Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Things I don’t do

I was listening to TWIT this morning, and they were talking all about all sorts of technologies that do not interest me much. I don’t necessarily revile them, or think of them as inherently useless, as I simply don’t want or need them for myself. Some are old, some are new. Any individual’s choices among them says something about that individual. Et moi?

1. Instant messaging. When the IM was invented, I was sort of there. Says I to me, well, that might be useful. But to be honest, I have always found that Instant Messaging prioritizes annoying way above utility. I simply do not wish to be available to anyone, anywhere, any time. Nor do I wish to give the appearance that, because I am available to anyone, anywhere, any time, and I am not somewhere responding to you at this very moment, I am doing my best to be available to anyone except you, anywhere, any time. But, of course, that is mostly the case. Most of the people who would IM me are people I do not wish to be IM’d by. My universe of the IM-worthy is very tiny. Creating such a tiny list for IMing hardly seems worth the effort. Besides, my mother doesn’t even own a computer.

2. More of a subpoint of number 1, to wit, cell phones. Sure, I have a cell phone for those times when it is valuable, such as during tournaments when we’re on the road and access is important and otherwise unavailable, or in my car in case I go off a cliff and want to report my whereabouts to the Mounties as I plunge to my demise, but that’s about it. I have no desire to be perceived as always wanting to talk to anyone, anywhere, any time, because I do not have that desire. If I’m home, I’m in the phone book; I screen, so leave a message, but hang on for a minute just in case I do want to talk to you. If I’m not at home, then I probably do have my cell on. But please make it a life-or-death contingency. If you just want to chat, we’ll find some other way to do it. I’m not anti-social, I’m simply anti-ubiquitous availability.

3. Systems for organizing my favorite flash videos. I do not have favorite flash videos I wish to organize. I spend virtually no time searching the net for flash videos, although I will watch one if you send it to me (I like a toilet-flushing cat as much as the next person). I am dubious that homemade videos are the entertainment wave of the future for the simple reason that affordability of equipment does not equal artistic skill. For example, writing implements have been around for millennia, but you can count the number of good writers on one hand. Ubiquity is not quality. To be honest, when it comes to entertainment I am hard to please. I don’t watch much on TV because most of it bores me. Most movies disappoint me. Most books put me to sleep (in and out of the office). Stephen Sondheim cannot write a second act. Nine times out of ten, if I want to be entertained, I entertain myself (by doing things like writing this blog). That’s just the way I am.

4. Another subpoint. No, I don’t want all sorts of things to connect my computer and my television.

5. Another subpoint. Sure, I like big screens, but for a thousand dollars I can go to the movies a hundred times. Since in fact I go to the movies three times a year, that means I wouldn’t amortize until 2037. Bad investment. Meanwhile, if I want big-screen TV, I’ll sit closer to the set.

6. Other people’s photos on the internet. Sure, if I know you and you post some pictures, that’s nice, and I appreciate your sharing, but if I don’t know you, I don’t give a poop.

7. Social websites. I have not visited, nor do I intend to visit, MySpace, Friendster, FaceBook, or any of its present-day avatars. (After all, they are all simply one thing that changes its name every year as the winds of fashion blow through them.) Web communities, like IMs, are as old as the escape button, and about as useful. You will claim that this is generational, and perhaps you are right. I will claim that it is something you will grow out of, and perhaps I am right. We’ll see.

8. Second Life. At the point where all I can do is control my computer by blinking, I might consider signing up, but until I lose all of my motor skills, I will concentrate on using them in the real world.

9. Fast food. I can wait for a good meal.

10. Eat the yellow snow. Even if you disagree with all the others, I’m sure you’re with me on that one.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The begetting of comments; SSZZRRCRKKK; Curse you, JCH!; Dubai is the one with the oil

I have a tracking system which shows me where this blog is being read, number of views, all that sort of thing. I find it interesting that 1) anyone reads it, and 2) everyone doesn’t read it. There is no pleasing me. Anyhow, it’s curious how my comments on the comments drew comments of its own. I may be the only site kritiking WTF on a regular basis, so I think of myself as some sort of neutral counterbalance. What Antonucci discusses is interesting, but probably the issue of students not feeling free to speak up for fear of reprisals, as Bietz suggests, is true, given that most of the venom against Smilin’ J, according to my analysis, is simply coldly served vengeance from some rounds back in the 1940s. I guess the reason I like forums may be because, in addition to keeping discussions up front (or not) of their own momentum, they can afford complex systems of monitoring, plus there’s no reason not to encourage avatars for students who wish to make their opinions heard anonymously but clearly. Plus I’ve always also like the idea of discussions just for coaches (but audited by students); someone like Dave McGinnis, for instance, preaches virtually the opposite of everything I preach, and with great aplomb, and I would like to figure out more about things like theory debate from someone like him, rather than some shoulder-chipped yokel just recently pulled off the streets. I haven’t explored the new WTF forums that closely to see what, exactly, they have to offer, but I will, the next time I have some free time and remember that I wanted to do so.

On the life-goes-on-front, I am happy to report that thanks to my occasional dropping into iTunes to see what’s new, I have discovered that the Lake Wobegon monologues are now available. You used to have to pay for them through Audible. I will be adding this essential listening to the column at the right. Unfortunately my car thingie has started making funny noises; it got discombobulated not too long ago, and when I recombobulated it I have some concern that I was going for the short term at best. And now the thing is going SSZZRRCRKKK SSZZRRCRKKK off and on, which is not pleasant. While I hate to replace something that is almost working fine, I do like acquiring new electronics stuff whenever possible. Save me a place in line at the Apple Store.

Meanwhile, I’ve been remiss with updating Nostrums, and I apologize to the two of you who care about this. I’m choked up this week with all sorts of meetings and practice rounds, which do take precedence. Plus I spent an inordinate amount of time Sunday organizing the Red Light District festivities; I am annually shocked at how much time this event sucks out of my life, and curse the ground JCH, former Scarswegian coach, walks on for pulling me into this morass. With Scott the Wunn and Only joining us for this year’s confab, I guess I do need to be up with the rules, though. For one thing, I always forget about the whole draw-a-number deal for debate, and that’s not good. Then again, who among us doesn’t know who the other one is, for pete’s sake? Anyhow, organizing for Districts means also organizing the Sailors, and I’ll do that tonight at a pre-meeting. About 34 novices signed up to do LD and/or Duo. Yeah, right. Hearts will be broken. I do have a few judges lined up, at least, including Fists Phillips, thanks to O’C’s connections. Then again, you’d think O’C would be able to provide every judge from here to Catalonia, and not to put too fine a point on it, he doesn’t. Too busy earning those $5Ks, no doubt. He even reposted about Lakeland, including all the names (thank you very much, I’ve just ported them over to Excel for preprocessing).

On a critical note, we visited the Morgan Library over the weekend, and I give thumbs up to the Renzo Piano addition. Very spacious feeling, while effectively connecting the disparate pieces of the museum, and adding a nice little open space for the leisurely aperitif. If you check it out, think about what such an addition should do, and ask yourself if it does it. I think it does. The main exhibits (Steinberg and Victorian bestsellers) were also worth the trip. This will be my last off weekend for a month, and we at least used this one day advantageously. I love walking around NYC and looking at the buildings. I should give tours. (By the way, there was an article in the Times last week that got me thinking; are we done, architecturally, in New York, as compared to Dubai and/or Abu Dhabi, which I always confuse, and their similar up-and-coming cousins? More on this some other day, but I think the answer has to be yes.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

OMFG (Gone Wild)

Well, it’s illuminating.

The comments thread following the Smilin’ J follow-up post on VBD has shed much light on some issues surrounding LD, almost all of it inadvertent. I didn’t read the thread that closely, but I didn’t have to. You don’t have to either. And what have we learned from these comments?

First of all, VBD is, theoretically, a website for and about high school students. But high school students are sadly lacking in this thread, with one or two exceptions. Mostly it is the young people, primarily college students, who ought to be doing something else with their free time who are posting. Even if they are dedicated coaches planning to enter secondary school education when they graduate, they simply need to have something better to occupy their brains than monopolizing a thread on a high school website on which they spin endless screeds explaining their understanding of this or that philosophy. Go to a movie. Read a good book. Please. It is bordering on the pathetic to see the level of commitment by these college students to posting in this forum. There aren’t that many of them, but they are omnipresent. These people are not setting a good example of, shall we say, the intellectual college life. Nor are they in fact living what I would term an intellectual college life. There is no rounding to their education. They appear to be locked into a high school existence from which they cannot escape, and an inherently sophomoric approach to that existence that may be cementing the inescapability.

Secondly, the level of demonization of Smilin’ J is remarkable, considering that his influence on the activity is small and, agree with him or not, is entirely motivated by good intentions. What did he ever do to these people to rouse them so much, when most of what he says has been said many times by others? I suspect, and there is some evidence for this, that he dropped these people when they themselves were debating, or he dropped their present-day students, and they still hold a grudge. But even in cases where that is not true, the level of discourse is embarrassing. Debate in an educational context ought to be inherently respectful with differing points of view presented clearly, without calls to personality. Name-calling and sour grapes and broad attacks simply do not, as noted in my first complaint above, set a good example. And these people are presenting themselves as debate coaches? I don’t want to be in the same room with them, and I pity the students who are forced into adjudications from such self-impressed, poorly mannered people, whose only claim to superiority, which they never stop making, seems to be their vast knowledge of the philosophy they have gleaned from their Pomo 202 course last semester.

All of this underlines one of the chief problems many of us have been pointing out with LD today, which is the corrosive nature of the college judges slash assistant coaches on the activity. They have brought to it materials inappropriate to the educational age group, claiming that these materials are progressive when in fact they are simply beyond the understanding of anyone who is not first versed in the basics of elementary philosophy, and—hello?—most 14-year-olds haven’t had that much time in their short intellectual careers yet to reach that point. And they have so much time on their hands that they are ubiquitous, spouting all this material at the drop of a hat in forums that, frankly, are not theirs to control. Let the high school kids have VBD. Guide them occasionally if you feel a need to do so, and certainly explain yourself, but let them learn something from the Smilin’ Js of the world. If you must post, do so respectfully, no matter how you personally perceive your adversary. Be no more rude than you would expect a debater in a round to behave. Please.

Overall, it’s a sad commentary. And not unusual. My experience is that most public forums are, sooner or later, hijacked by the loudest people with the most time on their hands, to the exclusion of other, usually more more valuable opinions. So it is with VBD. Too bad.

Friday, February 23, 2007

If my opinion were indeed humble, I'd keep it to myself. Signed, Anonymous.

So I have to wonder, when did these new forums sneak on to WTF? And why did they sneak? I’m a great proponent of centralized discussion, although it may be an unachievable dream to expect even eloquent people with different points of view to ever agree to exchange those views openly, or that This Here Spot is the place to do so. The Legion of Doom was unable to get a forum going mostly because its members are still communicating by homing pigeon. sunk of its own confusing weight, plus, I gather, some hacking. If you have too many threads and categories, it’s easy to get lost. Simplicity is a cardinal virtue of design, at least in communications venues. More people are able talk on the telephone than to send Morse code, because it’s easier, which is why telephones replaced telegraphs and Morse code is going the way of the horse-drawn carriage. Anyhow, these new WTF forums look spiffy and simple, and Bietz, AKA the Stealth Webmaster, seems to have posted them in the most tentative fashion possible, presumably in the hopes that either people will find them on their own and somehow take them to heart and prove their worth in some sort of Frank Capra fantasy, or in the hopes that people ignoring them will make them go away and thus prove their non-utility. Curious. Then again, this is the same venue that, while touting itself as an outlet of an educational operation at the secondary school level, subsidizes inappropriate blogs that simply have no place in that sort of operation. God knows I’ve longed to let free my inner tranny, but I’ve managed to hold back the temptation. WTF should do likewise.

In any case, I hope they do something about their forums. These could take off and do a good service to the LD community. I’m all in favor of it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I somehow managed to set up a whole series of practice rounds and then mistakenly set dates a week early in the team calendar, thus sending all and sundry into a considerable tizzy. I fixed it, but this does seem to be a week for tizzies. There was the flap over the clone army of RJTs, which seems to have melted without a trace, and a tizzy about the impossibility of holding policy rounds at districts, and a tizzy of Nixon for President ads that Noah keeps sending me, presumably on the assumption that dead does not preclude tan, rested and ready, and there’s the tizzying lack of time for no apparent reason that has kept me from Nostrum. I’ve got to get things back on track. Considering that, unlike most of the VCA, I don’t have this week off, you’d think I’d be more organized, but that never happens. Disorganization by contagion. For instance, there’s a message from one Sailor that he is “kinda in Florida.” What can that possibly mean? That he’s in Georgia? That existentially no one is ever “in Florida”? Or something even more complex? You’ve got to wonder… In any case, like said Sailor, my mind is kinda in Florida. I hope to have it return to earth shortly.

Being that this is a forensic interstitial period, I do what all forensicians do when they have nothing more important on their plates, and their Netflix queues are all organized, and their hair is shampooed, and the cat has been fed and the baby has been milked, which is to trundle over and visit good old WTF. I have to admit that it’s been a while since I’ve done much more than glance at the thing, because mostly lately it’s been nothing but the usual adorations of the $ircuit (wikis of who’s going to Kentucky) and photographs of schematics from round 2 of the Uvula University Invitational (which O’C swears are of some interest to someone, and the minute I meet the person in whom this interest resides I promise you I’ll hit ‘em over the head with a frying pan and put us all out of his misery), although there were a few photos of the Huddians that I managed to pick up from hither and thither. O’C taking pictures at tournaments means that I don’t have to, which means I’d be saving film if I actually used film, if you know what I mean. Anyhow, I did notice that there was an addendum to their hotly discussed interview with Smilin’ J, this time a handful of Q&As from the curious multitudes. I love the way our hero does what can only be referred to as dropping J-bombs. He makes these wonderfully dry statements that are fairly difficult to elaborate, or are patently straightforward but the way he says them leaves you slightly askew. When asked about speed in LD, for instance, his questioner wonders how his opinion (he’s agin’ it) would apply to policy, and Smilin’ J says, and I quote, “I don’t say much about policy debate because I don’t know much about it, and it doesn’t really interest me.” This is a statement that is probably true of 110% of the people who read WTF, but there’s something about the way that he says it that makes the WTFian hair stand on end. I love that. How dare he not be interested in policy debate! How dare he feel that he can’t elaborate his opinions on postmodernism in the short context of a WTF interview! The nerve of this spalpeen!

In a way, Smilin’ J has taken on a burden comparable to Teddy Kennedy in the Senate. Whereas Teddy is so identified with liberal opinions that he is practically a parody of liberality, Smilin’ J is so identified with a traditionalist view of LD that he is practically a parody of traditionalism. This makes for a curious situation for traditionalists like myself (as, for that matter, Kennedy makes for a curious situation for liberals like myself). I mostly agree with everything Smilin’ J believes in, but I don’t seem to always agree with what he says or the way he says it. The hagiological aspect of WTF, which refers to SJ as “The Winningest Winner since the Invention of Winning,” makes matters that much more confusing. He is presented as LD’s brightest star, but as such he is immediately targeted by all the WTF amateur astronomers as glowing in a firmament that has been replaced by a new paradigm of night skyness, sort of like Zeus trying to find worshipers in the Vatican, and in his pronouncements SJ makes himself as unendearing as is humanly possible. I suspect that, to some degree, he’s being deliberately provocative, but mostly he’s just being himself. At this point, his just sitting still on a park bench reading a copy of this month’s Reader’s Digest would be provocative to WTFians. He is the face of “regressive” to all those who claim to be “progressive,” but who are, as I’ve pointed out often, merely different. Something different from what used to be is not, ipso facto, a progression, no matter how achingly it longs to make that claim. After all, he’s a couple of hundred years later but you’d have to go a long way to prove to me that the road from George Washington to George W. Bush is any sort of progress.

Anyhow, this being a slow debate week, one meditates on the demonization of Smilin’ J, some of it self-generated, and looks forward to tonight’s chez when I’ll actually be venturing into the darkest reaches of some Sailor brains with gun and camera in search of wisdom on March-April. Wish me luck. I’ll have O’C photograph me in my pith helmet when I’m in there. Look for the results on WTF, in photos, under Exploration.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

You and what army? Oh, that army.

Well, talk about coinky-dinkies: those RJT clones have come back to bite me on the butt. Literally, sort of. It has been suggested by one of our region’s denizens that our Red Light District’s congress is a little too red light district and not enough altar boys on parade, and the RJT clones were cited as the example of choice. Or maybe it was the Chuck Norris clones, given their innate higher objectionable level. It was clones, though. Definitely clones.

(No Sondheim puns will be forthcoming, although the temptation is almost irresistible. Shut up and have a little priest!)

(That wasn’t a pun.)

I’m sort of torn on this one, because I have to admit I thought the army of RJT clones was pretty funny. But if it’s actually hindering the working of the congress at a disciplinary level, then it’s not acceptable. After a letter of reply longer than War and Peace in the original Greek, I put the burden on the coaches. If they want to submit legislation for an army of RJT clones, then the fur is going to fly, and they might want to think twice in the future about keeping the level of the proceedings a bit more hoity-toity. Realistically my hands as chair are tied. The way I read the rules, any legislation is acceptable, provided it’s on time. And it would take an army of RJT clones to change the NFL rules. Try it, if you don’t believe me. Try it without the army of RJT clones first, and then with. You’ll notice the difference immediately.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chuck vs. RJT

Somehow I’m going to have to figure out a way to hold a district event that will qualify a policy team. Monti does want to send people, while the other polician schools are shunning Kansas as any reasonable person might. I guess they don’t have reason up there in Monticello. Otherwise they’d be somewhere else.

I shouldn’t say anything bad about Montwegians, though, otherwise Rose Joyce-Turner won’t help at Districts. Last year the Montwegian congress bill was to create a clone army of RJTs, which I think was going to insure universal peace. Sounds likely on face, but unfortunately the congressional wags turned it into an army of Chuck Norrises. This was a mistake, obviously. What could Chuck do that RJT couldn’t do better? It’s not even close.

I spent a bunch of time yesterday picking away at the TRPC files, trying for automation. Chris Palmer said he might try to do likewise. I even went so far as to dig out my old floppy drive and plug it into my PC, which is like reinstalling DOS 3.1, only moreso. (If there were a clone army of RJTs, they would not equip themselves with floppy drives, although a clone army of Chucks might.) I was able to upload team names from a text file, which is as advertised, but not for multiple divisions. I also tried things like using Evil TRPC files in Good TRPC, but that was a bust. Fortunately this particular automation isn’t essential, given how I can macro out the data from spreadsheets probably almost as quickly, but it does pose a thorny question that the enquiring mind wishes to solve. Maybe CP’s enquiring mind can solve it; mine seems to be quickly running out of inspiration.

Coming up is one last weekend of freedom before 4 of progressive forensic complexity, from Lakeland's nov/jv to Iona’s combo of Regional/CFL to Grands to Districts. Obviously we’ve got to make this weekend count. Maybe the Frick. Maybe the Met. Something elevated, in either case. The sinking will begin soon enough.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A painting floats in the pure emptiness of space...

On that list of things that I know you are inordinately thrilled about, I have gotten organized for the district tournament. I have cleared all the data from the master spreadsheet (I do it all in Excel, or, this year, in NeoOffice—open source forever!), figured out the numbers, updated and sent the letter to the schools in the district, marginally updated the district website, attempted to corral the miscreants (whose degrees and points should appear at any second), and kicked at the embers of policy a little to see if there’s any point in trying to get something going there (both Lakeland and NFA will be demurring from any qualification attempt). I also organized my tax data. This has been a most productive weekend. I could use a few more of these.

Saturday we went down to Brooklyn. Kate cooked dinner, we discussed some final WDW issues, we lamented over having the internet (and losing “Put Down the Duckie”), etc. It was very enjoyable. Before arriving at Chez Scion, we went to the Brooklyn Museum. For some people, running into Jared there would have been the high point of the excursion. Now, I don’t want to diminish the value of running into Jared; I enjoy doing it, and he and I got to discuss how this was one of the few years in the last decade neither of us was at Harvard for Presidents’ weekend, and how nice it is running into people serendipitously. So that was nice. And I like the Brooklyn Museum, which has a few surprising holdings that remind you that Brooklyn would be one of the largest cities in the world if it wasn’t already a borough of one of the largest cities in the world, which renders its self-standing claim rather moot. But what was most interesting to me was the storeroom. The fifth floor of the museum is its American collection. All sorts of artifacts—paintings, sculptures, design objects—are taken from the museum’s holdings and displayed thematically. (I like this approach; one of my favorite examples of it is the Louvre, where most recently I went through their Egyptian material which is essentially two vast parallel exhibits, one thematic and the other chronological: doing one and then the other does a great job of opening your brain to exactly what is going on with this material.) At the Brooklyn you walk through each themed area to see visions of home life, or American landscape, or industry, or whatever. But toward the end of the exhibit is the storeroom. Behind these doors are all the pieces that didn’t make it into the exhibit. It is open to the public, and it is something of an art wonderland. Walls of unlabeled pieces, chairs and sculptures and clocks and tea sets and a bed in the shape of a piano and dozens and dozens of paintings on racks, most of which you can only imagine. As you look at these things, the question arises, what is this stuff, and why is it here and not on display? And then as you stare at a wall of marginally connected doodads from the 20s and 30s, you start to wonder, is this art nouveau or art deco, and where exactly is the separating line, if any? (Some academics claim that the two are opposites, while others claim that the one is the natural result of the other.) Is that a 50s modernistic clock, or a 60s modernistic clock? Until, of course, you get to the point of asking, Does it matter?

Art is a complicated thing once you start throwing museums at it. All the questions that we’ve been looking at off and on arise. What makes something worthy of being presented in an institution? Is this piece prettier than that piece? Or is this piece more important than that piece for some other reason? What is art, anyhow, when it’s not just a bunch of really pretty things because there may be no objective criteria for what makes something pretty?

I applaud museums that carefully label their material with lots of factual information. I like to know what it is I’m looking at, and why? Some things I can look at, like this

and have little need for someone to tell me that it is a beautiful piece of art. But it is nice to know its place in art history (way early, given its realism), and what it’s a painting of (the Annunciation, and the viewer is where the angel Gabriel would be, which explains the girl’s expression), and how the artist painted that hand (look it up for yourself). But in the end its not the painting’s history that haunts me, it’s its beauty. I can’t shake this painting from my mind. And I don’t want to.

If you take away all the labels, as the Brooklyn storeroom theoretically does (it is, in fact, simply a storeroom, after all), and behold the art with no qualification, no explanation, nothing but its presence, it is a different experience than seeing that same piece all presented and gussied up and carefully labeled and identified and placed in its moment in art history. Obviously the very existence of any of these pieces in a museum indicates their intrinsic value as artworks, but still, when you know nothing about them other than that they are artworks of some moment, you can only appreciate them on their ostensible aesthetic merits, or at most, whatever sense of aesthetics (and art history) that you bring to them yourself. In other words, you look at stuff, and you like it or you don’t like it simply because, well, you like it or you don’t like it. No one is telling you whether or not to like it. You just do, or don’t. As I say, this is not a perfect example of the purity of aesthetic appreciation, since we’re already in a museum venue, but it comes close, and I don’t know too many other ways of looking at art totally absent any art venue and the presuppositions inherent to that venue. That would be a painting in a vacuum, which you come upon not knowing anything about it at all, and can only look at it and like it or not like it on face.

The questions this vacuum-packed art raises are, of course, those of the nature of art itself. The nature of beauty. The nature of aesthetics. Those are the questions that we’re always niggling at, and never answering. Those are the best questions of all.

I do recommend that you go to a lot of museums and look at what they’ve got. There are all sorts of museums of all sizes and shapes all around us. When you first start doing this, you may find it a bit dull, and you may find that you don’t have much staying power and that after half an hour you’re running out the door screaming, but I promise you that over time you will enjoy it more and more, because no matter how much of a lout you are, you do have some part of you that appreciates art.

Whatever that is.

Friday, February 16, 2007


The concept of sovereignty is very ephemeral. So its exercise and protection are similarly ephemeral. I have wanted a clear-cut resolution about sovereignty for a long time. We’ve finally gotten one.

Governments derive their just powers from consent of the governed, as Thomas Jefferson put it. For that matter, governments also derive their unjust powers, if any, from the consent of the governed. In other words, you can torture this concept quite a bit to explain that even dismal totalitarian governments with brutal dictators acting as overlords of a police state are deriving their powers from the consent of the governed, although in these cases that consent may be coerced. At the point where there is no consent, yet the government remains empowered, we could actually have a situation where overthrow of the government by outside agency is justified, but that’s a big question that requires strong analysis that I'm not going to go into. The point at the moment is that the power of a government is derived from the people governed, regardless of the form of the government. If you stick to the concept of just powers in the Jeffersonian (and of course Lockean) sense, or of just government, period, questions of legitimacy are removed, and we have a fairly acceptable proposition.

According to this logic, any group of people with an accepted leadership is some sort of government. True enough. Any sizeable group of people tends to have some sort of governing body: school districts have school boards, towns have town councils, corporations have boards of directors, clubs have presidents. Maintaining order usually requires some sense of governance, of rules being made and enforced. Anarchy has never been proven to be an effective mode of production of much of anything: it is, in effect, a human version of Brownian motion, and it is hardly likely to make the trains run on time.

As you can see, the concept of “nation” is not inherent in the concept of governance. If all sorts of groups can have governing bodies, which are the groups, then, that we would consider nations? Web 11 gives a most question-begging definition, by citing nationality as number 1. Thanks a lot. After that, they hedge so much you wouldn’t want to bet that the sun is rising in the east tomorrow according to their explanations. I think there are a number of factors that make a group of people into a nation. The existence of a government is, indeed, one of those things. If, say, Australia had no government, and all the Aussies ran around in total anarchy doing whatever they pleased, you would be hard-pressed to consider them a nation, despite the fact that they inhabit a clearly delineated territory. This would mean, then, that territory alone does not define a nation. But territory does seem to be something of a requirement. Some territories are clearly defined due to geographical details (mountains and rivers and oceans make nice delineators from one nation to another, for instance); other territories are simply agreed to (e.g., the 49th Parallel between the US and Canada), and many are fought over regardless of how clear the boundaries might be. In any case, a nation needs, at least, both a government and territory to be perceived as a nation.

What else? What other factors make a group of governed people in a delineated space a nation and not just an organized accident of geography? Well, I for one would throw in culture, and all the things that comprise culture. A culture need not be homogeneous—certainly the USA is both a nation and culturally diverse—but there do have to be strong commonalities. A shared value set. Shared history. Probably shared language (Brussels may be a nation but it’s language split makes it also a fairly anomalous headache). For the sake of arguments in Mar-Apr, that area of shared value set may be the most important.

So now we begin to see a well-rounded concept of nation, with territory, government, and a shared “psyche,” if you will, with variants from nation to nation of the literal elements of the psyche, just as there are variants in the size and shape of the territories and the nature of the governments. Holding it all together is the belief among the people in this territory, with this government and with this shared psyche, that they are, indeed, a nation. They could think of themselves as something else, which need not concern us, but at the point at which they consider themselves a nation, they declare their sovereignty—that is, they are a nation—and that sovereignty is the power of that nation over itself, and the connection of that nation with the other nations in the world. If the Colonies wish to declare their independence from Great Britain, they’d better be ready to conduct themselves as members of the global community. But additionally, the other members of the global community must be ready to accept the Colonies’ nationhood, or any group’s nationhood. That is, half of the deal is claiming to be a nation. The other half is being recognized as a nation by the preexisting nations. Much of the history we study in schools is the conflict of sovereignties either within their borders or establishing their existence. Who’s in charge here? And, why are you where I want to be? Remove this study from history and there’s nothing left except what Louis XIV was wearing the night he learned the tango from Milton Berle’s mother-in-law.

Establishing a nation’s sovereignty is tantamount to empowering it to exist. A nation’s sovereignty is its inherent power. A nation’s power is its sovereignty. Sovereignty for a nation is the same as autonomy for a nation, and is certainly analogous to autonomy for an individual. ‘We wish to have autonomy’ means that we wish to have sovereignty over ourselves. A nation’s claim of sovereignty is a claim of its autonomy. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that any abridgement of a nation’s sovereignty is an attack on its autonomy—an attack which may or may not be justified, of course…

Where does the UN come in, or, literally, how is this applied to Mar-Apr? By my count, at about 428 different places in this essay. This is not the expression of an argument, but merely a very long explanation of sovereignty. You may demur from a point or two here or there, and I’d be happy to incorporate any improvements to the description, but this is pretty close. Not understanding the general sense of the above means that you should be doing anything in March and April other than debating LD. You might want to take up baby farming. (Or, at the very least, you could add that particular new phrase to your everyday vocabulary and use it at every opporunity. FYI, I’m sure LPW will be running Baby Farms as a part of his Mar-Apr case. In fact, I have it on good authority that he’s running Apache Baby Farms. On both sides.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The battle of Good vs. Evil; malingering

I spent a couple of hours last night deconstructing the data files of the old TRPC, but to no avail. I was assuming that I could simply recreate them out of Word or Excel or something, then plug them back in as straight text, but there’s something about them that I’m missing that makes this obvious approach unworkable. The program points to the floppy disk for importation of text files, which means that it might as well point to Adam’s off ox insofar as that avenue is concerned; evil TRPC, on the other hand, allows you to upload from a more 21st Century location, which is Palmer’s approach with tabroom. I am perfectly willing to reprocess data through Excel into good TRPC, but sometimes this isn’t an option, especially when someone has preemptively downloaded from the Goy of Tournaments. Then again, Palmer’s has the benefit of having Chris Palmer behind it, so maybe he and I can work something out that will automate into the good version. Otherwise, back to the old copy and paste, which if nothing else results in running a tournament with stable software. This is nothing to be scoffed at. If anyone is out there actually running evil TRPC regularly, on a variety of computers, with no ill effect, I have yet to hear about it. At best it runs the odd tournament OK, and sometimes it works perfectly well on all burners (e.g. Ridge), but why run the risk? Do you really want to mix and match your divisions while not being able to print and not having the software accept changes that it says it’s accepting? And you wonder what we’re doing in the tab room, my little cauliflower? Ugh.

After all this data digging I couldn’t get the energy up for this week’s Nostrum; the first 38 episodes will have to suffice for the moment. Whatever zonked me out earlier in the week is still lingering. I did have the energy to watch TV and to read about Mies and Bauhaus and to thumb through this week’s New Yorker after manfully trudging out in the snow yesterday, but mostly I wanted to sleep. I’ll catch up on the normals soon enough. I’m assuming that the postponed meeting at the ship of Hud from Tuesday will transpire tonight, which should put me back on track somewhat, followed by a long weekend which will include some final WDW planning with Kt. There’s only one missing piece, the final dinner in the middle of a long MK day (park opens at 9:00, fireworks at 10:00!). Plug that into place, and all that’s left is some utilitarian tasks like acquiring the rental car. According to the widget, there’s 84 days to go.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Architectural noodles

What, exactly, are you looking at when you look at something like the new architecture planned for Dubai? A week or so ago the newspapers were bursting with pictures of all the new buildings, including Gehry and Hadid works, and if you know nothing about these people and their work, or for that matter even if you do, a lot of questions are raised. On one level, there are the questions of artistic celebrity and a cocky country’s showboating and the meaning of local culture when it comes up against international aspirations. I like all of those questions, but they don’t concern me at the moment. Right now I’m just looking at the buildings, and I’m thinking of two different paradigms. These two paradigms are neither mutually exclusive nor congruent, although they can be, so it’s important not to confuse them. You don’t want to identify the concepts of one paradigm with the concepts of the other paradigm, except insofar as to point out that, yes, sometimes the paradigms match.

The first of these paradigms is the blend of form and function, which is an aspect of any design for a practical item. Form is simply the shape of an item, while function is the use to which the item is put. The two can be blended anywhere along the continuum from perfect marriage to absolute disconnect. In many circles, good design is when you have the marriage, regardless of how it looks. The rule is applied that “form follows function,” which means that, first, you figure out what the item is supposed to do, and then you design the item to do that thing that it is supposed to do. A well-designed item does the job it is supposed to do well, which is different from a merely good-looking item, which may be pleasing to the eye, but is also crappy at doing the job for which the item is intended. Presumably a well-designed item, because of its success at doing its job, is inherently attractive regardless of what it looks like, but that may be stretching things. For whatever reason, we are pleased by good design, as we perceive it, and we seek it out when we can.

You may like the look of the velocipede (I think it’s on blades, running on ice, no less) but you’d probably prefer to take your racing chances in something a little more sporty. Of course, if you were heading into the mountains, you might prefer this:

On a much simpler level, consider this:

Nothing really does the job better. This is one sleek little sucker, eh? This design goes back, apparently, to around 1890.

People have worked on designing the better mousetrap paper clip for over a century, but no one’s significantly improved on this design. And it is entirely an example of form following function.

On the other hand, there’s items like this (it's not showing in my edit, so you may have to click on the link):

You may feel a need for a flashdrive with a sake bottle décor, but the function of the item, something portable to stick into a USB port, is not supported by the addition of rice wine. We’re looking for size of memory, speed, portability combined with access (which is why many flashdrives are on key chains or lanyards). We’re just not looking for whatever it is that is associated with a bottle of sake. The value of this drive, absent its ability to hold X amount of megabytes, is in something other than the inherent success of its design. Of course, if it actually is a little bottle of sake, maybe it’s more valuable than I’m giving it credit for.

Anyhow, design is a big subject, and it covers much more than only architecture. But buildings are designed, and therefore factor in some combination of form and function. You design an art museum different from your design of an automobile factory or a hotel or a shopping mall. They are all big buildings, but they are all different, with different goals. Insofar as your designs for the one overlap with your designs for the other, you are at best becoming multifunctional, although more likely you threaten to become dysfunctional. It depends on the mix. Mostly, if you’re designing one of these buildings, that’s what you are designing, and you try to make it do the job for which it’s intended. In architecture, if form follows function, then these buildings are going to be radically different from one another. I can’t imagine a better way to understand the form/function concept in architecture than to consider it for these different buildings. This is not oversimplification but merely straightforwardness, although the subject as a whole is not quite this simple. But grasp the concept here, and you’ve got the nub of it.

And that’s the first paradigm. The second paradigm is specific to architecture, and especially relevant in the age of the post-dialectic. (I can see you wagging your tail in anticipation…)

Architecture is a balance of two elements. One is an art form—sculpture; the other is a practical science—engineering. It has ever been thus, from the first building ever to be erected. It was a physical shape, existing in space—a sculpture—and it needed to maintain its physical integrity—engineering. In other words, it had to look like something, and it had to exist. You could conceivably apply these ideas to a cave, but why bother? Let’s apply them instead to basic old classical architecture. Buildings have a certain look, for instance the columnar structures of ancient Greece, that answer to a strict and clear sense of the aesthetic, and at the same time, the walls (or the columns) have to be able to hold up the ceiling. The building has to stand up, and it has to look good. Pick your period, pick your aesthetic, and it’s always the same: the building has to stand up, and it has to look good. If it fails on either of those counts, it fails as architecture. And one of those counts is sculpture, the art of creating three-dimensional objects, and the other is engineering, the science of having those three-dimensional objects not break or fall apart. Whether we’re talking about putting domes on top of cathedrals or building elaborate gothic walls buttressed by cement struts or building igloos or wikiups or mosques or bridges, it’s always the same, the balance of sculpture and engineering.

So you’re saying, well, wait a minute, that’s not exactly sculpture (which means, of course, that you are at least agreeing with the engineering side of the equation). Michelangelo’s David is sculpture; the Santa Maria del Fiore (the church down the road from David with the big dome) is something else altogether. Okay, sure. The point is not that architecture is sculpture, but that architecture is an art form that combines sculpture and engineering inextricably. You could say that architecture also includes painting, in that we paint our buildings, but painting like that isn’t painting like Monet, whereas imagining three-dimensional structures in space is three-dimensional structures in space and the only difference is degree, whether they’re statues or buildings. Only the scale is different, with exceptions like the Statue of Liberty, which may be the perfect example of an object that paradigmatically combines sculpture and engineering, given the literal nature of what the statue is and how it was made. Think of the Eiffel Tower: Is that a sculpture? Architecture? An example of pure engineering? Obviously we would argue that it is architecture, and accept that it combines elements of both sculpture and engineering, in a way as paradigmatically as the Statue of Liberty, but in a different combination. (As a footnote, Monsieur Eiffel built the metal structure that holds the Statue up, if you’re ever in need of a trivia question.) Further examples of architecture that seems sculptural: the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, the Washington Monument. It is a trip from these to, say, the Empire State Building, but you can at least see how the trip might happen, once you start thinking along these lines.

What keeps architecture from only being that balance of sculpture and engineering is the function of architecture, the use a building is put to. To some extent engineering is inherent in all sculpture, but not all sculpture is of buildings. So at some point in the architectural continuum of design aesthetics and design practicality—or as I’m calling them sculpture and engineering—the architect (or critic) must factor in the purpose of the building. I guess one could imagine a model where architecture comprises three aspects—sculpture, engineering and functionality—but as I see it the functionality is inherent in the design, and not a separate issue, and therefore inherent to some variable extent in both the sculpture and the engineering. I’m willing to concede that there are many other ways of looking at this. But looking at it this way allows us to understand postmodern architecture, and that’s my point here.

As I’ve said in the past, postmodern architecture is the architecture that comes after the modernist period of architecture, where modernist is represented by such buildings as the UN or the Seagrams Building, devolving eventually into the bland glass box held up by steel frameworks at whatever height you wish to build. Once the modernist idea goes away, with its complete urban vision, what happens next? Add to that question, what do you do when your materials pretty much allow you to do anything you want? For the first time in history, architects have the tools to design almost anything. There’s no longer the issues like wondering if these walls will hold up this dome, of unattainable heights or breadths. Contemporary materials and computer-aided design allow for almost anything conceivable that doesn’t break the immutable laws of physics. How do you design a building when you can design it to look like anything you want it to look like? It has been said that great art is the overcoming of limitations; what happens when art has no limitations?

The first big thing that happens is engineering for the purpose of efficiency. Or put another way, Green buildings. Buildings that don’t overuse resources, that are amenable to human use, that don’t harm the environment. No building can be built today that is not held accountable to these ideas. A non-Green building will be marked as a bad building, a morally or ethically incorrect building, or at the very least an example of bad architecture. Architects must factor environmental issues into their designs.

Secondly, the freedom of materials drives design into a much more pure form of sculpture. The Hadid and Gehry and Ando buildings couldn’t be better examples of sculpture as architecture. That’s exactly what these people are up to.

When does contemporary design go over the line from sculpture to engineering? I gather it is something of an insult to the soul of an architect to accuse him or her of favoring engineering over sculpture, or to dismiss work as mere engineering. I am fascinated by Santiago Calatrava ever since the Met had an exhibit on him. Check him out at his website. He actually makes sculptures. But are his buildings feats of sculpture, or engineering? Both, obviously. But so some extent, his literal sculptures are also feats of engineering, and his engineering is scultping. It all becomes something of a blur, and rightly so. If we could pull out these elements and label them clearly, the subject would be sooooo boring.

Anyhow, all of this is just noodling on my part. You can put together your own paradigms for understanding things. One thing is for certain, though. When you study architecture, or any art, the more you read, the less you seem to find in the way of academic agreement among those you are reading. Orthodoxy is hard to find, and probably not worth much. I am probably foolish to create my own orthodoxy, but what else do I have to do with my spare time?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Black Death; Evil TRPC; I prefer Buddenbrooks; Catholic judging; Brain deficiencies

I had a serious bout of the woozies yesterday. Since practically everyone at Scarsdale over the weekend was also battling the woozies, that was probably the source. In other words, Scarsdale causes plague. Who would have imagined?

The actual tournament was one of those complicated events, in this case because the debaters in varsity judge the novices in alternating flights. In the past we’ve done our best to moderate this, keeping judge requirements minimized, but this year we were running the bad program on two different computers, and because of other issues we never got that far. One of these other issues was the inability to print schematics, either for prelim or elim rounds, for the varsity division. We were able to put together a tab room schematic for the prelims (and managed to remember not to also print for distribution things like team record or judge ranking), but for elims it was totally copied over, manually, to Excel. I’ve railed here against new TRPC in the past, so I won’t bother doing so again, although I will admit that, with all its problems, this is the first time I’ve seen this, so at least it’s creative. Given that I have a spreadsheet that will pass data relatively quickly into old TRPC, the phrase “Never again” is repeated, well, yet again. What I really need is a bridge of the data files from new to old, that would make the whole thing transparent. Given that there’s a little down time coming up, I might work on just that.

As I intimated, there was a certain “Magic Mountain” feel to the weekend. Patients kept being gurneyed into the tab room for one reason or another, or sending messages that they were off somewhere becoming one with the porcelain. La Coin’s portable pharmacy got a good workout on the over-the-counter nostrums, but she kept the serious goods to herself, just in case. Given that she is, indeed, a virtual one-woman Magic Mountain all by her lonesome, this was not surprising. As an aside, it was amusing listening to her and JV figuring out how they were going to find judges for their vast tribes at TOC. Oh, the poor dears.

Speaking of judging, there was much discussion of same at the upcoming CFL Grands, once Catholic Charlie arrived to conduct congress. The rule of the local league is that judges cannot be first-year-outs, but this is a bit limiting, and a bit silly, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone all that gung-ho about maintaining it. Unfortunately, it’s a constitutional rule, so we can’t just toss it overboard like so much cold bouillabaisse. But if we all agree, then we can act accordingly this year and modify the constitution for next year, so CC will touch base with all the appropriate coaches and make sure no one is dead set against, and we’ll launch. I’m pretty certain that will be the case. You can’t have too many judges at Grands as far as I’m concerned, and opening the gates is a good idea. We’ve already hired Scarola as a neutral. Now we could hire anyone. That’s a good thing.

There’s a prediction of snow that may postpone tonight’s proceedings on the ship of Hud. This is too bad. We can’t afford to miss anything heading into the new topic. For some reason Jan-Feb never seemed to take root in the Plebe brain, and we can’t let that happen again with Mar-Apr. My feeling is not so much that they need to kick up their competitive strength a notch, although they do, as they need to understand Mar-Apr at its core if they have any expectation of ever being serious LDers. If I were still riding the Modest Novice hobbyhorse, this topic would be a real contender. The more I think about it, the more I like it, and when have you heard that from me before? I spent some time in Scarsdale reading the charter of the UN and the UHR document, and if there is a more wide open set of papers, I haven’t seen ‘em. Even so, it’s an ought, so even strong proscriptions or prescriptions wouldn’t matter. Anyhow, I ask the VCA to pray for nice weather till after nine tonight. The Plebe brains are depending on it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

There are times...

There are times when I wish I was writing a real blog. I would love to talk about things like amorous astronauts and Steve Jobs dumping DRM and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces sending surges of soldiers to their eminent demise, but I’m stuck in debate purgatory talking about Scarsdale’s Pffft numbers and whether Noah is the crankiest ex-debater in the northeast and ranking rhapsodic on the NY States tournament. Out of sheer despair I almost went back to read the comments on the Mangus post, but having originally only skimmed his rant—which seemed to be an impassioned plea to call each other nasty names in public, but somewhere other than on VBD, a portmanteau subject that does not interest me, but which did stir the old Alzheimer’s chord to suggest we [re]vitalize WTF’s forums given that no one else has any forums worth a damn, including the moribund-but-doesn’t-know-it-yet Legion of Doom—I remembered as I was about to drill down that I didn’t care so instead I looked for photographs of the Kick Heard Round the World from Lexington, but even though there was a shot of KR and MA at Newark less than a week ago looking as if they had just returned from opposite sides of the table at a Bill O’Reilly taping, plus a shot of Noah scaring Joe Vaughan with yet another reason Smilin’ J should be canonized, there was nothing from Lexington. Consarn it! I kicked Cruz, I threw fruit, I watched La Coin eat cheese, and what do I get for my troubles? Nada, nothing and bupkes. Meanwhile I’ll bet a few half-decent astronaut diaper jokes—not to mention this ritual I’m developing for non-Jewish children that I’m calling the goy mitzvah—would get me Digged and even manage to raise my service provider costs. I’m in the wrong business.

Another lovely item I found on good old WTF is O'C's linked Star Wars video done entirely with hands. You do not have to see it to believe it; trust me on that. In our interview O'C told me his SW collection is so large that it is insured by Lloyd's of London for 10 million pounds sterling, or something like that, but let us not forget there's a few Trekker items in there as well, including William Shatner's copy of the US Constitution and Leonard Nimoy's adenoids, and they're probably jacking up the price a little bit. Anyhow, my question was how many other Star Wars mashup videos did he watch that were, uh, less, uh, successful than this one? And for this WTF is paying him $5K a post? Shocking. Shocking. (I'd do it for $4K.)

Do me a favor, meanwhile, and absorb those photos of the new Dubai museums that are on the drawing boards. They were in the paper over the weekend. I know I've been thinking about them, and I've started writing some material that may be useful to architectural neophytes. Dualing paradigms, anyone?

"Snake eyes!" (as Caesar later said, in a lesser known quote)

I’ve got plebes begging on bended knee to go to States; they look like kittens on the fronts of Hallmark greeting cards. I’ve got cadets pleading with them not to go, explaining that the notion that somehow it’s really good and that their coach is simply petulant, or misguided, or mendacious, is not true, at least in this situation. Then I’ve got Termite saying that, yeah, it sucks but they should go; he then ducked too quickly for my frying pan to make contact with his head, more’s the pity. As members of the VCA know, I firmly stand on principle until someone nudges me either with a better principle or enough abject Hallmark-card pleading to make me want to put them out of my misery. I will, most likely, accede to their piteous demands; I’ll coordinate with the Speecho-Americans and see what they’re up to. The best laid plans… At least they’re only $12 a pop.


JV reports that he’s got quite large fields for this weekend over at Scarsdale. Even his Pfffft division is knocking at the door of 30 entries, which seems to be about the New York norm (Bump had 28). He will be putting each division in a separate version of TRPC, given that he’s using the new version of the software. Either that or we drink the KoolAid when they’re all suddenly jumbled together. One thing we have to do this weekend is coordinate for Districts. As Joe points out, we need points, and some folks haven’t entered them yet. We do not wish to be a Red Light District forever, so we will work on these reprobates accordingly. We also need to work out when Regionals would be; Joe was texting me about this when he was with Catholic Charlie, but since Catholic C will be at Scarsdale on Saturday, that too can be put on the sorting table.

We talked about the new topics at last night's meeting (plural because we’ll be Pfffting a few times). They’re both interesting, although both require skadoodle-loads of research. You actually have to know something about either the UN or economics, and that’s just to get warmed up. I like that, of course. And they do have a week off (unless they’re going down to Cancun or something). Plenty of time to put their brains into it.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Alea iacta est, or, "Baby needs a new pair of shoes!"

If I were to rely entirely on the readership of people whom I have said nice things about, the VCA would be even tinier than it already is. Nonetheless, it is nice to see Mr. Palmer among that number, at least for the time being. No doubt we can shake him off the next time I decide I want to comment on post-neo-gothic-classical-revival pre-cambrian architecture in Dubai. Or at the point when I somehow manage to peg him as the second biggest piker in the northeast (with the understanding that Noah has pretty much sewn up first place). Either one is bound to happen before long.

As I thought, O’C says it really was his comment that a league should be a league. There’s no question that, when I’ve been in Massachusetts, the tournaments have felt as if they were a part of a bigger thing, even when they weren’t. That is, Lexington Winter would exist exactly as it does absent the MFL, but its membership in the MFL allows it to fall under a set of uniform rules, and allows the members of the MFL to see that the tournament is there, and available. The membership concept works even better for something like Little Lex, or other small events. It’s nice to see all the available events in one place online, where you can get the details, sign up, note the qualifications, see the results, etc. Not bad.

My discussions with NFL back in the Fall included things along these lines. When I complained about being a Red Light District, one of the problems I posed was that, in our region, we already have an active set of local leagues, the MHL and CFL, filling up every available weekend with forensics contests. Some folks, like the Remarkably Most Holy Rev B.A., conduct their local league under the titular auspices of the NFL, and that makes sense if there’s nothing there already. Our local problem is that there is no gap for the NFL to fill, hence we don’t fill it. Or something like that. (I was arguing, essentially, that we were already doing the most that we could, and that it was, in fact, quite a bit, which was why there was no incentive for NFL membership in the region.)

Still, that leaves the big issue of a state organization, and I’m with O’C on this. As Chris says in his comment yesterday, size is a factor. New York is large, with what seems to me to be 4 distinct regions: Long Island, Manhattan, Hudson Valley, Upstate. Their distinction is not so much geography as rough balance in size, with geography merely a side (but eminently important) issue. But why aren’t the regions and their tournaments coordinated under the NYSFL? Why don’t they operate under the same rules? Why don’t they publicize on one single site? Chris already makes the software available to the league, so it’s merely a matter of extension. All the NYSFL does is the one tournament each year. I wish it at least did that tournament better. But a bigger vision wouldn’t hurt either.

New York does seem to have forensic programs directed almost entirely at the States tournament. Which is almost entirely directed back at those programs. I won’t disparage those programs, because I like any program that pushes forensics, and who am I to criticize anyone else’s hard work? And I strongly believe in the good intentions of the individuals involved in the State organization, who work hard and, to my knowledge, do so as volunteers. But as I say, there is little question that the State organization exists entirely to run a tournament, and it runs that tournament in a vacuum, or at best only in a spiritual congruence with those programs that reflectively aim only at States. This penalizes programs that are not of this number, whereas a good system would penalize no one. The lack of good qualification process vis-à-vis elimination rounds is a perfect example of this (and the recent clarification of this process, limiting it even further, is baffling, given the small size of the varsity division in one of the country’s most active LD states). The inclination to run PF according to a process that will make tabbing easier, rather than to follow NFL rules and simply do a better job of tabbing, is another indication. (The CFL screwed that up in their version of PF; we didn’t need to echo their error, hamstringing a new activity with multiple conflicting rules. If the CFL was against PF, then they shouldn't have done it. That’s a better choice than baptizing it against its will and making it attend a church with different rites—how's that for a metaphor?)

But I will admit that the bottom line for me may be sour grapes. I officially complained about the way the organization was being run after complaining unofficially and getting no satisfaction. I suggested that the membership of the league be allowed to vote on issues. This was seen as an attack on the directors’ integrity, rather than a suggestion that the directors needed to consult their constituencies. I tried to play nice, but I know that I have been vilified by the organization, which ought to have something better to do than complain about me. Hell, I paid my $30 dues. I’m entitled to my opinion. You took the $30. You’re forced to listen to it.

The best action is action itself. Therefore, after much cogitation, I have decided not to send any debaters to States this year. I might have, if they had promised 5 real rounds, which is merely one of my beefs, but not even that is in the cards. In fact, in my grand list of beefs, a veritable cow load of complaining, not one change has been made. Not one indication of interest in change has been made, aside from a comment that there might have been five rounds if they had gotten the college venue. It’s a shame, really. When the state championship is widely perceived as being a poor tournament, and people only attend out of pro forma obligation and general inertia, and when your best students, having been burned once, refuse to attend a second time, then you know there’s a problem. When people with ideas for change don’t even bother to offer their services to effect those changes, you know the problem is entrenched beyond much hope. What changes I wish to bring about in forensics, I will do in arenas where change is possible. The NYSFL, unfortunately, does not seem to be one of those places.


$12 worth; The BCOTC; Lakeland; My inner Tiger

I moseyed on over to the NYSFL site yesterday. I have to admit that I had been thinking about the possibility of sending a serious entry to States in light of my concurrent thinking about sending a serious entry to Lakeland. Consider this the perennial triumph of hope over experience. It turns out that their desired use of the Albany campus fell through, and they are resorting to the usual venues. Which no doubt means, for reasons that I’ve never been able to understand, the usual 4 rounds in addition to all the other usual negatives. O’C talks about a NY State organization that reflects the vibrancy of New York State forensics, especially debate. This organization runs tournaments throughout the year, and caps itself off at the end with a tournament to be proud of. (At least I think O’C talks about this. Maybe it’s my imagination. Maybe it was Faux’C.) If I thought there was the proverbial snowball’s chance I might consider trying to help run the damned thing and make it into that sort of organization, but my likelihood of getting a position of power in that particular enclave is not exactly great. But think of it. We could break the state down into regions that (like Mid-Hudson) that actually conduct regional tournaments (and those regions already exist). We’d have a meaningful qualification process. We’d have the best possible judges. Why not? One of the big issues holding them back now seems to be lack of venue. Have multiple venues, then. I’d rather send my people to two separate tournaments that are good than one that is at best a compromise. I’ll bet we could find venues that would even house, which would be a lot cheaper than the fleabags up at Albany. All the profits from the tournament would go to the host venues, by the way, less the cost of trophies. While it is nice to pride oneself on the bargain price of $12 a head, which they do now, it only means that we’re getting $12 of debate in return. I’d pay a lot more money to create a decent judging pool, five prelim rounds, and aggressive competition. If it were housed, all that money going to the fleabags now would simply go to the tournament. Let’s face it. At least the debate side isn’t that big. Smaller than Bump, actually, or Big Bronx, so the numbers are quite manageable. This could be done instantly, in time for the 2008 tournament. I’d send everyone I could. So would you.

Dream on.

Meanwhile, from the arena of missing the point entirely, NG, the present holder of the Biggest Crackpot on the Circuit cup, thinks that I need a way to capture YouTube-type videos on my iPod and that I’ve been living under a cabbage leaf for not having same. Golleeee, Andy! I have absolutely no desire for any of these programs, as my total video-watching time is rather small, and my need for short films of cats flushing the toilet is rather limited. (TubeSock is the Mac app of choice for this, of course; I’ve got it and don’t bother to use it.) I am against stealing content through BitTorrent, but surprisingly enough, I have heard of it. Since I am in the content-providing business at the old day job, I believe people should pay creators for their work, if the creators so wish. Creators who wish to give it away, on the other hand, should also be free to do so: witness Jules and the Mite giving away Nostrum, in which I am a willing co-conspirator. On the other hand, I do admit not knowing until recently about programs that allow you to rip your DVDs much as you rip your CDs, regardless of DRM. This is not theft; if I choose to watch something on my iPod rather than my TV, I’ve paid for it no matter how you slice it; I’m just the one doing the slicing. And since I expect to watch, oh, maybe 6 hours of video on my iPod over the next year or two, I’m not looking for a lot of this material. I was thinking the Gehry or Zinn documentaries, and the Broadway history that was on PBS, and I’m about done until 2010. Maybe the BCOTC ought to run for that NYSFL position. It would be a marriage made in forensic heaven. He could post all the rounds on YouTube, then we could download them to our Zunes. A hungry public awaits.

As you can deduce, I was thinking about the Lakeland tournament over the weekend. I talked to Stefan (the Lakeland coach) briefly at Newark, and O’C, and thought it a good idea to send out a clarification message to the Bump and MHL mailing lists. I had been leaning toward using Jan-Feb on general principle, but Mar-Apr appeals to me so much and is so much better for the younger LD brain that I said we’d go with that one. (Talk about pre-emptive strikes!) I’ve lit the old fire under the Sailors bell-bottoms to get them signed up. I don’t expect this to be an overwhelmingly large event, but it should be a solid confab of good debaters having at it with a meaningful topic. Nothing wrong with that!

Meanwhile, the weather looks bright for the Scarsdale Extravaganza this weekend. I’m looking forward to it. The last normal tournament of the year, for all practical purposes (although having the participating varsity debaters judging novice rounds always makes things a little interesting). After that it’s a short break, then Lakeland, a CFL, Regionals (depending on when they’re conducted, I’ll help out, my opinion of States notwithstanding), CFL Grands and Districts—little if any normality. And then it’s golf season, six months of proving that lack of athletic ability does indeed apply even to something as unathletic-appearing as golf. And then, wow, it’s debate season again.

Where did the summer go?

Friday, February 02, 2007

R Moses; the 2 Rs; ripping; he's only just asking for some ice cream

They’re pushing Robert Moses like crazy these days. There’s a three-part exhibit around NYC, and there’s much discussing of whether the man was the antichrist or the second coming. Few people think he was anywhere in between. Much is made whether the festivities will or won’t include Robert Caro, given that Caro’s gorilla-in-the-room is of the antichrist persuasion. (The Caro Moses book—the gorilla—has been on the recommended list over at the right since the list began, of course. It’s one of the best biographies ever written.) If you have any interest in 20th century architectural modernism, you’ve got to get yourself into Manhattan, my chou-fleur. I’m thinking the Museum of the City of New York as the prime spot. Of course, if you paddle out to Queens you get to also see the refurbished NYC diorama plus all the great World’s Fair displays. Hell, see all three exhibits. It won’t hurt you.

Pajamas Wexler has sent me an offering for the Young Galoot reading list, which I’ll add today. It’s about Theodore Roosevelt and jungle exploration and the like. TR is another one of those very interesting people I like knowing about; for some reason we’ve done a whole scad of TR books at my day job and I feel quite intimate with old Teedie and Alice and company. Of course, while I find TR interesting, I find remote cousin FDR way up on the interest par with folks like TJ: I can read about him endlessly because he’s so complicated and interesting and, dare I say it, historically essential. You can get your mind around TR, but FDR keeps flying from one cortex to the other like a renegade jumping bean. I like that in an icon.

A note to Mac users: Why didn’t you tell me about Handbrake, you dogs? The old MegaPod is now ingesting the history of Broadway (I mean that literally, as a rip takes half a day), and will soon add all manner of other documentary stuff I’ve been meaning to watch but never get around to. Now I can never get around to it on my iPod. This is a major technological advance.

I was reading about Munch last night. The gist was that the old Norseman was, in a word, a really lousy painter. There was a suggestion that his Dutch contemporary, old One-Ear, wasn’t such a great draftsman either. Thoughts like that add a whole new Mad-Magazine wrinkle to art analysis. I mean, maybe Pollack was just…sloppy. Maybe all those Smithson piles of dirt and glass and rocks are actually just piles of dirt and glass and rocks. Maybe Andy was just working on spec for Brillo and suggesting that they’d make more money if their boxes were bigger. Whatever. (Andy and Brillo is an important subject. We’ll get around to that soon enough.) Meanwhile, this weekend we all congregate at Newark at their new school, which I gather is a dandy. I’m looking forward to it. The MHL is probably in its own venue, but I gather it’s immediately nearby. The last MHL of the year… We all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Newark MHL prediction; ld-l vs WTF; CatNat dreams; But has anyone ever seen him and Minnie together?

There hasn’t been what I would call an overwhelming registration for Newark’s MHL this coming Saturday. I’m hoping that entries went to the invitational on the Goy of Tournaments to be passed along. Otherwise it’ll be Bronx vs Bronx and I guarantee that Bronx is going to take home at least some of the trophies as a result. You can quote me on that.

Last night I put up the latest Nostrum, which was one of the lads’ classics, if you ask me, namely, the ld-l episode. It’s strange reading it aloud, as it’s all emails, but it does bring back those glory days before PCB came on the scene. Things haven’t changed all that much, for those of you who read LOL’s comments; only the venue has switched an inch or two.

Then there’s the new topics. Finally. Needless to say as far as LD for Mar-Apr is concerned, the focus of the UN is marginally unfortunate, but I have always been interested in the extent of sovereignty, and seldom seen topics where the idea of sovereignty, even if it was absolutely the point of the resolution, was ever really argued. When the word itself hits the fan, however, you don’t have much choice. And the construct of protecting human rights v respecting sovereignty is a real one. As I just happened to be browsing Manny the K’s “The Idea for a Universal History with Cosmopolitan Intent” recently—seriously!—I can report that, like all LD novices, he believed that sovereign nations were in a virtual state of nature in the Hobbesian sense, and would remain so until some overarching body came along to change things. That is, he drew the logical conclusion of a body something like the UN being needed to adjudicate claims among nations. I’ll point out that other ways of settling claims include good old-fashioned war, diplomacy, trade, whatever else you happen to have in your international bag of tricks. A propos of nothing, I would wonder if one can claim that Iraq is, at present, a sovereign nation. Sovereignty seems to require two things: a bunch of people claiming it, and a bunch of other people respecting it. Is Taiwan a sovereign nation? Depends on where you live… Anyhow, this is definitely a topic with strong LD bloodlines, and I’m glad the Sailors will get a few opportunities to debate it. As for the Pfffft topic… well, it’s Pfffft. Can’t say I sit around worrying about the personal credit issue much, but it’s normal economic stuff, so it shouldn’t be hard to find reasonable positions on both sides. We’ll be Pffffting at CFL Grands, which is why the subject is of interest. I soooo want to go to CatNats with a Pfffft team!

I’ve got O’C entering his own data for the MHL, by the way, which makes sense given that most of the data is his to enter. We’re sharing a Google spreadsheet, a take on the one I created that concatenates the team names automatically so that all you have to do when entering TRPC data is keep your trigger finger poised on the copy key. I could take it the next step and develop macros to create the data files, but I don’t have enough time on my hands that wouldn’t be better spent achieving the next level in RCT. I mean, you have to weigh results against effort in these things. And while we’re on the subject of theme parks, I am almost fully set for the May trip. Rooms are reserved, most of the park tix are in the mail, the meal reservations are 99% made. I still need to figure a few off things, like the logistics of Shamu day and where to eat at Universal, but obviously when you reach that point, you’ve got all of the heavy lifting behind you. The big question: Will O’C pop out of the woodwork at the Adventurers’ Club? I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s been to WDW more times than Minnie Mouse.