Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Modest Novice Lives!

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Regarding four-round MHLs

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Another Christmas present

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

Monday, December 22, 2008


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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

An update and a promise

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SuperSquirrels you can believe in

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More on burdens, or, my petition for bad resolutions

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beans, brics and nets

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rigid running; VCA statistics

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

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

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

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

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

Who doesn’t read this blog?

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

Beans updated

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

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

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

Non-Sailors interested in participating should sign up now!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the games begin.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

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

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

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

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 08, 2008

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

So, says you, how were the Tiggers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(To be continued…)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The week from heck

Some weeks it pays to stay in bed.

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

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

You can’t win.

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

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Coming up next, 101 recipes for goobagoobas!

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

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

We live in a strange world.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

88 MPH

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

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

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


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

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

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