Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some wonderful things about Tiggers

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bumpian odds and ends

There were some high points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s never enough LD judges.

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So where were we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

A new character enters the Sailor Pantheon

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm going to go do Bump for a while

Changes are coming in fast and furious.

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

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

I wish I was tabbing Bump.

I wish it was at your school.

If wishes were meatballs, beggars would be Italian.

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sniffling towards Bethlehem

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

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

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

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

The debate world can be very strange sometimes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Felonious burdens

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

[Sound of crickets]


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

The Sailors looked at me as if I was nuts.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tournament Trading Cards Series II

Hey, kids! Collect them all!

#407 The Spa Client

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

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

Habitat: Standing behind you every time you turn around.

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

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

#482 The Helpful Sadist

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

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

Habitat: Standing in the tab room looking innocent.

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

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

#429 Monsieur Flaubert

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

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

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

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

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

#491 The Helpful Hand

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

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

Going out the door.

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

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

#408 The Odd Coincidentalist

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

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

Habitat: Sniffing around the ballot table.

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

Handling tips:
Offer her the number of your analyst.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Little Daddy Monticello Pizza Toss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bullion only, please

Bump: Aside from sending regular hysterical messages to CP, I’ve got everything under control. I’ve finally got room lists from the Powers that Sail, registration is nicely closed (except for last minute tinkering that people will be doing), I’ve begun uncrating this year’s Jon Cruz Award, there’s a growing pile of especially crappy prizes in the chez living room. If we could only scare up some more housing slots…

Meanwhile, there’s the Montwegian MHL this Saturday. Once again the biggest problem is our inability to scare up Pfffter teams. What is it about the northeast that keeps coaches from feeding their young into this activity? Although I personally feel that a little debate experience in LD is a good start, by sophomore year I’m fine with people being PFers rather than LDers. But I’m not getting any real Sailor traction on this any more than anyone else. On the other hand, invitational PF pools do seem to be growing, albeit slowly. I sold out all the Pfffft slots at Bump this year, with enough waitlist to keep me at my maximum. This is a first. The Parker House (“It too is more than just a roll”) had more than last year. I think Manchester-Under-the-Sea increased their field size. Maybe it’s just at MHLs that it’s really a problem. But I detect a lot of schools are still using PF as the place to send people when LD fills up. That’s okay when launching a new activity, but we’ve been at this for a while now. Am I missing some inherent flaw in the activity that’s keeping it down? Or is it just that, regionally, growth has been small? Beats me. (Of course, I was once accused of being part of the problem because I never referred to it as PF but always with a funny nickname. I would respond that it needs to grow up enough to take a joke. But this is a minor issue.)

I’m still not sure how many novices are among the Sailors yet. The stalwart plebes remain stalwart, but the faint of heart continue to claim that they are as stalwart as the next plebe, despite the fact that we never see them because they are fighting diseases for which there is neither a known cure, a known cause, nor any symptoms, or they can’t figure out how to sign up for the listserver (never a good sign after a couple of years of trying and failing), or the moon is in Pisces tonight so I’ll catch ya when I catch ya… Then again, one milestone achieved despite the march of faint of heart off the bridge to nowhere was that at least one of the stalwarts has started reading this blog; I think she said it was a painless way to kill five minutes. Thanks. Then again, they might start reading here hoping that they’ll get a nickname, and then the next thing you know they’ll start repeatedly acting in some singularly adverbial or adjectival fashion so that I’ll recognize their chief trait and let metonymy do the rest. This is easier said than done. It’s worked for Stealth, certainly, but Good Old Alli and He Who Struves have been through so many nicknames that one begins to sense that they will always be known by the names they were originally given rather than names they have gone out and earned: God forbid that either of them ever sets out on a vision quest. In any case, with so few plebes this year, remembering their names has not been a problem, and thus one of the root causes of Sailor nicknames has been removed. It’s probably a good thing if I don’t have to call you Shorty or Stinky from the getgo. These names are too easy to earn, unlike Stealth, which takes a lifetime of flying under the radar even when there isn’t any radar. A nickname worth its salt sticks with one for life, and is not merely the result of skipping bath night last Saturday. Be adverbial. Be adjectival. I am watching. But we need to let nature take its course.

(If you are not an official Sailor and would like your very own official Coachean nickname, please send $20 in gold to this blog, and we’ll see what we can do.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Notes on 11/4/08

I admit to doing nothing forensician last night. I sat in my chair and every time a little more of the map got blue I got a little more choked up. When I vote, I always get a little misty eyed at the whole construct we developed a couple of hundred years ago. Our goals and values may have often outstripped our abilities to achieve them, but they have remained guides for what we ought to do, and what we believe we can do. After a most dark period of our history, when small-minded people of limited scope have let our principles fend for themselves, we have turned around and redefined our entire political system by going beyond identity politics, beyond the simplistic binary confines of color, and electing a man of African descent to the White House. And not because he ran in any way as an African-American, but because he was running on a platform beyond race. I am old enough to remember the civil rights battles of the 20th Century. People alive in my lifetime were former slaves in theirs.

One of the great flaws of the founding of this country was its institutionalized belief in slavery, and worse, in the belief that the people it had enslaved were somehow less than others. The greatest challenge this country has faced has been overcoming this flaw. We’ve known the way for a long time, though. For Huck Finn, for example, in one of our most important books, it was no easy choice, but it was the choice Huck had to make once he came to see Jim for what he really was. “All right, then, I’ll GO to hell.” It is no accident that one of the obvious contenders for the Great American Novel is the picaresque story of a runaway kid and a runaway slave. Stories about the growth of America and the American ideal have to be about race if they really seek the truth.

But our success is not going to be some uncomfortable mixing of races and somehow putting up with it. Our success, if it is to come, and I believe that we are seeing it begin, is that race simply doesn’t matter. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Obama did not get elected because he was black, white, green, or polka dotted. He got elected because a lot of people voted for his platform, and his promises for the future. This is the real meaning of this election. It is not about a black man winning, it is about a man winning who happened to be black. Being black just didn’t matter.

That’s the world I want to live in.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day 2008, and this is probably the only blog on the planet with nothing about the election

I am unquestionably less stressed out than usual over Bump, and I can only ascribe this to I check it obsessively, but it is doing all the work. Now, there are some things that work the way they work—WYGIWYG, as it’s known—but once you’re used to it, it’s like having your own little Bob Cratchit to do all the clerking for you. When registration closes tomorrow night, I’ll start looking at things closely, especially getting some housing to more people who are presently housing-waitlisted. As for entries, they’re booked to the edge, although I expect to open novice LD a tad more (I’ve probably got an extra room). Other than that, I hope to clear a couple of extra requests in LD, then it’s a matter of watching people disappear from Wednesday to Sunday as reality sets in. That would mean emptying, I hope, almost all the waitlists, and perhaps shifting a few LD slots to PF, but I don’t want to promise anything yet. We’ll see.

Come to think of it, registration for the Monti MHL closes tomorrow night too. Since I’m having a novice meeting tomorrow, I’ll have to wait till I get home to see who’s who and what’s what on that one as well as on Bump. Aside from novice LD, it’s pretty small at the moment. But this one usually is. Plus there’s a policy event going on in Jersey that Kurt S and the NJUDL are running, and that will absorb a lot of the usual suspects. (And I just realized that I haven’t entered any Sailors yet, so maybe there’s more people coming than I’m seeing at the moment, if they’re anything like me with late-ish registration.)

I’ve been getting drips and drabs of replies to the Modest Novice. So far they’ve been almost universally in favor, with an edge for og v ng as the rez. I’ll post more on that as more people absorb it.

As for Rippin’, I find it interesting that people come to me suggesting solutions to the problem. I’ve been suggesting solutions for years, and Rippin’ hasn’t much cared for them. They like things done on their terms, which is entirely their option. More interestingly, I wonder why people are coming to me, and why they think there’s a problem. After all, I am neither the Chair of the district, nor am I a member of the organization, and it’s not as if I’m sitting on my tuffet crying in my loneliness wishing I were back at the helm, nor is Rippin’ burning its midnight oil trying to get me back. Come to think of it, they didn’t even have the courtesy to acknowledge my resignation, and I’m pretty sure that as far as they’re concerned, I’m a problem for them that has solved itself. As Lou Reed likes to say (although I’m paraphrasing here), the fork has been inserted, and I am done. If I didn’t believe that the present organization does little to warrant the money required for a chapter, I might remain a member, but that is not the case. As I told JV (the new chairman, God have mercy on his heathen soul), Rippin’ needs to explain to schools in NY why they should pay $100 dues + $100 or so for new memberships + $200 or so for participation in the district qualifier, all for a tournament which they cannot attend if they do qualify. I can use that money to go to an invitational and support one of our local schools in our local region. I guess I’m just not big on spending money to be a part of something I am not a part of. Am I bitter? A little. Will I get over it? A lot. Does it matter? Not at all. I’ve got real world debate issues to work on every day. Rippin’ isn’t one of them. That’s just the way it is.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Under the Sea

Well, let’s see. Not much going on, I would say. Hosting a totally filled-up tournament in a little over a week. Getting out of the NFL alive. Relaunching the Modest Novice. Aren’t I just the busiest little beaver?

Let us today simply look back at the weekend that was Manchester-Under-the-Sea. I haven’t been up at the Home of the Albino Bagel in many years because I’ve had to be at the CFL that weekend in NYC. But because of scheduling issues this year, I was able to get back up there. This was the first time I’ve actually seen the surrounding countryside. In the past a bus would drop us off and later shuttle me along the highway back and forth to a motel, but I’d never actually visited Manchester. It’s exactly what you expect it to be. Early Nineteenth Century high-steeple church and a stolid old city hall. A rather funky library, where one gets the feeling that the townspeople of the day said to themselves, there’s stone around here and we’re going to use every last rock of it. Very cool. And it really is by the sea, so you look out and see boats and clam restaurants and that sort of thing. We arrived early and walked around a bit just to stretch our legs, and I’m glad we did. Also, I was staying in Ipswich, which meant driving through Essex, which was even more traditional New Englandy. These were the kinds of places you could imagine visiting on vacation. Who knew there was something other than debate going on up there?

There were two divisions of LD, 40 varsity and 33 novices. I’m used to small divisions, fortunately, and I’m used to cards, even more fortunately, because there was no way that TRPC was going to successfully handle this tournament. Each bracket seemed to comprise a single school, which is murder. So, we hand-paired rounds 3 through 5. Fortunately a couple of very bright Manchestwegians were tab slaving, and had already been trained on data entry, and they worked with me to insure side restraints and the like. So it didn’t cost us much time at all, as compared to automated pairing, and the rounds all went out pretty well, on-time, with a minimum number of pull-ups.

Once again I was reminded that this version of TRPC, which I have gotten used to, used to be referred to here as E-TRPC, to wit, E as in Evil. This weekend I discovered (after discovering last weekend that I was creating division-free judges) that if you stopped scheduling someone, they disappear out of either division one or two and go into division five. There was, of course, no division five. And when said Stopped Scheduled soul stops vomiting and wants back in, he or she is unfindable. Needless to say, many hairs were pulled for a while over this one, and once again the full head of hair with which I began a tournament was reduced to the handful of wisps with which I usually end a tournament. (I’ve got to post a picture of me before a tournament some day. Normally I look like Wolverine, and not Gollum.)

So tabbing was unusually complicated, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Fortunately the Manchestwegian parents laid out a judge lounge dinner unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a high school, which made up for any problems we might have encountered. To describe it would be to make you sick with envy, and would raise the bar for everyone, including Bump, so all I’ll say is that it was served by (faux) candlelight. In O’C terms, you might call it Tastes of Luxurious New England. Not an albino bagel in sight. I may have to change the unofficial name of the tournament (except, unfortunately, the other unofficial name of the tournament, The Kingdom of the C.P., isn’t suitable for a family blog, and in the event, the gavel didn’t look all that much like a C.P. after all, I’m sad to report, so I don’t have an alternate name handy, so we may be stuck with THOTAB for all time and that’s just the way it has to be).

CP (not to be either confused with or identified as C.P., by the way) dropped by, but I didn’t bombard him with any issues, aside from a request to track daily changes so that I can see who’s doing what. He said it’s do-able, but so far he hasn’t do-ed it. Oh, well. I was listening to John Hodgman on the radio over the weekend, and he and CP sound exactly the same. Interesting.

Since I only had two sailors along for the journey, we took the car up, which meant that we listened to my usual mélange for a while, but on the way back I kept it pretty clean. Queen, as it turns out, is very good for night driving. Overwrought power ballads are exactly the thing to get you from Hartford to Sailorville. Ooooh, you make me live…

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Modest Novice

[The following was sent today throughout the region]

A couple of years ago we floated the proposal that became known as the Modest Novice. Although the language was marginally Swiftian, this was not a suggestion that we feed novices to the Irish (except in some very specific and especially warranted cases). The Modest Novice is a proposal for a regional, recurring LD topic for first-year students, as compared to adapting whatever topic is selected by the NFL. This year’s NFL topic, many have agreed, is difficult to impossible at the very least for recruiting and keeping new novices, has led to the revival of the proposal.

The benefits of the proposal are:
  • The topic is especially chosen for the purpose of introducing students to some standard, core ideas of LD.

  • The topic repeats annually, so coaches and teachers need not prepare new introductory materials every year.

  • Our judge-training materials could have specific topic guidelines for new parents we are bringing into the activity rather than just general hints.

  • The topic would be argued for half the season, allowing the novices to develop all the important skills of debating absent the need to write new cases on new topics before they’ve even figured out which way to look when they’re in cross-ex.

  • The benefits of this are pretty clear. We would use the Modest Novice topic in all novice divisions from September through December. Novices would then follow the normal course of new topics from January on.

    The negatives of the proposal are entirely logistical:
  • Tab rooms would need to keep track of different pools of judges, and in some cases, judges might be listening to two topics in one day.

  • Teachers/coaches would need to teach one topic to one group and another topic to the rest of the team.

  • It doesn’t work unless the entire region commits to it; if only some schools participated, then those schools would either be cut off from much of the debate in the region, or would actually be adding more rather than fewer burdens to their novices, which is the diametric opposite of the intention of the proposal.

  • As to the first (and probably most meaningful of the negatives), this is less problematic than it looks. Most novice judging is done by parents and upperclassmen, and is already isolated from varsity judging. In fact, this would ultimately work positively, because once an upperclassman has come through the system and is now judging, that student is sitting with 4 months of their own background on this elemental topic, rather than whatever loosey-goosey personal interpretation they may have of the present topic (e.g., witness some of the theory arguments varsity students are running, and theoretically imposing on novices, in this year’s Sept-Oct). For that matter, most of these tab rooms (MHL, CFL, Bump, Ridge, Little Lex, Princeton) are run by the same people. Occasionally, yes, we might be forced to asked someone to switch in the same day, but we would minimize this, and limit it to the most capable.

    Which leads to the second possible problem, of needing to teach two topics at once. In today’s debate world, most of us are already teaching two topics (one for LD and another—monthly!—for PF), and some are teaching three (if they also handle policy). This objection simply doesn’t stand.

    As for the region committing to it, this is true. We must agree. Last time out, to be honest, my recollection is that one coach objected, and the proposal died. The idea is simply too good to allow that to happen again. We need to take a constitutional approach. Once we get a majority, we go for everyone.

    The leagues, as I see them, are as follows: Massachusetts, New Jersey, MHL, CFL and MDL (Manhattan), plus what I’ll call Invitationals (Bump, Little Lex, Ridge, Princeton). Few if any people compete in these leagues/tournaments outside of the region, and few of us take novices outside this range. At this point, MHL will definitely vote in favor of the proposal, and I can assume that we have at least 3 out of 4 of the invitationals, which means we have that vote too. CFL would require voting among that membership, but that membership overlaps a lot with MHL, where we already have agreement. That leaves Manhattan, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

    As for the topic to be used, three suggestions have been put forth, all of which are strong classics from the NFL:
  • Resolved: An oppressive government is more desirable than no government.

  • Resolved: Capital punishment is justified.

  • Resolved: Civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified.

  • I am sending this proposal to the regional universe at large through my own mailing lists. What I ask is that you discuss it among your own colleagues and come to your own conclusions. Toward the end of December the representatives of the 6 leagues will vote. If 4 of the 6 agree, all 6 will do it. (Well, granted, no one can really force anyone to do anything, but the momentum will be there, and it would be counterproductive to resist after the fact.) So if you’re adamantly against this, now is the time to bring up your objections.

    Because selecting a topic may prove more complicated than agreeing which topic should be used, I am suggesting that we go with opp gov v no gov. This has proven out multiple times as an NFL topic, and I personally have always found it very solid. It gives us an opportunity to teach social contract in depth, with all the predictable readings, plus it allows for more ambitious students to delve into some more arcane texts on anarchy, not to mention the actual “benefits” of opp gov! If a league has a strong objection to this topic and wishes to propose one of the other two, that is fine. We’ll go with what the majority of the leagues choose.

    So, please pass this proposal around to those who need to discuss it. By Christmas, we will reach a conclusion. To facilitate discussion, I will post this as an entry to my blog at We can conduct public, shared discussion there in the comments.