Friday, February 27, 2009


O'C commented that I was misinformed, and that there was plenty of sports at Bronx Brooklyn High School of Science. As proof, he provided the evidence that Matt D is on the bowling team.

I rest my case.

O'C also protested my claim that he would be arriving in a stretch limo at various tournaments whenever the spirit moved him. I stand corrected. He will be arriving in a Lincoln Town Car.

This weekend is Lakeland, which O'C and I are tabbing together (at least together after his Lincoln Town Car arrives). Perhaps a new tale of debate adventure will ensue. Perhaps not.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

A new tale, plus other odds and ends; in other words, enough of rules for a while

All right, I’ve got all that off my chest, so let’s get back to business as usual.

First of all, last weekend was the final MHL of the season. How better to acknowledge it than with a new Tale of Debate Adventure? You’ll find the audio version here on The View from Tab, and the pdf version here, just out in the cloud in general. If you crave more of the same, and haven’t listened to the first T of D A, I’ve reorganized the right-hand column to make these more prominent. I expect more will come eventually, unless I get sued for slander and/or libel and/or gross exaggeration over the ones I’ve already done, so I figured I might as well make room for them. (If you subscribe to The View from Tab on iTunes, by the way, you’ll get these turning up on your iPod automatically. What’s stopping you?)

I managed to get involved in that whole rules thing, so I put aside the Modest Novice for a while, but I promise, again, to sort it all out within the next week or two. If you haven’t already done so, go on over to and check out where we are so far. Complaining about the outcome will do you no good if you haven’t participated in the ingo, if you know what I mean. (And, knowing you, you probably do.)

Coming up this weekend is Lakeland, which I’ll be tabbing with O’C, although his approach will be to arrive by stretch limo in the early evening, thus avoiding having to rub elbows with the hoi and the polloi during registration, a plan he intends to follow a lot in the coming year. Well, lah-di-dah, as they say. (He promises he’ll be at all of Bump, however. What a prince.) He’s also getting bivouacked at the chez Friday night; maybe new Tales of D A will ensue. You never know. Anyhow, Friday and Saturday are the invitational as usual, but Saturday is also the Regionals competition for States, the last-ditch chance for people to grab a full qual in one swell foop. Given that Stefan has enough Policians at the invitational to invade Cuba, I have no idea where he is going to put all these people. Oh, well. That’s his problem. O’C and I will sort it all out tab-wise for Catholic Charlie, who is our Statesman as well as our Catholician. (How did he get all the thankless jobs?)

And through it all, I now have a Wii, which really is the perfect system for people who like games but don’t have any time to play them. So far all I’ve done is begin working my way through the Lego version of Star Wars, and I’m already in the middle of Episode II, which for me is epic, given that I usually never get past the first level in anything before giving up in disgust. My success now might be attributable to a very forgiving system that allows you to sort of kill stuff without getting too killed yourself, which, as I say, is just my style. When I retire, I’ll get an Xbox 360 (which will probably be up to 720 by then), but meanwhile the Wii suits me just fine. Of course, I bought the thing to play Wii Sports when my daughter drops in for a visit, but I haven’t even cracked open the cellophane on that one yet. I think tonight I face Count Duku. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fixing the problem

It’s easy to suggest that both debaters walk into the round with a copy of the rules in the old briefcase, but it doesn’t matter much if the judge hasn’t walked into the round with a copy of the same rules. So we have to mandate it. We have to insist that all judges follow the rules. It’s as simple as that.

As we’ve already argued, the rules to be followed are those published by the NFL in the District Manual, a pdf extraction of which is available on this site. The question remains, how do we mandate it? There are a lot of obstacles to this, despite its manifest logic. Chief among these obstacles is the jungle of individual paradigms published hither and yon, added to every year by the latest crop of college freshmen filled with their own ideas of what LD ought to be. I love that they are filled with their own ideas of what LD ought to be, but I am the first to point out that wishing doesn’t make it so. LD is what it is, and it’s fine to want to change it, and there are ways of changing it, but those ways are not in the rounds you judge in a competitive vacuum. In fact, not judging according to the rules does not allow to activity to evolve, as some people suggest, but merely makes the whole activity (and any hoped for progress) that much more muddled. Nonetheless, there is certainly variance among judge preferences that are within the rules, so although I would prefer to eliminate judge paradigms altogether insofar as they indirectly nurture the worst aspects of the activity, I would suggest that every judge, high and low, begin their paradigm with the simple phrase: “I adhere to the rules of LD as posted by the NFL.” Many judges (most?) could stop there. Contrariwise, if a judge does not submit to these rules, then they should begin their paradigm with the simple phrase: “I do not adhere to the rules of LD as posted by the NFL.” In this latter case, this would alert us in advance not to hire these judges in the first place.

But that’s where the real crux of the issue is, and the real source of control, in the hiring and use of judges. Ultimately this falls on the coaches, and the execution of practices that could keep the rules being adhered to falls on the coaches who are tournament or league directors. Like me. I am a director of the MHL, and I run the Bump invitational tournament every November. I can do a couple of very easy things that could make a difference. I can attach to the operational rules of the MHL a notice that we adhere to the NFL LD rules, and I can attach to the MHL website a copy of those rules. And I can insist at the beginning of every tournament, when I whisper the opening announcements, that we will be following these rules, which can also be distributed at the ballot table. Certainly these rules will be part of the package I give to new judges, posted on the MHL website. As for Bump, I simply make this a part of the invitation. I note that the activities at the tournament will follow NFL rules, and I will post those rules as an addendum to the invitation and on the Bump website. I will insist that all judges must adhere to these rules. Judges and/or teams who do not wish to adhere to these rules are welcome to find a different way to spend the weekend.

And, come to think of it, since I’m claiming I could do those so-called very easy things, I will do those very easy things.

And then we take to the bully pulpit (which is this blog, in my case) and we have at every other tournament. We ask simply, when we register, if the tournament will be adhering to the rules of LD as published by the NFL. If they are, so be it. If they aren’t, we can ask what rules they will be following. For instance, the CFL follows moderately different rules in PF and LD, and when I accept an invitation to one of their tournaments, I’m happy to follow those rules. Other venues might have other versions of the rules. But is it asking too much for them to publish those versions? And if they do not wish to enforce any rules, is it asking too much for them to admit it publicly? If I am going to a free-for-all in the guise of a debate tournament, the least you can do if I’m paying you an entry fee is to let me know that this is the case so that my teams can conduct themselves accordingly (bringing extra protective mental equipment, for instance). Even the most rabid “progressive” LD advocate can’t object to the idea that we should know what we’re paying for!

Great. Now I’ve got another iron in the fire, and something else to advocate for, and complain about. But, at least it’s clear and specific. You show me your rules and I’ll show you mine. It’s not asking that much at all. But I wonder how many people will actually take me up on it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

For whom the (LD) rules toll

If we believe that there ought to be rules for LD—and we do—we need to look at how those rules affect the people involved in the activity. That is, to whom are these rules important? This is an easy question to answer. The rules are important to 1) the debaters and 2) the judges. Occasionally the tournament staff is consulted on issues where there is a perceived rules violation, but this is rare, and need not concern us here, since if we have clear rules, the tournament staff would be merely interpreting and/or enforcing, and not legislating. The legislation, as we have claimed, has already taken place. (One could argue, perhaps, that the classical Lockean requirements for legislation were somehow not met when the NFL created the rules, but this would presume that not only is the forensics community a democracy, but that it is able to perform democratic functions, both of which are quite a leap. And, to be honest, I’m tired of defending the right of the NFL to create rules of forensics. In other words, get over it!)

So the rules apply to rounds and, mostly, within rounds. The rules, as we have argued, exist, and are clearly written and available to all NFL members (or anyone else, for that matter) in the district manual. And I have extracted them into a pdf on this site, for those who are incapable of surfing the NFL site (a large group with whom I have great sympathy). Which means that everyone walking into every round, debater or judge, has the easy ability to bring along a copy of these rules. They only take up a couple of printed pages. And they can answer, or prevent, all sorts of issues that might otherwise detract or distract from the round. The is, for instance, the Myth of Negative Presumption, which has about as many believers in LD circles as there are believers in UFOs, the Yeti and WMDs in Iraq combined. Let me make this clear. THERE IS NO PRESUMPTION FOR THE NEGATIVE IN LD. The rules are absolutely clear on this. You might wish there was a presumption for the negative, especially if you are, say, on the negative side, or you’re a judge who is unable to follow the arguments very well and didn’t bring a coin to surreptitiously flip while the debaters are otherwise engaged, but that does not make it so. Let me add this: ALL DEBATERS, AND ALL JUDGES, NEED TO KNOW THIS. And, of course, they need to know all the other rules as well. Keep in mind that knowing and following the rules does not mean you agree with them; study M. Rousseau on the subject of the General Will if you need to learn more about this. And if you are a total clown you can run a performative critique of the rules somehow, an act of debate civil disobedience if you will, but by the definition of c.d., you should be willing to accept the consequences of that action (i.e., losing the round).

As I said, the rules are important mostly to 1) the debaters and 2) the judges. The problem is that often 1) the debaters and 2) the judges don’t really care about these rules. Either they subscribe to their own mythologies (and they are mythologies: there are no alternate rules posted anywhere generally available to debaters and judges, so it’s not as if there is some other orthodoxy that can be consulted) or they simply don’t understand the rules that do exist, but in either case, it’s tantamount to the rules not existing, which means not only that anything can happen in a round, but that there is no way of predicting what will happen in a round, or more to the point, how what happens will be adjudicated. LD is not a game without rules, it is a game without people paying attention to the rules. There’s a big difference between the two. LD doesn’t pay attention to the rules to such a degree that we often mandate that each judge post his or her own rules just so we have some idea of what to expect from our adjudicators. We call these individual rule sets paradigms, and they can contradict the rules from NFL completely, and they can contradict all the other judges at a tournament, where every judge can have a unique paradigm different from every other judge, meaning that there is no normal expectations from rounds whatsoever. The thing is, we have begun to accept judge paradigms without any questioning whatsoever. A judge is a good judge because his or her paradigm is posted, not because the paradigm is a meaningful attempt to adhere to the rules of LD. While I’m perfectly willing to accept that there are measures of interpretation possible within the rules, at the point where paradigms become alternate rules they are, at best, counterproductive, and certainly counterintuitive, and probably countereducational. Compare, for instance, the subject of history. We can approach history in a variety of ways, from a variety of paradigms, in other words. We can look at history are a series of biographies of important people, or as the movement of the vast mass of people in daily life, or as the consequence/motivation of geography or any other of the usual disciplined approaches to the subject. Each approach yields a different view of events, with different priorities and analytics, but the facts remain the same, and the history itself is unchanged. And none of these paradigms can eliminate the other paradigms and say that they don’t matter; they just aren’t prioritized. In application to LD, a judge may like critical theory arguments, for example, believing that a resolution can be best understood through these analyses, but that does not make other analyses any less effective; they are just less preferred by that judge. But at the point where the judge may believe in a presumption for the negative, or that V/C standards are unnecessary, or that not arguing the resolution is acceptable, then we’ve gone off base. And there are plenty of judges whose paradigms are exactly that. And since LD is competitive, and people want to win, who can blame debaters (the 1 in the equation of this article) from trying to play the game the way the judges (the 2 in the equation of this article) imagine it? That’s probably the only way to win, after all.

Who’s to blame here for an activity with competing rules, where every judge is reigning over a private duchy of understanding/misunderstanding of the rules? A lot of people. Blame the NFL, as we discussed yesterday, for not policing the activity. Blame the bully pulpit of the TOC, which leans toward picking your judges (mutual preferences) rather than a belief that a good LDer should be able to convince any (trained) judge. Blame your average invitational that insists on paradigms but pays no attention to them. Blame coaches who don’t insist that the judges they hire abide by the rules, and who don’t train new judges, especially parents, but simply throw them to the wolves to cover an entry and the results be damned. Blame the college student judges who believe that the activity would be so much better if we only did it their way (a thought in which they are often sincere, and perhaps even right at times, but nonetheless misguided in thinking that they are central players rather than hired guns). Blame a lot of people. It doesn’t matter. Maybe these are the cause and maybe they’re not.

What we need to do is fix it, not whine about it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Storm troopers of the NFL

Here’s the problem, or, “Previously on Coachean Life…”

1) LD requires rules.
2) There in fact are rules for LD.
3) The existing rules for LD come from the NFL.
4) For reasons slightly less complex than the genome of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, a large number of people involved in LD are woefully ignorant of, or totally uninterested in, either 1, 2, or 3 (above), or any combination thereof.

We’ve touched on 1, 2, and 3 (above) in varying degrees of detail in recent weeks, but we have not discussed 4 very much. While 1, 2 and 3 (above) rely on either simple logic or manifest facts, 4 is a highly subjective area of analysis that contains multiple threads, some of which are contradictory. One recent contention that I have heard brought forth in a comparable context was that, somehow, Rippin’ is to blame for not enforcing its rules, that it is a body so powerless that its existence is meaningless and therefore easily dismissed. There are a lot of corners that require turning in that concept, and I tend to get lost at around the second one-way sign. NFL is no more or less powerful than it ought to be. True, they do not run every forensics event in the country, and no doubt not every person at every event is a bona fide member of the league, but that is of no consequence. As a comparison, if I decide to head out with some friends and play a casual game of golf, that game is neither run by the USGA nor are any of us members of that organization, but we play by their rules just the same (except when those rules are so obscure that even the USGA can’t figure them out, but that’s another story entirely). The fact that NFL (or USGA) does run some events does not render the events they don’t run somehow rule-free. I can, of course, decide to adjust the rules, in golf, for instance, by dropping a ball at the edge of the woods where the ball was last seen and taking a penalty, whereas the rules state I should have hit a provisional ball. This penalty-drop allows us to finish a game the same week we begin it and, as amateurs, keeps it more fun. Granted, the USGA would frown on this, but all of us in the foursome play by the same rule. There is, after all, fifty cents riding on this match! So, I’m willing to concede that there are situations where an adjustment to the rules is acceptable, but that adjustment both acknowledges the existence of the rules in the first place and is clearly delineated ahead of the game and understood and agreed to by all the players. Source rules need not be absolutely binding, in other words, provided all the players agree to the new rules. That is not unheard of in many games. And how much fun would Monopoly be, after all, if somebody from Milton Bradley broke down the door of my house and arrested me every time I created a kitty of the fine money for the lucky goober who lands on Free Parking?

So I am not willing to blame NFL for not making everyone adhere to its rules. It is illogical for me to expect them to do it, and possibly undesirable. That does not mean, however, that their rules are rendered moot. It simply means that NFL is not a modern-day debate Gestapo breaking into rounds and carrying off novices who fail to uphold a value. (Actually, although there are those who doubt it is so, my personal opinion of the NFL is quite positive: who wouldn’t love an organization that wouldn’t want to have me as one of its organizers? But seriously, I think they do exactly what they’re supposed to do pretty much the way they’re supposed to do it, and I am impressed that present leadership has been addressing the questions of rules and procedures in apparently all its activities.)

Which brings us back to the point where, as I say, number 4 above is complex and is probably, in the end, impossible to pin down. Suffice it to say that it is true, and we must deal with it. And, as I have suggested here, I don’t think it’s the NFL’s job to deal with it; they can keep their theoretical jackbooted thugs back home in Wisconsin. And the rest of us, especially those subject to severe wunnophobia (morbid fear of the Wunn and Only), can breathe easy. There are other solutions, and better solutions, to the problem.

Although I have to admit that the idea of the Wunn and Only storming into rounds and carrying off recalcitrant novices does have a certain charm to it…

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Short hiatus

We'll be back next week, the good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise. Use the time you would otherwise be wasting reading this blog wisely. I suggest that you learn French. This will make the coming revolution that much easier for you. And for the French.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Post 1001

I was wrong. I misread the dashboard. Yesterday was 1000, which makes this post 1001. And, if you’re reading this upside down, then this is still post 1001. (Some strange conspiracy? Perhaps.) What a comedown!

I know you were expecting fireworks and free cake, but that’s just not my style. Instead, I’m going to take the next few days off to not do debate stuff, or think about debate stuff, and then I’ll come back with six-buns glazing six-guns blazing on the subject of enforcing the rules of LD. Among other things.

Enjoy the break.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Taking up where the Legion left off

One has to wonder whatever happened to the Legion of Doom. A couple of years ago a lot of people got all het up over the decline and fall of LD—this was in the darkest hours of the pomo and CT influences—and banded together to attempt to cure the ills. Some of those ills were endemic problems that, needless to say, remain, but the Legion of Doom has, if not necessarily evaporated, at least disappeared from view. Despite my own agreement with their main themes of how LD should be operated, I always had to sort of wonder if we weren’t just going through the inevitable progress of the activity through the fashions of the day, given that I had previously seen other deadly fashions that we had managed to survive. My guess is that something new comes along, it takes over like mental weeds for a while, but then it goes away, leaving only a little of its genetic material behind, hopefully making for a better activity overall. (And I’m sorry for the confused metaphor, but you get my drift.) So back in the day pre-Legion, for instance, this decidedly philosophical activity got overwhelmed by practical evidence, and for a while it was a trend, and eventually it just became an improvement in LD overall, where people began backing their claims with, sometimes, meaningful warrants from reputable sources rather than their own imaginings. By the same token, the love affair with incomprehensible cultural studies types like the Old Baudleroo and Derrida has cooled, but the embracing of, say, Foucault remains, and that’s not a terrible thing at all, because MF’s view of things is applicable to a lot of situations, and worth considering. We may never shake the occasional Nietzschean fling, though, I’m afraid. Nietzsche is like this sly seducer who will say anything to anyone in order the make a score, and then the poor seduced (and quickly abandoned) soul has nothing left but a handful of aphorisms on which to base the entire promise of a future life, but that doesn’t keep that steady stream of left-at-the-altars from continuing to try. In a way, good old Freddie has become the Ayn Rand of 21st century LD, that one horrible voice destroying our youth by falsely empowering them. Oh, well. At least Freddie didn’t write any pulp novels (or at least any that I know about). Don’t get me wrong. I love Nietzsche. Where else can you find a writer who, sooner or later, contradicted literally everything he ever wrote? They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

Anyhow, for a while, the LDEP was out there proselytizing a fundamentalist approach to LD as a cure to all its evils (which went far beyond the pomo material), and now you never hear from them anymore. Hell, I think I’m on the board, and if I’m not hearing from them, I guess no one is. That’s not terrible, though. The creation of the rules of LD by the NFL provided the core material from which to work, and from a source much less peccable than the Legion of Doom. I mean, it’s pretty hard to dismiss the warrant of the core organization, as compared to dismissing a bunch of dinosaur sore sports like the Legion. So as I continue to proselytize for commitment to the NFL’s LD rules, I feel a little more secure than when I was speaking in aid of Legion ideas. This is nothing against the Legion, mind you, but maybe the NFL’s updated rules rendered the Legionnaires unnecessary. But we still have a problem. Despite the fact that LD has clear and specific rules, from its governing body, there is a vast population who believe that these rules carry no weight. We’ve already discussed how silly this is, and how you don’t get a comparable flouting of regulation in, say, table tennis (or any other competitive activity of which I am aware), but that doesn’t stop the flouters. The question becomes, how do you stop the flouters, then? If you believe in LD as described by the NFL, what are you supposed to do about it?

I guess that’s going to be my theme for a while. We’ve got rules. What do we do about them? And, I guess, why do we have to do anything about them at all? Chances are, most of what I’m going to be writing will either annoy the hell out of you or make you feel even more self-satisfied than usual, depending on your position on the whole business. But that’s what we do here a CL HQ. We either piss you off or pat you on the back. Occasionally we do both at once, if we’re really clicking on all burners and have a lot of extra arms to work with. By the way, this just happens to be post number 999. Which means two things. If you’re reading this upside down, it’s the Apocalypse, and if you’re reading it right side up, tomorrow will be our 1000th entry. Imagine that. Do you have any idea how much time you’ve wasted reading this blog? Couldn’t you have found anything better to do with your time? What’s wrong with you anyhow, you spalpeen! Jeesh. Get a life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

March-April, Modest Novice, the Kindle 2

(Notice the very informative headline? Well, given that anyone worth their salt nowadays uses an RSS reader, I figured it's time for me to go with the flow. How can I get you to read the whole article if all you see is my subject lines and they're unintelligible? Or worse, completely intelligible?)

Vigilantes, sez you? Well, you’re welcome to this, sez I. It’s in the traditional NFL style of overview, readings and argument ideas. I won’t have many Sailors taking the law into their own hands, as it turns out; we have only the CatNats qualifier and Districts on this resolution, and the latter becomes less and less likely for any serious consideration as there is, apparently, a history regents exam dead in the middle of NatNats. Quelle surprise, as they don’t say in France. So maybe only SuperSquirrel will ever debate vigilantes. So it goes. Our other CFL Grands qualifier endeavor is the creation of the greatest PF team ever, which we are working on in the top-secret Sailor laboratory, ever hopeful that we can somehow snag a slot that seems so available, yet somehow so distant. (I will not review the sad history of the Sailors at last year’s Pffft-fest, except to point out that pfffft is too good a word for it. Don’t tell anyone, but here’s the 3 simple secrets to winning PF rounds:
1. Research
2. Research
3. Research
In the past, Sailors have attempted to get by mostly on their native charm. Not the best idea, eh?)

If you haven’t already done so, mosey over to and help us figure out the wording of next year’s novice resolution. The more input we get, the better. My daughter was having problems posting a comment; let me know if you also have problems, so we can complain to CP (I haven’t complained to him about anything for hours now).

You can’t imagine how much I’m looking forward to my upcoming non-debate weekend in NYC. We’ve got ducats for this and that, and plans for the other as well. A nice dose of culture, popular and un-. All we need is the weather not to be too dreadful (always an issue in mid-February).

Like everyone else with an internet connection, I’ve been gazing at the Kindle 2, and I have to admit, for the first time I’m actually beginning to think nice thoughts. Kindle 1 was okay—I did get my hands on one for a while—and this improves on some of my complaints (especially page-change speed). I could really see getting one of these suckers if it didn’t cost the proverbial A and an L. (That’s an arm and a leg to you cliché-deprived types.) I’m also beginning to get intrigued about how this thing can play into the DJ, given that I am, after all, in traditional publishing. Is traditional publishing going the way of the buggy whip? An article I read this morning compared ebooks to talkies, and publishers to silent film producers. Maybe, but if I’m not mistaken, the cost of talkies, for patrons, was the same as the cost of silents. As long as there’s the heavy initial hardware buy-in, I can’t see ebooks jumping past early adapters and techies. At the same time, I don’t really see books really working in big numbers on the sort of competing iPhone/Touch platform (even though every now and then I do go back to “Leaves of Grass,” which is one of the books I’ve been toting around with me on my Touch, and one that responds well enough to the occasional glance). The screen is just too small, even though it’s perfectly sharp. I mean, I was raised on those old Penguin classics, with type so small I had to get a new prescription on my eyeglasses every time I finished reading one of them, but the Touch size is just not working for me. The Kindle size, on the other hand, is about just right. Maybe it boils down to whoever makes the $50 ebook reader is the ultimate winner. I don’t know. I have nothing against the concept per se, but at the moment, I do have something against paying all that money for it. I’m not betting against it, though. I’m hedging. I think I’ll sit on my chips for awhile before making any commitment. In the meanwhile, good-old-fashioned books on paper, despite all the economic turmoil in the publishing business (and everywhere else) still looks like a reasonable bet, at least for the short term.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Modnov and MHLW updates

A couple of things. First of all, the Modest Novice website is up and running, thanks to CP, at I’d be curious to hear what everyone has to say about the wording of the resolution, which is the next big item on the agenda. We’re doing civil disobedience, as I pointed out earlier, but we don’t want to have Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King on one side, and a losing debater on the other. Help us out here! Throw your comments up at the site.

Secondly, as hoped, we had a lot of discussion at Scarsdale about the MHL Institute, or MHLI, which makes more sense to refer to as the MHL Workshop, of MHLW, given that it will be a one-day affair. We brainstormed an enormous amount of possibilities, enough for a couple of weeks anywhere else, and no doubt we’ll have to pare it down, but in general we’re looking at some basic, general lectures plus breakout sessions, and we’ll try to bring in some local ex-debater college talent. The curriculum will probably follow the numbers signed up. We’ll cover LD and Policy (and maybe a little PF too, I’m not sure). And we’ll probably do it Sept 12 at Bronx Science, but that sort of specificity is a little hard to pin down this early on. I took voluminous notes as we talked, and I’ll try to sort something out over the next couple of weeks so that we can begin planning. I’ll probably put up a page as part of the MHL site to explain everything. Just for the hell of it, I tried creating a registration page at tabroom. I figured, why not? Maybe not the perfect tool for the job, but it is the tool that we’ve got, so I figured, go for it. What I did looks feasible. The real questions revolve around the curriculum, after which we can look at who signs up for what.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The News from Scarswegia

Scarsdale was the first tournament around here (around anywhere?) to try to have varsity and novice divisions of LD, where participants in the former judge participants in the latter. This has always struck me as a good idea, and A. L. Johnson has also taken on this approach. I’ve always felt that judging is one of the most important learning aspects of the activity: debating is all well and good, but adjudicating rounds takes you out of the competition and into the overall flow of the event, and you get to see a lot more than just your own competitive record. And judging skill is not necessarily the same as debating skill. You can be quite good at one and quite a stinker at the other; they’re two different businesses. Of course, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, in the roll call of bad judges, I’ve always ranked high school students as number one, because they are so often prisoners of their own view of the resolution, and unable to see past their interpretations, which are sometimes not particularly good. Tabula rasa they ain’t. But with a little bit of training, and a little bit of eye opening, they can quickly get past their own biases into good, neutral adjudication. That’s the learning process, to see beyond their own noses. (For the record, college students who think they’re still in high school and hold similar prisoner-of-my-interpretation views of resolutions rank second in stinkerdom; for that matter, college students also are guilty of things like believing there’s a presumption for the negative, or that there are no rules to the activity. Parent judges? Well, if they’ve been carefully trained, I’ll take ‘em every time. Their paradigm is, ahem, adjudicate by the rules. Oh, the horror. By this token, parents ought to be the easiest judges to appeal to. Any LDer who can’t or refuses to adjust their styles to the relatively uniform concept of parent judges is really not a particularly good communicator. And since one main point of doing LD is to learn to become a good communicator, hey, you gotta wonder…)

There are those who believe that judging while competing somehow damages their chances, but given that the winner of the varsity division was judging novices in prelims, this doesn’t seem to stand. As a matter of fact, most of the elim debaters had been judging (and the same was true at ALJ). Granted it is a bit tiring, but in tab we do try to get you at least one round off, and more if possible. Scarsdale, unfortunately, was a little light in loose novice judges because of a local science fair (which also deprived me of a decent Sailor entry). Then again, it simply means that the LDers don’t spend half of the tournament sitting around playing tiddlywinks. Just like Policians. I mean, most LDers want to be (bad) Policy debaters, and at least when they’re judging and debating, if nothing else they acquire the schedules of Policy debaters. Let’s see how the other half really lives! For that matter, the winner of Scarsdale was in fact a Polician. Responses to this over at WTF were as if the winner of Scarsdale was a Venusian. Jeesh! The two types of debate aren’t all that different, especially with a topic like Jan-Feb, which has a lot of real-world aspects. It’s amazing how people get so locked into their parochial views of things. On the other hand, you’ve gotta love those schools where students do pretty much every single activity over their four year careers, from debate to speech to international cucumbering. Those are those folks cited in Rostrum for having 1,283,238 NFL points, all of whom go on to be governors, senators and federal judges. Must be more Venusians, I guess. (And why does Microsoft think Venusians is a word, but that Venusian isn’t? They must know more about aliens than they’re letting on.)

Anyhow, Scarsdale ran fine, and as far as I can tell, JV’s blood pressure never rose above the standard setting of DEFCON 2. As always, the food was superior; Scarswegian parents do not believe in debate ziti. And there was no blizzard, which was nice, but also no official name for the tournament, although the suggestion “The You-Know-Who is Failing English Invitational” had a nice ring to it. Also there was no cell phone reception, but how can you not like a tournament that generates a message from O’C afterwards with the subject line “I still have your beans!”? Oh, yeah, somewhere during the tournament I gave up and ordered a Wii from Amazon. I mean, the empty season is soon to begin. I have to do something on those warm summer nights.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Things to do. Things todo. Todo Things. Whatever.

I run this todo program called Things on my Touch. It has become the driving force of my existence. Every time I think of something I have to do, I type it in, and then it gets sorted and prioritized and, with any luck, sooner or later I do it. Granted there are a million todo programs out there, but this one has some meaningful functionality, and it’s always in my pocket.

How did I ever live without the Touch?

Anyhow, this weekend Things tells me I/we need to scope out the MHLI, update the Northeast Chumps, and get started on the Modnov topic site. And tab Scarsdale. I gather O’C will be arriving late (by design rather than by accident; late being the usual Scientology arrival time at most tournaments would normally render this comment unnecessary), but some of these todos require his todoing. We have about one more month before debate goes away at the end of March. After Districts (for which, at the moment, I have no takers among the Sailors, because, as always, they have other commitments for the week of NatNats, things like mandatory tests and graduation, which are of little concern to Rippin’, which I only point out because, if I am going to be demonized, I need occasionally to say something that warrants demonization), we’re done, except for the poor souls who venture forth to States (which I won’t say anything randomly bad about aside from the poor souls reference since I’ve expended my daily dose of bile on NatNats, and one does need to conserve one’s energy). Unless, of course, we qualify someone for CatNats. The Sailors haven’t entered the qualifier competition yet with much fervor, however; I’m trying to push a couple of plebes into PF because I think they’d do well, but they’re still ruminating over it. Whatever. The up side of a small entry is that I can drive my car down to the event, which speeds things up enormously. We’ll see.

And now, ta da, you can buy a Wii from Amazon with absolutely no hullabaloo whatsoever. They’ve taken all the fun away from it. Will I break down and finally buy one? I’ll have to look in Things and see if it’s on my todo list.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

In which I didn't screw up, we find competitive cucumbering, the web gets wacky, ModNov approaches, and the Legion and Scarsdale rear their ugly heads

I managed last night not to clearly announce the fact of a postponed meeting to the Sailors, which led to rather predictable confusion and, alas, no meeting. Others might blame themselves for this, a la President Obama, but I will fall back on my usual suspects, and blame either O’C or CP. That usually works wonders, and leaves me all fresh and gingery.

Speaking of ginger, (to wit, the Ginger Man), I’m finishing up a listen to the audiobook of Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear. As I am occasionally wont to point out dramatically strong entertainment, I will point out this one, which is the second in a series concentrating on Jack Spratt, a DCI in the NSD (Nursery Crimes Division). It has some of the worst puns in the history of popular fiction, which is in its favor; how many times does one drive along, listening to a novel, laughing merrily on the way to a DJ? I’ve read Fforde books on paper as well. Very entertaining fellow all around. You can do worse.

I dug up my brief on vigilantes. I was going to start working through it last night, but obviously that didn’t happen, so I’ll do it next Tuesday. If Rippin’ doesn’t post it by then, I’ll post it here. As I was working on it I had an interesting riff with Fred R over the use of Wikipedia, which I offered as a source. Three years ago I had banned use of Widipedia as a source among the Sailors. Now, while I still consider it secondary (as is any encyclopedia) and therefore less valuable that a primary source, I have come to consider it acceptable. This is seconded in The Long Tail, where the exact same evolution from “you gotta be kidding” to “see such-and-such an article” is discussed at length. Amazing how time flies on the old interwebs.

CP has finished knocking together the ModNov site, and I’ve started to attack it. With luck, we can go public and begin carving away at the wording of the topic starting next week. No doubt we’ll incorporate ModNov into the MHLI.

The more I think about it, by the way, the more I blame everything that is wrong with LD, The Life and Times on the concept of judge paradigms. I’ll definitely be focusing on this more in the future, and with luck, offering some practical suggestions for change, some of which, by the way, seem to hearken back to the old Legion of Doom. Plus ca change, as the Frenchies say.

And tomorrow is the onset of Scarsdale, which is worth attending if for no other reason than that it is the annual weekend where JV is his most JVish (as all of us are at our own tournaments, I mean, our most quintessential selves, not our most like JV). Plus the warmish weather is icumen in . What more could you ask for?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Sometimes things move remarkably fast.

There is a discussion thread on the NDCA listserver that I alluded to yesterday. The whole thing started with a message about this and that, which sort of bothered me because it was concentrating on issues relating to the $ircuit which I think are, well, just too parochial. I love having kids seriously compete for TOC bids, but I love having kids who don’t seriously compete for TOC bids as well. My skills and my energies are mostly in aid of the latter group, and there is no question that one of the most successful things we in the northeast have accomplished the last couple of years is the institution of novice divisions throughout the region, often replacing JV divisions. The logic of this stems from many novices being (rightly) afraid to participate over their heads, especially when some JVers might be in their 3rd year of debate. Plus, if it’s a college venue, the cost of attending (time and money) is set in the cold perspective of an almost guarantee of not doing very well. While I am a strong believer that second-year debaters need to suffer and learn in varsity divisions, I am also a strong believer that first-year debaters need to be nurtured and to learn in novice-only divisions. Novices do not debate like varsitians, nor should they. Master the basics first, then move on to the finer points. And we are enabling that in the region beyond the MHL alone, which, of course, is founded on that principle of getting rounds to newer, younger debaters. Additionally, I have always been a strong supporter of the non-bid tournaments in the region, offering whenever I can to help run them (I’m good at that) and certainly getting as many of my Sailors to participate as possible.

So I responded to the listserver about getting our attention away from the $ircuit, and was met with general agreement. Frankly I feel that much of what is often complained of as wrong with our activity is a direct result of $ircuit concerns, but that is neither here nor there at the moment. The key issues being kicked around in this thread are the costs of tournaments, the availability of tournaments within reasonable distances (most of the costs of tournaments actually being the getting and staying there and not the registrations) and the need to provide training to coaches and debaters. As explained above, we’ve already got the second item of concern—the existence of tournaments—under control in the region. But what about the other two?

As for costs, obviously I do run the Bump tournament, which is not cheap. Then again, it is expensive to feed 400 people a couple of meals plus maintain a stocked judges’ lounge, and we do house most of our entrants, and we provide quite a bit of extra judging, so is not as if we are simply taking the money and running with it. Additionally there are dozens of trophies and gavels, and a charge from the school for custodial fees (in two buildings). But at the same time, this is our only meaningful fund-raiser, and we are not out of line with other major invitationals in the region (or most everywhere else). In a word, our tournament allows us to go to your tournament. Still, we can freeze costs, and I will commit to doing that for the foreseeable future.

As for training, the usual suspects in the region and I have committed to begin brainstorming this weekend at Scarsdale for a day or three of free camp in September, probably at Bronx Science. We will create a program for both coaches and students under the auspices of the MHL (which is already dirt cheap and supportive of newbie-ism on all fronts). I mean, we still do have the odd weekend in September when we’re not doing anything debate related (a situation that does not repeat again in the school year until April, not counting Christmas and Thanksgiving, which are weekends when people, while not debating, should be at least thinking about debating). Why not put it to good use?

As I said, sometimes things move remarkably fast. Thanks to a random post in a listserver, we are creating a specific, organized, free debate training program beginning this fall. Let’s call it the Mid-Hudson League Institute. MHLI. Is that cool or what?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

In which we rant against the weather, the resolutions, O'C, CP, and the $ircuit. Damn that groundhog!

Tuesday is meeting snow night, as usual. [Sigh.] So we’ve postponed to tomorrow, but the Hardware Engineer can’t make the meeting, so there goes the highly touted demo round. I guess I’ll have to talk about the new resolutions.

And what do I think of them? Well, curiously enough, I wrote a brief on vigilantes for a certain organization, so at least I already have my ducks in the proverbial row (if I can find it; all I’ve located so far is my notes, and heaven forbid that said certain organization release the resources along with the resolution). The thing is, it’s not much of a topic for us quantitatively, given that it’s only at our CFL qualifier (3 debaters at most), the NFL qualifier (roughly ditto) and the NY State Tournament (2 at this point, 3 if SuperSquirrel can convince the Panivore that, somehow, a horrible experience equates with a desirable experience), and most of those debaters overlap. The Left Be-Hind Pffffter topic seems like a good subject area, but we’re even less likely to do that, unless I can rustle up some CFL qualifer folk looking to spend a perfectly good Memorial Day weekend in gorgeous Albany. So my flapping my gums on these resolutions won’t be in aid of much except general edification. Still, I sort of like vigilantes because they raise the question of extra-legality, which raises the question of legality per se, and there’s both positive and negative historical examples. Of course, everyone will argue either Derrida or conditionality, so the question of vigilantism may never arise in the rounds, but one can dream. (By the way, I was reading Publishers Weekly today and saw an ad for an upcoming book entitled The Devil Reads Derrida. Order me a copy, stat!).

The fate of The Northeast Championships is in O’C’s hand, as we have assigned him the job of publicizing the event. The invite is finished, the low prices have been set, PJ is working on finding us a starting time, but O’C is so busy watching the Blu-Ray version of Howard the Duck that he may forget completely to let anyone know the details of the event. Oh, well. As least he enjoyed my Tale of True Life Debate Adventure (and pointed out that the link over there on the right was dead; I fixed it, thank you very much). Maybe he got lost again after listening to it. Bloop, bloop, eh, Mr. Cruz?

Now we need CP to fix up the ModNov site (notice how everyone else is to blame for everything that is wrong with the world?). A waiting world, uh, waits. I did sent out the invite to the final MHL, at least, so it’s not as if I’m sitting around doing nothing. And I got irritated that the NDCA seems real worried about the prices of tournaments because they can’t seem to get their eyes off the TOC prize. Jeesh. I mean, we run the practically free MHL and promote inexpensive local tournament after tournament for novices and open divisions with no bids, and we support them in great numbers, but, oh, right, we’re the northeast, and that is just sooooo not $ircuit. Feh! Stop worry about winning ponies and start concentrating on enriching the education of high school students. 16 LDers will do the former this year, whereas thousands are potentially benefactors of the latter. Getting priorities straight and saving money will, I assure you, go hand in hand.

Monday, February 02, 2009

My life as the incarnation of evil, and a Newark recap

A propos of nothing in particular, I haven’t talked much about the perception of the author of this blog as the world’s worst person, period. It’s curious, but not particularly noteworthy. Saints need demons, I guess, and my demonization is easy (and, theoretically, entirely clandestine, but every now and then someone oopses their way into my view, tsk tsk). Most of my demonizers don’t like to admit that they read me regularly, and I don’t blame them for keeping this under their collective hat, because it’s hard to equate what I say and do with what people like to think I say and do. As a rule, if you are a ranking executive of virtually any organization of which I am or ought to be a member, it is obligatory to blame me for everything that is wrong with debate, the economy, and the tainted peanut butter in the Little Debbie cakes. This is fine by me, and probably useful for those on the other side of it: every thesis needs an antithesis, and I am the only coach out here day in and day out. I just point this out because I know you’re reading this, you spalpeen, and I know that pointing it out will irritate you no end, but nonetheless firm up your belief in my basic evil. (I’ll be practicing my evil laugh whenever I can, though, to keep up the illusion. Ho ho ho, says I, with malice and mischief.)

Meanwhile, Newark was this last weekend, and I worked the invitational in lieu of an MHL event. Usually we’ve held the MHL on the Saturday off at some separate venue in the neighborhood, but we thought that this time out we’d simply add a novice division to the invitational and see what would happen. Surprisingly enough, the numbers were rather small in both divisions of LD, although I gather policy was quite a hoedown. Go figure. We theorized that the heavy testing in NY State was the problem, with folks concentrating on their main responsibilities. Whatever, although it didn’t affect the Policians. Anyhow, we still agreed that we’d do it again next year, because as a rule our ramping up the number of novice events this year has been terrifically successful, and this was probably just an aberration. If it happens again next year, we’ll know differently.

The tournament itself went off as they all do. There were some touch-and-go moments with judging, because we were right at the edge of the appropriate numbers, but bubbles did get the As, and that’s always key. Of course, the debaters who blame every loss not on themselves but on their judges will no doubt complain yet again, but from our perspective almost all the rounds were adjudicated by experienced former debaters, except some of them were experienced long ago. Rule number one when debating in front of a former debater from the Dark Ages: Slow Down. Rule number two: Clear Standards. Rule number three: Clear Weighing. Given that rules 2 and 3 pretty much apply to every round everywhere, the only issue is ratcheting things down a bit to help out people who are rusty on the flowing side of things. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s remarkable how hard that is for a lot of less than successful debaters. Top echelon debaters, on the other hand, have no trouble with it. O’C and “The” and I were discussing this as we were trying to get through the ridiculous Newark traffic (those drivers are NUTS!). The heavy-duty bidded people are perceived of as being ridiculously fast, but they’re only fast in rounds where speed is not an issue. In rounds where the judging is less likely to follow speed, they slow down. That’s why they’re heavily bidded and at the top echelon. Duh.

Because of global warming or sunspots or something, the Sailor’s battleship this weekend transported B. Whiteguy along to the tournament. Let me put it this way. If ever there was a guy who ought to be a Sailor, it’s B. Whiteguy. He can sail with us any time. I recommend that if he travels with you, you challenge him to a game of Ghost. For money. You will get rich faster than you can imagine. And in answer to the question, what does the Panivore eat other than wheat products, the answer is dessert. I’m going to start carrying vials of vitamins for emergency injections, I think. There’s just so much nutrition in a half portion of spaghetti with butter. At least B. Whiteguy, who is a vegetarian, has no compunctions about eating fish, presumably because they’re not warm and cuddly like hogs. We stopped at the Palisades Mall for dinner on the way home, and the place was packed to the gills. Economy be damned, people were at least out strolling in the virtual downtown of the mall that, in its earliest stages, was planned to be the largest in the world but ultimately settled for being the ugliest. There were lines everywhere but at the Italian place, which made decision-making a snap. The drivers in the parking lot must have all come from Newark, though. We were lucky to get out alive.

And thus Newark enters the history books, and we’re on this week to the land of the Scarswegians.