Friday, March 30, 2007

TOC & the Legion of Doom

There’s an interesting discussion happening on the Legion of Doom listserver. Everybody is all het up about TOCs, which does seem to concentrate the Legionnaire mind. It’s worth talking about.

The TOC, as it stands today, is—to paraphrase Aaron T, who I think is still a member of the TOC advisory board—the central culmination of the year for a certain circuit of debaters. It is not the national event, but simply the national event for this group. That is true, although I disagree with Aaron that NatNats is in fact the national event, if for no other reason than that New York’s leading debaters are handicapped in their ability to participate because of Regents exams. But that is neither here nor there. That TOCs caters to a specific community is the first premise to be accepted.

I gather that there have been various approaches over the years to the issue of how admittance of entrants to TOC should be handled. As there is no main administrating body with a dedicated functioning bureaucracy (like the centrally organized NFL, or the regionally oriented CFL), the use of organizationally defined qualifiers isn’t really feasible. So instead, TOC draws on the skein of existing tournaments to provide its qualifiers. The question is, how to evaluate these existing tournaments to insure that the debaters they send forth are, indeed, “qualified.” And that is a tricky question. There seem to be no specific criteria for making the evaluation. Once upon a time the number of entrants plus the number of states represented was apparently the key, but that is no longer true because it didn’t work all that well. Now the criteria are fluid, determined by a small but geographically diverse group of advisors, comprising professional coaches of a uniform high level of prestige and experience (although some are old-timers, and some are young-timers, which is as it should be), and ultimately adjudicated by the TOC Tournament Director. All the advisors are players in the game of TOC debate, fielding competitors on the TOC circuit. Even if you might think this or that individual on the committee is a stinker, you have to admire the rest. So there is no reason to impugn this group on the basis of their skills or intentions. As far as I know, no one really ever does, except in the vaguest sense of TOC as a whole being up to no good.

While there is much griping from various quarters that the TOC bids are not fair, mostly those gripes claim that this or that geographical area is underrepresented, and that is certainly an issue that the advisers always discuss (I know, because I have been one of them). They do indeed attempt to provide an evenly tucked-in blanket over the country’s LDers, but they simply can’t pluck some tournament out of thin air and say that its debaters are bid-worthy simply because they’re in the right location. The tournament itself has to exist, which is not always the case as large geographic areas simply don’t have events, and it has to be predictably capable of producing bid-worthy qualifiers. This latter is something of a Catch-22, unfortunately, because bid people only want to go to bid tournaments but tournaments can’t become bid tournaments unless bid people go to them. (One of the side issues being discussed by the Legion was this problem of bid tournaments having the right odor and non-bid tournaments being unworthy of a debater’s time, even when that debater’s chance of ever earning a bid anywhere is virtually nil. We’ll discuss that later.)

One has to wonder if a strict numerical evaluation of tournaments would be meaningful. Having committee members who were participants at all the tournaments is meaningful, if the participants honestly report the nature of the events. For instance, I could have 120 people at a tournament, but 60 of them could be from 3 schools; is that the same as Hendrick’s Hudson’s 120 people, where we set a 6-person cap per school? I don’t think so, but if you’re not intimate with a tournament’s details, how can you tell the difference?

So I, for one, while not necessarily always agreeing with the final spread of bids the TOC declares, feel that the process of deciding these bids is about as good as it can be, and I can’t imagine any process that would make them different in any meaningful way. The declaration of some TOC criteria (the need for 5 or 6 prelim rounds, the need for a certain number of elim rounds, any judging requirements), on the other hand, should be clearly posted. If there is some mechanical reason why a bid is not being given to a school, at least if the school has a list of all these reasons it can address the problems, if it is inclined to do so. As for those geographic areas that feel slighted, simply tell TOC what tournaments you feel should be getting the recognition; you’d be doing the committee a favor. And frankly, the problem is that these tournaments mostly don’t exist. But in your griping, be realistic. To claim that Harvard is a northeast tournament is to claim that Glenbrooks is an Illinois tournament or Emory is a Georgia tournament. Look at everything but the octos tournaments if you really want to understand the business at hand.

So, issue one that the Legion was kicking around, that the TOC needs clear criteria of its bid system, is true to some extent. At least give the general outline of what a tournament needs to do. Give a general outline of the procedure for a tournament that wants to be considered for bids. Make this process transparent. This won’t change the process so much as allow people to understand it. That would be a good thing.

Second, and the issue that started this Legionnaire thread, was the question of TOC judging. Aaron sent a message urging everyone at TOC to judge instead of sitting around doing whatever it is they do when they’re not judging, which brought plenty of moans about lack of use of judges, preference for digressive judges, etc. I posted to this issue. I gather that there is now a one judge per debater requirement. If that is true, then the average judge will judge 1.5 prelim rounds; the math is simple. The pool would have to shrink dramatically before you’d get anywhere near judging roughly half the rounds. This is pure arithmetic, and no bias on anyone’s part. I simply can’t imagine the gentlemen who are usually in tab cooking the assignments. Why would they? They’ve got judges to burn. Aside from perhaps seeing that judges who haven’t been assigned yet get a round here and there, which is hardly cooking the assignments, they are on tabroom easy street, and have no rationale from venturing off it. The problem is the vast number of judges. No amount of strikes will solve a 1 to 1 situation. 1 to 1 means you are spending a lot of time sitting on the old dufferoo, my friend.

Of course, if you’ve paid all that money to get to Kentucky, especially if you’ve got multiple entries, you’re going to feel wasted. It would seem to me that a 1 to 2 ratio is more than enough. It would average 3 rounds per person. Not bad.

Bringing up judging at TOC, however, brings up other issues. Or at least bringing up judging at TOC acts as a red cape waved at all the Legion bulls: Too many strikes (I agree), too many young judges ruining LD for the ages (probably not true). As for the strikes, pulling the few stinkers who always drop you because they don’t like your looks is a good thing, but 5 strikes is quite enough. Anything more, and it’s Mutual Judge Preference in everything but name. I’ve always maintained that random judging, if a judge understands how an LD round works, is what keeps the activity honest; nothing revolutionary there. As for young judges ruining LD, as Ryan H (who isn’t all that young anymore [smile]) pointed out, all young people are not ruinous by default (although I would point out that by the same token all old people are not hiding out in tab, and honestly, if one does tab well and enjoys it, well, that’s hardly a mortal crime). Lots of Legionnaires do simply blame everything on the young, though, and if the truth be told, it is college students who should move along from their high school lives who are a serious contributing cause of much that is wrong with LD, but all young people are not these people. All of us ought to understand our syllogisms better than that. Some young people are problematic. Ryan is (almost) young. Ryan may or may not be problematic. Assume nothing! Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be surprised if, on the Legion of Progressive Debate listserver, the young ‘uns are similarly complaining that they don’t judge enough rounds. My guess is that the math works about the same for them, although with the scales tipped slightly due to strikes. If I’m wrong, then it’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Balancing assignments in tab, i.e., using everyone as equally as possible, is a simple solution to that.

I am with those who want to ban first-year-outs, simply because they may have psychological ponies still in the race and not because they are digressively evil by nature. I have taken a strong position against MJP in the past and continue to hold that position. And strikes should be no more than 5. And as I say, tab should neutrally balance the judging across the pool, which should be smaller than one to one. That’s where I stand on that.

Probably the most interesting stuff that keeps coming up with the Legion is the stuff that is the least quantifiable, and that is the effect of TOC on LD in general. To some extent, TOC is an easy target because there is a good representation of digressive debaters in the pack, for whatever reason. The event is glorified on WTF (although lately, just about every event is glorified on WTF, so TOC gets a lot more lost in the pack than it used to). And no matter how you slice it, a lot of coaches continue to send their kids to tournaments that qual for TOC with the expressed purpose of getting those quals, and to treat TOC as an end-all be-all for competition. Debaters do likewise, often merely reflecting trends rather than setting them. Bro J pointed out a classic problem of getting kids to non-qualifying tournaments, even at a school where no one goes to TOC because of exam conflicts! The TOC qual is some sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, which is fine, but once again, if we remember our basic syllogistic logic, just because a tournament doesn’t earn quals doesn’t make it bad. I do admit I’ve internalized this with the Sailors to some degree. The team is large enough to split around. We have bid tournaments and non-bid tournaments, and there’s a right tournament and a wrong tournament for everyone, and part of my job is placing people at the right places for the right reasons. I will ban anyone making blanket statements that such-and-such a tournament is not good. Not good if you already have 5 bids? Maybe, but it’s just right for sophomores. Conversely, Glenbrooks isn’t any good for my novices. It’s a matter of fit, not fashion. One Legionnaire applauded Emory (of all places) for its stance as a tournament on its own and not merely a qualifier for some other tournament (i.e., TOC). Soddy used to say the same thing, and it was true then and it’s true now, regardless of what tournament we’re talking about. Apparently there was a short period when people stopped their tournaments once the bid round had transpired. I don’t think this was common practice, and I don’t think it marks any trend. I used to stop Bump all the time, not for TOC purposes but because it was too late at night: says I, Shoo! Go home! Stop this nonsense! I don’t believe that debate after the first 14 hours in a day amounts to much, and in fact, I feel it could be harmful. In any case, around here, tournaments last until they’re over, and that is as it should be. And they should run as their own entities, and not satellites of the TOC.

Still, the Legion continues to see the TOC as the arbiter, whether directly or indirectly, of LD, either in the tournaments it selects as qualifiers or in the messages it sends abroad when digressive debaters thrive or digressive young judges are seen to determine policy. From my own experience I’m beginning to wonder if, in fact, the whole digressive issue might not be settling down a bit, including at TOC, but that’s just me. The key thing is, will the Legion just bloviate among themselves as they always do, or come to some sort of consensus and make a definitive statement to the TOC? The latter is the only thing that will matter, and there are substantive areas they can address that would have at least some effect on TOC’s cynosure position in the activity.

But I’ll tell you something. The redirection of WTF parenthetically mentioned above is perhaps just as powerful. At the point where TOC really is just the final for one particular circuit, and not the center of the universe, then things are very much as they should be. It is not so much up to the TOC but up to the rest of us to decide how the universe is structured and what TOC’s place in it is. TOC is fun, and I like going. And if I have no qualifiers in a given year? All tournaments are fun, and I like going to all of them. Spread this attitude around, and the world will be a better place.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Not that I ever complain or anything...

“Resolved: That judicial activism is unjust in a democracy.”

Or, does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

When last seen, sort of, this was, “Resolved: Judicial activism is necessary to protect the rights of American citizens.” So what’s different? What have the secret cabals of the Vatican done to a topic still reverberating through the hallways since its last very recent incarnation? Well, there’s one big thing. It’s no longer set in America.


The best way to understand political activism is to realize that it is what judges do when you disagree with them. I go back to all my readings preparing for this topic last year, and the first thing that came up was the lack of a neutral definition of JA. It just doesn’t exist. In the common parlance, JA is a pejorative term, as compared to “judicial restraint,” which sounds oh so civilized by comparison. So, on face, the resolution implies that, resolved, some indeterminable thing that is normatively perceived as bad, is—wait for it—bad. Rule number one in Texas for Memorial Day could arguably be simply to draw aff.

Absent that (and it’s hard to dismiss, but we’ll try), if we merely wish to uphold the original intentions, then whose original intentions? The framers? The ratifiers? I mean, even before the Constitution is ratified, there’s already a practical question of whose intent it allegedly summarizes. I enjoy Scalia’s writings on originalism, but Nino is also by many definitions the epitome of the activist judge, attempting to overturn virtually everything that comes his way (look up the numbers on this, oh ye of little faith).

What the original topic wanted to do, and of course didn’t do, was examine the role of SCOTUS. SCOTUS itself has trouble framing the debate for examining the role of SCOTUS, so for once, it’s hard to simply blame Rippin’ Ripon for a stinker topic. And I do admit for voting for the old NFL topic, if for no other reason than to explore all the aspects of the subject, which was new to me, and which is probably why all the other coaches voted for it at the time. It was educational, if not necessarily competitively sound.

But apparently CatNats exists in a magic bubble where the NFL topic never happened, and they intend not simply to repeat history but to make it worse. Hard as it was to argue the NFL’s JA—if I remember correctly, of the 1,238,273 rounds conducted on that topic around the country during its two months of life, exactly 3.8 were resolutional—at least that was guided by the US Constitution. But what, pray tell, is CatNats guided by? Democracy.

OMG, as they say in the secret cabals at the Vatican. We couldn’t find a way to argue this rez when it was about one very clearly defined polity, with a mature constitution and 200 years of stare decisis and SCOTUS history to guide us, and now we’re going to argue about it for all polities, provided they’re “democratic.’ Who will be the first to wonder how this works with British law? The hair on my head (that’s hair, singular), is standing on end, milord. Italy. Iraq. India? The common threads are… ineffable. And those are just some of the “I” countries.

In other words, we’ve got to tip our hats to the Cats. They’ve done it again. They’ve taken a bad topic and made it worse. Not only that, it’s a topic so recent that there’s absolutely no excuse; they can’t claim that they didn’t know. No doubt the same motley crew who threw out the Pfffft coin toss is behind this madness. Someone, somewhere, thinks this is a good idea.

Thank God El Cranko Grabo is going and not me. My brain hurts already. On the bright side, there’s not much need to brainstorm. Robbie’s already been down this road, and Noah is as enlightened as anyone on the subject. You, if you are heading to Houston, just won’t want to be around El Cranko as he bloviates on this. Endlessly. My advice is to do what I’m doing. Stay home. Play golf. Barbecue some ribs. The alternative—a weekend in Texas with Noah Cranko and the worst topic of the year—is too dreadful for all but the bravest among us to contemplate.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

And George Bush blames everything on Dick Cheney...

Another one bites the dust. Another District tournament, that is.

I’m pretty sure I’ve gone through all this before. Districts is a tournament that requires enormous attention to detail, in that there are enough NFL rules and regulations to choke the proverbial horse. Even having the Wunn and Only around didn’t mean we always knew what to do when. Old Scott was poring over the little red manual just as much as the rest of us. He was helpful at times though, when we had to throw out a fairly standard question, or certify the results, or just get through the thing. He even judged a round or two (so did I, for that matter—where was Fists when we needed him?), so it was nice having him around. And he came with a plan to help us rise from our Red Light District status. We’ll have to see if it works; it depends on a lot of factors all coming together just right. We’ll see, but I’m sanguine about it. It looks good.

Of course, the worst thing about Districts is all the paperwork. You start filling stuff out the Monday before and continue for the next 40 days and 40 nights. Quelle dragerooni, as the Frenchies say. But yesterday I popped over to the local post office with boxes and envelopes a’plenty, and shipped everything off to Rippin’ Ripon. Mostly my work here is done, except for a small event up at Monticello to certify one of their policy teams. They were the only policy school entered; with 4 teams, they can qual one, but first all the teams need to debate one round, followed by coach’s decisions. And three neutral judges. We can do that pretty efficiently, and I’m on the case.

Last night I introduced the Sailors to a new name called [insert clever name of game here, because I couldn’t come up with one]. It’s a simple take on trivia, a move toward a more involving approach than Debate Jeopardy. Everyone answers questions in 6 categories, but they can screw people and earn immunities. I’ll simplify it a bit next time, but one thing I’ll say about Sailors, past and present, is that they like a good trivia game. So do I. Next week we’ll get back to (men)ickstitute, but it was nice to have a night off to sort of tie off the season. After all, I have no more tournaments to go to. Noah is shepherding Robbie to Houston, and Mrs. 1-F is handing the States chores, which leaves me washing off the old golf clubs and heading out for another season of inane summer masochism.

Speaking of masochism, this is the time of year when everyone starts hitting on poor old TOC. The Legion believes that if it gets enough judges into the pool, it will stem the sinking tide of debate as we know it, which is marginally true at best. When you do the math, you realize that the size of the TOC judging pool is only slightly smaller than the population of Moose Butt, Montana. A judge is lucky to get 2 rounds in, given the 1 to 1 ratio across a pool of 70 debaters. Some folks like to think the tabbers are sitting there manipulating things, but I highly doubt it. They’ve got 70 or so of the best judges in the country according to any standard, and no real reason to futz around with assignments. What do they care if it’s a Digressive college student or a Legionnaire? They don’t even tend to have horses of their own in the race. No, the real problem is with the TOC itself, an institution which, as I have said, I would not invent if it didn’t exist. Its worst sin is its effect on LD as a cynosure for all the $ircuit practices we hold near and dear, but one cannot overlook its inherent greed. I mean, it costs an arm and a leg, even if you don’t go: there’s always dozens of at-large bids whose fees cover, let me see, the free services of the LD Advisory committee and, oh, yeah, about $30 of mailing fees. And if you get an at-large, is that fee applied to your registration? Chuckle, chuckle. Fortunately, the TOC is run for the benefit of the high school debate community as a whole (absent its cynosure role mentioned above), giving back scholarships and grants— No, wait. That’s not them. They are, in fact, simply one of the colleges we high school people like to outsource our tournaments to. Whatever money they take in, after expenses, goes to their college team. And we treat this event much as the Pope treats Easter.

Personally, I blame everything wrong with TOC on George Bush. Works for everything else, doesn’t it?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Coachean lends a helping band(width)

I offer the following as it was sent to me.

Dear Mr. Menick:

How am I? You are fine.

I turn to you in a time of need. As you know, this is the second busiest season of the year here at ROTFL. Results are coming in from around the country faster and furiouser than we can publish them, and as a result, our servers are stretched beyond capacity. This means that many champions simply are not being announced because we do not have the bandwidth. Imagine our horrorstruckenness!

You, on the other hand, have bandwidth to burn. With 3 active readers, 2 lurkers, a spalpeen and a team that would rather watch tuba-playing cats flush the toilet on YouTube, you have much unused access to the community that could be temporarily loaned to us to keep the Vast ROTFLian Army apprised of every spike, turn and drop across this great country of ours. If you could publish the following results, we would be eternally grateful, at least for a little while.

Thank you.

Your old pal,

Herman Melville
Census Taker, Semi-Amanuensis and General Counsel
ROTFL website, institute, tournament and takeout BBQ restaurant



  • Holy Moly HL crushes Grapejuice DK at Beaver College Invitational.
  • Scientology ER permanently devastates Our Lady of the Evening YT at Little Brooklyn in the Dell Tournament.
  • Jack Kevorkian is crowned Northern Canadian Railroad Champion.
  • Poobah University Prep UM bows before Geppettowood Institute for the Criminally Inane TD at Federal Pen.
  • Florida secedes from Union as Key Largo freshman Bug Gubbers takes state championship when no one was looking, and now refuses to give it back.
  • News from Bolivia: Sikh High PP wraps up local CFL (Catholic Forensic League), NFL (Non-Catholic Forensic League), AFL (Agnostic Forensic League) and PFL (Postmodern Forensic League) titles by winning one-day, one-round, one-student winner-take-all shootout at Simon Bolivar Country Day School.
  • Breaking news: You break it, you pay for it.
  • My Friend Flicka Academy PW survives 429 grueling rounds of LD, PF, Policy, after-dinner chat and postpartum depression to take East Carolina State Championship. (Note: Threat of second Civil War makes it unlikely that the event will be recognized by either the CFL, NFL, AFL or PFL.)
  • Jon Cruz Gallivantry Institute of Casual Noshing QP destroys Wrong Side of Tracks High School BY at Edsel Tech Invitational. (BY subsequently drops out of school to become an eel diver in Wichita, entering state of permanent depression on learning that Wichita’s eel population had already been depleted in 1943 by insatiable sushi chefs bent on invading Kansas and claiming it for Tojo.)
  • Pay Attention You Idiot Prep WM murders Slumview HD in sleep at Georgia Peachpit Summit Event. Tournament continues after WM hauled off by local gendarmes.
  • Hilton Head GG wins Anna Nicole Smith Bahamian title for third year in a row, setting Hilton Head, Bahamas and Supreme Court records. Curiously enough, GG wasn’t even aware that she was competing, and had merely shown up early for Spring Break. Also, GG is 23 years old, the mother of three, and creator of NoYouAintTube, a leading contender for Web 3’s app of the week. Way to go, GG!

Photos of neither these nor other events will ever be published in our non-existent photo section.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Coachean Log, supplemental: You've got some time that needs killing

It's back.

The Legion of Doom Redux

As you know, I generally refer to our age as the post-dialectic, but I’m coming to like the idea I’ve been nursing of referring to our times instead as post-contemporary, or poco for short. After you’ve run out of modern ideas, and then postmodern ideas, you are ready for post-contemporary ideas. If you’re reading this blog, you are poco to the core.

I have in the past talked about personal issues, most recently what I think of as a generational disappointment with sf that informs much baby boomer angst. Subsequent generations had Star Wars and Star Trek untarnished by William Shatner, but we had The Thing with Two Heads. It just wasn’t fair.

Still, even given their surfeit of quality sf entertainment, the poco generation does lack imagination. Or at least they are treated as if they lack imagination. Today, if you buy a Mr. Potato Head (or, as it is known in France, Monsieur Le Tete aux Pommes de Terre), you get a plastic potato in which to insert the features and appendages. The mouth goes into the mouth hole. The eyes go into the eye holes. The ears go into the ear holes. The only conceivable imaginative play open to the proud possessor of Mr. P. H. is to put the nose into one of the ear holes, assuming that this is even possible. Other than that, I guess you treat Mr. P. H. (or as the French would have it, M. L. T. A. P. D. T.) like a grotesque Barbie doll (and there’s a pleonasm if there ever was one), putting it to bed at night and taking it for a walk and whatever else one does with dolls. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me.

In my day, the pre-poco era, it was different. The point of Mr. P.H. was that you would get yourself the various features and appendages (including the now taboo pipe so that himself could read the evening papers while enjoying a bit of Borkum Riff and maybe a martini or something) and then stick them into an actual potato. Kids were tough back then. And creative. Give a baby boomer a couple of ears and a nose and a spud, and before you could say Walter Winchell, you had yourself an anthropomorphic tater. No wonder the world is that way it is today.

But I have to explain further. There’s a personal story here. You see, Mr. Potato Head was sold with, not a plastic potato, but a chunk of Styrofoam sort of shaped like a potato. And when young Jim sat down to enjoy a few solid hours of Potato Head entertainment, he was told by his mother that he could not have a real potato to play with. Stick with the Styrofoam, I was told. You think potatoes grow on trees?

Thus I learned that potatoes did not grow on trees. I was young at the time.

So I played with Mr. Styrofoam Head, but it wasn’t the same. I had this vision of other kids in the neighborhood, the lucky kids, the ones whose parents loved them, playing with real potatoes. Their rooms were filled to overflowing with handsome Idaho spuds overlooking their every fun-filled moment. They tossed the Styrofoam directly into the trash and headed for the produce bin for the real deal. And when the potato gave up the ghost, as it must if it has been poked and prodded with ears and legs and pipes and hats for too long, they simply mashed up and ate the old one and got their mothers to give them a shiny new one. Or at least as shiny and new a potato as a potato could get. I, on the other hand, watched my Styrofoam slowly degenerate. This stuff can take only so much abuse. Eventually my sturdy faux-Idaho was reduced to a new potato, then a fingerling, and finally a mere skin of its former self. And then all the features and appendages went back into the box, Styrofoamless, never to touch real spud, and never to rise from again from an inchoate jumble of plastic parts.

If I had a therapist, much, obviously, would be made of this.

And what does this have to do with the Legion of Doom, you might ask? Well, think of this as an extemp piece. Every extemp piece, as we explained last night to LPW, begins with an anecdote. Then you go on to the meat. But first you take a couple of steps to the right: the extemp two-step.

One. Two.

So they’re having some sort of Legion election, and I was nominated, and my first instinct was to shrug it off, but then I figured, VBD, so I’m running for whatever it is I was nominated for (and I’m not being cute; I’m really not sure). I scratched out a quick platform (“More Potato Heads, Fewer Meatheads”) and there you are.

Vote for me, because I’m always right and I never lie.

And I’m sure Mr. Potato Head would do so, if he only could, in his sad and lonely little box…

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Art; Life; Isn't Rule #1 that we don't talk about extemp?

It is always a pleasure to add a new book to the reading list over there on the right, and I am able to do so again with The Judgment of Paris by Ross King. As someone interested in art but not particularly educated in the subject, I have certainly always loved the Impressionists, which is about as sophisticated as saying you live in Wisconsin and have a fondness for cheese, and I had heard briefly of the big art exhibits in 19th Century Paris where only traditional works were displayed, and how the salons des refuses came into existence, where non-traditional works could be seen.* This was, the story went, where the Impressionists ended up. As it turns out, the story is much more complicated than that, and much more interesting. King (author of Brunelleschi's Dome, previously touted in these pages) focuses on Manet and Meissonier, tells the history of the times, and with virtually no “theory” brings to the reader a new understanding of the whole shooting match. If you’re at all interested in the subject, or would like to be interested in the subject, this book is where to start.

Meanwhile, the chez floor is covered with the upcoming Red Light District fandango ephemera. We have turned the corner on congress, with enough numbers for a Senate and 2 chambers, so that’s settled. There’s still a few schmegeggies who haven’t clarified their entries, but where we are is where we are. We could use more interps of all persuasions, and the odd OO, but I don’t know where we’re going to get them. I spent a fortune on trophies, perhaps for no good reason, so when all is said and done we should zero out on district finances (I do have a little left over from last year). I got an announcement message from Rippin’ telling me if I had a problem to call the Wunn and Only, but I figure if there’s any problems, I’ll just tap him on the shoulder and save the calling fee. Besides, I’ve never seen anyone get cell service in Scarsdale unless you stand on what is called the bridge, punch the number in with your right hand while rubbing your best friend’s belly with your left hand, all the while balancing on one foot and reciting “The Raven.” In French. Including the naughty bits.

Tonight’s Sailorfest will concentrate on prepping for the RLD fandango, including how to congress, how to extemp (Rule #1, there is no T at the end of the word), and how to pffft. Then some basic (men)ickstitute stuff as time permits.

Oh, yeah. Remind me to talk about the Legion of Doom. Our story continues…

*And, if there was any question, we now have today’s winner of the Longest Sentence Contest.

Monday, March 19, 2007


CFL Grands was Saturday. Oy, as the Catholics are wont to say.

O’C and I did LD and Pffft, 24 (I think) in the former and 14 or 16 in the latter. The nice thing is that you can take LD judges and put them into Pffft, although you really can’t do the opposite. We did so by accident just once, to great chagrin all around. But mostly we did things pretty well. The problem is that you have to find 3 judges for each flight, and can seldom find anyone who fits everywhere, and often you can’t find anyone who fits anywhere. So you have people going from this room to that room after flights, and in one case even one flight of LD and a second flight of Pffft in the same round. Tabbing magic! And tabbing nightmare. Fortunately, whenever things got really tough I was able to turn to O’C and see his empty chair as he went off gallivanting. He is the gallivantingest person I have ever met. Catholic Charlie, at least, was there when I needed him (I do a great DI when I’m trying to convince a reluctant judge to get the proverbial tail in gear). JV was doing speech, and was always available, except when an irate Scarswegian parent came storming in; they all had dinner reservations with Hillary and Bill or something. We always just directed them to Joe. God knows where he’d disappear to (and I mean that literally, this being CFL). Talk about great instincts.

(I don’t want to make it appear as if I haven’t been known to disappear at opportune moments at various tournaments. But this is my blog, so we’ll keep that to ourselves.)

Having a blizzard in advance didn’t help. Since my personal Piers is non-existent, I had to blow up the driveway through about ten inches Saturday morning, and my CRV was game until the last few feet, which required enormous backing and forthing for some reason, but eventually I landed on the road, which had most recently been ploughed by the town’s municipal Piers back in 1924. Still, I was able to collect Ewok on his corner, two Grabos halfway up their street, and Emcee at the edge of his snowy development. We were on our way with little ado from that point, with only the occasional icy spot on the highways. Parking around Stuy was non-existent, and I ended up in a garage that charged—wait for it—$50. And this was no jacked up, one-day-only, blizzard rate. This was their regular stay for the day. Fifty bucks. That’s two-thirds of an iPod Shuffle. Oh, well. At least the drive home was clear, with Japanese food to cap it off.

As for the day’s forensic entertainment, the debating (as compared to the cranking, and you can read his comments to this blog if you doubt that designation) Grabowitz managed to qual, so it was worth the effort. The other LD Sailors pulled in a decent share of ballots, but not quite enough for Texas. In Pffft, on the other hand, I think we need work. I’ve got some ideas I’ll share with my Pfffters tomorrow night: they’ll need them before Districts. Pffft strategy seems so elemental to me I may have been forgetting to explain it to anyone. I need to make up for that.

Sunday I spent pretty much the entire day prepping for Districts. I’ve filled out all the cards, sorted out the numbers, got everything about 50-75% ready. But there’s still plenty of details to work out over the next few days. The good news is that if you get Congress set up, you have the Friday morning while Congress is running to get everything else set up. More details on that as I collect them, but at the moment we seem to have enough congressfolk to do a Senate and 2 houses (whew!), so we’re okay there, and the rest of the Red Light District story remains the same, although we are loaded for the Wunn and Only when he arrives, with both barrels ready to blast self-protective ammo.

Don’t you just love the drama?

Friday, March 16, 2007

The weather outside is frightful

It seems to be awfully late in the year for a snowstorm. Oh, well. On the plus side, I just posted a new Nostrum. On the negative side, I just posted a new Nostrum. Which puts us even.

There's been much gnashing of teeth over tomorrow's events in Manhattan. All I can say is, we'll know in the morning. The Last Supper yesterday was quite pleasant. We gossiped about everyone who wasn't there. I assure you, your name did come up.

Other than that, I'm going upstairs to read a book. You should do likewise.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Menicka est omnis divisa in partes tres

I've been really in the weeds these last few days.

1. Private/family life. My mother (yes, I have a mother) just got a pacemaker. She's fine, but getting to fine was a bit of a trip.

2. I rush from the hospital to my day job (yes, I have a day job). I read a couple of books, schedule the department for the next couple of months, avoid talking about our new CEO for much the same reason I avoid talking about the political situation in Botswana—it doesn't affect me that much, so it's not high on my radar. Yes, we do have a new CEO, and despite the fact that the average person in the hallway spends an entire career having literally no direct interactions with this sort of creature, you'd think that she had moved into the spare bedroom and was doing a Sheridan Whiteside with bells on. I limit my gossip to people I know. Or people who post to WTF. The rest of you are so many chimeras.

3. I spend all last night entering data for the CFL Grands gala and then I run off this evening for the Last Supper, or whatever it is the NY Cats call their annual get-together. (No doubt the previous sentence will have me excommunicated at the very least.)

QED, three parts: home, work, the other work.

What I need is another home. I need some space. I need a moment in the day to be me, Jim Menick, NASCAR addict, fashionista, do-it-yourself home-repair legend, gentleman farmer, and, of course, man trapped in a man's body.

I'm pooped. And I'll leave you with this. Whatever happened to people using the name Goliath? I mean, once upon a time, obviously, Goliath was a normal name, just like David. Today, there's Davids everywhere, but just try to find a Goliath anywhere. No way. If you ask me, the statute of limitations has expired, and the name should enter back into the common parlance. (Actually, what I'll really leave you with is this: never use the word Rabelaisian in a debate meeting, unless you need to take a quick picture to illustrate the dictionary definition of "blank stare.")

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Meanwhile, back at the night job

So, says you, whatever happened to debate?

Let’s see. The Legion of Doom is holding some sort of election, apparently to add to their august leadership committee. I understand they want to do for Declamation what they’ve done for LD; I’m with them on this, 1000%.

Last night we began (men)ickstitute with the most stalwart of the Plebes, talking about case-writing. I always find writing an interesting subject. It’s very easy to say that you need to include this, that or the other in your writing, but to get to the point of actually having any of this, or that, or even the other, is a difficult thing. Some of us see a blank piece of paper not as a challenge but as an endangered species. Others can stare forever at the empty page, or in this day and age the empty screen, and have no idea what to put on it. My advice in case writing is easy, and all neatly contained on the pdf on the Sailors’ website. My point is that once you have a thesis for your side, and you write that thesis down, most likely you have at least one and more likely two tags for contentions already staring you in the face. It’s all downhill from there. Next up we’ll talk about various strategies and tactics.

Saturday is the CFL Grands tournament. I have no idea why it’s called that. A grand tournament (“Gee, that would be grand”) would be understandable, if Salingeresque. Maybe it’s a mistaken plural for grand tournament, where whoever came up with it knew the plural of attorney general and thought that it was the same sort of thing. Whatever. I’ll be tabbing PF and LD, partnering with O’C in what I have declared will be an all-Disney tabroom. The MegaPod is all warmed up. There’s almost 30 LDers (hoo-rah!), an easy number even with 3 judges per debate. There’s only 17 Pffffters, on the other hand, which is a bit more work. Oh, well; with “Minnie’s Yoohoo” on the box, O’C and I should make short work of it. If we’re out of there by seven o’clock, I’ll be ecstatic. That would be 4 long, tough sets of pairings. I’m thinking busing the Sailors over to Chinatown for dinner after the event. We may have to fight a bit of the St. Patrick’s Day crowd, but it would be worth it. We’ll see how it works out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Or, Just Hand me the Clicker

The world you live in is different from the world I live in, or more precisely, the world you grew up in is different from the world I grew up in, with a resulting difference in world view. You look at something and say it was bad, while I look at it and say it wasn’t good. We do not disagree, but we see it differently because of our conflicting intellectual heritages. In a word, our expectations are different. Here’s why.

The godfathers of science fiction are, unquestionably, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. You can make various cases for one over the other being the real egg, but they both were the earliest people to successfully study the themes we regularly see in sf today in a recognizably modern way. Certainly the chronologically more contemporary Wells provides not only themes to the modern arena but still, literally, plots. In the last decade alone, for instance, Hollywood has filmed The War of the Worlds pretty much as is twice (with Tom Cruise and with Will Smith [Independence Day]). Blending humans and animals (“Are we not men?”), invisibility, time travel—that’s a lot of the contemporary gamut, introduced to us by Herbert George. One might suggest that, without actually writing space operas, Verne is more the father of that sort of work, as his novels tend to be adventure romances with exotic scientific touches, as compared to germinating from purely scientific-speculative concepts. In any case, with these two gentlemen, mainstream speculative literature is born.

And immediately stops.

For whatever reasons, speculative fiction did not become a mainstream branch of literature after its invention. I’m not quite sure why, but the story of the mystery genre has certain analogies to sf—which abbreviation nicely serves for both science fiction and speculative fiction; woe to the person that calls it “sci fi” in front of its practitioners, which is like calling IE people Speechies to their faces and which is why herein they are referred to as Speecho-Americans—but unlike sf, mysteries quickly became mainstream. Plenty of critics held mysteries at arm’s length (“That’s not writing, that’s typing”) but the general public found literate practitioners and made big sellers out of them. This did not happen with sf. But one thing similar for both sf and mysteries was the creation of a pulp fiction tradition. The point here is that, with sf, that’s all there was.

Pulp fiction has its own long history, going back to the penny dreadfuls (and probably going back thence hundreds of years to the Morality Plays) and dime novels (the price keeps going up) to the pulp magazines of the 20s and 30s up to the first cheap paperbacks of the 50s, especially those which used lurid covers to sell themselves to the reading public. This is cheap reading entertainment, not particularly demanding and usually in short form, perhaps melodramatic, and often concentrating on areas of subject not quite ready for prime time. Nowadays every TV show on the air seems to revel in forensic criminology, but once upon a time such things were not considered polite, cultured fare. These were boys’ stories, or mens’ stories, depending on the quantity and quality of its distressed damsels.

So, unlike the mystery genre, sf didn’t go mainstream, but it did live a thriving life in the pulp magazines. Mostly this was an era of BEMs and the like, but somewhere along the line the so-called Golden Age began. The stories elevated themselves above the level of cheap melodrama to truly interesting speculation, and good writing. The early giants of the genre began to appear, authors like Isaac Asimov, for instance. And by the time you get to the 50s, there’s an awful lot of good, readable stuff out there, much of it now available in book form. Hardcover books. In libraries. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but once upon a time libraries actually had books in them, and not much else. Incroyable, eh?

The baby boomers like me came up reading those books, those collections of stories, the early classic sf novels that shortly followed. Obviously, I read other stuff too, but on my menu of favored books was a healthy dose of sf. I was reading this stuff at a point where people recognized that it really was representative of a golden age, although I was too young to be one of those people. I just enjoyed the material for what it was.

Just as there was little sf in mainstream publishing, there was little sf in mainstream cinema. Essentially no mainstream entertainment medium paid much attention to sf except at a cheap pulpish level. Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. The occasional sf-ish film, like Things to Come (check out that cast) in 1936. Monster and horror films, of course. One could, I guess, call King Kong an sf film; that would be stretching things, but it probably did hang on the same appeal as sf to some extent. There were the old Flash Gordon serials. There was, at the high point of pulp, a serial where Gene Autry visits Murania (The Phantom Empire). Dismal times for fans, eh?

The 50s were a period of bustling sf film activity, however. 1951 saw the mainstream The Day the Earth Stood Still, which holds up nicely 50 years later. But that movie was an exception. Most of the 50s movies were BEMs of one sort or another; the more intellectual of them were informed by fear of nuclear holocaust, but they were all mostly one monster or another out to get you, although sometimes the monster had a heart (but, hell, even King Kong had a heart). We had plenty of fun stuff in there: George Pal (if you need a crash course, then let there be lips: listen to “Science Fiction/Double Feature” from the Rocky Horror Show), Forbidden Planet, various Verne pictures, all sorts of things crawling up from under Japanese rocks—quite an assortment. As a matter of fact, there were enough of these pictures to entertain the baby boomers with great regularity. We really would head off to double features of the things, kiddy matinees where our parents would drop us off with a quarter for the movies and another quarter for snacks, and pick us up 4 hours later with our brains filled with monsters jumping out from behind rocks. Some of these pictures were pretty good. Most, however, were schlock. By the time the 60s rolled around, they had filtered down almost entirely to schlock. And, more importantly, we had been pretty much abandoned by the mainstream. This kind of movie was double-feature kid stuff unsuitable for intelligent adults. For all practical purposes, there was no good sf in the movies.

But we knew there could be good sf. “The Twilight Zone” proved that, at least as far as television was concerned. Other shows tried as well in the genre, but TZ was the gold standard. We sampled all the shows—“The Outer Limits,” “Way Out” (hosted by Roald Dahl, no less)—but usually we were disappointed. And let’s face it, even by 1966, when you have “Star Trek,” it’s not really all that good. I mean, everyone watched it but no one confused Lord Olivier with William Shatner. Not even once.

If you read the backstory on 2001: A Space Odyssey, you’ll pretty quickly discover one of the chief goals of its creators, Kubrick and Clark, which was to make the “proverbial intelligent science fiction movie.” That was literally one of their stated goals—smart sf. They were well aware that there was plenty of smart sf out there in the literature, but it wasn’t on the big screen. They believed that the mass audience was ready for it. Regardless of whether that belief was true, there was no question that the sf world was ready for it. All those people who read or had read sf, who had seen movies that danced around what the cinema could do in this area, longed for the proverbial intelligent science fiction movie. Spend a gazillion dollars in making it, and film it in Cinerama so that the screen wraps around the viewer? Even better. Throw in that this was now the height of the psychedelic 60s, and you get the bonus of all those hippies who were satisfied as long as enough bright lights were going off around them. Sounds like the recipe for a big hit.

The problem with “2001,” of course, is that it was not particularly accessible to the general market. It’s a slow-moving rhapsodic love affair with cosmology. Even diehard sf fans were known to fall asleep in the middle of it, wake up during “it’s full of stars” and stumble out totally confused. Nevertheless, like the movie or not like it, you can’t discount that it was the proverbial intelligent sf movie (even if you thought that intelligence was stupid).

I loved it. I still do.

So what you have now is a generation of baby boomers who have sat through endless pulp tv shows and films, and who have finally gotten one movie that they might embrace as the real thing. Maybe they have one or two more hidden gems (I loved Enemy from Space, but I’m afraid to watch it again for fear that it won’t hold up), but mostly they’ve got Twilight Zone and Star Trek on TV, and 2001 in the movies. Their formative years have been spent waiting for and checking out each new sf show or film in the hope, the desperate and small hope, that it might be good. Almost without fail, they were disappointed. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

In 1977 there was a little film called Star Wars. I saw it the day it opened; they gave me a “May the Force be with you” button. I was getting on in years at this point, and I was certainly no longer in the formative stage. That day in June changed the entire picture of sf in the movies. The bucks started rolling in, there was a generation of boomers who had been brought up on the old pulp stuff and the good stories and novels who were just rarin’ to go as filmmakers, there were kids out there who showed that they would go to these movies again and again and again… The floodgates opened, and since then, it would be unthinkable to suggest that someone needs to make the proverbial intelligent sf film (although I, for one, wish that someone had read the story of “The Minority Report” before filming some movie that, mirabile dictu, had no minority report). It would be unthinkable to suggest that sf is not mainstream (or at least mass market). The world, in a world, has changed.

And that, my dear, is the world you were born into. You have never lived in a world where there wasn’t Star Wars and CE3K and ET, etc., etc., etc. A world without the Borg? You’ve got 7 of 9, while all we ever had was Ernest Borgnine. There are sf titles regularly on the bestseller lists. Type in Neal in Google and Stephenson is number 2; type in Neil and Gaiman is number 1. And everything is always available. Watch the videos. Watch the reruns. Watch it on YouTube.

I, on the other hand, carry the baggage of my youth. The expectation that, whatever it is, it probably won’t be any good, but the hope, ever burning, that maybe this time it will be different.

So, when you watch Farscape, you say, This sucks, and you move along. When I watched Farscape, I kept saying, well, it’s not that good, but maybe it will get better next time. Or next time. Or next time.

I am of the conditioning where I spend too much hope counting on next times. The triumph of optimism over experience, I guess.

In any case, you did have to like the Muppets on the show, and the concept of the organic ship. (But don’t get me started on the Muppets!)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Some Hard and Fast Rules for the VCA (or, Responding to Comments)

#1. Do not physically attack the writer of this blog because you don’t like something he said. This is very important, and must be committed to memory. Waiting until my back is turned and coming up behind me with an iron skillet with villainous intent is not an acceptable response to the material being published. This writing here is presented on what is known as the internet, which is a virtual arena for communication, if you will. Feel free to respond, or even attack me, in a virtual sense, in keeping with the nature of the arena. At the point where you actually hit me, you are doing two things: first, you are demonstrating an inability on your part to understand the nature of modern technology, and second, you are hitting me. Neither of these will put you in good position to prosper in the exciting yet complex world of the 21st century.

Oh, and by the way, [insert raspberry sound here].

#2. No intramural dickering in the comments. If the staff of WTF wants to have at each other, then they can take it outside. Jeeesh! If necessary, I will have the Rev BA discipline you people, since he obviously has the time and you obviously have the need.

#3. Do not mis-estimate the writer of this blog. I may not be a cultural lout, but I do keep myself apprised of cultural loutitude. Then again, Farscape was not particularly obscure. I only watched it to the point where I realized it never really was going to be that good, but I did watch it for a while. I watch Star Trek and Star Wars stuff too, not to the point where I know, O'C-like, what Jean-Luc had for breakfast the day he put on his cellphone headpiece and became a Borg, but enough. I can name the stars of American Idol without having to suffer through the show. I’ve never watched Survivor but I know that it’s on. I can recognize Donald Trump, Paris Hilton or Justin Timberlake in a crowd. (Okay, not Justin Timberlake, but allow me some leeway here.) I’ve seen almost every Arnold Schwarzenegger film. I’ve seen enough Adam Sandler films to know enough not to watch any more of them. I have read more Beetle Bailey cartoons over the years than I have Immanuel Kant essays (and I can categorically state that one of them is a deist, thus undermining much of his philosophy in my eyes, and the other is in the army, although I’m only 75% sure at any given moment which is which). The one category in this year’s Oscars that I saw all the nominees was Animated Feature (and I agree with the academy’s vote on that one), and the only sports I watch in a given year are the SuperBowl and the Triple Crown, but that does not mean I have not put The Departed into my Netflix queue or that I am unaware that March Madness is about college basketball (although I am not above pretending that I do not know the difference between basketball, baseball and synchronized swimming, simply because it annoys people). I actually have owned a New York baseball cap, and realize that it was either the Yankees or the Mets; it was blue, if that’s any help. Anyhow, my point is that I am not culturally illiterate, and I have plenty of meatloaf tastes like everyone else. In fact, I still listen to Meat Loaf, but I also listen to tropicalia, Faure, Disney soundtracks, Monk, B.B., Feinstein, Louis, Frank, Carlos, and just about everyone else, except the Ramones (aside from “Sedated”). I contain multitudes. Remember that. So should you.

#4. Failure to observe these rules will cost you your Coachean reading privileges. In other words, don’t make me have to go out there and discipline you. I make the Rev BA look like Florence Nightingale. Everything I have learned about order and obedience comes from late-night prison films. Everything he has learned about order and obedience comes from— Well, all right, we won’t go there.

(Sorry, BA, but since you don’t run the Pffft website, you are obviously not doing anything, and are therefore available for random swiping. If it wasn't you it would have to be one of those college boobs who keep posting to WTF, and I've already had enough of them to last a lifetime.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Coachean log, supplemental: Disregard the Rev

O'C suggests that the Rev has nothing to do with the PF site. What do I know?

Reform School Confidential; You Know Less and Less Jack; CatPffft

O’C pointed out to me that I’ve been referenced over at the Pffft website. The heart beats faster at the thought. Oh, joy. Oh, rapture. The Rev B.A., who is the head trustie at some reform school down in the Shallow South, is one of my favorite debate people. And I love his team. They do what he tells them to do, although I gather that if they don’t do what he tells them to do, he simply adds more years to their sentence. The Rev, you may remember, held court at Big Jake, doing PF tab. He had a central desk in the middle of the library like the pilot on Farscape, and seemed to be having a high time of it. Then again, who doesn’t have a high time at Big Jake, aside from O’C, who’s so busy saving all the schematics so that he can sell them on eBay and running up and checking the computer to make sure I haven’t sabotaged the event by calling it the Bronx School of High Scientology or something that he never takes a breath, except if his mother shows up, at which point he disappears over to Jerome Avenue for a couple of latkes, a short beer and a shoeshine before calming down and saying, It’s just a tournament, It’s just a tournament, It’s just a tournament.

I mentioned a while ago one of the down sides of the modern age without elaborating on it, and something that just happened brought it to mind again. I had been visiting Kate and Marc in Brooklyn and I reported that “we lamented over having the internet.” What I was referring to was the ease with which we can now answer life’s little questions. The question that grew treelike in Brooklyn was, What, exactly, is a crown prince? We sorta knew, but we weren’t exactly sure. And as we talked we realized that with one click of the keyboard, we could find the answer. The joy of aimless conversation about subjects on which you are mis- or ill-informed is suddenly eliminated when you can just go instantly look it up. You could even, perhaps, allow the muscle that is exercised by knowing such items to atrophy, thus placing yourself at an ever greater disadvantage when you try to play me in YDKJ (which is back on line at an eponymous dot com, Huzzah!), but the real issue is the draining of the energy from certain fun pursuits, like conversation and research, when you know you can just find out in a second. What started me thinking about this was that I had forgotten the name Farscape; all I could think of was Firefly. Two clicks later I can tell you who played all the parts, when, how much they got paid, where they were born, and why. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the art?

No, not figs. Raisins…

This weekend is the last little tournament, a CFL hoo-ha down at Iona, the home base of Catholic Charlie. It’s actually a little bigger than one would expect, as we’re folding in a state tournament qualifier as well. In essence, there’s one tournament with two sets of results, one normal with the taking of tin, the other paranormal (?) with the taking of state quals. Somehow I’ll have to balance the two from the one tab engine. Should make things interesting. Originally I had hoped they might offer Pffft to allow my Pfffters some practice, but alas, no one signed up. Pffft is funny that way. It’s growing, it’s out there, but it still hasn’t gotten traction locally beyond a handful of the truly dedicated. Each invitational fields about 20 or 30 of the little buggers, but with few exceptions, no one really seems to identify themselves as either a PF tournament or a PF school. Pffft is still an addendum. Which is too bad, because some of the topics are great fun, and the format offers a solid experience for the participants (it’s fast, it’s team-based, it focuses on persuasive speech). Someday, I guess, but not just yet. Next week is the CFL qualifier, by the way, which does indeed mean some serious Pffft, if one considers the spin the Catholics have put on Pffft to be serious. I don’t get it: it’s as if they’re taking the pagan idea of a saturnalia and transforming it into Miracle on 34th Street. The NFL created an activity that has its various merits, and instead of either accepting or rejecting that activity, the Cats had to change it, apparently because the clerics in tab had trouble entering the data correctly. Well, there’s a reason to change the substance of the event. So I guess what we end up with is Secular Pffft and Religious Pffft. The mind, such as it is, boggles.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

SkyHigh JV vs JediAcad OC

I can't remember where it was, but my favorite headline when Jacques Derrida did what the Old Baudleroo just did was as follows:
Jacques Derrida "dies"

Anyhow, I’m mildly taken by the reprinted Rostrum article on computers in LD that WTF posted recently. They didn’t get a lot of takers with commentary, last time I checked. One or two brilliant collegiates attacked the grammar or each other or something similarly idiotic, which was enough to stop any meaningful discussion dead in its tracks. One does wish these wondermites would go off and lead a college life and allow the rest of us to go about our business unmolested.

There’s really two big issues that the article touches on, and one is problematic and the other is waggy (as in wild-assed-guess) futurism, or at least leading to waggy futurism. The problematic one is the use of PCs in rounds if the rounds are what they already are. That is, we do nothing but allow people to bring in their laptops. I have nothing against this in theory, provided one bans communications. It is unethical to buzz a classmate for help during a solo competition, regardless of how one does the buzzing. A text message on a cell, an IM, a quick trip ostensibly to the bathroom but instead to a teammate during prep—they’re all the same, and no one is arguing that they are not taboo. PCs would make it easier, of course, but honorable behavior is honorable behavior, and I’m willing to make a presumption for honorability ruling the day. I would have no restriction, though, on, say, Googling. If you want to find some evidence during the round, be my guest. It wouldn’t be all that useful if you didn’t already have a strategy in which to embed it, so why not? You wouldn’t be drawing in totally new material that would be of any use strategically in-round; it couldn’t be done that quickly. And if you’ve got 8000 case blocks on your computer, and the other person has a computer and could have their own 8000 blocks if they were so inclined, the playing field is theoretically level, so have at it. The only issue remaining is that level playing field. That would have to be assured. To tell you the truth, I don’t think we’re all that far from it. You can get a perfectly good computer nowadays for less than the cost of sending a $ircuit team virtually anywhere, so once you're on the $ircuit, pleading poverty is a scam. Off the $ircuit, on the other hand, I also don’t think we’re far from the one student, one laptop universe. Ten years from now, tops. The actual date doesn’t matter, really. Once you have that universe, and the field is level, and the schools have all installed wireless networks (and by then they will), it’ll be fine.

What makes this problematic (which is, by the way, a word you most certainly always use incorrectly) is the article’s suggestion that in a changing world, the skills we’re developing in LD without PCs will soon be useless, or at least irrelevant. I question that. The skills we’re developing are writing, researching, public speaking and, of course, thinking. While a computer changes the practice of writing, eliminating typewriter ribbons and erasable paper and the like, it does not change the art of writing. Neither did typewriters when they were invented. Writing with a computer may be more efficient than with a typewriter which may be more efficient than with a pen, but it’s the same process. It’s just that nowadays it’s easier to go from input to output. Researching has perhaps seen a more serious paradigm shift than writing in the connected age of the internet, but only insofar as secondary and superficial research can now be done quickly and more efficiently than in the pre-internet world. Serious research on most things probably still requires you to read a book, and while a computerized library catalog may allow you to find that book a little faster, it won’t enable you to read it a little faster. Even if Google successfully uploads the entire literature of the known universe, you’ll still have to read the book. Of course, the computer does help find some information very quickly (think, for example IMDB), and over time will probably help find more comparable factual information with similar speed, but as I say, that data is superficial. As for the public speaking part of LD, the general belief is that the internet promises the end of the office as we know it thanks to high-speed communications. The funny thing is, the office doesn’t seem to be going away no matter how high-speed communications get, generally accepted beliefs to the contrary notwithstanding. Certain non-core office chores get booted off-campus but in the main, person-to-person communication has a value worth paying for, and companies continue to pay for it by providing physical space for its occurrence. As far as I can tell, the only people who think that someday businesses will be conducted without central campuses are people who are not in businesses. And finally, in the LD recipe there’s the ingredient of thinking, and as far as I can see, the computer is fairly agnostic on that one.

My point here is that seeing some brave new world just around the corner that forensicians must prepare for is something I simply don’t share with the article’s author. I see no evidence for that world happening any time soon. As a matter of fact, I’m always surprised that today’s youth are not all that computer savvy. They’re cellphonic, they’re IMic, they’re social networkers, but they're not computists per se. The computer is just a tool, and a rather oblique one, only as good as its user. And I think we’re a long way from the ubiquitously savvy computist on a generational level. I just don’t see it.

On the other hand, there is that waggy part of the article. That was where debaters were arguing on their laptops and they and the judge were all in separate locations. The virtual tournament, if you will. This, in fact, does change the equation, because it does, indeed, remove the public speaking factor from it. (Some might argue that excessive speed does likewise, but that’s a different discussion.) The question becomes, given that, theoretically, this sort of debate would not be impossible, provided the participants were decent enough typists—if the round were conducted in l33t or text-mess or whatever it’s called, fuhgeddaboudit—what would that debate be like, and would it be worth conducting it? Maybe. As I say, I don’t feel that the need to learn public speaking is going to go away any time soon, or at least not until people forget how to talk, but that doesn’t mean there might not be some futuristic debate paradigm with values all its own. In this virtual tournament, there would be no travel expenses, so the benefits (?) of the $ircuit would become available to one and all, at least to some extent. Nobody would be going anywhere, so anyone could conceivably debate anyone else. Interesting. There would be no verbal communication; doing this with cameras, a sort of webcam conference call, would merely be a modernization of the present paradigm, and not a paradigm shift (although, of course, that would still be a possibility at the 10-year point when everyone has that laptop). Cases would be delivered across hyperspace. Time would pass and questions would be proposed (assuming a basic structure as we have now.) Then, a negative case and rebuttals, more questions, etc., with the judge overseeing it all. Given the lack of verbal communication, the effect on the content would be interesting and perhaps, from our perspective, surprising. It’s fun to think about.

Meanwhile, it's good to remember that not all things of the past should be replaced because there is a newer way of doing them. Unless you're a really fast typist, for instance, flowing in a round is easier with a pen on a pad than on a computer. Also, computers weigh less than pads, cost less than pads, and get stolen less than pads. Some people love flowing on computers, which is fine. I've tried, and found it to be more trouble than it's worth. That's fine too. Computers are not going to replace everything we do just because they could replace everything we do. We need to find the right place for change, and then we make changes in that right place. As a general rule, the marketplace (real or of ideas) does a pretty good job of determining where computers will make their mark. So far computers have wreaked havoc in, say, the travel business, and online travel resources, and online travel arranging, has revolutionized if not virtually eliminated the traditional travel agency business. There's other examples, and none of them are forced. They happen. What will happen in debate will happen. But we need to allow opportunities for change, provided those opportunities are equal. Then we see what happens. If the change is good, or productive, go with it. Otherwise, try something else. We have until the middle of the 21st century to figure something out; at that point, that asteroid we've all been hearing about will hit, and that will be that. But at least we'll have tried all the options.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Coachean log, supplemental: The Old Baudleroo est mort

There goes the Disney trip!

A flu flown; Ivy envy; ickstitute; the coming storm

I’ve managed to get myself organized, after a bout with some mystery disease that made me feel as if I ought to be a lot sicker than I was, and which I’m assuming was just a light case of what everyone else was getting as they were dropping like flies all around me. Maybe it was the flu. Having taken a flu shot, maybe I wasn’t necessarily immune, but merely buffered. Whatever. As evidence of my recovery, I have posted a couple of podcasts. First, there’s a recording of the piece I did here on sovereignty. That was a very basic take on the concept for Mar-Apr that might also come in handy for some future topic, but it will sink quickly into the mire of regular blogging, so I figured capturing it to the side now wouldn’t hurt. And I’ve finally gotten back to Nostrum, in which we are now up to episode 39. What I’m really looking forward to is the “deconstruction” episode, which should be coming up soon. That and the singing Round Robinskis. These, I always felt, were classics. Jules and the Nostrumite should be proud.

The so-called Northeastern Novice/JV Championship was at Lakeland this last weekend. (I know because I kept watching O’C typing results and uploading them to WTF, but when he took a break and I tried to sneak in and put up something scurrilous, I couldn’t do it. Bah!) We’ve had northeastern championships in the past, most recently at Bishop Guertin, and they make sense. As a rule, most of our regional debate includes New Jersey and Massachusetts as well as New York, so any attempt to send off the young ‘uns at this early point in their careers should include those states as well. To date, the event has never really gotten the traction it deserves. NYC is in its own little world, concentrating on whatever events get it to the State tournament pretty much to exclusion of any other venue. Long Island seems to operate likewise. I certainly understand demurring from tournaments that require great traveling distances and great expense, but our high school invitationals don’t really fill that bill, and the schools I’m thinking of all turn out in force to college tournaments. I’ve never understood that. Absent seeking bids, why would you go to an expensive college tournament when you could instead go to a reasonable high school tournament, if the competition is the equivalent? Additionally, I have noticed over the years that infant programs all feel that they need to go to the Ivy tournaments to the exclusion of other more reasonable tournaments, as if the very iviness will rub off on them; as a rule, these poor schmegeggies sink of their own inexperience to the bottom of the pool, yet these schools go back year after year, the only tournament(s) they attend. The triumph of ignorance over experience, I guess. Maybe they really do think that going 0-6 at an Ivy will get them accepted in a couple of years. That, of course, would be the triumph of colossal ignorance over experience. In any case, the Newburghers have promised to move this Northeastern Hullabaloo to their venue next year, some time in April. As soon as it’s set, I’ll be pushing it like crazy. I so want it to happen, big time. And it might, if enough of us get behind it.

I did get a lot of work done at Lakeland. Since I wasn’t tabbing I got a chance to go through the old cur and see where we are for the year, given that theoretically the year is winding down. Usually we stop meeting in April, except for anyone hanging on for a national event, plus any additional Sailors who are in it for the brainstorming. But as I was going over the material I felt that there were a lot of things that needed to be gone through, end of season or no end of season. So I’ve decided to continue meeting up through WDW. It’s going to be a private little institute; I’m even giving it a name, (men)ickstitute, to explain what it is to its participants. It’s a combination of strategy material and content lectures that does need to be covered. The upperclassmen have been relieved of duty for the event, as they are all off in senioritisville anyhow. Only the hardcore of plebes will be left. Ten hut! About face! Backwards, march!!!

And on the up-and-coming front, this weekend it’s the last of the little CFL events, including a few preppers for Grands and Districts on the Sailor side, with a side order of New York State Regionals for those who are interested in attending the State tournament, followed by CFL Grands in Manhattan (hardest tab job of the year), capped by the Red Light District in Scarsdale (complete with visitation from the Wunn and Only). And according to the widget, it’s 64 days to WDW. I just ordered the Universal tix. All that remains are two outstanding dinner reservations. If Eisenhower had planned the invasion of Europe as well as I plan Disney trips, the whole war would have been over on 12/8/41.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Independence, Part Two

So in a world where people are paying attention to such things, no tournament director in his or her right mind will accept unchaperoned entries, for the simple reason that by doing so responsibility for those entries defaults to the tournament director, and the hassles that might arise can be anything from a suddenly sick child who needs to be sent home, somehow, to a seriously sick child who needs to be sent to the hospital, representing a continuum of situations most TDs do not wish to spend time adjudicating during their tournaments. There are enough problems as it is. Why take on these problems as well? Add to that the admittedly minor possibility that an unaffiliated entry could be attending your tournament in direct violation of school regulations, and you have an untenable position. (One could argue that because some TDs do accept such entries, others should as well. But that is a bad argument. The handful of tournaments I know of that do not pay attention to who’s showing up and what happens to them are demonstrating bad judgment, not setting a precedent of good behavior for others. The fact that some people do a thing, no matter who those people are, is no warrant for others doing it. If that were the case, we could have all easily refuted our mothers when they asked, if all our friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would we do so too.)

But the curious thing is, the essay in Rostrum misses all the obvious issues I’ve talked about, which are real and preemptive. The writers instead attack the Legion of Doom on the question of liability, and claim that the legion’s position, being specious, is therefore discriminatory. And you know something? On these they may be right.

First, liability. Liability for what? Challenged by whom? I mean, I’m certainly willing to accept that if something were to happen to an unchaperoned child at my tournament, someone might hold me legally accountable, but that is an extreme possibility. What would be the basis of the liability, aside from proximity? And realistically, would that ever really come to pass? Has it ever? The argument in the article here is reasonable. The writers go on to say that this claim of liability in the Legion’s policy statement (which has the legal weight of a tuna melt) is in fact an attempt to discriminate against independent entries.

Yeah. They're right.

The goal of the Legion is to mold, or limit, or contain—however you want to refer to it—LD according to certain standards which are claimed as educational. But the Legion very much believes that one of the gravest threats to those standards is students without coaches, who are therefore unrestricted by, not merely adult supervision at a tournament, but adult supervision in forming their approach to debate. Another perceived threat is the college student judge/coach with a so-called progressive agenda, pressuring debaters to adapt to their agendas of speed, source literature and digressive theories of debate structure. While these unaffiliated debaters are not always linked with these digressive judges, they often are, for the simple reason that when you have no coach, you hire whom you can. Of course, the Legion also takes TDs to task for hiring these digressive judges, but the connection remains. If you’re accepting a debater or team without an adult but with a judge, the likelihood is you’re accepting a digressive judge (I like that term) into your judging pool.

So as it turns out, the good reason for barring the unchaperoned/unaffiliated—all of my examples of the sick debater—is bypassed by the Legion in favor of an obscurant policy claiming liability issues. And, probably, there are liability issues at stake, but the real issue is keeping out bad influences. So, all right, this is not really discriminatory, but it is weighted. Is it wrong?

You’d have to make your own decision on that. I’ve spoken to the issue of the digressive judges in the past, at great length, and while I don’t ban them, I don’t seek them out (and they know who I am, and when they or their wards have the opportunity to strike me, they do, so we’re even there). And do I love the unaffiliated/independent/unchaperoned children out there? Let’s see. I think the term I use is National $ircuit, given that these independents all seem to turn up quite far away from home despite the Rostrum article's claims that they have no funds. If you say so... The idea put forth in the article regarding behavior or unchaperoned independents being modified by the community at large, by the way, is simply silly: it's non-unique (all behavior in groups is group-modified to some extent) and it's no guarantee of correct behavior (unless the group we're talking about is akin to Nazi Storm Troopers).

Still, there is the issue of what is a student to do if there is no debate in their area? Shouldn’t they be able to find it elsewhere? Aren't they entitled to Lincoln-Douglas by virtue of birth? OF COURSE THEY ARE!!! IT’S PLANK #328 OF THE UN DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS!!!

(That, in case you missed it, was irony. In caps.)

I mean, jeesh, I love debate (obviously) and value it highly enough to devote, shall we say, some spare time to it, but there are probably other ways of learning things in high school. I support finding funding for debate where it doesn’t exist: not funding for the handful of top debaters to travel seven states away to bid tournaments, but funding for schools to augment the salaries of their underpaid teachers to create and coach in local events, to urge them to seek help from the NFL, all that sort of thing. Aside from getting to TOCs (if that is a real benefit of debate, and that is arguable), all the benefits of debate would pretty much be available if it were no more than bi-weekly scrimmages between the theoretical East Side HS and the West Side HS for a couple of hours after school. There are people out there, productive members of society—doctors, lawyers, truant officers, circus acrobats, CEOs—none of whom debated in high school. They have survived. There is no right to debate. There is no right to specific extracurricular activities. We are privileged to have debate, or to have the wherewithal to seek it out. We love it. And we should be thankful for it. Demand it as our due? No. It just doesn’t work like that.

Anyhow, I’m surprised the NFL would print an article that is so counter to their own rules. Have you ever tried to send a kid to NatNats without their coach along? Look that one up some time. If there’s any real hypocrisy here, it’s on the part of NFL, not the independents or the Legion, whose points of view are at least single-minded. Unless NatNats is going to start letting people in without 38 separate letters notarized by every household saint within an 80-mile radius of the local school board, they shouldn’t even pretend to support such a position.

No wonder I run a Red Light District.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Independence, Part One

I’m still reading that old Rostrum. In addition to Smilin’ J’s pack of lies, there’s an article on independent entry in tournaments. Very amusing issue, I think.

The hoo-ha begins with the Legion of Doom’s platform plank advising that tournaments accept no independent or unchaperoned entries, warranted essentially by liability issues. The Rostrum article contends that these liability issues are chimerical, and that the banning of independent unchaperoned entries is discriminatory.

My oh my oh my… Fortunately for the VCA, there’s a backstory to all of this. Aren’t you glad you’re one of us?

Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). I annually run one invitational as tournament director, plus half a dozen or so Mid-Hudson League one-day tournaments. These all ban independent, unchaperoned entries. Additionally I am an officer in the NYCFL, which holds virtually weekly tournaments, and which likewise bans the unchaperoned.

Why? Good question. I will offer reasons only from personal experience. Twice I have participated at tournaments where students were removed from the premises on gurneys, headed for the local hospital, because of serious medical ailments. On too many occasions to count I have participated at tournaments where students have, for one reason or another, found themselves in the appropriate rest room (if we’ve been lucky) vomiting, bleeding, or generally having a rough go of it, again for medical reasons. And I’m going to share something with you. When I am running a tournament, I tend to be a little, shall we say, busy. Distracted, you might suggest. And I know from experience that there can be a medical emergency at any time, totally unforeseen, requiring instant action. When I am supervising my own team, I take on that responsibility for them myself. That’s part of the deal. But when I am running a tournament, I need to have someone else carry that responsibility for all the other teams that are in attendance. I can’t take on that responsibility. I’m too busy. I’ve got other things to do. But if there is no responsible adult on hand with a team, then it would become my responsibility.

What part of no way, Jose, don’t you understand? Do you think there is any argument under the sun that will convince me to take on the responsibility for unchaperoned minors when I have other responsibilities that I must concentrate on? I mean, in the middle of a tournament I should stop whatever I'm doing to find out why little Johnny Independent is having at the porcelain in the boy’s room? I don’t think so. But if there were no adult there with little Johnny, I would have no choice. Mandated adult supervision is, therefore, a no-brainer.

But why does an adult have to be 21? Wonderful question. And I'm not going to bother to answer it. We all have blocks about measuring maturity with birth certificates on both sides of the question, but at the point where society makes that determination on the far side of 21, so do I. If I don't know you, using the normative age of maturity as a gauge that you are mature in a situation that may call for maturity is a pretty straightforward decision on my part. I won't even bother to offer evidence that college students may, as a group, not be mature. Maybe where you come from they do all spend their free time in prayer and meditation. That would be nice.

Why else don't I accept unaffiliated entries at my tournaments? The article further claims that these entries are the result of finances, or bureaucracy, or policy, and not indicative of a lack of support for the traveling students. This is true. Most of the time. It does not, however, cover situations where students in probationary/disciplinary situations have lied to their schools, to their parents, and to the tournaments they are attending, in order to attend those tournaments. How many of these incidents would I have to itemize to make my case?

And while I don't consider this a voting issue, the article actually pleads that forcing a parent to accompany a child may put that parent in the unfortunate position of having to judge rounds! Oh, the abomination. The horror. I am appalled at the thought.

One thing I do agree with is that I see no reason why students can't travel under the aegis of other schools. I have transported students from other schools, and other coaches have transported my students. Full chaperone responsibilities have been taken in these situations, which have been approved in advance by the tournaments to which they've gone. And I do allow students to come to my tournaments chaperoned by adults other than their parents or their own (perhaps non-existent) coaches. I am willing to deal. Still, in the cases where I might have questions of legitimacy of a team, I have asked for confirmation from the school. On the other hand, in cases where I know the individual chaperone who may be under 21, and it is someone who has proven their maturity to me in the past, I waive that qualification. I have even allowed students who have come with a parent to hire a judge, when they've claimed that their parent was unable to judge (because of language). I'm not an ogre. Or at least I'm not an ogre on this issue, when I have no reason to be.

But come on. Would any adult seriously accept the responsibility for unchaperoned children at a tournament? Or accept the possibility that a student might be attending against a school's specific wishes for that student or its general policies? These are not negotiable or arguable in any way, shape or form. Argue that tournament directors work with legitimate independent entries to enable participation? Any day of the week. Argue that tournament directors should put themselves in a position that could undermine their careers? Not on my watch.

But there is another side to this particular coin. I know you want me to flip the old nickel and tell you.

Next time.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Truth Fairy

The Winningest Winner Since the Invention of Winning has an article on truth in LD in last month’s Rostrum, which I was reading this morning. Smilin’ J and I had a bunch of correspondence back in the day when he was pushing truth as the paradigm for resolutionality with the Legion of Doom. I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now, for none of the reasons he suggests as those of the nay-sayers. The thing is, I agree with him pretty much on the whole resolutionality issue, and I understand what he’s saying, but his saying of it just doesn’t do the job.

The issue is not, of course, truth per se, but LDers arguing the resolution. The position, with which SJ and I both agree, is that LD is most valuable when the debaters concentrate on seriously debating the content of a resolution. This would mean, for instance, in March and April of this year that debaters would argue that the UN ought to prioritize solving human rights abuses over maintaining national sovereignty, or that they should not do so. In this instance, it is not hard to deduce that if the affirmative argues that the UN ought to prioritize solving human rights abuses over maintaining national sovereignty, the exact opposite argument that the negative might offer is that the UN ought to prioritize maintaining national sovereignty over solving human rights abuses. Argued this way, there are clear and directly opposed advocacies on both sides, and the nature of the subject (protecting rights across borders) insures that you can’t defend one side without attacking the other.

Putting aside the issue of truth for the moment and sticking to the content of this one very good resolution, it is pretty certain that in March-April the affirmative has little choice but to argue that the UN ought to prioritize solving human rights abuses over maintaining national sovereignty. The literal wording of the resolution offers no reasonable alternative that I can see. The negative, on the other hand, does have alternatives to direct opposition (although I see the direct opposite as the best and most interesting, and debatable, position). That is, not only could the negative simply argue that sovereignty > rights protection, but the negative could choose to argue, for instance, that the two should be protected equally. Personally I consider this a bad argument, but few topic periods elapse without some batch of yabbos arguing on the negative a position that merely puts the word “not” into the resolution and develops logic along those lines, offering very little true advocacy of their own. It’s probably harder to do that with this UN topic than with some others, but people will. I always maintain that this is the absolute weakest strategy a negative can take, as it is not a positive advocacy, but merely the lack of any advocacy. In effect, it is running inertia, which may be very Newtonian but is hardly Lincoln-Douglasian.

There are other possible negative strategies with this resolution. One could argue that the UN has no obligations, or that it does not have either of the obligations supposed by the resolution. I have always maintained that the language of a resolution includes presumptions (in this case that the UN has these two obligations) and that one should accept them; this will naturally lead to arguments that strongly argue interesting content on both sides. Plenty of people I respect disagree with this. For the sake of better debate, I think I’m right, but they think they’re right, for the same reason. I won’t argue it here now, but suffice it to say that non-acceptance of the presumptions of a resolution means that you can attack the presumptions, which certainly means that no longer would you be arguing whether the UN should choose between X or Y, but you would be arguing instead whether the UN has to choose, or is able to choose, or is justified in choosing, between X or Y. If nothing else, non-acceptance of the presumptions of a resolution certainly opens up a lot more ground for debate, if one accepts the concept of non-acceptance.

Along these same lines, but even further out on the continuum of the normative (don’t you love language like that?) is negative positioning that would simply critique the UN as a body absent the content of the resolution. Or a position would critique the concepts of rights and/or sovereignty. At this point we’re probably saying that the UN ought not to exist, or that rights and/or sovereignty should not or do not exist, and I can imagine a variety of arguments that could be used to support these positions. In fact, the variety is so large, since theoretically there is no contextual limit to a critique, that this sort of negative argumentation could be, virtually, anything.

So as we look at that continuum of possible debate ground, we start with a pretty straightforward reading of the resolution, with one side defending rights and the other side defending sovereignty, with the UN as the agent of action. I think that there are a lot of lines of argumentation that one could take with this straightforward reading that would allow for some very interesting debate. It’s not as if the straightforward approach limits creativity; far from it. It simply sets boundaries within which that creativity must take place. In an educational context, two months to discuss and argue the UN in an extracurricular activity, with that sort of boundary, ought to make for reasonable learning in a large group of LDers. Most high school students have never thought about the UN before in their lives; does it make sense that we should examine the most extreme positions one could take on the organization, or should be concentrate on the real issues facing the organization on a daily basis? Which will lead to the most learning? Obviously, I say that it is that latter.

As we move along the continuum from straightforward to critique, one thing that becomes clear is that there is more and more possible ground for debate, if one accepts the premises at that point in the continuum. So at the final point in the continuum, the critique of the resolution, the possible ground for debate is, theoretically, infinite, or at least infinite enough in the concept of a two-month period of NFL applicability. The problem here is, however, that this infinity is one-sided. The affirmative always must run the relatively straightforward rights > sovereignty analysis, while the negative can run • (that’s an infinity symbol as I’m typing this). Competitively speaking, this puts the affirmative at an enormous disadvantage. The negative always knows what the affirmative will run, while the affirmative never knows what the negative will run. This is unlikely to lead to substantive debate (at least in situations where both sides are not lugging 5 or 6 RubberMaid tubs with them from round to round to cover every contingency). Usually the result of such a round is in the mindset of the judge, who accepts or doesn’t accept the validity of critiques, rather than in anything said or done in the round by the debaters. Certainly no one will have learned anything about the UN, or come to any agreement that such and such is the best action the UN should take. The energy in the round will have been spent performatively deciding what a round should be. From an educational viewpoint, however, learning about the UN > learning about what an LD round should be. Few legitimate educators would disagree with that statement.

So where does the truth come into all of this? Well, JB believes that if you limit argumentation to the truth on both sides of the resolution, you will get resolutional debating, and like me, he believes that resolutional debating is better than anything-goes debating. So he wants to legislate some wording to that effect, and has done so with the Legion of Doom, and he argues his reasons in that Rostrum article. The problem I’ve always had with his position is that it doesn’t really clearly solve the resolutionality issue, nor does it clearly apply, at least in the various iterations of it that I’ve seen. He makes it clear in the article what he means by truth, and I accept that and agree with it. But none of what I’ve said here is a measure of truth, as I normally understand it. I don’t argue a position on March-April because it is true and because the opposition is false, except in the most tortured and complex terms of analysis. I do, according to JB’s logic, but I really don’t. I argue that my position is preferable, more desirable, more practical, more a lot of things, but not more true. Of course, JB’s not saying that one side is true and the other isn’t true (read the article), but simply that debate clash requires competing claims of truth. But how do you apply this in practical terms?

Well, you can’t just say that “Both sides will argue that their position is true,” because that hardly ever applies. “More true” is a philosophical construct that would send heads rolling in more ways than one. So what we end up with is, to paraphrase the Legion’s (and JB’s) wording, that the affirmative will argue that an affirmation of the resolution is true, and the negative will argue that a negation of the resolution is true.

Yeah, well… Sort of…

And that’s my problem. The language is absolutely tortured because the concept of truth almost applies to resolutionality. But linguistically, as Mark Twain put it, it is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. The wrong word may come really, really close, but it is still the wrong word. The concept of truth comes really, really close to setting resolutional boundaries in LD, but it is still the wrong concept.

Of course, I’ve done no better, and come up with no paradigm that is a better fit. I tell my new judges, i.e., parents, to listen to a round and make their decision on which side best convinced them that, if they had to take action on the resolution immediately, they should take that particular side. That’s far from elegant, but it does help them make a decision. Elegance, which is what JB is trying for, is better. But I don’t think that elegance resides in a concept of truth. Or if it’s truth, JB still hasn’t pinned it down with wording that I can point to and say, Do this, and everyone will do it with no questions asked. He doesn’t, in other words, solve the problem. If he were solving it, I don’t think he’d get so much resistance from people like me who agree with him. God knows, I’ve got plenty of people in the debate universe with whom to disagree, so I’m not going out of my way to disagree with the ones I agree with.

So the problem remains, how do you clearly define what resolutionality is in an LD round? I’ve explained here why I want it, and I certainly know it when I see it, but I can’t distill it into one short sentence. Neither can JB. And until we can, we leave open the competitive and unfair (and uneducational) possibility of infinite debate ground vs limited debate ground. I go back to the NFL’s new LD rules as pretty good on this, but they sort of take a Potter Stewart know-it-when-I-see-it approach as well. If we could do better than that, we’d have a great breakthrough. Till then (if ever), we continue to muddle along.