Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Whither the Pfffters?

Judging a bunch of rounds of PF at Districts was illuminating. The competitors were a mix of folks from various other denominations; none of them were, to my knowledge, PF-Firsters, so to speak. So my conclusions may be skewed, but at least insofar as the local area is concerned, absent Regis, we don’t have a lot of PF-Firsters, although some of the larger schools are in the process of developing a few. Of course, I have judged Regis Pfffters in the past, and I wasn’t thinking then what I’m thinking now, so maybe it’s just a result of watching visitors dip their toes in, but whatever the case, some things were pretty clear.

The topic at hand, about No Child’s Left Be-Hind, is not a terrible one. The issue of NCLB and its success or failure is real. Anything having to do with improving education in this country, especially in trying economic times, is real. There is no reason to think that one side in this debate has any advantage over the other, unlike with some other topics. So, going into the round, it’s anyone’s to win.

The first step seems to be the establishing of the facts. These may be statistical, or they may be analytical, but they are, reasonably, facts. You’ve got your statistics, I’ve got my statistics. They disagree. Then what?

Here is where PF has, from what I have seen, not yet found its footing. In Policy, we obviously have dueling facts, but to a purpose. The aff is proposing a change in the status quo, and the neg is arguing that the aff’s proposal should not be accepted. We have evolved a variety of approaches for the neg. They can argue that the aff’s plan won’t solve, or that the aff’s interpretation of the status quo is wrong. They can argue that there is a better plan. All of this falls under the stock issues of Harms, Inherency, Topicality and Solvency, and there are a lot of permutations, but you get the general drift. Because aff proposes change, we know what the format of the round is. We know why we have negative presumption. The framework of the whole thing is pretty clear.

In LD, on the other hand, neither side is, theoretically, granted presumption. Each side needs to prove a general application of their arguments to the issue at hand. Because this is so wide open, the concepts of value and criterion have been accepted as the mediation devices for application of general philosophical approaches. That is, a good round will demonstrate the achievement of a highly ephemeral value, like justice, through a meaningful weighing mechanism, like lives saved (although it’s hardly ever so simple as that: when an LD round fails to click it fails because the framework and the content of the arguments are either not jelling themselves, or they aren’t jelling between the two sides).

With PF, unlike Policy and to a lesser extent LD (I mean, how many people out there persist in disbelieving the lack of negative presumption in LD, after all?), there are no standards for adjudicating the round. There are no mechanisms for determining who were the best debaters and therefore the winners. The published PF paradigm of who the judge believed the most falls pretty quickly because there are no objective standards for believability at the point where, for instance, no one has verifiable evidence. They all dress up nicely and speak well, so they are, potentially and often actually, equally creditable. In the rounds I watched (okay, a couple of guys were dressed like bums, I admit it), what was happening over and over was that the teams comprising debaters from other persuasions argued rings around their non-debatecentric opponents at levels that their opponents didn’t even recognize. I talked with one non-debate team about this after a round, and they readily admitted that they didn’t understand a lot of what had been going on. But they had won anyhow. In fact, they were the top qualifier. How could that be, if they were being run rings around in the literal arguments? My theory is that the debaters, although they have the skill set to argue anything, any time, are missing the toolkit to apply that skill set to PF (nice metaphor, eh?). They know how to do it, but they don’t know what to do, and nothing about the ballot instructions or the (short) legacy of the activity provides any insight. So a team of non-debaters can, somehow, instinctively win numerous ballots over teams of top LDers who keep trying to find the there there, if there is one.

I curious to see if my experience at Catnats in Albany will support these thoughts.

My understanding is that Rippin’ is going to be addressing PF this year as they have addressed LD recently in the past, and I hope this is true. I like PF for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that it offers an activity of broad benefit (research, speaking, writing) that requires less commitment (at the moment, at least) for success than the other debate activities, the reason being the quick turnaround of topics. In this neck of the woods, if you want to be good at LD or Policy, you’ve got to make it your top extracurricular activity, you’ve got to do it almost every week, you’ve got to go to institute during the summer, and you’ve got to eat, drink and breathe debate. I like the idea that someone could do well in forensics in a debate activity without giving every waking moment to it. Don’t get me wrong. I love debaters who have it in their blood. But I also have a fondness for the benefits of debate going out to people who aren’t born to it. PF can be that activity.

Let’s hope that it moves in the direction of something solid.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A return to my vigorous judging youth (youth?)

I spent the weekend at our District tournament, judging pretty much nonstop. Needless to say, I came away from the experience with a few thoughts.

As for vigilantes, I was rather surprised at the approach taken in the rounds I heard. Both sides seem to want to portray vigilantes as either some sort of saints who step in when tyrants rule the land, or as the KKK lynching everyone in sight. In other words, complete vilification versus complete sanctification. Granted that there are all sorts of vigilante examples one can come up with, and that one could conceivably just concentrate on the ones supportive of one’s position, this hardly seems the best strategy. (For that matter, this is often an approach taken by debaters regardless of the resolution, and it always strikes me as less than optimal as a strategy.) Vigilantes are, by common definition, people taking the law into their own hands. As such, they are inherently outlaws. The issue ought to be if their becoming outlaws is somehow warranted. One could address this question on a philosophical basis, or one could look at practical situations, depending upon one’s taste for such things. I don’t know what I would do myself, and I hesitate ever to suggest too specifically what one ought to or ought not to run, but nevertheless, the weighing of harms (there are rights violations on both sides of the resolution) at least allows for comparing apples to apples.

In the event, it was much of my usual complaint, specifically cases where the contentions bear no connection to the framework, hence the contentions are quickly discarded and the entire round is about the framework (yawn), and the less-than-a-minute neg (quite an advocacy that allows you), always a personal bugbear for me. The fact that there is a typo on the official NFL ballot, the group that almost always misspells words in the headings of their emails, was also of the usual complaint persuasion. I am less bothered by educators who can’t spell than educators who can’t spell-check…

I also judged a hint of USX, which was problematic for me, as we were in the final round and the top three or four were hard for me to separate. I did mostly agree with the other judges, according to JV, and better still, everyone I liked qual’d in either USX or FX, so no extempers were harmed by my participation in the event. I always claim that I like extemp, and after watching this round, I remain unshaken. A good extemper has to be smart and speak well and stick to the topic; I wish more LDers were like that.

I also judged a bunch of PF, which deserves its own entry tomorrow. Meanwhile, I will point out that the Panivore, our Northeast novice champion, made top speaker at Woodward, an accomplishment worth crowing about. She also plowed her way through to quarters in her panivorous way. It was peachy of O’C to chaperone her and the People’s Champion for the weekend. I love the fact that we are all willing to help each other’s teams around here. Makes doing this job a lot easier, and a lot more fun.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

The life of a former World's Worst District Chair

At the local Cineplex, popcorn is $1.00 on Tuesday nights. This is a savings of about $50 per movie trip. (I gather that Wednesday is dish night, as any Jean Shepherd fan can tell you, but I’ve already got enough gravy boats.) I learned this startling fact this week when I went to the movies Tuesday night when I would normally have been attending a meeting of the Sailors (we are devolving into mostly chezzes for the rest of the season). Of course, you only get the discount if you have a card from the theater. The only reason I had gotten the card was to shut them up every time I went to the movies when they would get on my case for not having a card. But who can argue with $1.00 popcorn? Thank you, Barack Obama!

Regarding TNC last weekend, I forgot to point out that we told PJ to print up the registrations in advance and then just mark any changes on the printouts when people arrived. After I arrived I discovered that we had asked…PJ…to write… changes…on the registrations. By hand. Anyone who has ever read seen a PJ ballot will realize that this could only to questions like, “Is this name really Mxyzptlk?” The answer, of course, was always, “No, it’s quite clearly Kltpzyxm.” PJ, as it turns out, is actually able to read PJ’s handwriting. Formidable! I always thought he was just as much in the dark as the rest of us.

This weekend is the New York State District tournament, in its usual Scarsdale venue, which I am not running for the first time in years, and which I will presumably never run again. I have exactly one entry, and I am judging. Any wonder why the Cheshire cat is one of my favorite characters in literature?

Meanwhile O’C is tabbing Woodward this weekend, but he’s tabbing it O’C-style. That means he will show up when it’s half over, arriving on the back of a white elephant with mahouts aplenty, dressed in his finest sweater vest. Meanwhile Kaz will be doing all the heavy lifting of the early rounds. At TNC he showed up Friday just in time to get dinner. He’s becoming the number one flaneur in high school forensics.

Some day I want to write a novel with a character named Mahouts Aplenty.

And now that I’ve used “flaneur” in two posts in one week, you have no choice but to look it up. My favorite warning sign is, indeed, NE FLANEZ PAS! It’s become my life’s philosophy.

I hope to use the down time at Districts, if any, working on questions for one last Bean Trivia bash next week and the next installment of Great Debate Adventures. But I’ll probably mostly end up judging, or maybe getting beaten up by JV for abandoning my post, not to mention what the rest of the hoi and the polloi might have to say about it. It’s tough being tossed from the heights back into the general population, even if it was self-tossing. But somehow I will stiffen the upper lip and make the best of it.

I just got a ballot from Rippin’ to vote for next year’s chair. Anybody want the job?

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Thursday, March 26, 2009


I had a Twitter account about two years ago, and played around with it for a while, and gave up on it. I failed to discover any meaningful functionality that would supplant other things I was doing. Since I was primarily connected to the world via a computer, Facebook, which has some shared DNA with Twitter, made more sense. Additionally, I had the world’s oldest cell phone that wouldn’t connect with Twitter for some reason, which didn’t make the application any more attractive.

But, time passes. I have a new cell phone with a keyboard (I’m a writer, not a talker). And Twitter has become so hot that it’s not hot anymore and people are getting tattoos of the fail whale. There’s a lot of what Twitter is all about that I have no interest in, but there are a couple of things that are starting to make it very interesting to me.

First of all, everyone has a cell phone. Its battery may be dry (if you’re a Sailor, for instance), but you’re carrying it around. For example, I open every MHL tournament with, among other announcements, a warning that if your cell goes off during a round, you will get an automatic loss. The cell is the ubiquitous machine of the millennium, or at least one ubiquitous machine of the millennium.

Secondly, everyone does not have internet access 24/7 on their person. Some people come close (iPhone and Blackberry users and folks with expensive geegaws plugged into their USB slots), but absent universal wireless, we’re not there yet. Eventually, and with small devices like iPhones and Touches and netbooks and the like, but not just yet.

Third, I have timely information that is worth communicating, on occasion, to a select group of people. I am not interested in reading that so-and-so is doing some mundane action and getting updated every time so-and-so progresses in that action, and I’m sure no one is interested in that sort of thing from me. But I have two groups of people for whom instant group communication is valuable, the Sailors (and their families) and attendees at tournaments I am tabbing or directing.

Because we all have cells, Twitter seems like the perfect medium for getting that information to those people.

Think about it. I need to get my team on the bus. Twitter. I need to tell the parents that the bus just left Timbuktu. Twitter. I need the team to come to the tab room and lug all that crap somewhere. Twitter. I need to cancel a meeting on the fly. I need everyone to meet at a certain restaurant. Whatever. Twitter is a great solution. It can deliver real information quickly to a group in a position to get that information immediately. I like that.

So, I created a jimmenick account.

I also created a tabroom account, although I’m still futzing around with the concept of two accounts, since I only have one phone. But think about tournaments. I am in tab, and just for this weekend, you will follow me on Twitter (either as jimmenick or tabroom). Schematics are being released for round 3. Round 4 starts at 7:45 tomorrow morning. Lunch is being served in the cafeteria. Missing judges X, Y and Z. Breaks posted in the such-and-such hallway. Award ceremony at 4:00 in the library with the lead pipe. It’s all very mundane, in its way, but it’s information that people need at a tournament. At a tournament like Yale or Princeton, spread all over creation, it’s information that hundreds of people, competitors and judges alike, need quickly. Follow me on Twitter, just for that weekend, and you’ll get that information tout de suite.

I need to polish the approach. I figure a preface, like TAB: or SAILORS: to lead the message makes sense, since I’ll inevitably have two groups at once at a tournament. And not everyone will do it, but a lot will, and more will join up over time. I know that Bietz played with this at VBI with success, and that’s part of my inspiration.

I’ll be playing and polishing over the next few weeks, running various tests. Absent the fail whale, it works pretty well with the little I’ve done so far. So, don’t follow me now, but do feel free to offer advice. I’m all ears. And next season, bring your cell along with you. You’re going to want the tweets.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009


So, sez you, am I ever going to actually talk about the Northeast Championships?

I thought you’d never ask.

It was an odd tournament in some ways, because the Massachusettsians aren’t exactly like the Metropolitan New Yorkers in a variety of ways, many of them semiotic. That is, they have a different sort of tournament as their norm, and their expectations of what a tournament is and how it operates is different. CP talked about this to a degree in his last post. The thing is, if your attendees are used to a one-day tournament, thrusting them into a two-day tournament adds a layer of complexity that takes a little getting used to. If nothing else, the burdens of the host buying food for a certain number of people, which warrants the setting of fees at a specific cutoff date, is hard for people to sort out when they’re used to signing up for things at a relatively last minute. (This late signup is not so unusual, by the way. I remember in the earliest days of the MHL, there was no pre-registration at all; you just showed up and signed up, which did, of course, lend itself to a lot of starting friction, but these were pre-computer times. Even now, we shut down one-dayers only a couple of days before the event, simply to allow us to get it set up in advance to remove the starting friction; no fees or fines are set on the basis of these pre-regs.) Another concept hard for people to grasp when evolving out of a one-day environment, with perhaps one elimination round, is the need to provide judging for a series of elimination rounds, and the usual one-past-your-own-elimination burden. As the VCA knows, I have always remarked that, even in situations where people are well practiced in the business of multiple elims, there are always those people who simply must leave early, which includes getting their ballots and trophies and other paraphernalia, for the simple reason that they live the closest and therefore have the least distance to drive home. As if the rest of us wouldn’t want to go home early too, and blow off the awards ceremony where we honor our top competitors and thank our hosts for a job well done. Feh! Anyhow, in this case it’s more ignorance than asininity, so it’s theoretically forgivable, but to be honest, we didn’t let anyone go until we didn’t need them anymore. If you do have to leave a venue I’m tabbing, I’ll try to accommodate you, but as a general rule, try to live 10 hours further from there than I do, and have a few minor children and aged parents dependent on your presence to keep them from being attacked by rabid wolves, and suffer from at least two rare diseases that require immediate medical attention, and provide documentation for all of this three days in advance before I can seriously begin to entertain your request.

So, there were some perception snafus, but on the other hand, our venue in the Commonwealth meant that we attracted about 40 Pfffft teams, as compared to 6 last year. Massachusetts is a hotbed of Pfffft, for some reason. Then again, it’s not much of a hotbed of other debate, and aside from Lex, and a few late drops, it was all from outside the area. Unfortunately we lost a bunch of Jersey teams due to financial issues. Still, the numbers were pretty respectful. If you look at who won in each division, you’d be hard-pressed to suggest that these are not worthy northeast champions.

The goal remains that we must build up this event. We are getting bigger every year, and learning every year. We have some seriously good ideas for improvement, but some things will remain. Posting results of each round, and brackets for elims, proved extremely popular (and uncovered one tab error, which is the real reason I want these up there). We are focused on what we think is the perfect venue for next year, and I’ll work with JV and Catholic Charlie this weekend at our District tournament to settle some dates (when I’m not judging HI or something). We will continue to import top judging talent and make sure money is put aside for it (and we’re even thinking of feeding the judges next year, since they were, as a group, starving at the free-from-hospitality judges’ lounge, a financial necessity this year that will not recur). We will keep the all-winning-records-break approach plus the modified RR approach for any divisions that remain small. And we will have rather super trophiage (thanks to O’C, of course).

All in all, TNC continues to grow, and to thrive. I got the feeling a good time was had by all (except for the people whose heads I bit off). It is a great way to end the season. I look forward to doing it again.

Last note: The quintessential O’C bracket was the hit of the event. Now he needs to send me his filled-out version so we can all compare results.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's all good

Followers of the Feed (yeah, I know, that’s about the square root of -1 of you) and/or followers of CP’s blog (which is probably about the square root of -1.5 of you, which I’m not sure is more or less) read his piece on the difference approaches to our activity. Not surprisingly, he and I are in fair agreement on the core issue (I think). All forensics is valuable. All levels of commitment are good (short of monomaniacal obsession on the one side and being a yearbook-photo debater on the other side). I like to see programs starting up and feeling their way around, and I’m happy that we have two inexpensive and, locally, compatible leagues in the NYCFL and the MHL. Between the two we offer almost a complete season of participation for very little money, maybe $100 a year for a whole team (by the way, we’re revising the MHL fees next year to a one-time payment to cover costs, i.e. trophies and printer cartridges and O’C’s sweater vests so it should be even cheaper), not to mention that we regularly waive fees for teams who arrive with their pants pockets hanging out, empty of even a dime for a cup of coffee (although you have to hand it to them for thinking that they can find a cup of coffee for a dime anymore). By the same token, I’m perfectly fond of the semidetached Sailor who shows up most of the time for meetings and doesn’t say much and only debates a little bit, maybe just enough to earn a membership in the NFL and for me to remember their names the next time I see them. They’re not my favorites, by any means, but I can appreciate that they have lives with something else in them other than debate, and there is no doubt in my mind that our discussions of resolutions and the like are academically beneficial even in small doses. On the other end of the spectrum, debaters who teach me a thing or two are what make this rockin’ world go round. I tend to like an intellectual challenge, and having to learn some new damned thing to understand what 17-year-olds are talking about gives me something to do in between golf games and bouts with Lego Star Wars. Those students too are getting something out of forensics, at a high level, obviously, and all of it is good. I’m similarly agnostic about specific activities, although I do have my personal favorites. I see little advantage of LD or Policy or PF or Extemp or Duo or HI or OO or OI in academic benefit, although obviously the benefits of interpreting poetry are different from the benefits of running Policy counterplans. But they’re all benefits, rewarding the actors rather equally in proportion to their dedication. Chacun a son gout, as they say in Montreal. And one gout is as good as another, if you ask me.

But it is true that this sort of pan-forensics approach is not as widespread as one would like. While I don’t necessarily expect students to feel this way, insofar as there is a certain tribalism that comes with each activity, replete with totems and taboos and talismans and tschotkes and other team paraphernalia that appeals to the high school brain, I do expect coaches to feel this way. My immediate circle certainly does (which is why they’re my immediate circle) but I know a lot who don’t. I know of coaches who believe that casual participation in forensics is worthless, or who believe that only their activity is worthwhile. For a 17-year-old LDer to be true to LD and to drink the LD Kool-Aid is one thing, but with a 40-year-old, you’ve got to wonder. It’s like an English teacher who sees no value in science classes, or worse, an English teacher who sees no value in reading Thackeray instead of Dickens (or in this day and age of declining readership of books, Harry Potter v David Copperfield). Learning is learning, and educators should take it wherever it comes. One of the nice things about forensics is that the learning is sort of hidden, or at the very least it’s fun. Which is a good way to do it.

The only way we can overcome biases and misunderstandings and tribalisms is to keep working to overcome them. At the point where anyone in a position of authority over a league of some sort begins to believe that their league has it right, and that if the world also wants to be right it has to do things the way that league does it, we are on the road to perdition. Interestingly enough, the nature of forensics tends to breed iconoclasts. But the nature of life in general tends to breed power enclaves that self-protect (through Foucaultian definition), so the power enclaves are often in a position to resist the changes proposed by the iconoclasts. But again, the nature of forensics tends to breed people who are constantly engaged in dialogue (you can’t shut them up, actually) and, in many ways, a dialectic search for truth. Which means that even if the doors of power are locked, we’re always out there banging on them.

So I ask you this, if you’re in any position of authority over any aspect of forensics whatsoever. Are you welcoming of change? Do you listen to newcomers and outsiders? Do you act openly? Do you welcome everyone? I’m not saying you have to agree with everyone. I maintain a rather conservative stance on LD, for instance, but I have also changed my opinions over my years of working in the activity, and I am willing to engage anyone, anywhere, in open dialogue. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I weren’t. And if you aren’t, neither are you.

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Monday, March 23, 2009


Riding home from Massachusetts usually means stopping at Rein’s deli, which is about at the halfway mark on Connecticut’s Route 84 regardless of where you happen to be coming from or going to. Rather magical, that. Everyone stops at Rein’s, except for NFA, which prefers to stop at malls to buy sweater vests and to play football. And I do mean everyone. As in, witness the following.

So Saturday night at around 8:30 we pull into Rein’s with our entire group. Being a tad on the large side, we break down into two smaller segments. The mostly male factor (or most of the malefactors, take your pick) went off together to order vast quantities of soup, while the rest of us were herded into a back room where one other large table was filled with people who looked remarkably…familiar. They looked at us, we looked at them; a mix of adults and teenagers, many of them well too dressed up for normal everyday existence. In fact, their adults were dressed up too, and I’ve never seen so many bowties in one place (and I hope never to do so again, for that matter). “Are you coming from the debate tournament?” one of them asked. Normally we would simply respond yes to this question, but there was something a little off in all of this, because these were definitely not the debaters I am used to. Speecho-Americans was my guess, and I responded accordingly. After speaking to these folks for a minute, we learned they were in fact from the NCFCA, the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association, the speech and debate league for home-schooled students. Pretty cool, I thought. If you take debaters—a rowdy and mixed group, to put it mildly—and Christianize and home-school them, they come out looking like Speecho-Americans. Sorta makes sense, when you think about it.

Anyhow, we had our dinner, which was the usual challenge of Sailor v. Coach. Forwhomthe Ben ordered a corned beef sandwich, making sure with the bemused waitress that it contain no peanuts or milk in it anywhere. I was tempted to explain the concept of kosher to him, but couldn’t figure out a way to include legumes in the discussion, so I let it pass. Then there was our student who had never had, apparently, either a reuben, corned beef, rye bread or Russian dressing, but was game and enjoyed her introduction to deli food leaving nary a bite. SuperSquirrel and I compared nasty foods we wouldn’t hesitate to eat, and although both of us love a nice rabbit, she drew the line at cervelle aux buerre nois, which used to be my standard Wednesday lunch back in the seventies at a restaurant since immortalized in Nostrum (thank you, Jules and Mite). The Panivore, fresh from victory, suffered mild apoplexy during this conversation, but given that she is in a permanent state of malnutrition, what do you expect? I keep waiting to see her picture in a magazine with a plea to send money to feed and save this child!

After these festivities were concluded, as I was paying, the leader of the NCFCA pack started chatting me up. His real question was, how do we get judges, and I explained the concept of paying college flaneurs students good money to do the job, although I pointed out that to some extent we also relied on parents. “Ah, yes,” he replied. “Parent judges versus student judges. I used to debate myself when I was a kid. We always hated the parent judges.”

“You were a debater?” I asked, not the wittiest reply ever, but I was full of corned beef (no milk or peanuts) and French fries, so my brain wasn’t its normally active self.

“Yes,” he said, pulling on the ends of his bowtie. “You said you were from Hendrick Hudson? I used to debate them.”



“Where did you go to high school?” I asked.

I should have been able to guess the answer. “Bronx Science,” he replied.

Aback was I taken! I suddenly had visions of O’C twenty years from now, transformed into a Christian Home School Debate Coach. The mind boggled.

I wished my new Bronx Science alum friend good luck, and went screaming out into the night.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Modnov plus the triumphant return of bracketology

Get the latest on modnov.

And this being March Madness season, I offer Menick Madness. It's been a couple of years since we've done these, and a few new ones seemed in order.

Bracket for the best person you'll never be judged by. You can also use this to determine the worst person you'll never be judged by.

Bracket for your most personally important tech item of the 21st Century.

And finally, and probably most interestingly—not to mention my personal favorite—a bracket for the quintessential O'C.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In which a variety of issues are sliced and diced

There’s more on ModNov: check it out.

Last weekend was the first Byram Hills invitational, which seemed to go well from my perspective. The fields were large enough that we weren’t breaking brackets left and right, and although the judge pool was small, it had some strong people in it. Putting a new event on the calendar is always difficult for a variety of reasons. Chief among these is simply finding an empty date. Even as we were doing Byram we were discussing where Scranton might be able to put something (around the beginning of November). And everyone knows by now that UPenn is going to stake its own unique claim on Presidents’ Weekend, on the assumption that plenty of people don’t go to Harvard and might like a more low-keyed event that weekend. In all of this I realize that my own participation will have to be pared down a bit next year, although I’m not sure quite yet where, exactly. I simply don’t have every weekend available because the DJ is getting progressively more difficult to excuse myself from so regularly. So, just because I tabbed you last year doesn’t mean I’ll tab you next year. Assume nothing. Ask early. Once I run out of days off, I’ve run out of days off.

Anyhow, not much of reportable consequence happened in the hills of Byram. The usual attempts by the usual suspects to get out of drop fees by not reporting drops at the table and letting the tab room discover them after round 2 has been paired hardly bears mentioning. One school didn’t show up entirely, but then again, no one had seen them all year so maybe they’re just imaginary. I know a lot of debaters whom I wish were imaginary, so that could be a blessing in disguise. We did have an irate judge who broke through our high level of security and attacked tab with a combination of scathing wit, litotes and vague allusion, but I responded to this uncharacteristic challenge by telling him to go suck an egg, so it didn’t amount to much. O’C and I were accused of sitting around doing nothing, to which we responded by heading out for lunch, so I guess you can see where we stand on that issue. (We were subsequently accused by the restaurant of—wait a minute. Why am I telling you all this here? I feel a great debate adventure coming on. BTW, I’ve been accused of doing O’C’s Irish accent as a Scottish accent. Jeesh. You want Mel Blanc, you go exhume him. Meanwhile, settle for what you get.)

I remain wedded to my Wii, having added relatives bumping into each other while boxing (virtually) to my repertoire that hitherto only included Lego Star Wars. This is all much more fun than debate, although last night we did have a practice round (first of the year in our regular meeting time slot) which was pretty entertaining too. I don’t know how the People’s Champion is able to read his case given that he has more hair than Cousin Itt, and I could barely recognize him since he wasn’t wearing his Ben Whiteguy sweater vest. (Catsmacker says that every time her team takes a road trip they have to stop at every mall so that Whiteguy can add to his collection. Quite the fashion-setter. Haven’t seen anything like this since Wedro’s matching Mafia shirts and ties back in the 90s.) For some reason the Sailors don’t have half as many practice rounds as they had oughta, and I don’t know why as they’re very useful. Reading and hearing cases are two different things. Oh, well. For some reason last night SuperSquirrel palmed off a counterplan on the PC’s opponent. Nasty. Given the rules about CPs, one has to wonder about them. As I put it, a third of your LD judges will drop you for it cold, a third will simply ignore it, which leaves a third who may or may not buy it. Those odds just don’t work for me. If you want to run a CP, go do Policy. LDers doing Policy (and Policians doing LD, for that matter) is all the rage around here these days. Speak French in France, in other words. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In LD, do LD. Can’t hurt.

Northeast Chumps is coming up. I’m definitely looking forward to the last major Sailor road trip of the year. Maybe I’ll buy a sweater vest.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's time to settle on the novice topic

At the very top of the things-to-do list is finalizing the Modest Novice. I've already said what I want to say over on the Modest Novice site, so I'll just cross-post. http://www.modestnovice.org/2009/03/17/possible-wordings/

(I'm sure we'll return to news and views and general bologna soon enough here. I've lately come to realize that whenever I say something that is, shall we say, less than glowing about persons who remain anonymous, 95% of the VCA thinks I'm talking about them. How vanevain! Still, I would hate to keep you from your general albeit misguided rankles, so bear with me a little bit, and we'll tell you everything you need to know about you-know-who, whatchamacallit and you yourself—you bloody vile spalpeen—soon enough.)

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Monday, March 16, 2009

All the news Part 3

I’ve already posted an RSS how-to, specifically referencing the Google Reader, which is my personally preferred application. I started using GR because for a while I was using iGoogle as my home page, and the reader was right there for the clicking, and the progression just happened. But it was a happy accident. GR does have some nice features for controlling the look and feel, not to mention sharing (and thereby providing the source of the Coachean Feed, which we’ll get to shortly). GR also offers suggestions for new feeds based on the feeds you already source, which has proven quite helpful. I’m sure there’s other comparable RSS products, and if you already have and use one, more power to you, but if not, you can’t go wrong with it. Check out that how-to (it’s on the right over there under greatest hits) for the details.

My history with RSS is complicated. I started with one feed, through MHL, then broke out a second, personal one. Just recently I moved everything back to one feed again (there’s an easy way to do this, where you save your feeds to a file and GR picks them up, not unlike saving your bookmarks to a file and passing them to a different browser). My experience with RSS has allowed me over time to figure new and better ways to parse the feeds so that I can address them meaningfully. Feed management becomes something of an obsession, to tell you the truth. But if you have a hundred feeds in one folder, for instance, your RSS is totally unmanageable and not much different from having a hundred bookmarks in your browser, which is the old way of doing things. You need to divvy them up so that, depending on what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, you can access the ones you want, when and how you want them.

I have, at the moment, 171 subscriptions. That means 171 web sites are sending me updates every time something new happens on them. Those sites are broken down into seventeen or eighteen categories. When I log on first thing in the morning, there are probably a thousand new entries overall, and maybe another thousand accrue (and get cleared) as a day progresses. This is a lot of information. Breaking it down into folders meaningful to me makes dealing with it fairly efficient.

The first folder I check is Debate, which includes the handful of debate blogs including VBD and CP’s rantings and the like. Secondly there is an Ideas folder, which contains feeds most likely to be of value to debaters. These are philosophy sites, deep-background opinion sites, things like that. 90% of the articles I mark for Coachean Feed come from here. Thirdly there is an Opinions folder, which is more newsy and decidedly more loosey-goosey than Ideas, but still occasionally offers useful material. Beyond that, there are some areas of interest only to me (like amusement parks and entertainment stuff such as music and films), tech, science, books. I have a catchall category for general sites like Boing Boing and Digg (both of which are, one way or the other, aggregate sites, like the Feed), which I like to look at but which are not essential. Daily Dish gets its own category. eZines get theirs. And so forth. I’m not recommending you do what I do, I’m just telling you what it is that I do that is working for me.

Needless to say, I do not read thousands of internet postings a day. But once I’ve prioritized all the postings, the reader allows me to get through headlines/distillations at fairly blazing speed so that I can stop and read the ones I want. (GR allows me to switch from pure headlines to longer distillations, formats which I alternate depending on the nature of the material.) When all is said and done I probably spend about a half hour to an hour sorting through this stuff. And as I indicated, I address the debate material first, and repost it to the Coachean Feed by starring it (a retweet without twittering). So what does this mean to you? Well, you can grab the Coachean Feed and know that every single article in it is potentially interesting to someone of a forensician persuasion (or at least an LD or Pffffter persuasion). It may just be articles on human rights absent a specific context, but you can’t possibly not want to know everything you can about HRs, especially articles on HRs selected for you by a debate coach. You pay good money for research if you buy briefs; I give it to you for free.

But I’d be happier if you made Coachean Feed just one of the pages you RSS. It is, by design, specific to our little corner of the mental universe. But I’ll bet that your mind is also interested in other corners. Sure, you can go to those web pages you like, as you do now, and look at their stuff, but this is the same as saying, yeah, I know those mp3s are convenient, but I’ve got enough music already on my 78rpm records. It depends entirely on what you consider “enough.” In the age of the internet, enough is as much as you can get your hands on. Anything less is, well, not enough.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

All the news Part 2

It is a mistake to claim that the internet is all about news. But it is also a mistake to claim that newspapers are all about news. Newspapers certainly have a mission to transmit a selection of the latest important information, but they also transmit opinions and general information. They cover arts and culture and science and business. Additionally, they transmit indirect information, such as what you see in the ads. (For instance, I wonder how many people get virtually all of their selection data on movies from looking at the movie advertisements on the arts pages?) There are also purely entertaining sections in most newspapers, things like puzzles and comics. When I make the (futile) demand that the Sailors read the Times I am making it in the belief that there is more there than analyses of economics in Kyrgyzstan. A lot of it is fun and entertaining, and a lot of it is not news but simply good stuff they might want to know, or opinions on subjects that are of direct (resolutional) interest.

Obviously the internet is even more diverse than the seeming monolith of a newspaper. And it has some advantages over newspapers that are causing great and perhaps fatal harm to that older breed of media. In many respects, if not all, the internet does what newspapers do, and it does it better. It doesn’t have the ergonomic satisfaction of coffee mug and comfy chair on a Sunday morning, but it’s approaching that satisfaction with machinery like the Kindle and netbooks. But with the advantage of more and faster information comes the disadvantage of our having to sort through all that information.

Curiously enough, I’m still not settled on getting my literal news from the internet, so I don’t make any recommendations there yet, aside from applying what I’m saying here to that avenue as well in search of your own accommodation with today’s technology. Personally I still like my combination of NPR, breakfast and the New York Times as my specific feeds of data on the most important “news” stories of the day (excluding the breakfast part of it). This is about a half hour of my life every day (and more on the weekends). That’s a pretty substantial percentage of my conscious existence.

But as for all the rest of that stuff, let’s face it. Unless you spend all day surfing dozens if not hundreds of websites, it is all trees falling soundlessly in the forest as far as you are concerned. You don’t hear it, so it isn’t happening. While there are situations where the concept of you going out and getting information makes sense, if that’s the only approach you have to information on the internet, you’re not even making it to the level of dilettante.

So much information! So little time! But am I saying that you need all of the information on the internet? Of course not. What you need is a method for extracting the right information in a reasonable amount of time and with a reasonable amount of effort. In other words, until you are using RSS, and with a sense of mission, you just aren’t doing there yet. You are driving a horse and buggy down the autobahn, watching the sports cars zip past you. Don’t tell me you’re enjoying the journey. The driver of the Boxster is really enjoying the journey; you’re just making a virtue of ignorance.

Get over it.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

All the news doesn't fit anymore

Okay, you’ve heard this from me before. So sue me. You didn’t do anything about it, did you? You’re so set in your ways that you’ve decided not only that you’re better off doing things the way you’re already doing them but that your way is some reasonable alternative, and that just isn’t true. You are in the serious position of becoming computer illiterate, which nowadays is about two kliks short of life illiterate. If nothing else, you want to know what’s going on in the world so that you can win debate rounds or coach debaters or vilify the author of this blog or simply look smart at cocktail parties (has anyone had a cocktail party since, oh, 1974?). And then there’s my favorite line: If you were smarter, I’d be funnier. My goal here is to increase your brainpower. While resistance may not be futile, it is ill-advised.

It begins with the fact that newspapers are collapsing all around us. (Hearst, owner of some of the recently departed/departing, is waving the white flag by creating its own e-reader to take on the Kindle in the periodicals arena.) Even if you wanted to keep up with what’s going on in the world via newspapers, it gets progressively harder as time goes by. I maintain that the New York Times is the one to read even if you live in Podunk, but although at the moment the Gray Lady seems to be surviving as a physical entity, I wouldn’t bet the old 401K on its being there in 5 years, at least in its present form. Why are newspapers collapsing? Well, if the currency of newspapers is indeed news, the internet can deliver it with an immediacy that a pile of newsprint plunked down on your doorstep once a day can’t match. And the money behind newspapers, either space or classified ads, is going elsewhere. Craigslist is usually cited as the chief reason why no one uses newspaper classifieds anymore. The immediacy of instantaneous news is reflected in craig’s instantaneous apartment listings (or whatever). The horse is out of the barn, and it’s not going back. (And oh, yeah, you can buy horses on craigslist. Also there’s a category “baby+kids” so I guess you can also buy children, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you can afford to send them to college.)

Of course, you weren’t reading the newspapers anyhow, so you’re not terrifically affected by all this. At least if you’re an LDer you weren’t reading the papers. Policy people and Extempers (should) breathe news, and Pfffters are getting into the swing of it (although some strike me as still a bit dilettantish about knowing what’s going on in the world before a topic about it is released), but LDers like to think that all they need to know they already know or can look up. This is not true. Broad general knowledge precedes specific in-depth knowledge, at least if that knowledge is going to be put to broad use (as in informing one’s debate career). My arguments for reading daily newspapers (or their contemporary analog, whatever that is) remain viable, and you can dig back through the muck of this blog to find them, or listen to my research lecture, or simply assume that since I am always right and I never lie, you can trust me. You need to know what’s happening in the world. You have no choice. Resistance, as I said, is not futile, but it will make you a dolt. And we wouldn’t want that, now, would we?

I’ll continue this next time (I haven’t actually gotten to the point yet), but meanwhile, stare at this for a while.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I’m willing to bet anything that you’re not tagging your cases as well as you could.

People often seem to forget that somewhere in the back of the room someone is trying to follow all the arguments, probably writing them down on paper. And all of the arguments are, as a general rule, complicated. Once you start throwing around evidence, and perhaps picking up your speaking pace to get through everything, you’re really burdening that poor note-taker back there. Oh, yeah, said note-taker loves speed and is proud of being the first in his or her region of the country to speak so fast back in the day that any room in which the debate was taking place was known to travel forward in time and leave everyone in the tri-state area dazzled by its Doppler effect. But still, as a debater, you can make it easy for our note-taker, or not. The choice is yours.

To make things easy, first of all, the entire contention needs to be cogently tagged. I’m not necessarily arguing against word economy, but at the top of your argument you should explain very clearly what the argument is about. This is analogous to what teachers tell you to do in writing an essay; you start off with a summary of your thesis. (Although, actually, both in speaking and writing you literally might start off with a teaser and then go into thesis summary, but we’ll presume that approach for this discussion.) This paragraph is, in fact, written in that style. Note the first sentence. It tells you that my subject is the need to tag contentions in a certain way. There is no doubt what I am talking about, although you don’t yet know what I am going to say about the subject. That will come in the ensuing sentences. If you were flowing this paragraph, the first thing you would write down is “entire contention needs to be cogently tagged.” If I were reading this aloud to you, I would slow down at that top sentence so that the thesis sinks in. Listen to a policy round some day. It’s not all blazing speed. They slow down when they need you to actually hear something, like the substance of their arguments. Speed is expended on reading the evidence and getting it into the record, so to speak.

What doesn’t work as a tag are things like, “Contention one, cogency,” any more than it would have worked if my first sentence in the paragraph above had been, “First, cogency.” Yeah, the idea is the same thing, but the clarity is missing. I’d have to sooner or later explain what I’m talking about before getting around to arguing for or against it. That’s a bad place to be in when you’re a debater. We should know exactly what you’re talking about at all times. A clearly tagged contention or subpoint will do that. An elliptical (or total lack of) tag will not. Which do you prefer?

Evidence, too, needs to be tagged. There are many ways to do this, but in LD this is usually handled in a statement such as, “The ICC is full of poopyheads. International analyst Joe McDoakes concurs: ‘The ICC comprises seventy-five percent off all poopyheads.” Your words lead us into the exegesis in the quote. The quote supports your words; it does not replace them, but elucidates them, perhaps providing the all-important warrant. Evidence is secondary to the argument you are making, even though the warrant may be in the evidence. The case is your claims, supported by evidence, not the evidence glued together by as few of your words as possible. This is a standard beginner’s error, after a beginner realizes that evidence is necessary. Starting out, a debater makes stuff up, then discovers that evidence is better, and then writes cases that are all evidence and no debater-written content, turning a case into not a position for or against but an aggregate of other people’s opinions, sort of like a live RSS feed. Not very convincing on the debate platform. The key point I want to make, though, is that evidence needs to be clearly tagged. When I am flowing I am going to write down the tag for your evidence. If I don’t have a tag for it, what do I write down? The whole thing? I’m not a court stenographer, after all. Tell me the meaning of the evidence at the top, and I’ll listen to the evidence for the crucial words that provide the support for that meaning. Otherwise I’ll listen to the evidence trying to figure out why you chose that piece of evidence. Which do you prefer?

Granted, this is Debate 101. But take a look at your cases. Look at the tops of the contentions. Look at the evidence tags. Are you making it easy for the note-taker in the back of the room? If not, do you really feel that you’re going to pick up that ballot?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sisyphus and the Honey-Do List: A True Myth

One is just the busiest little beaver, but having, it would appear, little to show for it. The thing is, I’m getting a bit wrung out at the DJ, which means that when the evenings roll around and it’s time to revolutionize debate in our lifetime, I’m more inclined to watch “House” or play Lego Star Wars (I’m on episode 4, which is the furthest I’ve ever gotten in any videogame, probably because, well, it’s aimed at 8-year-olds, which is about my age in gaming years). I’m also reading Updike on art (Just Looking), which is one of the best books I’ve read in a while, absent the DJ. I might even go see Watchmen, but I wouldn’t bet any money on it, as I tend to be more critic-like than fanboy-like in my tastes.

Things to do:

1. The Modest Novice
2. Theory debate curriculum
3. MHL Workshop curriculum (and date, and place)
4. Prep Sailors on vigilantism (i.e., it’s pronounced vig-il-ANT-ism, not some other bizarre combination of the letters, and definitely not vigilante-ism or vigil-aunt-ism)
5. Get States info to Statesfolk
6. Hope I only reserved 4 rooms for CatNats and not the 20 that I’m afraid I reserved because there was no acknowledgments page and, well, you just don’t want to know
7. Find map of Needham
8. Run Bobcat with O’C (or run O’C with bobcat, whichever comes first; with luck, a tale of great debate adventure will ensue since he’s bunking at the chez again, but if not, at least he and I can sing obscure Disney songs to the Panivore on the ride over)
9. Pray for debatable CatNats Pffft topic
10. Explain to Panivore what a fried clam is, and that they are eaten by choice and not as a torture technique
11. Miscellaneous, etc.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Grand adventures

CFL LD Grands, where the top three debaters from each program in the New York diocese come together to fight over six slots was, as usual, a bloodbath. Almost every single pairing had the feel of a final bid round; few if any of the contestants were, as you might put it, walking byes. In the past there have been a few schlubs tossed into the mix by newer programs thinking to give their students some tough experience, but not this year. It was just a lot of serious talent having at it. The people who qualified all deserved to. So did half of the people who didn’t qualify. Whew!

Pfffft, on the other hand, had a different slant. From the mariners’ point of view, of the six slots, three would inevitably go to Regis. This is about as difficult to predict as guessing that the Latino restaurant down the street (Reason #1 to have a tournament at Stuyvesant!) will have rice and beans on the menu. That leaves three slots up for grabs. My guess was that my younger LDers who wouldn’t have a chance against the seniors in the LD division would be a reasonable entry in PF, hence the suggestion that the Panivore and the People’s Champion join sophomoric forces. The panivorous one watched a couple of Pfffft rounds at Lakeland to find out what the activity actually was, then we prepped the two of them Tuesday night, and Saturday, lo and behold, they qualified. Taking a play from our book, a similar albeit more elderly team from Monticello did likewise. This is the good news. The bad news is, of course, that now we have to go to CatNats in Albany on Memorial Day weekend. Oh, well. You can’t have everything. Still, couldn’t they have qualified to go somewhere cool. Like, maybe, any city that isn’t Albany?

Tabbing the event, which I had pre-whined over because of our traditional difficulty, turned out to be the plum of the year. It was positively balmy out, so the windows were open blowing in fresh air over the canned heat blasting out of Stuyvesant’s furnaces (in typical NYC fashion, the heat goes on and off by date, not by need). Because we had amended the constitution of the NYCFL organization this year so that if there were fewer than 20 entries we would use 2 judges instead of 3, and because LD came in at 18 (well, actually 19, but one brilliant coach apparently signed up a student and completely forgot about it!), and because everybody was obligated to bring one judge per student, and because we had a couple of extras (even after I had to disqualify one judge because it was his very first tournament ever, and would it kill that team to follow the rules just once?), we were able to single-flight with two judges in each round, meaning that, even pairing by hand, we were done by around 4:00. In the afternoon. There were, of course, issues during the day, the biggest being our dropping of teams from the tournament as it progressed. Once you are mathematically eliminated, there’s no reason for us to keep you in. It is, after all, a qualifier and not a tournament in and of itself. But dropping people in PF, as it turned out, meant that serious pull-ups (all double, plus in one case 3-0 v 0-3) came into play versus side constraints (yeah, side constraints, this being CatPffft, which has reformed NFL rules for no apparent reason other than to drive me and JV crazy at Grands). We checked the league by-laws, but this issue, side versus pull-up, was unaddressed The pull-ups seemed seriously unfair compared to going con again or whatever, and we consulted with Catholic Charlie and Kaz and everyone else sitting around, including our own history (one year I broke side constraints because otherwise it was somehow same-school v same-school), and we ultimately decided to flip some of the final pairings but to hold brackets. The pro still went first (the other half of the Catholic Reformation, so to speak) but at least it led to real debates. This was only in PF, though. LD ran more clockworkian. And one is more inclined to follow restraints in LD than in Pffft, which is inherently flippable unless it’s Catholic, go figure.

Anyhow, it’s over, and now I’m heading up to Albany on the best golf weekend of the year. Needless to say, I’m praying for rain. It being a Catholic event, and me being raised by the nuns, maybe my prayers will be answered.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Catholic food

Having dinner with the Catholics really slows down one’s blogging.

And what do the Catholics talk about? Well, we talk about you, for one thing, especially if you’re a coach. One reminisces over past foibles, the more notable the better. If you’re a student, your name probably didn’t come up unless you graduated and made something of yourself. As a rule, we are all fond of students, even the stinkers, and we praise their successes and dance past their failures. Otherwise, probably, we wouldn’t be in this business. We have a nice dinner, and talk a lot about the theater, given that this crowd, with the exception of Catholic Charlie, is a big theater crowd, even Sister R. Catholic Charlie, on the other hand, doesn’t like musicals unless they feature Genesis music which, thankfully, never happens. Catholic Charlie has a 120-gig iPod with nothing on it but Genesis music. Original Genesis music. Symphonic covers of Genesis music. Jazz covers of Genesis music. Bunch O’ Banjos covers of Genesis music. There is no room on that mp3 player for, say, Flora the Red Menace. Meanwhile, at least one of the Catholics claimed to have given a kid a 6 in an extemp round for not knowing who Barbra Streisand is. It’s that kind of group.

Saturday being CFL Grands, Friday night will be straightening out the data. The big question is whether we’ll hit the 20 needed for 3 judges in LD (we’re definitely not hitting it in Pfffft). In the words of Mr. Micawber, predicted Grands field 20 students, actual Grands field 18 students, bliss. Predicted Grands field 20 students, actual Grands field 20 or more students, JV and I go nuts trying to figure it out. Straightforward card tossing or the most complicated tabbing of the year. We’ll know tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sailing toward CFL Grands

Tuesday night is, of course, when the mariners get together and fondly reminisce about the good old days when debaters were debaters and proud of it. We concentrated on a couple of things that are worth sharing.

First, there is the question of following up a tournament, i.e., what do you do for the next tournament based on your performance at the last tournament? The answers tend to vary from person to person just as the results and performance vary from person to person, but a few things seem pretty basic. First of all, all cases need to be rewritten, although the level of rewrite will vary. If you did well, what you should be looking at are just little things, areas where your opponents were always zeroing in that need strengthening, or sentences that kept tripping you up, or maybe upgrading evidence; after all, the day you stop researching a topic is the day you decide you don’t want to win any more rounds. If you didn’t do so well, you’re looking at anything from a complete rewrite to a serious overhaul. While it’s nice to blame sunspots, judges and the quality of the ziti in the cafeteria for lack of success, usually weak cases play a crucial role in the losing of rounds. Starting from scratch may be a lot of work, but given that one definition of insanity is expecting different results from doing the same thing over and over may suggest that if you don’t rewrite your cases, you’re pretty much certifiable. (And in debate circles, being certifiable is really taking things to extremes, given that everybody is already mostly crazy to begin with.) The second big area is responses. Rounds that aren’t lost at the case level are lost at the response level. Obviously choice of what to push and what to let slide is something that can only be determined in hours of lost sleep over regretted choices made in the heat of argument, but having good responses in the first place is something else altogether. If you don’t have a response to everything you heard (or saw on some other flow), get one. If you don’t have a piece of evidence to back every response, get one. You certainly won’t use all your responses, but you’ll feel better knowing you’ve got more than just a handful of arrows in your quiver. And as for evidence, it’s one thing to respond to your opponent by saying, “Nyah, nyah,” and another thing altogether to respond to your opponent by saying, “As Immanuel Kant said on his daily walk through Konigsberg, ‘Nyah, nyah.’” You won’t use a quote in every response, but it’s good to use some in the responses that are most important in supporting your position or knocking out your opponent’s position. Given that it is highly unlikely that you already have a quote for every response, and, as I say, research never ends, this is an easy area for improvement.

The other thing we did was prep for Grands. We’re not big preppers, at least at meetings, but given that the Panivore and the People’s Champion are doing Pffft together for the first time, and that SuperSquirrel is doing a topic that was picked yesterday and is still a little green around the edges, this seemed like a good idea, and it turned out that it was. The Pffffters look to be in decent shape, and good suggestions were gleaned from the assembled multitudes, including from Termite, who seemed mightily disappointed that Zizek never came up in the conversation, mostly because he was the only person in the room who can pronounce Slavoj correctly. On the LD side, S-S’s cases were full of solid material, so much so that each one ran about an hour and a half, but a little judicious editing should help that. And so, on to Grands, which is not going to be a picnic for anyone, with the usual bunching of the top area talent all competing for 6 slots in each division, plus for me the usual Grands tabbing nightmare.

Oh, yeah. We also talked about which judges hate which debaters’ guts. Very enlightening, and not at all true. Dropping you a hundred times does not mean you are hated, merely that you haven’t won the last hundred times. Nothing personal. It’s all business. Like The Godfather.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Let's all do like the Catholics do

CFL Grands is coming up this weekend, at which our archdiocese selects 6 of each to send to the annual CatNats confab, which is taking place this year in beautiful Albany, New York. As the Catholics say, Oy!

Running Grands is something of a nightmare. It’s a tiny event, with side restraints not only in LD but in PF, with each person bringing a judge, and either 2 or 3 judges in a round, depending on the size of the field (we go to 3 if the field is over 20). The computer is relatively useless for most of this, as it is for most small fields, although it does at least provide us double-checks on sides and previous judge issues and things like that. And, of course, it gives us placements and brackets. But mostly it’s me and JV and Catsmacker throwing cards and trying every conceivable combination of judges and sneaking off for empanadas and spending a really long day getting through 4 very complicated rounds (or occasionally 3 rounds, if the results are predictable). It’s a mathematical problem as much as anything else, which makes it interesting. Judges tend to judge an A flight in one room and a B flight in another, they get purloined out of one division and dumped into the other, and the ones who like to complain are out of luck because it’s virtually impossible to find us in the tab room (as if we were going to listen to their complaints in the first place).

Speaking of which, it never fails to amaze me how people complain about having to judge. “I’m in every round,” they say. Well, yeah, duh. So are the debaters. “I’m getting really exhausted.” Oh, you poor thing. I got here earlier than you and I’ll get out of here later. “I’ve got tickets for the opera/theater/cockfight and I’ve got to leave at 7:00 at the latest.” Well, we all want to go to the cockfight, but you don’t see us scampering out of here. The deal is, when you commit to judge, you have committed to judge. You get to sit in a chair and the only part of your body you have to exercise other than your mind is your note-taking hand. It’s indoors, which is especially nice in inclement weather. And you’re either getting paid or you’re supporting the child no one forced you to bring into the world. If you’re a student judge and you don’t want to judge, don’t. Get another job. I hear that the market is really great out there these days. And if you’re a parent judge, well, you’re screwed. If you didn’t want to do this, you shouldn’t have been procreating sixteen or seventeen years ago. You think all that heavy breathing comes without consequences?

On the Bronx Brooklyn front, I have added a number of Facebook chums since the posting of the last tale of great debate adventure. Obviously the Bronx Brooklyn scientists think that sidling up to me will lead to more stories about their resident sweater-vest model. Maybe. Then again, they could just all go back and listen to Nostrum. Jules and the Nostrumite may not write exactly the way I do, but I narrate that exactly the way I narrate my tales, so it’s all much of a muchness as far as listening is concerned (once one gets past the first few pre-good-mic episodes). Gee. New Nostrum fans. Just what the world needs more of.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lakeland 2009 enters the history books

Lakeland is now history, which means that O’C has memorized every round in every division, and will eventually etch it onto a plaque. The two of us worked tab together (once he got around to arriving in, yes, a Lincoln Town Car, for those who believe that I make this stuff up) and had a pretty interesting go of it. While the policy division was bigger than [insert humorous metaphor here for some really big thing; I’m too tuckered out from playing Wii Tennis yesterday], LD and PF were more of a boutique nature. Varsity LD was about 40 souls or so, which is pretty manageable, and to be honest, we had a disturbingly uniform and solid pool of judges, with nary a stinker in the pack. Not only were they all experienced, but they all mostly showed up when they were supposed to, except for the usual suspects who were, I assured you, given a good stern talking to. Brian Manuel was around tabbing Policy, and as he says, we always make a lot of empty threats, and nobody has ever actually punished a team for its judges’ sins, but then again, we all are more likely to be nice and quiet about things rather than confrontational, and even if confrontation doesn’t solve any problems, one always feels better after it. I’ve noticed that the older I get, the less likely I am to put off confrontation. I mean, if you can’t act the way you want when you’re an old fart, when can you? (For the record, I’m a very young-looking 92.)

So tabbing 40 LDers with good judging was okay enough, except for one thing. For a couple of rounds there were exactly enough judges. No extras. No sitting around in the judges’ lounge drinking apple martinis or getting Swedish massages. Get in there and judge, you meatball. For some reason I always spend more time running around looking for people at Lakeland than at any other tournament. But as I say, it wasn’t the LD judges who were a problem. And novice LD, which was smaller than [another metaphor, please] wasn’t particularly hard either because we did, in fact, have a couple of extra judges to work with in that division, and the balance among teams was spread out. It was Pfffft that was the problem child. With a very tiny field as we had (about 18 teams or so), you run through the judge pool pretty fast. Everybody has seen everybody, and then you start wrangling anyone who even marginally looks as if they’re breathing to adjudicate the rounds. The good news is that the official NFL Pfffft rules indeed specify only that the judges “marginally look as if they’re breathing,” so pretty much anyone who has graduated high school is a potential adjudicator. But one does need to explain the toin coss to them, and to explain that they marginally look as if they’re breathing and why this is all that matters. A couple of times I canvassed the judges’ lounge and saw a bunch of people who were doing a very good job of not appearing to breathe, so apparently they had read the NFL rules and knew how to duck this particular onerous judging task. But, one way or another, we made it happen (all on cards, by the way as we ignored school restraints in aid of a better tournament. More than half the Pfffft field was Lexwegians, and we made them face one another. Otherwise, before long the 3-0s are hitting the 0-3s and results are a foregone conclusion. Better to have more good rounds, was our philosophy. Remarkably enough, we broke to semis with 2 real rounds, so we must have gotten it right.)

While all this was going on, I was helping Catholic Charlie with Regionals. We were already strapped for rooms with the invitational, so we were putting Regionals rounds wherever we could fit them, including at various tables in the library where all the tabbing was being run, which meant that they had to debate while listening to the Best of the Doors Volume 1 (admittedly not what people expect to hear from my iPod, but variety is the spicy meatball of life, and if the 60s ever come back, I’ll be ready, except for the whole hair thing). There were a dozen novices, which meant an easy enough pick after two rounds of undefeateds and top point earners, and there were 4 varsity, which meant a playoff between the winners of round 1, but JV was three people, which was the least clean. X beat Y, then Z beat Y, then Z beat X, so realistically Z did qualify, having beaten X head-to-head, despite the fact that they had equal points. I don’t know what we would have done if Y had beaten Z. We’d probably still be there.

The high point of the weekend, in any case, was the occasional booming voice of Lakeland coach Stefan Bauschard over the school’s loudspeaker system. “You should now be in the final speech of your eleventh round,” or words to that effect. “Stop prepping and get to your rounds.” “If you don’t go home now, you’ll never go home.” These kept coming in perfect cadence with the policy rounds, and kept them moving admirably, but of course bore no relationship whatsoever to the LD rounds. Very amusing. I want Stefan to announce random stuff at all tournaments from now on. It just makes things that much more entertaining.