Thursday, January 31, 2008

Coachean blog supplemental: Clarification

Someone wrote a comment below in support of Ayn Rand. I have as a result made arrangements with Google, the owners of Blogspot. In the future, this blog will be blocked to all Objectivists, their heirs and assignees, their pets, their babysitters and their personal trainers. Jeesh!


I’ve noticed that talking about doing research is a much less effective debate tool than actually doing research. Unless by some great good fortune a topic happens to fall into your area of expertise, there is probably a need to go out and learn something about that topic, often from the ground up. But, of course, life is short, and research is work, and sometimes it’s easier to watch TV and sleep late and generally find other ways to spend one’s time. As a result, you will lose your debate rounds, usually to people who did do the research. The initial determination of whether to embrace a work ethic or a goofball ethic is entirely a student’s own choice. The goofball ethic is fairly unrewarding, though, and given that most people who are initially attracted to debate have some belief in their own inherent intelligence and want to exercise it a bit, the choice of the goofball ethic is a little hard to fathom. Why would people want to lose, as they inevitably will if they don’t do the background work? I suspect that chief among the reasons people drop from the activity after a year or two is that you can just lose so much, and while everything under the sun will be blamed for these losses other than their own lack of preparedness, it’s ultimately the goofball ethic that results in another forensician biting the dust. On the bright side, of course, as juniors and seniors they have nothing to interfere with their attempts to memorize every nuance of “The Office.” What else do they have to do with their spare time?

In Policy and Extemp, where research is the backbone of the event, and it’s pretty obvious from the getgo that endless research is de rigeur, there’s probably not much of a problem understanding the need to do it (and, for that matter, the need to hit the road if you don’t intend to do it; you won’t last for more than a week or two, I would venture, if you’re not up to the task). In LD I think it may be a little harder for people to perceive how important it is to do research. Take the preemptive strike against nuclear proliferation resolution, for example. You could conceivably concentrate your energy entirely on the justice side of the argumentation, and never learn much more about the actual subject than the card you borrowed from a teammate on the effects of nuclear bombs. And this is despite the fact that the topic area is important, current, complex and fascinating. To wit, the US has been in what you might call the resolutional position since 1943, when the Soviet weapons program was inaugurated. Lines of argumentation for both sides of the rez come from Russia, Korea, India, Pakistan, Iraq (tonight’s desert? Yellowcake!), Israel, South Africa, Libya, China, Japan (yeah, I know, but there’s solid content in their antinuke position), and maybe even France and England. But you’ve got to know their stories. You’ve got to find out about them and derive the lessons these stories tell. You’ve got to do the research. Or maybe not. Maybe writing a case that is 75% framework and 25% theory is good enough. That way you can avoid meaningful argumentation altogether about a subject that may be among the most important facing the contemporary world. Sounds like a good educational choice to me, coach! No wonder so many debaters don’t want to be judged by seriously competent “lay” judges (i.e., lawyers, executives, federal court judges, etc.). Who, given the choice, would want to be evaluated by a seriously intelligent adjudicator on a subject of high interest when they are running a case bearing no relationship to that subject? Ah, digressive debate…

In Pfffft, the situation is clearer. No research, no victory. The activity, at least at the moment, has no body of digression or theory or malarkey to hide the fact that you are presented with a proposition of current political merit that you must either negate or affirm, and you don’t have much time to do it, so you’d better grab it by the horns and have at it or you’re dead in the water. Not arguing the resolution is not an option. And the resolution is announced one day, then maybe 28 days later you’re debating it. Zip, zap, zoom. But the problem is, at least at the moment for some of us, that we are coming out of an LD mentality into the Pfffft world. I believe (at least for now) that it makes some sense for students to first spend a year learning basic debate principles in the forge of LD before doing PF. That just seems to make sense to me. And of course, since Pfffft is still in its youth, most of the coaches still come from some other background, probably more often LD than speech (but I detect changes in that). In any case, the Pffffters don’t necessarily yet have the discipline or training or mindset to grasp the research needs of the activity until it’s too late, after they’ve lost to someone who has gotten that discipline or training or mindset. As students, and as coaches, we need to learn how to do the research, both individually and systemically. That is, given the fact that the starting gun goes off and we’re tossed into the thick of it almost immediately, while debating in the thick of last month’s rez, we’ve got to master the balancing act and get the job done, and we’ve got to do it fast and efficiently.

Some thoughts on how next time up. Maybe others have already addressed this elsewhere. Point me to it if that’s the case.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It's all Greek to me, Howard; calendar wars; various minutia

Howard Roark did not attend Columbia. If he had, it would have turned his red hair white. (By the way, I just read a Wikipedia piece that claimed that Atlas Shrugged was Rand’s “other great novel,” which just goes to show that Alan Greenspan is keeping busy in his retirement editing Wikipedia entries.)

Although I lived in the city for a decade once upon a time, I never visited the Gem of Harlem campus, despite having occasionally hung out with friends who lived in the neighborhood. I don’t know what I would have thought then, but if you haven’t been there, it is absolutely a “college campus” in postmodernist quotes. There’s this big open quad surrounded by buildings, the most imposing being the Low Library. Now, even if you’ve never seen the Low Library before, you have seen the Low Library. It is a classic, uh, Classic Revival. It is the Pantheon with upgrades (i.e., wings, plus there was a sale on columns that week). It is Palladian to its smallest atom. It is Monticello in rock. And it dominates the visual expanse. It reminds me more than anything of the art direction of 1960’s “Time Machine” film. And not to put too fine a point on it, but across the quad it faces a columnar pile that is more Parthenon than Pantheon. Between the two I expected Zeus (or Jupiter) to come down any minute and start molesting the pigeons. The official documentation of the Low calls it a blend of Parth and Panth, and so, I guess, it is. Certainly there’s no question what the designer was up to at the time.

There’s nothing wrong with Classic Revival, of course. Washington, D.C., is a perfect example of the style in action. And I use the word action advisedly. Classic Revival runs on the assumption that buildings that look like Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome will impart to the landscape and to what it conducted within a suitable dignified stateliness. Classic Revival says the Golden Age of Pericles and the power of the mighty Caesars. It mashes up all sorts of concepts of wisdom and strength of state into a simulacrum soup that tastes just like government. Hence the Capitol building and the Supreme Court building and the presidential mansion. And the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. And just about every other building surrounding the mall. If you didn’t know where you were, you would have little difficulty figuring it out.

So when you look at Low, you think, obviously, Classic Revival, and you have all those thoughts about power and wisdom. Except that Classic Revival was about a hundred years earlier than the building of the Low. To that extent, if may be the first harbinger of postmodernism, predating modernism. What Howard Roark complains about (at least in the film; I, for one, find Rand’s writing to be, shall we say, loopy) is that everybody wants him to design buildings that have columns and look like Greek palaces, and of course Roark, individualist genius that he is, wants to go off and invent modernism and free love. In other words, the Low is a total anachronism, what Disney imagineers would design if you told them you needed a university campus. I make no value judgment of this—you can like or dislike Classic as you are so inclined—but I find it interesting. (And as a total aside, I will go to my grave thinking that the “Fountainhead” film would make an award-winning HI piece.)

On the other hand, our tab room was located in Lerner, which is very modern. Bernard Tschumi, the designer, is big on glass, and the whole place is bright and open and, frankly, terrifying. There are ramps switching back and forth up about 5 stories, and if you can negotiate these ramps, which border a tall open area from floor to ceiling, without a sense of vertigo, you have a stronger pudding in your belly than I. I took about one step down on the fifth floor and went screaming back into the stairwell. I have to admit, though, that the problem of open interior space is true of any building. The concept is great. I love the idea that a building isn’t just a block of rooms, especially if the building is in any way tall. Empty space in a building is somewhat exhilarating, which is why there is as much empty space as possible in cathedrals. But in cathedrals, we ponder that space from below. In modern buildings, we ponder that space from all perspectives. We take those elevators up your average Marriott and hold close to the walls as we pass from room to room. We don’t go anywhere near the rails unless we are absolutely fearless. We assume, incorrectly, that people are constantly falling off into the central well. I think the problem is the mix of glass and bright metals, which makes everything feel ephemeral and uncertain, compared to the rock of a cathedral—never underestimate the meaning of materials. I have certainly climbed up plenty of cathedral spires and back entrances and whatnot and never felt particularly insecure. But give me a glass expanse, and I’m in trouble, while nevertheless loving the idea of open interior space. Is this just me, or is this inherent to modern architecture? I don’t know.

Anyhow, the press on the Gem tournament has been almost completely positive. Who knew they had flex prep?! Anthony B went so far as to say it was a lot better than every other so-called bid tournament in the northeast, high praise indeed. (Who invited him, anyhow? I knew I should have dropped him that year at TOC!) From the debaters’ perspective, of course, now that I think about it, they had easy up and down times, since the two divisions alternated in the same rooms, which is always nice. Judges and debaters alike love a good couple of hours off between rounds. Too bad there were no hours off in tab. Then again, although I did lose a pair of gloves in a cab thanks to total discombobulated exhaustion, the Gem folks graciously gave me a gift of a new pair that was, honestly, a lot nicer than the pair I lost. Next year I’m going to lose Little Elvis and see if they buy me a new MacBook Air…

One of the minor events of Gem was the insertion of a ream of brochures into the packets, including a one-sheet for UPenn, scheduled for 10/25, the Manchester-Under-the-Sea weekend, aka the Regis CFL weekend. Whatever. As I remarked yesterday, it turns out that 10/25 is the Big Jake weekend, as I was reminded when I went to update my schedule online. This started, as you might imagine, some discussion between O’C and me about shoes and ships and sealing wax, and I’m not quite sure what the upshot will be. Is UPenn on the Jake or the Manch weekend? I gather their goal was the latter. In any case, next year’s calendar, like this year’s, is askew and hard to figure. Bump, for instance, went wildly off from where I expected it to land. And as is well known among the VCA, I’m not a big fan of dueling tournaments. On the other hand, I like the idea of complementary tournaments serving different aspects of the community at the same time, to wit most recently, the nice fit of Columbia and Emory, or the classic Manchester and local CFL, or Princeton and local MHL, etc. Something for everybody, in other words. Contrary to popular (AKA digressive) opinion, the world as a whole is only marginally interested in TOC bids and TOC-bid tournaments. But while two tournaments sharing a weekend can be a nice fit, three on a match means one soldier buys the farm. Which is why one needs to wear armor to those meetings where we try to lay out a schedule. I’m thinking that this year we’ll attempt this folly at Districts, or at least a first stab at it (primarily because I’m thinking of moving Districts next year, but more on that some other time). I’ll keep you posted.

Finally, I expect to either finish up the Goy of Districts or set up the new MHL printer tonight, followed the subsequent night by the other one, plus I need to set up the Newark MHL. Newark’s invitational is at good old East Side this year, which has as its chief virtue its location, i.e., on Van Buren. The streets in that part of Newark are all presidents, in order. If you know your history, you know where you’re going. I like that in a city. In Manhattan, if you know your numbers, you know where you’re going (most of the time). In my neck of the woods, the same streets often have two different names, or one name spelled two different ways, and your knowledge of the names of the women in the original contractor’s family is your best bet in finding your way around (turn left on Audrey, turn right on Louise and then go to the corner of Lorraine). Or maybe they were his fantasies. Whatever.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Coachean blog supplemental: It's Quakers v Wolverines

My mistake. Next year UPenn and Bronx NYC Invitational will share a weekend, not UPenn and Manchester-Under-the-Sea as previously reported. No doubt that would also be the perfect weekend for an MHL!

Facets of the Gem of Harlem

Columbia was hard work. We had two divisions of LD, which means entering and preparing a hundred ballots. On Saturday the divisions were staggered, which meant that when one went out, the next one came in. We did that at Yale one year with the same end result: no let-up in tab. Add to that at Gem that we did PF, a field of about 50, on yet some other schedule. 17 different rounds of something or other, simultaneously or staggered. I assure you I was simultaneously staggering throughout the weekend. I’m surprised we got anyone anywhere even remotely on time. Fortunately CP provided me with a great partner, his local District Chair, who wanted to gain some E-TRPC experience. How much experience he got on the program is problematic, but he certainly saw trench warfare at its finest.

We did have a schedule glitch, which caused us to update somewhere in the middle of things. For some reason, when this happens, people expect you to tell them personally, preferably with embossed type on the finest of stock, hand-delivered to their tub at the spa. The fact that you announce it in the auditorium doesn’t seem to be sufficient. “This was never announced,” they tell you, to which you respond, “Actually, it was, because I was there when they announced it,” to which is replied, “Well, you can’t expect us to be in the auditorium, which is your central clearing and ballot area where all information is distributed,” to which is replied, “Wouldn’t you be better off coaching your high school’s Future Ant Farmers of America team where you could do less harm to tomorrow’s youth?”

They need better locks on the tab room doors. At Columbia, and everywhere else. Who lets these people in, anyhow? And where was Vaughan when we needed him? He is sooooo good at explaining to people that their vacuity is not only not an excuse in the present case, but should be a prima facie rationale for why they should never be allowed to reproduce, as the world is simply not large enough to encompass a whole family of people as stupid as they are. All I could to is point them to CP and hope that a little JV has rubbed off on him over the years. As was clearly pointed out over the weekend, if there was a problem, it was CP’s fault. We tabbers are merely tools the instruments behind the scenes at a the tournament. As a tool instrument, I was completely unable to answer even the simplest question. And for your edification, here is, indeed, the simplest question (which someone really asked): "Are the speaker awards determined by speaker points?"

One problem we had was a serious plague of judges not picking up ballots, mostly in JV. Columbia was fining schools right and left, and giving ballots out to the hireds, who were there in great profusion, but at some point coaches (and this was almost inevitably coaches) need to take some responsibility for their side of a tournament. When everyone is held captive in the same building, as at a high school, where there’s no place to go, judges show up because, well, hell, what’s the alternative. In New York, the alternative would appear to be gallivanting around New York or soaking in that tub of spa mud. Or at least hiding out from the ballot table. It is, in a word, bad form. And to be honest, it tends to be repeat offenders. We know who you are!And why do parent judges think that their obligation ends when their interest in doing the job ends? And why do teams think that their judges can show up starting with round 2 when their teams inevitably show up starting with round 1? This makes for an interesting example of deontology v. consequentiality. If we make a general moral law that it is ok not to judge round 1, no one will feel a responsibility to do their obligated job. Or, if no one shows up to judge round one, we can’t conduct the round. Voila: the difference between Kant and Mill.

Meanwhile, my team managed to lose our buses for the weekend for some reason or other, which meant the Sailors were taking trains back and forth, no easy gig by any stretch of the imagination. Kudos to Termite’s dad who handled these arrangements. Given that we weren’t getting out of the tab room before midnight, we tools instruments were staying in the city. It was little enough sleep as it was. A train ride on top of it would have been the proverbial kiss of death. But even buses are problematic. Next year we’ll probably all stay in town. It will cost more, but that just means we have to sell more bean sandwiches at Bump.

Coming up this weekend is a nice, easy MHL. Small, dainty, compact, one-day. Then Scarsdale, where we have the Varsity judging the Novices, always a crowd-pleaser. Then a blessed weekend off. After which, it’s playoff season. Regionals, then CFL Grands, then Districts. Sharpen your brains, folks. The serious stuff is at hand.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Menick endorses Columbia. The debate world is shocked. Shocked.

I will spend the next few days recovering from the Gem of Harlem…

My history with Columbia goes back to the days when they used to run against Newark. They were, in fact, the operation that launched one of my earliest diatribes against outsourcing TOC bids. High school debate, in my experience, usually has something mostly to do with high schools. Colleges see an opportunity to support their college debate teams by lending the names of their prestigious institutes of higher learning to a fund-raiser of a high school tournament. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, and if you are a debate coach and are given the choice to either buy each member of your team a new iPod nano or send them to Harvard, it’s your budget, so do what you want. But at the point where there’s a conflict between high school and college venues, then in my mind there’s no conflict at all. In the olden days, on the Newark weekend, my team went to Newark. Columbia was banned.

Because there is a limited number of weekends to run a debate tournament, it is almost impossible to launch a new one in the busy northeast. We have a lot of debaters, and we have a lot of tournaments. We are lucky to have schools that are capable of managing annual events with good consistency. Most of these events, by the way, have nothing to do with TOC bids, so don’t go hiking your pants and furling your brow and spouting all that nonsense again. This full schedule (which includes invitationals of both TOC and non-TOC qualification status, MHLs and CFLs) means that if someone new comes along, there really isn’t anywhere for them to go. Over the years a handful of schools have tried to find a weekend, but haven’t been able to do so. Brandeis, Vassar, Brown and MIT come to mind, and I can speak to the first two as being driven by the best of motives (I simply have no idea about the latter two), but still, where are they supposed to go? They were stuck with either head-to-head or going before or after the major bulk of the season. Neither works, and needless to say, none of these are on the team schedule these days. Going forward, UPenn is apparently going up on Manchester weekend in 2008, which is also our CFL weekend. Long term forecast? Havoc. I’m sending UPenn my diatribe on the tragedy of the commons as soon as I write it.

But back to Columbia. For a number of years, as I say, they ran against Newark. No contest. Then they managed to find an open weekend somehow, because occasionally calendars open up, and probably the movement of Lakeland out of January was a factor, but at this point, they was already off my rotation. But some of the Sailors started going, because I certainly no longer banned them. When they were no longer in competition with the high school community, they could be given an opportunity to become honorary members of that community, as far as I could see. And keep in mind another factor undermining some college events, which is the lack of unified management year after year. Kids graduate, and new kids come along. There’s no real institutional memory, and chaotic problems apparently solved last year are entirely new albeit identical chaotic problems this year. And I’m not talking about tabbing here, I’m just generally talking tournament management, i.e., food, rooms, amenities, happy teams, happy judges, happy coaches, useful host students doing what needs to be done, etc. CP has taken on this function for both Yale and Columbia, and the benefits show. He is the theoretical adult on staff that the college students can look to for institutional memory (and I mean that he is theoretically on staff, not theoretically an adult). And this year, Columbia ran on the Emory weekend. If you ask me, this was a stroke of brilliance. Emory at best takes two of a school’s top LDers. That can leave an awful lot of good competition around the country not going to Emory. (Of course, if your team is absolutely crappy, and you have a chair, you will send your top two to Emory and they will perform quite crappily, so just going to Emory doesn’t make you necessarily good, although it is unquestionably a worthy octos bid year after year, so don’t get me wrong on that). And a lot of that good non-Emory competition was at Columbia. Maybe some of them were shopping for an easier bid. At finals? Good luck. When I printed the list of the top ten speakers I could see right there an impressive group of students, any of which would perform well at TOC (and most of them already have at least one bid). In other words, Columbia, in the best of ways, was a bloodbath; that is, the field was highly competitive. The choice of weekend was exactly right.

The other thing that is true of Columbia now is that their student management is both solid and built on growth. Matt, Caitlin, Alli—there’s a lot of experience and a lot of years of potential going forward with students who grew up in the high school environment and understand it and love it. There are no pirates here, no parasites on the high school community. And they understand that one thing that builds a good tournament is a good judging field, and the group of hireds this weekend was excellent. One of the great joys of tabbing is being able to put an A judge in every single bracketed round where someone is down one or two, which I was able to do, plus I even mostly (and once or twice completely) gave As to the undefeateds. Whew!

So, in the space of maybe five or six years, Columbia has gone from my banned list to my whole-hearted support list. Stay on the Emory weekend, keep CP running tab and registration, keep being managed by committed former high school debaters, keep getting those great judges, and they now deserve their own (well, their shared) weekend. In other words, Columbia is now officially back on the Sailors schedule.

I’ll talk about the weekend itself tomorrow. Suffice it to say that it was not without incident.

Friday, January 25, 2008

On moral relativism

I recommended Philosophy Bites recently, and was listening to an installment this morning that was worth mentioning, Simon Blackburn on moral relativism. What he says seems to apply to the occasional LD case.

It is not hard to think of examples of one culture believing something is morally correct, and another culture thinking that same thing is morally incorrect. For that matter, even within a culture, different people can view the same act as right or wrong, depending on a variety of criteria. But I’m more interested in the idea of cultural differences in morality at the moment because often resolutions encompass multiple cultures, and the differing moral viewpoints of cultures are called into play in peoples’ arguments. The problem is that people will argue that when there is a discrepancy in moral views, we must respect the other culture’s views, to which they have some sort of cultural entitlement. The relativist, in other words, claims that all cultural views are equally acceptable.

No one, of course, seriously believes this. But in certain circles, the truth of an argument, i.e., the acceptable reasonableness of a position, is beside the point.

But the issue goes further. Take female genital mutilation, for instance. Some cultures do claim that this is morally correct. Others find it morally repugnant. At the point where the cultures on both sides come into contact, then there is a conflict. If we were to take a morally relativist position, as Blackburn says, we would be unable to resolve the conflict, but the problem is, we have a serious issue that must be resolved. We can’t avoid it: We must resolve the conflict. We must find a satisfactory moral approach that transcends any cultural bias. This asks for a morality that transcends culture, and while it may be hard to determine such a morality, it does make sense to me that any conflict resolution between morally disparate cultures must transcend those cultures. At some point, some things are simply right or wrong, regardless of where you are. At the point where anything can be right and anything can be wrong, and it doesn’t matter what they are because where you are takes priority, then we have moral chaos.

The process of globalization is often vilified as the imposing of (usually Western) culture on other cultures. Certainly one impact of globalization is the spreading of the globalizing culture. Everyone around the world drinks Coke, eats at McDonalds and watches Jon Cruz Tom Cruise movies. There is certainly an impact of cultural leak, at the very least, from the globalizer to the globalizee. Often this is argued as cultural hegemony (bad if we want to maintain sovereign cultural integrity, good if we want to boss everyone else around). And so it is. Subjectively, the globalizer might like to think of itself as civilizing the savages, but imperialists always like to think that they are benefiting their wards. But changing a taste for crocodile steaks to a taste for Big Macs, while perhaps culturally damaging, is nonetheless morally neutral, or at worst, morally so-so. Morally suspect, but not really high up on the immorality hit parade. To a degree, this process just may be a fact of life (and, I hate to say it, go back and read your Old Baudleroo for more on the subject). Cultural studies seem to tell us that we are going to globalize whether we like it or not, at best holding on to a simulacrum of our original cultures. That is, Norway will no longer be Norway, it will be a Disneyfied Norway where Norway-ish materials create the illusion of it being Norway, but for all practical purposes, aside from the whale cutlets, you might as well be in Bayonne, New Jersey.

But serious questions of right and wrong are not addressed by glib analyses of cultures homogenizing, or of some neutral vision that everything every culture does is right because of an inherent warrant that cultures are entitled to do what they want because they are a culture. Culture is not a warrant for any action whatsoever. What the relativist tells us, even if the relativist does not agree with an action, is that because cultures are different, they will do these different things. True enough. But as an ethicist, and as a debater, one ought to seek more than just an obvious descriptive. One must look to prescriptive measures.

In other words, don’t tell me life sucks and walk away. Tell me life sucks, and give me some idea how to make it suck less.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What you won't hear on the Lexington podcast; Gem of Harlem update; how to make it feel like it's "daily" again

So I managed to record what appears to be an endless report of Lexington Tab ’08 last night, and uploaded it this morning, so it should soon appear in iTunes, and of course I did add it to my own podcast page. I realized as I was driving to the Day Job that I left out a couple of things. So I’ll supplement it here.

First, there was the Black Cloud Over Monticello. Sunday night I got back to my hotel room at a pretty reasonable hour. During the day various and sundry kept disappearing to watch some football game or other, and I didn’t give it much thought, and when I tucked myself in at my hotel I caught up on the Sunday Times (thank God for Starbucks, suppliers of caffeine, beans for trivia and real newspapers). Since it was unlikely that on this particular evening I’d have another series of conversations with the mother of my lost judge from the night before, I flipped on the TV when I was done, and remarkably enough, some football game or other was still happening. It was overtime. There was an incomplete pass, and then some guy kicked this really long field goal, and it was over. In other words, in about forty seconds I watched the Giants defeat Green Bay. Whatever. Of course, it wasn’t until next morning that the realization dawned, and I asked Sabrina about it. For those of you who have managed to live clean lives, I will tell you that Monticello’s Rose J-T is, to put it mildly, a Green Bay fan. Bart Favre is God. Every RJT tab room is plugged into the internet to get the latest scores; sometimes we have to settle for the Badgers, which I gather are like Green Bay only underground. Green Bay this, Green Bay that. For someone with my fine-tuned interest in football, this has been like attending a Star Wars convention where everyone knows all the names of all the soldiers in the clone army and you’re lucky if you can remember if Yoda is a Jedi or some kind of sushi. Anyhow, what I asked Sabrina was how this would affect the Monticello student body this week, given that RJT would no doubt be bringing a serious Black Cloud over the place. Sabrina’s reply was a nail-biting, “It’s midterm week, which means that instead of taking it out on the students, she’ll be taking it out on the teachers.” I think Sabrina was planning to take the rest of the year off. I do know for a fact that I will be hearing all about this in October when I return to Monti for the Kaiser. At least I’ll know how to find the place. The Black Cloud will still be hovering over the building.

Secondly, I left out the Miracle of the Burrito. This is a simpler tale. For no reason I could discern, a burrito magically appeared in my car after the tournament was over. My assumption was that everyone was given a burrito by the tournament as a sort of welcome gift, and I had simply not been paying attention. Nice touch. Maybe I’ll try something like it next year at Bump. And no, I did not eat the burrito.

Columbia is tomorrow, and so far all I can say is that the judging pool is seriously and ridiculously impressive. I can’t wait to get my hands on them. I only hope that the JV side is as dynamic as the varsity side. This can definitely be fun. According to CP, on the other hand, Pfffft has gotten so big that they will be moving off to the side somewhere, and I won’t get to tab that. Sigh. I like doing a lot of things at the same time. Still, I can’t complain. Two solid divisions are plenty. Plus there’s Scrabble, and polishing up Districts on Joy, and Link, and CP wants me to teach some Massachusetts schmegeggie the E-TRPC software, and a few other things to keep me out of mischief. I could even go out and coach my team—Wait a minute! Let’s not get carried away here.

WTF fans will have noticed that, contrary to my original expectations, they at least managed to publish an O’C Cogitates picture as big as the Ritz. I guess this means that my next Chump picture will similarly have to Alice in Wonderland itself up in size. Anyhow, if you still think the site ought to be a blog, as I do, rather than a mashup of NFL and Orbitz, go here: At least with this you can pretend it’s the good old days, while saving lots of wear and tear on your mouse.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A stuffed calendar; a podcast alert; a Caveman alert; a human resources quandary

As the saying goes, it’s either feast or famine. Sometimes it feels as if I haven’t done anything debate-ish in years, and then suddenly every weekend is chockfilled. The latter is the dominant feeling at the moment. First there was the bonus Regis tournament, a little one-dayer that ran with charmlike efficiency in that the only people screwed by tab were my own team. Then there was Lexington, 2 days of regular debate (although, to be honest, while I set up Varsity, in the event it was run by Kaz and JV, and the only time I looked over their shoulders, and only out of curiosity, was to watch the pairing of the bid round, to which one could only gasp and say “Ooh la la!” while Pete K from Lakeland, AKA the Enforcer, and I ran the novice side), followed by 2 days of RR, not to be confused with R&R, which means 4 days in the land of the ice and snow (which always makes me envision those stupid Viking cats, thank you very much, internet). And upcoming is the Gem of Harlem, which recruited me out of desperation since all their regulars they prefer are down in Emory and I was the best they could come up with. The inherent insult notwithstanding, I’m looking forward to it. Still, it’s 3 days, which means I’ll be glad to relax next weekend with nothing more than a wee sma’ MHL down in Newark. Then there’s Scarsdale. Then there’s a blessed weekend off (while the masochists among you are plodding through Harvard), then our first 4-round MHL, then the Lakeland/Regionals/MHL Bid-o-rama, then CFL Grands, then Districts, then bring out the golf clubs and I’ll see you guys next year, except for the Northeast Championships.

By the way, Lexington, as expected, was a cornucopia of forensic delights, and I will be outlining them in a TVFT podcast tonight. If you aren’t already a subscriber, this is your opportunity to sign up. If you are a subscriber, this is your opportunity to sign off. Whichever.

I’ve definitely decided to give the Caveman lectures again this spring if any of the Sailors are interested. We met last night in the middle of their midterms, which meant something of a skeleton crew. We kicked around some material from Lex, what was hot and what was not, and had the linchpin of our crack Extemp team (i.e., our sole extemper) yap at us about Russia for a while, and I realized that, aside from prepping the March-Apr LD topic and the Mar and Apr Pfffft topics, there isn’t much more to cover of a general nature. So something like Caveman makes sense. Tickets are available at if you’re interested in joining us. This will give me a chance to slightly revise it and, at the same time, illustrate it. Look for a new pdf before the end of the year. Those who have been putting off reading it can now, at the very least, look at the pictures.

And something tells me there’s going to be a run on Coachean blog posts, now that WTF has abandoned the concept. I am seriously considering hiring Herman to be my factotum, because somebody has to totum the facs around here. If nothing else, I can put him to good use looking up Scrabulous words for me (I am tanking in all but a few of my million games). Of course, then I’ll have to hire O’C so he’ll have someplace to put his $5K postings where someone can read them. But the Chump, who is already on staff, bristles at the idea of hiring his competition. Maybe I should leave it to the VCA. Which should I publish? Ask Cruz or Stump the Chump? Which one is more relevant to the world we live it? Which one speaks to your inner debater? Which one has the dumber photograph? I’ll leave it to you to decide. Send your answer, and a twenty dollar bill, to my house, and if I make enough money, I’ll tell you who won.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A troubled missive for troubled times

I can’t say that I’m surprised to hear from my old correspondent (formerly) at WTF in these trying times. I’m also not surprised that George W. Bush is blaming the ongoing international stock market collapse directly on the redesign of the WTF website. But I’ll let Herman’s eloquent letter speak for itself:

Dear Mr. Menick:

I am not fine. Are you?

As you may imagine, things here at the Institute for Better Living Through Oral Critiques are in turmoil. Now that we have eliminated our daily blog, there simply is nothing for any of us to do. It used to be we ran a tournament in January and a summer camp in Summary, and in between we cooked evidence and sold it to teams unable to afford their own college mascots. But our chief activity, regardless of all else, was maintaining our blog. And, as you no doubt know, our blog is no more.

I know, I know. You pointed out to us even at our last iteration on the web that the blog material that everyone came to our site for was slowly disappearing. Instead of having an endless flow of blog entries, we had cut it down to a mere handful. We replied by telling you it was for your own good. But, in the immortal words of that Haze woman, lo and behold, not only were you prescient, adding greatly to your already solid reputation of being both scient and postscient, but you were the first to realize that the elusive concept of slippery slope, hitherto a logical fallacy, would eventually be proven to be true! Our present website has no blog at all! It has gone where the goblins go, below, below, below…

I am dumb and struck, and no doubt so are you.

I am writing you now because, obviously, there is no need to continue my employment here at the Orbitz Forensic League. I would have applied to the Rippin’ Forensic League, but their website and our website are now identical (except they have more flashing icons, although I understand we intend to counter with pirated background music, most probably an mp3 of “I Want to be Sedated,” a real favorite here in the hills of wtfia). If there’s no use for me here, it stands to reason that there is no use for me there. So, I was wondering if you might have any use for me where you are, which is neither here nor there. My credentials, while peccable, are not completely disastrous. Over the years I worked my way up the ladder here at Defeat Longjohns, and I know that I could do the same for you. As sole proprietor and supplier of a fully operational blog with entries all the time that look like blog entries, some of which are even relevant, you must have need of a gofer, a factotum, a polymath, a halfway decent golf caddy and the possessor of a Wii game that I might let you use if you behave yourself. You would have to fly me across the country to join you, however. I would be willing to give up my window seat if that would make any difference.

Mr. Menick, I can only say one thing: HELP!!! You always said that you thought the Hell in a Handbasket site was improving and doing a good job as a central clearing house for debate information, but now that they have abdicated that role, YOU MUST TAKE THAT ROLE ON YOURSELF. And, of course, hire me to help you. The good news is that I come extremely cheap. As a matter of fact, given that Voldemort’s Briefs never once gave me a nickel no matter how much work I did, any offer you make is sure to be accepted.

Faithfully yours,

Herman Melville
Unemployed Myrmidon

Saturday, January 19, 2008

How they brought the lesbians to Port Chester

This is the way my mother told the story Thursday night.

It was back in the 1930s. Lives that were lived in anything other than the traditional heterosexual model were lived in secret. Gays kept their sexual orientation to themselves; there was no advertising your “interests” in Facebook. There was little if any crossing of the boundaries between the apple pie heterosexual world and, at least to the heteros, the hidden, shadowy gay world. Society not only did its best to make certain people disappear; it acted as if they didn’t exist at all. If you were gay, you kept this knowledge to yourself. If you weren’t gay, you had little idea of what a gay life was like.

My grandfather ran a bar/restaurant in Port Chester, New York—more of a bar than a restaurant, if the truth be told. Everyone in his family had a job; there was no goofing off in my grandfather’s world. My uncle, who was in medical school, apparently read anatomy books while tending bar. My father, who was in high school, was a singing waiter.

Apparently it was my grandfather who, in the apocrypha of my family, officially brought the first lesbian to Port Chester. There was entertainment in his bar/restaurant. He hired a woman my mother called Frenchy, who had a very Dietrich approach to life. She was a singer, and she performed in a man’s tuxedo. And her partner was the other half of the entertainment package. While Frenchy sang, her girlfriend danced around the room on roller skates.

Entertainment wasn’t always exactly A list in the 1930s.

Frenchy and her girlfriend were a big hit in my grandfather’s bar. So much so that when my father’s high school was looking for some entertainment for a show of some sort they were putting on, my father suggested that Frenchy would make the perfect choice. And the next thing you knew, Frenchy was singing in her tuxedo and her girlfriend was roller skating to the music at Port Chester High School. The principal of PCHS, keeping his hand in school affairs, showed up for the performance, and hit the roof. It is unclear whether he was aware of Frenchy because of previous exposure at my grandfather’s bar, or whether he had in his own adventures run into her in one of the darker corners of Manhattan, where Frenchy originally came from, or whether he simply had a fine-tuned sense of sexual identity, and he knew a lesbian act when he saw one, even if it was for the first time. Regardless, the principal immediately expelled Frenchy and her skating partner from the school, in such a noticeable fashion that the event was recorded on the front page of the local newspaper, the Daily Item. I do not know what the headline read—”Lesbians Invade Port Chester High School” is unlikely, given the euphemistic nature of the times—but in any case, the event was something of a cause celebre. Port Chester hadn’t seen anything like this in years.

Surprisingly enough, Frenchy and her partner were not particularly shaken by this less than enthusiastic reception by the local academic establishment. In fact, they fell in love with the area, and shortly after these events, they moved into Port Chester and became among its most famous and productive residents. They did this, according to my mother, by opening a brothel. It was in a vast victorian on the top of a hill overlooking the Italian neighborhood where my grandfather’s restaurant/bar was located, and it catered to all tastes. Again according to my mother, the local police force were among the most satisfied customers, assuring the longevity of the enterprise. In fact, it survived into the fifties, when it burned down, thus putting Frenchy and her partner into retirement. I remember well when the town’s most famous brothel burned down. Even though I was still a kid, and had no idea exactly what people were talking about, there was no question that they were talking about something special. Now, all these years later, I finally know what, exactly, was special about it.

And that’s how the Menicks officially brought the first lesbians to Port Chester. According to my mother, the worst of it was that when she and my father were out and about in town, grocery shopping or whatever, she never knew when they might turn a corner and there would be Frenchy, the town’s premier madam, who would espy my father and let out with a big welcome, saying, “Hello, Frankie,” and giving him a big hug. For some reason, my mother always found this just a little too much, even for the Menicks.

There is no doubt in my mind that every word of this story is more or less true.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Coachean blog supplemental: A Stumper Bonus!

Just in time for Bigle X, it’s the STUMP THE CHUMP BIRTHDAY EDITION.

Dear Chump:
It’s nowhere near the Chump’s birthday, so why is this the birthday edition?

Dear Beef:
It’s close enough.
The Chump

Dear Chump:
What is the Chump’s favorite television show?
Addicted to American Idol

Dear American Idler:
The Chump watches TV 24/7. Among his favorite shows are “Saved by the Bell: The Rhodes Scholar Years,” “William Shatner: Behind the Music,” “Rachael Ray, Far Away (as Far Away as Possible),” “Queer Eye for the French Postmodernist Philosopher,” pay-for-view wrestling (hi-def only), Green Bay Packers games (whatever they are), Nietzsche und die Verr├╝ckt Hausfraus (to practice his German), and Creflo Dollar.
The Chump

Dear Chump:
What are the Chump’s debate credentials?
Elmer from Homeland Security

Dear Elm:
The Chump has earned a degree in karate from the Mr. Sun Number One School of Mooning, an honorable discharge from the Imperial Clone Army, holds the Dick Cheney chair of applied ethics at Great Neck University of the Arts, Sciences and Implied Insults, and is a recent subscriber to the large-type edition of the Reader’s Digest. His team of crack scientologists have won such awards as the Tom Cruise Medal of Logical Positivism, first, second, third and fourth place in the Everyone’s-A-Winner Self-Esteem-Building I-Love-Me-So-Why-Don’t-You Marathon, three Nobel Prizes (for peace, economics and home-cooking) and a variety of indulgences from the Vatican, the Kremlin and Mike Bietz.
The Chump

Dear Chump:
Did the Chump ever win a debate tournament?
Delve Deeper

Dear Delve:
Mind your own #&%@ business.
The Chump

Dear Chump:
How much would the Chump pay for a real starship cruiser (not a model) in pristine condition? All it needs are some spark plugs, a couple of tires, a new pair of dilithium crystals and a jump start.
Cyrano Jones

Dear Cyrano:
The Chump refuses to play your silly game. Everyone knows that a real starship cruiser requires two pairs of dilithium crystals. Go back to your tribbles where you belong!
The Chump

Dear Chump:
When is the Chump planning on leaving the Bronx for a school in the United States?
Red State Nate

Dear Red:
The Chump plans on remaining at the Bronx Home for Reclaimed Scientologists until his school has more NFL points that Hillary Clinton has ambition.
The Chump

Dear Chump:
Will the Chump be at Lexington this year?
A Mass Piker

Dear Piker:
Although he has been declared a useless judge by the software, the TRPC software, Microsoft Office, Doom, Donkey Kong and the Supreme Court, the Chump plans to only take as many rounds off as he can, claiming that he has to handle bureaucratic chores and keep up with his flossing.
The Chump

Dear Chump:
Will your negative attitude about Chumping know no boundaries?
A Bounder

Dear Bounder:
The Chump knows no nos. Everyone knows that, nu? No? Na’ah.
The Chump

Philosophy bites, and the IP debate comes parlously close to home

Philosophy Bites is not a criticism, but the name of a podcast that I highly recommend. They have a blog, ( and of course they’re available on iTunes for subscription. If you doubt the value of podcasting, then ask yourself when was the last time you heard anyone discuss Wittgenstein on your local classic rock station (although, as everyone knows, “Stairway to Heaven” was heavily influenced by the old logikmeister).

A number of people have already attempted to console me over the upcoming demise of Scrabulous, which is, as the VCA can easily understand, an interesting subject for me. I have written often and rather sternly about the concept of intellectual property. I tend to believe that if I create something, and am so inclined, I ought to be able to profit from the fruit of my labors. Herr Marx might have believed that dialectic materialism meant eliminating private property, but personally I’m a firm believer in having my own stuff, and I don’t draw the line at material goods. If I own a tree that bears a lot of fruit, you are not entitled to the fruit just because you would like some fruit, even if that fruit is tantalizingly close at hand. You can easily reach over and grab an apple. That does not mean it is right for you to do so. I apply that same logic to intellectual property. My previous arguments have all been regarding music. Just because it is easy to appropriate music via the internet does not make it an ethically correct action. Assume that a musician wishes to be paid for work. I can freely choose not to buy that musician’s work if I have some objection to paying for it, but I can not freely choose to steal it. The ethical Lockean property aspects are my reasoning for this, but the obvious outcome of artists creating and people not paying is that eventually artists will starve to death and there won’t be any art, or in other words, we’re going to be awfully disappointed when there’s no more new music to put on our iPods, so there’s consequences to this stealing of art in addition to its deontological immorality. Scrabulous, which is nothing more than a Facebook version of Scrabble, absolutely fits into the pattern of intellectual property theft. The owners of the intellectual property known as Scrabble have a right to that property until such time as that right expires in the marketplace according to the given rules of law on such things. Agree or disagree with those laws, and plenty of people disagree with the (literal) Mickey Mouse extensions on IP that seem to be stretching to infinity, that doesn’t mean you are free to break them. Even you Pffffters this month are not claiming on the con that civil disobedience is justified in the fight for more free stuff for your iPods. So there’s little question that Scrabulous infringes on the rights of the owners of the IP known as Scrabble.

But here’s the problem. Everything I’ve said about the ethics of the situation notwithstanding, the solution is not the blocking of Scrabulous. Scrabble, like most corporate entities no doubt represented by lawyers who have their secretaries print out their email for them, or, like Ted Kennedy, claim that someone sent them an internet last week, simply don’t get it. No, I’m not recommending that they allow freebooters to purloin the fruits of their intellectual labors, but the canny corporation ought to be able to see a little further than the mere theft of IP. I would venture a guess that Scrabulous has made the rather musty game of Scrabble way more popular than it was three months ago. I haven’t played Scrabble in years, and Scrabulous had me digging out my game and bringing it to Regis. How many other people will dig up their old games, or better yet from Scrabble’s point of view, buy new ones, as a result of the popularity of Scrabulous? Scrabble seems to be making the same mistake that all corporations make when confronted by new technologies. They don’t understand them, so they simply try to make them go away.

Let’s face it. The Scrabulous guys don’t have a leg to stand on in this situation. So what should Scrabble do? Settle. Quietly, out of court. We need not know officially what happened. And the end result? Scrabulous will be owned by Scrabble. It will not go away. The Scrabulous guys will be paid off handsomely, and the Scrabble people will have the best thing that’s happened to them since the invention of the two-letter word starting with X. By some incredible twist of fate, and thanks to Scrabulous, musty old Scrabble has become a hip Web 2.0 application. Scrabble can either take this ball and run with it, or become musty old Scrabble again. And the lesson here applies to numerous companies. The best thing that ever happened to Comcast was the redistribution of Comedy Channel shows on YouTube, making this material way more popular than it had been and directing people to watch the shows on TV. Comcast pulled the content. They lost the best free advertisement they could have ever prayed for. Sure, there need to be some limits consistent with IP ownership, but at the point where corporations pointedly pull back from the real power of the internet, that nebulous ability to make things popular in ways you weren’t expecting, then all the corporate concentration on “maximizing their digital position” and the like are the empty idiocy that they sound like. The problem is not that the lunatics are running the asylums; the problem is that the psychiatrists running the asylums don’t know the difference between lunacy and brilliance.

And, oh yeah, if they take away Scrabulous, my life will just be an empty shell. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On the morality of contracts

It appears that contracts are to law what genes are to organic life. They are everywhere, and on face they are very simple, while in reality their complexity will keep you busy until they light that final match underneath you in the crematorium. Via a contract, two parties make an agreement of some sort. Practically speaking, almost every human contact every single day is subject to some sort of agreement, and therefore some sort of contract, either real or implied. That is, when I get on the bus in the morning, I don’t have a signed piece of paper from the driver representing the bus company promising that I will be taken to the posted destination, but that agreement is clearly implied by the bus pulling up at my stop with the name of my destination on its window. On the other hand, when I hire someone to do repairs on my house, I almost always have a signed agreement clearly enumerating what they’re going to do and how much I am going to pay for it. There are times when I hire someone to do a repair, however, and there is no signed contract in advance. But the same rules apply. Joe Fixit shows up and fixes it, and I pay him for the repairs; inherent in this arrangement is a trust that he is doing the fixing, charging me fairly for it, and that I will pay those charges.

All of this seems fairly straightforward, but it isn’t. The thing is, as you imagine a paradigm of what a contract is, that agreement between two parties, you can go batty dreaming up examples that twist and turn the concept all over the place. If it is true that practically every single human contact every single day is subject to some sort of construable contractual agreement, then theoretically one could attempt to define almost all of life as a series of contracts, subject to contract law. And since the paradigm is simple but the practicalities are endlessly infinite, contract law—the analysis and practice and enforcement of contracts—must inevitably be some sort of seriously complex puppy. And it is.

Because the paradigm of a contract is simple to understand, and because we engage in contractual activities on a regular and constant basis, we don’t need to be lawyers to have a basic understanding of what contracts are all about. Obviously, if we are participants in so many of them, we must at least be able to intuitively master their complexities, since we are doing so regularly, in all their different guises. Similarly, we may not know exactly how lungs work, but since we breathe on a regular basis, we can least intuit the concept. The human brain is very good at figuring things out even when it doesn’t literally understand them. We all navigate through life more or less successfully without having to be fully versed in psychology or physiology or sociology. Our instincts get us where we’re going pretty well, for the most part. Our failures often tend not to be from lack of understanding of the mechanisms, but from a failure of the mechanisms. In other words, people are pretty good at living their lives: most of them do it almost every day.

So, contracts are, in a way, the DNA of all of our arrangements with one another, and we all tend to negotiate this arena successfully enough without giving it much thought. In political philosophy, we use the concept of a contract to understand our relationship with the State or Society or Government through which we conduct many of our affairs. We say that, as individuals, we have a tacit contract with our society. We agree to do certain things, and our society (usually meaning our active body of government) agrees to do certain things, which is, needless to say, the basic definition of what a contract is. This concept, and the material explaining this concept, is an appropriate starting point for philosophy in Lincoln-Douglas because it is often germane to our resolutions which regularly compare and contrast the roles of the individual and society, especially when they are in conflict. That the material is easy to understand because it to some degree explains and expounds on what we know already, is an extra bonus when it comes to introducing such material to newcomers to the field.

So the concept of social contract as a starting point for political philosophy is both useful in LD and accessible by its very nature, because we already intuit much about contracts before we, literally, study contracts. Which makes this material at once accessible but at the same time dangerous. The problem is that, as we can intuit the basic paradigm of contract, we can also intuit flaws in various practical applications of the paradigm, or just as easily get lost in all the thorns of that particular legal briar patch. It is easy to base an analysis of justice on the social contract, and then make various claims about the nature of contracts that are either totally absurd on face, and easily intuited as such, or totally false in practice, and much harder to determine as such, to the same degree that if the claim is not false, it is hard to prove. That is, either we know in our guts that someone is making a true or false claim, or we have no idea and no way of knowing truth or falsity because we don’t have the legal experience and training to figure it out. These are the two dangers of “running” contract arguments. You can trap yourself into a corner that no one will accept intuitively no matter what you say, or you can trap yourself into a corner of no one knowing in any way, shape or form whether to accept what you are saying. The result of the latter is, at least, a chance that an adjudicator will accept your position, but I have always maintained that the more complex an argument becomes, the less convincing it becomes, at least in oral presentation. So, running contract arguments may lead you into more trouble than you are willing to accept. Therefore, you need to be careful about what claims you make, and how you make them.

I would suggest, obviously, a simplicity of claim that would stand the test of intuition. The closer one stays to the basic paradigm of agreement between two parties, with little or no icing on the metaphorical cake, the better one is. One path that seems to me extremely dangerous is the path that claims that, inherently, all contracts are moral and proper. This is, at the very least, not intuitive. I would add that it is also not true, but I’m not willing at the moment to make the argument to support that claim. But intuitively? Yeah, because I just don’t need to make that much of an argument. You might say that intuitive responses are somehow flawed, but much about philosophy and ethics is based on intuition (and rightly so if the literature on the intuitive moral sense holds up in the coming years). One thing that is inarguably based often on intuition is the granting of a win or loss in an LD round, and the assignment of points. So if you make an argument that is counterintuitive, and do nothing to clear up the counterintuitiveness, you could be in trouble. And, as I say, the claim that contracts are inherently moral or just is that kind of counterintuitive claim. As I said at the top, practically speaking, almost every human contact every single day is subject to some sort of agreement, and therefore some sort of contract, either real or implied. We are, as a result, all experts on the subject. And we know, intuitively at the very least, that a contract to do something that is by some certifiable measure wrong, is not a moral contract. A contract to sell child pornography, for instance, is not inherently moral. A contract to kill someone for money is not inherently moral. A contract agreement to commit terrorist acts against civilians in order to extort money from a government is not inherently moral. The simple agreement of two parties on a contractual basis does not impart morality to the agreement. A promise is not a moral trump card, prioritized over all other moral concerns. Whether any claim of morality at any level can be made for a contract is open to discussion, but that claim that the nature of the contract is invisible in the weighing of its rightness or wrongness is not. And the point is, anyone before whom you try to make such an argument has a lifetime of intuitive disbelief working against you.

Of course, this doesn’t stop people from making the argument. They will make it on the present topic, claiming that the bond between the US and its citizens is a moral connection trumping all other moral concerns. I’m not saying that bond is not important, and I’m not saying it’s not meaningful. But if your definition of morality begins and ends with a promise to do something, I don’t think your definition of morality is sufficient to the subject. And, perhaps more importantly in a round, I doubt if your judge will think so either.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Coachean blog supplemental: I need air

If you don't want one, go find some other blog.

It's Jujube time; useless judges; rippin' into the Goy; I just flew in from Emory and boy are my arms tired

My guess is that the writing I do on art is akin to the part of the Marx Brothers movie where the comedy stops and Harpo and Chico play the harp and piano respectively, and anyone with a brain in their head goes out and buys some popcorn or goes to the bathroom until it’s over. But still, I enjoy doing it. Someday I will walk into a museum and exclaim, “Now that’s a pile of dirt!” But until that time, I need to keep sorting out what makes one pile of dirt a work of art and another a reason to call the custodian and tell him to bring up a mop. If you choose to join me on these journeys, I’m glad for the company. If not, well, it’s not as if you’re paying me or anything, so suck it up, you spalpeen. After all, if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t even know there was such a word as spalpeen, so take your benefits where you find them.

For reasons that I don’t yet understand, although I have a glimmer, a handful of judges at Lex were marked by CP’s program as useless. Now, I’m the first one to remark, casually or otherwise within the confines of a tab room, that so-and-so’s value in a judging pool is analogous to [you know the drill, sports fans], but to have a program that can detect this in advance? Now that’s a major leap forward in computer technology. I suspect the problem is some back-end juggling of judges from one pool to another to build up Friday’s LD, but I’ll let CP sort it out. I like to consider myself the debugger who officially beats up his program so that he can make it perfect. My guess is that he has a different opinion completely, especially when I write up my continuing saga here.

I spent last night prepping the Goy for Districts, which at this stage is simply setting off activities/divisions and posting pages and stuff, all that general time-suck business that goes with running any tournament. Having never used Goy in the past means something of a learning curve, but it’s not particularly difficult. Most busy work isn’t, but you’ve got to do it and there’s not much satisfaction in it. Certainly this has to be better than prepping for Districts without the Goy. I have alerted the local troops that the tournament is a go in March at Scarsdale, and I have officially added Impromptu (although my personal inclination would be to also add a trivia contest, but I’d be too busy during the tournament to run it, so what’s the point). I just hope that people are entering their little Rippin’ points like they’re supposed to. I can’t make this happen if everyone else doesn’t make it happen. (Which reminds me, I need to enter points for last Saturday. Hold on a second.)

(Okay. I’m back.) We’re not going to get building privileges long enough for 4 rounds at Newark, so when I get a chance I’ll just send out an announcement that registration is open, business as usual, and have done with it. Part of our discussions about this for CFL included closing registration at the tournament at 9:00 and requiring phone-in updates that morning from all comers. We also agreed that someone other than the people tabbing would do the opening fandango, which makes great sense, as that easily costs us half an hour. Granted that I love to hear myself talk, and therefore love to hear myself open the proceedings, but I also love to get home at a decent hour. I will write up some humorous material for whoever is filling in for me. Maybe O’C. He could use some humorous material in his ceremonial speeches. Speaking of which, JV tapped him to work with me at Scarsdale since Kaz won’t be around. Putting me and O’C into a tab room together means fist fights over disk 11 of the Howard the Duck saga, the blasting of the soundtrack of “It’s a Small World,” and mystifying wandering-off sessions that astound as they baffle. I’m looking forward to it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

This is not an art essay

I want to tell a story...

I think my problem with art is that I’ve been approaching the subject from an aesthetic point of view. As any number of relativists would tell me, my approach to a work of art to a great degree determines my response. I measure the pile of dirt on the floor according to the same criteria I measure a Monet painting. By those criteria, it is not surprising the pile of dirt does not do the job for me.

It may boil down to my looking at all art as if it were painting, or at least measuring all art by the same criteria I use to measure painting. Which, when I think about it, is rather surprising, in that my exposure to Fine Arts is come-lately, compared to my exposure to literature and music. Or maybe it’s not surprising, because the come-lately aspect has been limiting my vision. I don’t know enough yet, and I don’t even know what I don’t know.

Literature may be an easier way into this analysis. As a reader, I approach a given book on the terms of that book. I know the difference between simple entertainment and an attempt by an author to do something else. And in the area of that “something else,” I know the difference between, on the one hand, writing that is mellifluous and poetic, words strung together in such a way that they celebrate the stringing together of words, of the joy of words, the joy of language, and on the other hand, writing that is attempting to explore human nature, expand my experience, touch my soul. This is not to say that some books can do both, but the wordplay that teems in Nabokov is not the same as the explorations of humanity in Dostoevsky. The two writers are doing different things, aiming at different goals. When I read Nabokov, or other wordsmiths, I am reading on that level. When I am reading Dostoevsky, I am reading at that level. Dickens may be one of the great (and few) examples of doing both. Melville is a great example of trying to do both, and ending up doing both alternately (and also providing lots of simple entertainment, in his time and place). My point here is that sometimes there is writing to appeal to me aesthetically, and sometimes there is writing to appeal to me intellectually. They may or may not overlap, intentionally or unintentionally, but I clearly and easily know the difference. After all, I’ve been trained to read practically since birth, I’ve studied reading throughout my entire academic life, and taken up reading as a profession. If I can’t do it by now, I need to change the Day Job.

So what I’ve been doing in evaluating art is evaluating it entirely on the aesthetic level. I like the way something looks, or I don’t. The philosopher would go into great detail about what that means, but I won’t, because you and I probably both have the same general idea without a lot of heigh-dee-ho. (If you care, I do follow Kant on this, but I can’t for the life of me remember exactly what he says. Do we need to define clearly what aesthetic sense is and how it works, when we all know intuitively what it is and how it works? Unlike Kant, we’re not being paid by the hour.) But the modernist movement in painting, and from there art in general, was a move away from aethestic appeal into works of an intellectual nature. Metaphorically, the artist was no longer attempting to connect with my heart; the target became the brain. Art became not a thing in and of itself, aesthetically pleasing or not aesthetically pleasing, but it was now about something. About the artist’s journey into his or her own soul or vision, about the state of art, about the state of the world in general. Andy Warhol’s painting of a can of Campbell’s soup is not about a can of soup, but about the nature of art. Interpret it as you will, and theoretically its success or failure as a work of art is measurable to some degree on how well it is interpreted in line with the artist’s purpose, which we may or may not know. (No wonder much art criticism reads like random typing.) Baudrillard tells us that this painting is about the breakdown of the difference between art and commerce. Maybe. Or it could be about a breakdown between artificial and intended aesthetics. There’s lots of ways of looking at it.

The pile of dirt is a clearer example of…something. When I say pile of dirt, I am not speaking metaphorically. Aesthetically speaking, the work is mute. Intellectually speaking? Well, it got me to write this, didn’t it?


And so ends our little story.

The problem with the thesis presented above, that painting/art has migrated from aesthetic appeal to intellectual appeal, is that it completely misrepresents both the aesthetic appeal of painting and the historical place of painting in intellectual life prior to (arguably) Fountain in 1917 (or whatever other point you want to draw the line between modern and pre-modern). Painting/art wasn’t at one time entirely intended to make you feel good, to appeal to your aesthetic sense, and then evolved or switched over into something else. Art is rooted in intellectual ground. Art has historically always had something to say. The fact that some art has done so in an aesthetically pleasing way is, perhaps, merely coincidental.

As Caveman points out, the history of art is a history of narrative. Art exists because the artist has something to say. In painting, what the artist has had to say was usually pretty obvious. Since the nature of being an artist required money and training, artists had no choice but to go where that money and training was, which was to a great degree the state. That is, there was for centuries and in various locations the idea that most art was funded by the state, either in the guise of the literal government of the state, the patronage of the rich people of the state, or the religious establishment of the state. Few artists worked as private operatives. The messages made by this art were, to a great degree, the messages of the state. What do we see in surviving ancient Egyptian art? Pharaohs and tomb paintings and the tschotkes of the rich and famous. With Greeks and Romans it’s gods and goddesses and emperors. What do we see in pre-Renaissance and Renaissance art? Church decorations. Paintings of bible stories. Art that tells the story of religion. In 19th Century France, the art that the Impressionists were reacting to was art that was directed to tell a story of historical/moral significance. Art was, by social definition, instructive. And given the machinery of creating art—being trained, obtaining materials and making a living at it—the social definition ruled. There was no one to buy art who wasn’t a part of the society defining what art was, whether a part of the rich or the powerful (included in which is the capital C Church).

Then, for a variety of reasons, including the underlying intellectual strains of the Romantic age celebrating the individual, the rise of the middle class, the invention of photography—all manner of things on all manner of fronts, painting began a revolution. The evolution of art (compare the portraits of the 15th Century to the portraits of the 19th Century) was reaching its teleological conclusion, both in its own abilities and in the challenge of photography (which would ultimately replace the need for realistic representations of what could simply be photographed). Art, or at least some art, was taken back by the artists, and was for sale to the people at large. Art no longer had to tie into the cultural metanarrative. Whether it did or didn’t would be entirely up to the artists and the people who chose what art to buy. One could that that this was true for all art forms, for roughly the same reasons, and be relatively correct. The tides of romanticism and, later, modernism, affected sculpture and writing and music just as much as painting. And to a great extent, all art forms made that same perceived leap from aestheticism into intellectualism. This is not to say that all artists made the leap, but that the ones that seemed to get all the interest did. Since “all the interest” means, to a great extent, critics and curators and others in a position of power over art or whose power depended on art, we might withhold judgment on the value of this interest. In other words, just because a critic or curator says a pile of dirt is good art doesn’t objectively make it good art, which raises the question, what, then, is objectively good in art?

Objective analysis of art is where we are on firm ground aesthetically. Or at least less unfirm ground. We have rules about aesthetics. Granted that these rules are not quite immutable physical laws (although one or two come close), they at least quantify aspects of art in such a way as to allow a qualitative analysis. That is, if there is a great enough quantity of these aspects, we say that the quality is higher than a work with a smaller quantity of these aspects. We have rules purely for beauty, expressible in the so-called Golden Mean. We go so far as to look at a person and make a judgment about their beauty, so it is no trouble for us to make judgments about paintings. We have rules for composition and perspective. In music, we have rules for harmonics. (The musical rules, where Western scales are radically different from Eastern scales, lead one to ask which came first, the rules or the music, for which there is no answer. There is no answer whether the Golden Mean determines a face we think is beautiful, or whether a face we think is beautiful determines the Golden Mean. For that matter, lately there’s been interesting discussion going on in popular analysis of physics asking, even there, which comes first, the laws or the mechanics.) The thing is that, culturally, we generally agree on aesthetics. I do not think that, culturally, we generally agree on intellectual ideas. So we can, as a culture, say certain art is good aesthetically, and all go line up to see it in a museum, but we are much less likely to get a clambake going when the art is not meeting aesthetic guidelines. Or, let’s put it this way. You can’t swing a cat in the Metropolitan Museum on a Saturday, not no-how, while you could have a Patriots game up at the Dia in Beacon, with room left over for the Giants and Green Bay to boot. And that crowd at the Met is your general hoi and polloi, while that crowd at the Dia all looks like renegades from Tribeca, and you get extra point if you spot any of them wearing anything but black. Similarly, no doubt the crowds attending classical concerts are a lot bigger for Beethoven than for Cage, or at least there’s a lot more Beethoven concerts than Cage concerts. And there’s probably a comparable metaphor for the nature of the different audience to the one I drew for the art museums.

My point, if I have any, is that art, and art appreciation, exists on a continuum. Some art is rather easy to understand, and some is rather difficult, and beyond understanding, some is rather easy to claim as “good” while some is rather impossible to make any value claim for whatsoever, unless you are part of the art establishment who has no choice but to make such a claim. Baudrillard’s essay is discusses a conspiracy of art for a reason, because at the point where we have no quantifiable methods of making quality judgments, the quality judgment is sent down from on high, a conspiracy of collectors and critics and curators and those claiming to be artists, all of which may be totally unintelligible to the average schmegeggie on the street. For any of us to learn about art, we need to actually learn about it. I find that lately I’m learning about it like crazy, mostly because I want to. Which brings me to the suggestion that I hope you want to as well. The educated person is not merely someone who knows their parochial set of facts and leaves it at that. That’s technical training, regardless of the nature of the parish. If artists have something to say, if artists have had something to say, if artists will have something to say, and if we believe that artists have a special voice, or at least if we allow, as a culture, artists to have a special voice, then as participants in that culture it behooves us to attempt to listen. The narrower we are as individuals, the less individual we actually are. The more we know, the better. Given art’s special place in culture, knowing more rather than less about art has to be a good, beneficial thing.

What I’m trying to do here is look at stuff and talk about it, out of some fear that you might not be exposed to it elsewhere. My interest in this proselytizing started with the Caveman analysis of modern thought. All of modern thought is connected. All thought exists in its time and place, both in the past and in the present. The more you know about any of it, the more you know about all of it. Elvis concerts, via the film 2001, used to begin with the strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” Elvis, somehow, meets Nietzsche. And Kubrick/Clarke. And Richard Strauss. Somehow all of our culture comes to its apotheosis on the stage of the Las Vegas Hilton!

Makes you really want to qualify for NatNats in Sin City this year, doesn’t it?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday, sweet Sunday, with nothing to do: a pot pourri

Forgive me an uncharacteristic weekend post, but:

Pinker wrote about the moral instinct in today's Times.

O'C is wearing an apron in his new Facebook picture, thus sanctioning my apron picture as the beginning of a craze that will only end when Hillary Clinton starts baking cookies again. Gentlemen, start your ovens!

Coachean Life is no longer a part of the under-construction Debaternation, which is like consternation, in that neither and/or both are cured by Ex-Lax. I hope that the WTF crew will keep that hard hat handy when they go live. Something tells me they're going to need it.

I tab-errored two people on my own team at Regis Saturday. Of course, I blame Vaughan. Still, anyone who skips a round check (as we did, due to time pressures), deserves what they get. No man is a hero to his valet, as they say. I understand the Sailors are planning a coup for this week's meeting. I hate when that happens. If you see some bald guy looking for work coaching Declaimers Wednesday, now you'll know why.

The two best words in Scrabble for the week are megahits and boner. Explaining the meaning of the latter to a nine-year-old was the high point of Regis. FYI, per Web 11: 1) one who bones; 2) a howler. End of story, you spalpeen.

O'C wants to challenge me to a new game of Scrabulous. I don't blame him The game we are playing now, for him, will not go down in history as a megahit. As for boners, however...

The Lex RR wants to know if my judges are willing to eat meat. Presumably this is in aid of keeping them interested in the rounds. Give a judge a vegetable, and who knows what will happen.

We talked about experimenting with 4 rounds at next year's CFL events. Positive response. But Newark this year looks like a traditional three-be, due to restraints on the real estate. I know that problem well.

Wedro, winner of more tournaments than I can remember, is heading to San Francisco for a new job. Bon voyage! Thank God debate was there when he was a high school freshman thinking that there had to be something more to life than football.

I have dived into the Goy for the greater honor and glory of NatNats. I should be competent in it by the end of the week. We'll see.

I gave judge training at Regis for the PF parents and only forgot one little thing, to wit, the coin toss. This is like training people to sky dive and forgetting the parachutes. [Sigh.]

There are 257 teams in Harvard PF. Rumor is that the TOC bid is at registration. What is this, every Pfffft team in the country? If you really think PF isn't getting off the ground, mosey up to Cambridge in a couple of weeks.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fodder for your nightmares: maybe that is what French tournaments look like!

I was off my feed yesterday, thanks apparently to a minor bout with a virus which did not agree with my opinion of the best way to handle the digestive processes. Thankfully, like all such viruses, this one quickly lost the war after some initial success in some minor skirmishes, and I am back in business. Meanwhile, the world has completely gone to hell in a handbasket. You know what I’m talking about. But I will reserve judgment on WTF for the time being, aside from reminding the VCA of the axiom, idle hands are the devil’s workshop. The thing is clearly claiming to be under construction, and it is bad form to think that work in progress equals the final product. My main complaint with them in their previous reconstructions was the moving of the organization’s blog material to less and less prominence. I’m hoping that this is not repeated in the future. My WTF correspondent, Herman Melville, has emailed me to say that I have nothing to worry about except worry itself, and that he will be providing me with a complete guided tour of the site as soon as he recovers from his work as a runner at the WTF tournament. “It’s not easy being in charge of everything,” was how he put it. Ah, the runner’s lament…

One benefit—nay, the only benefit—of not working yesterday was the opportunity to prep the upcoming Regis tournament that’s taking place tomorrow. I’m very pleased with the way the data pulls out of and into Evil TRPC. There are some quirks, though. All judges are listed for 9 rounds, so if you manually add further judges, they need to go in for 9 rounds as well, which really makes people freak when they show up at the registration table and see what their judging requirement looks like. For that alone, to tell you the truth, I enjoy the process: I love the smell of freaked-out judges in the morning. Then there’s the LDers, who appear as part of a three-person team with the second person missing. That is, there’s spaces in each team entry for three names; for no known reason, tabroom gets each LDer’s name into Evil in the first slot and in the third slot. Same name, no effect on tabulation. That is, no debaters are harmed in this process, but it is curious. For all practical purposes it doubles the number of LDers and then makes half of the new number mere simulacra. This is also what happens when they tab tournaments in France, with or without TRPC.

I’ve also begun to take stock of Bigle X. CP gave me access to the data just to poke around for my own selfish purposes (I wanted a looksee at how housing is handled by the application, since I intend to use it for Bump next year), and not to put too fine a point on it, but this tournament has more schools entered than most tournaments have teams. LD and Pfffft start Friday, then Policy starts Saturday after the other two spin down into elimination rounds, thus freeing up classrooms. Policy ends Monday, while LD simply goes off on Sunday starting the RR, and the whole thing is reminiscent of one of those computer railroad simulations where the whole point is to make sure that Topeka gets its wheat on time and the sidings are clear on the Reading. Jeesh. One big issue is four single-flighted rounds on Friday for Varsity LD. One needs to import judges with a Topekan wheat-market mentality. I’ve usually been off on the Novice side of things, which was meaningful when we had separate buildings, but now that we’re all together, and it’s me and JV and Kaz (and maybe The Enforcer), we’re all just one happy family, and I’ll get a nice close-up view. And CP will be in there too, running Pfffft. (Ah, the Scrabble games I see in my future!) My other issue is remembering how to screw up a Round Robin, since I’ll tab that too. It wasn’t too hard last year, and actually I didn’t screw anything up, but it was time-consuming. If it weren’t for side and judge constraints, it would tab itself. Oh, well…

And I finally heard from the Goys about the District tabbing software. I didn’t read the message too closely, but I gather I now have what I need. I intend to inspect the vehicle and kick a few tires on Sunday. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

From Georgia to Facebook to Nukes, finally landing on Bietz and, presumably, buying a vowel

The Great State of Georgia complains that I inadvertently left them out of my paean yesterday to the online debate community. This is patently false. I left them out advertently. (And that’s a real word.) I do not like Georgia. I have never liked Georgia. I wish Hoagy Carmichael’s sister had had a different name. I refuse to change planes in Atlanta. I do not dare to eat a peach for fear of its provenance, I will have nothing to do with Ms. Brown because of who named her and claims her, and for that matter, I don’t like the former SSR, the eponymous king the II, or Bulldogs, Panthers and Eagles.


Now, of course, I’ll get the cards and letters from you-know-where, taking up where the Pffft ‘R’ Us fans left off. You can’t please anybody, nowadays.

Last night the Sailors berated me soundly for my existence in Sims with Real People (i.e., Facebook). Then everyone started comparing who had the best profile picture, with the group generally preferring O’C’s, not because it looks good but because of the inherent mysterious lack of inherent mystery, seeing that he changes it every day without ever changing it. Or vice versa. Anyhow, as long as there’s Scrabulous, I’m not leaving Facebook. Deal with it.

We also kicked around Jan-Feb some more. Termite, fresh from the Parsnip Ritz, was able to provide the latest and greatest in case material, much of which struck me as rather silly. The hegemony argument, from which I demur (admittedly without actually hearing it), seems to have most of the fanboys praising it because they can say they’re running heg-good more than its inherent truth. Remains me of the days of cap-bad (i.e, capitalism); everybody loves a good catchphrase that looks supercool. Anyhow, hegemony over whom? Our enemies? Our friends? Let’s look at Western hegemons in the Middle East. Pick your European nation, pick your Middle Eastern country, pick your time period, and then think for a minute. Yeah, Western hegemony over the Middle East is not exactly working yet. Hegemony over the Far East? Let me see. Na’ah, I don’t see it there either. Maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s some other definition of hegemony. Then there’s the nukes falling into the hands of terrorists, which strikes me as something of a stretch. Given the nature of nuclear politics so far, possession of these weapons is the inherently sought-for goal, not giving them away or misplacing them. I guess one could claim that NK and Pakistan selling these technologies is a problem, and somehow that leads to terrorist acquisition, but that seems an awfully tenuous thread to me, with enough political switches having to be set so perfectly that I wouldn’t want to base policy on it, especially given the more immediate (simple and resolutional) threat of our enemy nations having nukes. That’s sort of like saying you’re going into shark-infested waters, so prioritize your planning that don’t cut your foot on a broken Coke bottle. Then there's MAD, which only makes sense if there is, in fact, a threat of mutual destruction, and presumably a country newly acquiring nukes has the odd handful, not the odd countryful, unlike the US, so it’s more Singly Assured Destruction. Leaking missile bins in Russia came up, but that may have just been Termite planning his own personal attack on Moscow, which I wouldn't put past him. Anyhow, as always, popular content early on seems to be anything but what the US should do about perceived enemies arming with nukes. Curiously enough, with the possible exceptions of 1962, depending on how you define the Cuba/USSR connection, and with Iraq (which, coincidentally, has really resulted in a hegemonic hit out of the park), that is if you accept that the US administration believed in the phony nuke evidence, the US has tended neg. I mean, all right, maybe we haven’t decided that it’s unjust, but in the game of realpolitik we usually haven’t done it. On the other hand, military and political logic seem to support the aff, with or without nukes. The good news in all of this is that there is so much ground for real resolutional discussion, some of it will have to break out sooner or later. Then again, maybe not. Whole resolutions have gone their entire spans without ever touching reality: the old separation of church and state rez comes to mind. Maybe that’s another reason why I continue to find Pfffft appealing. We haven’t yet developed a digressive approach to the activity that allows us to find a way to avoid every topic while allowing us to use our favorite obscure college-assigned texts that we recently read, regardless of their true applicability. Still, I may be reading too much into the random spurtings of Mr. Termite. For all I know everyone will be on topic from now till the closing gavel at TOC. Here’s where I really miss my Hour with Bietz. I’d love to hear what the take on this is from him and his circle. Come to think of it, whatever did happen to my Hour with Bietz? Did he move to Georgia? Is he coaching Pfffft now?

I just can’t keep up.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Community (or, wait for the PF pasta reference)

(Before getting started, I should point out that is the url of the Pfffft blog not run by the Reverend Badass, the one I have sworn never to mention.)

There seems to be some confusion out there amongst the VCA, an intellectual tribe what oughta know better. I have never seriously vilified any forensic activity, and I honestly like them all, with the possible exception of Dec, although even there I can see the point, to wit, getting one’s speaking feet wet (a metaphor I promise never to use again) as an underclassman. I don’t even bother to rank the various activities, because they provide different benefits. For instance, comparing LD to Duo on some sort of value scale is pointless. They do different things, and they may go so far as to do them for different people. I’m not sure that I would argue that most LDers couldn’t learn a thing or two from some IE activity, and vice versa, but some personalities are naturally drawn to one sort of forensic activity and some are drawn to others. Nothing wrong with that, in my estimation.

Public Forum (wow, I spelled it out!) has its own uniqueness, situated primarily in the quick rotation of topics coupled with the relatively brief duration of the rounds. The former requires learning about a series of situations in fairly rapid succession, but with enough time to get a decent sense of them. I’m not saying every topic is a winner, but certainly every topic area provides valuable learning. Frankly I think the January topic is an absolute dud competition-wise because of the imbalance of the sides, whereas the subject area itself is a goldmine. One learns not only the facts of Thoreau and Gandhi and King, but also the methodology and how (and, presumably, whether) to apply that methodology. Then one switches over to February and learns the recent history of Russia, which will no doubt add up to a combination of economics, realpolitik, Putin biography, Chechnya studies, etc., that is certainly unavailable elsewhere in high schools at that depth. Then, as I say, there’s the briefness of the rounds, which is just enough time to force competitors to come up with meaningful interpretations of what they’ve researched, and to convey that meaning carefully and clearly. I don’t want to imply that I think that PF rounds are too short; far from it. Their speed keeps them interesting and entertaining. Nowadays I freely admit that I would much rather judge PF rounds than LD rounds. The former will predictably result in students grappling with a resolution in a way I can meaningfully adjudicate, whereas the latter could do that, but could also be a demonstration of pure competitive strategy meant to confound the opponent and enchant the judge while never once addressing a meaningful ethical approach to the resolution, and at the point where LD is not about applied ethical philosophy, to me at least it loses its core value.

The nature of the revolving topics of PF does keep things moving evidence-wise, as compared to Policy, where you have a year to fill your tubs, beginning at institutes. There is no question that the advantage in Policy goes to big squads with lots of kids at institutes and lots of novices and lots of evidence cutting and, often, lots of coaches. This is not my cup of forensic tea, but one would have to be pretty obtuse not to recognize the parallel to legal research, a strong inherent value of Policy. The depth of research required, and the mastery of a depth of research, are big selling points. It’s also led to smaller squads adopting critical approaches to counter larger squads that have insurmountable advantages due to their size: critiques are an attempt to level the playing field. (Since no such unlevel playing field applies in LD, critiques need to find a different rationale, and, in my opinion, have not done so successfully). In PF, on the other hand, size doesn’t matter, nor to a great extent would hands-on coaching (as in, here’s what to run, kid), because there isn’t enough time for it. There is every possibility that PF will evolve into some of the evils of LD (which, frankly, I don’t think is all that evil when all is said and done), but I would imagine that, if the activity succeeds, it will evolve its own evils. This is as it should be.

Anyhow, I obviously applaud online discussion of everything forensic, and wish there was more of it. And obviously I love the idea of an online community, which exists ad hoc in much greater strength than any attempts to establish one ex officio. In other words, I’ve grown tired of campaigning for active coaches discussions and the like online. I applaud some of what NFL is doing, but, come on, folks, once is not enough. They published a brief on Nov-Dec. It was, well, okay, and I pulled a little out of it at least. But there’s no brief on Jan-Feb, at least not yet. How much do we all pay a year to those guys per school? I could write a brief for them over a weekend, and if I charged, maybe it would be the cost of a couple of schools’ annual dues. Most schools did their brainstorming for Jan-Feb in Dec. That’s when NFL should be there providing its tools in a timely manner. And, excuse me, but no briefs for PF? If you want this linguini to stick to the wall, you’ve got to cook it a little first.

So, sports fans, all we have is each other. I, for one, believe in giving it away, and do so freely but, at the same time, only occasionally. Sometimes I just don’t have all that much to say. And mostly I believe in deep background rather than specific case briefs. But that’s beside the point. We are building a small online community of forensic resources. WTF, Pfffft ‘R’ Us, the VCA. We are doing what the powers that be have not and apparently cannot do. I applaud us, and wish us well. Even if we haven’t got a clue to what a tooth fairy looks like.