Friday, November 30, 2007

Judge Chicken

Here’s the problem. You can’t be in two places at once, and you can’t do everything. Or at least I can’t. I’m pretty good at a lot of things, but I can’t both be at a tournament and go home from that tournament at the same time. And I can’t cover for everyone on my team as far as judging is concerned. Whether I’m in tab or at the back of the room (Quick, Henry, the strike sheet!), I cover the traditional 3 debaters. If I were to judge at Lex, to tell you the truth, I’d put myself into the PF pool simply to see what’s going on in the activity. As a matter of fact, I’ll probably go into a couple of rounds regardless, for that very reason. I’m also planning on checking out a bit of PF at Ridge. Why not, eh? Most of everything I know about LD I learned from watching LD. Why would PF be any different?

This is all as prelude to the fact that registration for Lexington opens tomorrow, and while I have a battleship load of Sailors wishing to participate, I am likely to only arrive with a dinghy full when the time comes. I’ve already eliminated a couple of my main judge possibilities (and need to still figure out the last, who will be juggling exams at Beet Central at that time, although according to CP Harvard is revising its terms starting next year, and getting with the rest of the known universe, so this problem is finally going to end). But more importantly, there seems to be an absolute work stoppage on the part of the team’s parents. Or maybe it’s some cabal of parents and students both. I’m not quite sure. But if you coach a team that includes LD and/or PF, you know this, and I don’t have to tell you: If you don’t have parents volunteering to judge, you’re not getting very far.

Here’s the thing. I get the impression that most parents simply don’t realize the absolute need for their services, even though I certainly do tell them that if they show up to the orientation meeting. But, that’s one hearing of the plaintive cry. After that, the plaintive cry is only whined at the students themselves. And this is what I don’t get. The students realize this. They’re not stupid. The responsibility for getting parents is entirely theirs, for the simple reason that it’s their parents, and they’re the ones who need those parents if they want to debate. And if they’ve been to a tournament or two, they realize that it’s not as if their parents will be in their face all weekend; far from it. (And the adults who can’t take a day off now and then to support their kids are few and far between, so don’t tell me you work unless you work 24 by 7 and never take a day off for any reason whatsoever. Given that I work and take days off for the activity all the time means that this excuse falls into the pretty punk category.)

Occasionally there’s a parent or two who really get a kick out of judging, and they’re with us practically at every tournament. Or they’re just resigned to doing what they feel they have to do, kick or no kick, so there they are. In those situations, the pressure is off everyone else. The team gets spoiled, I think. And, I will admit, I did graduate a few incredibly dependable stalwarts recently. Ah, those were the good old days.

Anyhow, what we’re left with is the game of Judge Chicken. As the deadline approaches, the Sailors all wait for someone else to provide the judge. I’m not sure what effect this has on anything aside from pissing me off, but I guess it’s a factor of them not wishing to explain to their parents that this isn’t an option, but rather a necessity of the activity. And if a parent indeed has done a good share already, then maybe the feeling is that it’s someone else’s turn (which is indeed true). Or maybe they think I’ll pull something out of a hat, and all will be well. In any case, they wait till the last moment and then, with any luck, finally the poor parent is put forth, and the battleship can set sail.

But you want to know something? This time I’m hoping that this particular game of Judge Chicken is a bust. I have threatened them now regularly with the prospect of only bringing the handful I can cover myself. In a way, I think it’s time that this actually happen. I’ll pack 3 of my own choosing into my car, and the rest of them can read about it on Victory Briefs. Give those of us in the trenches a few shout outs from the home front, you know?

The bottom line is, of course, that I started out as a parent judge in this activity myself. I hardly ask that my parents get carried away enough to take on the coaching job, but I simply can’t figure out what the problem is.

Sigh…

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Well, Did You Evah? and other thoughts up to and including etc.

Aside:

I’m rather taken by that handful of people who write both lyrics and music, and manage to do them both fairly well. There are even those who perform their own music, which is a hat trick that virtually guarantees that somewhere, something will be lacking. I mean, I’m okay with (some of) Neil Young, for instance, but he’s no Irving Berlin. For that matter, even Irving Berlin is no Gershwin (George on the piano side or Ira on the pencil side).

Anyhow, the case in point is, I hasten to point out, not Whitesnake (I shudder at the thought) nor the Five Satins.

In the still of the night,
As I gaze from my window,
At the moon in it’s flight,
My thoughts all stray to you.
In the still of the night,
While the world is in slumber,
Oh, the times without number,
Darling, when I say to you;
Do you love me as I love you?
Are you my life to be,
My dream come true?
Or will this dream of mine
Fade out of sight
Like the moon, growing dim,
On the rim of a hill
In the chill, still of the night?

I’m especially taken by those last three lines. Dim/rim, hill/chill/still. Talk about clean. And this is a song, of course, meant to be sung, and setting it in the rather unlikely music practically breaking out from its early contained handful of notes is what makes this a classic. The music without the lyrics is pretty good, the lyrics without the music are pretty good, the two together are pure art. I was listening to it this morning, sung by Helen Merrill, who has a voice like an icicle, perfect for Cole Porter. God, but I do love to shuffle music. (Next up was Midnight Oil’s “Beds are Burning.” I live my life sorting out juxtapositions.)

Not Aside:

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… The Sailors have elected the co-captain team of Robbie and NoShow, a fine choice among many fine choices. I popped over to Greeley yesterday morning to mislead them on Nov-Dec, as they are right across the street and do have a standing offer of befuddlement simply for the asking. I spent this morning doing the happy dance that my “Rock ‘n’ Roll” tickets will actually get me into the play on Saturday. Numerous tournament dbs have been posted for the Sailors to sign up, although they are engaged in a serious game of Judge Chicken (who will wait the longest to volunteer a parent to chaperone, because they don’t believe I’ll strand their little butts back in Montrose as I drive off merrily with 4 of the ones I’ve chosen at random, but then again, they actually do believe that I’ll strand their little butts back in Montrose, so it’s mostly a matter of, hey, it’s not my parent that’s the problem, as I doubt if my mother is interested in either Columbia or Lexington, but maybe you know her better than I do and can convince her to at least do PF and to tell you the truth, she’d probably jump at the $150, but parents don’t get paid, not even mine, and right now you’re asking yourself, are you telling me that old fart Menick’s parents didn’t die about a hundred years ago). I’ve got to answer 20 questions to be one of the District Chairs du jour in January’s Rostrum (How has NFL made you a better person?). Stump the Chump is instantly my favorite part of WTF: it should be every day, and replace all other postings. I almost wish I was going to Princeton, but not a lot. I think I’m calming down regarding Facebook. If you have a Wii, I will come into your house in the night and steal it, leaving broccoli crumbs behind so you’ll suspect some random vegan. Etc.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why digressive debate wins rounds

So here’s the deal. I have no idea how many judges in the world are prejudiced in favor of NFL-style debate (i.e., you debate the resolution, you achieve your value), but the number is not insubstantial, and at many tournaments represents the majority of the pool. Yet even at those, shall we say, conservative tournaments, digressive debaters doing anything but arguing the resolution and defending their value do very, very well. How could this be?

There are a number of possible answers, but I’m only going to present one of them.

A small but not insignificant number of debaters are intrigued by fashionable argumentation, which at the moment includes theory, kritik, off-case discussions, etc. This material, whatever its inherent value in the activity, is seen as hip—fashion is called fashion for a reason—and there is unquestionably a strategic advantage to running this sort of material in front of college student judges (who, in fact, may be responsible for much of it). As the same time, you would think that there’s a strategic disadvantage to running this sort of material in front of traditional judges. It is not unusual for major tournaments to be chockablock with those college judges, many of whom are being paid for those services, who are perceived as knowledgeable about the activity by tab (which is highly unlikely to be ranking them according to their paradigms—God knows I never have), and who are therefore in round after round, but there are plenty of those other judges in attendance as well, who are as inclined to think as poorly of digressive debate as these college judges are inclined to think positively of it. Yet the digressives are picking up the conservative ballots. How is this happening?

First of all, not all of the digressive debaters are necessarily good, and not all the digressive debaters are picking up all their ballots. The material they have chosen as the basis of their strategy is complex, and it’s easy to get lost in the intricacies of theory (debate or critical) and the like. We’ll exclude these schmegeggies.

But there is a select group of digressives who are good. The thing is, this is tough material, and some of the smartest people are attracted to it, and because they’re smart, they master it. Logical enough, regardless of your opinion of the material. (And if a debater is thinking strictly $ircuit, there’s hardly a down side to digressive strategy at all.) So, right off the bat, we have some of our smartest debaters attracted to material of a nature we’ll call Parmesan Debate, so as to skip the linguistic offensives of either pro- or di-gressive. We’ll call the kind of debate they’re not doing Romano Debate.

Switch to the tournament environment. Things are going hot and heavy. In a particular round we have a Parmesan Debater versus a Romano Debater. But here’s the thing. The Parmesan Debater is very very good and very very smart, while the Romano Debater is merely very good and very smart. The judge, despite his particular taste in cheese, will vote for the debater who wins on the grounds set by the debaters. In this contest, the Parmesan Debater has the natural advantages of skill and smarts, and wins the debate not because they are Parmesan but because they are, intrinsically, the better debater. Their cheese didn’t win, their brain won.

At many, many tournaments, it could be that the best and the brightest at that tournament are, by their own choice, Parmesan Debaters. Any tournament field will be dominated by its best and the brightest, and if that best and the brightest are Parmesan Debaters, Parmesan Debate will dominate the tournament. (Some of the best and the brightest may also be Romano Debaters, and in that case, flip a coin, but as long as they’re outnumbered as percentage of the field, they’ll be outnumbered as percentage of the elimination rounds.) My point is, obviously, not that the style of debate is winning, or even responsible for the win, so much as the people who choose to do it. They’re picking up even Romano judge ballots, not because their cheese is better, but their cheese making is better.

From here, you can look at all the various reasons/influences/whatever that are responsible for Parmesan Debate in the first place, and address them separately. But don’t address them as being responsible for more victories in the debate arena. It just may not be true, even if every single round at a given tournament is won by Parmesan Cheese. It could have been Romano. Hell, it could have been Provolone. The cheese isn’t what’s doing the job here.

Still, it’s incredible that so many of the finest would be attracted by mere fashion. Where are the iconoclasts when you really need them?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A timely message from our correspondent at WTF

Dear Mr Menick:
I am fine, and I hope you are too. We have been extremely busy here at WTF HQ, as you can well imagine, what with holidays and and upcoming tournament and a general lack of harassment from the debate community at large. (Has Smilin’ J gone on sabbatical?) Nevertheless, we have found the time to create a new feature which I’m sure will appeal to you. I’m attaching a copy to this message.
Thank you.
Your friend and colleague and general well fellow hale met,
Herman Melville
Quartermaster, WTF

Stump the Chump

NEW YORK, N.Y. — I’m excited to introduce a new feature on WTF in which I will seek but seldom find answers to perplexing questions of debate trivia sent to me by members of the debate community or else made up by me and masquerading as having been sent in by members of the debate community. I mean, let’s face it, who else actually gives a flying fig? Anyhow, I’ll start with a set of questions that I wish, indeed, I had been frequently asked.

You can post queries right here on WTF when you run out of incoherent shout-outs to your teammates and reasons why we’re going to hell in a handbasket, and I’ll select a few to answer in my next installment. Alternatively, you can come to my house and plunk yourself in my living room and just start blathering.

Has a debater ever won the Tournament of Champions?
Yes. I was mistaken about this for some time—after all, who would believe it—but My Man Gus gave me the heads up, and R.J. Reynolds supplied the evidence in an unmarked brown wrapper sent directly via Parcel Post along with some racy French postcards we’ll discuss in a future column. Actually, for the sake of full disclosure, the evidence was supplied many months ago, and I should have double-checked, but it’s very hard to get past all those racy French postcards. R.J. reminded me of this via e-mail. (Ooh-la-la!)

1992 featured the only actual debater final round in the history of the TOC. (I am confident of this now that I’ve done a little double-checking.) Leif Ericsson of Mexico’s Hasta La Vista High School defeated Vesuvius Hills High School’s Smilin’ J in finals. Smilin’ made the only repeat final round appearance in the TOC’s history and stole the trophy as a senior while everyone else was at the breakfast trying to figure out what the grits were. All the other TOCs were won by bricklayers, proctologists, carny trash and Trappist monks.

The evidence with which R.J. provided me was a microfiche stolen by the CIA from the 1992 New York City Invitational (AKA Big Brooklyn); the tournament is held in October, and both Leif and Smilin’ were in the field. (Neither won Big Brooklyn that year, by the way. The title went to Lana Miami of North Israel Beach High School.)

So, for those looking for history this season, it’s happened already. But history is always happening, except when you look for it, and then it’s already happened and you’re too late. Deal with it.

Who was Malcolm A. B. Ump, the namesake of the annual tournament at Hendrick Hudson?
Malcolm A. B. Ump was an earthy debate coach at Hen Hud — considerably predating his various unearthly successors — and was, with Richard B. (“Hum a Few Bars and I’ll Fake it”) Sodikow at Bronx Convent for Lapsed Scientologists, a co-founder of the Dim Hudson League.

Did Petey-Pete get married? What is the deal with the “Petey-Pete-Pate-Cake-Mmllddrr” moniker?
You won’t believe how many times I’ve been asked this! No, Debate’s Most Eligible Bachelor has not wed. (Petey’s mother, who was my Spanish teacher in high school, asked me to call him that. Actually, she didn’t, but I needed to figure out a way to work in the fact that his mom was my Spanish teacher, since I tend to work that into conversations with great frequency.)

[The above paragraph was found to be unimprovable from the original. Sometimes even the greatest among us are stunned into silence.]

“Pate-Cake-Mmllddrr” has always been Petey-Pete’s last name. The Tawny Port school district, of which Scribbler High School is a part, has a computer system that won’t accept either alphanumerical or non-alphanumerical symbols, so he was lucky to be called anything. Go figure.

Has any team ever fallen asleep during finals at Nationals in Lincoln-Douglas debate?
Despite what the tournament handbook presented each year by the NFL would have you believe, yes, many teams have not only fallen asleep, but some have gone into long term comas. In 1986, John Warthog and Renee Hammond Eggs — both of St. Michael’s New School in High Mexico — advanced to the final round of Nationals while sleepwalking. The two — former policy partners as well as boyfriend and girlfriend, mother and son, and brother and sister — were made to regain consciousness for the national title. Prior to the round, John handed Renee a rose on stage, while Renee attempted to stab John with a well hidden dirk. Apparently, at the awards ceremony and after much serious drinking among the national committee, the wrong victor was announced (hey, they had a fifty percent chance of getting it right), though this was later clarified when Renee was whacked by a band of hired extemp assassins. Currently, only John is listed in the list of champions presented annually at the tournament, although his whereabouts remain unknown.

What were the early TOC-qualifying tournaments in Lincoln-Douglas debate? Is it true that one could qualify to the TOC by merely showing up at one’s state tournament?
This isn’t a list from the first year — 1386 — but it’s an early one, from 1591. (I have the list from an old Nostrum, which included an advertisement for the TOC, with JW Patterson kicking sand into Charles Atlas’s face.) I know that the University of Pennsylvania Liberty Bell Repair Kit was a TOC-qualifying tournament prior to 1891.

OCTAFINALS BIDS: The Barking Forum for Top Dogs, the Beverly Hillbilly Invitational, the Harvard Beet-Packers Convention, the New York City Invitational (Brooklyn Science), the Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness Invitational, and the Wake Up and Smell the Early Bird.

QUARTERFINALS BIDS: The Homeboy Classic, Crayola Marmot, the Malcolm A. B. Ump Memorial Tournament, Pince Nez Invitational, the University of Massachusetts Uninvitational, the University of Oregon Woodchopper’s Ball, and the Village of the Damned Tournament.

SEMIFINALS BIDS: Apple Pan Dowdy East, the De Gustibus Invitational, Bishop Heal Thyself Invitational, Calhoun, the Meadow Dell Dale Lea Glen Creek Ril Pond Rapids River Brook South West East North Invitational, the Iowa Couscous, Isidora Duncan Classic, the Roger Rabbit Washington Classic, the Valley of Mid-America’s Cup O’ Noodles, the Vesuvius Over the Hill Classic, the Johnstown Speech & Debate Flood, and the Wes Crusher Classic.

FINALS BIDS: The Skitch Henderson Invitational, the Crestfallen, the Florida Blue Ridge Mountains, Specific Lutherans, the Ratrace Invitational, or any tournament with more than fifty entries from three or more states, or more than three entries from fifty or more states. Qualifying to Nationals or to the NCFL also earned a debater one bid, as did placing first or second at one’s state tournament, provided the state was a bona fide member of the Union. Debaters could not use two finals bids to qualify to the TOC, but could trade them in for a latte at their local Starbucks.

I am actually in the final stages of conducting a lengthy interview with J.W. Patterson, owner and chief franchiser of the TOC, so we’ll have more on this in a bit.
—
If anyone cared about the National High School Tournament of Debate Trivia Champions, it would be Jon Cruz.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday, with a full week ahead: we settle in for the long haul

I’m ready for new horizons. I have no more steam on Nov-Dec LD or Dec Pfffft. As far as the former is concerned, if the Sailors don’t have a fix on in it by now, they never will. And as for Iran, well, we’ve collected evidence and outlined an approach that should stand, so there you are. At Little Lex Tim “The Beard” Averill promised that January’s topic would be the cat’s pajamas. I certainly hope so. We’ll know on Saturday, of course, when the topics are released. I’ll be looking to WTF to break the wind news as it happens.

Tomorrow night the Sailors will elect their new captain. Unlike national politics, where campaigns last longer than terms in office, we posted a db for nominations right before Thanksgiving, and tomorrow we have a vote, then immediately following we run off the top two or three, depending on the numbers. I used to appoint captains, back where there was one person in each class and there were few challenges to my Solomonic wisdom. But as the group grew, it seemed a better idea for the tars themselves to decide who should carry the honor of leadership. It’s their leader; let them be the deciders. As a rule, this tends to result in co-captains. Personally I prefer a clearer path of responsibility, but given that the captain’s burdens do not require sending novices into battle or anything like that, sharing the blame/credit is probably okay.

Other than that, tomorrow will be general discussion. Things pulled from the recent novice ballots, for instance. Don’t pick your nose during cross-x. Don’t slurp your soup during prep time. Don’t wear white after Labor Day. All the usual items that come up year after year. Then maybe more specific how-to material for everyone in an open forum. Since no one’s debating this weekend, that ought to hold them for a while. Usually we have a sprout or two that insists on heading down to Princeton, but this year there was simply no fire in the New Jersey belly. Whatever. I haven’t been down there in so long, I hesitate to comment on the tournament at all, since all I have is my failing memory. I do recall enjoying the atmosphere more than the debating, but as they used to say about the Automat, you can’t eat atmosphere. Atmosphere fans this season will have their shot at the Gem of Harlem.

The one thing that seems to be marking this year is the rather spare amount of signing up for tournaments on the part of the Sailors, especially the plebes. I’m getting a sense that they’re waiting for the real season to begin, despite various protestations to the contrary explaining that, if they don’t sign up now, they’ll be dreaded Intermediate debaters with no starting or end points to intermediate. I’ve almost given up. Maybe if you talk to them, it will have some effect. Where’s that old fire in the belly, the girding of loins, the once more unto the breach little touches of Harry in the night? Oh, well. Christmas is coming. Maybe the December arrival of new topics will give us all a new lease on life.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Let's get back to normal

What a week.

First of all, I was sick, and took at day off, and then that night I got the news about Michael, and like everyone else, I didn’t know what to make of it. It just came out of nowhere. Kaz asked me to pass it along to everyone, and I did, and then I just sort of went into some state of suspended animation for a little while.

Tuesday, though, I decided it was a good idea to have a meeting. We needed to talk about this—hell, I needed to talk about it. Michael was in Bump tab a couple of weeks ago, and got close to a lot of kids, and then reunited with a lot of the alums, to whom he was one of the constants of the activity. So we talked a bit, and then went on. That is what you do, you go on. You don’t learn much from it, and you don’t come out any better for it, you just get through it. And the closer you are to a person, the harder it is. For Sheryl and the NFA kids, it will probably take a lifetime.

But, as I say, you go on. So I did some Christmas shopping the day before Thanksgiving (the Day Job gave us the day off), and that was productive in getting me into the spirit of doing some Christmas shopping, without actually doing much Christmas shopping. Starting friction for something like this is very strong, and must be overcome. And it’s not even as if there’s that much to buy (although Pip has left a very long letter to Santa that must be attended to). It’s more the thought of it than anything else.

Thanksgiving was, no doubt, much like everyone else’s. Relatives come, turkeys are eaten, games are played. I dug up my old Disney Trivial Pursuit. Kt and I beat the pants off all comers, but that was to be expected.

I spent a lot of the weekend cleaning up computer stuff and organizing and doing things I’d been putting off. Put some pictures on Facebook, posted a collected debriefing from here on the Bump page as a guide for future coaches thinking of running a tournament, connected with some people I haven’t seen for a while, including Olivieri, who I ran into at Circuit City. I updated my jimmenick.com home page so that CLG could find the Amazon link (lord knows somebody needs to find it). Got started on a writing project that’s been in the back of my mind. Had a lot of trouble making CDs from my Christmas tapes, so I gave up and went for MP3s. Played poker and won three whole dollars. Took some naps, read some old magazines (I’m caught up with the Thanksgiving 2006 issue of Gourmet). Recorded a Nostrum. Etc. In other words, I didn’t do much of anything, but it seems like I did a lot, or vice versa, and I guess now it’s back to normalcy.

Take a deep breath. Hold it a minute. All right. We’re ready.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bump debriefing, part six: What Would Menick Not Do

This is the final debriefing on Bump, which I hope will be of interest/use to others hosting tournaments.

While I concentrate during the event on what I consider the chief job of a tournament director—keeping the tournament running—there are other aspects of a tournament that also need to be run. I don’t believe that I could handle those in addition to managing the running of the rounds, so I ask for parent volunteers to handle these for me. These parent volunteers are every bit as important as the tab room in making a tournament work, except that their contributions are a little more indirect. That is, a tournament can run without housing and good meals nicely served and comfortable judges’ lounges, but it can’t be run well. To say these things are non-essential, therefore, would be true. But to attempt a tournament without them would be absurd. And considering the amount of work involved in them, for a tournament director to attempt them personally would be impossible and/or insane. In other words, if it weren’t for hardworking, committed parents, there wouldn’t be any Bump. There wouldn’t be many high school tournaments at all, probably. The world of forensics would be a bleak, uninviting place.

I seek volunteers to head up each of those areas: housing, meals and judges’ lounges. Each is a job in and of itself. Each is a lot of hard work, over long hours. Let’s look at them.

Housing is, apparently, something of a uniquely northeastern custom, but it’s a good one. It allows us to go to tournaments all the time. If we had to pay for hotel rooms weekend after weekend, well, we wouldn’t. The money simply isn’t there for it. I guess we’d redesign our universe to more one-day events, with the predictable decline in the quality of our debaters. (Yeah, the northeast sucks, except they seem to be everywhere in the country doing pretty well, so I wonder which northeast the legends of impoverished LD are about, anyhow.) But housing is a bear. If you have a big enough team, you could conceivably offer slots solely from your own parents, and that would be it, but few schools have that big a team. Hen Hud certainly doesn’t. And some schools may have the numbers, but not the facilities, because they’re city schools with long commutes that don’t translate into a five-minute ride home, or they're lower income schools where situations may not be amenable to a boatload of extra people spending the night. At Hen Hud, we now will guarantee only 150 housing slots. The housing parent has to come up with these by, essentially, pounding on doors. Telephone calls, emails, begging, more begging. Connecting with team families, former team families, team former families, friends, friends of friends, people walking into WalMart looking especially prosperous. Whoever. Then, once you get 150 slots covered, you’ve got to handle the roiling sea of registrants to be housed. Why do we start imposing fines? Not only because of my extra work, but the houser’s extra work. Names are attached to housing, then the name changes, so a new name has to be attached. There’s drops and adds. Changes every time you turn around. Next year, the fines will be higher, and the housing limit absolute. Add someone after the limit is reached? That’s your problem. You can’t get blood from a stone, or housing from a tapped out houser, but you can get rooms at a motel. It was Benjamin Franklin who first pointed this out, I think. In any case, there’s the housing list sent when registration closes. There’s the housing list when people actually turn up (or don’t). Then there’s the matching of names to slots and getting all the information to the right people in the hubbub of people showing up at 10:00 to pick up their charges for the night. I’m usually in tab pumping out the morning’s pairings while this is going on, but I’ve been in the housing area, and it’s like bedlam, only crazier.

Thank you, Ms. Raptoulis, for handling this for the team in 2007. (That’s Peanuts’s mom, if you’re wondering.)

Meals are, at least, predictable. You get what we had last year, unless I tell you that there’s going to be an appreciable difference in numbers (which I couldn’t really tell, this year, as we were offering fairly different events). You’ve got to deal with three suppliers: 6-foot heroes on Friday, dessert cakes on Friday, pizzas on Saturday. Food has to be ordered, paid for, delivered, set up and served. Parents are enlisted as volunteers to help the volunteer in charge, and kids are pulled in for the heavy lifting. A good food parent keeps an eye on the concessions table (thank God) and keeps that supplied if your concessionaire isn’t around at the moment. And a good food parent coordinates with the judge lounge parent to keep that site stocked. A good food parent is a godsend. You know this if you’ve ever tried to feed three hundred or so people a couple of meals served around their rounds and flights and coming in from two buildings.

Thank you, Ms. Theodore, for handling this for the team in 2007.

Judges’ lounges are stocked from contributions from team parents, which must be sought and processed in advance of the tournament, and then supplemented as necessary. Food must be laid out pleasantly in two venues (although next year it will be only one, as there are few adults in the grammar school) and kept neat and stocked for an entire weekend. There must be enough coffee for everyone including Erin, who drinks 6 gallons herself before the first Saturday round is even posted. As I’ve said earlier in this series of debriefings, if you have a place where judges enjoy hanging out, where they’re treated well, they’ll come back, and when you’re hiring, the word will get around. Plus there’s simply the question of hospitality. One ought to be nice to one’s guests, and treat them well.

Thank you, Ms. Gofman, for handling this for the team in 2007.

When I say these folks handled things, I mean they handled them. With little or no help from me. I’m from the delegation school of management: Here’s the job, you do it, if it goes well you get the credit, if it goes poorly I get the blame, what do you need from me to make it happen, see you when it’s over. As I say, it would be impossible for me, or anyone, to run a tournament any other way.

So there you are. I’ve written up this series to give you an idea of what goes on at a tournament, maybe just because you might be interested, or, heaven forbid, you’re thinking of running one yourself some day. Every year I try to improve things from the previous year. I’ve been doing it for over a decade and there’s still areas for improvement. There will be areas for improvement until I stop doing it, and then there will be areas of improvement for some other poor schmuck tournament director to take on.

And so, back to the business of everyday coachean biliousness.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Remembering Michael Bacon


One of the Sailors wrote this.

"I am honestly stunned. In the countless hours I spent with Mr. Bacon during Bump, I quickly grew to admire him. His undeniable kindness and how quickly we hit it off two weekends ago did enough for me to exemplify the kind of guy he was. I had the honor of being judged by him - even then I was fortunate to notice how constructively he critiqued what could've easily been labeled an abhorrent performance on my part - just again showing how much he surely loved what he was doing. In talking with him and seeing him communicate with his NFA pupils, it was clear he was passionately involved in debate and took much pride in improving those who he taught."

I cannot add to it. We all miss, and mourn, a friend.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bump debriefing, part five: The ballot table

I’ve been to very few tournaments that were neatly contained. Aside from local events like MHLs, where we might acquire a small building for a hundred teams or so (I’m thinking mostly of the Newark venues), usually we’re in a very large building, or in some cases, a number of very large buildings. People are on different floors, in different wings, in totally different locations. Somewhere there’s a tab room, and somehow the ballots from all those different people in different locations have to get to that tab room. This can be quite a poser.

Different tournaments address the issue different ways, depending on the scope of the distance. At Yale, for instance, we’ve resorted to cell phone call-in results on the Friday night, which is a pretty good idea when people are split up seven ways to Capistrano. In most places, though, it’s one building, but a very complicated building. There seems to be a rule in the construction of high schools that demands that the room numbering system be done only in primes, imaginaries, or hack-proof file encryption. You’ll walk down the hallway and it’s 101, 102, D-42, 2888, C3PO, A-V Room, Boys, More Boys, Nurse’s Office, 103, 301, 031, Nurse’s Other Office, 013, Even More Boys, Keep Out This Means You, and 104. In that order. You know you’re in trouble when the person asking you for a map is the assistant principal. As mentioned earlier, it’s a fair assumption that many of your judges have some reason to start their rounds late, and some other reason to end their rounds late. And meanwhile, the tab room is playing endless games of You Don’t Know Jack and just praying for ballots. There are times, of course, when there really is not much to do, but when it’s time to do something, and there’s nothing there to do, then the clock is ticking away and nobody—NOBODY—is happy.

[This is the point where, if you’re working in tab with him, O’C wanders off. He is, simply put, one of the greatest wanderer-offs of all time. Or maybe that’s one of the greatest wander-offers. Whichever. If you’re working with him, make sure he has his cell phone with him if you see him grabbing his pith helmet for another excursion into the bush. Otherwise, you’re on your own.]

The ballot table is a combination concierge desk and command center, and it is often the most poorly planned of the basic elements of a tournament, because I think that some TDs underestimate its importance, or just run out of steam when it comes to thinking about it. It’s sort of the default thing people come to last when they’re organizing their events, and it’s given a priority way lower than it deserves. On the one hand, it is the interface between all the attendees of the tournament and the staff of the tournament. It is the official site to which all have access, of which all will ask questions, where all will come when all else fails. On the other hand, it is the radius of the wheel of ballots, whence runners extend with their orders (“Get the ballots out of Becker’s hand if you have to slash his throat with a Torture Me Elmo doll to do it!”) and return with their hot little ballots. I think of the runners as a part of the ballot table, although this does not mean they should all sit around the ballot table so that none of the attendees of the tournament can get near it (a regular problem). I organize the Bump table with people whose job is ballot checking and distribution, with a Runner Wrangler whose job it is to keep the runners running (think Master Sergeant), and the runners (the Myrmidons). [I’ll wait a minute while you search for Myrmidon in Google. FYI, the Runner Wrangler is their Achilles.] This whole combined unit’s job is to get the ballots to the judges when the schematics are released (which includes, and this comes as a surprise to many people, getting schematics into the judges’ lounge), check that all the rounds have started (each runner is given a list of rooms to verify), and collecting the ballots when the rounds are ending by posting runners outside each door or in each strategic area (every judge who saunters back with a ballot rather than having a runner run back with that ballot is a delay in the tournament).

There is a series of rules that I think all ballot tables need to enforce, and some suggestions that should help, and some general thoughts worth considering.

1. Runners are not paid to think. Runners run. End of story.
Problems arise when runners are lazy, too good for the lowly position, try to fix things themselves, or don’t know what to do. Lazy and lowly need to be noted by the TD; these are the students who will be sidelined from any important work at your future tournaments, and if they’re bad enough, sidelined right this minute. I have sent people home for being too much of an obstacle. Your uncommitted runners are, mostly, your uncommitted debaters. You won’t miss them when they’re gone, and they’ll be gone soon, one way or the other. On the other hand, I’ve seen my senior captains running through the hallways with ballots in their hands. That’s why they get to be captains. Then there’s the ones who try to solve problems. A debater or a judge is missing, so the runners think they’ll find another debater or judge. This is the sort of thing that has tab storming out with their Torture Me Elmo dolls. If there’s a problem, runners have to know to bring it back to the table. (And, of course, the table has to know to bring it to tab.) The runners do what the table tells them to do, which is run. Anything comes up, have the table solve it. And not knowing what to do is a problem easily solved by having experience at the table. I try to put in new people every year, but I also carry over experienced people every year. This time out, with the incorporation of my varsity into judging, I was starting from scratch to a great extent, but there were reliable wranglers/assistants in both buildings, so problems were minimal.

2. The further your ballot table is from tab, the greater the number of problems.
All problems need to be solved by tab. This is the basic rule. It’s not necessarily true, but it’s mostly true. The further away from tab the table is, the more likely tab will not be involved in solving problems, and worse, will not even know problems are happening. Bietz wondered why top judge material was manning the tables at Yale rather than judging, but from my perspective, I was thrilled to have experienced tournament people right outside my door. Multiple ballot tables, walkie-talkies, every clever solution to the problem of the complex physical plant is potentially a problem of its own. Keep it simple. One ballot table, as close to tab as possible. Your runners will make sure the ballots get to tab, so don’t worry about making you poor miserable judges have to walk once in a while. Although to tell you the truth, given the likelihood of doughnut surplus at any tournament, the walk will do them good.

3. The ballot table must be totally professional.
The following are banned: card games, any other games, any distraction from helping out your guests at the tournament, if you’re bored, suck it up. As I said, the paradigm is the concierge table. And the people at the tournament are your guests. Think of it any other way at your own risk. I also ban outside food from the table. That is, we’re serving perfectly good food to our guests; if this were your house, would you serve one thing to your guests and something else to yourselves? Rude. Anyhow, they have to be friendly, accessible and knowledgeable. Your best people get to be at the ballot table, as they are your best reflection of your team.

4. Major domo is a unique job, and an absolute requirement.
The major domo is the connection between the table and the tab staff. The major domo is the third check of every ballot before it gets to tab (the runner is the first, the table is the second). The major domo gets to see how the machinery works so that next year, the major domo will be in a position of major responsibility, with an understanding of where all the bodies are buried. Major domos check all the ballots after each round for errors in tabulation. Major domos keep all the packets up-to-date, after the check. Major domos get to eat the tab food (I do believe that the tab staff needs to be fed well; since they’re undercover, I don’t feel I’m breaking my no-outside-food rule to keep them happy). The major domo is always on hand to do whatever tab deems necessary for the entire weekend. The major domo always comes out of it smelling like a rose. Gabe, for instance, has major domo’d at Lex, and now he wins Bump. End of story.

5. The Tournament Director means it.
I do not make threats lightly, and I do carry through on them. I am short-fused at Bump, but this year I only blew up once that I remember. But I saw things. First, I saw a bunch of runners who were running their little patooties off. These are my stars. These are the people who will get good jobs in the future, preference at tournaments if there’s a limit, whatever I can do for them. Second, I saw a couple of people who were obstacles to the tournament. They will never get good jobs in the future, nor preferences of any sort. They weren’t there when I needed them. I will remember this forever. That’s the way my mind works. If you run a tournament and people do a good job, reward them. If they do a poor job, tell them. It’s their team, their school. (This is especially true for me, as an outsider, so to speak.) At the end of the day, it’s the school that gets that good or bad rep, not the Tournament Director, since TDs come and go. I can think of one school I don’t like to go to because the kids just goof off year after year, and the judges and the tournament suffer for it. A little pride in the operation is what’s called for, but I can’t make you proud of your school in a vacuum. You’re either proud of what we’re doing here, for whatever reasons, or you’re not. If you’re not, go away.

Next up, the final, absolutely essential cog in the tournament wheel.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bump debriefing, part four: Managing the pool

So a tab room staff needs to know how to run the software. If you’re planning a tournament with a tab staff that is inexperienced, you should publish this in your invitation. In big letters. That way, when everything gets screwed up, no one will be surprised.

But a tab staff’s job is not managing the computers, any more than a musician’s job is playing scales. One has to be able to do it, but the music comes from something else.

In the varsity event, we have over 50 judges for the weekend, and what I do is ask the participants to rank them in advance either A, B or C. Then I guarantee that every round will have the right judge for that round. If it’s a clutch, bubble round, it’s an A. If it’s a panel, it’s a mix, and every panel is mixed equally. Curiously enough, when the rankings came in for Bump, there were maybe two that I would have disagreed with. JV commented likewise. In other words, if we had been ranking in a vacuum, it would have come out about the same. It is important that your tab people know the players. While I can walk into any policy tab room and run it so it sings, what I can’t do is know the right judges because I don’t know a single person in the pool. You can say, well, if someone else does the rankings, all you have to do is push the buttons, but even then, that’s not enough. But let’s backtrack a second.

To at least a minor degree, the idea of ranking judges is not without controversy. I have made my opinions well-known about things like mutual judge preference (negative), and the need to use lay judges (positive), but some problems remain with the latter. I demand that a school bring trained judges, but at least one school brought a couple of parents who didn’t know the first thing about a debate round. (Of course, culprit schools like this are well known by tournament directors, as they’re usually repeat offenders, so it’s not as if anyone is getting away with anything, and the reputations of these schools is abysmal, and most of us don’t want anything to do with them. This plays out mostly in the long run. You graduated from one of these schools? Don’t think I’ll ever hire you to judge for me. Meanwhile, don’t think that your school will ever get any special consideration from me for anything. You want a break of some sort? Play the game. Bring bad judges that bring down the level of the pool? You’re simply not upholding your part of the bargain.) The thing is, though, once they’re there, there isn’t much you can do about bad judges except dump them into down-three rounds. Anyhow, the point is that I believe that knowledge of the pool, and manipulation of the pool, is desirable. I firmly believe that a good LDer should be able to pick up just about any ballot, adapting to the judge, provided there’s an idea about what the judge is looking for, but I also believe that in a crucial round, an experienced adjudicator is preferable to a raw recruit. Lots of people come to a tournament like Bump to get a TOC bid. I run the tournament knowing this is the case. I run 6 prelim rounds only because it’s a TOC rule. I have drunk that Kool-Aid. Therefore, I need to carry through on it. At any point where the competition matters, you will have the best adjudication possible.

A good tab staff evaluates every pairing before running off the schematics. The round is organized by brackets, and we can make sure that wherever it matters, there’s an A judge. In order of priority, this is the down ones and the down twos, the undefeateds, and everybody else. The down ones, because you’re guaranteed to break if you’ve only lost one, and the down twos, because you’re guaranteed not to break if you’re down three; as a rule, there’s almost always enough As to go around for both the down ones and the down twos. As for the undefeateds, if you have a few more As, you’ll apply them here, because often these folks are in the running for speaker awards, although since you’re dropping the hi-low points, one ballot won’t matter. The program, by the way, often puts a 4-0 and 0-4 round with the same judge, mostly because you can’t really damage either of them, and there’s a presumption that these won’t be your top As. And everybody else is everybody else, and you get what you get (usually balanced so that people the tournament is paying to judge don’t sit in the lounge all weekend, followed by people who haven’t judged yet, followed by people you want to torture).

It’s harder for the tab staff in the break rounds, where a balanced panel is important. As advertised, we made sure that the strength and weakness was equally distributed. But the Bump staff took it the extra mile. Knowing pretty much all the judges, JV and La Coin were making sure that, to the extent possible, the panel was uniform. That is, you know that some judges are traditionalist, and some are digressive. Mixing them on a panel means that the debaters, if they’re truly adjusting to paradigms, would have to adjust to diametric opposites simultaneously. Not good. The computer does automatic pairings, and we start with that, but then you adjust. That is, you don’t say, oh, these guys need a conservative panel or a digressive panel: that’s cheating. What you say is, okay, the computer has put in a conservative first judge, so if we have to manipulate for balance of rankings, let’s keep the panel conservative. Or vice versa. If you’re a good debater, you adjust to your judge, but adaptation has to make sense. From the tab point of view, you create panels that make sense, with balanced talent, that any debater would say, that’s a good panel, regardless of whether that panel is of that debater’s particular stylistic persuasion. In other words, a round shouldn’t be a crapshoot, especially a break round. Good tabbing insures that it isn’t. At most tournaments, including Bump, the only time the Tournament Director gets involved in tabbing is taking a look at the break round panels. Since the TD is the one ultimately held accountable, tab feels that the TD should approve what happens. Certainly O’C went over all my panels for Big Jake, as I went over all the panels at Bump. That way, if people like or dislike how the panels were handled, the Tournament Director can take the responsibility. This is as it should be.

Down at the grammar school, the issues Mr. Bacon faced were quite different. Needless to say, there’s no ranking of judges, given that most of them are upperclassmen, but there is a knowledge that a couple of people in the field are woefully unprepared, again usually parents dragged in by their teams who seem to feel that these important personages are best kept in ignorance of the proceedings, as if they’re some necessary evil rather than their selfless benefactors. These teams don’t seem to realize that an untrained parent judge not only serves no one well in the pool, but also personally feels lost and confused, which is hardly how you should treat the people who’ve enabled your participation in the event. Anyhow, these folks have to be attended to; often, they need their hands held and their heads patted until you finally find a round they can’t screw up too badly. Add to this that your entire field is novices who, to put it bluntly, haven’t got a clue. They’ve never been to an invitational before. They don’t completely understand rounds and flights and elims. Maybe they’ve debated once or twice before, at most. This is all new to them. And in their midst, is the Dreaded Ben.

The Dreaded Ben became a legend before the tournament was over. Most of the following is true, with only minor improvements of a narrative nature. The Dreaded Ben went into flight A of round one and debated the wrong person. Dreaded Ben then proceeded to go into some other flight B of round one and debated some other wrong person. Fortunately, since his opponents and judges were almost as clueless, they complied. By the time the Dreaded Ben got to round two, he was debating affirmative now for the third time in a row (one round ahead of the rest of the field) and, I gather, debating yet again the wrong opponent. While it will come as no surprise that, before the weekend was over, the Dreaded Ben was carried off in irons by his own coach for reasons having nothing to do with his na├»ve enthusiasm about debating everyone in sight as quickly as possible, provided he could go aff, this is the sort of thing that Bacon had to face, and solve, for the entire weekend. Novices tend to get sick, in a fairly Kirkegaardian fashion, and disappear completely. The judge pool consists of as many first-time judges as there are first-time debaters, and their youthful exuberance needs to be either dimmed or stoked. Judges are interrogated over their 22s and 23s, or their strings of 30s. Juniors seem to want to insure their pool of Facebook friends remains intact, and go all Point Fairy as a means of doing this. Or they simply can’t grasp that novices are judged on a novice curve, and not compared to the round you saw last week at Big Bronx against people who already had six TOC bids this year even though they were attending their first tournament. There are lessons to be learned all over the place. And Bacon is the one giving those lessons. And keeping things running smoothly over in Siberia where the entire school, absent the spaces devoted to the tournament, is given over on Saturday to a special event involving over 300 people participating in a lunch and basketball game. I went down there at one point and could barely make it down the hallway, it was so crowded with non-Bumpians.

So here’s my advice. If you’re running a tournament, bring in Bacon or Vaughan or Coyne, or better yet, bring in all of them. They will make your tournament solid. There’s just one thing. You can’t have them on Bump weekend. Their mine, I tell you, MINE!!!

You can have the Dreaded Ben.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bump debriefing, part three: Tab

The second theme of the well-tempered tournament is the tab room. (Forgive me two entries in one day, but I'm on a bagel.)

Needless to say, I am found mostly in tab rooms nowadays when there’s a tournament to be had. This does not come from fear of debate, but simply from evolution. The longer you’re around, the more likely you’ll end up working behind the scenes, if you are so inclined. When I first started helping out in tab, it was at MHLs, and they were still being done on index cards; real old-timers like to regale comparative newbies like me with tales of doing invitationals on index cards, taking up entire gymnasium floors with the pairings and, no doubt, barely making the things happen even remotely accurately. When I started, the tabbing software was Mac-based, and touchy. People would literally massage their machines while the bits and bytes of the pairings were assembled and printed, because the slightest sand in the programming oyster inevitably led to [I can’t imagine where this metaphor is supposed to be heading, but the point I’m trying to make is that all hell would break loose more often than not, so if you have some way of cleverly saying that, have at it]. The software was much more stable after it was ported over to the PC platform, but even today it’s still occasionally touchy, as I have often remarked. But the problem is, it doesn’t look touchy. It looks as easy as pie. Enter the data, press some buttons, print up the schematics, hand out the trophies.

If only.

It has been said, accurately, that around here we have something like a floating tab room, with the same people alternating through it week after week, and this is true. There is nothing you can throw at most of these people that they haven’t seen before (especially now that we’ve gone through the 96 Tears episode a few weeks back). When a problem comes up, someone knows how to solve it. When I first started going to tournaments, there was inevitably at every tournament a point where everything went into suspended animation, where the computer ate the data or something, and everyone just sat around waiting for someone to fix it. Often that meant reentering skadoodles of data while the parents sent out for another round of debate ziti. Those moments nowadays are rare. Even when one of us magically erases the first five rounds, there’s a backup handy on a flashdrive, and even a second computer. We’re always ahead of the game. You can trust us on this stuff.

So the first thing you need to do is have an experienced tab room. And you have to understand that you, as the tournament director, will have little or nothing to do with the tabbing of your tournament, except during the break rounds. If you’re like me, at a tournament you are exhausted before it starts, and you spend two days running around trying to be everywhere, putting out little fires. You have not only no time for tab, but no ability at it, even if normally you can do it in your sleep. Your brain is on hold, while the tab staff does the thinking for you. This is as it should be. I’ll do it at your tournament, you do it at mine. Works like a charm.

In my case, of course, there were two tab rooms. JV and la Coin at the high school running PF and VLD, and Mr. Bacon down at the grammar school running NLD. Two different businesses, actually, with different sets of issues. But here’s the bottom line. These are three people I would trust with my tournament. These are three people I did trust with my tournament. There are a few other people I know I could confidently ask as well, but that number is small. Sabrina and Kaz have been in there for me in the past, and I’m sure will be in there again at some point in the future, and Rose JT used to be the cornerstone of the operation (because we needed someone to complain that the high school library was too cold), and I’d put O’C in there in a minute if I didn’t want to torture him by having him judge declamation rounds in the middle school (never telling him that we don’t have dec, and there is no middle school). But in the event at hand, as I say, it was Joe and Lynne and Michael. I never worried for a second about what they were about. If you’re a tournament director, you really do have to be everywhere at once, but one place you shouldn’t have to be is tab (except, as alluded to above, during breaks). But to be honest, it’s not because these folks can run the software that I have confidence in them. It’s because they can run tournaments that I have confidence in them. A tab staff isn’t about pressing the buttons. It’s about making the tournament happen the best way possible.

I’ll explain how tomorrow.

Bump debriefing, part two: Judge acquisition

The other thing about judges, aside from having them do their job, is having them in the first place. Early on in my debate career, I noticed that the Newark tournament always ended with a final round judged entirely by Newark alumni, which they seemed to reckon by the dozens. The alums came—and gave—back, and Newark seemed to have the monopoly on it. Everyone else had a couple of alums, of course, but nothing like this. I was impressed.

I tend to think that I have a good relationship with the Sailors, and I was very appreciative this year of the number who came back to work the tournament for me. Absent Kate, who turns up to stay in the family will, we went back as far as Noah and Wedro (and might even have had Jared if he knew the difference between November and December), up to pretty much the whole shooting match of ’07 grads. There are no more reliable judges than the ones who were your own debaters. They come because they got something out of debate themselves, and understand that your tournament is an important part of it. I’m far from a tradition hound like O’C, but there is no question that a tournament simply continuing at a school year in and year out is a tradition in and of itself, and all the aspects of being a part of that tournament, from starting out as a runner to ultimately running the tables, is a high point of the academic experience. It’s fun. You know what it meant for you, and you know what it will mean for others, and you want it to continue even after you’re gone, so you come back and give it a little nudge to keep it moving. I’m not much of a fan of former high school debaters who still want to be high school debaters when they’re in college, reliving the experience through actual high school debaters rather than living the college experience that is more appropriate to them, but I am a firm believer in giving back reasonably to the activity that was your most important for four years. When I see the Sailors, Ret’d, doing this, it does my heart proud. Add to this that these judges, this tribe of Sailors, Ret’d, is as predictable a judge pool as you’re going to find, because they were all raised on orthodoxy. Every single one of them will expect you to argue the resolution and achieve your value through your criterion, and every game you play that doesn’t do that will work against you. You can read the new guidelines for LD from the NFL, or you can get a can opener and pull apart the brains of the Sailors, Ret’d, and see exactly the same thing. Of course, there’s variations, and a card-carrier like Wedro thinks differently from a philosopher like Kate, but they’re watching the same round and, ultimately, judging it the same way, with the same expectations of the debaters. No one should be shocked that both semis rounds, entirely adjudicated by Sailors, Ret’d, were 5-0s. And the thing is, if for some reason this style of judging doesn’t appeal to you, nevertheless, the paradigm is clear as a bell. You know going in what they want. If you don’t give it to them, there should be no surprise that they don’t pick you up. (And I’ll have more to say on this at a later date, because some interesting ideas on digressive debate were discussed at the alumni dinner.)

So I have the good fortune of a great group of alums to come back and help me out. I have also, at times, drawn on the debate community at large to hire extra judges. This year, with only a couple of exceptions, I didn’t need to bring in extras, but usually I do put out a call and hope for a good draw, and usually it happens. And herein is an important point. A tournament is as good as its judges. That is, I could draw the best debaters in the universe, but at the point where I don’t have judges who are up to a certain standard, the debaters and their coaches won’t be happy, and the tournament will lose esteem. I am perfectly fine with local tournaments with lots of inexperienced (albeit trained) judges, but at some point, especially if you have expectations of gaining or maintaining TOC bids, you do want to guarantee a base level of judging that meets the standard you are setting. A tournament director must reach out to get the best judges possible, if TOC bids are that standard. It is one thing to lose a round because your judge’s paradigm and your debating were not a match (but that’s your problem, bub, and not your judge’s), and another thing altogether to lose a round, even maybe a bid round, because the skill set of the adjudicators simply weren’t up to the task of figuring out a normal debate round.

There are a variety of reasons why I no longer offer policy at Bump, and one of them is this very aspect of acquiring good judges. Having no real link to the policy world, I could never reasonably draw in the extra judges necessary to make a tournament work reliably year after year. And by the way, the word extra is important. A good tournament needs more than enough judges, not just enough judges. I’ll talk about that more when we get to the tabroom discussion. But my point is, I could barely make policy happen, much less make it happen well, at least as far as judges were concerned. What I did was dump the burden on the attending teams, with heavy judging obligations, but I always went into the policy events with fear and trembling. One year we had exactly one judge for the final round: it was that bad.

So the moral of the story is, one of the chief jobs of a tournament director before a tournament starts is the acquisition of good judges (keeping, of course, within budget). If you’re lucky, you can start with your own alums. Absent that, keep up your community connections. Make your tournament one that judges will want to come to (think hospitality, as mentioned yesterday). Make the whole thing fun, rather than some solemn, mind-numbing, grueling marathon.

If all else fails, give out a Jon Cruz award.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bump debriefing, part one: Judge maintenance

The first goal of any debate tournament is to get it over with. I don’t say this facetiously. Top priority is making the rounds happen with efficiency and dispatch. This means a combination of cooperative judges, experienced tabroom, and runners who literally run, with a ballot table that successfully connects those three disparate groups. If you’re in two buildings, as Bump was, that means doing it twice, simultaneously. And O’C is wrong. We don’t traditionally dispense with a final round; we had one last year, for instance. But, for a variety of reasons, we need to start that round before 9:00, as is clearly explained in the invitation. In other words, although my goal is getting the tournament over with, this is not at the expense of having rounds. But as I say, any tournament has this goal, however many rounds they run over however many days: you’ve got to get the rounds started, and finished. Everything else takes a back seat to that imperative.

That first cog in the machine, getting judges to cooperate, can be tough, depending on the competitive stakes. A lot of coaches like to prep their teams before a round, advising on what the opponent may or may not be running, analyzing the judge paradigms, maybe generally Knute Rockne gippering them. Whatever. Personally, aside from the most overarching of strategic advice, I’m not one for this stuff as I think it smacks of cramming for the exam the night before, and I wonder how useful it really is. Anyhow, there traditionally isn’t a lot of that at Bump, or at least not so much as you’d notice. Rounds aren’t often being held up while some coach goes over the opponent’s flow card by card. Which is good, since there isn’t too much the tournament can do about that, because when it happens, the offenders tend to disappear while they confer, and you can’t hustle warm bodies you can’t find (and they usually hold up two rounds, the one the coach is judging and the one the kid is debating). On the other end of the process, there’s the oral critiques, where sometimes the judges go on longer than the debate. These are usually first-year-out judges (or the spiritual equivalent) who think that the debaters want to squeeze out every ounce of their rarefied mental juice, whereas in my opinion these judges would be better off expending this same energy back home trying to get a date. The point is, the debaters want to know why they won or lost, and that’s about it; your reasons, if you gave them the loss, won’t be convincing them to change their stripes any time soon, nor will they be meaningfully dazzled by your intense and sparkling oral critique. Trust me on this. Given, for example, that most debaters ask you your paradigm and then ignore it completely when the round starts, stripe changing is just not in their bag of tricks, and don’t expect otherwise. What a tournament director can do about this is, at least, get the ballots into a runner’s hand before the endless/pointless blather commences. The worst case scenario from a run-on-time perspective is when a judge takes forever to reach a decision, regardless of how much you poke and prod; that one judge can cost the tournament serious time, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So judge cooperation, one way or the other, is the one area the tournament director is at the mercy of an outside force, i.e., the judges themselves.

Still, you can ameliorate the situation to some extent. Most of all, have a judge lounge that judges want to lounge in. Comfy chairs are nice, although they may or may not be accessible, but good grub, coffee, snacks, water, etc., are entirely at your command as tournament director and will keep your judges where they need to be when you want them. It centralizes them when schematics are released, and when a judge you have scheduled doesn’t show up, you know where you’ll find another one. Bietz suggested that hospitality, which he claimed was lacking at the Pups, is a real selling point for a tournament, and he may be right about this. I certainly can tell you where the good judges’ lounges are that I know of, and I’m always happy to go back to a place where I was treated well, and less happy to go to a place where I was not treated well. As Tolstoy said, all debate rounds are the same, but each judges’ lounge is different in its own way. As tournament director I can’t control the debates, but I can control the environment of those debates. Or more to the point, the Sailor families can control that. I enlist some generous parents to help out, and they inevitably pull through with the flyingest of colors. They’re the ones stocking and manning the judges’ lounge, not me. I’m concentrating on priority one, getting the rounds going. If you don’t have parents to do this job for you, don’t bother running a tournament, because you can’t do it yourself. You need a dedicated hospitality staff; parents who have pride in their kids and their team, are the perfect people for it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Find the Disney Princess in this photo

I'm just about sucked into the Bump vortex at this point, and what more is there to say about that? So, once again I'll leave the VCA with this photograph. Whenever I'm down in the dumps, I look at this picture, and I say to myself, it's a wonderful world.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pffft!

We need to get serious about Pffft.

It’s interesting when a new activity appears, or when you decide to attack a new activity, which would be about the same thing. You know what it is that you know, and how to do that known thing, and now you’ve got to figure what this new thing is, and how to do it. Most likely, you begin by comparing the new thing to the old thing. How does this new activity that I know nothing about compare to the old activity that I do know about? And then, what can I bring that will work from the old activity, and what do I have to find elsewhere?

Because Pffft is debate, I have come to it with a feeling that there are some standard ideas—such as what comprises an argument, case writing, oral presentation, research—that are strategically close to LD (or, for that matter, policy), and a grounding in any one is a good starting place, and then you can polish for your particular activity after you’ve mastered the cross-cultural basics. So what I’ve been saying is that all novices must do LD, and after that, it’s dealer’s choice. I could be convinced to do otherwise, but a team activity has those complex pairing problems—needing two people to work together, to show up together, to parse one another’s strengths and weaknesses—that seem better to me to postpone rather than throwing into the mix from day one. There’s enough stuff to learn without confronting a partner. So, if you’re a Sailor, at the moment you won’t start doing Pffft until your second debate year. (If I were somehow acquiring experienced extempers or congressfolk, it would be a similar story, as these activities do provide a comparable take on the basics, and seem to me a fine starting point for a potential Pfffter. In fact, to me, the well-rounded current-event-oriented forensician does Pffft and Extemp alternately, as opportunities present, with the odd foray into Congress on those rare occasions where it’s a meaningful possibility, and I only rank Congress lower because, around here, there just isn’t that much of it.)

What we need to do, on the ship of Hud, is figure out what makes a good Pfffter after we’ve mastered those initial skills of arguing, researching, case writing and presenting in our LD basic training. How do we take what we know and modify it correctly for the Pfffft universe? (And, at the same time, how do we remember when we’re writing our blogs how many Fs there are in Pffffft? As Nero Wolfe might say, “Pfui!”)

The arguing part doesn’t change much. An argument with support (a warrant) in the form of evidence trumps an argument off the top of your head. You don’t have V/C concerns as a focus, though, or as an impact, so you need to have clear winning/losing arguments to which your evidence relates. (“My opponent says such-and-such but these statistics prove otherwise, which is why Bush should attack Canada.”) This seems like the easiest part, but it does require that your evidence is at hand. Once again I am reminded of my wasted debate youth, when we traveled with eight tubs of evidence a shoebox half-filled with index cards, carefully arranged by category. I maintain that Pfffters need that analog of the shoebox, an accordion folder, maybe, that makes them look like they’ve come prepared. The difference between winning and losing, however, may be the difference between being prepared, and merely looking like you’re prepared, but that’s true of any activity. What we will do is coordinate evidence gathering, which we only do haphazardly for LD. Building up a library of evidence should be a move in the right direction. And backtracking a step, we will work out clearer lines of argumentation. Given that the topics come and go quickly, we need to 1) get them; 2) meditate on them; 3) research them; 4) brainstorm them, in that order, in the interval between the first and fifteenth of the month prior to arguing them. More specific attention to Pffft per se, then, rather than Pffft thrown in as an LD afterthought, is required. The literal writing of cases and researching is about the same in Pfffft and LD. You might write a different kind of case, but the approach is similar. And running a Baudrillard K against an opponent’s plan to attack Iran (i.e., claiming that since the Gulf War never happened, neither did the Iraq War or 9/11, so no doubt Iran is roughly like Cape Cod, without the gays) isn’t going to go far when your judge is a raw parent. (My team asked me if I deliberately put the non-English speaking ones into Pffft. I looked heavenward, but realistically, as Pfffters get better, and the activity gets more traction, even the rawest judges will rise with the tide.) Presentation, of course, is radically different between LD and Pffft, and one thing I’m thinking is that if you can think of your Pffft presentation as a conversation, rather than a speech, you may be able to shake off some of the LD dust, with all its speech and framework issues. I talk differently when I’m sitting down than when I’m behind a podium, and it may make sense if you’re not literally sitting down (although often Pfffters do agreeably stay on their butts), that you imagine you’re sitting down. Same effect, in the long run.

We’ll be going whole pig into this kind of thing starting now. There’s too many Pfffters among the Sailors not to give them the attention they deserve. Pffft is still young, and still growing, and often we can’t get the numbers up much at tournaments, but I think its inherent value to the participants is high, plus it gives our parents something useful they can do comfortably. Whether we’ll still be doing it much in 5 years remains to be seen, but I’d put my money on it being, if not as big as LD, then certainly viable on its own. I, for one, would like to see it work.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The 42nd Annual Bump "I'm Calm" entry

Okay. I’m up to here, and there is a Day Job, after all. Things may be a little spotty for the next couple of days. Strikes and ratings are coming in. Registration changes are coming in, lessening the load on express check-in. People are asking strange questions, to which I am trying not to give strange answers. Five days from now it will all be history.

Tonight, a chez on PF. Tomorrow, the postponed Grabowitz Brothers. I’ve got motel rooms for Big Lex, but I need a parent to stay in one of them. O’C is running some kind of Christmas tournament for the homeless or whoever it is that has Christmas vacation free. I just ranted with my cohorts about the MHL bottleneck Saturday morning, with a particular solution that might work. I booked a hotel in NYC for Harvard weekend, and got Spamalot tix, so you know where I’ll be. O’C and I started raking over next year’s sked, since everything is absolutely whack, starting with a very late Columbus Day.

My mind is somewhere between Altoona and “It’s a Small World.” I just paid $35 to an anesthesiologist, and I think I would like to put her on retainer at the chez for the next couple of days. The disjointedness of this entry is proof of its content.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bump it up a notch; notch up another MHL; Nostrum's niche; Where is Tricky Dick when you need him?

I’ll be crawling out of my hole any minute now. I spent all of yesterday finalizing the Bump invoices, and straightening out all of the registrations. I got things set up in E-TRPC (yes, evil TRPC, because I’ll probably want to print ballots after the first round or two). I looked around for all the things in the chez basement, like mugs and extra ballots, and found some trophies but no mugs or extra ballots. Why do I think I have this stuff, if I don’t? I bought some paper and a cartridge for my laserjet. I encumbered all the expenses. I still need to update who’s getting out of school early and the like. And I lie awake last night wondering how this stupid express check-in is supposed to work, since it seems to provide a solid possibility of crack-falling contestants, but at least I can blame my official greeter, Robbie, if anything goes wrong there. I should probably start blaming him now, just to get warmed up. I did find a big box for crappy prizes; Peanuts and his Evil Apprentice are coming over tomorrow to help me sort them out. Housing seems to be covered. Food seems to be covered. I just talked to the custodian at the grammar school, and that seems to be covered. So, as I say, I’ll be crawling out of my hole any minute now.

I just spilled soup on the Great Book of Bump. How fitting.

So the MHL at Monti was an eye-opener. And here’s why. There seems to be an epidemic of schools that put in registrations by the due date, and then change them, and change them, and change them. One school changed virtually its entire (large) entry every day following the closing of registration, plus one last time at the registration table. The MHL, being about as nonprofit as you can get, has no penalties for such behavior. Or, more to the point, had no penalties for such behavior. I’ll work something out between now and the next one, whenever and wherever that is. This last-minute changes stuff doesn’t work. It’s not just the wear and tear on me, but the fact that the data always goes into the system wrong, and the first round is something like a sixth grade mixer, where no one knows where to go or what to do and the kids who get lost have these pathetic looks on their faces as if they’ll never recover and the adults just want to go home. On the positive side, I managed to duck Howard. O’C had it with him, but there was enough tabroom confusion, and gossip, to keep him from loading it up. Thank God he isn’t coming to Little Lex! By the way, it turns out that the Irish O’C interview is making the rounds these days, and that surprised me. The actual interview is available on my podcast page, voila, there it is, but the Irish interview is tricked out as an Easter Egg that you have to find. (Actually, it’s on this page, in one of its incarnations.) Bacon confirmed what I thought, which is that, while it may not be Cruz’s voice, it is Cruz’s answers. And, of course, its very existence drives O’C crazy (which may explain why he likes Howard T. D.) which means that I’ll keep it around as long as I can.

Speaking of podcasts, I heard from the Nostrumite who told me that one of his untold legions of fans had discovered missing pdfs from the Nostrum page, and he asked me to post them. Apparently someone is reading the thing. Who knew? Personally, I consider it unlikely that anyone is listening, but if you’re missing the printed version, you can always listen to the recorded version. Whatever. One of the missing episodes was the Tom Swifties piece; I can’t imagine listening to that, to tell you the truth. (For the uninitiated, Tom Swifties are made up lines reminiscent of the old Tom Swift series, where every speech had an adverb: “I love Kant,” he said categorically. “My favorite kind of debate is where no one discusses the resolution,” she said theoretically. “Debate websites claim victory,” she said briefly. You get the idea.) Then again, the line to the effect, “ ‘It was stolen,’ she said sweetly,” has to be heard to be understood.

And tomorrow is election day. Vote, says I: vote, vote, like you’ve never voted before. My feeling is, a solid show of Republican support will send a message to the White House that it’s okay to invade Iran in these waning months of lame duckness (hey: that’s two lame ducks in one posting). You da man, Shrubby. Let’s back our Commander-in-Chief while we still can. It won’t be long before he’s no longer our Decider, and we’ll be looking back fondly on this Periclean Golden Age. (In other words, who’d have thought that some of us would longing for the Nixon era?)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fever all through the night; CP and the undead; money for nothing; do what I tell you to do and I'll be happy as a [you know the drill]

I managed to forget to post yesterday, which is, no doubt, a reflection of bumpomania. I mean, everything’s about settled, and I’m prepping the invoices, and we’ve got the rooms, and the housing is manageable, so aside from the presumed certainty of earthquakes, tornados, locusts and barn rot, things are looking good. One or two yabbos are keeping me hanging about this or that, but that’s always the case. A week and a half from now and you won’t hear another word about this from me for a while.

Saturday’s MHL at Monticello is a policy love-in. How often does Policy beat out LD in pure numbers? Of course, there are plenty of people who were stymied by tabroom.com. This is pretty interesting to me, given that it’s pretty easy, and in fact, these people seemed to have gotten their data on and then screwed it up, rather than having initial access problems. And as I mentioned, there are those who sign up like good little soldiers and then change their entry so much that one wishes they had never signed up in the first place. Question for CP, though: why do the drops persist in the system? If I drop someone, they should be dropped. This happened with the Pups, too. I guess I can pull my data from another list, but perhaps there’s some reason for keeping the undead alive in the system. Maybe CP needs to be attacked by my Facebook zombie. Anyhow, the C-TRPC data is all in. All we need now is for O’C’s bus to realize that Monticello is north of the Bronx, and we’ll have a tournament.

There’s a check for the NYSFL on my desk, ready to be mailed. Sigh.

There was a flurry of parent judge discussion on the NDCA listserver. A number of people like the stuff I wrote and asked it they could access it. Let me see. If people read my judge how-to, they’ll judge the way I want them to judge. Does that work for me? By the way, the listserver is open to all and sundry, rather than just members, and maybe this one will be the one that becomes the de facto discussion group in the activity. So far NFL and LDEP weren’t able to do it. WTF works fine for students but I only check it at the highest top-page level, and seldom read too far into postings and comments unless they’re about me, or O’C has clued me into a interesting discussion. The idea of coaches connecting painlessly to other coaches is an idea whose time has come. About a decade ago. You want to know why it hasn’t worked so far? Too many luddite coaches. And they freely admit it.

Jeesh.