the present day, there’s a new wrinkle. I’ve been seeing this off and on in the last year or two in Sailor cases, and in the odd round I’d judge, and I saw it again up at Lexington. There is a new tendency to break cases up into three parts. The first part is all that V/C construct stuff, and that’s 1/3 of one’s time allotment. The third and final part is the literal argumentation, i.e., the presentation of a position of some sort on the resolution. This, too, is 1/3 of one’s time allotment. In the middle, and taking up the other third of one’s time allotment, is something else. It’s not really V/C, and it’s certainly not argumentation. I’m not quite sure what it is, but mostly it seems to be some hifalutin explanation of the proceedings separate both from V/C and from argumentation. It is, in a word, the taint, as the old boys hangin’ around the pool hall would have it. I mean, ‘t ain’t one, and ‘t ain’t t’other. It contains no voting issues to speak of. I guess it’s something of a spin-off of all that off-case, independent, sub-dependent, non-dependent, theory-based, topic-critical, acritical, you-name-it stuff, finally given its own home in a case. So now the so-called sophisticated case one wants to emulate (assuming that one is a blithering follower of fashion) has three parts: V/C construct, arguments and taint.

Which makes me happy. As a word person, I find it useful to pin things down. You may find this antediluvian and reductive in the pejorative sense, but I find that, at least in this instance, knowing what something is helps me understand it better. I can imagine some future world in which taints—which contain no measurable, vote-inducing content—make sense to me, and I am encouraging the mighty Sailors to include them in their cases. But then again, I can also imagine some future world where we all travel to work with jetpacks on our back like escapees from some Depression-era world’s fair. In any case, I have now made two additions to the glossary on the right. One of them is the taint. The other one isn’t.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

One small kick for [a] man, one giant kick for mankind

There are moments you live for. Giving O’C a good, swift kick in the pants is one of them. This, for me, was the high point of the weekend, and perhaps the year. He was taking a photograph of the Round Robinskis at the time. If only he had been taking a photograph of us! No doubt he’ll never turn his back on me again. For that matter, I’ll be keeping an eye out for him, since revenge on his part is required, and the proverbial cold serving is bound to come sooner or later.

Meanwhile, I’m going to attempt to record a TVFT about the literal tab room experience, talking about some of the stuff that happened over the 4 days of both the invitational and the RR. You might enjoy some of the gory details, and this one was somewhat emblematic of the beast in general. I’ll try to do it today, but God knows when I’ll get it edited, given that there’s a novice-only meeting tonight at the Ship of Hud. Of course, it makes sense to get it out as quickly as possible, so maybe tonight when I get home… I’ve got an awful busy few days ahead, unfortunately.

It was nice to touch base with Burgers and Emcee over the weekend. Catching up with alums is one of the high points of what I do. And we didn’t get snowed in or iced in or any other sort of precipitationed in, which may be a Lexington first. I even finally got to that ice cream place on the corner, which is definitely worth a trip (and which probably never looked appealing in the past because of being snowed in or iced in or some other sort of precipitationed in). From the RR dinner I managed to come up with a new phrase for the glossary, and from a smidge of judging I think I finally managed to isolate a whole new aspect of case-writing. More on them in days to come.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tempus fugit

I seem to be sucked into a vortex of progressively more incompletion. I say I’ll do something tomorrow, and I do it eleven years later, and I’m actually proud of having completed it at all. I write here that I’ve got such-and-such on the old todo list, and the odds of my doing that such-and-such are often quite on the slim side. The problem is, I don’t know what I’m doing instead. It’s not as if I’m sitting around playing games or something. In fact, one of the things on my todo list is playing some games. I’m not watching a lot of TV. An hour a day, no more, a regular diet of a handful of new shows and a few classics (I just put Fry and Laurie at the top of the Netflix queue, for instance). I’m not sinking into endless sybaritic dining experiences, course after course of lavish dishes accompanied by the finest wines, while a string quartet plinks away on Papa Hadyn in the background. I’m not even wasting all that much time writing this blog, usually, unless I get off on some particular hobbyhorse I feel should be explicated. In other words, I have no idea where the time goes. And I need more of it. Damn.

I recommend the Milan Kundera in last week’s New Yorker, which I read last night (I can’t even keep up with magazines). It’s about world literature, local literature, parochialism, the aesthetics of fiction, and all kinds of good stuff like that. I am adding The Omnivore’s Dilemma to my select reading list over on the right. This is not a book about the horrors of food processing, an update of Upton Sinclair for the 21st Century, although there is plenty of discussion about the horrors of modern agriculture from a holistic ecological perspective. This is much, much more, a meditation on eating, pure and simple. Any book that explains both the history of corn and counterarguments to Peter Singer is worth reading, as far as I’m concerned. I will report that I enjoyed Monster House more than any other movie I’ve seen recently, including all sorts of well-received films that have virtually put me to sleep (I do watch films on weekend nights only, so it’s not as if my time is being sucked away by cinephilia). I have purchased tickets for Curtains based entirely on the out-of-town reviews. Yeah, it’s hardly indicative of a deep love for theatre such as Joe V’s, where he can whistle the infernal airs from every show closing on the first night for the last 20 years, but I’m a mainstreamer who saw all your classics back when they opened, except for maybe Show Boat and Oklahoma, as in, Jeez, I’m not THAT old!

CLG suggests that the recent weather is the result of El Nino. Given the choice of blaming the weather on, well, the weather, or blaming something on George Bush, I will always take the latter course. Except maybe we could blame Iraq on El Nino. That would work.

Tomorrow is Lexington. Tonight, assuming that I do anything I’m planning to do, I should get the data loaded into Classic TRPC. I should also finish the Nostrum I started yesterday, finish the argument form I was talking about, pack up for a smooth exit in the morning and generally get things in order for the four-day weekend. We’ll see.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hidden Mickey, Warm Noah, Bombarded Termite, Driving Tiger, UDL + MHL, Musical Pot Pourri

O’C apparently thinks he sounds like Minnie Mouse, and that simply isn’t true. He totally sounds like Mickey Mouse. Definitely. Then again, there’s always the Faux’C interview, where he sounds like a crazed leprechaun. What more does this guy want?

Noah G joined us last night. I’ve been working on a generic form for argumentation, and he added a nice helpful piece to the top, and I’ll pass that along here when I fix it up, probably tonight. He also pointed out that, since global warming really won’t destroy the planet until after I’m dead, I should simply sit back and enjoy the nice weather. Always the pragmatist! Meanwhile Robbie seems to be signed up for all sorts of bunches of tournaments, with Noah covering the judging, so the two of them at least are sorted out for the foreseeable. All I have to sort out is the rest of the team.

I’m starting to focus in on sheer speaking skills at the moment. Some people naturally take to bloviating on their feet, while others ease into it more painfully. Plus, there’s that need to crystallize your case in your mind before arguing it, that boiling down to essentials before going into the details. There’s a classic exercise of simply arguing your core thesis, and we did a bit of that last night and we’ll do some more next week. Which will be, entirely, a novice session, concentrating on case-writing and such. I like novice sessions: they don’t allow me to throw golf balls at Termite, as last night’s meeting did, but they are not without their pleasures.

Okay, here's the details: I am not prejudiced in favor of single-contention cases, for a variety of reasons. Chief among these is the difficulty in pulling them off successfully. Good varsity debaters can do so, but this approach is a walking landmine for less experienced folk. And the example of good varsity debaters being what it is, less experienced folk think, Ah, I should be running a one-contention case because So-And-So is really good and runs one-contention cases. No. In golf, there are the white tees and the black tees. The black tees are where the professionals hit their drives. Fifty yards or so closer to the hole, the white tees are where the pikers like me dub their drives. My desire to play golf like Tiger Woods does not delude me into thinking that I can, in fact, play golf like Tiger Woods simply by hitting off the black tee. Or, if he were a debater, running his cases. In my mind, once a debater is successful, anything that works is right, but to switch metaphors, until you can play scales, stop with the ad libbing. Which means, since I know you wanted an explanation, that I get to throw golf balls at Termite. The particular point be illustrated is the ease with which one can defend against one missile vs defending against two.

I haven’t said anything about the trip down to Brooklyn Saturday. Kurt Shelton, who completes the MHL triumvirate of Menick and Cruz, works closely with the NJ UDL, and thus is connected with the NY UDL, so he arranged this communion of the two. We had a good talk with Will Baker, the NY UDL honcho. It’s easy to see the complications of UDLness when you’re actually there in the thick of it, to wit, kids coming from all over the city to compete. Lots of kids. Try to imagine collecting their many dozens and sorting them out and transporting them to an invitational. Very complicated. What we’d like to do is coordinate enough insofar as to at least meet once in the year together, perhaps at the Bronx, which is no more difficult for the city folk to get to than anywhere else, and is a little easier for some of our further-fetched upstaters, but then again, at least for the Sailors, the EBT venue was a piece of cake. This would be simply a blending of the MHL and UDL policy teams, providing some much needed local competition for schools like Lakeland and NFA. Additionally, it would be great for the UDL to sort of pick an invitational, say Monticello, as the one to go to, as they did this year. I was always sort of confused about why UDL would sometimes come to Bump and other times not come, but once you understand the complexity of the beast, the fact that they get to go anywhere outside of the city is pretty impressive. Anyhow, we’ll push for better communication in the future. Everybody will benefit from it.

Of course, the big MHL issue in the tab room remains the vast quantity of Bronx Scientologists. Tabbing an MHL is becoming about as complicated as [insert humorous metaphor here for some very complicated enterprise]. I look forward to Lexington this coming weekend, where the numbers are large enough to just click a button and have the program do all the work while you sit there with the other tabfolk trying to agree whether to listen to Mozart, Oklahoma, Talking Heads or Frank Sinatra. Over the course of a weekend, usually it will be all of the above, and then some. Ahhhh, peace.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Meanwhile, back at the rez

What it boils down to is this, at least from the dinosaur perspective. In the world lately, we’ve seen a lot of examples of bad business. Companies that seem to exist entirely as rip-offs, companies that seem to have no interest in the indirect results of their actions (i.e., ecological impacts), companies that seem to place profits above humanity (outsourcing of production to countries where the labor pool can be exploited at near slavery levels), companies that disrupt communities by their sheer existence (WalMart), etc. There are plenty of these examples, and you can pick and choose among them to find the ones you like the best. And they raise the question: what, exactly, is it reasonable to expect from corporations? How do we evaluate if a corporation is good or bad? Doing good things or bad things? Multinational corporations add a layer of complexity to the issue that is mind-boggling, but nonetheless which must be engaged. What are the obligations of corporations to society? Needless to say, the fulfillment of those obligations by the corporations is, to all extents and purposes, the measure of a corporation’s so-called morality. It is not hard to envision debate and discussion of this material.

What is hard to envision is the false comparison to the moral responsibilities of individuals. If one is proposing a moral conundrum, it has to actually be a conundrum. While we may sit around wondering what to do about Nike and child labor in developing nations, we do not sit around in any sense, practical or philosophical, comparing that problem to the actions of, say, Mike Bietz. Nike and Bietz are apples and oranges, and our struggle to compare them serves no purpose in our understanding of either of them. The struggle takes us down the paths of advanced moral sophistry rather than simple moral explication. But, unfortunately, the wording of the resolution allows no alternative. And much of the arguing that will be done will be addressing the smoke rather than the fire. And that is how good topic areas turn into bad topics.

Tonight is going to be mostly exercises on the ship of Hud. Mini-debates, more impromptus, some general harassment, all the usual business as we prep up for Lexington. Last year my car froze over at Lex, and we had to crawl in through the hatch and drive around for an hour to warm it up enough to open the doors to get out. This year the weather report looks much improved. It won’t be last weekend’s balmy 70 degrees, but at least I’ll be able to get into and out of my car without having to send for the marines.

And I’m hatching what looks like a very nifty end-of-history approach incorporating one of my favorite subjects, World’s Fairs. I even have a book at home called World’s Fairs and the End of Progress., a concept should sound familiar to the VCA. I see an absolutely straight line from the Crystal Palace to the Unisphere that neatly illuminates the post-historical paradigm, while being sort of interesting on its own purely informative merits. It even gets to mention EPCOT; I was recently watching the whole show that includes Disney’s famous last personal broadcast. It paints a picture of the modernist city that is remarkable, and indeed quintessential. The actual EPCOT is nothing if it isn’t a postmodern commentary on that initial vision. Anyhow, the nice thing about this WF idea is that I can do it as a live lecture (I haven’t done one of those on pomo since the original Caveman a couple of years ago) plus a recording plus a nice illustrated essay, a little something for everybody (or nobody, depending on your point of view).

Monday, January 08, 2007

Are YOU talking to ME???

Questioning authority is not particularly postmodern. Presumably younger people have questioned the authority of older people since time immemorial, prefatory to their taking over those positions of authority themselves. In fact, if there was a perceived process of progress throughout history, this might have been a factor in that process, the challenging of old ideas and either their acceptance or their synthesis into new ideas. Nor is the challenging of the authority of critics particularly newfangled. Writers have complained about critics for at least a few hundred years now, to my own knowledge, and for all I know even Plato grumbled when he read the reviews of Republic in the Athens Daily Tribune. I was reading last night about the Post-Raphaelites, who formed in the early 19th Century quite directly, albeit among other reasons, as a challenge to the art critics of the day. So the idea of a theoretically institutional disregard of critics, or a theoretical disregard of institutional critics, predates even modernism (unless one regards the PRB as early modernists, which is probably not an untenable position).

But in postmodernity it is not simply that there is a disregard or challenge to critical authority, but there is a removal of that authority because we know that critics have achieved it entirely based on the power derived from their special knowledge about their field, as compared to some inherent force of, simply put, good taste. Kant does talk about the aesthetics of art as something objective that we must be trained to appreciate, thus enabling a group of aesthetic overlords or an aesthetic intelligentsia. But this approach to aesthetics has completely broken down in the postmodern condition. We no longer believe in objective beauty, so we no longer accept that there may be people more trained than we to perceive this beauty. The burden on artists is to create art that either incorporates subjective rather than objective beauty into the work, or is interested in issues other than beauty. This is a challenge that Rembrandt, for instance, didn’t have to face.

Last time out I was applying this line of reasoning to the field of movies. My own field, however—books— provides perhaps an even clearer example of what I’m talking about. In the postmodern condition, we don’t rely on critics, or more to the point, everyone’s a critic as bona fide as everyone else. How has that worked in literature?

First of all, we have lost the canon. Not that long ago, there was a collection of books that one simply had to read to be educated. These were the Great Books of Civilization, chosen by generations of academics as the core of knowledge. But the postmodern realization that these were primarily the words of Dead White Men challenged their positions, and the canon was flooded out by the waves of other books from other countries and traditions. Who was to say that only some European males were capable of creating literature? And regardless, books from other traditions and cultures might be more meaningful for a variety of reasons, literary value notwithstanding (which is not to suggest that they are not valuable in a literary sense, only that their proponents were indifferent at times to their literary credibility). So the idea of books selected by some fustian intelligentsia disappeared from the academic landscape. (In fact, those DWM books began to be raked over the coals precisely because of their DWMness. Why wasn’t Dickens more sympathetic to the plight of South African diamond miners, the bastid!!!) And the idea of teachers maintaining the canon was similarly washed away in the flood. There was no longer any power to wield derived from special knowledge of the canon because the Kantian trained aesthetic sense could no longer apply. Other tools, to be found in the (what I think of as semi-literate, language-abusing, unpardonably incomprehensible) bag of pomo teaching tricks, took over in the educational environment. Fortunately there does seem to be a movement toward, dare I suggest it, a post-critical approach to teaching this literature, but the core point of the postmodern critical approach in the first place, that is, the critiquing of the provenance of the old canon, is a fixed and finished reality. Whether the language in the classroom is easy or hard to understand, French-sourced or something else, is merely a matter of fashion, which answers to no dialectic other than the fickle mind of the human animal.

As a body of prescribed literature, and ways of teaching it, disappeared in academic circles, so did the presence of the book critic in general. “The Book of the Month Club” is the perfect example of this. BOMC was founded on the principle that one needed to keep up with the latest books, obviously at a rate of one hardcover a month, which was commercially viable for all parties in the transaction. That magic, must-read book was selected by a hoity-toity board of critics comprising writers, scholars, publishers—a regular Who’s Who of High-Toned Literature of the day. These august living white males (I don’t think there were, at least originally, any women among them, given the hoo-ha BOMC made in the 70s when they finally hired a female honcho) knocked their eggy heads together once a month, after countless hours poring over manuscripts in the darkest of garrets, with only bread and water and a threadbare blanket to keep out the chill, selecting for the great unwashed THE book of the month. A thankful public applauded in gratitude.

Obviously this concept is based on a paradigm of great thinkers (i.e., scholars) expanding the canon into modern times. It wasn’t necessarily true—BOMC had its share of daily grind readers sifting through the slush pile, and the board’s literal participation in the selection process was always suspect, not to mention that the books chosen were not always up to the standard of, say, Anna Karenina—but that didn’t matter. The paradigm was accepted. But, as the scholarly idea fell apart in academia, so too did it fall apart outside of academia. No longer can these so-called great minds at BOMC be trusted to pick books for the general public, because there are no longer any reliable great minds according to a recognizable scholarly paradigm, just as there are no longer any reliably great books according to a recognizable scholarly paradigm. The BOMC concept went bust. The organization still exists, but as a shadow of its former self, with no pretensions to dictate the tastes of a vast American reading public.

But reading didn’t go away. And while the American public may not believe in the value of the egghead critic anymore, that public still is looking for a good book to read. So what comes along today? In addition to the clunky recommendations of, say, the Amazon software tools? And aside from the fact that the bestseller list, once a homogenous collection of general titles is now an atomized collection of specialized titles? One word: Oprah. Oprah Winfrey has become the most powerful force in American letters. She can sell more books than anyone, period. Because she is accepted as a critic? Of course not. Because she is accepted as “one of us” by the people who accept her recommendations. They don’t read Oprah’s picks because she knows more than they do, they read Oprah’s picks because they know as much as she does. If she likes it, odds are they’ll like it, much as, very honestly, if my daughter likes something, odds are I’ll like it, because we have similar tastes. Oprah has the great unaffected, unscholarly tastes of the average reader (otherwise her picks would have gone bust long ago, when people read the books and didn’t like them). Her very lack of academic credentials works in her favor.

I haven’t followed what Oprah’s up to lately. After a few years of Oprah’s Book Club she retired the idea, for one reason or another. Then she revised the concept, but slightly changed, in that she and her audience, instead of reading Wally Lamb or the like, would read the aforementioned Anna Karenina, a voyage of discovery for her and her fans. Which is curious indeed, as it is obviously an attempt to digest the canon! Oprah and fans embarked on a tour of DWMs (and, right off the bat, sold more of Count Leo’s book that first month than for years previously), but without the guides of the scholars. This may be the most postmodern event in literature since the birth of Robbe-Grillet!

So literature has gone from canon, to the tastes of Everywoman, to canon with Everywoman as guide, and God knows whence from there. But that is the postmodern condition. Good books aren’t what someone from on high tells us are good books. Good books are what we (or YOU as Time would have it) say they are.

I wonder.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I'd advise popping some corn before reading this one

So you take your disk and insert it into your Little Elvis, and a couple of minutes later you’re printing up stuff like gangbusters on your new printer. Take your other disk and insert it into your PC for the same purpose, and you have sold your soul to the devil. I tried twice to set up the damned thing last night, and hung both times. I’ll try again tonight. WARNING: Do not walk under the windows of the chez this evening, as you may get hit by a tossed Dell.


If, as is apparent, I have co-opted Fukuyama’s end of history coinage for my own somewhat different purposes, and if I tend to ignore the communist aspects of French pomo, among other academic sins which I’m sure anyone who knows anything about my subjects would be happy to point out on listening to or reading my various philosophical ruminations, then it should also be apparent that I am becoming more of a philosopher than an academic. I absorb whatever it is I absorb from my own various sources, stir it up a bit in the old mental cauldron, and the resulting stew is not really commentary so much as personal synthesis. Given that I presume to assert that the subjective synthesis is based on objective data, what else is that but, if not philosophy (i.e., a love of knowledge or wisdom), at least pointed philosophical analysis? If philosophy is merely the digestion of the works of philosophers, it is purely academic. Applying meaningful ideas that one derives from one’s study of philosophy, in other words using philosophy to some particular end, is what I’m after. And I would suggest that this meaningful application is tantamount to the thing—philosophy—itself.

(In a way, this is not far removed from the idea of arguing the resolution vs theory arguments. The latter are dry and academic and ultimately jejune, in my opinion, while determinations derived from the former can lead to right actions. All the discussions in the universe about what LD ought to be will result in nothing but changes, or lack thereof, in the processes of LD. Whereas all the discussions in the world about, say, domestic abuse or corporate ethics, will result in a more informed citizenry as high school debaters mature and move from the educational phases of their lives into whatever comes next.)

One thing I would elaborate on from my recent Postmodern Condition lecture is that no matter how you reckon with the Foucaultian proposition of a subjectively empowered elite calling the shots on subjective issues in such a way as too remove their subjectivity, we are clearly living today in an ever more post-Foucaultian world. We less and less, if at all, accept authority, especially when we are hard-pressed to figure out why that authority is in its august authoritarian position in the first place. The rather silly Time Person of the Year, “You,” is a good example of this. Or more to the point, those items iterated as indicative of You being worthy of celebration, are good examples of it. Look at movies, for instance. Content notwithstanding, the business of movies is, indeed, a business. A film comes out, and its producers want us to fork over the money it takes to buy a ticket or rent/buy the DVD. It is a monetary transaction, one way or the other. At best, they make a profit, and we are reasonably content that we have gotten the appropriate entertainment value for our expenditure. Normal market forces are at play throughout. They try to sell us what we want, we try to buy what we want, etc. But how do we know what we want? Let’s say that the movie process, for a consumer, is a $20 transaction. It costs $20 for a pair of tickets to the Cineplex, or $20 for DVD. How do we decide where to spend our $20? This is a matter of concern for both the consumers and the producers. We want value for our $20. They want our $20.

The initial dialectic of successful film production in the beginning of the 1900s quickly entailed the concept of branding. The idea of “movie star,” human brands consumers would seek out, was recognized early by movie producers. People went to Mary Pickford movies because she was a recognizable and hence marketable brand. Douglas Fairbanks movies were another brand. As were Charlie Chaplin movies. And so forth. Moviegoers were more likely to buy tickets when the name of the marquee was familiar. (Usually the movies were familiar, too, but that goes with the branding.) New brands were constantly tested, and new types of brands. Alfred Hitchcock’s brand showed that a filmmaker, as compared to an actor, could sell product. And there were also a few other non-acting names above the titles that could bring people to the movie palaces, like David O. Selznick, producer of Gone with the Wind.

For a variety of reasons, this sort of branding eventually went bust. The studio systems no longer provided the milieu for the creation of stars, directors became the “new” stars, even critics became stars. Movie-going, which was a regular event for decades, became a special event as television co-opted regular entertainment ingestion. Lots of things changed after “Hollywood” and the big movie studios, but the end result was, indisputedly, that there were fewer films, and people were pickier about which ones to see. The end of history, as far as Hollywood was concerned, came with the breakup of the studios in the 1950s, and along with it, the end of the studio system that owned both the means of production and the venues for distribution, complete and total vertical integration. A slow sapping of strength as one studio after another faltered and died was the result. Hollywood was over.

What replaced Hollywood, by which I mean the big Hollywood studios, was independent filmmaking. Some people say that the ‘70s was a golden age of moviemaking, and this might be true, although there have been others. The 70s saw a new generation of moviemakers make it big: Coppola, Scorsese, Lucas, Spielberg, etc. Theirs was a self-conscious brand of filmmaking, as most of them had been educated at film schools, which means that they were the products of not only their filmmaking predecessors but of academics and critiques and theories and all that that entails. As Jean-Luc Goddard so famously said, the best criticism of a film is to make another film, and that’s what these folks were doing. Add to this mix, literally, the French. Cahiers du cinema was the journal where folks like Goddard and Francois Truffaut were writing about movies, and French new wavers were hatching the auteur theory of films, positing the director as the creative center of a film, even including the old Hollywood films that hitherto had appeared to be products of process rather than a single individual. (It is something of an apotheosis of all this when Spielberg cast Truffaut in Close Encounters, Spielberg being the most old-fashioned of the new Hollywood directors.) From the consumers’ point of view—and there were still film consumers because it still takes a whole lot of money to make movies and therefore a whole lot of people paying to see those movies remains a requirement—there were even star critics who percolated down from academia, name brand writers like Kael and Sarris whose opinions were sought after even when one wasn’t all that interested in seeing the movies they were talking about. Film criticism became worthy of shelf space in book stores. But the question arose soon enough: why should I trust these people’s opinions of films? I mean, they’re just other yabbos sitting in the movie theater with whatever personal tastes they might have. Why are their tastes more important than my own?

Here’s the problem of post-history Hollywood. Without a fixed method of collecting money for product (i.e., studio-owned theaters), how do you get people to spend that $20 we were talking about? Before post-history Hollywood, your monopoly did the job for you. But now what?

The beginning of the purest post-historic Hollywood moment is the invention of the movie blockbuster. Usually this honor goes to Jaws and in some respects (i.e. opening weekend) that may be correct, but the earlier The Exorcist sticks in my mind as the first movie that people lined up for from day one, the first movie event, the first big blockbuster. Regardless, in the 70s the event movie came into being, movies that everyone lined up for and saw the minute it opened. Of course, this immediately raises the question, why show up for this movie, about which you know nothing? But I’m more interested in the slightly deeper question, why after you know that a movie is going to be “big” do you accept that bigness as a reason to go see it? In other words, one way or another a film is hyped or publicized, and people find out about it. That’s a different story than why, once people learn that something is going to be, or is, boffo (that’s “big box office” to you), they feel compelled to see it, to add to its boffo-ness. And in that compulsion, more today than ever, is the essence of post-historical, post-Foucaultian Hollywood.

Today, we don’t go see a movie because we have been led there by critics. No critics hold sway in 2007 as they did in the 70s. We have “Rotten Tomatoes” so that we can quantify criticism, which is entirely qualitative and therefore inherently unquantifiable. Siskel and Ebert, who became Ebert and Roper, who I used to refer to as NotSiskel and Ebert, and who have lately been NotSiskel and NotEbert, are the closest we get to critical name brands, but we watch them to see the clips to glean our own impressions of films, and we don’t care much whether they’re Siskel, Ebert, Roper, in any or no combination, with or without guest hosts (including, sacre bleu, Fred Willard), and in ads, there had better be two thumbs up, owners of hands notwithstanding, or forget about it. The fact that Sony invented make-believe critics to supply quotes for its ads proved to some extent that the critical blurbs were mere garnish on the ad page. We have digested our Foucault entirely, divesting all our knowledge elites of their power. The knowledge elite no longer exists.

Instead, we go to particular movies because those are the movies we are going to. We put our ears to the ground one way or the other and select those films, and we grab our $20 and we are off to the races. We, the general public, know the weekend box-office of every film released, every week. We do not know the weekly sales of Chevy Impalas, but we know how Borat and Happy Feet are doing. We know that Pirates II set opening weekend records. We may sense that it’s a so-so movie, but we went in droves, and if that wasn’t enough, we spent enough more $20s to make it the biggest selling DVD on release right before Christmas. Quality did not or does not interest us. Quantity, on the other hand, does. We go where the crowd goes. But not because we’re “keeping up;” it’s not that we wish to be au courant. We believe that the crowd knows better than the old elite because we believe that the crowd represents us. The crowd is the aggregate of the disenfranchised, the common person writ large, hence ourselves. We want out own opinions to matter. In this case, we accept the opinions of those just like us, the other members of the crowd.

And we take this further. NetFlix recommends movies based on what we like as we rate each film in their collection. They show us how everyone else feels about the movies. But they’ve gotten rid of their in-house critic from the olden days, and only residually push Ebert as their critic brand, although they do have a handful of other critics as part of a film’s overall presentation, sort of a “Rotten Cherry Tomatoes.” We “Digg” content on the internet, which means we decide what to read based on quantity of readership and acclamation by quantities rather than by quality, to which we add our own quantitatively incremental vote. And, ultimately, we create our own films, because we can, and we then Digg/thumb-up/recommend/watch in the same follow-the-crowd pattern. We watch the same viral videos. We go to YouTube to see what other people are seeing. Google pays megabucks to buy YouTube just in case it actually is the future. And, if YouTube IS the future? Is post-history’s next step away from a knowledge elite the creation of a content-producing non-elite? I mean, I can’t be the only person in the world who thinks YouTube is the largest collection of moving pictorial crap ever collected in the shortest amount of time, and yeah, Time is right that YOU did it, but no offense folks, you didn’t do it very well, and personally I don’t think that you’re going to be getting all that much better at it any time soon.

Blogging, of course, is another symptom of the post-historical, post-Foucaultian postmodern condition. Mea culpa, brothers and sisters, mea culpa. The sheer idea that I can consider myself a philosopher only can arise in the post-historical, post-Foucaultian environment.

My guess is that, in the long run, the growth of private movies will have little or no effect on public movies. The ability to privately publish books hasn’t changed literature, it’s just enabled more people to privately publish books. Similarly the ability to privately publish films won’t change cinema, it will merely enable more people to privately publish their movies. When I plop down at night to save the cheerleader, I’ll be looking for an hour’s quality (in my mind) entertainment, not quantity (in the popular mind) entertainment. Maybe you’ll be sitting down for an hour of good old YouTube videos. But somehow, I really don’t think so. And with the breakdown of the historical dialectic, that’s as much predicting as I’m willing to make.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Many belaborings of the obviouses

After saving the cheerleader last night (and I do thank Panasonic for perfecting the DVD recorder), I spent a bunch of time collating the MHL data for Saturday, when we'll be down in Brooklyn hobnobbing with the NYUDL. I’ve created this neat little Excel db that makes entering into TRPC the data that comes to me from emails a breeze. Of course, I only had to do the LD, because the UDL will handle tabbing the Policy side, and I sent that data off to Kurt for just that purpose, as he is Mr. Policy in the MHL universe. Which makes me Mr. LD, and O’C Mr. Imsending149noviceshavefunseeyounextmonth. He’s out basking in the warm California sun, needless to say, for the WTF tournament, which means that I am unplugging my computer in preparation for the absolute bombardment of pix, skems, pix of skems, skems of pix, the works, in ex-cruz-iating detail. You may wish to do the same.

Some yabbo complained about the quality of the O’C interview. This is, of course, the definition of a yabbo, when you write an entire spiel about how you had technical problems and your quality is unavoidably stepped down as a result, and someone responds, Dadgummit, this quality isn’t very good. Whatever happened to reading skills, anyhow? The real problem with the interview is the inanity that it contains, not the noise degradation. I mean, who wants to listen to me asking O’C what his favorite speaking point was? Tomorrow’s lecture is on the forest vs. the trees.

Nevertheless I did put out a new Nostrum last night. I should be back on track for the foreseeable f., all things being equal. I read the original letters from Jules as introductions now, since they are extant for the period I’m producing, and it is remarkable to see that all this material was written by the lads back in ‘96/’97. Ten years ago! (I throw that in for those whose math skills are down there with those yabbonian reading skills, although I would imagine that most of the VCA was able to figure that out on their own.) Plus ca change, maybe, as the French philosophers say.

Tonight I’ll rev up the new printer, knock off some of our new MHL ballots (with the NFL judging instructions on the flip side), fantasize on how to dismember Termite (don’t ask), wonder why only one novice is sending me cases for Saturday, contemplate explaining the difference between Gems of the Ocean and cocaine cartels to the Sailor who apparently wants to register for a tournament in Bogota, and probably begin taking down the Christmas tree. And if that’s not a busy night, I don’t know what is.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

An old sidewinder revisited

Rule number 1: Don’t go poking around under rocks and bushes unless you’re prepared for what you might find there. For instance, it’s very pleasant to take a nature walk in the foothills near Stanford, although on your jaunt you will pass prodigious signage warning that there are rattlesnakes under the bushes, and suggesting that you do not rile them up. To be perfectly honest, I do not find these signs to be an encouragement for walking anywhere within two miles of any bush in the place, much less riling up the local fauna. As a matter of fact, I find these signs encouraging of getting back into the car, very carefully, and heading out to the coast posthaste. There are no rattlesnakes in the Pacific Ocean, as far as I am aware.

Those with good memories might recall my letter to the New York State Forensic League last year, whining about this and that in my usual fashion. Aside from being cited as having a bad attitude (you can take the boy out of fifth grade but you can’t take fifth grade out of the boy) my impression upon the assorted States nabobs seems to have been, charitably put, less than minimal. In fact, I seem to have been the catalyst for codifying pretty much everything I was complaining about. The rule of thumb that, If Menick likes it, it can’t be right, seems to have taken root. In the latest example of this: I had suggested that the system of state qualifications, being entirely predicated on the speech placement model, needed revision. In the present model, it is not impossible for a student to break at every tournament he or she attends and still not qualify for States! Apparently I should have kept my trap shut.

The going rate of qualification—apparently an incorrect one—has been to extrapolate placement from the drop, if necessary. That is, everybody who doesn’t advance from octos is in 9th place, from doubles is in 17th place, from quarters is in 5th place, etc. The way the official numbers work under this approach, if 148 people attend a tournament, everyone in doubles would get a qual. No one dropping in doubles gets a qual if it’s less than 148 people. Which is already pretty severe. But, the way it’s supposed to work, apparently, is based on seed, which means that, with 148 debaters, as few as 1 of the persons dropping in doubles could conceivably get a qual. (Have I lost you yet?)

Here’s how NYSFL puts it:

We have had some questions about the awarding of half-qualifications to debaters in tournaments with elimination rounds. While the following procedure has always been in effect, we felt that there is a need to explain it again.

Let's look at an example to show how the half-quals are awarded.

We have a tournament with 9 half-quals. The tournament breaks to double octofinals . Obviously, everyone who goes on to quarter finals receives a half-qual. The question is, who among the non-advancing octofinalists [gets] the 9th half-qual.

Take the debaters who did not advance and rank them according to their ORIGINAL seed. The highest seed among the non-advancing octofinalists receives the half-qual. So, if the non-advancing octofinalists had the following seeds:

7, 8, 10, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 32, the 7th seed gets the half-qual.

In the past, we have had coaches ask if all the non-advancing octofinalists were in an unbreakable tie and if all 8 should be awarded the 9th half-qual. This is not the case.

Maybe it’s just me, but I see the odd problem here. First of all, varsity LD at States is the smallest of the 3 LD divisions, and is the only one that would presumably be almost totally fed by this system. By smallest division, my recollection is numbers somewhere around 45 in 2006, and this in one of the most populous LD states in the country. (We’ll not include any other issues which may mitigate against varsity participation in the tournament in the present discussion, since the State organization does not recognize any other mitigating issues.)

It would seem to me that any tournament legitimately breaking to doubles is asking of the breakers that they be of high quality. And 147 is, well, a really high number, especially to break and get no credit for it at the state level. By not rethinking its qualifications procedure, States manages to exclude what looks like a pretty good bunch of debaters. If you attend a half dozen tournaments this season, and win one but drop early at 5 others, you can’t go to States (absent their regional qualifier system). Given the small number of debaters in the field selected by this system, i.e. the varsity, wouldn’t it make sense to change the system? Given the generous nature of the regional qualifier system, it’s certainly not inherent in the States organization that they are, simply, parsimonious. But they do seem to be blind to the realities of LD aside from the small, one-day, MHL/CFL/MDL type tournaments that are geared to younger debaters, and to some extent have a more intramural feel to them than the true cauldron of invitationals. It’s easy enough to revise the system directly along the line of breaks. Break twice, any tournament, and you’re fully qualified. What’s wrong with that?

I’ve said this before. The people who run the state organization are perfectly nice. But they are not running an organization that truly represents the interests of at least the debate side of the universe. And this, I’m afraid, is just one more example of it.

And, no doubt, I’ll get another D- for attitude for having written this.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

We must go down to the sea again

Back to business, I guess. Tonight the Sailors meet for the first time in a couple of weeks, although they did do some alleged research over the break, or allegedly did some research over the break, your wording here depending on the cast of your allegations. Research and cutting cards can be a machine-like process, when it’s done correctly. Assignments are made, judicious findings are brought forth, and collections are assembled and distributed. The Sailors seem to use research primarily as an opportunity to disorganize the planning of the trip and to confuse each other as to the distributions of their labors’ fruit, if any. Such an approach has become a tradition over the last few years. I am brought back to the days of the group I must refer to nowadays as the Postgraduates, who could research the hell out of Lucifer himself. I mean, Wedro had a card for everything, from the sun setting in the West to every single line of Kant being: A) right, and B) wrong. I could, presumably, organize the present naval corps into something similar, but I always think of myself as a coach, not a co-conspirator. I don’t do research for the same reason I don’t write positions: I already went to high school, and I feel no need to go again. I envision the role of coach as, well, coaching, not playing. That’s why the coaches of football teams don’t wear any padding, or the coaches of basketball teams don’t have to be particularly tall, etc. Coaching is coaching and doing is doing. Or maybe coaching is doing coaching and debating is doing debating. I perceive a big difference. Maybe I’m alone in that.

I do have to admit a sense of relief on having salvaged the O’C interview yesterday (check it out on the podcast page if you haven’t already). Not that I don’t have a fondness for the Faux’C version, now semi-retired, but it just doesn’t have the legitimacy of the real thing. Obviously. Still, the concept of Faux’C keeps developing in my mind, and I’m nursing the existence of Faux-Jon Malarkey, the present coach of V of I HS, which is not far from Hen Hud as the crow flies, as they say. I guess if I had a different version of coaching in my mind I wouldn’t have time for all this nonsense. Feh!

I went out yesterday and picked up a new printer for the MHL. Kurt and O’C and I had agreed to this at Byram Pt Deux. It will feed multiple copies, which means we can print our own ballots, and then copy them when they’re filled out, and also we can scan results and make pdfs rather than distributing scads of paper packages. I’ll grab some extra cartridges and paper on Thursday (I bought the printer at BestBuy, which isn’t what its name suggests for such peripheral things). Remember when I go off the cliff that the new printer belongs to the MHL, and not to me, except for the cable, which they don’t throw into the package anymore, the pikers. No wonder HP is making all that money. Anyhow, I’ve already got enough printers to feed an army, provided you’ve got an army that lives on printers, so I really don’t need another one for home use. For the traveling tab room that is my weekend life, on the other hand, we’re now in particular business. I’ll set it up with my computers and toss it into the bag for Saturday, and away we go. Again.

Otherwise, I’m back at work starting today, and presumably so are you, so, as I said, back to business.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A New Year's present for the VCA

They said it couldn't be done, but I managed to suck the original Jon Cruz interview out of the MegaPod. In a flurry of engineering magic, I simply put the microphone up next to some speakers, and started recording. It's Yankee know-how like this that sent men to the moon. Although considering the sound quality and the fact that I was too lazy to edit out the interruptions from people coming and going in the Monti tab room, it may be more Apollo 13 than Apollo 11, but it's still the moon, Alice.

Subscribers to The View from Tab will soon be shocked to find the interview in their iTunes library unbeckoned. The rest of you pikers can listen by going to my podcast page (there's a link on the right of this column, with the little microphone icon).

Let the joy and rapture begin.