Monday, December 24, 2007

4 out of 3 ain't bad...

I hang my head in shame. Vaughan beat the crap out of me in Scrabble during what little down time we managed to throw together at Regis. I learned my lesson. Next time I'm in tab with Vaughan, I won't be allowing for any down time.

As usual, the Regis Noel Conflagration was a blockbuster. Eight—count 'em, 8—divisions of debate, all viable. But, I have to admit, the whole proceeding has me wondering if we could improve this process. I'm not thinking of the CFL (yet), but the MHL here, although the same thing applies. The problem is three rounds. I mean, three rounds is fine to get some practice, but very hard to take tin. You have to win all three of them, and worse, if there's enough of a field, you have to have stratospheric points. Since we sort by total points (you can hardly drop a round when there's only three of them), any one judge can send you into the bottom of the bracket, or, of course, out of the running completely. Given that most of the judges are upperclassmen (at least at MHLs; Regis tends to field a lot of parents) who have their own particular opinions of resolutions that are, to be honest, about one week more mature than their judgees, if that, this is a pretty cold approach to adjudication. At Little Lex, on the other hand, there's always 4 rounds, and losing one still can get you a trophy, and regardless, 3-1 looks so much better than 2-1. So the question is, why not redesign the MHL as four-round tournaments? Sure, we'd get out a little later (although we could start a little earlier too, which would work for everyone except Bronx Scientology, which always gets lost, even when the tournament is at Bronx Scientology), but it's not as if most of us expect to be home for dinner on a debate night anyhow, so what's the loss? Not much. And the gain for everyone is an extra round and a better competitive structure: since we lag-pair, this would mean also that round 4 is based on 2 rounds rather than 1 (albeit still random ones, but it would eliminate a little of the riffraff). I think it's probably too late for this in the 07-08 season, but I will put it before the assorted minds of the region and see how it flies for next year. I can't imagine much opposition. Although I might probably keep the first-timers event at 3 rounds, because it starts at noon, at least if it stays at Byram Hills, which has been a very nice venue.

And so, onward to some Christmas brouhaha. While the assorted nuts that are my family are fighting over the mashed potatoes, I will be polishing up Caveboy, which I looked at yesterday for a first run-through. What a crock! masterpiece of elucidation...

Friday, December 21, 2007

You say either and I say it's spinach and the hell with it

Thinking about Caveman reminds me about Relativism, which may be the underlying convention of modern thought, for better or worse. Most of history, actually most of human existence, has been the seeking of the objective truth of the reality around us. Lately we’ve been taking a more “whatever” view of reality, as if there may not be any objective truth, or at least no way for any two of us to agree what that objective truth might be. That this is counterintuitive and perhaps pure sophistry never seems to bother anybody, because the counterintuitive sophist relativists counter that relativism explains away our intuitions as biased at best and deranged at the worse, while the objectivists (i.e., everybody not in the philosophic professions, to wit, 99.999% of the universe) don’t give a rat’s patootie. And it is an interesting question whether any two of us perceive any one thing exactly identically. Given my post-contemporary approach, and my claim that science and philosophy ought to be, ultimately, identical, my answer is yes. Unfortunately I can’t prove it. Yet.

The Regis CFL tomorrow will be a blockbuster. Sometimes I think these CFLs and MHLs are underappreciated. I mean, we put a hundred or two hundred debaters into action on pretty much every week there isn’t a competing regional invitational (and occasionally even when there is a competing regional invitational, if that invitational has nothing for younger competitors), which is an awful lot of forensic churn for very little buck. I’ve gone so far as to suggest that the MHL be free, but that would eliminate trophies, and the prevailing wisdom is that the low cost for the value of swag (all the money does, indeed, go into supplying tin) is worth it both for the competitors and the administrations, both of which see the taking of tin as an elemental part of any competitive activity. Anyhow, we’ve got maybe 250 of New York’s Windiest going at it tomorrow, and the weather report is agreeable, so it should be fun. And we won’t have those pesky Speecho-Americans to slow us down, which is always a problem at CFLs. Last week at Newburgh we had awards starting at 5. That has to be the gold standard of efficiency. We’re shooting for 5 again tomorrow. Anyone who gets in my way—obdurate judges, confused parents, lost debaters—will face the wrath of Menick! Slow me down and I guarantee you there will be Baudrillard books in your stocking this year, you spalpeen. See how you like that!

After that, I look forward to a week off; even the Day Job knows when not to bother. I’ll be seeing relatives, debaters, in-laws, friends, and Sweeney Todd (and note that this list was not prioritized, otherwise Sweeney would have probably come first, or maybe tied with my daughter, who I know places Sweeney higher than seeing me, the little serpent’s tooth). I’ll read science fiction and play Zelda and clean up the chez office and edit some photos and do a lot of cooking and prep Caveboy (the condensed Parsippanic version of Caveman) and generally entertain myself and others. Sounds quite soothing. I can’t wait. But of course, this being a relativistic universe, you have no idea what I’m talking about.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Apparation? Is that the word?; Frenchmen without cavemen; time to switch role models

For those who like aggravation (that doesn’t sound right), there is now an aggravated site of debate blogs: You can, of course, RSS this RSS and aggravate yourself privately in the comfort of your own feeder, if such is your fancy. I still maintain that NFL ought to be doing this, but at least somebody is doing this, so until Ripon catches up with the rest of us…

Wait a minute. Aggregate. That’s the word I’m thinking of. Aggregate.

So I finished up a version of Geopolitics for the “If It Gets Me Out of the House, I’m There” Institute, and it’s a bit different from what I did here (same info, better and more thorough presentation, incorporating sovereignty), so I pulled the greatest hit version temporarily. I mean, why give away the ending? I’ll repost a revised version to greatest hits after the fact. (Speaking of greatest hits, everybody tells me they think Stump the Chump was funny. You think I’m funny? I make you laugh? I’m the most serious person I know. I’ll have you know that Stump the Chump was pulled directly from the WTF archives! Anyhow, I understand that O’C and his minions are presently reconstructing the great debates of the 1870s, and he’s found one round at Little Big Horn High where George Custer, Sitting Bull and B. B. Cody were all on the same double-octos panel; Custer, apparently, was the squirrel.) We’re now dickering over: 1) lecture two, which will probably be an overview of postmodernism derived from Caveman, and 2) whether I’ll judge a round. I need to look at the schedule of the event. I wasn’t planning on moving in, to tell you the truth. I was looking forward to getting out of the house as much as anyone, but only for the morning. O’C seems to think that I need to judge rounds. Of course, I’m fine with judging rounds, and I do it off and on when the need arises or the spirit moves me, but he’s pretty messianic about it, as if, were I to pick up a pen and flow pad, Jupiter would align with Mars, Bush would resign and we’d once again be allowed to eat fois gras in Chicago. Sigh.

Meanwhile, there’s this damned mainstream debate movie coming out, which will be the ruination of coaches everywhere. It used to be, we only had to aspire to be as good as, oh, Richard B. Sodikow. Now we’re going to have to aspire to be as good as Denzel Washington. Oh, the pressure. (And no offense, RBS, but you’re no Denzel.) If that’s not bad enough, the whole thing has Oprah Winfrey’s imprimatur on it, nay, her literal DNA all over it. What if I don’t like this movie? What if it’s another Howard the Duck? What if the debaters are animated by the same people who did Jar-Jar Binks? What if Robin Williams shows up in the middle of it as the warm and fuzzy albeit unorthodox professor who does everything he can to help the terminally ill children in the poverty ward of the orphanage? What if I figure out halfway through it that Denzel is his mother in the fruit cellar, Kaiser Soze and one of Haley Joel’s dead people, ruining all the suspense and making me wish for my ten bucks back? Will I be willing to admit it? Am I going to have to be the one to tell Oprah to stick to movies about Declamation and Speecho-Americans and to keep her mitts off debate?

Na’ah. We’ll let O’C do that. It will be a welcome change from the archeological expedition he’s planning. (He’s heading out to Machu Picchu, where apparently there’s been a discovery of pre-Columbian quarterfinals schematics they’ve asked him to verify.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I'll Take Forensic Humbugs for 200, Alex

(Just an aside: We don’t really need a whole big internet. Amazon is enough. You can buy uranium ore and elk carcasses, which pretty much covers the gamut as far as I’m concerned, as long as you throw in the occasional Badonkadonk Land Cruiser to keep things interesting.)

Bean Trivia went well last night (and into overtime). It never ceases to amaze me what knowledge is or isn’t in the generational zeitgeist. I really thought that the Little Rascals would be a total blank, for instance, whereas I thought even my cats could name Sleeping Beauty. Whatever. Whether the Sailors will be ready for Jan-Feb remains to be seen, given the amount of time we spend off-topic, but if there was ever a resolution of dead-horse-beatability, this is it. I mean, how much can you say after you’ve said just war, preemptive rules and general international justice? Very narrow area with a vast range of approaches. Go ye forth and write ye cases. And gather ye together on the mount over vacation to brainstorm, ye yo-yos. Meanwhile I’ve polished up Geopolitics for lecture presentation at the “Oh Little Town of Parsippany” Institute, and as soon as Cruz tells me what else he wants, I’m on it. I’m hoping now for an analysis of the meanings of world’s fairs, from Crystal Palace to Flushing Meadows. This material is of no use to anyone, but it does seem a shame to waste all the information on the subject that’s just rattling around in my brain. Eject it before it turns to dust!

I guess I’ll be slacking off a bit for the holidays, insofar as writing here is concerned. I don’t guarantee it, but I wouldn’t be surprised. One really does need to do something else other than debate once in a while. Of course, I still have one last fling this coming weekend at Regis. We’ve got over 200 lost souls showing up so far, which just goes to show you that if you throw it, they will come. This is the first official workout for with the CFL, but they all seemed to rise to the occasion. Of course, it’s not as if it’s new to them, as it’s been used by NYSFL for a while, and what is States but CFL finals writ small? Meanwhile I’ve been playing Scrabulous with CP, who just makes up words that look like words, but I’m not going to challenge him unless he slips ahead on the scorecard. Let’s face it. If you’re going to make up words, they should use all seven letters and land on a red square. I have taken to carrying a Scrabble game with me on weekends, but I keep being too busy to do anything about it. Lexington should provide some tabular leisure. Me vs Palmer, mano a mano (unless Ryan H is there, in which case it will be mano a trois). Let’s see you make up words then, bub!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dyslexics of the world, untie!

We seem to be awash in organizations these days. The NFL tells me to go forth and bring in the sheep, and the website alone will be worth the ninety-nine bucks. The website, of course, is free, and while it has the usability of sushi chef on a hog farm, there may be some good stuff on it. I’m reserving judgment; the one LD crib sheet that I grabbed made me want to sign up for WTF. (I’m speaking confidentially now, of course. I’m a district chair. Hell, I’m one of the district chairs especially chosen at random to be featured in next month’s Rostrum. Feel free to start lining up now at your local magazine kiosk.) They have online chats, three or four a night, which aren’t my cup of baloney, although I did try to read one after the fact concerning the Goy of T District Tournament software. Debate coaches need better screen names, for one thing, if they really want to drive some chat traffic. And then there’s some mentor program, which looks good on paper but I think I’m supposed to be lining up half a dozen lieutenants to hold the hands of the flood of newbie coaches that are knocking on my door, or would be knocking on my door if I had a better screen name. (“menick” is just, so, predictable. Anything else would be like a tattoo, clever for a moment but something I may not want to still be associated with twenty years from now.) My point here is that Forensics Central, which is what NFL should be, is working on it but not there yet. Seriously, I applaud what they’re doing in that direction. Their studies of the activities and updated guidelines and ballots and the like are exactly what they should be doing, and they’re doing it better than we could have hoped. So, overall, I’d give them an A for effort, and I’ll continue giving them ninety-nine bucks.

Then there’s the Legion of Doom, which seems to be playing out a most operatic death scene lasting the length of the show. Their goal being to keep LD on the straight and narrow was pretty much co-opted by NFL, which has the authority to back it up, at least at NFL events. Other than that, they want tournaments to disallow hitting below the belt and have gotten some response, but places like Emory continue to offer MJP, and as far as I can tell no one in favor of MJP has ever changed their mind, or vice versa, and there you are. Some people are perfectly capable of separating debate as a competitive event from debate as an academic event with value on both sides, thank you very much, while others see the competition as merely a necessary evil. In any case, every now and then there’s a note from one of the Doomsters telling us they’re quitting or something. Got another one just yesterday. Mostly the lack of action/discussion month after month is indication enough of the group’s viability. (Again, this is confidential, being that I’m on the board of the thing.)

Meanwhile NDCA is making all sorts of noises about increasing its membership. They have a listserver to which I subscribe, and they’re trying to come up with a plan. Apparently they too have a website and give all sorts of stuff away, but to be honest, I’ve never looked at it. (At least this time I have no official connection to the thing; hell, I’m not even a member.) They may want to block access to it, though, or maybe even give more of it away, or have reviews of Dario Argento films if one believes Antonucci. Whatever. I can see why you might pay $25 to go to their tournament, but I’m not a font of dues-paying ability. But then again, I don’t recall anyone seriously attempting to solicit my membership. So, bottom line, I have no idea what the purpose of this organization might be.

And, of course, I admit that I visit WTF pretty much every day. One-stop source for news, anyhow, and bizarre new incarnations of Cruziana (I gather his next project is his being photographed as Great Personages of History with essays on how Bronx Science changed their lives). Every day. Ten to one, most other people involved in LD are there every day or two, including coaches. Can’t follow the game without a score card, eh?

What’s wrong with this picture? I mean, why are there multiple groups doing, theoretically, the same thing? Does somebody want to draw the Venn diagram here? Is there some reason why NFL isn’t the go-to place for coaches? Is there some reason why NFL isn’t the website I go to every day (and, good grief, they tell me I should, but they don’t provide daily content)? Do I need a vast circle of debate resources as compared to one good central debate resource?

Here’s the plan, which no one will follow.

1. NFL subsumes the NCDA. Deal with it. I’m a debate coach. NFL is supposed to be the organization for debate coaches. I only need one such organization.

2. The Legion goes away. This may be an unnecessary recommendation, but anyone who has sat through the end of Rigoletto knows that death scenes ain’t over till they’re over.

3. NFL publishes WTF, which goes back to the briefs business. NFL expands WTF to cover all aspects of forensics, or maybe has branches for separate buckets, one for speech, one for debate. NFL also collects all other authoritative debate blogs and publishes them (at least RSS) through their auspices.

4. Somebody hires a decent web designer and then allows me final cut so that, just once, a site will be user-friendly on all levels.

5. And, while we’re at it, we fix Goy of T so that it uploads to e-TRPC correctly, we stop accepting registration changes after the deadline except for drops, for which you pay double, we start to train the parent coaches we dump on tournaments (starting with ESL and moving up from there), and, finally, while we’re at it, we all agree to debate the %$#&* resolution.

Oh, and I’d also like world peace, free wireless, and an order of fries with that.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hubris in the flesh, and some general meanderings

The Newburgh MHL was a model of efficiency. We processed about a hundred or so of the area’s finest young ‘uns, and got home just about 6:00. I even managed to keep the plebes from singing in my car; it’s bad enough that they occasionally sing in the bus, apparently not yet having shaken off the Speecho-American fairy dust. Anyhow, if it weren’t for the getting up early on a Saturday morning, it would have been the perfect day. I made up for it by sleeping in Sunday. Next up is the calendar year’s ultimate event, the CFL at Regis. The thing is already pretty large, and we don’t have a couple of the heavy hitters signed up yet, so this should be quite an event. Bring ‘em on!

Sunday was the memorial service for Michael, which was well-attended despite the miserable weather. It’s going to take a long time to get used to the void left in our community by his passing.

I haven’t heard yet from O’C what the other topic he wants me to lecture on might be for the “Holidays Shmolidays, All I Want for Christmas is My Opponent’s Two Front Teeth” Institute. No doubt he’s too busy shoveling through old schematics in the basement of Scientology trying to find out who hit the top down-three in the second flight of the fourth round of eleventh day of the ninety-seventh annual New York City Disfunctional Invitational for his next edition of Stump the Chump. Yesterday Les P asked me if it were true that I was publicly making fun of O’C, and I had to admit that the thought would never occur to me. Moi? sez I. Then again, I would never make fun of O’C behind his back: where’s the entertainment value in that?

Tomorrow night, some pre-holiday, don’t forget to write your damned cases thoughts with the Sailors, and the first serious trivia event. Even Cruz would be stumped by some of these questions! Hell, even I’m stumped by them, and I know the answers!

I will admit nothing about Zelda and the Phantom Hourglass…

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bits of tid

If we can manage to squeeze through a pair of snowstorms—there’s another one forecast for Saturday night—we’ll have an MHL tomorrow at Newburgh. We’ve got about a hundred souls signed up, which is pretty good for a non-existent weekend. Next year there are no weekends at all in December; I mean, not just no empty weekends, but simply no weekends. Every day is a weekday. Very strange. Meanwhile, the only question about this coming weekend’s event is PF. I have one school signed up and another school that says it wants to be signed up, but isn’t. I have a message out to them which will, I hope, clear it up. Need ‘em both, obviously. In the other divisions, we’re fine, with the biggest numbers among the chilluns, three of which are Sailors. Not a bad turnout, 75%. By comparison, I was going through data on and noting that Bronx Scientology has three thousand novices. The list just scrolls and scrolls. I’ve offered to pay O’C for a couple of dozen, but wants to keep them all, in case one of them ever wins something, in which case thirty years from now he can include them in his Debate Trivia Encyclopedia, Volume 11.

Speaking of trivia, as we are winding down and hitting various conflicts pre-holiday, most especially the band concert on debate meeting night, we’ll be doing Bean Trivia next Tuesday, plus maybe at least some semblance of debate discussion. Of course, I can goof around with the best of them. This week, after some Pffftery, we did a bunch of improvs, which are always entertaining. Everybody is a standup comic these days. And a note to coaches: this is a nice team-building exercise as well as a speaking/thinking exercise. Give it a try. Two minutes prep and a two-minute speech on a silly topic. What have you got to lose?

So far I’ve worked it out with O’C that I’ll do a lecture on geopolitics along the lines of what I was writing here for the “No Holiday is Safe from Debate” Institute. That leaves time for something else. I was thinking intermediate buck-and-wing, but O’C claims that getting LDers to tap dance always fails for some reason. Go figure. Oh, well, I’ll keep my dancing shoes at home and try something else.

And I may have hit the end of my run of Nostrums, at least for a while. Having had a cold for a while slowed me down, and then, well, I’ve got so many other things going. Maybe I’ll take a short hiatus, at least. Sigh.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

One less book to read, or, R. Mutt's ten minutes of fame

The Old Baudleroo’s The Conspiracy of Art is not on my recommended list. It’s a collection of essays and interviews and sweepings from the postmodern barbershop floor in aid of the thesis that contemporary art is a crock.

I wonder how much time he spent figuring that one out.

“Caveman” fans and the VCA in general know my opinion of piles of dirt on the museum floor. And I’ve even delved into intellectual analyses of piles of dirt on the museum floor. Aside from the fact that he obfuscates virtually every thought with vague language or neologisms when there’s a perfectly acceptable word already, or maybe simply aside from the fact that he happens to be French, a disease that has challenged modern civilization since at least as far back as Mark Twain, the Old B and I don’t necessarily disagree. We like the classical stuff. We see the arrival of Impressionism and the subsequent abstractionists as an evaluation of art as much as (and occasionally more than) the creation of art. The OB writes that Duchamp’s claim that a urinal was a piece of art because Duchamp, an artist, claimed it was a piece of art, has multiple meanings. First of all, it raises the question of if, in fact, art is simply what artists say it is, or is art what someone else (critics? the general public?) say it is. I certainly agree with that as a conundrum of modernity. Secondly, it makes the statement that, at least according to the OB, anything can be art, and that the boundary between art and reality no longer exists. Well, we all know how the OB feels about reality, but in fact, this thinking makes it a little more clear what his general theses are (e.g., Disneyland and reality). In any case, if art is supposed to be something special, connected to some aesthetic sense, transcendent, whatever, at the point where art becomes a toilet, or a toilet becomes art, that transcendence ain’t what it used to be. The real world has impinged/coopted the interior world.

The other great step in modern art, according to the OB, and again, this is standard enough thinking or at least a perfectly reasonable thesis, comes with Andy Warhol. Whereas Duchamp claimed real items were art, Warhol claimed that non artistic items were legitimate subjects of art. Specifically, a room filled with his perfect blown-up copies of Brillo boxes. Throw in Warhol’s mass production of art, and whereas with Duchamp any commodity in the world can become a piece of art, with Warhol any piece of art can become a commodity. Duchamp begins the process of reevaluating what art is on an intellectual level (as compared to the abstractionists reevaluating it on an artistic level) and Warhol completes that process.

The conspiracy of art, meanwhile, is the OB's analysis of what happens after this process is completed. Artists no longer need to have skill or talent, they only have to claim that they're artists, and we as consumers of art, or critics, or whoever, in accepting or validating this claim, are in cahoots with these yabbos. Art is dead, or at least it sucks, because we don't know what it is anymore (in the Kantian aesthetic sense, say, although the OB doesn't cite the Kantster). Art is what whoever is saying what art is is. (Is that a real sentence? Maybe I've become OBish!)

Anyhow, this book probably costs about twenty bucks. I have now summed it up for free, and saved you a lot of agony. Thank you notes are not necessary. I live to please.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Eternal chumps; talkin' 'bout my generation; holiday planning grinds to a screeching halt; the secret of Pffft

It occurred to me that the ephemeral nature of blogging means that I can write stuff that would change the world, and a couple of weeks later it’s gone into the ether. I know I have to set up the blogspot tag function, such as it is, but I needed more than that. Multiple-parters like the one on geopolitics will be good material again some day, and I hate to lose it. I have a similar set I recently did on tournament management (now on the Bump site), plus a series on feminism from a while ago. Of course, there’s also the classic, nay, epically classic series of Caveman, which also has podcasts, and is posted on that page. So I decided henceforth to corral series that should be archived, and put them over into greatest hits on the right for accessibility. And so I did. I have a couple of old ones I might pull out, like the feminism if I ever assemble it, plus it gives me space for new stuff. While I am unlikely to provide you with straightforward positions for resolutions (write your own cases, you spalpeen!), I do hope to clarify issues to some extent. My goals are not definitiveness, as I write these things pretty much off the top of my head, but to provide a starter kit for your own head. Also, this allows me to save the Chump for the ages, which is reason enough, eh?

Meanwhile, writing the geopolitical series has put me behind, so let’s play catch-up.

Yeah, Dana Perino didn’t know about October 1962. Ah, youth! Curiously enough, the same confusion of the missile crisis with the Bay of Pigs occurred on the ship of Hud. Which leads to an interesting situation. When two people share a zeitgeist, they can communicate quickly with the easiest of shorthands about all sorts of things. Teenagers today know all about teenage things today. They know all about music and television shows and movies and whatnot from a position on the ground where this stuff actually matters. This has been a part of adolescence since the early twentieth century and the advent of mass media. Adults take different views of such things. But nevertheless, if you are 17-years-old, don’t even dream of challenging me on Beatles questions. Not because I’m any particular expert on the Beatles, because I’m not, but because I lived the Beatles at the time. I breathed the air. All you’ve done is listen to the records, and maybe even read the books, but you vassn’t dere, Charlie. (Wow, now there’s an obscure reference.) You can no more challenge my knowledge of this than I can challenge your knowledge of [pick something generational you know that I don’t]. It’s not a question of knowledge, it’s a question of having lived through it. And my point here is that, when you present in front of a judge, that judge’s life experiences inform his or her intelligence, and if there’s a difference in generation, that judge will know stuff at the core that you, if you’re lucky, may have vaguely heard about. If you get what the judge considers obvious stuff wrong, you’ll look like an idiot. I do have advice on this, and it’s easy enough. Given that most debaters will need to pick up parent ballots, and given that most debaters have a parent or two, and given that the parents of debaters are probably from the same generation as your parents, discussing the context of resolutions with your own parents, and maybe learning what that generation as a whole has confronted about a particular issue from them, can only help you in developing your cases. (It also makes for good kid-parent relationships, and brings your poor parents into your universe in a useful way, and if the poor parent has to actually judge at some point, gives some perspective to them of a rez from your younger, debating perspective.) The debater who does not work out contexts with an older generation (which includes a lot of coaches, obviously), is making a big mistake. It would be nice if all your judges were two years older than you are and subscribers to your own personal paradigm, but the idea that the world is made up of people predisposed to give a rat’s poop about you is a bad starting point for most journeys. Anyhow, I’m giving good advice here. Ignore it at your own risk.

A while ago O’C asked me to do something at his “I’ve Got Nothing Better to do with my Winter Holiday than Debate Institute,” but I had something better to do, but I did get a surprise day open, so I figured what the hey? I’ll do something that Sunday, and he’s now trying to figure out what. Give me, oh, three hours (including break) and I could do Caveman! With visuals! But that is soooo deep background. I’ll do whatever he suggests, if I can scrape together a real lecture on it. Should be interesting. I’ve always wonder what they do at institutes. Now, it turns, out, I discover that they’re listening to people like me. They’d be better off learning to bake pies.

My opinion of the Jan-Feb topic is gleanable from the geopolitics essay, as in, there seems to be a lot of open ground for discussion (and that isn’t even beginning to look at preemption and just war). On the other hand, I can’t say I’m enamored of Jan Pffft. We may have a strategy for the con, but it took a lot of torture to get there. A good resolution is balanced. The subject of Civil Disobedience is not balanced on a policy level, because it has proven effective numerous times. One can argue the theory of CD, but is that what Pfffft wants to be? LD with two people and less prep time? I don’t think so. I continue my stalking of this activity, and did a tad of judging at Ridge, only to be rewarded with underlining of what I already believed, which is that the smartest team with the best knowledge wins. Duh. But it’s hard to get really knowledgeable about a new subject month after month, or even marginally knowledgeable. Which makes this activity a tough one for people who aren’t willing to do a lot of work, despite initial disparaging from many corners when it first appeared on the scene that it was Debate Lite. Far from it. Picking up the ballots of that ineffable pool of people ousted from the other judging pools by tossing around data on the history of Irani nuclear intentions (and non-nuclear intentions) is not exactly a mug’s game. Way more than LD in general it has to be research, research, research. Then a month later, all new research, research, research. Quite a churn, there. Anyhow, with the Jan rez, the only person I’d be willing to debate on this is Oprah. She can go first. On the con.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Geopolitics Part 5: Justice (conclusion)

We began by saying we would address the issue of justice on an international scale. We said we understood (sorta) justice on a national, social contract level, but didn’t have the resources for making normative statements on the global level. Well, we still don’t have the resources for making those normative statements, but at least now we know what the issues are.

Justice is protecting national sovereignty on a non-military level: That is, one can make an argument that a polity needs to protect itself, and that part of the contract of individuals with their government is the guarantee by the government of this protection. The government is obliged to provide this protection. And this goes beyond, or transcends, the military level. A polity needs to protect its culture. If a nation is, say, very conservative, it would be a government responsibility to prevent other countries from coming in with offensive materials. A government is just in protecting the important interests of its citizens, and if those important interests are social, than protecting those social important interests is a just act on a contractual obligation level.

Justice is maximizing individual welfare: That is, one can make an argument that a government’s obligation to its citizens includes guaranteeing, as best it can, a decent quality of life. A government is obligated to relieve poverty, develop infrastructure, bring in investors who will help develop the country. The government of a developing nation that uses all the money it can get its hands on to build palaces for the rulers is not living up to this obligation. The government of a developing nation that seeks international economic partners, encourages sustainable development without harming the environment, etc., is living up to this obligation.

Justice is defending citizens on a military level: Individuals in a nation cannot defend themselves from attack by outside agencies. This is the job of the government. It would be just for a nation to build a strong defensive military, or seek support from strong military partners. It could also be just for a nation to build, and use, a strong offensive force. The US certainly does, despite any protestations to the contrary: make a list of the countries we’ve invaded since WWII, even if those invasions were “defensive.”

Justice is a government working to maintain its nation’s dignity on the international level: Since only a government can act on the international level, all the actions a government takes on that level can one way or another be tested for justness. If a government works to make its nation a recognized participant in world events, this would probably be just action, whereas if a government works to isolate its nation, this would probably not be living up to its obligation. It is easy to make an argument that in today’s technological, multinational corporate world, a nation must be part of the community of nations to participate in the benefits that derive therefrom.

Justice is protecting the citizens of your nation above the citizens of other nations: Since we have a social contract within our borders, and no social contract outside our borders, our governments only have contractual obligations to their own citizens. On the other hand, we could make claim that our governments have moral obligations to other citizens that also must be taken into consideration. That is, we don’t give up our ideas of right and wrong the minute we cross the border.

Justice is the application of a social contract on an international level: Since geography is accidental, national sovereignty, while valid as a political concept, is not the ultimate determinant of the worth of citizens. Individuals exist as human beings before they exist as citizens of a particular nation, and their human worth transcends their nationality. Creating an international social contract, i.e., a “federal” state of all nations comprising the individual nations, with transcendent laws at this federal/international level overriding local laws, allowing for a framework of individual rights protection within the context of differing societies, is a just action. In other words, a UN that worked, with actual power, is a reasonable goal of just action on the international level.

From these blocks, I could put together an argument that Iran is justified in putting itself forward as the leader of the Moslem world, requiring the international respect that comes with leadership, that this requires a nuclear capability, and that this is beneficial to its people on a social, economic and military level. From these blocks, I could also put together an argument that the US is justified in preemptively preventing its enemies from acquiring nuclear arms, because the protection of citizens within a nation is just. From these blocks, I could do all sorts of things.

But I don’t have to. You do.

Have fun.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Geopolitics Part 4: Firepower

The history of warfare, from the perspective of strategy and tactics, is to some extent the history of firepower. Our definition of firepower will be “offensive power applied from a distance.” From the dawn of time, whoever can amass the better firepower tends to win the battles. While there are examples of great strategists who have managed to overcome better firepower with a clever plan, for the most part, if I’ve got better weaponry, and more of it, I’ll probably come out on top.

The study of firepower is also the study of the advancement of weaponry. Let’s look at our ancestors in the caves.
Step one: fists.
Step two: tool use and rock throwing.
It doesn’t take a genius to see how throwing a rock has some advantages over throwing a fist. I don’t have to get so close, so if I have rocks and all you have is fists, I win. Similarly, if my tool use brings me to a knife, and all you’ve got is a fist, I probably win then too. But the further away I can get from you while still launching an offensive attack, the better chance I have of harming you while not being harmed myself. A bow and arrow is better than throwing rocks, because I get better accuracy and better results. I can kill better with an arrow than with a rock. I can be further away from my enemy than with a rock (or, of course, than with a close-range weapon like a sword/knife/mace/battle-axe). A gun is an improvement over the bow and arrow (once guns get to the point of rifling, at least): better accuracy, more distance, more deadly. In war, if one side has guns and the other side has swords, the guns will probably win because the gunners will never be in range of the swords, but not vice versa.

So, there’s the history of world warfare in a nutshell. Add to this developments in artillery so that guns become cannons, and you’ve made it about as far as the American Civil War. But we miss something here, which is who, exactly, are the combatants. For most of Western history, the combatants were professional soldiers. One batch of professional soldiers fought another batch of professional soldiers, and there didn’t tend to be too many of them, and they played by various accepted rules, and then the kings found out who won and that was that. Very civilized, in a manner of speaking. The American Civil War can be said to have introduced a new concept, the standard-issue non-professional soldier. Not that there weren’t volunteers, but the Union had the resources of factories (for war materiel) and population (for soldiers) and drafted the latter to attend to the former. Small elegant battles went away during the Civil War, and bloodshed on a mass level was introduced. (It was perfected in the trenches of WWI.) But still, it was soldiers fighting soldiers.

Artillery fire can do serious damage. I can shoot you from very far away, and make a very big bang. Start thinking battleships, where I can deliver the artillery anywhere on the water. Start thinking airplanes, where I can start dropping bombs from the sky. Develop aircraft carriers, and you’ve got one of the greatest advances ever in the history of firepower.

Planes start to make wars very dicey, primarily beginning during WWII. Previously the world was a contest of our firepower vs your firepower, with whoever shoots the most from the furthest having the advantage, but at the point where we start dropping bombs from airplanes, beginning with military targets, it isn’t long before we find ourselves firebombing Dresden.

And then we take the giant step, and we’re bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki to demonstrate the ferocious power of the atomic bomb.

At the point where we have nuclear weapons, we have taken a quantum leap in firepower (no pun intended). Provided we have airplanes or long-range missile launching capabilities, we can launch our weapons virtually from the comfort of home. And we can kill everyone for miles around. We go beyond military targets almost by definition. Nuclear weapons take out cities, not military targets. War, as a result, is totally redefined.

The technology for creation of nuclear weaponry is complex and expensive. The US had the bomb in 1945; the Soviets were right behind us. Even before WWII ended, US Foreign Policy had determined that the USSR was the next enemy, and the USSR took a similar view of us. These two major powers were the only ones in a position in the wake of WWII to develop and afford these weapons, which is why they were the ones who had them. Before long, we had them pointing at each other. But we didn’t use them. We came close once or twice, but we never pulled the trigger.

We now start to see why nuclear weapons are different from other weapons. With nukes, there’s no longer even a pretense of attacking military targets. Pretty much any analysis you can find on the justness of war will tell you that attacking civilians should not be on the program. It’s bad enough that many of our conflicts nowadays are urban, with that wonderful euphemism of collateral damage, i.e., we took out an orphanage when we took out the suspected insurgents headquarters. But nukes take it to the next level. Their destruction is beyond even the intended military. One of the special aspects of the US and USSR facing off with nukes was that they both had enough in their arsenals to destroy each other, so if either of them did start a nuclear conflict, it would assure the end of both of them. This became known as Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD, to indicate to anyone what the problem was. A subset of the problem would probably be that, if any nuclear power attacked another nuclear power without as much of an arsenal—say, Israel attacked Russia—the bigger player would still nevertheless destroy the smaller player. In other words, Israel might take out Moscow, but Russia would take out Israel.

The destructive power of nukes is so great that their existence theoretically negates their use; Baudrillard talks about this. As soon as you’ve acquired these weapons, you’ve backed yourself into a corner of being unable to use them. If only that were true.

Over time, a handful of national players have managed to acquire nukes. The thing is, possession of a weapon of such power is a magical thing. If the progress of warfare is the progress of firepower, than nukes are a giant step in that progression. And that leads to some issues to consider:
1. Countries that have nukes have a vast advantage over countries that don’t have nukes.
2. Countries that don’t have nukes whose enemies have nukes are at a vast disadvantage. If a conflict were arise, conventional warfare could lead to nukes, and a guaranteed outcome.
3. Countries that have nukes demonstrate that they are in a position of power on the world stage. For instance, even if, theoretically, the US never plans to use its nukes, it possesses them, and could use them. The enemy never knows. The same holds true regardless of who the possessor is.

What gets thrown into this mix is the idea of nuclear non-proliferation, that is, the idea that no countries who don’t have nukes should acquire them. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty says that people who have them won’t use them and people who don’t have them won’t get them, and that we will eventually all disarm. That is, the nations of the world have agreed that nuclear warfare is bad, period. It breaks the rules of warfare. It is the line drawn in the sand by civilized society.

Too bad all society isn’t civilized. Thank goodness the technology is complicated and expensive, and the preexistence within a nation of conditions supportive of those complications and expenses logically connects with a responsible government and the Baudrillardian construct that you would have to be insane to use these weapons and their very possession is an indication of sanity. Maybe. But as technology advances, no doubt nuclear technology will also get cheaper, just like HDTVs. One year only the rich can afford them, a couple of years later every schmegeggie has one. And look at the incentives! If you have nukes, you get to be a player. Instead of being poor old backwater Boogaboogaland, you get to be a member of the nuclear fraternity, just like the US and France and the UK. American hegemony must end! Death to all yankee dogs!!!

And we begin to understand the nature of the geopolitical scene today. There are no easy solutions to the economic problems that exist. Poor countries with nothing to offer don’t want charity, they want to be viable economic entities with a solid balance of trade with other nations. Achieving this usually means alliances that are occasionally disturbing (which is something we didn’t go into, but is certainly the case today as China and non-Communist Russia invest in developing nations for their own benefit, especially in Africa, without necessarily paying any attention to human rights issues, but then again, count up how many dictators has the US supported in strategic situations, including Saddam Hussein). Countries with chips on their shoulders over the disposition of land in the past or for any other reason historical or social, want to get even or change the status quo. At the point where these issues are dealt with conventionally, they are probably within the realm of acceptability, if not necessarily desirability. Stuff will happen that we may not like, but there’s a limit to how bad it can be. But when you insert a nuclear option into the equation, you go beyond the realm of acceptability. At the point in the future where someone uses nuclear weapons, we will be living the nightmare we are only now beginning to drift into.

And that’s the way it is in the world today. Firepower changes everything.

Welcome to the Bahamas!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Geopolitics Part 3

(Keep in mind that our goal here is not to provide a particular explanation of certain geopolitical actions, but to provide a framework of understanding of geopolitics, and a springboard to further analysis as makes sense with the particular subject you’re pursuing. In Jan-Feb, that subject would be the possession of nuclear arms. We’ll only be touching on nuclear issues in this essay, and not evaluating them in the preemptive strike context.)

As we said in the last section, the world does not neatly fall into a pattern of cooperative trading partners, nor for that matter does the world fall into neatly fitting economic pieces that only want for a master puzzle solver to put them together. But more importantly, there is more to international relationships than economics and trade (although there do seem to be some who believe that open trade is the panacea for all the world’s problems). Nations are, by definition, groups of people with something in common (and if that’s not the loosest definition of nation ever, than listen to my podcast on Sovereignty, or read the accompanying pdf on my podcast page, or eventually here on the Coachean Greatest Hits). There are numerous schools of thought about why nations come to exist, and what it is that makes a group of people a nation rather than just an odd conglomerate of individuals accidentally in one place. Of course, geography is certainly a prime determiner. Island nations are the easiest example of this. One of the easiest ways to get a nation going is to set an area off from other areas, and an island is the best way to doit. Other examples are mountains and rivers and deserts, but nothing seems as pure as an island. An island has a natural protection against invasion because of its surrounding water (more important historically the further back you go), so the people on an island, if they come together as a cohesive group, immediately gain one of the first benefits of nationhood, which is defensive safety, not only in this case safety of numbers but safety of geography. Usually islanders are there in the first place as already connected tribes or families or political groups, maybe emigrating from some other nation originally, and one way or the other they are of a piece. Islands in other words present a uniformity of polity that, at least in theory, seems clean and refined. It’s not necessarily true in reality, as some islands are split between two or more unique political entities, but you get the picture.

So we begin to perceive a nation as a physical place. Some places actually feel a physical determination be be a nation. An island feels like it should be a nation. A large area entirely surrounded by mountains feels like it should be a nation. An area set off by rivers should be a nation. Whatever natural boundaries exist add to the feeling of national determination. In the US, our national determination is given the name Manifest Destiny, meaning that we were “destined” to become a nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. National determination, therefore, may or may not be a reasonable longing.

Shared ethnicity is another aspect of national cohesion. It’s hardly essential but historically it’s been quite a biggie. Think of the concept of a homeland. Who is it that wants that homeland? The Jews want a homeland. The Palestinians want a homeland. The German Third Reich wanted an ethnically cleansed homeland. Every nation at the Olympics has an anthem proclaiming the existence of (and often the primacy of) homeland. The French are the French, the Italians are the Italians, the Brazilians are the Brazilians. Their ethnicities are a combination in various measures of race, religion, history, and any other generally shared beliefs or traits, which can include a shared belief in non-uniformity of all traits, i.e., freedom to be or believe anything, which is what the US is theoretically built on. (The proof of the viability of this American concept is the belief held in some nations that the US is evil, based on its lack of a pure religious underpinning, that we are godless entities with no belief except in the almighty dollar–all right, the formerly almighty dollar nowadays–that we are anti-them at the core and therefore they must be anti-us at the core, for whatever reason.)

So now we begin to see a few items that we can mix and match in our understanding of geopolitics. There’s the pure economic well-being of a nation. There’s the physical location of the nation. And there’s the nature of the people of a nation. What do these items describe?
1. Poor nations want to be less poor. Rich nations want to stay rich. Everyone at any level either wants more or doesn’t want less, which means something’s got to give. Conflict! Rich nations can use poor nations to stay rich. Poor nations will view charity in a different light from investment. But who would invest in a poor nation, with virtually no likelihood of a decent return on investment? Resource-rich nations can use that richness as a bribe or a threat.
2. People are where they are physically sometimes for reasons those people do not approve of, or other people do not approve of. Multiple entities claim that spot as their historical possession. Israel and Palestine. The Alsace-Lorraine. Native American land. Tibet, Taiwan, China. Northern Ireland.
3. We don’t like you, and/or you don’t like us. Islamic vs Western nations. Endless Catholic/Protestant battles in Europe for hundreds of years. The French vs the English. All the historical European conflicts involving dynasties you can barely remember (although these also usually included land grabs and even fiscal goals).

In the world as a perfect place, the nations would peaceably coexist despite these factors. But the world is not a perfect place, and so we have seemingly endless conflict from the dawn of recorded time. Our globe today is definitely Islamic and non-Islamic nations at various levels of conflict, Africa a horrible mess that includes warlords ripping off the populations of their own nations (or the neighboring nation), China positioning itself for future superpowerhood, Russia reinventing itself presumably with regained superpower status, the US held hostage in the hands of an unpopular regime until 1/20/09, independent non-national (or rogue nationalist or separatist or whatever) movements resorting to terrorist techniques to achieve their goals… What a mess!

One clear thing from a geopolitical perspective is that few nations feel that everything with their position is fine. And even the happiest of nations would not be dumb enough to think that with all this confusion going on around them, they don’t need to protect themselves just in case. So everybody has arms, buys arms or develops arms. Or, they obtain protection from a country that already has arms. Japan, for instance, is not particularly well-armed and if, let’s say, they were attacked by North Korea (which would be likely if North Korea wished to attack “the West” since that’s about as far as NK’s missiles could reliably fly), it would be up to the US to respond as Japan’s protector (cf. WWII); NK, Japan and the US all know this. Some countries feel a need to defend themselves against the US, which is why NK develops its arms in the first place. Countries that perceive of the US as an enemy act accordingly. Any country that sees any enemies anywhere acts accordingly. Everybody makes sure that they can defend themselves.

And some countries go even further, and attack somebody offensively. Some attack people within their own borders, i.e., ethnic cleansing. Some attack across borders, e.g., the US in Iraq or Al Qaeda on 9/11 (Al Qaeda being an ad hoc country, but we won’t bother to analyze the extraterritorial nature of terrorist organizations, and we’ll simply accept that terrorist organizations share most traits of nations short of national boundaries, which they are usually seeking to attain or regain).

All of this military action, defensive or offensive, is overlaid on the very complex issue of firepower. And that will be our next installment.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Geopolitics part 2

The so-called geopolitical state of nature cannot be seen as a state of constant warfare, in the Hobbesian sense. It is pretty obvious what war is like between nations, and war only occasionally describes the way things are. The geopolitical state of nature is probably better seen as an arena of power, in which each nation seeks a certain amount of that power for its own benefit. If the powers among or between states are in a mutually satisfactory equilibrium, this balance of power is construable as peace. If the powers are not in equilibrium, then we are either at war, or in danger of being at war. The question then is, what exactly comprises a mutually satisfactory equilibrium?

All countries do not share the same goals, and the goals of each are rooted in its culture. But one would be hard-pressed to claim that countries today can exist in isolation, or that they should exist in isolation. Our technological abilities allow us to share resources on a global level; oil is a perfect example of a commodity that is used globally but possessed unequally by its users. Some countries have oil, others don’t. Some countries have great agricultural capabilities, others don’t. Some countries have great technological capabilities, others don’t. In some of these cases of possession of a natural resource, it is where it is and there isn’t much you can do about it, while in cases of an artificial resource (e.g., brains, which are outsourced from India for US industry customer support) it is more situational. Labor works similarly. A poor heavily populated area can be seen as a resource for unskilled labor, an unpopulated area of any economic class would be seen as not much of a labor resource. And so on. While politically one could categorize nations at various levels of have and have not, it might make more sense to categorize them as having some stuff and not having some other stuff. What they have and don’t have, combined with their culture, defines them as members of the community of nations, and marks what is different between India and France and Ecuador, et alia.

As I say, our technological abilities allow us to share resources on a global level, so it stands to reason that, if we are so inclined, we can provide the resources that are missing from a country to that country, and presumably that country can provide the resources it has a surplus of to yet some other country that needs that resource. In other words, one can envision a utopia where all countries trade what they’ve got for what they haven’t got, and presumably everybody’s got something, so it will all work out. But utopia is the operative word here. Some countries really don’t have anything, and others really do have everything. The US, for instance, has just about everything except really cheap labor. We even have a lot of our own oil, although not enough for our actual usage (putting aside the necessity of that usage). Countries like Malawi or Somalia don’t have much of anything, and don’t really offer any particularly attractive resource for other nations on a reciprocal trade level. These countries would have to be transformed at their cores before they could become viable trade partners. So in reality, we have countries that don’t need all that much, countries that can probably trade well and equally, and countries that don’t have anything.

The countries in the middle, the ones that have something to trade, and do so, can be seen as sort of neutral on the geopolitical scene, if things are working out for them fairly well. France has wine, Germany has beer, they trade, everyone’s happy. This is not to say that life in these countries is ideal, but it’s pretty good. Modern-day Europe actually is a good example of this middle area, as the EU demonstrates. They’ve even developed a common currency, which has benefited some countries quite a bit, providing a backbone of economic security that transcends local fluctuations. The fringe European countries all want to be a part of the EU, for all the benefits it secures.

There are bigger issues at the top and the bottom. There is a question of whether the power (however you define it) of the US bestows on it extra responsibilities, which most people answer in the affirmative. There is the problem of how to bring the bottom countries around, making them viable players. And here is where this analysis, which has been primarily economic, begins to fall apart. If it were only just a question of moving piles of money around, with guaranteed results from the movement of those piles of money, everything would be fine. But what happens if you provide aid to a country, and that country’s oligarchy absconds with the loot? Or what if the political structure of the country is so unstable that even with the best of intentions the aid doesn’t make it to the people who need it. And aid in times of need is one thing, but what’s really needed is engines to permanently improve these nations, a combination of political and social determination hard to come by. And most of all, what about countries who are not looking at the world as mere finances, but have other goals, either territorial or cultural, regardless of their size or stability or economics?

That’s when things start to get complicated.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Part the First, Geopolitics; Part the Second, I Just Can't Stop Myself

So I settled in with my copy of The Conspiracy of Art last night, only to be immediately taken by the concept of pataphysics. I find it curious that, given my interest in the Old Baudleroo, I’ve either never come across this before, or else managed to circumvent it when I did. Anyhow, it’s the science of imaginary solutions. In Baudrillard’s case, of course, one would use pataphysics to solve problems that do not exist.

No wonder I wake up screaming in the middle of the night.

I decided to go with the OB because talking about him vis-à-vis nukes reminded me that this book was on the to-read pile, thanks to a recommendation from HoraceMan, TSWAS. The OB’s theory, in a nutshell, is that possession of nuclear arms negates their use, which I don’t necessarily agree with, but if there isn’t someone running the OB at least at, say, the Lex RR, then something’s wrong with the world.

One big issue of Jan-Feb is our general lack of accepted authority, or accepted ideas, on the geopolitical level, as compared to our abundance of rather accessible orthodoxy on the political level. That is, I start out the Plebes with Locke, and maybe a side order of Rousseau, and see no reason why they can’t go quickly from there to the readable parts of Rawls. Voila, an instant introduction to social theory via the social contract, the general will and fairness spread across an entire society. Throw in a little JSM “On Liberty,” and you’ve got one hell of a philosopher in the 9th grade. (There are those who sneer at such orthodoxy, but as I’ve discussed in the past, and will no doubt reprise in the future, one learns to play scales before one plays Liszt’s Sonata in B minor). These standard texts in fact inform most thinking on the nature of government and society, even when the thinking is in opposition. (That is, you can’t have Marx without Locke, or at least not Marx as he is. You can’t make claims that the individual is not the core unit of society if that has been the presumption so far, without knowing that you’re undermining that presumption.)

As far as I know, and I admit I’m no expert, there is no similar canon for geopolitics. I’m sure there are standard texts, and probably even a canon as such for the subject area, but not with this level of accessibility and acceptability. All the Founders of the US were familiar with Locke, in other words, but I wonder what all the members of the UN General Assembly are familiar with. Because of this lack of standard thinking, of a normative, if you will, we’re pretty much on our own when a subject is of a geopolitical nature. We cannot draw on shared knowledge, and shared expectations, to the degree that we can with issues concerning one single national polity. This is reflective, no doubt, of the reality of the planet on which we live. We have established various rules for managing our societies on a local level, and we mostly do that pretty well, but we have yet to establish accepted rules for managing our societies on a global level. We do not all play well with others, and our rather meager attempts to define rules and boundaries don’t stand very well. The US, for instance, defies the Geneva Convention with Guantanamo, so it’s not just some backwater nations thumbing their noses at what is considered international common law (except insofar as Mr. Bush has turned the US into a backwater). Some theorists, like Rawls if I’m not mistaken, have determined that for all practical purposes the various nations of the world are in a virtual state of nature with one another. Until we are willing to subsume national interests into overarching global interests (imagine there’s no countries) the way we subsume individual interests into overarching societal interests on the local level, this is probably not going to change. As a result, topics that we argue that cross national, sovereign borders require addressing the reality of the world in which we live, both from the perspective of what we ought to do (and maybe we ought to be a global village instead of a globe of villages) and what we have to do (survival in the global state of nature).

Which brings us to the big question: What, exactly, comprises justice on a global scale if we have no generally accepted standards of justice? Jan-Feb asks us to determine the justness of certain actions of a global nature, yet we have no normative scale for weighing those actions. What do we do?

Well, what I do is continue this line of thought in the next installment of this blog.

Frequently Asked Stumpers: A Very Special Episode of Stump the Chump

My friend Herman over at WTF has sent me an early copy of their new FAQ section, which I hereby share.

What did the Chump do before Star Wars came out?


The Chump takes great delight in victories of the Bronx Science team in the years before his arrival. Why is this?

There were no years before his arrival. The Chump has been at Bronx Science since the creation of their first debate team in 1927. He just looks different now.

Why does the Chump go to every tournament every weekend, even when his team stays home?

The Chump has a sworn responsibility to report on every debate round that takes place throughout the country, regardless of where, when, how or why. His credentials specifically allow him entry onto the grounds of any institution of learning where two people are not agreeing with each other, although he seldom wears his official “Debate Sheriff” badge in open view except in the deep South.

Where did the Chump debate before he became a debate coach?

The Chump represented The Long Island School For the Terminally Depraved for the years 1997-2001. He participated in Remedial Declamation, Extemp for the Home Handyman, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Lincoln-Douglas and Upholstering. During his years at the Donald Trump Virtual College of Really Kool Knowledge, the Chump majored in vestigial appendages with a minor in the gold rush, representing his school in Parli, barley and Farley Mowat. His win/loss record of 0/521 has never been equaled, much less surpassed.

Where did the Chump spend his junior year abroad?

A broad? Rumors of the Chump's sex change have been wildly exaggerated. Nevertheless, he does traditionally summer at Lake Titicaca. And yes, his favorite food is cockaleekie soup, and some day he hopes to live in Tuckahoe. Meanwhile, he's working on his W.C. Fields impression so that this paragraph will be a lot funnier when he says it than when you read it.

Where does the Chump get his vast supply of debate trivia?

At Vast Supply of Debate Trivia ‘R’ Us.

What does the Chump do with all the old schematics he collects?

The vast majority of the Chump’s old schematics are available for sale on eBay. The occasional rounds of special merit, where one schmoe the Chump has heard of was debating some other schmoe the Chump has heard of, are displayed on the wall of Chump Central, the Chump’s museum/domicile.

Does anyone read the Chump’s column who isn’t either insane or trying to butter him up before he judges their next round?

Not bloody likely.

Why is the Chump’s picture different on WTF and CL?

The picture on WTF is a pseudonym, while the one on CL is an alias.

Why is the Chump’s new computer called Herpes?

You might as well ask why a rock is called a rock. Don’t you know anything about linguistics?

Why does the Chump’s have such an affinity for Disney princesses?

Orphaned at birth due to a freak lawn bowling accident, the Chump was raised by a series of wicked stepparents, dwarfs, renegade nuns and the odd parish beadle. And we do mean odd. On his sixteenth birthday, while polishing the iron maiden in the basement of his current foster family, the Lecters, the Chump was visited by John Goodman, his fairy godmother. The Chump was told that the key to his freedom was hidden either in the vestle with the pestle, the chalice in the palace, or the flagon with the dragon. Unfamiliar with Danny Kaye movies, the Chump escaped captivity and ran away to the Bronx, also known as Prairie Dog City (Where the Grass is Green and the Girls are Pretty), where he was finally adopted by a now aging Cinderella and her husband, Prince Not So Charming Anymore But Still Marginally Acceptable, who had been unable to have children of their own due to sun spots and a steady diet of talking mice. It was at this point that the Chump swore his allegiance to Mama Sin, as he called her, and all the other Sins. He was officially inducted into Disney Princessia at the traditional Ceremony of the Boning Knives, conducted in Orlando in 2003. (NOTE: The ceremony was officially witnessed by the Celebration, Lake Highland and Nova debate teams, none of whom have ever recovered from the ordeal.)

Will the Chump ever run out of debate trivia for his five-a-day column?

We certainly hope not, because when we can’t think of anything to write ourselves, we need a source of inspiration.

Why do you refer to yourself as We?

We don’t.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Part the First: Jan-Feb. Part the Second: The Chump Returns.

“War. Oof! What is it good for? Absolute nuthin’.”

These lines (not penned by Cole Porter) always run through my head when we look at a topic like Jan-Feb. “It is just for the United States to use military force to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by nations that pose a military threat.”

War. Oof!

This is, to put it mildly, one of the most important geopolitical issues of our times. Students learning about and evaluating this issue is of great educational benefit. It matters. Testimony v plea bargaining, on the other hand, like many topics, is interesting enough on a “Law and Order” level, but it’s not one of the pressing issues of the day, and of little concern to people in general. Realistically speaking, we expect our courts to act both fairly and expediently and, well, for the most part they do. None of us are sitting around worrying that Sammy the Bull somehow committed an immoral act nailing the Teflon Don, or that the prosecutors were immoral in their use of old Sammy, or that Sammy lied, or that Sammy got off too easy. And of these may or may not be true, and may or be not be arguable, but they are sterile issues insofar as they affect our everyday lives. On the other hand, we may have just stepped back from the brink of yet another war yesterday, a war of yet a new series of unforeseen damaging consequences directed by proven incompetents already mired in more war than they know what to do with. Iran not actively developing nuclear weapons may be the best gift they could have given the United States. I applaud their pro-Americanism, because it was merely a roll of the dice whether at some point before being drummed out of the White House Cheney and Co would lead the troops down the streets of Tehran to the accompaniment of the young children throwing rose petals in front of our tanks and grown men and women weeping as they welcomed their liberators.

What a crock. But don't worry. Iran isn't going away any time soon.

Needless to say, my interest in running non-resolutional material is at its highest low, its greatest nadir, its furthest ebb, whatever. To diddle with arguments such as, there’s no such thing as justice, or there’s no way of determining the posing of military threats, or some nonsense that pretends the question is unanswerable is a waste of time because the question is being actively asked by our government, and has been for at least a generation, and has real answers with real consequences. It is the real world. You can address your answer through lines of real world argumentation as practical as Realpolitik, or you can address your answer through Just War analysis, but you do have to answer the question because the possession of nuclear weapons is both attractive to non-possessors, and threatening to their enemies. Coaches who urge that we duck the question are urging their students to ignore a serious issue that will haunt their entire lives. Oh, yeah, there’s no such thing as justice, so we can’t argue this.

Get real.

We talked about this last night aboard the USS Hud. As one looks at it, one starts seeing a clear historical line all the way back to October 1962 (which, curiously enough, brings up what you're looking for if you merely plug “October 1962” into your Google search box). Then look at the casus belli (with apologies to “Seinfeld”) of Iraq, the war that took the acronym WMD from Policy debate and gave it to the masses. Look at North Korea. Iran, of course. From “It is estimated that some 27,000 nuclear weapons are divided among eight nations, five of which (the United Kingdom, the United States, France, India and Israel) are regarded as stable, democratic allies. The other three—China, Russia and Pakistan—are regarded with some uncertainty. The ninth member of the Nuclear Club is almost certainly North Korea and Iran is likely to join in the next few years. The newer members pose the continuing threat of destabilizing regional or global politics.” Look at the Osirak strike; give some thought to the US using Israel as a proxy to attack Iran (not happening anymore, with the recent news, of course, or at least not for a while). Look at South Africa’s nukes (as in, whatever happened to them). The more you look at all this stuff, the more you can begin to create a profile of a situation that fits the resolution. You can understand that certain nations have certain characteristics that make them want the bomb, that drive them to develop the bomb, and that make their possession of that bomb a serious problem. You can’t argue total nuclear disarmament because the genie is already out of the bottle. No matter how you slice it, we can easily face a nation sworn to enmity of the US, doing its damnedest to get its hands on nuclear weapons.

(As an aside, you could of course run the Old Baudleroo’s approach to nukes, but I wonder how well he’d hold up under serious analysis. Then again, running the Old Baudleroo sort of sidesteps serious analysis in an LD round, wouldn’t you say? Still, pure analysis of nuclear gamesmanship is on the table.)

Anyhow, the gauntlet has been thrown down by our choice of this topic. Students who actually learn about it will gain incredible benefits. Probably even students dedicated to kritiking it will still gain the benefits, if only from their need to block against debaters who actually care about the subject. But will it make for good debate, regardless of how it is argued? I have no idea. But debate is about a lot more than debate. And you knew that already.

Herman Melville over at WTF informs me that the Chump is changing his content, and will henceforth be addressing personal questions of a Dear Abby nature. In other words, he has gone from debate trivia to debate self-help. Herman kindly send me a beta copy of his first such column, which I attach below.

Stump the Chump

Dear Chump:

I keep forgetting to provide an underview for my opponent’s overview when I’m running off-case framework arguments that subsume both cases and leave an unsightly mess in the boys’ locker room. What should I do?

Theoretical in Wisconsin

Dear Theo:

Take two spikes and call me in the morning.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

Ever since I joined the debate team I spend half my day fighting off the young women who now find me immediately attractive, unlike previously when if they gave me the time of day, it was Daylights Saving in January. What should I do?

Too Sexy for My Shirt

Dear Too:

It is a well-documented fact that debaters have an irresistible appeal to members of the opposite sex. Some people call this GDS (Good Debater Syndrome); others refer to it as IYDYB (In Your Dreams, You Bozo). To eliminate this problem, at WTF Institute we recommend memorizing whatever you watch on television the night before and then repeating it word for word to anyone who is attracted to you, ending each descriptive sentence with “Remember that?”. This guarantees they will never want to be in the same state with you again, much less have the hots for you, even if it’s a small state like Delaware.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

My parents say that ever since I’ve joined the debate team, everything with me is an argument. In response, I cite McArthur 1997 “Adolescent Behavior Modes” as evidence for my claim that it’s not an argument, it’s simply a contradiction, at which point they complain that if I’m going to steal material from Monty Python, I could do better than that, which does not link back to their original argument, but still they send me to bed without any supper, the only saving grace of which is that both of my parents are the worst cooks in our state, even though it’s a small state like Delaware. What should I do?

Just Say No

Dear Just:

In situations like yours, where you parents never want to engage you in lively repartee, much less belabor every little facet of your existence, I recommend disowning them and taking up with the Kiwanis. Also, keep the phone number of a good Chinese delivery restaurant among your speed dials.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

What’s the best way to defeat evidence your opponent makes up on the spot?

Slow-footed Sue

Dear Slow:

If your opponent makes up good evidence on the spot, I recommend copying it and using it in your next round. However, if your opponent’s evidence has no inherent ability to win rounds, your best bet is to point out to the judge that his fly is open, and let nature take its course.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

What should I do with my hands when I’m giving a speech?


Dear Mitt:

Anything but that.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

If the fire alarm goes off while I’m speaking during a round, what should I do?

Smokey the Aff

Dear Smokey:

This problem comes up often, especially during gang warfare season in Celebration, Florida (the Mouse Bloods versus the Duck Crips). We recommend stopping your timer and telling the judge you’ll be right back, and running like you’ve never run before to the nearest exit. If the alarm proves to have been real, you will have saved your life, and won the round by default for inspiring your incredulous opponent and judge to likewise seek an immediate change of venue. If it turns out to be a false alarm, however, just walk back into the room, mumble something about fire wardens, and start up where you left off. This will usually work with parent judges.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

I get nervous even thinking about speaking in public. My hands sweat, my knees knock and my head twitches uncontrollably. What should I do?

Heebie the Jeebie

Dear Heebie T. J.:

First take a jump to the left, then a step to the right, with your hands on your hips you bring your knees in tight—you get the idea.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

Are you ever going to get tired of writing these stupid parodies of poor Mr. Cruz who is obviously suffering from some horrible disease that twists his face up like a demented pretzel, if that picture is anything to go by?

Outraged in the Small State of Delaware

Dear Out:


The Chump

P.S. And go back to Delaware where you belong, and stay there.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Au Revoir, Iran; au theatre; O'C's Herpes; oh cetera

I practically fell off my chair at the breakfast table this morning as I was reading the paper. Oh, Iran isn’t building nukes. New intelligence, sorry about that, please go about your business. Jeesh. Of course, NPR reported that Dick Cheney is still holding out some hope that this intelligence will be overturned at some future date, as he knows in his heart of hearts (okay, his gut of guts, given the unlikelihood of his having a heart) that those damned Iranian A-rabs need a good whacking to set them straight, just like we have with the damned A-rabs in Iraq. The only thing they understand is a good shot upside the head, confound it. Fortunately everybody in the universe other than Dick Cheney can sleep easier tonight knowing that at least one senseless war has been averted on George W. Bush’s watch. On the other hand, so much for the Iran evidence in Jan-Feb…

So what else is going on? Well, you probably surmised by now that I like the Stoppard “Rock ‘n’ Roll” play. Actually, make that blown away. I’ve seen most of Stoppard, and this was easily the best. Anyone with any interest in theater needs to see this; the performances of Rufus Sewell and Sinead Cusack are phenomenal. I don’t know where it will go after NYC, but it’s worth coming here! Curiously enough, it was playing in Prague last time I was there. That has to be a kick, to see a play about freedom and the end of Communism in a country in that very country. Anyhow, the play asks all sorts of questions, for instance do social systems determine character or vice versa, and where are we in the epistemological understanding of mind vs body or the ghost in the machine. And it tells a damned good story. God, I love good theater. We almost got shut out by the strike, and it would have been a shame. I never would have known what I was missing.

O’C and I have been musing over our tab job upcoming at Ridge. Judges are in short supply (if you can read this and are looking for a few extra simoleons, let me know), and then there’s the absolutely seamless relationship of the Goy of Tournaments and E-TRPC—

Let me try that again. “And then there’s the absolutely seamless relationship of the Goy of Tournaments and E-TRPC.” You know, the problem is, I’m not quite sure how to demonstrate the irony I am wishing to express. Let’s try it this way.

—And then there’s the absolutely random relationship of the Goy of Tournaments and uploaded E-TRPC data. One whole division of judges was lost, other judges were marked incorrectly, and that’s just the stuff I saw comparing the pool/field to my own entry. Oh, well. O’C is in charge of data entry, which he’s doing on Herpes, his new MacBook. Why he calls it Herpes is beyond me, because I warned him that wouldn’t be the best idea of the week, but you know how he is. When he isn’t fielding the real hardball questions that debaters inevitably ask when they’re under the influence of mind-altering drugs or emerging from a coma, he’s watching Howard the Duck and calling his new computer Herpes. What can I say?

Meanwhile I’m registered up for Lex and working on judging issues, and rounding up Sailors for the other winter tournaments, and reminding everybody about next week’s MHL at Newburgh and trying to pin down the location of the NYS District tournament (running with Goy software, I hesitate to remind myself), and lining up January buses and paying NFL bills and finally realizing that their homepage has to be the absolute worst since the invention of white type on black backgrounds with pirated Green Day mp3s playing in the background. And, of course, thanks to Herman for keeping us apprised of the activity at WTF. I don’t know what I’d do without that guy!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Coachean Log supplemental: Breaking news!

Our WTF correspondent Herman Melville has provided the following early release of this week's column.

Stump the Chump

Dear Chump:

Is it true that Texas debaters spread so much that if a student has fewer than 27 responses to every argument he or she is sent to Guantanamo Bay?

Curious about Lone Star

Dear Curious:


The Chump

Dear Chump:

How many times have novice Declamation entries won TOC by mistake?

Thinking about Double Entry

Dear Thinking:

1988 was the closest when Glob Morgenstern, a freshman from Peoria, thinking he was entering his local CFL tournament, mistakenly got on the wrong plane and ended up in Lexington, Ky, where he simply picked up a schematic and walked into a round and started declaiming. He proceeded to win all his rounds, although he was declared ineligible to break because he had eaten kielbasa for lunch for three weeks prior to the tournament, and no one was willing to go on breathing the air in any room in which he was exhaling. Back in Peoria Glob was declared co-state champion in Dec, Policy and Afterdinner Yammering.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

How many mutants have won NFL?

Watson Crick

Dear Watson:

All of them.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

What is the square root of 17223?

Mathematically Disinclined

Dear Math:

Bronx Science, in 1982, 1994 and 2002.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

Has a heretic ever won CatNats?

Torque Yo Mada

Dear Torque:

Heretics are not permitted to debate at CatNats, although in 1997 three agnostics, seven Scientologists, four Essenes and a gypsy did participate undercover by pretending to be the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; at that time, Mormons were officially considered to be Catholics by Pope John Paul II. Only the gypsy made it into late rounds.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

Why doesn’t Michael Bietz like normal music?

Wolfgang Amadeus O’Malley

Dear Wolf:

When Bietz was in second grade, he was abducted by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (the real one, not the faux MTC at CatNats) and subsequently raised by the Osmond Family. This worked to the benefit of all concerned until Donny introduced little Bietzie to Megadeth. Bietz found thrash metal a little too much for his young ears, and escaped the family to live in Seattle with Courtney Love, at which point he auditioned for the part of the Olsen Twins in the band Nirvana. He lost out to Kurt Cobain, and decided instead to become a debate coach.

The Chump

Dear Chump:

Are copies of your Chump photo available for sale as t-shirts, mugs, dart boards or other items of general use?

A Total Fan

Dear A:

Photos of the Chump are not available on common household items or casual clothing, but the Chump will come to your house and sit around looking pensive for $6 an hour if you throw in a bag of chips and unlimited rights to watch “Howard the Duck” on any HD players you may have handy.

The Chump.


It used to be that you could find plenty of magazines to read on your train ride home from the city on a Saturday night, magazines being the medium of choice for such travel. But nowadays my magazine reading is down to the bare minimum: The New Yorker, of course, MacLife, Publishers Weekly, Rostrum (!) and Gourmet. And if I miss the latter two, I am not overcome with grief. But this particular train ride last Saturday (after seeing “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” about which I’ll probably comment soon) commences with a visit to the magazine shop at Grand Central, so you theoretically have the world to choose from, but the only magazine in addition to those above that I ever come away with (and those I actually subscribe to, so I wouldn’t exactly be buying them at a shop) is Wired. There’s stuff available along the lines of Critical Theory Today and various political and literary quarterlies that put you to sleep just reading the covers, and some guy that wouldn’t move was standing in front of the comic books (and looked as if he intended to read each one, in sequence, until the next issues of each came out, and he would just keep going on, forever) so there may have been something there but nowadays comics really are all part eleventy of a forty-seven part series so that’s pretty unsatisfying, so, Wired it was.

Now here’s the deal. Structure, in architecture, is whatever holds the building up. It is the framework of the building. Look here:
What Baker is able to do, and what he’s doing with Burj Dubai (which, according to the article, has already set the record as the tallest building/tower in the world, although it’s still under construction and steadily growing taller, to some unspecified height), is dwarfing other tall buildings because of the footprint of his structure, the buttressed core and the three wings. Look at the illustration. In the (real) Sears tower, you see usable space around a core, and crisscrossed structural elements. The problem at the top, and why you can’t go any further up (in the imaginary Sears), is that you need an immensely larger amount of structure to keep the thing from falling over or swaying so much that you get nauseous on the upper floors. Baker’s building doesn’t sway because of the three sides providing counterforces and counterbalance. It’s also fast and easy to build, with lots of space that isn’t structural.

So, what’s the point? There’s a quote in the article to the effect that the bigger and more complex you build, the more the framework takes over, until there’s no room left for anything else. This is an architectural truism. And a building that’s all framework/structure is no longer a building, it’s a sculpture. There’s no room in it anymore except for whatever it is that is holding it up.

And I’ve seen LD cases like that. All framework and no room left for anything else. They may be interesting, like sculptures, but they are not useful, like buildings. They can’t hold anything up except themselves. Which may be why I find theory debate so uninteresting: it might be aesthetically pleasing, but it has no content. It is jejune. It’s useless in a practical sense. And what is the point of an argument that is useless in a practical sense? A framework that structurally supports…nothing.

Architects of necessity fight this battle of engineering and art and practicality with everything they build. So should LDers. At the point where we’ve moved away from the resolution and simply concentrate on the structure, we have failed as architects of argumentation. And I’m not quite sure what we’ve become instead.