Thursday, February 28, 2008

Images of betrayal, et cetera

I would have done a new Nostrum last night, but I’m getting over a cold, caught no doubt in the dank, dark dungeons of Bronx Scientology, and I figured one more day’s wait would be a little easier on my throat. Tonight.

But I have completed this, which is a takeout of the art of Caveman. Which means that I have also illustrated the Caveman lecture, if someone is so inclined to look at the whole thing. Of course, it really is a lecture, not an essay—as I was reminded as I was polishing it up for its next presentation—so you’re better off listening to it, if you’re really interested, with these pictures in your hand while you do so. It’s all available on my podcast page. I have mentioned here recently that I intended to give the lecture again live, and I’ll probably start a week from this coming Tuesday. I figure three sessions or so to get through it. Tickets on sale at TicketMaster. I’m expecting SRO crowds, at least.

I did update it a bit, and I was indeed struck by how much of a lecture it is, and not an essay. It doesn’t read like something you sit with like a book, and I know that a lot of what is there is simply starter material for me to digress from. Lectures, in my world, are as much performance art as delivering the material. In a way, working on it again marginally inspired me to make more of it, given all the tangents I’ve run since doing it back in the day. For instance, there is no material in it on the aesthetics of art, which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. But I left it mostly alone: it is what it is, which is an attempt to provide historical background for the understanding of the major ideas of postmodernist thought. Everything else is just gravy. Someday I may just do Art History for Non Art Historians, but that’s another beast altogether. Anyhow, one thing I did as I worked was throw in pictures of stuff when it made sense, and when I was starting I thought there might be a lot of that, but surprisingly enough, there were quite a bit fewer than I expected. Still, I hated to waste them, which is why I’ve assembled them (with captions) and referenced them here as a separate entity. You might find it entertaining. Just looking at that Magritte O’C picture always entertains me, for instance. What more can you ask for? The other thing I did to the lecture was shuffle some of the elements at the end. I always felt the thing sort of trailed off, and by combining some of the linguistics material and reorganizing the Critical Theory stuff, things now seem better connected. Much of this does rely on the conceit that there is some relationship between the various pieces of modern/postmodern thinking, which in many respects is simply empty noodling. But I’m trying to make a story out of it, and it is about the making of stories, so even if I’m marginally intellectually dishonest, at least I’m marginally intellectually dishonest in a consistent sort of way.

Tomorrow is Lakeland, and Saturday is Lakeland cum Regionals, for those interested in pursuing the NY State finals in Albany. As far as I know, exactly one Sailor is interested in said pursuance, for reasons that elude me completely. After this weekend I’ll do what organizing I intend to do for States, which isn’t much, as my chips are riding on TNC at NFA. For that matter, we intend to polish the invite of TNC at NFA this weekend, and go live with the invite. There was some exploration of maybe Massachusetts joining us en masse, but they told us Tufts darts and figured they’d re-attack their original venue, which had told them Tufts darts in the first place. Whatever. I don’t want all those people who can’t pronounce the letter R hanging around causing trouble, as is their wont.

And before heading off to the Land of Lakes I will send a final reminder to the Districtians, reminding them to sign up for that roundfest. I’ve done all I can do to prep the data while having in hand, uh, no data. The Sailor entry is pretty much set, although I need some parent judges to come around and take up some space. I’m working on it. Even just putting them in the odd round of PF will make everyone’s life so much more easier.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The weasel has landed

You know who you are, you spalpeen. I had forgotten about you until last night, when I was reminded in spades.


Here’s the deal. When I saw the resolution “Resolved: Hate crime enhancements are unjust in the United States,” what I thought is that people would attempt to understand what hate crimes are, their meanings and their effects, and analyze if those crimes deserve special handling in the justice system.

What was I thinking? Because you have absolutely no intention of viewing the resolution in that light.

You spalpeen!

What you intend to do is argue on the affirmative that we can never really know what someone is thinking (1) or that because the justice system is imperfect any attempt to address hate crimes would be imperfect and therefore unjust (2) or that because hate crimes are not all-inclusive, for instance not including gays as targets, that the concept of hate crime in the US justice system is inadequate (3). In other words, you intend to argue about the justice system and the legal process, and the fact that the topic is marginally about hate crimes is of no interest to you whatsoever. The topic could be about jaywalking as far as you’re concerned, because you would be making the exact same arguments.

You spalpeen!

[(1) We use the trial process to come to a determination of what someone is thinking. It’s called motive. Oh, and by the way, if someone burns a cross on the yard of a local family of color, how hard do you really think it is for me to figure out what they might be thinking?
(2) Therefore the US justice system is inherently unjust, and if you buy that, why don’t you go back to Commie Red Russia where you belong, you idiot.
(3) While we have specific laws on thefts from banks we do not have specific laws on theft of certain intellectual property, but the concept of theft is clear, whereas the application requires further tuning. That would be the point of the argument in the first place. It’s about what we should do, not what we already do. The subject of what we already do is determined by looking it up; the subject of what we ought to do is determined by reasoned debate and analysis.]

There’s a place for me. A time and place for me. Where people will argue on the affirmative not that hate crimes are too nebulous to understand (because they’re not, and this is simply not a true position) but that hate crimes, however heinous they may strike us, do not warrant special punishments, whereas on the negative it will be argued that the nature of hate crimes does indeed warrant special punishment. Both sides will accept the burden that crimes motivated entirely by hatred exist (because they do) but will argue different retributive outcomes (because they may be warranted).

Hold my hand and I’ll take you there.

You spalpeen…

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to Breathe: Part One, Inhalation; Step One, the Diaphragm (fig. A, inset I)

There’s about 147 pages of help on how to enter rooms in the Goy of Districts. I will condense it down for you: click on “rooms” and type in the names of the rooms. Jeesh. Of course, in one of my other lives (I’m not sure which one) I’ve written a lot of technical documentation, i.e., computing for non-computists, and I have learned that you can’t explain the simplest things too much, and while you’re at it, never put in any jokes because nobody has a sense of humor when they’re trying to get their computers to work. So I sympathize with them. I have watched a lot of educators ham-fistedly attack their computers over the years, and I understand the problem. It’s not an age thing as much as a brain thing; for whatever reason, some people can’t get a computer to do much more than keep papers from blowing away (if they remember to put the computer on top of the papers), and maybe teachers are higher (or lower) on the inherent computism scale than the general population. I don’t know. But if their eyes glaze over and their palms start to sweat when you tell them to copy a file, you know it’s time to ask them to move away from the computer before they do any further damage. (As a corollary to this, a lot of people my age who can’t compute, A, think that they can and B, think that all young people can, and therefore C, think that they are cool and forever young. But in fact, the computist brain is age neutral, and no one is forever young, especially people my age, which, for the record, is a lot in dog years but not much at all in Galapagos turtle years.)

So last night I did most of what I had to do in prep for Districts, which isn’t all that much given that I don’t have much entry data yet. But I did poke around the program. If nothing else it removes some of the problems like insuring that people are NFL members and the like, and tracking double-entry. I plugged in my neutral judge-everything judges while I was at it. I put in a schedule based on last year’s, which was relatively meaningless but useful enough. There isn’t much else to do now except wait for people to sign up. I did get the NFL Goober of the Year Award in the mail yesterday from Rippin’, by the way, which is given to the senior who best represents. Whatever that means. I’m just trying to stay young here. In turtle years.

This coming weekend is Lakeland, with O’C jumbling up all the data and me in second chair. We’ll hook his MacBook up to the MHL printer, to keep him hardware current. I love the new MHL printer. It makes ballots at top speed, copies, scans, and serves sushi if you remember to put tuna in the paper rack. We haven’t exactly given it too much to sweat over yet. Last week’s Bronx Scientology MHL was tiny, most of the competitors coming from just a couple of schools thanks to bad weather. Which meant a lot of juggling in tab, with teams hitting their own school and the like. I try to keep judging neutral in those situations (unless people are out of contention). Then we switched a bunch of judges between LD and Policy, which meant that pretty much no one in the place knew what they were doing, but it seemed to work okay, or at least it all came out balanced in the end. The entire event was set in the Scientology cafeteria because of other events like Districts already taking place in the classrooms. To atone for his sin of stuffing everyone in the basement, O’C went so far as to buy pizzas for everyone so that they could at least stuff their faces. When he patted himself on the back for this during his three-hour award ceremony speech, everyone looked at him as if he had a hole in his head because, apparently, none of the pizza had managed to make it to the basement, all of it being devoured en route by hungry NFL Districtians. Ain’t that always the way? NFL Districtians can smell pizza three miles away. Thank God they didn’t smell the tuna in the MHL printer. I was not in the mood to share.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Notes from the Intensive Computing Unit

This weekend I performed a peeceectomy on Little Elvis. The patient is now resting comfortably.

Back in the dark ages of computers (a couple of years ago), when you purchased a new machine you got 30 gigs of hard drive space. At the time, this seemed like a lot, but as we now know, no amount of disk space and/or ram is ever enough, not to mention the fact that I’ve got discarded iPods with twenty times as much free territory. Because of this miserly built-in drive size, since Little Elvis came into my life I have purchased not one, not two, but three standalone drives. I have also purchased flashdrives which I reckon by the dozens (one of which runs You Don’t Know Jack). I am a storage maven of the first water.

And of course, to enable the running of the TRPC software, back in the day I loaded up Virtual PC, the Windows emulator of the pre-Intel Mac generation. This may be as slow as [insert humorous metaphor for some really slow thing here] but it did do the job. In fact, it did the job better than TRPC on my Dell. Whereas the Dell tends to get tired during break rounds, forcing you to curse and holler and do things by hand, Little Elvis would soldier along valiantly until the last rebuttal was fired. But VPC takes up about 6 gigs of hard drive. Which meant that, whenever I turned on Little Elvis, I’d be looking at 3 gigs free at best, and often just 2. Running any computer with such a minimal amount of available space makes it even slower than [repeat metaphor from above, but vary it a little for even more humorous effect].

So, says I, it was time to sever VPC from Little E’s innards. In the worst case scenario, I could always run TRPC on the Dell and let it go at that. But what if I simply ported VPC over to one of the portable firewire drives? It was worth a try. And, voila, it works almost perfectly. For some reason I can’t launch the program as an application; I have to launch the data file which then launches the program, but that does work, and in the consequentialist world of computing, all that matters is results. And now, tada! Little E has 9 free gigs on his inner drive. The beach ball of death is rarer, and lasts less long. Callooh! Callay! For some reason I can’t pass data from Mac window to PC window anymore and have to use one of my numerous flashdrives (or their sisters or their cousins or their aunts), but that’s a small price to pay for a third of my disk drive space becoming available again. And to run tournaments all I have to do is bring along a small extra firewire drive. Piece of cake.

So what did I do over the weekend with all this newfound Windows real estate? Loaded up the Goy of Districts. It took a couple of bouts (the program advises you that some systems like this version, while other systems like that version, and of course, my system liked that version after much cursing over this version) but it’s finally going. So far one school has signed up. Tsk, tsk. You guys are in trouble… There’s about 182 pages of goyische help for each step of the process, most of which is the sort of help that, if you really need it, you need too much help altogether, but I don’t have enough data yet to really knock the application around. Whatever. There’s still a couple of weeks, and the worst that could happen is we haul out some cards like we always do. I’ll worry about that tomorrow.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Eleventy-four really sucks

You get to sit around today eating bonbons and getting your nails done, while people like me have to make decisions. Bronx MHL? No Bronx MHL? The weather here at the moment is crappy, but it should clear up overnight, so what to do, what to do… Oh, the hell with it. Have the tournament. Otherwise I’d have to stay home and eat bonbons and have my nails done. And, well, that just isn’t me.

I just sent out a bunch of deadlines to the Sailors regarding the various qualifiers coming up. It’s hard to keep all this stuff straight, and I feel as if I’m sledding down a hill and heading toward a batch of trees and have to jump off at just the right time and am unlikely to do so. I mean, the season is ending, sports fans. A couple of qualifiers, then a couple of things you qualified for, and then it’s time to sink a few putts and I’ll see you in September. The season always ends with a lot of brouhaha, to wit, the complexities of CFL Grands (4 rounds, 3 judges, 2 tabbers, 1 big headache) and then Districts. A couple of days ago I printed up the Goy instructions for the latter; I had to load in a couple of extra reams of paper to handle it. Jeesh! I’m bringing the instructions with me tomorrow to read during the off hours at So Tiny Jake That It Doesn’t Really Count. I’m a great fan of tech and all that, but maybe not all this. Maybe I’ll watch the NYC people play around with it, given they’re also apparently Goyim. We’ll see.

Over at WTF (which really does finally have a literal WTF look to it thanks to the new undesign of the site) things are really popping. They’ve instituted their own LD rankings, oh joy oh rapture. I almost got interested in rankings at some point this year, dickering with somebody about the issue, said somebody making some good points about teams using these as tools for hitting up their administrations for support. (I was, over the course of the year, promising various people results from tournaments I had tabbed, none of which were forthcoming because I quite truly couldn’t find them.) But I still have a lingering distaste for the concept. You don’t get to be a highly ranked debater simply because you’re good; you have to be good at the right tournaments, i.e., you have to go $ircuit. While I don’t believe there couldn’t be a total democratization of ranking, I don’t think there is. Then again, I have to admit I didn’t bother to look at whatever it is being proposed for these rankings. The cult of debate celebrity is something that WTF has managed to shake off over the years, but what else are these rankings for if not to celebrate good debaters with enough money to travel the $ircuit? This isn’t even viable celebrity. Ever notice how winners at some tournaments have little footnotes that they’re coached by the following twenty-three people? Gimme a break. IT’S HIGH SCHOOL DEBATE, PEOPLE!

Oh. Wait a minute. Been there, griped about that. Why bother to gripe again? At least they’re not doing debate celebrity cribs anymore (at least not that I could find, but then again, with the new undesign, it’s probably there somewhere).

I’m in a grumpy mood today. Debate rankings will do that to people like me. Oh, look! You’re number Eleventy-three. Well aren’t you the one! Then again, the NDCA does this already for Policy. That must make it right.

At best these sort of rankings do nothing more than emulate the worst of high school sports. If the football team can have stars, in other words, why can’t debate? But you’re vilifying the concept of football star most of the time, except when it benefits you? There’s certainly enough faux stardom in our activity already, thanks to the $ircuit and TOC bids and the like, some of which I admit to playing into, but this anecdotal method of stardom ought to be enough. It already burdens the activity with an artificial measure of success that is only marginally connected to most coaches’ educational goals. Ranking everybody with numbers adds an artificial firmness to this stardom that can only give high school students something to strive for that they shouldn’t be striving for. Ten to one you don’t believe that standardized tests are the best measure of students’ intelligence. So why is some inherently arbitrary debate ranking number any different? Anyhow, I don’t really blame WTF for this; unless I’m mistaken, they’re just facilitating. But I don’t have to like it. And I don’t have to do it. And, I guess, I won’t.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hey, Kids: Tournament Trading Cards – Collect them all!!!

#218 The Leaver

Famous quote: “Hey, can we have our ballots now? We’re going to head out.”

Distinguishing characteristics: Shifty eyes, unfamiliar face.

Habitat: One school district over from this one. In other words, the closest of any school attending the tournament.

Details: The Leaver is the first one to want to escape from your tournament, despite being the closest of all the attendees and therefore having the shortest trip. The Leaver has never attended an awards ceremony, and probably never will.

Handling tips: Tell him you’ll mail him his ballots, then immediately proceed to lose them.

#72 The Ailer

Famous quote: “I think I’m dying, but if you really need me to judge, I’ll be lying down on the floor of the judges’ lounge praying for release from this mortal coil.”

Distinguishing characteristics: Green gills, slow gait.

Habitat: Unknown. The Ailer is never anywhere you happen to look for him.

Details: The Ailer arrives at every tournament promising to judge more rounds than you’re actually conducting, but at some point before the presets are concluded he comes to the tab room and lists twenty or thirty chronic and/or fatal ailments, all of which he is suffering from, and although he hates to do this, he wishes to beg for your mercy.

Handling tips: Hand slot into the 0-Whatever bracket of every round on the odd chance of his accidentally walking by the ballot table. Worst case scenario: give his ballots to a non-English speaking parent.

#119 The Iconoclast

Famous quote: “Oh. I didn’t know you wanted me to pick up a ballot.”

Distinguishing characteristics: Never wears clothing available in retail outlets any time during the last five years.

Habitat: Some Iconoclasts are drawn to the other Iconoclasts at a tournament, and can be found wherever there’s cigarette smoke. Occasionally Iconoclasts are in their round but don’t want anyone to know it.

Details: The Iconoclast has been a part of the debate scene since 1983, yet never seems to realize that judging rounds requires picking up a ballot and then proceeding to the correct room. If you have specifically demanded full written ballots, the Iconoclast will fully write “Oral.”

Handling tips: Ranking as a C judge is imperative. Never tell the Iconoclast the location of the judges’ lounge, especially if your food is halfway decent, because the Iconoclast only eats at tournaments, spending the rest of the week living off accumulated doughnut fat.

#11 The Rotator

Famous quote: “I have different judges for every round. Let me write it down for you.”

Distinguishing characteristics: Entire team wears Debate Team Sweatshirts with picture of Cicero orating before the Roman Senate on one side, and dead-body forensics pun on other side.

Habitat: Judges’ lounge.

Details: The Rotator has a roster of parent judges longer than the tournament’s roster of debaters and more complicated than verb declensions in the ancient Prakit. No judge is available for more than one round, no judge understands the activity they’re supposed to be judging, and at no time is the judge the Rotator has told you is available actually available. As a general rule, Rotators only have rosters of parent judges; the likelihood of the literal parent judge on the roster for a specific assignment showing up for that assignment is slim to nonexistent.

Handling tips: Since most if not all of the Rotator’s judges will have been struck by virtually the entire tournament, don’t bother entering them into the system in the first place.

#287 The Oralist

Famous quote: “All right. I’ll start with your opening quote and go on from there.”

Distinguishing characteristics: The last judge to return with a ballot regardless of how early the round started. Does not feel as if the job has been done if the round critique is not longer than the round.

Habitat: Back of the room.

Details: The Oralist has never gotten over his or her own debate career, and feels a need to talk, and talk, and talk, after every round. Some Oralists have been known to put competitors to sleep so deeply that they have been unable to perform at later rounds. When the Oralist has finished critiquing the round, a quiet spot will be found where a ballot as long as the Finnish Constitution will be written in handwriting about as clear as if it were, well, Finnish.

Handling tips: Never have an Oralist do the last critique in a break round. If possible, assign only to novice first-timer events. Always place in the room next door to tab. Finding an Oralist a date for a Friday night could be just the ticket for breaking the cycle, but good luck with that one.

#9 The Non-Squirrel

Famous quote: “I never squirrel.”

Distinguishing characteristics: Squirrels on all panels: 2-1. 4-1. 6-1. 8-1. Size never matters.

Habitat: Wherever someone will listen.

Details: Claims to never squirrel but, of course, always does. Ascribes lack of unanimity in round to sun spots, brain damage and/or microwaves affecting the other judges.

Handling tips: Nod. Smile. Agree.

#88 The Jargonbuster

Famous quote: “Don’t use debate language. Just because I know what you’re talking about doesn’t mean anyone else will.”

Distinguishing characteristics: Conspicuously wears NFL Triple Diamond pin.

Habitat: Wherever debate isn’t.

Details: Although the Jargonbuster has been in the activity since first grade, this particular species of coach has a passionate disdain for the so-called lingo of the activity. Will write an entire ballot decrying use of terms like “contention” or “warrant” or “argument.”

Handling tips: Talk. Very. Slowly. And. Never. Use. A. Word. Bigger. Than. A. Breadbox. That. Any. Other. Intelligent. Adult. Would. Understand. Perfectly. Serve only mayonnaise sandwiches, unsalted potato chips and vanilla ice cream.

#46 The Downmaybe One

Famous quotes: “Three oh, maybe two one.” “Four oh, maybe three one.”

Distinguishing characteristic: Confidence oozing out of every pore.

Habitat: High school cafeterias, schematic in hand, surrounded by people who are not paying attention.

Details: The Downmaybe One naturally assumes that he or she has won every round so far, but always allows for a statistical deviation of perhaps being down one. The Downmaybe One has not broken at a tournament in the last three years.

Handling tips: Nod and move away slowly, otherwise the Downmaybe One will tell you exactly how this figuring has been arrived at.

#199 Attila the “Huh?”

Famous quotes: “I didn’t know there was a round going on now.” “Does this mean I get a bye?”

Distinguishing characteristic: When everyone else in the room is running over to collect a schematic, Attila the “Huh?” is heading in the other direction thinking about pizza.

Habitat: Wherever the rest of the tournament isn’t.

Details: Attila the “Huh?” seems to have no idea when to be where. Rounds come and go, and AtH doesn’t show up, and then comes to tab complaining that it must be somebody else’s fault. Again.

Handling tips: Look back into AtH’s eyes with exactly the same expression as AtH’s. Say nothing. Eventually AtH will shuffle off for another piece of pizza. Don’t expect to see him or her in the next round either.

#305 Clark Kent

Famous quote: “Can I go now?”

Distinguishing characteristic: A general air of tortured annoyance.

Habitat: Tab, before and after every round.

Details: Clark Kent is a parent who has never been to a debate tournament before and hasn’t quite figured out that if the debaters expect to debate every round, they will probably need judges. Clark would prefer to be living his or her other, secret, life. Having double-booked their calendar with business lunches, theater tickets, elevenses, papal audiences and relatives dying alone in the hospital who must be visited just one more time before passing on is obviously a problem for the tournament staff and not Clark.

Handling tips: Shed a tear and promise you’ll do whatever you can because you understand completely. Rinse. Repeat.

The Whether Channel; The Sondheim Channel; The Howard TD Channel

One tries to have a blow-out MHL, and then they start predicting snow, and one wonders if one will blow out or simply stay at home doing one’s income taxes. Those are the choices for the upcoming weekend, and to be honest, I have to do my taxes either Saturday or Sunday and I was planning on Sunday, but if weather does intervene, I’ll be a day early (and a lot of dollars short). We’ll see. If there really is a serious forecast issue, I’ll cancel in advance, rather than waiting till the last minute. It’s just easier that way. But my guess at the moment is that everything will be a go, except for the Montwegians, who never go anywhere if it even looks like snow, which it always does up there in the little mountains for which they are named. I’ll decide Friday. Meanwhile O’C asked me to keep the registration open a little longer, but I’m not quite sure why. Whatever. I do know that my basement is overflowing with trophyage that needs to be distributed to worthy forensicians, and if not now, God knows when. Of course, I could give it to Pomp and O’Circumstance for his collection. I just hate to see it 1) go to waste, or 2) fill up my basement.

They’re showing “Company” tonight on PBS. The uninitiated can now find out why whenever I discuss the plans for my next vacation, most people I know start singing. I’m also chezzing up tonight; fire up the recorder, ma.

For reasons that elude me complete, I’m beginning to suffer technolust over the iPod Touch. Now that it’s been spiffed up a bit, it’s becoming way more attractive, but from what I can tell, the battery life isn’t quite there yet. I’m thinking of some machine on which I can watch 5 or 11 movies on the flight home from Barcelona (STOP SINGING!) but it looks like about 4 hours worth, which is only, say, enough time for Howard the Duck and, maybe, O’C’s bar mitzvah videos. On the other hand, how many movies does one person need to watch? I like the idea of wireless computing, and various apps that have been built into the thing, plus the promise of third-party apps coming down the line. My goal is the perfect pocket computer, or the closest I can get to the perfect pocket computer, as distinct from an iPod, which is the perfect pocket mp3 player. I quickly got over my Air technolust because, well, realistically I don’t travel all that much with a computer, and when I upgrade I want the most power possible, not the most portability. I’m even thinking Macbook Pro, but that remains to be seen. Little Elvis is chugging away fine, albeit with limited drive space, but I’m thinking that if I offload Virtual PC to a firewire drive, that probably frees up about half of the damned thing. I’m going to try it out this weekend. It’s worth a try. Then I can turn Little E over to almost fulltime reprocessing of tapes into mp3s, which has to be the slowest process in the world, and one which can’t be done while you’re trying to do any other serious computing because it eats RAM like [fill in humorous eating metaphor here]. I did play around with a Touch at the seriously crowded Apple store on 5th Avenue over the weekend. You’d think they were giving stuff away there. It’s an amazing phenomenon, the lure of Apple and Apple stores. I mean, yeah, it’s nice to check your mail and all, but we couldn’t all have been there for the wifi. People were lined up forever to actually buy stuff. Oh well. I have a birthday coming this year, eventually. Maybe I’ll buy myself something. Unless you want to buy it for me. An iPod Touch. The big one. Go for it. I deserve it, don’t I? And who better to buy it for me than you? After all, I’ve given you free blogging for years now. Where’s my payback, you spalpeen??????

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Triumphant return from the Manhattoes

It was nice this weekend to spend a little time not giving the slightest thought to debate, aside from texting Robbie to see how things were going up in Cambridge. Given that there were 2847 debaters in the varsity LD pool, it had to have been an interesting weekend, and an especially interesting weekend not to have been around. The best time to be in Cambridge is when there isn’t a tournament going on, in my experience. Given your experience with last weekend’s judging pool, you may now feel likewise.

New York City benefited nicely from the mass exodus of the debating hoi and the Speecho-American polloi to the shores of the Charles, leaving no one in Manhattan but Brits and various other non-English-speaking tourists. We stayed at the Sofitel, which is a French outfit, so even our room was foreign. We covered a relatively broad swath culture-wise: a jazz club one night (no one I’d ever heard of, but very entertaining); the Poussin exhibit at the Met plus a walkthrough of the Greek and Roman areas (much improved from the olden days); “Spamalot,” which thankfully appealed to a Monty Python hating spouse who nonetheless maintains serious reservations about Clay Aiken, who was perfectly fine if you ask me but who will probably never cross my radar again; the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art because, well, every now and then you need to break out of your parochial stupor; and MOMA for the first time since it’s been reengineered, and it is one crowded and, I hate to say it, rather bland building with enough plain white walls to convince you that you’ve mistakenly stumbled into some newly built apartment building they’re trying to rent. Of course, the MOMA has enough grist for the Caveman mill to last a lifetime, and I reacquainted myself with some old friends and found a few new, camera at the ready. I did manage to discover that the Old Baudleroo is wrong about Duchamp, whose first ready-made was not the urinal but a bicycle wheel years earlier. Baudrillard wrong about something? Sacre bleu! Of course, R. Mutt’s fountain is so much more entertaining than a bicycle wheel, but reality is reality, however much the O. B. might think otherwise. And imagine: people thought I’d be encouraging the Sailors to run the O. B. on nukes. As if some cranky old Gauloise-smoking art critic who thinks there’s no distinction between art and reality is the person I would turn to for political analysis. One titters at the thought.

So this week the Sailors are off (and some are literally off, with NoShow in France and Stealth in California, for instance), so there isn’t much going on in our neck of the woods. A PF chez tomorrow (and I’m still stumped on March, but at least there seem to be avenues to traverse, even if they really don’t lead to any particular truth), maybe someone will send me the odd case or two for the Bronx Scientology MHL this Saturday. I need to do a Nostrum, and seriously look at this @%#* Goy District stuff, which I keep putting off and putting off and, occasionally, putting off. It all seems so pointless; not the Goy, but the whole District thing. We’re feeding into this universe in which we are virtually no part at all. Schools in Missouri and Kansas have enough NFL points to launch nuclear missiles, while our poor district is lucky if we know how to find the point-entry page. The only person I know who really cares about points is O’C, our local Pomp and Circumstance scorekeeper, who knows every way under the sun to get points (talking to self in front of men’s room mirror while combing hair, 2 points; talking to self in front of men’s room mirror while someone is in one of the stalls, 4 points). Then again, Rippin’ does go so far as to list a front-page scoreboard of point leaders, so they must care too. Then again, I do like giving those acknowledgment stickers to people: Medal of Honor, Robe of Distinction, Crown of Thorns, etc. I hand them out at meetings and everyone complains that they can’t find their membership certificate so they have nowhere to stick it. So I give them alternate places where they can stick it, and that seems to do the job. Not that I’m being disrespectful here, but I do have a sort of “not wanting to be a member of any club that would have someone like me as a member” feeling about the whole thing, if you get my drift. But it’s okay. I’ll get over it a week or two after Districts. I always do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

And so, the wagons left civilization behind and headed toward the great unknown

Are there really 380 VLD entries at Harvard? At $120 a pop? Maybe it’s 280. That would allow almost half the 4-2s to break. 380 will allow about a dozen of them. I find this absolutely amazing, whichever is the accurate number.

Top Ten Reasons for Attending Harvard Tournament

10. Your school needs to launder funds from overaggressive Mothers For Forensics Cupcake Sale.

9. You want to go to a place where everyone in the bubble rounds is undefeated.

8. Google lists the Cringing Latin School as one of the top wonders of the modern world.

7. Your parents want you to attend Harvard University, and they think your attending the tournament makes you a cinch for acceptance.

6. Your parents want to get rid of you so that they can go whoop it up for a weekend and surprise you next Thanksgiving with a new little brother or sister.

5. You’ve never been to a tournament where the attendance at the awards ceremony is slightly larger than at the Superbowl.

4. You’ve heard that the entire Harvard University Debate Team wears leather pants, and you want to verify this in person.

3. You’re wondering which is longer, the lines for Space Mountain at Walt Disney World on Presidents’ Weekend, or the lines for cold pizza at Cringing Latin School.

2. You want to see what judge they assign you in the 0-5 round.

1. Your team is huge, and there’s only one coach, and most of the time he or she won’t know where you are for the weekend, so whoop-dee-damned-do (in the immortal words of Clarence Thomas on learning that his appointment to the Supreme Court had been confirmed), you are going to break out and boogie and get down and generally wreak all the havoc you can while you’re still young, because what else is the point, anyhow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Quakers v Novices; TNC; cave pix; pass the remote

In the never ending saga that is the UPenn’s tournament’s search for a tournament weekend, they seem to have finally lit on 10/18, which means they will neither conflict with Scientology nor Manchester-Under-the-Sea. This is the weekend of the first-timers’ MHL in 2008, but that doesn’t look like any real conflict. 2009 has yet another twisty calendar, but at least this will hold them for a while. So, the battle of the Wolverines vs the Quakers won’t transpire after all. Which means that, in the end, I looked up the Scientologists’ mascot for no reason. Although I am still left with the oxymoronic fighting Quakers. Such is the life of a debate coach.

At Scarsdale we did sort out what we could of next year’s twisty calendar with Catholic Charlie, and then we kicked around ideas for the Northeast Championships this April. O’C has been drumming up business hither and yon, as is his wont, and we have put him in charge of the tournament’s pomp and circumstance, which is his other wont. He won’t want for wonts, in other words. The goal of the tournament is to provide one last end-of-year blowout at all levels of debate, where the best and brightest from all around get together and duke it out. We figured any interested school could enter up to 4 contestants in a division, and we calculated a bunch of possible awards, including a sweeps for small programs: there’s not much point in awarding trophies to schools just because they’re big. We also committed to getting a good pool of judges, which is a make-or-break at any and every tournament. We decided to use the TOC topics (for LD and PF), which means that while younger students would be sharp on the old Jan-Febs and not have to address a new topic for one tournament, TOC-bound students, if any, would be polishing up one last time before hitting their old Kentucky home away from home. More details on the event will come shortly, but the weekend is 4/11-12, so mark it now so that you don’t go off to on some expedition to Kuala Lumpur by mistake.

I’ve begun updating Caveman in earnest. As for the text, it’s mostly little touches here and there (I’ve learned a few things since I originally wrote it), but then there’s the new addition of illustrations. I figured some of the stuff people need to see, and some of it is just window dressing, but an attractively illustrated pdf is better than one that is all text. I mean, what good is a book without pictures and conversations in it? At least I’ll have the pictures. I wish I could figure a way to illustrate the lecture while I’m giving it, but I don’t really have access to the equipment at HH, and while I could sic a hardware engineer on it, that might be the end of hardware engineering as we know it. And Peanuts is such a good hardware engineer that I would hate to give him a task beyond his abilities. I believe in hanging on to good hardware engineers when they come along; their appearances along life’s path are rare, in my experience.

Finally, at the moment the weather is frightening, and I may end up postponing tonight’s Pffft Chez. Sigh. I’ll have to watch television instead, which I never do on Tuesdays. Warm up the cathode ray, Ma; I’m a’ comin’ home early.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Meanwhile, Guns N' Roses was playing on the iPod.

Let’s see. There’s a new Nostrum up, and I have some plans to do a research lecture for TVFT. Plus there’s a couple of chezzes this week, and I’m out of commission this coming weekend (doing nothing of concern to the VCA), so I’m not quite sure when I’ll get what done. I’ve been putting off Districts planning since getting it up on the Goy because, well, it’s Districts planning, but at least over the weekend we ironed out most of next year’s calendar as much as we could. I also took a nice little nap yesterday because, well, Scarsdale was tiring. Then again, last night when I was cooking dinner I was complaining to Tik pronounced teek that things were awfully quiet and I sort of missed the excitement. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel after the Northeast Championships puts paid to the season (and more about that in the coming days).

Scarsdale was, in a word, busy, primarily because of how complicated it is. Some varsity debaters judge the novices, theoretically in an A-flight Varsity slash B-flight novice setup, and there’s not enough judges to single-flight varsity although there are enough to single-flight novices if you use some of the debating judges, so you end up, first, assigning varsity judges in a single flight and them changing it to a double flight and then making sure the best judges are where they should be, and then you make sure your debaters in flight B are not judging while they’re debating, and then you make sure that you don’t have multiple rounds in the same rooms at the same time, and then you make sure that you don’t have the same varsity debaters judging every round. And then you make sure you remember to do all these things every time. Whew. Lots of reading against schematics and doublechecking, and as far as I recall we never went live with a totally bogus schematic, although we came close once or twice. It really did require the three of us (me, Kaz and O’C) to cover everything every time. Of course, putting out Pffft schematics was, by comparison, a walk in the park.

There seems to be a new (?) wrinkle in E-TRPC’s handling of break rounds, in that it simply doesn’t show you the judges that you have selected for the round. You check everywhere, everything is as it should be, but try as you will, you can’t get them on the schematic. There are worse things in the world, but it’s a pain in the butt, since you end up hand-writing the names of the judges and they won’t show up on results printouts (because they aren’t named). I remember something like this happening at Yale, where the program seemed to just get tired of working (although there I was using Classic TRPC, so go figure). In any case, one can never rest, because you never know when something anomalous is going to happen.

The weirdest thing about Scarsdale was the signs. There were signs everywhere telling people where to go for what, and the signs for tab had my picture on them. So whenever I roamed around, I always followed the signs with me on them to get back to where I belonged. This example of semiotics gone wild amused me every time I ventured out of the tab room. Needless to say, I should have been wearing my What Would Menick Do t-shirt, which also has my picture on it. Anyhow, I did do my best to look like me all weekend, so there wasn’t any confusion for other people.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Better Living Through Technology

I just read that O’C will be providing endless field reports on Scarsdale to a waiting world at WTF. Maybe if I stuff him down a laundry chute the waiting world will be able to get on with its life instead of pacing in front of the computer, tap tap tapping refresh every few minutes in frustration wondering where, oh where, are the pairings for round 5 of the novice division. It’s worth considering.

I’m wearing the data for Scarsdale around my neck, literally. I have lately taken to tech bling, i.e., sporting flashdrives full of all sorts of information about my person. That way at least I know where they are. For those of you who are flashdrive aficionados, you know that erasing files from one OS doesn’t necessarily remove them for another OS. Write in Mac, erase in PC, I always say. Otherwise you have no room, and no clue why there is no room. What a tough life we lead, eh? Anyhow, when I get to Scarsdale I’ll plug it into their networked computer, sort of like R2D2, who always seems to be able to get whatever connection he needs whenever he wants it because, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away no one ever thought to build a decent network firewall, much like they made all those clones and never taught them how to shoot straight…

Which makes me wonder if O’C is bringing his 23-disk set of Howard the Duck outtakes. I’ve got other entertainments, if things get out of hand, but to tell you the truth, I have never once watched a movie, or even a TV show, in a tabroom, although occasionally one has sort of been playing around me. The idea of having even a half an hour free, much less two hours, is chimerical at best. Usually there’s just enough time to scan email and see how the Packers are doing (yeah, right) and that’s about it, and you’re entering data again. With the alternating V and Nov rounds at Scarsdale, I’m not expecting all that much down time. Not as bad as Columbia but no walk in the park. I do have my iPod, of course. My recent addition of archival Disney material (e.g., some song that combines the Macarena and the Tiki Room, plus Maurice Chevalier’s version of “It’s a Small World”) should be enough to fill the entertainment gaps, such as they are, while also sending normal people into an irrecoverable panic. Which includes neither me nor O’C, the only other person I can reliably count on not to stuff the iPod down the laundry chute when I choose such selections. We Disney fans are a tough breed.

[It does scan, though. “Do the Macarena in the Tiki room.” And if that’s not remarkable enough, I’m typing this in Word, which just autocorrected macarena to Macarena with a capital M (but thinks Tiki is misspelled). Yep. We do really lead tough lives nowadays, sports fans.]

Thursday, February 07, 2008

"Tell your ma, tell your pa," etc.; The Society for the Enhancement of Hate Crimes; Termite's case in a nutshell; It could have been PP...

That damned (or more specifically, that #%&!*) Emcee caught me on the old Greeley quote. I admit defeat, and will henceforth refer to the school by the nickname of its community’s most famous residents, to wit, the Carpetbaggers. Not that the Carpetbag High team is exactly champing at the bit, though. Last time I was there they had a roomful, whereas yesterday they had a handful. There’s always one or two serious folks who are self-motivated, but the school has never been able to get any forensic traction beyond a few individuals. This I ascribe this to the lack of a coach. How can a school get traction in the activity with only marginal knowledge of it, and no money behind it, and no teacher/administrator pushing for it? Carpetbag High is a good school with a serious student body getting into good universities, and it’s not as if they are lacking in the niceties of extracurricular activities. Debate just isn’t one of them, or at least not seriously. Over the years I have talked to Carpetbag parents and principals and teachers and, of course, students, and until all of these factions are aligned, and the moon is in the second house and peace will guide our planets, I don’t think there’s much that can be done. I wish them well, and I’m always happy to drop by, but I just don’t have anything to offer beyond that.

Meanwhile, some members of the VCA will recall my gingerly dancing around a local hate crime issue that took place not so long ago. As a matter of policy I avoid discussing touchy topics here that the administration of the school may be addressing it its own way. The last thing they need at difficult junctures is some mosquito buzzing around them making noise and causing trouble. Still, time has passed and March-April is what it is, so Tuesday night the Sailors and I had at it. With or without their own experience, and without addressing pure what-do-I-run debate thinking, it is one seriously interesting subject for discussion. It’s one of those subjects for which everyone wants to put their oar in the water (an apt metaphor for my team of naval specialists), and they did. At its core, the question is what, if anything, substantively separates two otherwise identical actions, when the only difference between the two is some social (antisocial?) abuse. That is, what is the difference between graffiti that says you’re a dork, and graffiti with a swastika that says you’re a dork? The answer does not, I think, lie in the frame of mind of the graffitist. If that were the case, we could simply say that we can’t convict people for their thoughts, and we could all go home. The thing is, it’s not their thoughts that are the problem, it’s their actions. Absent issues of culpability, which may or may not apply, there are legal consequences to illegal actions. We didn’t dig incredibly deeply at our session, but the digging we did was quality. Unfortunately there won’t be all that many opportunities to debate this resolution, given its position late in the year. Still, whether or not it debates well, it certainly brainstorms well. I like that in a resolution.

On the other hand, I have no handle at all on the March Pfffft rez, nor did anyone else except Termite, who plans to run that any action taken within a democracy is inherently just. I point out his strategy now so that potential judges can save themselves the bother of having to listen to his case, and can simply mark their ballots for his opponents early and take a nap for the ensuing half hour after getting that particular judging assignment. Then again, cooler heads may prevail between now and the Termitian witching hour, and he might find a slightly different approach to the resolution, if he does actually debate it. Whichever. Next week it’s all chezzes and no school meeting, for no particular reason except to vary the terrain. One chez will concentrate on those political primaries (except maybe we’ll tie Termite up outside where he can do no harm). And the novices do need a chez of their own, since as yet they’ve not checked out the homefront and been attacked by Tik (pronounced teek), so I have a novice-only chez for one of those nights. Then it’s a little time off for all and sundry thanks to Presidents’ Weekend and winter vacation, and then, as I’ve pointed out, qualification season begins. I have the Goy information ready to go, and a memo from them explaining what to do; all I have to do, I think, is do it. As a matter of fact, maybe I’ll go do that now. Wait a minute. Click here, here, and, uh, here. Okay. It’s done. The New York State NFL District Tournament is now live for registration. The next step is seeing how it tabs. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Last night I plugged away on the Scarsdale data. Getting it into E-TRPC is no big deal; creates simple text files from which the data is uploaded. But some things need to be sorted manually, namely which divisions the judges are in and which rounds they’re not showing up for and their ratings, and the names of the contestants need to be churned because otherwise you won’t know there’s a duplication of a code until the point you issue the schematic and Goombah High JJ is either J. Jonah Jameson or Jack Johnson, and I promise you that Jonah will always go to Jack’s round, and vice versa, and neither will tell you that they’re both on the schematic the same way until round thirty-eight, at which point the only way to sort it out is to throw both of them out the window. Now JV is sending me email updates as people drop or transmute, as they inevitably do at the eleventh hour. I lay awake last night figuring how to pair the theoretically single-flighted rounds so that some of them aren’t (single-flighted, that is); it’s easy enough to do inelegantly, but at this stage of my career elegance is everything, at least in tabbing. Nothing worse than all those unsightly written-in changes. But, with E-TRPC, what you get is what you get. And never get me wrong. No amount of carping on my part will ever undermine the fact that I love having the program, and the Rich Edwards deserves sainthood. But then again, no amount of sainthood on the part of Rich Edwards will ever get me to stop carping. I’ve got a blog to run here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Concluding the research series

LD (topic specific research)

LD, which is usually looking for a transcendent justification for action in general rather than at options in a specific situation, requires a different approach from PF. The sheer lack of attempting to achieve a value inherently defines the concerns of PF differently. But don’t take the differences I’m suggesting between PF and LD too seriously. I don’t mean to imply that they always require completely different approaches to research. Much of the approach is the always same, or interchangeable, and a specific topic in one might very much require exactly the sort of research I’ve recommended for the other. But I do feel that the overall approaches will be different, and that the differences are enough for a separation of the two in this essay.

LD asks if certain actions are right or wrong. And usually those actions can be boiled down to applications in a variety of situations. So while PF asks if we should engage Iran militarily, a question to which a variety of political, military or philosophical answers could be provided, LD will ask about preemptive strikes in general. The PF researcher will look specifically at Iran and the US and what is happening between the two, and at whatever else would affect a Commander-in-Chief’s decision to engage. The LD researcher would look both at the concept of preemption and at the possible examples, including Iran. The LDer wants a viable blueprint or action plan for all examples of the given situation; the PFer is looking only at the given situation (but will, of course, compare other meaningful examples). The distinction is thin, but real. And it should guide the thinking of the researcher.

Step one in the LD research process is exactly the same as in PF, which is to learn the broad historical story behind the resolution. As in PF, the more you know, the better off you are. Sticking to the example we’ve been using, the preemptive use of military force when enemy nations are planning to acquire nuclear weapons, at the very least we would need to research preemptive strikes so that we can analyze them and be able to use them as examples, and we would need to research nations’ acquiring nuclear weapons, since there’s a history of nations throughout the world either acquiring them or not, with the US’s resulting reaction to those acquisitions, and we would need to research nuclear weapons, so we know what’s different about them from conventional weapons.

Step two is where things start getting different. In LD, we now have to take a step backwards. Having studied the history, we need to draw lessons from that history, to find the similarities and differences in order to detect patterns of practical behavior. That is, we need to derive from the events a set of circumstances to which we can apply principles of action. In this case, we look at all the preemptive strike examples we can find. Why did they take place? What happened when they took place? Can we detect patterns? Then, with these thoughts, we need to research the concept of preemptive strike removed from practice. Are there theories of preemptive strike? Generally accepted universal practices? Some great philosopher who made his fame and fortune in the preemptive strike business? When we had the “plea bargaining in exchange for testimony is unjust” resolution, we would first try to find some examples of where this actual might have happened (organized crime, Enron, terrorists), and then step back and look at what we could distil from the examples about the process, and then we would look at the distillations removed from the specific examples.

So the second step is to distil the historical, real, examples down to patterns and theories and general practices, and then to research those patterns and theories and general practices. In addition to enlightening us on the specific issue at hand, we will begin to collect a broad understanding of various areas in general. There are plenty of legal/constitutional resolutions, for instance, and as we look at each one, we are putting together pieces of a broader understanding of law for the future. Or with a combination of other topics like Jan-Feb we’re building up a sense of just war versus realpolitik. We go from specifics to generalities, and back again whenever we need it.

Step three: Doing it

The mechanics of research have changed dramatically in the last few years, and have changed even more dramatically since my own short pre-computer debating career, and maybe it’s safe to say that the mechanics of research will continue to change in the future. Access to research may change too. It is not inconceivable that all tournaments will at some future date not only allow computers in rounds but will allow those computers to connect to whatever they want to connect to (short of cheating). Or maybe my handheld device will do what I need to do. Whatever. The point is, some things will change, but some things will remain the same. I’ll try to stick to generalities, allowing you to tailor them to the specifics of your own situation, team size, etc. I also won’t be explaining things like Boolean logic and how to do better Google searches: they should teach you that in school (and they usually do). We’re after bigger game here.

First of all, if possible, research should be a team effort. Obviously much research can be done on one’s own, but if one does have a team, the sharing of research is clearly beneficial to everyone. Just because you work late at night digging on your PC doesn’t mean you can’t pass along what you find to your teammates on the next day. Setting up a process for the interchange of data is important. Create shared online folders, perhaps. Or figure out a way to pass along printed copies of material (which does seem to waste a lot of paper in this day and age, though). Whatever. And note that holding on to the research past the expiration date of a resolution is also a good idea. The same ideas will come back to haunt you in the future. For instance, the explanation of retributive justice someone uncovered for the plea bargaining topic may be just as useful for the hate crimes topic…

Starting out, either alone or as a group, presupposes an elementary understanding of the subject area. That is, we presume that the first thing people will do is individually get their bearings overall: if the topic is Russia as a threat, in other words, you would obviously begin by some general and personal research into recent Russian history. This was the first step outlined for both LD and PF. Before you can do high-level research, you first have to absorb the basics of the subject area. Spend an hour or so on the computer reading through elementary resources like encyclopedias. Click around on various links and go where it takes you. This will provide a starting point.

Next, decide what, exactly, you are going to research in depth. If you’re doing it as a team project, work together to make a list; if it’s just you, a list is still a good idea. With the team, different people could be assigned different areas. This is especially important if you’re planning on physically attacking a library, which is a very good idea especially early in a topic’s life. Everybody bumping into one another in the same place looking for the same things doesn’t make a lot of sense. Let’s say you’re researching the US preemptively striking against pre-nuclear enemies; you might decide to research hegemony/superpower, international law, geopolitical justice (whatever that is), nuclear proliferation, nuclear v. conventional warfare, just war, preemptive strikes, and analysis of the nuclear fraternity nations vis-à-vis the US. That’s a good start. Most topics will have similarly broad areas (as discussed above in the what-to-research section).

Look for two different things in your research: look for facts, and look for meaningful opinions. People are always looking for warrants in evidence. A fact is a pretty good warrant: 82% of the population of a country are starving to death would be a convincing warrant for establishing a program to feed them. Meaningful opinions will be materials where someone else has marshaled some facts/warrants and drawn their own conclusions. Given that, presumably, those opiners are looking roughly at the same facts at which you are looking, you may find good arguments in what they are saying beyond simply cutting a card. That is, if a former Secretary of State outlines a rational approach to dealing with preemptive strikes and, using evidence and historical analysis, makes a good case for or against, what is stopping you from making that same argument in your case? The idea of doing research to find opinions that can be transmuted into one’s own arguments is often overlooked in researching. It’s not just about collecting information for cards or warrants. It’s about studying the arguments people in the field are making. Most likely the arguments people in the field are making are the ones you should be running, if you really want to address a resolution in a meaningful way. If you find that you are leaning toward an argument no one else in a position of rational authority ever seems to be making (e.g., the capitalism is inherently evil therefore all US actions are inherently evil), then you might want to reconsider your position.

When collecting evidence, look to the credentials of the source. Few debaters seem to bother to warrant the authority of their sources. That is, they simply throw out some name, followed by a quote. What is that name’s claim to authority? If I don’t know that (and you don’t know that), I have to wonder how much weight should be given to that quotation. If a former President of the General Assembly of the UN makes a claim, and your Uncle Newt the one-armed barber from Cleveland makes a counterclaim, how do I evaluate those claims if I don’t have a sense of the authority of the claimants? This is something I see all the time, and it always bothers me. A random quote by some random person has virtually no weight, but no one in rounds seems to care. If you can explain to me why your validating your sources’ authority won’t be in your favor if your opponent is not validating his or her sources, go for it! I’ve been waiting for years to hear it.

So what about your actual sources, after you type some germane phrase into your Google search box? I’ll just throw out a bunch of possibilities, and you can choose among them however it makes sense for that particular topic. Some of this is library-based, some if it is internet-based. Other approaches will be invented the minute I finish writing this, which means they’re too new for me to know about. But the drift should be clear.
General research guides. Encyclopedias, reference texts on law or government or politics or whatever.
Books on the subject. Short of actually reading a text (which is theoretically your goal with all important sources, but not necessarily always an achievable one), read the introduction and the first and last chapter, which usually will give you an author’s theme/hypothesis. Keep in mind that books are sorted by categories in library card catalogs. Lots of books are available online as well, or at least lots of introductions and beginnings, which may be more useful than you think. Use Amazon’s look-inside-the-book feature. If you’re literally holding a book in your hand, look at the index for specific coverage of the topic you’re researching, and then consult relevant sections within the text.
Journal articles on the subject. There are some serious (and costly) online journal search tools. If you have access to these tools, the better for you. If you don’t, then consult a list of magazines such as A&L Daily’s, and try the likely candidates there. Most magazines do keep some sort of archive.
Supreme court cases. Opinions—including dissents—from the justices, after you sweep away the specifics, often have bodies of theory to explain the decisions. Look for them on important cases. In other words, do more than just find out that such and such a court case is relevant: read the opinions. There can be some real meat there.
Philosophy. If you’re drawing on a particular philosopher, reacquaint yourself with the source material. Don’t just say “social contract,” but go back and read the handful of pages that are relevant in Locke or Rousseau or whoever so that you’re truly familiar with the concepts. Sometimes looking at something afresh that you think you know inside and out will lead to new insights. If you’re drawing on a new philosopher, take your time to understand the work and make sure you’re using it correctly. Read about the philosopher as well as within the philosopher. It might help.

From this point on, it’s mostly a matter of organizing and sorting the material. Create topic folders, either real or virtual, with each piece of evidence (or cutting, or article, or whatever you’re storing) clearly indicated without having to spend a lot of time sorting through it. Quick access is very useful if you’re actually in a round, and need to pull a card of some sort. (LDers claim that their evidence is the typing they did of something in their case; one snickers at the thought.)

And that’s about that. There are certainly other approaches to research, and no doubt other more specific tips and hints, but this is at least a start.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Various bubbles of news rise in the boiling stew of daily existence

I need a little break from this whole research thing. The reason I’ve brought it up is to revise my approach in the Cur, which is a little outdated, and while it’s been interesting to work out, quite frankly even I can tell that it’s less than groundbreaking. Still, solid principles for doing research can’t be a bad thing, even if they aren’t particularly unusual. If everyone followed such principles, the world would be a better place. Or at least the debate rounds would be better. Anyhow, I’ll probably get back to it tomorrow.

Meanwhile, there has been news aplenty. Last weekend was Newark, which meant an invitational starting Friday and an MHL starting Saturday. The former was disrupted by a literal sheet of ice that spread over most of New York starting about twenty miles north of Manhattan. One minute it was second star to the right and straight on till morning, and the next minute everybody was ass over teakettle, vehicles skidding every which way and a general alert from the Gotham police commissioner for citizens to remain in their homes. This cost the Sailors their bus, but Hen Hud knows no fear, and I led my Jolly Tars into the breech, albeit from the comfort of my office at the Day Job. In other words, one of our intrepid parents drove a few of the ABs down to Jersey and, as I understand it, is still cursing me royally, in numerous languages. The Saturday trip was much more civilized, with a perfectly marvelous bus and no traffic and no weather and we got there in plenty of time and had a perfectly marvelous MHL, except for the one school expelled for being louts and ruffians, but I have to admit I only caught the tail end of what that was all about, so I can’t provide any juicy details. In tab we just kept juggling too few judges and too many debaters and whatever hope we had for the best. If you need to know the depths of our despair, I had to judge a round myself, which I usually do by grabbing the poor little novices and putting them up against the wall of tab and scowling at them until they both give up and congratulate each other on a great round. I’ll be the judge of that, I growl, as they scurry off into oblivion.

For reasons that elude me no end, I’ve decided to go back and continue recording Nostrums. I had been planning to simply process the material into pdfs, but I realized that the pressure I was feeling back when I stopped in November has lifted, and I figured, what the hey. We’ll be back in regular weekly business for the proverbial foreseeable. A weary world, already adrift in the writers’ strike, rejoices.

In the New York primary, all the names of people who aren’t running are still there. For a moment I thought of pulling the Kucinich lever, just to give Denny that final well-wishing wave, but I ultimately thought better of it. At least now I know what I’ll do when I retire. If you’ve ever wondered where all the old people go, they’re running the polls in New York State. Save me a place, Ma!

This weekend is Scarsdale, with its First They Debate Then They Judge policy, and the more I think about it, the harder I remember it being to tab. It’s never really straightforward single flights of V then Nov, but a mixture hither and yon. But I do enjoy a challenge in the tab room. This weekend, aside from the actual tabbing, there will be also be the challenges of creating next year’s calendar and explaining to O’C yet again that I am interested in neither obscure debate trivia (even when it’s about me I never know the answer) or Howard the Bladerunning Duck.

Tomorrow at the crack of dawn I’m going over to Go West Young Man High School to watch a practice round. They’re right across the street from the Day Job. The last time I was there I saw oodles of debaters, but one seldom sees any at a tournament. Go figure. Anyhow, it’s a nice way to start the day. I love the smell of novices in the morning: smells like [my work here is done, and if you’ve got a metaphor, feel free.].

Monday, February 04, 2008

What to research

There are, in essence, two specifics in terms of the actual doing of the research. The first, and more important, is what to research, and the second, and more flexible, is how to research. Let’s add to this the different needs of LD and PF, and try to keep it all straight and meaningful.

The first thing that is necessary regarding any resolution is understanding the context of that resolution. No topic exists in a vacuum. There is a history surrounding every topic, and often a precipitating event that has inspired the topic in the first place. For instance, a growing sense that the US might invade Iran (prior to learning that they were not involved in developing a nuclear weapons program) can obviously be seen as the direct antecedent to the recent PF ”the United States would be justified in pursuing military options against Iran” topic, and the LD “It is just for the United States to use military force to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by nations that pose a military threat.” As a general rule, the PF resolutions are pretty specific, and it’s easy to see what is being referenced. LD topics might be a little more general; at least at the moment, this is a function of how and when the topics are chosen by the NFL. I would imagine that this would remain true going forward. Let’s start with a proposal for a PF plan for research.

To debate a resolution, you need to understand the history of that resolution, i.e., the history to which the resolution refers. There is an inherent story behind any resolution, a history, a series of events that have led us to where we are today, which is presumably a point of having to determine how to go forward. Debating—presenting a position explaining how to go forward—requires an understanding of that history, of where we have been and how it has brought us to where we are, and often requires a presentation of that history. This is less germane to LD than to PF, which often requires some storytelling to set the stage. In the rez about military options against Iran, we explain that the history of US/Iran is this, and this is where we are now, and if we pursue military options, this will be the result. Other PF resolutions seem comparable, as a general rule. Where we’ve been and why it’s gotten us to this point, the niceties of this point, and why a specific choice or situation is good or bad.

So what to research in this PF context is fairly straightforward. First, you need to research the history of the subject, because in your story/case, you are going to explain how that history is relevant, having brought us to this point. In the topic “That Russia has become a threat to U.S. interests,” that history and this point are the end of it, because there is no request for action. In the “use of military options against Iran” type topic, you must then add material on the what-if side. But in both cases you start with the history. And you can take this to the bank: if one team sounds as if they really know the relevant history on a subject, and the other team sounds as if they really do not know the relevant history on a subject, the team that knows its stuff will win every single time, period, end of story. If you’re talking about Iran, maybe you need to know the series of events from Shah to Ayatollah to Ahmadinejad. If someone mentions the embassy hostage crisis, which may or may not be irrelevant, you can’t reply by asking “Say what?”

In other words, step one, research the background/history of the resolution.

The next part of your case is the explanation of the present situation, i.e. the context of the topic. There is probably going to be a specific issue here. And it’s probably going to tie into your recommended plan of action, if the resolution is asking for one. In the Iran rez, you would need to know what, exactly, is happening now between the US and Iran. In the Russia topic, you would need to know what, exactly, is happening in Russia now that might threaten US interests. Here you’re going to look into the latest events relevant to the area you’re researching, something as clear as “Iran nuclear threat” or “Iran threat to US” or something like that, or in the Russia topic, you’re going to focus in on areas where you think the threat might be, like economics or military or whatever, and look up “Russia economic expansion” or “Russia military threat,” or whatever other angles you think might be promising.

Step two, therefore, is context, researching the specifics of the resolution at present. If the resolution offers wording to narrow the research, so much the better, but don’t count on it. Try different areas; you’ll pursue the one that yields the best results.

The final part of your case is making it convincing. Why do I believe you, aside from the fact that you’ve got a lot of facts at your fingertips? Here I think you need to go beyond those facts to comparable situations, and show why the action or analysis you’re proposing is the correct action/analysis, by showing how other situations have been similar. When and where has the US, or any other country, taken military action in a similar situation to that present day Iran/US situation? How has that worked out? Obviously Iraq is a perfect model of comparison, but perhaps other historical examples have worked out better. Whichever. Proposing your case’s conclusion in the light of comparable situations is yet another level of knowledge that will make your position all that much more convincing, and make you sound all that much more knowledgeable. Similarly, you might find experts who agree with your proposal/analysis, backing you up with their authority.

Step three, therefore, is to research comparable situations to support your conclusion.

LD, which is looking for a transcendent justification for action rather than at a specific situation, requires a different approach, which I’ll get to next.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Research, continued

Research, step one.

Yesterday I whined about the lack of research that is abroad in parts of the debate world. And as I said, the nature of research is different in the different debate activities. I won’t address research issues in Policy, because I’m not in that particular business, but it is interesting to point out that, as I understand it, the origin of kritiks in Policy is tied into the inability of smaller programs to compete with the research-gathering abilities of large programs. That is, they arose as an attempt to level the playing field, as compared to their use in LD, where they arose as an attempt to disrupt the playing field. Interesting…

So we’ll stick to LD and PF. These do require different approaches, but there are some overlaps. And the first step is, for the most part, entirely identical. So we will start at the beginning, in that overlap.

Knowledge on a subject does not accrue in a vacuum. I would like to be able to come up with some clever analogy, but the obvious are the best. To build a house, you need a foundation. A foundation is solid and firm and, in fact, can support all kinds of different houses. You can build a raised ranch, a colonial, a nifty little modernist number, whatever, on the exact same foundation. But without that foundation to provide support, you take your chances that the structure will be able to hold the building up. It certainly won’t withstand a hurricane. Or to look at it another way, you can’t improvise on a musical instrument until you know how to play it in the first place. For that matter, you can’t do variations on a theme unless you know the theme. You gotta pay your dues if you wanna play the blues, Jack.

The foundation we are trying to build in PF and LD is that of general knowledge of political/social events around the world. We need to know the important things that are happening, especially those important things that revolve around human rights issues and civil rights issues, foreign policy, and law, to name the first categories that come to mind. NFL has just released topics on the US primary/election process (PF) and punishment for hate crimes (LD). Considering that the primary process has been going on for about a year now, making the 2008 election almost literally a two-year cycle, your having been paying attention throughout 2007 would definitely have been to your advantage on this topic. As for the hate crimes resolution, this is more philosophical (in the legal sense) than dependent on any particular news events, but nevertheless it is a current-events subject that does come up regularly. For the Sailors, as it turns out, we are absolutely in the midst of a recent hate crime situation involving students at our school, but other students are not particularly far from these sorts of incidents, or at least knowledge of them.

To maintain the necessary foundation of general knowledge for PF and LD, I make two recommendations. Perhaps one of the two will suffice, but I suggest that they are complementary and that it is worth doing both of them. And I don’t really know of any decent substitute for either of them.

First of all, you need to read the news. Every day. In a newspaper. And you need to read a newspaper worth reading. There are, sadly, few of these, and they don’t include local Gannett papers (which I personally enjoy and read for local news and the comics, but that is the extent of their reach), USA Today, or even a number of second-tier major metropolitan papers. They also don’t include reading newspapers online, except as an absolute last resort. The experience of getting news from a newspaper is different from getting news from a website. The medium is the message, and you absorb differently from a newspaper than you do from the internet. If nothing else, the serendipity of turning the pages of a newspaper will bring to light different information than will surfing a web site. The hyperlink experience tends to be subjectively selective while the page-turning experience is objectively determined by the publisher of the paper (although still subject to the subjective randomization of your eye catching something interesting). In any case, when I say reading the newspaper every day, I mean that literally. And I recommend the Washington Post or the New York Times. I do not say that there are not other newspapers at that level, but I can comfortably point to these. I’m willing to add others, if someone wants to recommend them to me. Forgive my parochialness, but I am where I am…

Read the newspaper. Every day. And there is a way to do this. You must first read every headline on page one, and if the story is of interest, read all of that story that is on page one, and if you’re still interested in that story, open the paper and finish it. The reason stories are on page one is usually because they are important. There may be a human interest story of some sort there, more entertaining than important, and frankly, I enjoy these and do often read them through, but the knowledge bread and butter we are seeking for the debate foundation is elsewhere. Secondly, you must scan all the editorial and opinion pieces, reading fully any of those which provide commentary on issues of general concern. An article suggesting an exit strategy for Iraq, for instance, or the growing presence of China in Africa, would be more important than an article (say from Maureen Dowd) on the latest Clinton gossip. That is, separate the wheat from the fun. You may like Dowd, but she’s not essential for the knowledge foundation. Read her for entertainment, not debate. Thirdly, read the stuff in the paper that you like to read. Reward yourself. If you like sports, read the sports columns; if you like movies and theater, read the reviews. Read the music columns. Indulge. You’ve been a good little soldier, and now it’s time for some R&R. Overall, your “required” newspaper experience should take no more than half an hour. You can take longer if you really want to go at it, and you can turn all the pages and just read whatever catches your fancy. I do this on days when I’m not rushed. Unfortunately, I don’t have as many of those days as I would like.

The second recommendation for building up general knowledge is to listen to the news on NPR. Let’s say a half hour to an hour a day, every day, of “Morning Edition” or “All Things Considered.” It is almost impossible to come up with a good excuse not to listen to the morning show, even if it’s just background noise. You might prefer one of those newfangled funky music groups all the kids like nowadays (and while you’re turning down that noise you can also get off my lawn), but don’t tell me you can’t find a few minutes when you can’t have in-depth news analysis on in the background. I promise you, you will absorb some of it even if you’re not listening. And occasionally, something will come up and you’ll stop what you’re doing and you’ll pay attention, and you will actually get something out of it. And if you’re a true right wingnut and believe that NPR exists entirely to convert the country to Communism, then listen to it the way a left wingnut might watch Fox news, just to get your dander up.

Between these two media, serious newspaper and serious radio, you will be on your way to building a solid foundation of knowledge of the world around you, so that you actually know what’s going on in a lot of places, and can begin connecting the dots when the time comes to debate about it. And these recommendations aren’t that big a time suck either, because I’m saying a half hour tops on the paper, and radio mostly in the background while you’re eating your morning gruel with a side of Spam. No debater, to my knowledge, has even been harmed by either of these media, except that time when Soddie hit O’C on the nose with a rolled-up Sunday want-ad section, but that had nothing to do with general knowledge, and the less said about it the better.

There is one more basic that needs to be added for the LDer. Let’s assume that the LDer, whose topics change half as often as Pfffters’, can spend a little less time on their current event studies. Let’s posit that, in addition to the above, the Pffffter will read the occasional Time or Newsweek. In contrast, in that time the LDer has a need to read up on a little basic philosophy of some sort or other. By basic I do not mean Plato-type elementary, but simply philosophical or sociological works of a general nature that provide analysis of the literal values that LDers claim to uphold in rounds. That is, the reading of what reputable guides to the subject have said about justice, or morality, or the place of law in society. Books on ethics, or ethical practices. Studies of constitutional rights issues. Whatever. I’m not saying the LDer needs a steady diet of these, but one every now and then, every couple of months, say, plus another couple over the summer, is a good idea. Some of these books will be difficult, hard or impossible to read, and most will remain unfinished. But you’ll begin to get a sense of them. You’ll get, for instance, more sense of Foucault by reading him than reading a Wiki article about him. This is true of everyone. Since you’ve already evidenced an interest in this sort of stuff by signing up to do LD in the first place, taking it to the next level is not really that much of a stretch. Instead of working on your Nietzsche blocks, read Nietzsche; if nothing else, that reading will inspire you to block him left, right, sideways and down. Tackle the Old Baudlerloo: you might enjoy him. If you do, send me a postcard from Disneyland, the postcard with the picture of the parking lot. Anyhow, you get the drift. Reading the great thinkers, whoever they are, will help you understand their great thoughts, and could even encourage you to have a few great thoughts yourself.

So, the serious LD or PF debaters’ life includes daily newspapers and in-depth radio news, and the LDer needs to also get involved with texts on ethics, philosophy and theory. All of this will provide the solid foundation on which to build when it comes time to research a specific issue, which we’ll discuss next. And the worst-case scenario is, well, you’ll be generally smarter as a result. In other words, there is no down side whatsoever.