Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Coachean Life begins hourly TOC updates!

The countdown to the TOC continues with—

Wait a minute. I don’t count down to TOC. And neither should you. Keep repeating: It’s just another debate tournament. It’s just another debate tournament. It’s just another debate tournament…

I’m in the processing of putting my brain into vacation mode, which is easier said than done. Most of the plans are made, except for some oddball things like day trips to Toledo, but I need to figure logistics to and from airports, find hotels on the maps (again), figure out how to pack half as much as I usually do (my daughter can travel six continents for three years with nothing but the contents of a fanny pack which, of course, she refuses to wear because, well, it’s a fanny pack), find the correct reading material (the latest Pynchon is leading at the moment, but I fear that it won’t make the cut), and generally get into the swing of things. Last night I put up the final Nostrum before the break, leaving the proceedings in the middle of the Manhattan Lodestone OriginalVaganza (All Other Vaganzas are Extra). The episode concerned a parent judge who made a tournament run about an hour late, and I remembered as I read it the real incident that led to this fictionalization. If you are a Nostrumian, I will remind you, as Jules and the Mite often did during its original presentation, making it in fact an occasional slogan, that they often referred to it as “Nostrum: based on a true story.” I just love the sound of that.

I put a link to the feed over there on the right yesterday, to put Coachean Eating more front and center. Concentrating my attention as it has, I’ve noticed that, while it has been relatively easy to come up with facts and opinions on education hither and yon, I have yet to post a story on Native Americans. If a Pfffft topic is supposed to be reflective of current events, then the Cats seem to have outdone themselves this year in getting it wrong. I was also catching up on my old Rostrums last night (I’m a couple of months behind, and just read this interview with some guy from Scarsdale who claims to be their coach) and read the Rev B.A.’s latest on the problems of PF, and, inter alia, his belief that the Cat approach (fixed sides) does nothing to solve them. Mostly, though, he talks about the judge pool as a moderation device on the activity, with which I agree, although I don’t think it’s likely any time soon that we will actually have two judges in every round, as he suggests. The way it works in real life is problematic, though. As a for instance, we have a tournament with LD, PF and Policy, a standard-issue event. Inevitably the Policy judging is so tight that every judge is judging every round, and there isn’t a lot of discretion over the proceedings other than putting all the varsity judges in the varsity pool and the novice judges in the novice pool, with, if you’re lucky, an occasional run off of the former into the latter in bubble rounds. PF judging also, for some reason, remains tight. There will be a few PF parents about, and we’ll use them as much as we can, but if the pools are small, judges get dirty fast and you quickly start importing LD judges one or two at a time, which can work wonders in terms of clean adjudication. But what happens is maybe not good. There might be one or two judges in the LD pool who are fans of PF and would prefer to be there (some of my own ex-Sailors, for instance), and I’ll do my best to accommodate as that seems a good thing for all the parties concerned. But after that, what we might be doing is siphoning off the judges from LD that the LD pool doesn’t want, thus bolstering the parochialism of LD while doing nothing to secure a lack of parochialism in PF. The siphoning is of judges who are so struck by the LD pool that there’s nowhere else for them to go, or of the LD parents who we think would be great for PF, but whose defection homogenizes the LD pool. Of course, we also throw in a few people who just happen to have team cleanliness on their side (e.g., great LD judges who were hired by the tournament and therefore able to judge everyone), but you can just do so much of that because you’re always conscious of your bubbles in LD. At TNC, for instance, we had three LD divisions, meaning fields with three sets of bubbles. There aren’t too many A judges left by the time you pair those rounds. Anyhow, my point is that, in the normal practice, we’re probably doing an okay job with the PF judge pools, a balance of all sorts of lay and non-, but the very existence of that PF pool is acting as a parochializing agent on the LD pool. And, as everyone in the VCA knows, I am a strong proponent of parent judging in LD, for all sorts of reasons. So I may be acting against my own principles when I get into the tab room.

I have no solution for this, aside from tournaments not selling PF judging (you end up with professional judges) and not overloading the field with one school (you end up with plenty of judges who can’t judge anyone, which happens all the time at our local CFL events with unlimited Regis Pffffters). In other words, strictly enforced team limits and judge requirements. But we want PF to grow, and these strictures may not be particularly nurturing.

We live in interesting times.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Either/or <> both; modern love; bowling far from alone

Jimi Mo asks the following regarding CatNats LD in a comment: “Question, are you saying that the negative strategy saying that athletics and debate [I assume he means fine arts] should be viewed as equal is illegitimate, or that its something that people ought be prepared for, or both.” The answer is, of course, both. Now, reasonably speaking, one could theoretically claim that the affirmation of the topic is that a particular aspect of education needs to be valued higher than another, and that the opposite position, and therefore the negation, is that no particular aspect of education should be valued higher than another. And if you and I were discussing this at the dinner table, this positioning of the topic might make sense. In fact, in the real world, it is pretty much inarguable that secondary education ought to balance (and support) athletics and the arts. But debate is not the real world, and it is pretty obvious that the intention of the resolution is for debaters to argue the relative merits of athletics v. fine arts, and not for debaters to be arguing a balanced education versus an imbalanced education. But, alas, that doesn’t mean that that is what will happen in the rounds. If negatives can successfully pull off this particular reading of the resolution, unless they start singing the songs from The South Park Movie in the middle of the round, it’s hard to imagine how they could lose. I’m reminded of an old regular NFL topic on economics versus protecting the environment in developing nations. As often as not, the negatives ran not their side of the dichotomy, but a recommendation of balanced development. To which there could be no successful affirmative reply other yeah, “Yeah, duh!” Unfortunately I don’t think this sort of problem is fixable by some rewording of a resolution. When you want to present two choices, you have to frame it that one side is preferable to the other, and I can’t imagine wording that excludes the prospect that neither side is preferable (or both sides are preferable). Debaters who come up with this reading of the resolution inevitably think of themselves as clever little devils, by the way. So, affirmatives need to be prepared: the CFL is filled with clever little devils.

Meanwhile, I noticed on Facebook this morning that it is my wife’s birthday. I plan to write “Happy Birthday” on her wall some time today, if I can find a moment in my otherwise busy schedule. I love this Web 2.0 world that we are living in. It takes all the work out of human interaction.

And speaking of human interaction, I love this: A friend of mine at the Day Job is out bowling last Saturday night. (What kind of friends do you have there, you might ask, if they’re all out bowling last Saturday night. I refuse to answer that question.) She’s bowling away—a strike here, a spare there, a little bag of peanuts in between. Then her husband nudges her to look over there. And in the neighboring alley—bowling away, a strike here, a spare there, a little bag of peanuts in between—is a high school student wearing a “What Would Menick Do” tee shirt. The otherwise unbridgeable gap between Day and Night is closed, and my friend at work will now pay any amount of money for a WWMD tee. I gather these are now the hottest items on eBay, other than Menick beanie babies and Menick action figures. I guess I should ask O’C, he being the biggest collectible person I know (i.e., a person who collects, not a person who is collected by others). If anyone is in the market for a Boba Menick Big Fig, it’s him.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fortune-telling (with a WTF/TOC zing, various cultural references just to be cute, and O'C's obsession)

WTF has begun their countdown to the Tournament of Coffee. We here at CL will be battening down the hatches waiting for the storm to pass, confident in our belief that a balloon is only as big as the amount of hot air used to inflate it.

(Wow. That’s a really good metaphor, and I think I made it up all by my lonesome. I’m impressed.)

So, no TOCs here, bub. And my house is empty again, so I have no further Non-F stories to relate (much to the chagrin of Dan Cook’s father). And I have no interest in getting involved in discussing the self-immolation process known the Democratic Party primaries, not to mention that my recent comment on Miley Cyrus’s autobiography has preemptively used up my allowance of stories on that particular subject (thank God). So it would seem that I am excluded from the blogosphere completely. What else is there left to talk about?

You misunderestimate me, Mr. Bond. (Which reminds me of the best Bond exchange of all time, from Goldfinger. “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”)

(But first of all, I awoke Saturday morning to a message from O’C that, while suffering from debate withdrawal, he had just purchased 7 new Star Wars figures. If you’re wondering, they were: Bubba Fett (football-playing clone), Brudda Fett (Hawaiian ukulele-playing clone), Bobo Fett (bourgeois bohemian clone), Bugger Fett (you-don’t-want-to-know-what-kind-of clone), Baba au Fett (rum-soaked clone), Feta Fett (Greek salad-eating clone), and Fetid Fett (debater-who-forgot-to-pack-clean-underwear clone). Needless to say, this knowledge made my day. We all handle debate withdrawal in our own fashion.)

I listened this morning to a Philosophy Bites interview with Thomas Pink. (If you Google him you first have to sort through a lot of haberdashery.) The subject was free will. An argument was proposed to prove the lack thereof by proving that all actions are predestined, and it goes something like this. All statements of fact are either true or false. The statement “You are going to take a walk this afternoon” is therefore either true or false. Your walk, or lack thereof, is a fait accompli before it takes place (or doesn’t take place). Your walk, or lack thereof, is therefore predestined. Now the only way you can attack this conclusion is, apparently, to attack the single premise, that all statements of fact are either true or false, but that is, needless to say, a mug’s game.

Of course, to me, this whole discussion is a mug’s game. Even though I can accept both the logic and the premise, I know that the conclusion is nonsense, and that the whole thing is mere wordplay. If I were a more sophisticated philosopher, perhaps I could successfully rebut the wordplay, but I can’t. And worse, as an unsophisticated post-contemporary philosopher, I find the entire exercise specious at best. Have these obviously intelligent people nothing to do with their brains than to waste them on conundrums? Were they out of Wii consoles at the local electronics shop that week? Because I see little difference between a video game and this kind of analysis, except that at least the Wii gives you a little pseudo-exercise to go along with your killing of time.

I know. My yabbo flag is now waving in all directions.

I equate much of the nonsense in pomo writing with this sort of thinking. One isolates an idea that makes sense if you squint at it just right, and then tear off and build a whole universe of conclusions based on that idea, and that entire universe of conclusions looks like pure idiocy to anyone who doesn’t buy into that particular brand of squinting. And those non-squinters tend to be the majority of the world at large. Not to suggest that the majority is right merely because they have the numbers, but that accepted processes of thought and analysis should be able to withstand all changes of thinker and analyst. Science is like that. Something is either a proven fact, or it is not. One can hypothesize till the cows come home on conclusions to be drawn from the proven fact, but until one’s hypotheses themselves become proven fact, by the same rigorous process that led to the original proven fact, they are not accepted as true. Wouldst that philosophy, or what passes for philosophy, worked the same way.

And if post-contemporary philosophy is correct, it does. The mind and body and the universe do not work one way for philosophers and some other way for physicists/biologists/psychologists. The former create metaphors for what the latter prove empirically. And some day in the distant future the two groups will no longer be disparate. Unfortunately, I doubt if any of us will live long enough to see that happen. [Sigh...]

Friday, April 25, 2008

Trade this, you yabbo; nail me to the nearest VW; My Dinner with Non-F

So now Palmer wants to trade with me. He wants the CatNat LD topic, and in return, I get the CatNat Pfffft topic. Nope, not good enough. He needs to throw in one Original Orator, two Duo teams and six Declaimers to be named at a later date before we can even begin to deal.

The nerve of that guy!

Curiously enough, I just posted on the feed a list of artists and their projects that is, well, germane (?) to the issue of what is art. Take a look at it, or if you’re not an Eater (i.e., a follower of the feed, which is akin to being a member of the VCA but sort of like the mother’s auxiliary), go Google the name Chris Burden. But you’ve been warned. We’ll start evaluating art according to our new prescriptive definition in the near future. Whether this will help with CatNats I highly doubt, but then again, if you have a native understanding of what art is, it won’t hurt when it comes time to argue about it.

Speaking of arguing, sometimes you just have to recognize that you shouldn’t because you’re just not going to get anywhere. One of my houseguests last night, during a discussion of the CatNat LD topic (I recommend that my students discuss these things at the dinner table, because God knows I certainly do it myself), equated athletics with stupidity. More specifically, she claimed that all college athletes (and she’s a professor, so she knows a bunch of them) are stupid, or at least the vast majority. The problem with this statement though, even if it were true, is that it requires one to provide a link between athletics and stupidity. Now if you made that statement, and I asked you to provide the link, i.e., the inherent aspect of athletics that made people stupid, or the inherent aspect of stupidity that made people into athletes, you would either provide it or admit that there wasn’t one. But that’s because you’re a forensician. Non-Fs don’t get it. They see ample examples of the truth of a conclusion, and therefore do not feel a need to challenge the logic of the conclusion: they do not recognize that the conclusion requires a direct causal link, without which one has subscribed to a logical fallacy, the truth of the matter or lack thereof notwithstanding. Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, if I’m not mistaken. But then again, I’m no logician. And I’m not a person to argue with, unless you’re actually willing to argue absent a commitment to a position. If you actually believe what you are saying, then discussing something controversial with you won’t be much fun because you’ve already committed to your conclusion. True debaters are like true gamblers. As a true gambler will wager on which bird will be the first to take off from the branch merely for the sake of having a bet on the table, the true debater will argue anything for the sake of arguing it. Content is beside the point. But to be honest, I do disagree with the athletes=stupid claim. Everyone knows it’s the fine arts people who are stupid.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Toward a workable definition of art

Traveling the path toward understanding art is a fairly treacherous business. Once upon a time the only thing one needed to know was how representative of nature a work of art was to be able to evaluate that work. At least this is what, I gather, Plato and Aristotle say on the subject. One recalls HAL, the computer in 2001, remarking on the drawing the astronaut has done by saying that it is a very good likeness. A very good likeness would make something a very good work of art, from a Platonic, Aristotelian or a binary AI point of view. It is, if nothing else, an objective yardstick. The more real, or the more realistic, and therefore the closer to nature, the better the art. Unfortunately, even without stretching our brains too much, we are able to discard this particular art theory no later than the middle of the 19th Century, and perhaps a lot earlier (e.g., Turner). But to pick a most famous moment, around the time the Americans were fighting their Civil War, a handful of French artists were inventing Impressionism, at which point there is no question, at least in our 21st Century minds, that art need not be realistic/natural to be good.

Our problem is that, as we flash forward to the present from the 19th Century, we get progressively more complicated in trying to analyze the works that are presented as art by artists. The artists refuse to cooperate in our investigations by going off in one unified direction, and we get all sorts of movements and styles, and we have to contend, for instance, with the rather realistic Hopper and the rather fanciful Picasso who, if we were to hang their works on the gallery walls by chronological order, are right next to one another (they were born a year apart). How do we create an overarching explanation for everything we see at a museum of modern or contemporary art? How do we evaluate everything we see at these museums?

For a long time now I’ve been wrestling with aesthetics. Needless to say, I have found it impossible to find an aesthetic explanation, much less an aesthetic appeal, to much of what seems to inarguably be art, if one is to accept the word of artists that their work should be claimed as such. One could subscribe to Baudrillard’s conspiracy of art (which is reasonable enough) and say that art has become what the co-conspirator manufacturers (artists) and profiteers (art dealers, curators and critics) claim it is, regardless of any objective evaluation. But even if that is true, it is not as if there is any competing claim to art that trumps it. Art is that stuff all around us that is put forth as art. Our challenge is to understand it, not to disregard it.

Given the vast panorama of what is called art, it may be too much (or too little) to attempt to define it by what it is. It is certainly impossible to evaluate it merely by what it is. Let’s say we went with a simplistic definition that art is the creation of an object with no practical purpose. I don’t particularly like this definition, and it’s awfully close to the definition that art is the creation of an object that is a work of art, which even more obviously begs the question. I don’t necessarily believe that art is objects, or that all art must have no practical purpose. For that matter, one could question the human inherency in the creation of art: if a computer, or an elephant, paints a painting, is the result not art by definition? In any case, one can toss together various collections of words more or less like this definition, leading inevitably to both arguable premises and arguable conclusions. These arguments would allow us to waste much ink on art theory, intelligibly in some cases, unintelligibly in many others, and in the end we would be not much closer than where we started. Not that I don’t enjoy reading (some) art theory, mind you. I just don’t believe it holds the solution we’re looking for.

The good news is, there is no law that forces us to define art descriptively in order to understand it. Rather than taking a deontological approach, therefore, I will take a consequentialist approach. I will explain art not from a categorical perspective of its having certain aspects, but rather from its results. Art, I would say, is any created work that enhances human experience. Of course, there is an immediate problem with this, because one could easily say that the practice of medicine enhances human experience, but that’s why I include the word created, or better yet, use the phrase created work. We need to get a sense of somebody—an artist—doing something creative, of manufacturing something, whatever it might be, for the purpose of that thing being a work of art. My guess is that there is a better way to put this, but I don’t think the sense is unclear. On the other side of the sentence is the consequence: the work enhances human experience. Here I would mean it enchances the beholder and not the creator, and that art can not be measured by its intentions alone; i.e., if it has no effect, it is therefore a failed piece of art, however lofty the intentions of the artist who created it. Enhance may be a dicey word, human experience may be an overly general phrase, but again, I think we have a clear statement. Art is any created work that enhances human experience. That leaves only the determination of what we mean by enhancing human experience.

I think we can look to Aristotle here on what he says about drama, in that its goals are to provide emotional catharsis for the viewer, and to expand the knowledge of the viewer about the world. This is a simple emotion/intellect breakdown. I would say that enhancing human experience is exactly what Aristotle says, either providing an emotional arena outside of the self, or educating the mind from outside the self, or both. Either is okay, both is better. If Art is any created work that enhances human experience than it either heightens our emotional sensitivity (or gives it a thorough cleaning via a good solid workout) or it expands our knowledge of life, or both. I can now measure the success of art (or at least its relative success, vis-à-vis myself as the beholder) by its effect on my mind or my soul.

There’s more to it than this, but this is a start. Questions arise about meanings that are not the intention of the artist, for instance, but that’s a fine point for argumentation and not a deal-breaker. This definition, if you will, allows us to look at the most luscious Monet or the most improbable Smithson pile of dirt, and evaluate their effects and therefore accept at least that both may be art, even though they do radically different things. I mean, say what you will about the pile of dirt, it does make you think (if only about the conspiracy of art, but that’s beside the point). A book that makes you think about a lot of things would, in this analysis, be more of a work of art than a book that merely entertains you. You could indeed suggest that the book that is merely entertainment is no work of art at all, and perhaps make comparable arguments about paintings of lighthouses that are sold by the pound at tourist resorts. Of course, even the success of these low level attempts at art are tangible, if an emotional reaction (excitement at reading a good adventure story, a sigh over a pretty landscape) is all that is required (and perhaps it is). The more I work with this definition, prescriptive though it may be instead of a more satisfyingly descriptive approach, the more I like it. It could be improved in its actual words, but the point is, I think, on the money.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My understanding is that the only mammals used as feed at Disney's Animal Kingdom are mice. If the O.B. had only known...

I have just heard that Miley Cyrus is writing her memoirs. Obviously, our work here is done.

Of course, this is the sort of news I am pointedly not adding to the Coachean Feed. There you would most recently have read a think piece on the 8th Amendment (lots of that floating around these days), some internet privacy news, US immigration statistics, the happiness of gun owners (there’s another amendment for you), and a bit of this and that on education (for the CatNattians in the audience). In other words, the sort of stuff debaters need to have in their brains in general, all of it desirable rather than feeling like just more homework. My original goal as a coach was to civilize the adolescents with whom I came in contact. This proving to be beyond my capabilities, I have resorted to attempting to marginally educate them beyond their class work. So far results have been, well, comme ci, comme ca. You can test this yourself. Do you feel any smarter for your connection with me? No? Well, maybe our work here isn’t done yet after all.

I will point out one link on the feed that will baffle all but the most dedicated Coacheans: Disneyland has banned the taking of photographs in the parking lot! I’m not making this up. This may be the biggest setback for postmodernism since the release of The Matrix Revolutions.

Anyhow, the feed matures over time, becoming less newsy and more far-flung as I discover new blogs and websites through mostly serendipity (or, more likely, a willingness to follow wherever the hypertext takes me). Google does the rest, bless its little heart. I’m hoping that by next season it will be quite the little resource (the feed, that is, not Google). You, of course, can get in on the ground floor. Free! Act now! Our Prices are INSANE!!!

Last night I posted episode 71 of Nostrum, which strikes me as an awful lot of Nostrums. Not having a meeting did free up a little time, although I do still have a lot of debate chores before I run out of seasonal steam (not to mention getting “G.O.A.” ready for Minnesota, you betcha). I also have prep chores for my vacation in a couple of weeks. It’s coming up quicker than I expected, but I think most of it’s pinned down as much as it’s going to be. The goal will be to spend as few Euros as possible, given that each one is worth 172 American dollars plus your firstborn. What I should really be doing is traveling to somewhere the dollar still has some value. Do you think there is such a place, Toto? It’s not a place you can get to by a car, or through Expedia…

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A little CatNats, including the abstention negative, with a side of logic

The new Loquitur podcast does a good job of pointing out that there are serious problems with American education by establishing a forecast for future global employment needs and pointing out that all the good jobs are going to go somewhere else. If we measure education for its ability to provide a useful, gainfully employed citizenry into the marketplace—a perfectly good method of measuring, I’d say—then we are up the creek without a paddle. The problem with this thesis is, the false dichotomy of arts/athletics is beside the point. US education needs to concentrate on math and sciences in a world where most of the high-paying jobs require math and sciences. Neither an extra hour on the violin or on the weight-lifting equipment is going to help much. Of course, this particular thesis does miss the point that not ALL future jobs will be for engineers, but I wouldn’t have much problem arguing that US education in social sciences and reading/writing is also absolutely pathetic. Given the high percentage of debate students, presumably at the top of their classes, who are semi-illiterate, well, there you are. I thank my lucky stars on a regular basis that I don’t have to deal with whoever it is who is at the bottom of their classes. Unfortunately, however, after this rather interesting program which I listened to this morning, one is no closer to solving the Mystery of the Missing Conflict (AKA the CatNat topic) than when one started, aside from adding a global perspective to one’s approach, if one is so inclined. Again, this is no fault of the Loquiturians, who have nothing to discuss but the topics they are given. Anyone going to CatNats should at least give it a listen.

The one thing that serious CatNatters need to be prepared for is what I’ll call the abstention negative. While I don’t usually discuss tactics and strategy here, as I don’t want you blaming me when you go down in flames (I’ve already got a team that handles that perfectly well), there is one prospect afoot that you need to be prepared for if you’re not already. Keep in mind that while plenty of great debaters qualify for CatNats, a surprising number of not-so-great debaters also qualify in regions where they don’t have much debate but nonetheless they have a quota of debaters they can send. These less experienced debaters, stifled by the obliqueness of the topic, might be inclined to abstain and run a negative that says not that athletics ought to be valued higher, but that neither should be valued higher, that they are both equally important (or unimportant) and should be treated identically insofar as the dealing of funds (the demonstration of valuing) is concerned. This being CatNats, you are not allowed to hit these debaters over the head with a frying pan. Worse, given the lay nature of the audience, there may be those in the back seats who buy this approach as a viable strategy. You, of course, know better, in that this removes all aff ground and is therefore unacceptable. But you’ll need a better defense than that when the time comes. I’m not guaranteeing that the time will definitely come, but be prepared. More unusual things have happened.

By the way, isn’t this an example of the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent:

1. Since everyone in possession of nuclear weapons is too sane to ever use them, no one will ever use a nuclear weapon.
2. No one has ever used a nuclear weapon.
3. Therefore, everyone in possession of nuclear weapons is too sane to ever use them.

I could be wrong on that, as I’m no logician. But I heard this a couple of times last weekend (and of course it does stem from Baudrillardian type analysis, but that’s beside the point). In any case, I do not subscribe to the argument that just because something has not happened, that somehow that proves that it will never happen. In support of my position, I offer just one word: virginity.

My, my, my. I am seldom no debate-oriented. I must have awoken on the right side of bed this morning.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Greener CatNat grass; 6 Rounds of Spring RR lead to all the news that isn't fit to print

CP finds the CatNat Pffft topic sadly wanting, while when I first saw it I was envious, at least in light of its LD cousin. I guess it is a bit one-sided, but then again, at least it’s not a statement of obvious fact, so there’s some leeway. Given that the LD topic is a statement of oblivious fact, I’m still inclined to prefer his over mine. Of course, at this point I’m only helping “Good Old Alli” prep, and don’t have to actually listen to any rounds, so the harm to myself will be minimal at worst.

Saturday was the Columbia Spring RR under the auspices of They Who Fill Up Every Inch of the Ballot, and it was a nicely run little event on a beautiful spring Saturday. Given that I haven’t judged anything except the odd round hither and yon lately, I was a little apprehensive, but I remembered what I was doing quickly enough. That the first person I heard was running Derrida (I kid you not) and almost had me screaming for the door, but things settled down quickly after that. Lots of good debaters doing a good job, essentially. You can’t complain about having to judge something like that.

The high point of the event was schmoozing with O’C, who updated me on all the latest gossip. Although I’ve been sworn to secrecy, that probably doesn’t include writing it up here, so let me share it now with you. So-and-so, of all people, is randier than some really random thing, which amazes me no end because I can’t imagine how So-and-so even gets standing room at the back of the bleachers, much less batting cleanup and hitting a home run. Whoda thunkit. Meanwhile, You-know-who has a history of naughtiness that would make even Hillary Clinton blanch, and I had thought You-know-who was a pillar of the community; shows you how observant I am. O’C refused to go into too much detail on Whatshername or Thingamabob in front of [Insert Varying First Name Here] Chernick, or maybe it was the other way around and the truth of the matter was that he refused to go into too much detail in front of me, but what I heard was enough to get me through the rest of the day with my ears having turned bright red. We did establish that, at least so far, not a hint of shame has ever been connected with the Menick name in the forensics community, however. I’m thinking of changing my slogan to “Scandal-free since 1996.” That should appeal to the parents, at least.

We did have to leave the RR early, since at some point Robbie realized that he was Jewish and that there was a seder to attend. Craig had popped up and rode back with us, so we shared opinions on every movie ever made, all of which Craig has seen in the last six months. Aside from having to deal with the runoff traffic from the Pope’s visit (he was on the highway that intersected with ours for a while), a pleasant time was had by all. Follow this up with a nice dinner and an episode of ST:TNG (in honor of spending time with O’C that day), and you have pretty much the perfect way to spend a spring day (especially if you throw in that ice cream cone dipped in chocolate at lunch time, the quintessential sushi dessert).

And so, aside from another bit of brain power on CatNats, the debate year is a done deal.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Alternate NCFL PF topics revealed

In light of CP's comments about the NCFL topic next month, I have been fortunate in uncovering the topics that were not accepted by the selection committee. You can judge for yourself if they're any better than the actual topic.

Resolved: Obama should concede the nomination to Hillary Clinton because she’s a girl.

Resolved: George W. Bush is a schmuck.

Resolved: Public Forum should adapt value and criterion standards like LD, and then ignore them.

Resolved: If indigenous people don’t want to be poor, they should learn to deal Blackjack.

Resolved: The United States should bomb the hell out of the enemy in Iraq, once we figure out who the enemy is.

Resolved: Dick Cheney makes the Antichrist look like Kermit the Frog.

Resolved: Osama bin-Laden is living in Bermuda under the assumed name of Barney bin-Rubble.

Resolved: The Supreme Court should lighten up a little bit and apply the death penalty to anyone who wants it for any reason whatsoever.

Resolved: The 4th Amendment means just what it says it means, whatever that is.

Resolved: Wouldn’t we all be better off if we just waited until Chelsea hits her thirty-fifth birthday?

Resolved: Russia gets really cold in the winter.

Resolved: George W. Bush is still a schmuck.

Resolved: If God had wanted man to fly, He would have bought him a plane ticket.

Resolved: Tiger Woods is to golf what Jon Cruz is to pomp.

Resolved: Matt Thomas is the father of Dan Cook.

Resolved: Anyone who inadvertently gives my name to Facebook to sign up for yet another application should have their nose eliminated.

Resolved: Scrabulous should accept the non-words I put in but not the non-words anyone else puts in.

Resolved: Steve Jobs should get some bright colors into his wardrobe.

Resolved: George W. Bush is becoming more of a schmuck with every passing minute.

Resolved: John McCain isn’t all that old. Yet.

Resolved: Red states and blue states should come together and make purple states.

Resolved: Chetan should be issued larger ballots because he already completely fills up the ones that are merely eight by eleven.

Resolved: Debaters should at least try to read Chetan’s eight-by-eleven ballots.

Resolved: In order to co-exist with the Catholic Forensic League, the NFL should rename itself the Non-Catholic Forensic League.

Resolved: Consarn it! #%$(%*& Bush is even schmuckier than I thought!

Resolved: Resolution writers for the CFL should get a 15% raise.

(I want to thank His Holiness for passing these along to me during his otherwise busy schedule visiting our fair nation—JM)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Breaking news: Tiaras replace trophies in Northeast!

In his latest blog post, CP, the twenty-first century’s answer to Bert Parks, indirectly raises an interesting question. He talks about the decline of policy, and the potential and/or real decline of LD due to their inherent parochialism, making points with which I pretty much agree. But the question arises, given the general belief that PF is a good thing, why aren’t we getting ignition throughout the region? I see some schools who have had little or no debate but lots of speech tentatively taking to it as debate gateway, and one or two outfits have almost completely refitted their operations to participate (e.g. Regis), but most schools continue to field PF teams as, at best, afterthoughts.

Is a puzzlement.

The CatNat Pffft topic is: Resolved: That the US Government should increase social services for indigenous peoples in America. This is a fascinating subject, both in a historical and contemporary sense. The CatNat LD topic is: Resolved: That secondary education in America should value the fine arts over athletics. This is a topic of no value whatsoever, since it concerns a nonexistent dichotomy which, even if it were true would be peripheral to the real concerns of contemporary education. And these are not unique examples (although one might suggest that, traditionally, the CatNat topic is almost always the worst of the year, so it might be unfair to mention this particular example, but just because the Pope is in town doesn’t give them a bye, if you know what I mean, although given his infallibility, it might be better if he came up with the resolutions in the future). Most of the time the Pfffters get to argue interesting stuff at the level of that stuff, while most of the time LDers, if they don’t duck the resolutions altogether, work the same material over and over with little variation. This is not an indictment of the resolution choosing process, but merely an observation based on resolutions that reflect the nature of their arenas.

There is an interesting line in one of the actual indictments of LD abroad at the moment, in which coaches who consider the content of a resolution to have value are disdained as missing the point (as opposed to concentrating on analytic thinking). Being one of that number, maybe that’s why I’m attracted to PF, because every month there’s a new topic and you actually have to understand the topic and learn about it and then debate it. Quelle horror, as they would say in France if they didn’t speak French very well. But maybe that kind of coachean thinking is in the minority, and since everyone else in LD would prefer to argue the prestandards, the poststandards and the londoneveningstandards rather than what henceforth will be called the standardstandards, there is little interest in PF’s resolution churning because, ultimately, resolutions are the thing to be gotten around, not explored. In other words, we have an entrenched coaching establishment that supports whatever it is already doing, however it is doing it, rather than looking at new activities and evaluating them objectively and using them for whatever value they may possess. (And I agree with all that CP says about lay judging, which adds another dimension to this altogether.)

Let me put it this way. As I’ve always said, all forensics are valuable at the secondary school level. The learning required to interpret a poem is as valuable as the learning required to argue the rights of indigenous peoples in America is as valuable as the learning required to argue foreign policy with a partner is as valuable as the learning required to present a case for or against social actions as just or unjust is as valuable as the learning required to write and present an original oratory on, well, whatever, etc., etc., etc. You get my point. While students may be at an age where a fanboy attachment to their own activity blinds them to the values of other activities (and I don’t necessarily believe that that is true, but I pose it for the ensuing juxtaposition), coaches have no such biological excuse. And if a coach can’t offer everything, and there may be good reasons for this (e.g., in my neck of the woods, speech events are here and debate events are there, mostly, and I can not usually be both here and there, although I have occasionally been both hither and yon), then coaches must closely look at what they are doing and wonder if they should think about changing it. CP poses this dilemma for the Polician community. If may also become applicable to the LD community, as he suggests. I continue to question the death of LD, though, and to wonder if it may just be the isolation of the national $ircuit—a group which is blatheringly loud on the debatosphere and therefore hard to ignore—from the general flow of the LD community, which goes about its business as always, perhaps occasionally longing to go to Kentucky on Derby weekend, but not willing to sell soul, heart, and mind to do so. Or to redefine educational values to include the smallest number.

In any case, my team is small, but I will continue to attempt to get some traction in PF. Wait’ll next year! I honestly don’t care if my students do PF or LD, although I do believe that, given my own experience with the latter, we’re better off at least starting novices with LD and evolving into PF on a person by person basis, i.e., learning the boot camp basics in the area where we have lots of rounds available, and my own curriculum in place. But still, the void in the region remains. At the MHLs we get at best a handful of Pffffters despite our best efforts. A mere three schools fielded Pffffters at the Northeast Championships. Until we get more people out there week after week, learning by doing, we’re just not going to be establishing the activity as a viable alternative to, or welcome partner with, the existing debate activities. And that would be too bad.

Quelle dolorous, as those poor illiterate French folks might say.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Standards Deviations

Like most members of the LD community, I have been closely following the discussions of different approaches to the activity that have been published recently. To put things into perspective, not too long ago the NFL regrouped to clarify rules and procedures for debating and judging LD, under the mistaken notion that they represented some central, neutral authority on the issue. Rather than waiting for the ink to dry on their recommendations, the LD community at large has quickly risen to the occasion not to denounce their work but to more wisely pretend that it never existed. I totally concur with this approach, as only the world’s worst District Chair can. But I am dismayed that the discussions that have been taking place have not concentrated on what I consider the areas of pure argumentation that are the ripest for analysis. Our goal as coaches, aside from finding the judges’ lounge and discovering where the parents are hiding the doughnuts, is to hone the minds of our students into sharp objects that they probably shouldn’t hold in their hands while running. This honing requires special tools, many of which have not been addressed yet in the ongoing debate debate. Issues such as prestandards merely scratch the surface. In fact, some would say they not only scratch the surface, but get all kinds of oily gook all over it that makes it hard to see through without special x-ray specs. I think it is time to discuss the other, perhaps more pertinent areas that the debate debate debaters have not yet debated. Are they holding back on these, keeping them to themselves as part of their strategy for winning TOC? I wouldn’t be surprised. But since I haven’t sent a student to TOC since the Harding Administration, I have no fear of laying bare the strategies that others are hiding in their messenger bags along with their Habermas critiques, their flow pens in eleven different colors (one for each spike), and a banana that they forgot about from Glenbrooks. Like Yogi Berra, when I see a fork in the road, I take it.

The Poststandards Debate. So much has been said about prestandards that poststandards have gotten lost in the shuffle. Whereas prestandards are an attempt to invalidate or challenge the underpinnings of a resolution before analysis can be made in a round, poststandards are directly aimed at invalidating or challenging the judge’s decision after it has been made and the round is over. In a poststandards debate, the losing side, on hearing that the judge thinks that every argument he or she has made is so much underseasoned bologna, hands the judge not the case that has just been run, but the case the debater ran on the previous topic. The debater then challenges the judge to point out the flaws in the argumentation, to explain why every straightforward rebuttal that the debater grandiosely (and inaccurately) labeled a turn was not a reason for an immediate victory, and gets the judge’s home address so that some night when the judge is asleep—well, just think of the worst thing that a teenager can do, and it will be done, you bozo. Sadly, poststandards debate is frowned on by many more, dare I say, conservative judges, who feel that once the round is over, the debate should end. This old-fashioned, regressive approach to the activity is one of the reasons I feel it is necessary for us to keep the discourse discursive, if not downright disruptive.

The Substandards Debate. Substandards debate is the forgotten stepchild among debate debate debaters. Whereas prestandards precede argumentation, and poststandards follow argumentation, substandard debaters elude argumentation completely. You never know what they’re saying, or why they’re saying it. As a matter of fact, you can barely understand a word they are saying at all, and no penalty of negative speaker points ever seems to have any effect on them. Sadly, while substandard debaters are the vast majority of the members of the activity, the pundits virtually ignore them, as if they themselves have never judged a round in the 0-5 bracket. It is a sad commentary on our activity that it is the vast gray army of the substandard that are so poorly armed for battle. These should be a coach’s pride and joy, but instead they huddle together for warmth at tournaments, roasting discarded potatoes over garbage fires, singing songs of hobos and the open road and wishing for their buses to arrive and take them back whence they came, forever. These, indeed, are the debaters that try men’s souls.

The Semi-standards Debate. As is well-known to those I have judged over the years, I am a strong proponent of semi-standard debate. Semi-standards represent an honest attempt to follow the rules as laid down arbitrarily by some people in Wisconsin, but, alas, semi-standards debaters always get it wrong for some reason. They tend to think that criteria are achieved through values, that the plural of criteria is cafeteria, that definitions, if any, should be made up on the spot and should change from speech to speech, that any attempt to stand still while speaking is absolutely pointless so they dance like psychotic chickens on hot coals, and that time saved is time well spent and therefore they always come in at least two minutes under their allotted span. Although they occasionally comb their hair and brush their teeth, they otherwise look the tryouts for a teen slasher film. You gotta love ‘em, but you’ve also gotta drop ‘em. When two semi-standard debaters meet in a round, the judge flips the coin immediately after they leave the room, thus rendering the absolutely correct decision, given the circumstances.

There are, of course, other approaches to LD. There is Obfuscation Debate, where cases depend on unintelligible sources drawing conclusions that make no sense whatsoever, which always appeals to certain judges due to their (the case’s) alleged originality. There is Theory Debate, where no one knows what the rules are so everyone just does what they want and the judge flips a coin not after the debaters leave the room, as in semi-standards debate, but during the negative’s cross-ex, which they probably won’t take because they’re taking flex-prep, which means that instead of asking questions each debater stands up and flexes their muscles, and the scariest one with the biggest biceps automatically wins. And of course there is also Runway Debate, where the opponents give up on the resolution completely and simply discuss last night’s episode of Project Runway. In these debates, of course, the judge simply chooses the better dressed debater, unless that debater is anorectic, in which case the round is considered a draw and everyone heads back to the cafeteria for a couple of Red Bulls.

I hope this has helped clarify the debate debate for the debate debate debaters.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Technology ain't what it used to be in the future; the Coachean Feed achieves ignition

Sometimes I forget that people are actually reading this. The Loquitorians, on hearing my complaints about their latest, re-edited it to the same volume. That was mighty civilized of them, I’d say. Of course, they are not alone in venturing off the edge of the technological cliff. I discovered at Newburgh, while setting up the Round Robin for the Pffffters, that my spreadsheet was too good for the room. There were so many nested statements that only the most recent version of Excel could sort out the formula. Add to this that I was intending to show the thing off when I realized that it was an absolute dud—or more to the point, a program before its time, unless we all run out and update our Microsoft Offices. So I played around yesterday and broke it into two pieces, one for an even number and one for an odd, and that seems to work fine, but I’ll need to test it on my antiquarian Excel at home; my version is so old that it doesn’t understand the concept of zero. Oh, well. Pride goeth before the fall, as they say in Aphorismia.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about and refining what I am now calling the Coachean Feed. My original plan of replacing newspapers quickly proved pointless, not because I don’t still need a replacement for newspapers, but because an RSS feed is not the way to do it. But nevertheless as I continued tracking down sources for the feed, I began to realize that there was an inherent value to the thing itself if the focus could remain clear. It’s that editorial thing. If you pick too many items, or items of too many categories, or items of merely personal appeal, you’re not doing the job. But if all the items are core to LD in some fashion or other, then we’re getting somewhere. So I started limiting the pieces to items of either general LD interest (e.g., feminism, the Supreme Court, philosophy, etc.) or specific topic interest (at the moment, CatNattian education). The result is a more useful and natural intellectual resource. And since this is the stuff I’m normally interested in and therefore reading already, passing it along isn’t particularly onerous, as compared to a general news site. The link is over there on the top right. I’ll keep working on it and refining it—I have a lot of other sources to track down—but I think it’s now on the right track, at least for the last couple of days. From your perspective, adding either a bookmark of the feed page or an RSS of the feed into your own reader is no big deal. Give it a whirl. (Do note that if you go back far enough, it starts getting dicey. As I say, it was a learning process for me.)

Which doesn’t, of course, answer the question raised by the non-reading of newspapers and the generally educated debater. Adventures along that line will continue again shortly.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The news from Avignon

For the Northeast Championships we conducted 3 divisions of LD, 1 division of Pffft and 2 divisions of Policy. JV, O’C and I manned the machinery while Kaz supervised the conduct of the overall event, including housing and foodstuffs. All told I guess we had a couple of hundred people, and it went quite well, especially considering the tight judging pools. In policy, the number of varsity judges = the need for varsity judges, so no one got to take a nap in the judges’ lounge while waiting for the shrimp to defrost (hint: put in microwave for 10 seconds, which is what I did). In LD, we had a rather sterling assemblage of judging talent, since O’C had done a good job of beating the bushes, and if you look at some of the panels you’d think that we were conducting TOCs in practically every division. We had promised that all 4-2s would break. Given the sizes of the fields and number of judges, in varsity and JV we ended up breaking everyone who could have been 4-2, which after five rounds is arguably better since it breaks more people, and going the full six rounds in the easier-to-find-judges-for novice division (since non-debating varsity were ok to judge this division). We broke to a variety of partial thises and thats, then ran out of the building for a nice lunch with la Coin, given that she had driven up from the wilds of her new (sic) Jersey home for a visit and the weather was absolutely and unexpectedly gorgeous. Thenceforth the rounds played out nicely, and all in all I would say that this was a most auspicious inaugural for the tournament (although O’C insists that somehow last year’s Lakeland was the inaugural, but that’s why they put asterisks in the record books). You shoulda been there.

On the negative front, although once or twice Little Elvis and Brudda Printer had mild fallings-out, a swift kick in the reboot pants was enough to get them on speaking terms again. The small Pffft field required us to RR it, meaning that schools had to hit themselves, but as always it was before neutral judges, and you can’t make an avalanche out of a tear drop unless there’s an awful lot of snow around [What???]. A couple of people felt that they should be able to leave at what they perceived as the first opportunity, which was before their judging obligation ran out, thus making it not the tournament’s perception of the first opportunity, so some knickers were twisted there, but I only personally was involved in one donnybrook over the weekend, and as a Newbwegian pointed out, it does take a rather obtuse individual to attempt to take on not one, not two, not three but four debate coaches in an argument. And NoShow, in a burst of self actualization, didn’t show up to judge his very last assignment of his high school career. Can you say “apotheosis”?

One benefit of the hoedown was a chance to come to some terms on a tentative calendar for next year, and also to discuss some of the issues of individual tournaments that we’d like to see changed. Mostly we were pushing for more and longer novice events, and I’ll report on them as they coalesce. Meanwhile I updated the Google calendar (it’s on my sked page if you want to see it) and sent it out to some key people for their input. Pretty much everything after December is tentative except for a few obvious events, so don’t ink in this stuff yet. But the idea of planning ahead shouldn’t hurt in the long run. It’s rather revolutionary, actually. Obvious, yeah, but revolutionary nonetheless. This is the debatosphere we’re talking about, after all.

So we’re down to a few last events, accompanying Robbie to the Gem of Harlem and helping Alli prep for CatNats. I played golf yesterday, first time this season. I froze my butt off, played like a tear drop in an avalanche, and went home and took a much needed nap.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

VoLuMe CoNtRoL; how-to-register-for-tournaments paradigm revealed (at last!)

So I listened to Loquitur on CatNats, and it goes like this: “HELLO. Hello. “HOW ARE YOU?” I am fine. How are you? (If you’re not reading this on my page, you may not get the point.) I’ve got two words for these guys: editing. I can understand that they’re not the CBS Nightie News or whatever, but editing the material to the same volume wouldn’t kill them. Hell, I edit my stuff all the time, mostly taking out far-from-pregnant pauses (do I really talk like Captain Kirk on valium in normal life?). Anyhow, it’s the material that’s ultimately what matters, and if you’re CatNatting you should listen to this, but don’t be shocked when the interviewee refers to the resolution as setting up a false dichotomy. Quelle surprise, as the Old Baudleroo used to say while photographing the Disneyland parking lot for posterity (and no wonder he died, now that the parking lot is Disney’s California Misadventure). If there were some burning issue at stake, if “fine arts” were pitted against athletics in any meaningful way in the secondary education arena, perhaps one might feel that the argument is worth pursuing, but it’s just not so. Anyone from the real world (and of course that doesn’t include debaters) will be scratching their heads and wondering what the hell we’re talking about; this would be, I’m afraid, quite a few of the usual breed of parental CatNat judges. Debaters will be forced to act as if the dichotomy is real and proceed from there. A few hearty souls might attempt to critique the resolution on the grounds that it’s totally bogus, but if you think debate per se gets parental CatNat judges to scratch their heads, try running a critique of a resolution. They’ll be scratching halfway down to their pelvises over that one.

Was that in any way, shape or form a decent metaphor? I have to admit that I’m a little out of sorts, since last night I ported over TNC to E-TRPC. In fact, I’m halfway at my wit’s end, or more to the point I’m contemplating the end of the halfwits who don’t understand the concept of registering for tournaments. It works like this (you might want to take notes):
1. Establish which of your students are going to the tournament
2. Register those students
3. Bring them to the tournament
Granted, this is a complex series of operations, and only trained professionals should attempt it, either at home or on a test track. But after a few decades even the mightiest spalpeen ought to be able to get the hang of it.

I would probably be in a more genial mood if, as I said yesterday, things weren’t crazy at the 9-5. I need a debate tournament to get my head together. Oh, look. There’s one tomorrow. Just in the nick of time.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What I really need is an O'C-style picture of the trivia finalists with their arms around one another as if they really were some kind of friends...

Things are sort of nutty at the moment at the Day Job, so I’ll keep this brief. I could just forego it completely, but I feel that the world might end as a result, and then where would we be? Or course, if you really wanted to improve your brain, rather than rotting it, you’d read my feed instead of reading my blog, but what do you know, you spalpeen!

I’m growing rather fond of Google Reader. It has some nice features, including an attractive starting page, unlike, say, just pulling the RSS out of Safari, which is a bit too utilitarian for my blood. (Speaking of which, I just listened to an old Philosophy Bites podcast on J.S.M. and true utilitarianism, and I must say, this series of conversations remains the most interesting and the least boringly academic you can possibly imagine. I’ve become quite the fan.) Not long ago I also migrated out of a home page to an iGoogle home page. I’m really getting googled up here. If they suddenly turn evil, I’m screwed.

After a lively batch of Team Bean Trivia last evening (modified from the Lexington one-person version so that people could beat up on one another as groups, rather than individuals, and sure enough, the winning Lexington strategy became clear early on, and we’ll ignore the fact that the event was won by a renegade Speecho-American), one walked off into the night realizing that this was the last assembly of the Sailors until next year, at least as far as official meetings are concerned. This weekend is, I guess, the real valedictory. Starting next week, I’ll work with 1F Shortie G “Good Old Alli” on CatNats. Should be fun.

Tonight I’ll port TNC over from tabroom to Evil TRPC. I had intended to do it last night but I got caught up in some other business over Spanish train transportation, and then I was just too tired. Waking up in the middle of the night to work out the details of some fiction I’m working on didn’t help, meaning the usual drag out of bed this morning. I shouldn’t work on my own writing. It doesn’t exactly stress me out, but it does wake me up in the middle of the night, which is the only free time I have for meditations on such things. I lie there fighting with either Pip or Tik (prounounced teek) over turf rights and work out detail after detail. The good news is that at least I remember what I worked out when I do wake up. For instance, the problem with creating a machine that self destructs is keeping it from destroying itself before you’re finished building it. That thought crystallized much for me. In fact, it’s the story of my life.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Notes from the technogical vanguard

Let us take some time to meditate on technology.

First of all, CP’s latest blog entry is interesting as he rips the cover off the NYSFL and tells it like it really is. Yeah, right. Although actually, he does rather see himself as the puppy to their old dogs, but I have always maintained that age does not wither one’s technological abilities, while lack thereof does not enhance them. I cannot speak to the programming side of, which does tab speech events, except to say that I’ve watched him do it and it seems to work fine. But he may just exude an air of unwarranted confidence/competence. In any case, one does need to immerse oneself in software, regardless of what the software is about, to really learn it, and running something once a year is hardly the way. I feel that way about Goy, which I ran once, wrote up all my issues (which the Goy never acknowledged, by the way, leading me to assume that they won’t be fixed), and won’t see again until next year’s District Tournament, unless I’m ousted from the committee, which doesn’t seem likely, because nobody else wants to do it either. Compare this to Evil TRPC, which is virtually the air that I breathe. I can make that program slice pepperoni, get pit bulls to jump through flaming hoops, and do a mean rumba, while never breaking into a sweat. Yet the first time I ran it back in the day, it defeated me completely. There is no substitute for experience in a tabroom, including experience with the software du jour as well as experience for if there were no software. If you can’t throw cards, you probably shouldn’t be throwing a tournament. In any case, does not tab debate, only speech, but I have nevertheless come to rely on it completely for registration chores, which alone is worth the price of admission, not that there is any. We just need to make sure that CP doesn’t get run over by a bus any time in the near future. By the time he’s no longer a puppy, maybe he’ll have put together a backup plan.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having Little Elvis problems. The keyboard is, well, sticky (the PowerBook in my office, way older, is nonetheless way more pleasant ergomonically). When you type anything serious on it, as in a lot of text, it doesn’t necessarily give you a lot of spaces in between the words, plus a lot of letters simply don’t make it at all. Honestly, Little E has never been all that great in this area, but he’s gotten worse lately. When I was browsing around a Bestbuy recently they had some Mac keyboards, and I figured why not, so I ordered one from Amazon and it arrived yesterday and it’s nice and sleek, and I plugged it into my less than perfect USB connector where it works fine (with its own extra USB outlet for plugging in whichever printer I happen to be using). My typing accuracy rate has improved dramatically. Get the right tool for the job, I always say. I’m almost tempted now to get a standalone monitor. At which point I might as well get a mini, but where is all this money coming from, anyhow? So, one thing at a time.

I’ve become rather addicted to starring feed items for the Menick feed (link to the right). As with working the software over time and getting a feel for it (above), I’m beginning to get a sense of where this could work into the overall picture. So much information, so hard to find. Of course, that’s the point of moderated aggregation in the first place, but if the aggregation is specifically deployed in aid of high school forensics? We’ll see.

Notes from the technogical vanguard

Let us take some time to meditate on technology.

First of all, CP’s latest blog entry is interesting as he rips the cover off the NYSFL and tells it like it really is. Yeah, right. Although actually, he does rather see himself as the puppy to their old dogs, but I have always maintained that age does not wither one’s technological abilities, while lack thereof does not enhance them. I cannot speak to the programming side of, which does tab speech events, except to say that I’ve watched him do it and it seems to work fine. But he may just exude an air of unwarranted confidence/competence. In any case, one does need to immerse oneself in software, regardless of what the software is about, to really learn it, and running something once a year is hardly the way. I feel that way about Goy, which I ran once, wrote up all my issues (which the Goy never acknowledged, by the way, leading me to assume that they won’t be fixed), and won’t see again until next year’s District Tournament, unless I’m ousted from the committee, which doesn’t seem likely, because nobody else wants to do it either. Compare this to Evil TRPC, which is virtually the air that I breathe. I can make that program slice pepperoni, get pit bulls to jump through flaming hoops, and do a mean rumba, while never breaking into a sweat. Yet the first time I ran it back in the day, it defeated me completely. There is no substitute for experience in a tabroom, including experience with the software du jour as well as experience for if there were no software. If you can’t throw cards, you probably shouldn’t be throwing a tournament. In any case, does not tab debate, only speech, but I have nevertheless come to rely on it completely for registration chores, which alone is worth the price of admission, not that there is any. We just need to make sure that CP doesn’t get run over by a bus any time in the near future. By the time he’s no longer a puppy, maybe he’ll have put together a backup plan.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having Little Elvis problems. The keyboard is, well, sticky (the PowerBook in my office, way older, is nonetheless way more pleasant ergomonically). When you type anything serious on it, as in a lot of text, it doesn’t necessarily give you a lot of spaces in between the words, plus a lot of letters simply don’t make it at all. Honestly, Little E has never been all that great in this area, but he’s gotten worse lately. When I was browsing around a Bestbuy recently they had some Mac keyboards, and I figured why not, so I ordered one from Amazon and it arrived yesterday and it’s nice and sleek, and I plugged it into my less than perfect USB connector where it works fine (with its own extra USB outlet for plugging in whichever printer I happen to be using). My typing accuracy rate has improved dramatically. Get the right tool for the job, I always say. I’m almost tempted now to get a standalone monitor. At which point I might as well get a mini, but where is all this money coming from, anyhow? So, one thing at a time.

I’ve become rather addicted to starring feed items for the Midhudson feed (link to the right). As with working the software over time and getting a feel for it (above), I’m beginning to get a sense of where this could work into the overall picture. So much information, so hard to find. Of course, that’s the point of moderated aggregation in the first place, but if the aggregation is specifically deployed in aid of high school forensics? We’ll see.

Monday, April 07, 2008

States and clams; feeds and chips; chez and crackers

In a most shocking development, the Sailors who went to Albany over the weekend were mildly disappointed with the event, and at least one of them suggests that he would not be attending in the future. I assume that at least the debate side of the event is still going on, as no results have been published, which is odd given that the speech results are on I hope at least that the Tars got a shot at some of those fried clams and fries at that place off Wolf Road. That’s almost worth the trip, if you ask me.

I am continuing my feed page at this link. I’m not quite sure why, as in, I wonder if my original goal is even close to what this might be becoming, but nonetheless the dedicated scientist takes the experiment wherever it goes, and does not make claims of the results before the Bunsen burner even gets warm. Or something like that. What I tend not to include in the feed is the general, meatiest news of the day, because it doesn’t catch my fancy as much as more outré items, or, of course, pieces of obvious debate interest. We’ll see. In any case, if you have an RSS feeder of your own, the best thing to do is just add the feed of this page to that one; then I’m one more list of links in a universe of links lists.

I have reserved my first tee time of the year for next Sunday, the day after the Northeast Championships. Hoo-ha! And yesterday I polished up for tomorrow night’s farewell extravaganza the trivia questions from the Lex RR, which are perfectly good for reuse, except for the handful of obscure debate questions that only O’C knew the answers to (I only write down the questions, not the answers, when I do this trivia stuff because, well, if I know the Q, I know the A, like, duh). And I posted a new Nostrum. And I did all sorts of housecleaning and the like around the chez, and did some reading by the fireside. Lots of time on my hands in the interstitial between debate and golf… I am left with nothing but sending Shortie G on her way to CatNats, which is after I send myself to sunny Espana.

Summer is in the air.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Furiously Feeding Forensic News to the Hungry Multitudes

The news feed

My relationship with the internet is not particularly far-ranging. I communicate with the debate world via email, a constant business during the season, I manage various tournaments one way or another (lately through the genial medium of, I watch Sim Debaters on Facebook and play the odd game of Scrabulous, and I keep up with forensic events on the handful of likely websites. Additionally I contribute my own take on said forensic events with this blog, which does have a decent readership across the country, and which does indeed make it into the hands (minds) of many people with whom I maintain at least an implicit if not explicit dialogue. In other words, I am part of the general discourse of this very specific business of high school debate, and the internet has made this discourse easy and engendered its conduct over a national canvas. Ten years ago we had no such national discourse (which should not be confused with the national $ircuit, which is a different thing altogether). Today, I know I can walk into any debate tournament in any state in the country and immediately rise to the top of the most-striked-judges list. Our world has become a national community. This is a good thing.

In addition to this maintenance of my debate life online, I have a handful of other concerns. I am a dedicated student of queue maintenance at Netflix. I RSS feeds from various Apple websites to alert myself to problems I need to know about or products I need to buy. I’ve taken to Remember the Milk and Google Calendars and iCal and my iPod (swearing never to abandon Shortie G again). If I’m hanging around my office at lunch time I’ll scan Boing Boing, daily Wired feeds, and various random aggregators like Digg and Engadget and Dvorak’s blog, but I’m no addict of any of them, and see them merely as something to read other than the books I’m normally reading during the day. I track Disney news because I find it fun, but again, this is a good three minutes of my day at best (except when something interesting like the It’s A Small World controversy erupts). I access a couple of comics that aren’t in the local Gannett paper, and I see if Publishers Weekly is up to anything interesting. If I still have time on my hands, it’s a video like Mahalo Daily or Diggnation or something over at Leo Laporte’s universe. Of course, I also regularly listen to a bunch of podcasts while driving back and forth from work and while doing my morning exercise, and most of these are listed over on the right.

I know people who are way more internetted than this. People who read websites regularly—daily—as sources of news and as sources of entertainment. I seldom spend any time at the computer when I’m at home doing anything that isn’t productive. I’m not using my browser. I’m setting up tournaments or writing or recording Nostrums or ripping my cassettes or getting The Imaginationland Trilogy from DVD to mp4 for iPod viewing on the next airplane trip (who better than the South Park cast to watch on that little screen, after all). I use my computer to compute more than anything else. Lots of people I know are online all night trawling the web instead of or while they’re watching TV, keeping up with whatever it is they keep up with. If you’re a news junkie, the web is heroin. And of course, if you’re a gamer, that will pretty much be the end of any other hours in the day. I’ve resisted gaming for the most part because I know I’d never get anything done, and I’ve been happy just to dabble, most lately with my DS. It’s like crossword puzzles: I know that the only real reason I read the paper is to do the puzzle (preferably while showing off in front of others—it’s one of my better parlor tricks).

So I am not a greatly plugged-in character with any particular experiential reason for thinking I need to share stuff. But I do have one relatively useful experiential talent: I’m an editor. I have been an editor for lo these many years now. One of my skills is the ability to select reading material for various audiences. At present I’m picking entertainment for a fairly vast mass market, and doing quite well at it, thank you very much. One of the points I made about newspapers was not that the material was simply helter-skelter but that it was the subject of an editing overseer. The news in the Times is not random. There’s all sorts of editors, be it of the news or of the features or of the books or of the arts or of sports. The discourse of the paper is arbitrated by these editors.

My first experiments in finding a substitute for the newspaper experience has led me to Google Reader as a quite nice aggregator of web sources. And being Google, there’s all sorts of connectivity features to other Googliana. So what I’ve started doing, and keep in mind this is still experimental, is aggregating from all sorts of sources, then porting it over to a public page. And the nice thing about the public page is that you can then RSS that page back into Google Reader (or any feed receiving variation thereof). So if you want, you can look at the long page of fed stories, or you can just get a feed of the feed. Whichever. More to the point, the stories are selected as interesting to the general forensic audience. I’m not saying anyone would read them all (not even me, or at least not completely), but that they all seem to hold some value. Articles on minorities, law, philosophical issues, pomo, art, debate specifically, whatever.

Does it work? I have no idea. I just started. But the fed page can be fed from multiple sources, I gather. This can be interesting. We’ll see.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The experiments begin; a light shines in the cemetary; Avignon versus Rome; no feijoada for you, infidel!

Here’s the general sense of potential experiments vis-à-vis the newspapers. First, play around with aggregators. I’m using Google Reader now, because you can share it. The question becomes how much to share. Since we’re talking about serendipity, we need more rather than less. But at the point where it’s an avalanche, we become counterproductive. So this may take some time. CLG points out that she simply reads the Times online, and I know plenty of people do, but that homepage brings us back to the self-selectivity issue, where we lose the serendipity. Nonetheless I do feel that an aggregate of sites that one ought to visit daily could be a possible solution to the problem. Forensicians are presumably motivated self-starters, after all. But even there there’s the issue of overload versus underwhelm, and that has to be sorted out. But one thing at a time. If you’ve got a different solution, pass it along.

We ground to a Cavemanic halt Tuesday, pretty much covering everything except a few odds at the end. We hit all the high points. The crappy prize given as a reward for sticking it out for all the installments was an illustrated copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Jewish Maiden,” in which our poor little heroine, although she dies at the end like most HCA characters, apparently sees the light in a fashion congruent with Mr. Andersen’s middle name. I like to think of this as a subtle warm-up for the hate crimes rez at States this weekend.

We have three people braving the States elements. Hardy Sailors all. I like to think of them as the proof that statistical deviation is unavoidable, given our team’s general sense of the event. I have detailed my opinions of our State organization at great length in the past; since that organization has not changed, neither have my opinions, so I won’t bore you with them again. As CP says on his blog, what has happened is that we now are edging toward competing culminating events. It’s sort of like the Avignon popes. One wonders if there will ever be any resolution. One doubts it. Building up the Avignon tournament over a few years could do the job in some oblique way. It’s not there yet, though. We’ve got a good start, but the lack of Massachusetts teams hurts. Since CP and I are coordinating calendars (I’ve just given him access to the Google tournament calendar), we should be able to end up on the same page at next year’s end. If we’re really talking a Northeastern event, locating it every now and then in Massachusetts makes obvious sense. Key to this will be the disposition of Lexington after the various chips fall with Maggie’s emigration. We’ll see.

They Who Use Every Inch of Space on the Ballot have sent out their schedule for the Columbia RR, and I’ve been mulling it over. It starts damned early in the morning, and the trains don’t look too agreeable. If I had some way of doing so it would make sense to stay over Friday night, but I don’t really want to spend the money on hotel rooms. Oh well. On the other side of the coin, all these guys who I thought would be chowing down at the Brazilian restaurant have suddenly gone all Jewish on me and are insisting on chowing down at their various seders instead. As I explained to Robbie, who’s never eaten Brazilian food (feijoada forever!), they don’t have Jewish people in Brazil. It’s like Denmark and Hans Christian Andersen.

I wonder how long it will be before Hen Hud comes to its senses and fires me?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

All the news that fit to do anything but print

First of all, here’s the New Yorker article. This morning on my way to work I listened to the latest TWIT podcast and that was pretty much the entire subject. No doubt tomorrow morning when I have breakfast, there will be some analysis of the subject printed on the back of my cereal box.

At least we’re not alone in our concerns here.

Let’s stick with our assumption that what we’re talking about is that we can no longer hold the expectation that students will regularly read the newspaper. We’re not talking about slackers here; there have always been hangers-on who didn’t read the paper, who aren’t particularly committed to expanding their brains, who don’t listen to your suggestions no matter how good those suggestions are (although when forensics is a purely elective activity, as at Hen Hud, with no official class credit given, it is both hard to imagine why someone wouldn’t do what you ask of them, since they’re there by choice, and it is hard to imagine why someone would do what you ask of them, since you have no particular authority over them). We’re talking about the general class of students who are inherently smart, who recognize that they need to know what’s going on in the world for all sorts of reasons, debate success being merely one of those reasons. They would probably read the paper if you put it in front of them, at least once they got into the habit of it (and one does need to get into the habit; there’s ways of doing it that one needs to learn). But they are not in the habit of it, and you are not putting the paper in front of them, yet you still understand and believe in the unique benefits of the newspaper as a medium. Do we simply sit back and accept that the world is passing the newspaper by, and hope that new benefits will arise elsewhere, or perhaps that we can capture the old unique benefits some other way? I don’t think so. A reactionary stance can quickly become a luddite stance which can quickly become a pothole on the road to students’ education. (Hey, I put in my own metaphor for once.) Students live in the world that they live in. Not that long ago computers were only marginally part of that world. Cell phones qua telephones were only aborning. Wireless was that thing that they told Marconi was a phony. (Who but Ira could successfully rhyme Marconi and phony?) Now we can presume a plugged-in student body from the get-go. I don’t hope students will be online to communicate with me; I expect and demand it. My own leaning toward potholeness is my lack of engagement with a portable device; I carry a cellphone, I text O’C at tournaments to try to find him when he wanders off, but that’s about it, mostly because I’m too cheap to spend the $60 a month for the iPhone or its equivalent. At some point I will need to correct this failing on my part, which caused me to bow out of Twitter, because if something happens here important, I don’t want to miss it. The TWIT podcast portended that something might. Not just yet, though, thank goodness. I’m happy at the moment using my Virgin mobile for virtually no cost. Such is the benefit of having few if any people to talk to.

With the acceptance of the existence of the plugged in student body comes the acceptance of the mindset that comes with that plugging in. People are products of their environment, and adolescents are products of a very specific electronic environment, and must be addressed as such. Even my daughter, ten or so years old than my team, was raised in a different milieu, which means that many of even the youngest coaches today are not exactly part of the students’ universe. This needs to be recognized. But however great the age gap between coach and students, there’s nothing inherent in technology that makes younger people better at it or older people worse. It’s just that one group is used to one thing and another group is used to something else. For example, with most phones texting is not easy—in fact, it’s downright diabolical—but it’s hard to find a teenager who hasn’t mastered it because it’s so much a part of the adolescent discourse. Pretty much anyone can master something they really want to do if they put their mind to it. I know people who refuse to even think about learning how to text but who have no problem making a perfect soufflé. Is one so much harder than they other? Or is it just a matter of choice? In any case, as coaches we don’t get to choose if we wish, as I say, not to be rendered into potholes.

So our goal remains getting certain information across to our students that they would have previously gotten from newspapers. Doing so in the most agreeable way possible in tune with the zeitgeist is part of the deal; at any point if what we’re doing is harder or dumber than simply sending the kids down to the store to pick up a paper, we haven’t done the job.

Let the explorations begin.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The passing of the newspaper

Last night I finally seem to have severed my relationship with Twitter. It’s not that I had anything against Twitter (although it never did work on my phone despite its telling me that it was working); it’s just that I have no need for multiple social networks. For that matter, and as anyone who knows me will attest, I barely have need for even one social network. Facebook allows me to keep in touch with the minute handful of people I actually like keeping in touch with, and it allows me to keep an eye on everyone else whom I like keeping an eye on, plus it provides a handful of agreeable Scrabulous opponents, and that’s enough society for me, period. I realize this excludes me from potential Twitter mobs and the like, but I am willing to accept this loss. It won’t be the first time I missed out on some mob or other. My life has been like that as long as I can remember.

Meanwhile, back to that article on newspapers in the New Yorker. Here’s the deal. As you know, I am strongly committed to newspapers, and specifically the NY Times, as a general intellectual requirement for forensics. Aside from the purely interpretive events, all forensics participation can only be improved by a solid knowledge of current events. And as was noted in today’s Times (as well as the NYer mag article), the growing dearth of serious reviewers has its own special harms in the arts areas, so even interpers will be affected by lack of exposure to competent artistic criticism. It is impossible to ignore the fact that newspapers are dying, and that newspaper readership is dwindling. One can opine till the cows come home on the meaning of it all, and on the future, on the goals of the press in general and how they are or aren’t being met, but that is beyond my immediate concerns. My problem is that I have very clearly mandated newspaper reading as a requirement for debate, and I am probably deluding myself that this requirement is being followed, or perhaps that it is even possible to follow it. I’ve been working from some assumption that the paper is lying around, so pick it up and read it, you yabbo! Worst case scenario, go to the school library and read it.

I’ve been deluding myself.

Whether or not there are newspapers readily at hand, the benefits derived from newspapers remain desirable. First of all, of course, there’s the general knowledge of the news of the day, and the available depth one can traverse if one is so inclined. That is, if something important is happening, a good newspaper will offer hundreds or thousands of words on it, as compared to that same event being covered on television news, where if you get a hundred words, it’s a miracle. Secondly, there’s the op-ed material, where reliable sources opine on the events of the day, often corresponding to the topics of the moment (especially in PF). Thirdly, there’s the broadness of the coverage, ranging from politics to business to sports to entertainment to technology. Although papers do tend to organize along subject lines, nevertheless all the subject lines are in a given edition of the paper, and therefore readily accessible. One need have little or no interest in business and one can still read the main business page, in other words, and get something out of it. Fourth, there’s the genial serendipity of the process of reading a newspaper, where you come across something that you weren’t looking for that educates, entertains or enlightens you in ways you were not expecting. A well-edited newspaper deliberately includes such material, little treasures that help warrant the paper’s existence in the first place, the soft news that otherwise never be news at all, but deserves to be.

I am a big believer in a McLuhanesque concept of the medium determining the message. One could say that everything I’ve noted above is easily available online, but the information transmitted isn’t the same because the transmitting experience isn’t the same. Expanding the example, if we’re talking purely about a news event, watching it on TV is not the same as reading about it in a newspaper is not the same as reading about it on the internet is not the same as listening to it on the radio is not the same as reading about it in a magazine. What are the differences? Television provides an immediate you-are-there aspect to an event. You can see it happen. You can empathize. Television is great for certain things. How long did people stay glued to their television screens on 9/11? What was the effect of TV news on the Vietnam war? What was the effect of the televised videogame Gulf War? Why did John F. Kennedy win the debates against Richard M. Nixon on television and lose them on the radio? Television provides the easiest example of a medium’s effect on its message. You don’t have to go to journalism school to figure out what TV is good at and not good at. We live through it every day. We’re all experts at understanding it.

Newspapers are an entirely different business because the medium is entirely different. Reading is not the same as watching television, and reading a newspaper is specifically not like reading a book or a magazine. A newspaper is designed as a daily news delivery system with the most important news first, then the less important news. I’m going to stick with the Times henceforth, which is a radically different experience from the NY Daily News, which has a big headline and picture on the front page, as compared to the Times with, usually, half a dozen or so (what they consider) major stories on the front page. The editors of the Times have determined that these articles are the ones of note; inevitably there is so much to say about them that all you get on the front page is a headline, explaining the situation in as few words as possible, followed by the story, usually summarized and then elaborated on. If one were only reading the entire front page, one would nonetheless be reading a lot of words. And one would be reading about both national and international events, and perhaps also even local events (and, occasionally, on a slow news day, something that can only be referred to as human interest). That pool of front-page stories sets the discourse of what are presumably the major stories of the day. A story on the front page is considered to be more important than a story on page fifteen; a story placed on page fifteen, in newspaper terms, is considered "buried" on page fifteen. The context is clear. It may not be too much to suggest that the Times placing a story on page one, whatever that story may be, in fact makes that story important by that very placement (and makes another story less important by burying it). In any case, the front page is the one that claims our general interest, and satisfies our interest in general news. Everything beyond that is specific or secondary.

But reading a newspaper is not simply reading the first page, or it shouldn’t be just reading the first page. There’s a whole rest of the paper there, and that may be where the real disconnect of the newspaper and other media is found. First of all, there’s the simple number of stories in the Times on a given day. Dozens. Literally. To turn the pages of the newspaper, starting at the beginning, is to unfold the possibilities of an entire world. You can’t predict what is coming next, and you have no idea what you will find. Your eye glances at all the headlines, and you stop at the ones that catch your fancy and move along from the ones that don’t. During a presidential election there may be two or three pages of nothing but political news, which you’ll follow or not maybe based on your interest, or maybe based on something actually having happened recently worth knowing about. Again, you pick and choose. The op-ed pages offer articles both from one-time or occasional contributors and regular columnists. As I’ve said in the past, you could find a completely worked out argument for a live resolution here, if you’re lucky. You’ll find important voices commenting on important things. And once you get to know the columnists, you’ll find a source of well thought out opinions clearly explained on a regular basis. As mentioned above, it is also important to note that your experience of turning the pages of the newspaper will bring you stories about things beyond the basic “news.” There will be events in business, events in the arts, events in sports, inventions, science, travel, you name it. And again, the serendipity of it is a key message of the newspaper medium. If you’re interested in business, it’s no big deal to go straight to the business pages, but if you’re agnostic about business, but there’s an article on a company you’re interested in, be it Apple or Electronic Arts or Harvard (yeah, that’s a business) or some general piece on ethanol (do you have any idea what the shift from corn to soybeans means to the American economy, to farmers, to the high fructose people, to fossil fuels?), and you find something you weren’t expecting. And that, to me, is one of a newspaper’s greatest virtues, its ability to bring us something we weren’t expecting. Because a newspaper is a total package, covering everything, everything that happens is fair game for inclusion. Compare this to my attempting news gathering on the internet. On the web, I go searching for information. By definition, I have an idea what it is I am searching for. I can do my best to find what I’m not looking for, but let’s face it, planned serendipity is an oxymoron.

But the problem is, newspapers are dying. I can’t expect Sailors, or anyone, to really read the Times every day, regardless of whether or not I make it an assignment. They will get their news, whatever news they happen to get, however they decide to get it (if at all). To assume any real source other than the internet is self-defeating on my part (although I do recommend NPR, doubting of course that anyone ever really takes me up on it—given the choice of listening to NPR or listening to [insert name of contemporary performer I’ve never heard of and probably never want to hear of], NPR will lose out most of the time. So it goes).

So this is my challenge to myself. Accepting that newspapers are out, and believing that the information gleaned from newspapers, in its depth and variety and unpredictability, is important for forensicians, what do we do? What can we assign as a mental exercise program that will do the job that previously would have been done by newspapers?

That is going to be our goal for a while. I’d like to solve this problem over the summer. Feel free to help me out with it as we progress.