Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Modest Novice Lives!

I'm sending this out today to everyone in the known universe: the final Modest Novice document.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Regarding four-round MHLs

Someone who had attended the Monticello MHL complained afterwards, in a constructive way, about our changeover to 4 rounds. It was a policy judge, now in college. His beef was primarily that there wasn't enough time to do what needed to be done, like provide constructive criticism and eat lunch, not necessarily in that order. He had some other issues as well, but the general sense of being too rushed in a bad way was his main thrust.

The cool, calm and calculated heads of the MHL meditated on this for some time (there being no particular pressure to act, since the subsequent MHL at Byram Hills was, by default, a three-rounder, since it started in the afternoon). But I think our immediate reaction was, you know, this guy has got a point or two. The thing is, we were so all-fired proud of our ability to conduct the event speedily that we sort of lost track of the down side of speedy (which would make a great title for an independent film: "The Down Side of Speedy"). Just because we could move things along at a hectic clip didn't mean we should move things along at a hectic clip. An entire division might have to go without lunch, and who wants to turn a disad on an empty stomach? On reflection, our goal--to get out roughly when we would have gotten out after 3 rounds--was sort of dumb. It wasn't as if we were doing anything that night anyhow, since we'd still get home at 7 or 8 o'clock, or maybe later when a school from the furthest reaches of the region was attending at the opposite furthest reach. Why all the rush?

So, in the future, we will continue to have four rounds. But we will not lag pair. We will allow a full half hour between the last ballot of 2 and the pairings distributed for 3, and a 15-minute break between the last of 3 and the announcement of 4. If we continue to start with registration ending at 9:00, we'll still be reasonable, but no, we won't get out by 6:00. Big deal.

We'll have to contend with a similar problem in CFLs, but I don't expect much demurral there from this approach. The last CFL we did, at Regis last week, was a three-rounder due to weather and some lost schools from the north, so the issue never arose, and that is the last of the debate CFLs, so there is time to get our Catholic ducks in a row.

The bottom line is that 4 rounds is, competitively, a better tournament. But it's not a better tournament if it turns the debaters into frustrated little puddles of debate goo, which can happen with novices, especially. Our new rule of No Frustrated Little Puddles of Debate Goo should help keep us on the straight and narrow.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Another Christmas present

First there was the adventure story (check it out on my podcast page if you haven't already; be sure to pop some corn first). Now this, a photo of your average high school teacher threatening his students to do their homework or get stabbed. Who else thinks of you around the holidays the way I do?

Monday, December 22, 2008


There's this damned virus on my ISP that they told me was gone, but it isn't. It showed up if you clicked the links I posted yesterday, so I removed them.

To enjoy (or not) "Tales of True Debate Adventure," please download the files from my podcast page:

Friday, December 19, 2008

An update and a promise

Update: The frightening weather outside may not prevent us from visiting the Regis tomorrow. Fingers are crossed for one last shot at giving felons the vote, or not, depending.

Promise: A tale of true adventure, derived from real-life events at Ridge, is in the works. It is, in fact, written. My hope is to present it as an audio; I'm going to try to record it on Sunday. It will, of course, go out on The View from Tab. Failing that (or in addition to that, depending), it will appear here as a pdf. A weary world rejoices!

And the answers to yesterday's beans are:
Cast members
George Bizet (and here's one to ruin L'Arlesienne forever: imagine it with the lyrics "George Bizet/Loved Pinot Chardonnay" and you'll never enjoy it again)
Rabbits (from Watership Down)
The Wind in the Willows
Digital Rights Management (boo hiss)

And Mary Blair indeed: go online and check out her Alice drawings (which are in a recently published book). Superb. Although I'm still partial the the Eyvind Earle Lady and the Tramp sketch that the DJ erased from my desktop, the %$#@&*s...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SuperSquirrels you can believe in

In news that redefines the concept of startling, last night SuperSquirrel became the Captain of the Sailors, as Robbie took on the mantle of Captain Emeritus. (It occurs to me that this may be the first official female captain, to which one might respond either that it’s about time or so what, depending on your commitment to identity issues. Back in my daughter’s day, we were too tiny to do officers.) The office of captain, subject as it occasionally is to senioritis, is a calendar-year position; other jobs, including the dreaded role of Hardware Engineer, are assigned in September. As I told S-Squirrel last night, her key job is speaking up when I tell people something that is totally wrong or ridiculous. She is, therefore, expecting a busy year in office.

Now you may be of the persuasion that, if you’re playing bean trivia, it might be a good idea to bring along the beans. I, on the other hand, managed to forget them. Fortunately, the board and markers sufficed, although the lack of the physical bean meant that teams couldn’t surreptitiously break their beans in two for extra points. The Sailors were broken into 4 divisions, by age group, and handicapped accordingly, as in, the freshmen started with more beans than the seniors. In a hotly contested round, the seniors almost immediately went into negative points (watching Peanuts attempting to logically deduce the number of keys on a piano was a wonder to behold). The freshmen got off to a decent start, but their youth ultimately worked against them. Arriving late because she had to attend her little brother’s sousaphone recital kept S-Squirrel’s team on the edge for awhile, but not long enough. In the end, our Hardware Engineer’s fine grasp of non-rock music, not to mention the Panivore’s ability to think on her feet without any visible means of nutrition and the amazing camaraderie of our sophomoric squad in general despite the fact that they detest the very ground each of them walks on including their own, won the day for the class 2011. Joy and rapture was spread throughout Hudville.

How would you have done? Here’s a sample question from each topic.

WDW: What is the official overall job name of Walt Disney World Employees?
Non-rock music: Name the composer of Carmen.
Animals, real and fictional: What are Fiver and Hazel?
Classic books: In what book would you find the Piper at the Gates of Dawn?
Science, inventions and tech: What does DRM stand for?

No fair googling the answers! Those strike me as fairly easy ones. Who the artist is who designed “It’s a Small World,” on the other hand, is meant for professionals only. Don’t try answering that one at home without a trained adult standing by at all times.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More on burdens, or, my petition for bad resolutions

It’s not as if burdens are some dramatically original modern thing that, sadly, we old fogies simply don’t understand. Never forget that when Miranda says, “O brave new world, That has such people in't!” her father’s rather jaded reply is, “'Tis new to thee.”

It has been ever thus in LD that one side or the other will make some sort of claim along the lines of, if I can prove (or disprove) just one example, I win. Often this is true. There are times when a side is making a categorical claim that can be disproven by any single example, which is a simple extension of the concept of something being categorical: If it doesn’t always apply, then it isn’t categorical, pack up your tent and go home now. We can wrap this in all kinds of jargon, but that is not really necessary (although it is somewhat fashionable: despite the facts remaining the same, the language changes from debate generation to debate generation). What I take issue with is not something as elemental as the single disproof of a categorical statement so much as the attempt to impose burdens that are not intrinsic to a resolution. Good debate, as a general rule, is the exchange of ideas in a meaningful way, which usually means fighting over the middle ground. It’s hard to believe that LD should not subscribe to that general rule of what good debate is, but often burdens are posited anywhere but the middle ground. More to the point, people sometimes write cases that clearly state “my opponent’s burden is” something that, simply put, is not intrinsic to the material at hand, and is not a real burden for the other side. Often, it is what a debater hopes the opponent will accept as a burden, because it is impossible to fulfill it, which would put the claimant in the catbird seat. Those are what I call “good luck” burdens, as in, good luck in getting this one to fly.

What seems to happen is that burdens, rather than being actual organic burdens, become straw man arguments that are anything but organic. At the point where you can distract your opponent from the resolution, you ought to be able to pick up, provided that you don’t distract yourself as well. But that, of course, is the natural result of straw men, that everybody goes out and chases them, including the judge. The resolution is left in the dust.

Maybe what we need are really bad topics. You see, the problem with felon voting rights or international courts is that they are interesting, important subjects with a lot of potential arguments on either side. People like me would like to hear debaters argue the merits of their position rather than the position of their position, which is where false burdens tend to lead. I guess it always comes back to this, one way or the other: Debate the resolution. Everything else is just a distraction.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beans, brics and nets

Inclement weather (or at least the forecast of same) will postpone tonight’s end-of-year bean trivia extravaganza. I’ve asked my hardware engineer to find us a room for tomorrow night, which will make it an extra-extra vaganza. So it goes. If not tomorrow, next Monday? Time is running out for the Sailors to earn their beans in calendar ’08.

For those who follow such things, the new Pffft is out. It’s not exactly another bric [sic] in the wall, but has anybody looked at the financial pages recently? The state of the oil market for Russia and Brazil, the downswing of Chinese manufacturing vis-à-vis the world recession, India about to nuke its neighbor to the west… One can argue about something relevant, given the situation, I guess, but I wonder if the world is moving faster than Rippin’ happens to be aware of. As for me, I’d probably advise people to combine the Jan and Feb rezzes and run that the US ought to outsource jetpack manufacture to the BRIC by 2040. By the way, the exclusion of any language referring to economics in the resolution is, to say the least, rather baffling, considering that’s what BRIC is all about. They’ve got to get away from buzz phrases. On the bright side, at least the rez isn’t about the economies in France, Australia, Romania and Turkey. Maybe they’re saving that for NatNats.

Meanwhile, I’ve been meditating a bit on burdens recently, perhaps as a result of having a realllllllyyyyy long Grateful Dead jam on my MegaPod that’s been carrying me back and forth to the DJ lately. (Normally I listen to podcasts, but I’m winding down a bit in preparation for volume 2 of the Butcher S&S series and a general reevaluation of how I’m spending my listening time, all of which is beside the point, but when have I ever demurred from parenthetical comments?) Burdens in a round, it would seem, are often not inherently valid. It might be dodderingly old-fashioned of me to suggest that the aff only has a burden to affirm and the neg only has a burden to negate, not to mention that this, of course, begs the question of the meanings of affirming and negating (although those ideas used to be marvelously intuitive). But those aren’t really the burdens being thrown around in rounds, I think. What’s being contended is burdens that one side or another announces as essential, either proactively or reactively, either theoretically or practically, in-case or off-case or pre-standard or whatever, and then everyone in the round proceeds to concentrate entirely on the fulfilling of those burdens.


I bring to the round a net full of jello. I claim in the round that my opponent’s burden is to juggle a net full of jello. If my opponent proceeds to concentrate on juggling a net full of jello, I have managed to get the round neatly into my pocket. And my opponent is stuck juggling a net full of jello.

Question one: is the burden inherent in the resolution, or merely in the opponent’s case? If the former, fine, if the latter, Question two: can you fulfill the burden? If not, then doesn’t it make sense to demonstrate that, simply put, the opponent is proposing burdens that are not intrinsic to the resolution, and that a decision in winning the round should not revolve around extra-resolutional issues (unless both debaters agree otherwise)? If you can fulfill the burden, question three: can you demonstrate how the opponent is somehow also tied to either the burden or some quantifiable result of the burden, and how the opponent in fact does not fulfill the implied result of his or her own burden? If so, win. If not, maybe your fulfilling the burden regardless of your opponent is enough to win. Worst case is a mooted point.

What I’m saying here is that, just because your opponent claims such-and-such is required to win the round doesn’t make it true. Evaluate the claim. If you like the claim and feel you can win on it, go for it. There’s nothing wrong with ad hoc agreements that this is what the round is about. But if it’s some damned-fool thing that has nothing to do with the resolution, or there’s nothing in your opponent’s actual case that relates it to the resolution (as compared to all the pre-standard rigamarole that’s all the rage these days, i.e., LD’s latest hula hoop), then you’re in a situation where, in a word, your opponent is making it up. How does it not succeed to demonstrate that the imposed burdens are bogus? Does every debater feel in every round that he or she is obligated to juggle every net full of jello tossed over by the opponent?

If I talk nonsense, and you reply as if it isn’t nonsense, we are both talking nonsense. If I talk nonsense, and you can prove that I am talking nonsense and that you are not talking nonsense, all I have left is a net full of jello.

(And I apologize to the creators of the Muppet attraction in WDW, who I guess were the first to use that particular pun, which is a groaner only to people who watched “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the 50s.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rigid running; VCA statistics

I didn’t even look at my email yesterday. If that isn’t pure joy, I don’t know what is.

Ridge was absolutely cut and dry, as tabbing goes. The Rigids (is that what one calls Ridge students?) are among the most efficient ballot processors on the face of the planet; they really made the debate trains run on time for the whole weekend. We literally never sat around wondering where ballots were (although we did, occasionally, wonder where the Usual Suspects had disappeared to, but this being a family blog, I am not allowed to name them, but if you’ve ever run a tournament, you know who they are as well as I do). We also used dropbox to share files in advance, and Kaz arrived ready to go, and Kurt has already made the app the de facto storage facility for Jersey policy. According to CP, it was actually Scarola who came up with this and passed it around to the waiting world. I always knew I liked Matt for some reason or other; now I’ve actually got a reason I can point to. Hand that man a Coachean Mensch Award!

Speaking of people whom I can’t mention by name, and people whom I do mention by name, I have run some statistics and discovered that the VCA comprises the following:

1. People in the glossary over on the right who want to hear the latest about themselves
2. People I don’t even know who hate the very ground that I walk on and are looking for ammunition
3. People I don’t even know who hate the very ground that I walk on and think that every veiled reference is about them
4. Competing blogs wondering if I’ll ever mention them
5. Competing blogs wondering if I’ll ever read them
6. Matt Thomas
7. The executives of virtually every institution in America that ends in the initials F. L. (many of whom are also covered in #2 and #3 above) although not one of them would admit it
8. Former Sailors who accidentally type in the wrong URL
9. Christian singles
10. This guy who thinks he can tell by our outfits that we are both cowboys

The numbers on these people are still a little unclear (except #6, which is one, and #10, which is also one unless bipolarism counts as two), and there’s a lot of overlap among 2, 3 and 7, but when I look at the stats Google provides I’m usually pleasantly surprised at the actual vastness that does exist.

Who doesn’t read this blog?

1. The Sailors
2. My family
3. Sarah Palin

You now know everything I ever intend to share about my readership.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Beans updated

2 beans if you answer a question correctly
Lose 2 beans if you answer a question incorrectly
It costs you 1 bean to pass a question. If the passee gets it right, you give them two beans plus the pass bean. If the passee gets it wrong, they lose one bean.

I hadn't included the penalty for wrong answers or sufficiently punished passing. This looks right. All the Sailors who dropped out of Ridge can spend the weekend studying for Tuesday night. The topics are:

What exactly is Termite ever actually talking about
Portraits of Mario Cuomo
Obscure functions of former versions of TRPC
The lighter side of Karl Marx
Professional sports that Menick knows something about (tent.)
Popular music from the second week of March, 1965
Factual errors in From Frenchman to Caveman
Matt Thomas
That girl with the team where everyone looks just like her, which is really, really scary

Non-Sailors interested in participating should sign up now!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"When it came time to hit Enter, I was just too exhausted and felt as if it were time for that trip to the Bahamas..."

Your friendly neighborhood traveling tabroom has been getting rather excited lately about, where we can share files, including TRPC data, before, during and after tournaments. CP was the first to get us onboard, and I’ve been using it for the last month or so for everything imaginable. O’C finally signed up (I’ve been bugging him for ages, but the VCA knows how hard it is for people to go to a website, put in their email address and click enter—life is a bear for debate coaches, people), and I’ve put out invites to Kurt and Kaz in preparation for Ridge. What we have in Dropbox is yet another thing I can’t imagine having living without all these years. We live in amazing times.

The Tiggers seem to have fallen off the map insofar as posting their results go. I think they’ve shut down all their emails and gone fishin’. Jeesh! The tournament wasn’t that all-fired wonderful. I did submit their TOC qual people to JWP and company. (Note to self: Find out what the Ridge team had for breakfast last weekend and serve it to the Sailors.) I’ll pdf my copy of the Tigger results tonight if I get a chance while I’m polishing the Ridge data. At least the VCA will know how they did last weekend.

I also posted the MHL data from Byram, now that O’C finally dropboxed up and passed it over to me. I am such the busy beaver.

For the meteorologists and historians in the group, this is the former Bump weekend, now the Ridge weekend, and the weather report is for some ice storms in the furthest reaches. With luck they won’t affect the tournament. Back in the day, by now I’d be pulling out what little hair I have left, consulting the weather forecast every two seconds and praying for those Santa Ana winds that Raymond Chandler liked to talk about. It is so nice to have moved on.

And yes, speaking of busy beavers, I have been furiously creating trivia questions for the annual December Bean Blast. We’ll also give out a few NFL certificates (don’t give me that look, you spalpeen!) and turn Robbie into Captain Emeritus (which is Captain America’s second cousin twice removed). I’m thinking, new rules:
2 beans if you answer a question correctly
It costs you 1 bean to pass a question. If the passee gets it right, you give them a bean plus the pass bean. If the passee gets it wrong, they lose one bean
That sounds like it will work.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

See you in court, and/or, see you in Philadelphia

[Notes from the outside world: A sure sign that you’re in trouble is when PowerPoint is your management’s tech lingua franca.]

[More notes from the outside world: I guess my chances at buying the Illinois senate seat aren’t so good anymore. Damn. I would have been a hell of a solon.]

Last night the assembled Sailors and I brainstormed Jan-Feb. The topic easily withstood our initial scrutiny. One does need, of course, to step away from the actual ICC, but there is still plenty of specific ICC material that applies to international courts in general. You start to sense that, in some sense, the US participating in the mainstream of world affairs seems like a good idea, but then you start to realize that without an overarching analog to federalism in international affairs you’ve got all sorts of problems (down to the most basic, as in, the source of the legislative core of international judicial actions). The more you think about it, the more approaches you can see. A topic with this many entry points will be rather cacophonous early on, but should mellow out eventually. I gather there’s plenty of Christmas institute action in the offing, so that should help sort things out, or maybe make things so confusing that everyone will be totally lost. Once we venture into policy land, as this rez does, even though it is, obviously, not policy-based, one is forced to simply know so much stuff. You can’t just talk about some imaginary court in theory; you’ve got to envision how that theoretical court would work in a real world of Iraq and Iran and Abu Ghraib and Darfur and Kosovo and Henry Kissinger and Alberto Gonzalez and—well, the list goes on. I have one word for everyone: research trip. All right, make that two words: mandatory research trip. All right, three words: absolutely mandatory research trips, plural. You might recall from yesterday’s sermon that the number one of the dozen or so Top Ten tips for debate success among the Sailors is knowing what you’re talking about. That’s going to be a tall order for Jan-Feb. But without it, rounds are going to be extremely sketchy.

In other news: As anyone who has ever tried to get traction on a new debate tournament knows, weekends are hard to come by. The calendar is chockablock with one event after the other, and most weekends have multiple events. As a general rule, calendar conflicts are complementary: if tournaments are similar, they’re separated by geography, otherwise they’re separated by nature. For instance, last weekend there was Princeton and an MHL, with some Venn diagram overlap geographically, but little or no overlap spiritually. Glenbrooks, Villiger and Little Lex (and probably many others) are all on the same weekend before Thanksgiving, with very small and insignificant Venn overlaps. Harvard and Berkeley are the same weekend, and while spiritually they may be similar, as in big mutha college tournaments, their geography overlaps not at all. If one wishes to put an event on the calendar, or move an event around, the correct Venn intersection is required. If a high school in my area were to attempt an invitational on Bump weekend, for instance, they would be hard-pressed to get it off the ground because the similarities would be too great. There would be too much intersection (plus, I’d have to send the Sailors over in the night to break their kneecaps).

Anyhow, it appears as if there will be a Crimson/Quaker matchup come 2010. UPenn has been struggling for ages to find a weekend early in the season, inevitably coming up against Yale, Monticello and/or the Jewish holidays. UPenn’s tournament being what it is, its intersection with any of these is a kibosher. This season they went up against our newbies’ MHL, and even that was deal-breaker enough for many of us in the region. Old Johnny Venn was rolling in his grave.

In various discussions of CP with the Quakers, the possibility of going up Presidents’ Weekend was broached. What seems to have become clear early on was that Harvard is perceived not as any sort of regional tournament, so it wasn’t exactly serving the local area except insofar as, well, it is obviously in our region. But it’s big and expensive, and a local alternative would not be a bad idea. In Venn terms, the intersection of geography is pretty strong, but not murderous, and the intersection of spirit is actually quite small. UPenn, running pretty much as a fund-raiser for unfunded local lower-income high schools, with no TOC bids, will appeal to many on-face who already don’t attend Harvard due to the expense and general overwhelmingness of the thing. Big schools with large teams could split them. NJ and Penn schools would have someplace welcoming, a la Princeton. Granted, there is some risk, but I have to say that I personally was not happy being unable to send kids to UPenn this year because of my inexcusable inability to be two places at once. Next year I would only have to be one place. It may take a year or two to catch on, but my money is on the Quakers making a go of it at this new location. As for the Crimson, I don’t think it will have much affect on them at all. I mean, they already get infinity + 11 entrants at their tournament. If they get infinity -11 they’ll still be ahead.

Let the games begin.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

And so to bed. In New Jersey. With Tiggers.

[Bracketly speaking, I love when debaters complain about the judges. A good debater adjusts to any judge. The idea that the judge is “illegitimate,” if one is willing to subscribe to such an idea, applies to both sides of the round. Both debaters have that same judge. You’re both in the same situation. And your opponent managed to pick up that illegitimate judge! Instead of whining that the judge didn’t understand you, make yourself understandable to the judge. One of the most basic rules of public speaking is to adjust to your audience. The arrogance of speakers who refuse to adjust is, as a rule, suitably rewarded. Amongst the Sailors, judge adaptation was, for the longest time, the number one of our twelve or so Top Ten for winning rounds. Lately it has been supplanted by knowing what you’re talking about. Which isn’t bad either.

The more studious members of the VCA might find this somehow contradictory to our stand lately that the relativism of LD judging is a bad thing, vis-à-vis paradigms and the like. But that’s not what I’m saying. Even if there were only one platonic judging paradigm, some people would achieve more of it than others, the way some things partake of more of the platonic form of beauty than others, and are therefore perceived as more beautiful. To know how much of the paradigmatic perfect judge your actual judge matches is your guide to picking up the ballot at hand. It is more profitable to play a better game than to blame the ref for bad calls. And if the ref always calls balls hit to the left a foul, try hitting the ball to the right.]

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Tabbing at Whig Hall in Princeton is like fighting the line for whitefish at a popular deli with your averagely vicious Sunday morning brunch crowd: People are often knocked down in the stampede and come out with nothing but a crust of bagel and a half-chewed scallion. LD, PF, IEs and Congress are all fighting it out, reading results, diving for the pizza, telling ribald tales of the great debate coaches of long ago, begging for some judge to cover a Declamation round over at Peter Singer’s euthanasia lab, etc., etc., etc. JV and I trying to do our thing and occasionally listen to a Sondheim album or two just wasn’t happening. Under the best of circumstances tabbing in a crowd is hard; tabbing with the Tigger crowd was somehow even harder. Plus the traffic jam of judges upstairs in the vomitorium wasn’t exactly pretty, and students are banned from the building, and I gather the ceiling fell on a few heads in the judges’ lounge (although, with any luck, they were the illegitimate judges' heads). Next year we’ll hold out for private quarters in a central location. The success of the texted results makes that a real possibility. And not having the ceiling fall on our heads, among other enticements, makes it sound like a really good idea.

There was, apparently, quite a computer crash on the speech side of things, making the award ceremony a wonder to behold. The Tigs kept trying to stretch it out, while everyone in the cheap seats was itching to get home. I’m a strong advocate of all people suffering through the entire award ceremony as a point of respect (with demurrals at the usually national ceremonies where the first hour or two is a self-thankathon). I felt sorry for the Tigs trying to vamp while the tab staff shuffled whatever it was they had to shuffle. I finally gave up and slipped the Head Tig a hot tip that he could email the rest of the results later, which he accepted, thus putting everyone out of their misery. But all of this was a minor blemish on the weekend. We did, still, get out earlier than any other Tig Tournament in history.

The Sailors did fine, by the way, thanks for asking. The Panivore ate her way through to finals, while the varsity performed with good levels of success, especially considering the sophomoric shade of a couple of them. Our Hardware Engineer engineered familial housing with one of his parents’ old kindergarten buddies, which saved a few bucks but did add a few minutes of driving-around-and-getting-lost time to the proceedings. I never did get my own shot at Halo’s Pub, but given the freezing weather, it wasn’t that much of a loss. I did manage to input about 50 shots of expresso over the three-day spread, so that was something. And I figured the Saturday puzzle (the two letters OR, so Panama = Panorama) at some point. And I did text O’C every now and then to remind him that we were talking about him behind his back.

And this week, we’re back in Jersey again at Ridge. We’re practically becoming New Jerseyites. Which cannot at all be a good thing.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Which raises the question, What dance, exactly? The hula? The fox trot? The hootchie-kootchie?

So, says you, how were the Tiggers?

Fine, says I. Although, as with any tournament, there were amusements and there were bemusements and there were befuddlements.

The Sailors and I arrived around noon (incidentally passing through more auto accident debris and generally horrific driving than one normally encounters on a debate excursion; the whole legendary New Jersey bad-driver thing could account for that). After the tars schlepped my stuff into the registration building I sent them off to entertain themselves, to do things like finding Halo’s Pub for ice cream and finding a plain bagel for the Panivore. Registration was just opening up, and we established a process for getting changes (which seemed to work perfectly) and getting judge info (a little less successful but still pretty good). Unfortunately the registration area smelled like a vomitorium, so getting out of there posthaste was mission number one, and before long we settled downstairs in the tabroom and got down to business. The smell, fortunately, was limited to that one area upstairs. We (literally) breathed sighs of relief.

There are a few things that seem to be prime issues at college tournaments, the first of these being rooms. My memory of Tiggerlands past was rooms all over creation, all of them locked, but this year the Tigs had things under control, and when a locked room popped up, someone quickly popped up with a key, and that was that. Still, people were scattered all over creation. To ameliorate the situation, we gave judges a number to text in their results. As far as we could tell, we generated no particular mistakes as a result of this, and it kept us zipping along in tab at top pace. It also meant that we seldom had a minute to breathe, but that’s why they pay us the big albeit virtual bucks.

A second college problem is control of judges, but once again, things were seriously under control. The Tigs had purchased a boatload of good judges, and those were the ones we hired out. Then we kept another serious boatload of Tig judges for the sake of the tournament. The Tigs who were experienced LDers went into varsity, the less experienced or newbies went into noviceland. We never wanted for judges. JV, who can push a ballot faster than Bill Clinton can chase a skirt, managed to get every ballot off the table before the scheduled starts of the rounds; I sat there with the computer inputting the changes (and occasionally barring one that couldn’t or shouldn’t happen), and everything worked. Of course, although tabbing a big tournament is easy enough on TRPC, tabbing it so that the good judges are where they should be, and conversely, that the bad judges aren’t where they shouldn’t be (including bothering the tab staff), takes a modicum of work. We had the ratings that Zayn and I had done initially, plus I’ve been collating my Big Book of Judge Rankings from all the tournaments I do, which helps enormously. (If you want to know what we think of you, btw, send me $20 and I’ll tell you what your rank is. If you want to know what we really think of you, send me $40 and a liability release form.)

One thing I had worried about early on was the division switch from JV to nov, but that worked out fine, with about 130 or so of the chilluns signed up. We had 161 varsity. These are impressive numbers. My goal was to transform Princeton from a service tournament for the locals to an Ivy-level tournament. This means nothing in terms of, say, TOC bids. That is, this sort of transformation doesn’t mean you will, or should, get a change in qual status. But it does mean that you can set a standard of competition that makes your tournament worthy of attendance on its own merits, rather than opening the doors to first-come, first-served, and three big willy-nilly entries make up half your field. We did that. I remember distinctly Soddie once announcing that he ran Big Bronx for its own rewards, and not as merely a qualifier for some other tournament. Of course, he was still getting octos bids at the time, but still, most people at a tournament are probably not there for bids except, perhaps, at Glenbrooks or Emory, which means that most people at most tournaments want to do well at that tournament, end of story. For the Tigs, we managed to get full entries in from about 10 schools that otherwise would have been shut out by big school entries. In my eyes, that is a good thing, even if a few people who considered attendance an entitlement were forced to see their entitlement disappear for the sake of a better tournament (one school, I heard, dropped their entire registration in a huff, an absolutely perfect example of, A) cutting your nose to spite your face, and B) good riddance). This is not to tar all the big-entry schools from the past with that same brush; I worked with some directly on making sure they got the most that they could out of the tournament, and there are plenty of professionals out there who understand that the world doesn’t end at the end of their own noses. Going forward, Princeton can serve the high school community quite well by providing a balanced, fun, well-run tournament for a lot of schools, provided they stick to the principles set forth this time out. Given how well things went this year, I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t do that.

And yeah, JV and I succeeded unbelievably well on our end. The original schedule had 5 rounds for novices, 6 for Varsity, with breaks beginning with double-flighted double-octos on Sunday morning. The Menick/Vaughan schedule did 6 rounds for everyone and single-flighted doubles on Saturday evening, meaning that we ran the tournament in the fastest time ever. But then again, that’s sort of what we do.

Biggest screw-up? Somehow the pairings for the octos round got posted online Saturday night. This is a mistake of unbelievable proportions, so unbelievable that it never occurred to me that it could happen. It is like hearing that they’re dancing naked in the middle of the judges’ lounge; no one would normally ever even think of it (primarily because no one ever wants to see any of the judges naked, and no one ever wants to see any of the judges dance, much less both at the same time). If someone said that they were going to get the judges to dance naked in the judges’ lounge, you would just look at them as if they were speaking Swahili. As for overnight postings, online pairings for the following day means that judges not scheduled won’t show up, and therefore there’s no fillers for the judges who are scheduled who don’t show up. Worst, debaters get even less sleep than normal as they gather their teams and coaches together to prep out against their announced opponent, a seriously unfair advantage against schools with no team or coach nearby, or teams that didn’t see the unexpected online pairings. To say that Vaughan and I were spitting blood over this understates our reaction. We now know that it is something that can happen, and will act to prevent it from recurring in the future. Meanwhile, our ban against naked judge dancing remains merely implicit until such time as the event transpires and further action is warranted to prevent its recurrence.

(To be continued…)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The week from heck

Some weeks it pays to stay in bed.

This week, in addition to the Pffft brouhaha, I have read a former Sailor’s blog listing the best 25 songs of the year, and the name of only one of the performers was even remotely familiar to me. I mean, it’s not as if I follow the latest music—far from it—but I usually have heard of stuff if I haven’t actually heard the stuff itself. Even if I don’t necessarily go to see the latest movies, I’ve heard of them. Ditto the latest books, or the latest TV shows. Or so I thought. Somehow I’ve fallen through the cracks, at least musically. Unless this former Sailor is a total crackpot whose tastes are so obscure even I haven’t heard of any of his picks. That has to be it. A former Sailor as a crackpot? Obviously.

Also this week, I was told by a Swede that I have a really bad Spanish accent. This is akin to being told by your yoga instructor that you’re not very good at chess. It’s Henny Youngman: The doctor tells a guy he has two weeks to live. The guy says he’d like a second opinion. So the doctor tells him that his suit doesn’t fit very well. [Supply your own rim shot.]

You can’t win.

At some point today I need to sort out getting to Princeton and tucking the Sailors into their family-provided housing. I’ve got to sort out the room data when I upload tonight to TRPC and get the data cleaned up (a lot easier these days with CP putting things into one TRPC-welcoming file). I’ve got pack up the traveling tab room for the trip tomorrow and break out the woollies for the cold snap that’s been predicted for the weekend while hoping that CP in Florida gets sunburned to the proverbial crisp. He is, after all, exceptionally white. And I’ve got to download the new Netflix Mac Play-Now software (not that I’ll ever actually watch anything, but one needs to be prepared). And, oh yeah, think about Jan-Feb somewhere in there.

Somehow staying home and running the MHL that’ll start at noon on Saturday seems to be sooooo much easier.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Coming up next, 101 recipes for goobagoobas!

Jeez, Louise. Next time I’ll mind my own business.

First of all, I do understand the concept of alternative fuels. Give me a break, sports fans. I also, I would add, understand the concept of ketchup as a vegetable, and the fact that the government designating a noun or phrase as denoting something contrary to the noun’s or phrase’s accepted meaning doesn’t exactly change the accepted meaning of the words. But I am well aware that alternative fuels are quite clearly those things you pour into your engine without first drilling for them offshore. Words are only just so objective, however, and if we started calling meatballs goobagoobas, and everyone accepted this new coinage, then eventually every old-fashioned Italian restaurant in the country (and maybe even in some other countries) would start serving spaghetti with goobagoobas, which, not surprisingly, would taste exactly like spaghetti and meatballs.

We live in a strange world.

Secondly, I stand by the Mr. Fusion case. I happen to have a flux capacitor in the box with all the spare district tournament awards that I’ll be passing along to JV any day now (he needs it more than I do), and I do not accept some hastily tossed-off explanation in part 3 of the trilogy for something that is obvious in part 1 of the trilogy. This approach to trilogies has, of course, not put me in good stead when I watch episodes 1 through 6 of Star Wars in sequence, but as O’C reminded me yesterday, in the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, it’s a trap, and that’s all that needs to be said about it.

Thirdly, apparently while I was simply having some fun with the concept of debating laws that should be passed when everyone reading this blog is a grandparent, others were taking it quite seriously. I gather the PF blogosphere has been quite up in arms. I didn’t even know there was a PF blogosphere. To be honest, I tend to believe that one can debate anything, at least to some extent (and without having to resort to dreaded “theory” arguments, which mostly claim that an argument can’t be argued and that everyone should leave home and move into a condo), including the future of private transportation. For instance, I’d be much happier if the manufacturers of the Tesla were funded for dynamic future research by the feds rather than the manufacturers of the Corvair and the Pinto (to name but two of the most infamous). Battery research, and battery development, are woefully behind the times. I haven’t been hugging trees all these years yet at the same time refusing to imagine alternate scenarios to Bush-like approaches to the environment (i.e., drill it, burn it, dig it or raze it, otherwise sell it to the highest bidder). But still, if a debating activity is, to some extent, supposedly based on research, it is a bit off the deep end to expect meaningful research on the state of the world thirty years hence. For instance, thirty years ago today, there were no personal computers for sale online. There was no online. There were no personal computers. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York promised us superhighways in our (their) lifetime, and by the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, they were a reality. On the other hand, 1964’s General Motors exhibit (and every prognosticator since) has promised us cars that are not directly controlled by the driver, and they are no closer to a reality than they were at the ’64 Fair. (In other news, where’s my jetpack?) In the ‘80s, General Electric, at EPCOT (now Epcot) promised us a machine that would turn useless old rainforests into spanking new highways in one fell swoop! The point being, debating prognostication, while fun as dinner conversation, may fall a little flat in an actual academic debating environment.

But, lo and behold, the stink on this topic in that alleged PF blogosphere has been so strong that the Rippers have officially responded, in effect sticking by their guns. They explain in detail how they came up with the topic, and why it’s peachy, and suck it up, there you are. This surprises me, both that there was a big public stink and that they felt compelled to respond. I think that they’re responding to the wrong thing, though. It’s not this topic so much, although quite honestly my team doesn’t want to debate it, as the somewhat regular flow of topics that are, well, problematic. I get the impression that Rippin’s response is that if you don’t like them, submit better ones. Okay, fine, except, it’s not my job. I’ve already got a job. Two, in fact. Even when I do think of good topics, I never think to submit them by going to their home page and clicking on the “submit topic” button. (Oh, wait. That button doesn’t exist.) Setting up a good committee, as I’m sure the one that exists already is, is mostly what’s needed. I’m sure they are all fine, intelligent, dedicated forensicians. But is submitting the PF topics to review or vote not a reasonable idea? There’s certainly voting on Policy and LD topics (although, as the VCA knows, I’d also like to see more content/wording refinement). They can’t come up with a process for the same thing in PF?

I don’t believe it. And I’ll bet you don’t either.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

88 MPH

You’ve got to love Pfffft. For December, Rippin’ changed the topic wording from websites to Web sites, thus proving that their recruitment goal of filling the position of copy editor remains unachieved. Although Pfffters across the country were forced, when the revised wording was released, to toss their old cases into the bonfire, creating a brilliance of a thousand suns from sea to shining sea, a handful of us who happen to be in the publishing business and understand the concept of accidentals* simply shook our heads.

It turns out that the January Pffft topic was also changed from the original wording. Now it’s Resolved: That, by 2040, the federal government should mandate that all new passenger vehicles and light trucks sold in the United States be powered by alternative fuels. But we here at Coachean HQ have learned that originally it was Resolved: That, by 2040, the federal government should mandate that everyone travel by jet pack.

In a word, the Sailors, disappointed that they would not be arguing personal airborne transportation, are refusing to even consider doing Pffft in January. I understand completely.

There are some serious flaws with the rez as it stands now. 2040? I mean, really. All the extant research points to March 11, 2037, as the actual date. Why wouldn’t Rippin’ follow this approach? And then there’s the vagueness of the term alternative fuels. Does this count coasting from the top of a hill? I mean, if Detroit just builds a lot of hills and puts all their passenger vehicles and light trucks on top of them, they’ll make it to the bottom of the hill with no fuel whatsoever. Just release the brake! Does no fuel count as an alternative fuel? Of course, the copy editor in me wants to ask, alternative to what? Petroleum is an alternative to running on steam, for instance. But of course, alternative fuels is a buzz term and should be treated as such. Thank God Pfffters aren’t LDers, because the theory arguments on the abusive burdens of alternative consequentiality are simply mind-boggling. Idiotic, yes, but nonetheless mind-boggling.

Anyhow, here’s my advice if you’re going to Pfffft in January. Rent the “Back to the Future” trilogy, and then run a Mr. Fusion case. That’s what I’d do, Marty. That, or a hoverboards disad. I’d love a hoverboard, and it’s worth ignoring the no-disads rule to get to ride one. Hoverboards aren’t jet packs, but they’re close. Just don’t get hung up on episode 3 of the trilogy. Mule wagons probably aren’t an alternative to much of anything these days.


And, okay, here’s my other advice. HAVE PEOPLE VOTE ON THESE TOPICS!!! Give schools some value for their hundred bucks’ worth of registration every year, for pete’s sake. Hell, we all know that about 20 people ever vote for topics in the first place, so it’s not exactly that much of a bureaucratic nightmare (although Rippin’ has tried to nightmare up the LD rezzes, with all that periodic table stuff). Float, say, three topics a month prior to release. Have coaches vote by the 15th. Publish it the first of the next month. If this is too open to abuse, cut the time down. Of course, I’d also like to add a short opportunity to fix wordings, but that’s probably too much to ask. I mean, someday they will fill that open copy editor position, and the poor schmuck will want something to fill the empty hours.

Well, I’ve got to go now. My jet pack is all warmed up, and I’m outta here! Up, up and away!!!!!!

* Non-essential properties, which in typesetting refers to punctuation and capitalization and things like that, and which explains why, for instance, sometimes an editor will without hesitation repunctuate a book written centuries ago, and change spellings, so that modern audiences can understand it clearly. The clearest example of this is English v. American, where not only are colors full of colour, but in England, the quotations close before the period at the end of a sentence as compared to Americans finishing things up with the quotes, differences we routinely change in the publishing of transatlantic texts, making absolutely no difference in the meaning of the material.

Monday, December 01, 2008

"Let's go surfin' now, everybody's learnin' how, come on on Safari Firefox with me."

I may be the last person on the face of the earth to have been burned by Apple, but burned I finally was. Safari 3.2.1 is, in a word, unusable. Or at least it doesn’t agree with Little Elvis, who has been known to eat fluffernutters with no ill effects. The version came through over the weekend, and I downloaded it without a thought, as is my wont. Click on a link? Crash. Open a new tab? Crash. Send in a crash report? Crash again (that one was my favorite). I had hitherto been agnostic about Firefox v. Safari. Not anymore. And just try to find a version of 3.2 without the point one that is the kiss o’ death. I like having multiple browsers open for a variety of reasons, but so much for that, at least at home.


On the other hand, the new Touch/iPhone software allows you to eliminate the crappy guess-the-word feature when you type. That’s a serious improvement, as I never once got a correct guess. The upgrade also claims to do better getting onto firewalled systems; at some point I’ll try it again at the day job, previously a futile albeit unnecessary effort, as I do have internet access already, and having more of it does little or nothing to change my ubiquitous connectivity. And, I ordered a new Airport at Black Friday prices to hook to speakers so that I can use the Touch as a remote on my sun porch. Ah… Life can be good. Even without Safari on Little Elvis. Apple: you are such a puzzlement…

I registered this morning for Bigle X, always a favorite tournament of mine, and a lot of other people, for that matter. Hit a minor bump and notified CP, who’s been complaining in his blog that all work and then more work is not at all like play, but I say: Suck it up, bub! Seriously, he does make a good point in his latest post about his importance in the activity. As in, he’s pretty much an outsider, and he’s running everything he touches. I can appreciate that, except I’ve been in it for so long myself that I can hardly claim outsider status anymore, even if I do have a D.J. I think it may boil down to the fact that some people are good at organizing stuff and some people aren’t, and the people that are good at it keep acquiring more of it, until they don’t have any time for anything else anymore. People in debate, especially the really busy ones, need to take a weekend off once in a while. At the very least, limit things to a local one-dayer every few weeks to minimize wear and tear on the psyche. My psyche’s so shot it doesn’t matter, but CP is still young. He’s got weeks, nay, months of productive life ahead of him. Same with some other people I won’t bother to name. Keep up with life outside of this activity. Life in it is worthwhile, but life out of it keeps it in perspective. Seriously. (Same applies to students too, come to think of it.)

This upcoming weekend, meanwhile, is a visit to the land of the Tiggers for the first time in years. Things look under control, mostly. The biggest remaining deal will be sorting out and entering room names Thursday night, which is complicated because each day we’re in a different place, with different conflicts from the other divisions. I’m taking names off the waitlist, as we are in the final stretch, trying to keep things even. As originally registered, about 4 schools would have represented about a third of the tournament. Not good. Now, a few folks will have 8 entries, if they can cover the judging. Much more sane. Plus there’s a pool of solid A judges, which was one of my demands originally from the Tigs, some of which we have not sold as hireds but held as reserves. This, as I’ve said, simply makes a better tournament. Force registrants to find their own judges, and they will. Big programs need to draw on their alums; that’s the only way you get a broad base of decent judging. Programs that buy judging at every tournament, in my eyes often unnecessarily, are not as good citizens of the activity as they should be. Simple as that.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some wonderful things about Tiggers

One of the plebes asked me last night if there was a rubric for speaker points. Obviously not yet a member in good standing of the VCA…

The main thing coming up is Princeton. Long ago CP was apparently wondering whether he should get involved with the Tiggers, the last Ivy left standing other than Harvard that hadn’t been infiltrated by our traveling tabroom team. We all made vague noises like, yeah, sure, why not, what the hey, and the next thing I knew, we were signed up. Because of Bump I didn’t pay enough attention early on to the structure of the event, and there was an overabundance of a few teams to the detrimental closing out of a lot of other teams, so I rejiggered the limits and manually pared everyone down to 6 novices and 6 varsitians, and then I took away any request for hired judges beyond 1, plus removing some requests completely until the number of hired judges sold equaled the number of judges being hired. The Tigs apparently thought that this would cause the roof to cave in over all of New Jersey, and sent out sad little memos to some of the schools apologizing for trying to make it a good tournament, but from my perspective, things went smooth as a goat. Now whenever I have a few minutes I check the log and see that the number of teams is where it should be and that if there’s openings, schools with no LDers are slotted in. It’s looking good. I would expect that when registration closes we’ll be able to open up a few waitlisted slots to novices in oversubscribed schools, but that the varsity will stick to the limit of 6 per. This is a very good thing for the tournament overall. Or at least I’m happy with it.

Meanwhile, the RevBa has been juggling room assignments, and finally LD has all its rooms all to itself, which means that we can schedule rounds sequentially in a logical progression rather than randomly waiting around for some bloody Duo round to take its course. So the schedule has also been rejiggered for six rounds in both divisions and doubles early Saturday evening, thus allowing me and Vaughan to have dinner at a decent hour, which is the entire point of the scheduling exercise, if you ask me. And, coincidentally, debaters will be done around 8 or so instead of in the middle of the night, and they’ll probably be happy about that too.

We’ll also try for texting in round results. With judges and teams flung far across the campus, getting the results quickly will be a very good thing. We’ll still need ballots, of course, but the sooner we pair, the faster we move. Given the unwieldy geography of a college campus, no one will complain if we maximize the minimizing of time between rounds. Once upon a time Princeton was a two hours on, two hours off tournament. This was nice, I guess, when everyone sat around drinking a lot of tea with their pinkies out sharing ribald tales of Woodrow Wilson and the Good Old Days, but that was then and this is now. I mean, you can just go to Starbucks so many times on a Saturday before the novelty starts to wear off.

Anyhow, it is now on to a quiet Thanksgiving and some Christmas shopping, and then Monday we sign up for Bigle X and start moaning and groaning about the new topics. I’m looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I noticed a couple of people bemoaning the sad state of speaker points over at WTF. They’re a bad way to adjudicate who breaks and who doesn’t, the sentiment goes. A couple of other ideas are proposed but, admittedly, none are much better. Short of allowing everyone with a certain record to break, a luxury of space and judge pool size and time that many tournaments simply can’t afford, some cutoff is necessary, and speaker points are the default. We’re sort of stuck with that.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with speaker points. They are an effort to quantify the level of the debating in a round. They exist to denote the difference between really hard and complex debates and not quite as hard or complex debates. Two very good debaters going at one another very well will probably earn high points. Two average debaters going at one another in an average fashion will probably earn middling points. Two inexperienced debaters going at one another in an inexperienced fashion will probably earn low points. That, to a degree, is simple enough; we’ll address that degree shortly. It’s a little trickier when debaters are unequal in skills. I’ve often given high points to a strong debater facing an inexperienced debater when the strong debater treats the lesser debater with exceptional respect. The round might have been a gimme from the getgo, but the experienced debater was gentle and responsive and, in a way, acting as an ad hoc educator to the lesser debater. I’ve also gone and congratulated these stronger debaters after the rounds on their gentility, and pointed it out to their coaches. Similarly, rudeness should be, I feel, reflected in lowered points. In a forensic event, rudeness is the equivalent of a foul in an athletic event, officially punished in those cases by free throws and the like. But absent these exceptions, such as they are, I’ve always felt that the points represented the level at which the debater debated; often one debater is debating at a different level than the other. When the top of a bracket hits the bottom of the bracket early on, there might be a very big discrepancy in skills, and the points should reflect this. Overall, I don’t think anyone would seriously disagree with what I’m saying here, at least in principle. And if speaker points quantify the level of the debating over the span of all of the prelims, it makes sense that those who debated at the highest level would advance over those who debated at a less high level. We can’t advance everyone, so we use this measure to advance those who theoretically did the best debating.

But here’s the problem. This is that “degree” business that I mentioned above. Although speaker points make sense, for the reasons I just cited, we don’t have any sensible approach to them. There are some places where I can and do handle this. At MHLs and CFLs, for instance, I open every tournament with an opening statement to all the judges explaining how they should award points at this particular tournament. Granted, the points are still subjective, but at least they will be subjective on the same scale. This scale is reflected in all my judging documentation. But these are small tournaments with student and parent judges who actually listen to you and attempt to do what you ask of them. Unfortunately, there is no such attempt to normalize points at most invitationals. The old Legion of Doom did make this one of their platform planks, that all tournament directors set a scale of points, but in today’s environment, that is a pipe dream. In fact, it’s contrary to the other more common demand of tournament directors, that all judges submit paradigms. And if we have a hundred judges at a tournament, we have a hundred paradigms. And within each of those paradigms is a unique approach to speaker points.

We have dug a hole for ourselves, and no one seems to want to crawl out of it. We allow each individual judge to determine the content, format, and scope of each individual round. Like theory, hate theory, grade on a 20-30, grade on a 25-30, make me laugh for extra points, flex prep okay, flex prep not allowed, V/C mandatory, V/C optional, etc., etc., etc. The rules of the game are set anew every time a debater walks into a round. In elimination rounds with multiple judges, the best one can hope for is a general consensus of paradigms if one is attempting to pick up based on what judges like rather than what LD is supposed to be.

What LD is supposed to be? You’re sneering at that, aren’t you. LD is whatever we want it to be. Same as baseball. No rules. No governing body. Just bats, balls and bases. Oh, wait a minute. Baseball does have rules. Every umpire doesn’t make up his own rules while hanging out at the plate. Ditto those referees at football games. Hockey games. Any games.

But LD is too smart for that. The NFL makes rules, and everyone subsequently argues about how the rules suck, and aside from NatNats and maybe some district tournaments, the rules are not applied in any meaningful fashion. They are a bone of contention, not of concession.

At the point where there is one judge paradigm that all judges must adhere to as best they can, we will have relatively predictable judging. And speaker points, being a part of that universal, non-relativistic paradigm, will be a great way to determine who goes on to elimination rounds. At the point where there are as many judge paradigms as there are judges, speaker points—and breaking—will be, to a great extent, a crap shoot. The difference between the 4-2s who break and the 4-2s who don’t break will be imponderable. And at the point where a debater or coach supports random paradigms, they deserve to be randomly and imponderably excluded from elimination rounds.

All those people who say that the activity ought to be in some hyperkinetic state of flux, rapidly changing because of “progressive” styles of debating and judging, deserve to be in the bottom of those 4-2s. That LD should change over time is probably true. That the time span for this change should be from round to round is probably not true. That change should come from people who happen to want change for whatever reasons, good or ill, rather than the community as a whole with meaningful leadership, is definitely not true. If the people who want change are right, as Mill and any number of others have clearly demonstrated, subjecting their ideas to the tests of truth and the dialectic will eventually get them accepted. But as long as we’re all mavericks (are we still allowed to use that word in polite conversation?), we’re just in a state of random confusion.

Those of the VCA in the community who represent the meaningful leadership: Do some leading! If you run a tournament, publish a standard for speaker points. If you have influence over the NFL, use it. Or, be influenced by it. Adjust your debate to the rules, such as they are, rather than to your personal preferences. Change is fine, and there’s plenty of good, wise ways of achieving it; use the wise ways, and that change will stick. If you adhere to your own cockamamie paradigm because you’re right and the world is wrong and the devil take the hindmost, then I sincerely hope that you reap the just results of such actions.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Little Touch of Lex in the Night, so to speak. Or a Little Slice of Lex, as CP put it. But then again, he's no Shakespeare.

I’m a big fan of Wee Sma Lex for a variety of reasons. After last weekend, I remain as big a fan. I just like going up there at this point in the season. It gives novices their first overnight experience, without their having to debate two days in a row. They get to eat at restaurants (except for our new novice Panivore, who simply brings a crust of bread in with her and chews on it for an hour or so, hoping no one charges her for the glass of water she occasionally takes a sip out of). They get to be housed (although the whining about housing was from, of all people, SuperSquirrel, who should know that housing is a random action, in no way tied to partnerships and housee desires of any sort; if the housing authorities started attending not only to finding space but to also finding a certain precise space for Polician or Pffffter teams, housing would collapse immediately of its own weight). They get a good four rounds of debate at a decent pace (we even put in a little lunch break). As for the upperclassmen, they all got to play around with Pffft, with varying but mostly satisfying degrees of success. Even though our bus died, it did so Saturday morning, which kept this fact unbeknownst to the Sailors as there was a brand new alternator installed by the time we left for points southwest. What more could you ask for?

CP and I were duly proud of ourselves for breaking after 4 Pffft rounds into an “exhibition final.” Having lots of judges, which was none of our doing, allowed us to do some single flighting, so it worked out nicely. I loved this one judge whose coach had put her in the LD pool, which we took her out of because she knew nothing about LD. Somehow she lit onto PF, and began asking everyone in tab one after the other, including the custodian, to put her in. (This, of course, after the rounds were paired without her even being in the pool.) She was persistent, I’ll give her that. Of course, complaining to us about being put into the LD pool didn’t have the same effect as complaining to the coach that did it in the first place, but that was sort of beside the point. She just endearingly wouldn’t take no for an answer, even when we threatened her with our nerf submachine guns. Finally we threw her into the demo final with 4 other judges, which did make her disappear, which is about the best you can hope for. Still, she was trying to argue her way into and not out of rounds, so you’ve got to love her for that.

CP spent a lot of time improving tabroom for Sara S, now that I’ve finished with it for Bump. He explained that this was the opportune moment; I’d been duly tortured, so it’s time to make the necessary improvements for the good people of the world. Honestly, the only problem issues that remain seem to be on the housing side. Sometimes housing requests disappear, and sometimes they multiply. Knowing that this is possible puts the tournament director ahead of the game; there’s plenty of ways to keep an eye on it, and once you know that an eye must be kept, you’re in pretty good shape. He also spent a lot of time farting around with some other tournament that was taking place even as we tabbed Little Lex, so I’d be talking to him but he’d be talking on the phone to someone and typing away readjusting their placement in After Dinner Speaking or whatever other Massachusettian activity they might be conducting. In response, I’d go online and send vulgar emails to O’C, who was “coaching” out in Chicago, which means hanging out with people in the judges’ lounge while chowing down nonstop and, needless to say, not judging. And he had to go to Chicago to not judge. He could have stayed home to not do that.

Since the new topics aren’t out yet, I’ll be doing a novice-only meeting tomorrow night. We’ll get some advice from the Little Lexers (Panivore actually managed to win the thing despite her diet of unbleached wheat products), while a first-timer managed to achieve a high point loss, which we thought was the sort of thing limited to good old HPL himself. It probably makes sense at the next tutti of the fruttis to do some Pffft debriefing. Maybe we’ll get some more dedicated Pfffters out of this. One of our Speecho-Americans has actually unsworn her previous allegiance and signed up for the debate listserver (AKA "the sorta dark" side). She was lost in a flood of her own “Where has this been all my life?” dismay. Yeah, of course. Pfffft does seem to draw its biggest advocates not from debate but from speech. Interesting. Now if they could only run a counterplan…

Friday, November 21, 2008

You gotta sing the blues if you're gonna pay your dues

Last night I hung out a bit with Catholic Charlie and a few other NY folk at the Eric d M gala (at which, I would say, a swell time was had by all; those Regis do know how to throw a bash!). From various conversations I understand that Vegas is now taking bets on the final outcome of the NY State red light situation. With The World’s Worst District Chair no longer in the equation, the smart money, apparently, is on what I presented to the W & O a couple of years ago. Who knew I really was The World’s Worst District Chair? I thought I was exaggerating. I figured I was, oh, the third worst chair. Maybe the second.

I was worse than I thought. I don’t know if that is good or bad.

Anyhow, as I’m sure the VCA knows, I never had any brief against the NFL per se, except insofar as my belief that our district was not being fairly perceived by the directorate. I've documented my thoughts on that here in great detail. I've also often written that there does need to be a central organization for our activity that does something besides run an annual tournament (hell, I do that, plus I help everyone else in the universe do that, and what Rippin’ does is different only in scale). The leadership position taken by the Rips recently in redefining LD is a good example of what they do, and ought to do. I just wish people would actually pay attention to them instead of thinking that the nature of a high school academic activity is somehow reliant on the high school students or recent high school students as the sovereign body. I don’t believe that the voices of the students should be ignored, but they should not rule. Anyhow, I am, as of this week, once again a dues-paying member of the organization, and the Sailors’ points are entered and up-to-date. By paying my dues, of course, I am enabled to complain, but I really have nothing to complain about. My only issue is the hope is that JV, our new chair, can solve what I couldn’t solve. Some of my friends and colleagues around here can and do actively work toward NatNats. They should not be inhibited by their geography.

And with that, I’m off to Wee Sma Lex.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Luke, I am your father, unless you want me to judge LD, in which case I never saw you before in my life.

I don’t seem to be able to convince the Sailors to sign up for tournaments. Some of them don’t understand that that’s what we do on the weekends, as compared to hanging out at the local abattoir or whatever it is that teenagers do with their spare time these days (I find it hard to keep up). Others think that the deadline is an imaginary construct, beyond which there is no distinction from before which. As if I didn’t have to get motels, hire judges (or not), get buses, register, etc. When I tell them that parents are essential as chaperones or to cover some of the judging, they look at me like I’m speaking Swahili, or at least as if the concept of parentage is one that is not exactly familiar to them. My favorite retort is that their parent did something last year, as if that ought to cover them for all eternity plus three. Their parents gave them a birthday present last year; does that mean they don’t have to give them one ever again? My contention is that as long as the debater is in the house, the parent is responsible for various acts of support and nurture on a regular basis. And unless a student goes to one debate and quits the activity, it is hard for me to imagine why the parents think they can go to one debate and quit the activity. Have they disowned that child? Often I wouldn’t blame them, but regardless, I will go to a tournament pretty much every week this season, and cover a small number of entries as judge/tabber as a result. My bit is done. If numbers aren’t achieved or judges aren’t presented, people just won’t go to tournaments. If enough people don’t go, I won’t have to go either. Maybe I’ll work on my putting. Lord knows, my short game is no great shakes. What else am I going to do on Saturdays?

Realistically, being a parent on our team, with me in the tab room, means that you will be safe from judging anything you shouldn’t judge. I’ll usually put you in PF if I can, or else novice LD. I have control. For that matter, I try to do the same for other people’s parents as well, except for the ones who I know understand LD and who have been around for a while. Same ones week after week, usually. Some parents seem to always be around: can’t beat ‘em away with a stick. Others? Who knows.

So we got no parents for Ridge, which forced me to adjust my entry accordingly. I’ll try to line up a hired for ALJ, since people are around, but my first choices are heading for the Middle East to tell those yoyos over there a thing or two, so maybe that won’t work out either. And with Bigle X, if I stay for the RR, that means a parent has to chaperone the trip home. No big deal, sez you, but I don’t think I have one signed up yet, and the deadline is next week. Note to universe: the season is almost half over. Note to self: maybe I will start working on that short game.

On the positive side, I’ve been sleeping like a caved bear in a blizzard this week, now that Bump is over. The Tiggers are on a nice simmer. And I’ve plotted out all my debate days off for 2009. All I’ve got to worry about now is the return of HRC. (Is the Big O offering State to Hillary only because Sarah turned him down?)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bumpian odds and ends

There were some high points.

SuperSquirrel arrived on the scene to save the day, thus adding a new member to the Justice League of Hen Huddia. Lord knows that all of us have some famous decisions on our resumes; I still maintain that I was right about the Villiger final in 1996. And I recall the time early on when I was judging finals at Bump and fell asleep and when I woke up I looked around and saw that there was this one kid I always dropped and this other kid I never dropped, and I apparently just followed my instincts (I can’t say for certain, being barely conscious at the time, and having only learned one lesson from this fiasco, to wit, that only an idiot judges at his own tournament) and picked up the kid I always picked up, unlike the other 4 judges who had been awake during the proceedings. But none of this holds the proverbial candle to an 8 to 1 decision, vigorously defended. Then again, this does explain grits: There is 1 person out of every 9 who, in fact, will not only eat grits but will also tell you that they taste good. We now know who that person is.

Meanwhile, we took great pleasure in punishing one judge for doing his best to hold up the tournament. Here’s how these things work. Schematics are posted, and ballots are laid out for the judges. Your job in this scenario, if you are a judge, is to look at the schematic, find your name, get your ballot and go to your round. You do not disappear before the round, during the round, or after the round. At every tournament. In this one, seeing this repeat offender (I had to call out his hiring school last year, so this is not a new, one-time short-term thing) and having, as we did, plenty of A-rated judges, we could have done a couple of things. We could have giving him 0-4 rounds, but that still allows him to slow up the tournament. We could have given him single flights, but that slows up the tab staff. Or we could uncheck the little boxes that show him as available, and let him sit on his nether portions for an 8-hour day. We chose the latter. And watched him stew. He protested, of course. A number of times. This is called slow cooking. Put the pot on the back burner and let it simmer a really, really long time. Is the lesson learned? Maybe. Given that the same tabbers are in every tournament in the northeast, we shall see how this plays out the next time. People don’t change all that much, so I’m betting on the same shenanigans, followed by the same punishment. It doesn’t solve the problem but it does entertain the people in the tabroom no end.

Down in the novice building, half the time O’C was sitting behind the Tiny Town Table entering ballots, randomly calling out, “Myrmidon! Oh, Myrmidon!” Runners and ballot staff would appear in the doorway as if by magic, and he would assign them some imaginary task, happy in his heart that he was the Achilles to such an army (or, in this case, navy). The other half of the time he was stumbling into rounds with his new camera taking pictures of people who were trying either to debate or judge and generally driving people batty. But, since they were all novices, they apparently didn’t realize the incongruity of the situation, and went about their business, little knowing that soon they would star on WTF. O’C even got a picture of me playing the piano. Thank God I didn’t bring my Sousaphone.

This year’s Cruz award had been in my basement for about 6 years, some moldy old trophy encased in varmint dust that I acquired early on in my former career as the World’s Worst District Chair. Just touching it made you want to wash your hands for a month. I also gave him a copy of Lingo in Japanese, a true collector’s item, and a Day Job beach towel which I have no idea where it came from. He seemed as surprised as ever that the Jon Cruz Award, Given Annually to Jon Cruz for No Apparent Reason, was awarded to him this year. He was also happy that the Speaker Soup went to the Bronx. For my part, I have no doubts that the Speaker Soup will arrive back at HH next year for its continued journey. The one thing we know O’C is good at is trophies. But will he proudly display the Soup in the Bronx trophy case in the interim? That is the telling detail.

One of the most magical moments was when a few of us were discussing someone, saying that he was a good worker, except it took a few seconds for his spark plugs to ignite. As we were discussing him, he poked his head in the door about thirty yards away, looked at us, made a comment to the effect that he didn’t know why he had poked his head in and that he’d be leaving now, and disappeared back where we had come from. And there are books on the bestseller list that say there is no God? Bah!

I learned that—even with an achy, scratchy throat—I can extemporize for as long as it takes for you to finally walk away about why I can’t give you your ballots early or take you out of the judging pool.

2-1 is too many more than enough PF judges.

There’s never enough LD judges.

And finally, if you lose your pants at a tournament, coming to me and asking me about lost and found will amuse me no end, but as a general rule, will not get you your lost pants.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So where were we?

Today is the first day I have felt normal in a while. I’m getting over 1) a cold; 2) Bump; 3) pesky Sailors; and 4) Tiggers. But, as they say, life goes on.

I’ll skip telling you about the cold. My guess is that you’ve had one yourself once, and can appreciate all the ins and outs. For me the hardest part was that I couldn’t talk during much of Bump, although other people considered this something of a mitzvah. I only got to scream at two novices, one of mine and one of O’C’s. Such a waste.

As for Bump, one thing I need to do is figure out a way to ameliorate the sign-in process. If I had the luxury of more time, it wouldn’t matter so much, but I’m trying to get it done in half an hour. This is not easy. I had lit on the idea of express check-in run by Robbie and Termite, which would have worked a lot better if they both hadn’t gone to the train station to pick up HoraceMan, TSWAS. One to hold the steering wheel and another to press down the pedals? And this year we learned the name scam. Here’s how it works. If you make changes at the table, it’s $25 each nuisance fee. So what you do, even if you have a lot of changes, is don’t tell them. You save a couple of hundred bucks. Then you go into tab later and tell them they’ve got the initials wrong. Do these people think we didn’t notice? I won’t mention the school, but they have been a royal PITA since as long as I can remember. Next year, I will handle their registration personally. CP recommends the $200 “The tournament director claims you deserve to be reamed from the inside out” fine; I may institute this in the future.

Nevertheless, we did get through registration and start about as planned, and we ran the tournament as planned, and to be honest, there weren’t a lot of noticeable events other than a tournament happened. The housing was done by the mother of our Hardware Engineer, and it was amazing. She had these little index cards all printed out that would make even Apple Valley die from envy. And she never complained, even on Thursday when I was sending her changes faster than the schools could make them. One thing: it does behoove one to pull the data out of tabroom (or the Goy, for that matter) at the absolute latest possible minute. It’s hard to hold off, but hold off one should. It just makes sense in the long run.

By the one measure of success that I consider to be infallible—we got out in time Saturday for dinner at India House—we were the biggest hit in years. And I was floored by having so many alums there this year. The continuity is amazing. It’s curious, though, that the community rankings were unaware of the experience of a couple of them. Get a few TOC bids but not that recently, and you fall out of the collective memory. Then again, would you really want a Harvard or Georgetown third-year law student judging you on this topic if you were totally full or koala poop? Probably not.

After some discussion with my daughter, we came to a rather unstartling conclusion about the state of LD in general, and I think from my own experience in the back of the room, light though that may be lately, it is pretty much true. Good debate hasn’t really changed much over the years. People present strong arguments for their side of the resolution with clear values and criteria and warrants. This is the classic winning approach. What has changed over the years is the nature of bad debate. Half a dozen random burdens unrelated to the framework is the sort of thing that would have been unimaginable in the 90s, albeit just as annoying. Off-case analyses would have been just as beside the point: off-case means, in a literal translation, “this has nothing to do with the resolution but if I’m lucky you’ll pick me up because it sounds smart and you don’t want to look dumb.” The other thing about bad debate that remains true is that it nonetheless appeals to smart people, so often bad debate wins rounds because it is being dealt out by good debaters. It’s a waste, but it’s true. If good, smart debaters actually decide to engage in good, smart debate, then that’s what a debate round is all about.

As for #s 3 and 4 at the top of this entry, for some reason I can’t get the Sailors to do what I tell them to do. Simple things, like tell me their last names or do research or write case positions. Then again, what coach ever gets such complex cooperation from a team? I ask too much. I’m a dreamer. And as for the Tiggers, they required a bit of shaking up because they had oversubscribed both the number of allowable teams and the number of sellable judges, but I think we have things in hand now. What I’m working on is a schedule with the Revba that will make some decent sense. I think it can be done. But, then again, as I say, I’m a dreamer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A new character enters the Sailor Pantheon

No time to do much more than this, but 8 to 1 deserves recognition. Tomorrow I should be able to report on the weekend that was.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm going to go do Bump for a while

Changes are coming in fast and furious.

The weather report, at least for tomorrow, appears favorable.

I realized last night that I have already tabbed 3 high school invitationals, 2 MHLs, 1 CFL and a Bullpup partridge in a pear tree this season, and it's only the beginning of November.

I wish I was tabbing Bump.

I wish it was at your school.

If wishes were meatballs, beggars would be Italian.

See you on the other end of this, unless you're there tomorrow, in which case you and I will be stuck in the middle.

(I haven't been coherent since I awoke this morning. If Obama is so all-fired great, why isn't he running this tournament?)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sniffling towards Bethlehem

I feel as if I ought to be at wit’s end, what with Bump in two days, but aside from feeling that I’m coming down with a cold, I am remarkably phlegmatic. It has been suggested that maybe I’m getting used to it by now. This could be true.

Tonight there will be a short meeting of the Sailors. I’ll get home around 9, the point at which the ratings/strikes process comes to a halt. I’ll port the data over to TRPC and start working on the judges. Won’t be as big a deal as at Jake, which had more strikes and more teams and more judges. (O’C could use that as his slogan in the future: “But wait, there’s more.” Unfortunately that also applies to the number of award ceremonies.)

So I don’t have much to say today, but I will point out that I am thinking about an article Bietz wrote in the May Rostrum—I sigh wistfully as my Rostrum subscription runs itself out—and some comments on the MHL that came to us suggesting some possible improvements. I’ll detail these after Bump.

Since I have nothing to offer as I gird my loins for Bump, I will simply leave you with the knowledge that yesterday, while I was talking to O’C on the phone, a bird crapped on his head. He (O’C, not the bird) claimed that this was the first time this had ever happened to him. After I hung up (if that is what one can claim to do with a cell phone) I realized that he had also told me that he was calling from a train; I could even hear the ambient train sounds behind his voice. Which leads one to wonder what kind of birds they have out there on the Long Island Railroad.

The debate world can be very strange sometimes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Felonious burdens

Let’s list all the things I know for certain about LD theory:

[Sound of crickets]


WTF put up a discussion piece entitled “A Parametrics Perspective,” which is worth reading. When the Sailors and I were originally discussing felons, we looked at a chief problem with the resolution, to wit, the broadness of the word felon. This applies equally to the Hannibal Lecters of life as to some guy convicted for DUI 20 years ago who has, for 20 years, been an exemplar member of AA. At the extremes, the burden of the aff, it would seem, would be to defend the Lecter voting right, and the burden of the neg, it would seem, would be to defend the AA member non-voting right. A meaningful debate on the subject, I contended, would instead address the middle ground between these two; while still allowing a definition of felon as one in or out of prison, for the sake of reasonable debate we should eliminate the extremes and concentrate on the mean (i.e., the middle ground between the extremes).

The Sailors looked at me as if I was nuts.

The thing is, if a resolution is a truth statement, as some contend, the affirmative must defend that truth statement, whereas the negative has to disprove the truth of that statement. (Correct me when I get any of this stuff wrong.) Depending on the wording of a resolution, often any single instance of disproof is enough, because once the statement is not true in any instance, it is therefore categorically not true, and the negative wins based on the aff’s inherent lack of total truth.

And, apparently, judges buy this logic. Which, frankly, is not bad logic, all things considered. And which, at the same time, requires little of the neg aside from getting up in the morning and showing up for the round.

The parametrics article talks about some equal burdens, and I’ll let you read the article for yourself, but it looks to me as if its conclusions are akin to what I tell my newbie parent judges when they go into their first novice rounds: make your decision based on what you would do—considering what you just heard—if you now had to act on this resolution. In this case, then, I would tell them, if they were a congressperson, how would they vote on felon voting rights, based on what they just heard. This would require, of course, that what they just heard addressed both sides of the issue, concentrating on meaningful, debatable aspects of the question (which is a fascinating one, by the way), rather than an argument at the level of argumentation (i.e., an argument about the arguing itself, rather than an argument about the content of the argument), which would lead one to no conclusions about the subject, but only to conclusions about the debate round. This is, in a word, jejune.

I doubt that we could, as a community, adapt an agreed-to theory of LD, given the number of people in the community who, when even the NFL redefines the activity, ignore that redefinition. That is, when the LD committee recently mandated values and criteria, many were the voices who said [insert raspberry sound here]. Keep in mind that this is an activity where every judge, rather than adhering to a general body of rules and practices, has a private paradigm that just applies to him or her, regardless of any standards outside that judge’s brain. Judge adaptation used to mean that you could adjust to the judge’s level of experience; judge adaptation nowadays means reading the judge’s tea leaves to find out what he or she likes, and if there’s three judges in the room, that’s a lot of tea in one session. In some cases we even allow claimants to pick their adjudicators (through MJP).

Solving this problem on the universal level, absent an unlikely agreement by the entire community, would require topic wordings that point specifically to the mean. The “on balance” or “in general” demurral would proscribe at least some approaches to resolutions that, from the getgo, inhibit true analysis of the content underlying the resolution. One way or the other, topics need to be pointed to the underlying content, and not to themselves. If all negatives have to do is run Hannibal Lecter, thus winning the round by (literally) definition, this isn’t really very interesting anymore.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tournament Trading Cards Series II

Hey, kids! Collect them all!

#407 The Spa Client

Famous quote: “I can’t believe they don’t have wireless in this high school! What kind of ghetto is this?”

Distinguishing characteristics: Facial expression reminiscent of having sucked way too many lemons, including narrowed eyes and pinched lips.

Habitat: Standing behind you every time you turn around.

Details: The Spa Client does not understand that public high schools may not have all the amenities he or she is used to. The Spa Client will complain about everything from the lack of a hot, nutritious gourmet lunch to the timbre of the voice of the person conducting the award ceremony, and will recommend unsolicited solutions to all of these issues. That the Spa Client’s own school has none of the amenities being demanded seems to be beside the point.

Handling tips: Agree with a hearty tsk, tsk, and then disappear quickly. The longer you discuss the issues, the greater the number of issues that will arise. Hitting the spa client over the head is not an option.

#482 The Helpful Sadist

Famous quote: “You should join the basket weaving team because you were born to not debate.”

Distinguishing characteristics: Numerous scars from early in debate career when people were advising that the Helpful Sadist should join the basket weaving team.

Habitat: Standing in the tab room looking innocent.

Details: The Helpful Sadist, on judging first-time novices, discovers that they are not particularly good debaters. Holding back the shock at this discovery, the Helpful Sadist proceeds to explain how the debaters are probably hopeless and should seek a suitable outlet for their hopelessness outside of forensics. As a result of these oral critiques, the debaters break down into tears and enter states of permanent depression.

Handling tips:
The Helpful Sadist inevitably explains that he or she was only trying to provide useful advice to the fledgling debater. When it is pointed out that the fledgling debater has gone over the edge and is presently threatening the lives of the entire student body with a railway share, and that maybe the Helpful Sadist might want to reconsider how to give wonderful advice to newbies in the future, the Helpful Sadist repeats that he or she was only trying to provide useful advice. Rinse. Repeat. Sigh.

#429 Monsieur Flaubert

Famous quote:
“You will have my ballots when I am done crafting every perfect word of them, and not a moment before!”

Distinguishing characteristics: Although age has withered and custom staled M. Flaubert in most respects, this judge, a first-timer, has not acquired any wisdom to accompanying his or her advanced years. Flaubert is cantankerous, and knows better than anyone what ought to be going on in a debate round. Usually seen with a bottle of prune juice.

Habitat: In the room that was the site of the last round, refusing to budge for the people scheduled for this round.

Details: Nothing, absolutely nothing, can speed up M. Flaubert. Flaubert, despite having neither clue one nor clue two, seems to believe that every clue has been carefully collected and sorted, and anyone would know that the pearls being put down on that ballot are worth the wait. You need the room again? So soon? Well, sonny, you’ll just have to wait. I should be done before sunset.

Handling tips: Remove this judge from round 2. And round 3. And round 4.

#491 The Helpful Hand

Famous quote:
“Anything you need me to do, I’m yours. Oh, I forgot to tell you. I have to leave in half an hour.”

Distinguishing characteristics: This parent signs up early for all work details, and is willing to do anything from judging varsity policy to cleaning the bathrooms with a toothbrush. Except they have to leave early, sorry about that.

Going out the door.

Details: After you’ve got all the assignments worked out, and the tournament is under way, the Helpful Hand tells you that he or she has other things to do, and they’ll see you when they see you, ciao and thanks for all the fish.

Handling tips:
Take it out on their kids. Flogging is one option.

#408 The Odd Coincidentalist

Famous quote:
“The name of the judge on the ballot is my hideous ex-husband. Os that a coincidence? Could that be intended for me? Or is there another person judging here today whose name is Spawn of Satan?”

Distinguishing characteristics:
Remarkably willing to share all the intimate details of her former unfortunate marriage, including why she doesn’t want to be reminded of it.

Habitat: Sniffing around the ballot table.

Her kid signed up a random parent, and the other random parent actually came to the tournament. For reasons unknown, rather than just picking up the ballot that is obviously intended for her, the divorcee wants everyone in the building to understand that THE MARRIAGE IS OVER, THANK YOU VERY MUCH SO DON’T MAKE ME TAKE OUT A RESTRAINING ORDER AGAINST THIS TOURNAMENT, YOU WILL USE MY MAIDEN NAME OR ELSE!!!

Handling tips:
Offer her the number of your analyst.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Little Daddy Monticello Pizza Toss

You’ve got to wonder why we do this sometimes. Let’s look at the Montwegian MHL, for instance. It’s standard. I mean, everything about it is off-the-rack. We’ve had a Montwegian MHL since the days when there were mastodons still loose in Sullivan County. We’ve had a Montwegian MHL since the days the Kaiser was just a pile of unrisen dough not yet shaped into little rolls. We’ve had a Montwegian MHL for as long as there have been Montwegians and MHLs. Kant wrote about the Montwegian MHL as the only a priori fact in the universe. In a word, there is nothing exactly new about this particular tournament.

We set up registration to close on Wednesday. Somehow, this is interpreted as the moment not when registration closes, but when people change the way they register, emailing me changes rather than entering them into tabroom. Not drops, but wholesale new entries. Not one person, but oodles of them, and their sisters and their cousins whom they reckon by the dozens and their aunts. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

Oh, wait a minute. I am complaining. You would too.

We ask for people to cover their judging. We haven’t had extra judges at an MHL since [you’ll have to do your own work here; I exhausted my long-time-ago metaphors in paragraph one]. Nevertheless, schools don’t have all their judging covered. I know. You're shocked—shocked—to hear it.

We end registration at 9:00 a.m., and try to start as quickly as possible after that. Granted, this is a relatively new wrinkle, but this will be the third time this year, so it’s not as new as some other really really new thing, but still, schools have already put me on alert that they’ll get there when they get there. Which means I’ll want to kill them when their bus pulls into the driveway, but I’ll have to satisfy myself with forfeiting all their teams. The students punished for the coaches’ tardiness. Sigh.

Then I’ve got people who want to leave early. Leave early? The last round ends and then two minutes later we have awards. How early could you possibly want to leave within that two-minute slice of your busy day? To what effect?

On top of all of this, what are the odds that there will be anything for anyone to eat? Is Monticello’s Round-Stopper-in-Residence in charge of ordering the pizzas again? I’m bringing a peanut butter sandwich. And chips. I’ve been at the Montwegian MHL before. Me and the mastodons. And Kant. A swell time was had by all.