Friday, May 29, 2009


It is interesting that, in forensics, we often remove from the art of argumentation the skill of articulate presentation. That is, we have redefined “good speaker” as, often, someone who is anything but a good speaker. We give high speaker points for coverage and skill and the level of the round in toto way more often that we give high speaker points for pure oratorical ability. In fact, to reward pure oratorical ability would, in many cases, be seen as punishing better arguing. Rewarding oratorical skills is what “lay” judges do, which is why we shy away from those judges. We want people who can hear what we are saying despite the way we are saying it. There is no greater proof of this than the pure existence of most policy debate, and plenty of proof as well in LD.

The use of lay judges does inhibit poor oratory, or perhaps you could say it encourages good oratory. Since PF is the dumping ground of all the lay judges in a given pool, either by choice or by default, PF remains oratorically viable because, competitively, it has no choice. A Pfffter who goes at blazing speed would simply cause a lot of head scratching as the poor parent judge looks at the ballot to find how many points to give someone who is totally unintelligible. Whether this will change over time as PF matures, as many people have suggested, remains to be seen. It won’t be soon, in any case. And one of the challenges facing PF is to balance strong argumentation with strong oratory. It’s not an easy task. But it’s a good challenge, worthy of the attempt.

I point this out because I was talking to someone yesterday who is simply not fond of public speaking, despite being in a position of being unable to avoid it, at serious professional stakes, and because I know that I have lost some nascent Sailors who were so shot down by the internal butterflies of presentation that they gave up performance altogether. I perform no great coaching feat by getting some ham actor to stand in front of an audience; it is the folks who are uncomfortable speaking in public who are going to most benefit from learning how to do it. Which makes you wonder, if we’re not teaching classic public-speaking skills—and often we are not—are we really benefiting our debaters?

Surprisingly enough, I would answer yes to that question, if we keep one underlying idea in mind, that success in presentation is measured first and foremost by knowing to whom you are speaking and adjusting accordingly. I have always ranked judge adaptation as the #1 key to competitive success in debate, although lately the Sailors have ranked Knowledge as #1. It’s a close call. But if we accept that adapting to the audience is important, then if the audience is capable of understanding fast speaking, there’s no fault in speaking fast. In debate, you often have that audience. Outside of debate, you seldom do. I would suggest that most people know the difference, and the best debaters even know the difference from round to round and from judge to judge. My point, however, is not adaptation: that’s the premise. Beyond that, public speaking has so many facets to it that are hard and scary, that our teaching it, and doing it, on any level, is beneficial.

First of all, public speaking requires preparation. You learn that pretty quickly, that before you can talk, you need to have something to say. Speaking when you’re prepared versus speaking when you’re not prepared is the difference between confidence and pure gall, and most of us don’t have the gall to get away with it most of the time. Writing your cases on the bus means that you will be able to leave the tournament early, while everyone else is in break rounds. There is no other benefit to writing your cases on the bus that I am aware of.

Secondly, public speaking requires guts. It is not easy to get up there and present yourself and your ideas to strangers, especially in a competitive framework, arguing often against one’s own private opinions. For many debaters rounds are nothing but spurts of dueling adrenaline, but the doing of it, over and over again, leads to self-confidence. The more you do it, the more confident you feel doing it. Adrenaline may still flow after 4 years in the activity, but your concentration and skill will be so much more focused than when you were a first-time novice. I’ll be honest. When I was in high school, and early in my business career, I was a nervous, uncomfortable public speaker. I was also quite hairy. Today I am neither, the former through practice and acquisition of confidence, the latter through genetics (damn you, Grandpa!).

Thirdly, once you learn to prepare and learn to control yourself physically—to master the adrenaline—you start tuning up the fine points, like reading the room and knowing if you’re winning or losing the attention (and ballot) of the judge(s). The best debaters by definition are in lots of break rounds with multiple judges and large viewing audiences, and success in break rounds definitely requires an ability to read a room and grab the subconscious of the group and win it over, a skill that goes beyond simply arguing better. A good debater is, to a great extent, also a good entertainer. I’m not saying that they’re standup comedians, but that they know who to work a debate as an entertainment for an audience that wants to be entertained by debate. They become, inherently, judge—and audience—adaptors.

So debate, even if it’s terrifically fast and incomprehensible to the average person, nonetheless teaches you the value of preparation, it trains you to develop self-confidence as you present, and as you do it more and more you begin to develop inherent skills in communicating with your audience. Once you have done that, even at blazing speed, it isn’t particularly difficult to slow down a bit and do it again, in college or business or anywhere you can think of. It’s like learning the scales. Maybe you play them really fast; it doesn’t matter. When it comes time to playing music, you play the music, whatever it is, the way it’s meant to be played. You’ve got the training. Now you can put it to use.

All of which is good.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mass Matt? ModNov. Music. Musings. Movies. Mmmm.

Monti Matt seems to think that this whole blog exists for his personal amusement. Jeesh. Since I’ve already hired him for the next 40 Little Lex tournaments, I think this is a bit greedy on his part: He’ll be getting Sailor money; he needs Sailor yuks as well? Of course, I’m probably going to have to start calling him Boston Matty instead of Monti Matt. One must keep up with one’s locations.

We got Victory Briefs material via Bietz on the ModNov topic, which was, of course, previously a NatNats topic. Very generous, and I’ve posted it on the ModNov site. We’re starting to accrue some good material there. No one will complain that we didn’t provide background. There’s also a long, marginally anonymous (if you can’t parse the screenname) piece on legal positivism, which has about a hundred areas of analysis you could extract for cases; it was originally a comment, but it was too good not to move up to more prominence. I have a very good feeling about ModNov overall. We’ve got traction in the community, and people are paying attention. I think it’s going to work well.

I now have all of my iTunes library in one place. When I plug in an iPod, it can’t find a couple of loose podcasts, but overall, it’s all there. What a pain, but worth it in the end. I’m slowly but steadily filling up the MegaPod. Soon I’m going to have to limit what’s on it, as I limit what’s on the Touch. I probably don’t need, say, Godspell. Or anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber. (Once a year, sure, Cats manages to find its way to the CD player, but anyone who listens to Cats more than once a year has serious issues that need to be resolved outside the scope of this blog.) Which means that, now more than ever, I’m ready for whatever upgrade/new gizmo I end up buying. I noticed that Apple has upgraded the white MacBooks…

I did have fun tweeting a little bit of CatNats, and reading other people’s tweets (when I could get wireless access). Events like CatNats are made for Twitter, and/or vice versa. In addition, I used a specific Sailors account to keep us all connected, and that worked fine, at least for me and my crack Pfffters (my Pffft crackers?). We need to do more of this. For the most part I had nothing bad to say in my tweets (sorry, but PF ran like a charm with a very professional team in charge), which is unfortunate, because who wants to read that that rounds are all prompt, and it isn’t right to tweet personal comments about the debaters during the rounds (e.g., “I’m judging a total asshat from Tennessee Williams High School” or whatever). In fact, I actually did have to fight the urge to tweet during rounds. 140 characters fit perfectly into 2 minutes of PF prep time. By the way, I learned that there’s a lot of hoo-ha in the PF world when it comes to actually saying anying. Talk about starting friction! “Opponents ready? Judges ready? Partner ready? Tab room ready? Custodial staff ready? Sarah Palin ready?” A good Pfffter could squeeze a whole ‘nother minute of prep time into all these readys! I did miss the flip, though. And on top of that, the Roman Catholic Church has decided that Con asks the first question in the first CX, and Pro asks the first question in the next two CXes. What’s that all about? How liturgical are we going to get here? Apparently this reversed a rule where, well, somebody else asked the first question, which caused a dab or two of confusion during the day. Granted some people’s pointed questions are more commanding than other people’s, but trying to curtail the pointed questioners with prescribed order seems sort of weird. No big deal, really, but an unnecessary meddling. Speaking of which, I’ve got to update my PF how-to Real Soon Now. Not tonight. Tomorrow? Let’s see if my first summer hours Friday is rained on.

To the movies tonight, coincidentally also “Summer Hours,” and to Godot on Saturday. Ah. Summer. Saturdays in the city. No debate. This is the life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yon Cassius has a fat and shrifty look!

There’s a certain tribal atmosphere at the national debate events for those who have been around for a while. For $ircuit people, this may not be quite the case, as they travel around a lot all the time, and they see each other regularly. But for those of us who mostly stay in their home region, it’s good to get out of the house on occasion and touch base with one’s more far-flung colleagues. Unfortunately I didn’t get to do much of this on Saturday at the PF venue, because, to be honest, I get the feeling that when it comes to divvying up the judge resources, the Pffffters get the shortest shrift. I mean, I saw some of the shriftiest judges I’ve seen in a long time. Definitely not a lot of coaches or former debaters in the pool. I have nothing against parent judges, of course, and I love having PF as a place to put them where they feel comfortable and can perform admirably, but when there’s pretty much nothing but, it gets a little lonely. If I was lucky I’d touch base with the Panivore and the People’s Champion and compare notes on how yet some other yabbos didn’t know beans about the s.c., or maybe I’d run into Monti’s Dan and Matt who were spending their Saturday tabulating the number of ways people could mispronounce the name Michel Foucault, but that was the extent of it. (Speaking of the French, there are times when I feel that the pronunciation “Gene Jack Russo” is good enough for a loss in both the debate round and language lab. Normally I’d point it out on a ballot, but nobody cares about such niceties at a national event.) So I did feel a little shortchanged on the social side of things over the weekend.

Still, there were plenty of people to visit with. Most of them, admittedly, were my usual suspects, but we won’t be seeing each other again until next season, so it was good to schmooze one last time or two. And we did have a chance to discuss a few issues that will be facing us next season, and it’s much easier to do it face-to-face than long distance. It was especially good to see La Coin again, working as a stringer for Ridge, although her debate hiatus has allowed her to form an addiction to Korean soap operas, which cannot be a good thing. She was mildly surprised that, as far as the tournament was concerned, I was not Jim Menick but Joe Vaughan. I was sort of surprised by that myself, and never did quite figure it out. JV was helping CP in tab, and he was assigned to judge PF whereas I was, theoretically, assigned to sit around with my finger up my nose. So I went in as him, and kept picking up ballots with his name on them, and kept making sure the ballot said VAUGHAN in big letters, which I guess meant that I could say any dumb thing I wanted and I wouldn’t get blamed for it. When you get your ballots, folks, and it says JV on them, if the decision was a good one, that was me. If the decision was a stinker, that was JV.

So what are the issues going forward? You know most of them. ModNov (which I’ll be addressing again real soon now), for LD issues, NYSDCA, next year’s TNC, and MHLw/i all loom large. There’s some scheduling wrinkles that don’t look iron-out-able, and there’s a chance that I’ll have to pull back a bit from tabbing every weekend (but I have committed to a bunch of venues already, and I won’t be pulling back from those particular commitments). I will, of course, report on all of this as there’s something to report. Which means that those members of the VCA who thought they’d get the summer off are forced to remain connected just in case I actually say something important. Sorry about that. I just don’t want you to get fat and lazy when no one is looking.

And speaking of getting fat—No. I won’t go there.

Breaking news!!!

We here at Coachean HQ have gotten early word on the upcoming Big Jake tournament. To celebrate the impending appointment of former high school debater Sonia Sotomayor (AKA Cardinal Spellman SS) to the Supreme Court, Forensics Directory Jon Cruz has invited the entire court to the tournament to adjudicate rounds, with the following results.

Justice John Paul Stevens has declined the invitation. “I’m too old for that sort of nonsense,” he was quoted as saying. “Hell, he’s too old for pretty much everything,” Director Cruz was reputedly heard to comment.

Justice Stephen Breyer has tentatively accepted the invitation, provided that he is allowed to intervene in the rounds that he adjudicates. “We activist judges need to keep our hand in,” he explained.

Justice Anthony Kennedy remains undecided. His aides have reported that he wouldn’t mind coming, provided that he doesn’t have to offer a paradigm and that he can sit only on multiple-judge panels, so that no matter which way he decides, he is part of the majority.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts will attend. He has, however, insisted that he only be expected to vote for the side representing bare-fisted capitalists, and that no one run Foucault in his presence.

Justice Samuel Alito will do whatever Roberts tells him.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will attend. “Do they still have Jews at Bronx Science?” she asked.

Justice Clarence Thomas could not be reached for comment. Ever.

Justice Antonin Scalia said he wouldn’t miss it for the world. “As long as topicality is the only voting issue that matters,” he claimed, “I’m in. Harms? Solvency? Inherency? Who needs ‘em?”

Tournament Director Cruz is thrilled to have gotten such a response, although he has expressed disappointment that soon-to-be-former Justice Souter has refused his offer to run Congress tab. “You’d think a mook like Souter would kill to run Congress, just once,” Cruz said. In his traditional fashion, Cruz will be assigning the celebrity judges personally during the tournament. “If we let Menick do it, Scalia would be in every round just to punish him. Every time Nino’d get halfway to the free bagels, the next round would be out and he would be on again. And God knows what outrage Menick would level at Justice Thomas.” Cruz is well-known for his vigorous defense of Justices Thomas and Scalia in forensics circles. “Sure,” he says, “they don’t exactly represent my personal point of view, but at least you never have to wonder how they’re going to vote on an issue. I don’t even see why they bother coming in every day, for that matter. They could just call me up and ask me what position makes my blood boil the most, and there they are, every time.”

It is rumored that, for the 2010 contest, Cruz will be enlisting the services of President Barack Obama, Pope Benedict XVI, Hillary Clinton, Leonard Nimoy, Kim Jong-il, Lady GaGa, Tiger Woods and Ashton Kutcher. This blog will report all updates as they happen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's summertime, summertime, sum...sum...summertime—almost

Ah, CatNats. While normal people are inaugurating the summer season with barbecues and pool parties, forensicians from around the country congregate in places like Albany to pretend that it’s still February and to have at each other another time or two. (Of course, for non-NYers, there’s also NatNats, but by me, that’s a fantasy event, and probably always will be.) As faithful followers of my Twitter feed know, I was in the Pfffter universe for the event. My goal was to learn a little about this particular foreign country, to see what I could suss in terms of lore for future Sailors. It was an interesting adventure.

It may have been unfortunate that the topic, whether society has an obligation to ensure health care for its citizens, is so LDish at its core. While one does not present a framework for evaluating a PF round as one does an LD round, the framework was inherent. You had no choice but to prove a societal obligation (think criterion) for some mushy unspoken value (like morality). Or vice versa. The issue was that either there’s an obligation or there isn’t. I was hoping to find out what, exactly, one needs to do to win in PF, but with a topic like this, there was no question about it. You had to prove/disprove that obligation. Everything else was just so much distraction.

Watching one round after an other did impress a number of tactical/strategic issues on me, and I’ll work them into my PF instruction going forward. Nothing earthshaking. I did realize that, to judge this sucker, you need two colors. Maybe this is because I haven’t yet found the perfect way to flow it (with LD, I’ve never subscribed to bringing multiple colored pens, which I’ve always felt was just too Wedro for my tastes—he’s an old vet Sailor who used to travel with a titanium suitcase filled with pens in every known color, plus empirical evidence proving every intangible concept that defied empirical evidence). So I was glad for the red and the black, and availed myself accordingly. Of course, at CatNats, flowing a round (even in Policy) is an unusual, nearly unheard-of practice. I was with two other judges in all the prelims, and saw few people who bothered to note much of anything, and only the tiniest handful so tied to paper as I was. They could be right and I could be wrong, but as members of the VCA know well, I often suggest that others could be right and I could be wrong, but I really never mean it.

I also noticed that this was the hand-shakingest group since the last meeting of the Norman Vincent Peale society, and I wasn’t having any of it. I no doubt came across as a total jackass, and I couldn’t care less about swine flu (which I’m sure was the impression given); I simply do not want to press the soggy flesh of four flaccid teenagers after every flight, leaving me with a soggy mitt that cannot be washed until I get home Sunday night (have you ever tried to wash your hands in the boys room of a girl’s prep school?).

Anyhow, I will relay here my actual instructional suggestions, but a couple of things off the top. As I said yesterday, the winning team blew me away (I judged them in semis). The problem with arguing social contract—which was the default material for the resolution, needless to say—in front of an LD coach who teaches social contract year after year, and who has read all the books, is that you can’t get away with nuthin’, no-how. Of course, I maintain the flying pigs position that it is the opponents’ job to blow idiocy out of the water and not the judge’s, but when the opponents do know as much as me about the subject, and do that blowing out of the water, my work here is done. I can simply sign the ballot and go home. That winning team weren’t the only ones, though, who knew their stuff. I ran into a few other pairs who were on top of the issue. One team, I found out later, had won some major events around the country, which didn’t surprise me because they had a way with evidence that would do any debater proud. (“Here’s the facts and here’s how they prove what I’m saying.” Yep.) Another team simply knew how to work the analysis to explain away what can only be called an outrageously abusive position from their opponents’ equating society with basketball teams. (Can you say “nonsense”?) Analytics are tough, though, in this activity, and I wonder how many judges buy logic, especially when they’re not ostensibly paying that much attention. Hard to say.

Most of the rest of the teams were fairly weak, the usual assortment of people who somehow get to CatNats and shouldn’t have. Key throughout all of it was, in a word, knowing what you were talking about. This is number one on the Sailors’ thirteen top ten list for LD, and it ends up number one for PF, if you ask me. PF is not some casual activity you do because you’re too lazy for “real” debate. PF, done well, is hard, and requires serious commitment and a lot of work. Those who think otherwise haven’t been challenged by those students who do that work and have that commitment.

Anyhow, I’m glad I did this. It was a good experience. I learned a lot from it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Brief kudos during the weekend break

Details to come, but I want to say this. I judged a billion rounds of PF over the weekend. Some were good, some were bad. But if anyone questions the legitimacy of the activity, I would advise them to go to Lake Highland (it's not far from Disney World if you wish to amortize the cost) and acquaint yourself with the winning team from CatNats. I judged them in semis. I was floored. It was debate as it's supposed to be, sectarian preferences notwithstanding. The formula for success would seem to be: 1) know what you're talking about, and 2) talk about it well. Works for LD, works for PF.

Enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Albany city is closer and prettier than ever! Oy.

The powers that be at the NYSFL are apparently shocked, shocked, to hear that there is gambling going on in Casablanca. (After dinner last night with HoraceMan, TSWAS, I’m tempted to write up this entire entry in movie quotes. There are worse things in life.) Apparently they are also the ones who came to Casablanca for the waters. In other words, they were misinformed.

Be that as it may, that will have to play out on its own terms. Meanwhile, it turns out that there are AirPorts and there are AirPorts. The ones that don’t support network drives are the ones I have. They will network a printer, but that’s it. This is not that horrible a catastrophe; I was only thinking of networking the 1T after I had purchased it when it occurred to me that it might be a possibility. Well, it isn’t, but it doesn’t matter. I’m still cleaning up iTunes, but now I’m cleaning it up on the new drive. Everything’s been ported over. As I explained to Bietz, who’s been doing roughly the same thing, if you have good music on one drive and questionable music on another drive, turning off the questionable drive and then attaching an iPod puts a check mark against all the music that isn’t on the good drive. It’s still tedium to clean them up (you’ve got to reattach the bad drive, check info for the folder location, which is usually heavily nested, then port the files over to the new drive), but it does do the job. What else to we have to do with our boring little lives? And, oh yeah, apparently there is a limit to the number of Firewire drives you can daisy-chain. You only learn this when you get to number three, which is, admittedly, a lot. There may be some other reason why the daisychaining didn’t work (order of connection?) but it, again, doesn’t matter much. The new drive came with every possible cable, including trans-Atlantic. Don’t like the first one? Try another. It’s all bits and bytes sooner or later.

I’ve been playing around with concepts for coachean communication, not terrifically different from what already exists at NDCA, but different enough. What I need to do, now that I’ve conceptualized a good portion of it, is explain it. Easier said than done. Of course, CP is spot on (I hate saying that) that the real issue is the people, not the place. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come, in other words. (There. Another film reference.) That’s where the real work will be. I’ll keep you posted.

In other news, I’ve told the Sailors to pack extra grub for Saturday, this advice coming from long experience of Saturdays past at various CatNat venues. There isn’t hide nor hair of any food services on the Google maps of the PF venue. I may drive rather than taking the bus, though. I haven’t figured that out yet. Nothing worse than waiting around forever for buses on Saturday evening when your stomach is growling and howling…

For Twitter fans, by the way, the CatNats hashtag is #ncfl. As I’ve said, I’ll be microblogging (if anything of note arises, or maybe even if not) as @jimmenick. I know other folks have fired up their cells and whatnot as well. Of course, as O’C points out, it’s hard to make news out of “HC1873674 is hitting DR398726.6.” Thank God CatNats preserves anonymity. If I knew who anyone was, I’d always pick them up. That is human nature, isn’t it? I always pick up the people I know. If I know both sides, I pick them both up. That’s just the way I am. Human in the extreme, in other words. Anyhow, this is it, the last event of the year for me. Time to gear up for 2009-10!

Interim posting on the meaning of it all

Ryan AKA Lucy (?) asks about acronyms in a comment.

NYSFL is the New York State Forensic League. As far as I know, their only brief is to run an annual finals tournament.

MHL is the Mid-Hudson League, obviously regional, devoted to younger debaters. I'm one of its directors. VCA is the Vast Coachean Army, which is self-explanatory. For new recruits to the latter, there is a glossary in the right-hand column that is, I think, pretty inclusive.

Ryan asks: "Does the NYSFL tournament have any sort of official pairing procedures? Do they have any official channels to amend these procedures?" There is a tournament handbook but it has little or nothing to do with how the tournament should be run/paired. There is, however, quite a long discussion in it of the nature of cross-examination. As for official channels, one theoretically presents one's complaints to a regional director (we have a good man in that position), but in the past such discussions have not proven constructive. I have discussed, formally and informally, all manner of issues over the years with all manner of persons at all sorts of levels, and the result is that the tournament is exactly the same as it was when I first joined up.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The shoe drops

I’ll try to be civil.

There wasn’t much to say about this year’s LD competition at NYSFL in Albany. People debated on the same side for round after round, occasionally against the same opponent. The same judges judged the same people on the same sides. Friday night lasted beyond all imagination. Students who won outrounds didn’t advance. The most qualified judges were given rounds where students were unable to advance. It was, in other words, an adventure, not unlike previous NYSFL adventures. Ultimately the organization posted a message on their website, ostensibly apologizing but in fact explaining to the students who suffered through the experience that there are often bad experiences in life, and that growing up requires you to pull through them. Talk about your cold comfort.

As members of the VCA know, I long ago voiced concerns officially to the organization, and was, for all practical purposes, told to take a hike. Over the years I came to the position that my team attends the state finals on their own dime, against my advice. But after this year’s fiasco, which is not all that different from every other year’s fiasco, truth to tell, I am removing official support completely. If Sailors wish to attend NYSFL’s debate competition in the future, they will be doing so unofficially. Presumably NYSFL has rules against that. ‘Nuff said.

But there’s more to the story. After years of complaining, officially and unofficially, about a state organization that is seemingly deaf to the concerns of the debate community, a number of coaches—ostensibly the chief membership of the MHL—have posted a letter to the organization yet again outlining our issues. But this time the signatories have, like me, insisted that if their issues aren’t adequately answered, they will no longer participate in the league. Additionally, we are creating a New York State Debate Coaches’ Association, which, if necessary, will run its own tournament at the end of the season, starting next year.

No doubt this will be seen as establishing a level of serious political discord in the region, but in reality, the political discord already exists, and the creation of the NYSDCA merely reifies it. Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do. We have now, officially, done it.

Alea iacta est.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In which we study the irons in today's fire.

I’m trying to be productive. Really. I’m not just bloviating on my pipedream of an active virtual coaches league. In fact, I’m putting that aside for a while (or more to the point, working up some concrete examples offline). So, meanwhile, what else is going on?

First of all, CatNats is this weekend. My chief interest is learning some more about Pffft, which I’ll be judging. As I’ve said before, what eludes me is a paradigm for winning rounds. What, exactly, is a team supposed to do? In the rounds I’ve seen, admittedly of a pick-up nature (at Districts), everybody knew how to put it together but nobody knew how to close. But in debate, closing = winning. So, how do (presumably) good Pfffters close? With luck, I’ll find out. Or maybe everybody just flounders around, hoping that looking sharp will do the job. I certainly hope not, but what is, is. We’ll find out soon enough.

I’ll also be testing Twitter as a team-roundup tool, with a small experimental team to round up (the Panivore and the People’s Champion). Relatives at home will follow our progress. This should keep everybody connected and provide the sort of information that families like to have (such as, is my child still on the planet?). Additionally, I’ll be microblogging on Twitter at @jimmenick, if anyone is interested. That information will not be echoed over to Facebook, needless to say. My feeling is, get the right tool for the job. Facebook is not a good tool for microblogging (despite Zuckerberg’s feelings to the contrary); Twitter is. Of course, I’m aware how Twitter is quite definitely not an adolescent’s app. The numbers on this are rather clear that it is a tool for the fogie contingent. Still, that’s no reason for students not to embrace it, or at least debate students, who are hardly representative of the breed of adolescent in the wild. (More of a subspecies, if you ask me. Or a mutation.)

I’ve put together a tentative (and I mean tentative!) curriculum for the MHL institute/workshop in September, and passed it along to the usual suspects. As I said to them, I’m probably the last person who should be doing this, having had no experience of debate institutes a’tall, but I did take notes at our initial discussion, and I do know how to construct a spreadsheet…

Another issue that’s hanging fire is developing some content for the Modest Novice. I’d like to get some structured material posted so that coaches can work from, at the very least, a decent brief. In a way, that will dovetail with the MHLi/w, which will cover ModNov for the newbies. Again, it’s something that’s got to be done, so, I guess I’ve gotta do it. I did post an interesting article on legal postivism, which is hardly novice grist, but is quite interesting for the rest of us.

And lastly, I’m looking forward later tonight to hooking up my 1T hard drive. I think it makes sense to network it, which would untether Little Elvis, which if nothing else is my iTunes machine, but which also could use a little fresh air and exercise as I cogitate over what and how to upgrade this Fall. So many options: netbooks (with Windows 7, about which I’ve heard nothing but praise), MacBooks with Snow Leopard (about which I’ll assume nothing but praise, but having a non-Intel Mac is starting to get a little lonely), iMacs (think desktop), etc., etc. Oh, yeah, I should point out, as well, so little money. Last I heard there was a recession going on around here.

So, that’s where we are on most fronts of interest. Excelsior, you fathead! (As Jean Shepherd would explain it.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Debate Coaches Online cont'd some more again

Was last weekend longer than usual, or was it just me? I managed to drift off into seemingly unending non-productivity, on virtually all fronts. I didn’t even play videogames. It is time to get industrious again. Back to debate coaches online…

Before anything meaningful can transpire on the communications front, one needs people to communicate with. While already exists, probably with many of the connections intact that I would like to see, it lacks promotion beyond immediate members (and, perhaps, within them). It is, to some extent, the tree falling in the forest that no one hears. I’m not particularly ready to start writing for it, at least until I think that the writing will have some effect. I mean, if I’m going to present some argument for, I don’t know, better evidentiary rules in LD, I want someone to hear my argument and respond to it, moving toward a conclusion of actually establishing such rules, either ex officio or at the very least ad hoc. We’re not there yet.

Step two, therefore: an organized campaign to alert all interested parties, or as many interested parties as possible, about the existence of the site (or, actually, not this site but something else—keep reading). A handful of people ought to be able to launch a quick email campaign explaining the goal—coach communication—to people around the country. I could cover the northeast, for instance. I’m sure Bietz, between California and NDCA, could cover a lot. Maggie B could cover a lot. Cruz could cover a lot.

Oh, I see. You were paying attention. Where, you demand, is step one?

I think we may be putting the cart before the horse if we pretend that we have the forum ready to go. We don’t. To wit, enter into your url address bar and see what you get. Whatever it is, it isn’t a directed communications venue for debate coaches. It’s a website for the NDCA. Which is fine for the NDCA, but not for what I’m talking about. I’ll be honest: I find the site interface busy, and the coach-communication aspect hidden; listing blogs by blogger is uninformative, and more to the point, as I say, the whole thing is about NDCA, and not coaches communicating. NDCA may eventually provide us with some legitimacy, but at the moment it befogs the issues at hand.

We go back to my holistic agnosticism. What I want to do is create a core of content which is served by a variety of media announcing the content, and which is accessible to anyone who wishes to contribute to the content, albeit moderated to keep on message. (Keep in mind, I’m willing to argue any of this, and get shot down on any of it.) I think this should be standalone, rather than built on to something already existing. This allows us to build it as it should be built rather than building it on a pre-existing foundation that determines building in a way agreeable to the foundation and not the goal.

I would suggest that our chief product would be an RSS feed, such as I run with the Coachean Feed, that sends out interesting articles as a unique page/site. It is not a content location itself, but an aggregation of content from elsewhere. To the user, it simply looks like an ever-changing web page, with new articles at the top. The reader clicks on an article of interest, and gets it in situ, for commentary and the like. This would remove questions of venue and control (if someone is wary of the NDCA for some reason): it’s a feed, and it doesn’t matter what the sources are of its articles. That is the center of my thinking. The feed would, of course, be moderated (else it couldn’t exist).

The feed would include the NDCA blog articles of note (but not NDCA material not of note, of which there is a lot). It would also include any other blogs worth discussing, but maybe not all of them all the time. For instance, if I write an article that’s germane, it goes into the Feed. Bietz can respond to it on his blog, and that goes into the Feed. From the reader’s perspective, the feed, it’s all in one place. (And, since it’s moderated, if I write some stupid nonsense of no value, it need not be added to the feed, not that that would ever happen…) Once we’ve set the feed as the source, it hardly matters at all where we’re blogging, because it will all be aggregated in one place. The job of the moderator, therefore, is managing the aggregation. I would suggest that the product we should sell, so to speak, in our initial publicity, is this feed. (Management of the feed could be simple enough through Google Reader; there may be other, better ways, if someone wants to suggest it. A literal, streaming website would be preferable but, alas, it would require a measure of work that grabbing the Reader wouldn’t.)

Meanwhile, those without their own blogs could be encouraged to contribute to the pre-existing NDCA blog. Makes sense to me. Of course, that requires a lot of that publicity I was talking about in step two.

Additionally, I would suggest that the feed (or the concept of the feed) have a moderated Facebook page entirely of its own. The page would get followers and friends and whatnot (I gather there’s a “fan” page that might work better than a normal page.) There would be references to new articles and discussions. Similarly, create a Twitter account. Make a nice logo, and have the moderator update it whenever there’s something new in the feed. (And the tweet can echo to Facebook, if we want.)

By creating a new feed page, we collect everything of value from everywhere without disrupting existing venues. Not that I am terrifically in favor of preserving existing venues, but I want to go beyond them to something totally new. We allow anyone who wants to contribute new content access to NDCA’s blog, to get new material. And we publicize through Facebook and Twitter. (And if someone knows how, we take the feed to the next level, a nicely designed web page all on its own…)

Is that clear? Am I making sense? Whatever, I would suggest that at the moment we do nothing, until we agree on what it is that we're going to do.

(By the way, here's some rules for how to do this, if you think of it as branding, which makes sense to me:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Debate Coaches Online cont'd some more

Here’s some more of my thinking on Debate Coaches Online, which needs a name better than that. And while I’m fine with as the hub, that’s not a great name either. Maybe a name will evolve from the concept I’m going to preach; I certainly don’t have one to offer at the moment.

So here’s what we’ve got. We’ve got some coaches who blog. We’ve got some coaches who occasionally comment on other people’s blogs. We’ve got some coaches who are plugged in up the wazoo. We’ve got some coaches who don’t understand the use of computers in the activity, period. Let’s make one assumption about all of them: they care about the activity. (This is a reasonable assumption, because if they don’t care, they’ll be gone soon, and we don’t have to worry about them.) And let’s set a simple paradigm, that whatever we do is online, for reasons that don’t require explanation (e.g., look at the calendar: it’s 2009).

Here’s what else we’ve got. We’ve got a world that actually has no center to it. I would suggest that this is true universally, applicable to any social universe. It’s nice to think that this site or that organization has more social importance than any other, and certainly perspective is everything on an individual basis, but overall, there is nothing as democratic as the internet. Theoretically someone could have, or could in the future, carve out a central position online, but they haven’t yet, and no one gives any indication of doing so in the near future. But that’s only half of the equation. If you really wish to do something plugged-in nowadays, you need to be a holistic agnostic. Anything short of holistic agnosticism is not enough.

What does this mean? Simple. You have to do whatever you’re doing in as many channels as possible, with no belief about which channel is best. To this one must add some corollaries, such as doing it right for the channel on the particular channel being used, but that’s simply common (or, unfortunately, often uncommon) sense. But the key thing is, spread it around. For example, Amazon sells the Kindle and has a Kindle app for the iPhone and has bought Stanza which produces free iPhone content: can Jeff Bezos spread it around or what?

The holistic agnostic is not totally devoid of belief, however. What the holistic agnostic must believe in is the goal of the product/service/idea at hand. A clear goal must be set, and then all the media go into service of achieving that goal.

Our goal is simply stated and understood. We want to connect concerned coaches around the country in energetic communication. That is our goal, our mission statement, our underlying purpose. There’s nothing to argue about there, and there’s need for it regardless of how much we’re already doing it, which means that it will have ongoing value. Our holistic agnosticism, therefore, is all in aid of that goal.

So how do we apply our holistic agnosticism? I see one two three four ways off the top of my head, all woven together into one neat interwebbian whole. Explanation follows next time.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Debate Coaches Online cont'd

There is, curiously enough, an intersect between some things I’m trying to do on the DJ and the ideas I’ll be kicking around with Bietz. Very interesting, at least to me. Sometimes all of the things one does find some odd synchronicity, at least for a while, before drifting off on their own planes again. This may be a pattern limited to foxes; hedgehogs tend to create a total synchronicity and then inhabit it, as compared to running across one on occasion. This credits neither the hedgehog or the fox mentality, but simply expands the concept. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, mosey on over to

Anyhow, I’m going to conduct my discussion with MB here, publicly, to pull in any comments as we go along. He has reposted his original Rostrum article that started this discussion on the NDCA blog. He suggests that this page work as our starting point, and that’s fine by me, but I’d want to clean it up a little bit, but before that, I think that we need to round up the usual suspects. I mentioned this before at some point, and someone suggested that this would be a problem (not the rounding up but the reliance upon), but I think I was misunderstood because I used the wrong trope. Usual Suspects normally means the predictable people you see again and again, and this was read as the handful of yakkers you always see everywhere online, which is a sensible reading of the phrase, but not what I intended. It seems to me that there is, across the country, a rather articulate, concerned population of coaches (and others) who, in fact, are seldom heard from publicly about important issues. For this to succeed, we need to engage that population, as contributors. Once that is done, people paying attention to what is said should follow.

But there is probably even a step before that, and this is actually the Usual Suspects in the usual reading. Keep in mind, this is only a starting point, but, who else has a blog out there that is devoted specifically to debate issues or mostly debate issues? I follow, among others, CP and Ryan Ricard and Bietz via NDCA (and regularly repost them through the Coachean Feed). Do we have a list, as comprehensive as possible, of all the people who are already doing what we’re talking about? Obviously, that small group could be the seed of a coordinated project. I think MB did some of this aggregation on VBD at some point, and I know there was someone else (I can’t remember who, because I stopped following it when I was the one mostly aggregated, which was, uh, aggravating). So, big question number one: what do we have already? Let’s get this elite corps organized first!

(Needless to say, MB should repost this on, but that is a clumsy process. We probably need to open direct access to people—and I would say a lot of people, albeit maintaining moderation. We’ll get to that eventually.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A tad of venom is released, but things settle down once we engage the warp drive

I just can’t agree with commenter Rob, that if we were to ask the NFL to do something like this, that they would do it, and do it well. I may be completely wrong, however, so if someone in some position in the NFL is reading this, please respond.

And that’s why I think I’m right. Either 1) no one in any position in the NFL is reading this, or 2) they’re reading it and not acting on it. This is not the first time I’ve discussed NFL business. Most recently, I went into an incredible song and dance about adhering to NFL rules on LD, so it’s not exactly as if I’m inimical to them (although, anecdotally, my understanding is that they think I make the antichrist look like Mary Poppins). And let’s face it, after VBD, this is probably the most popular high school forensics blog in the country, so it’s hardly unknown. So either Rippin’ really doesn’t know (which is inexcusable) or else Rippin’ really doesn’t care (which is more inexcusable) or else Rippin’ really does think I make the antichrist look like Mary Poppins (which, if you actually read the Travers books, is not such an odd suggestion, but seriously could only be based on my unwillingness to act as the country’s world’s worst district chair because I feel that their rules indirectly punish schools from New York, but as members of the VCA know, I tried hard to do a good job for many, many years, for which the only thank you I ever received from NFL was a lack of acknowledgment of my resignation—yeah, a little bit of sour grapes, I admit it).

Bietz, of course, has taken the bait and agreed to try hosting something like this with NDCA, and asked if I would participate. To which the answer is, of course I will, although I would not give up my venue here for all the coffee in Seattle. I look forward to working with him on it, and ironing out ways of making it effective along the lines already discussed. (Here's his blog post.) I think the first thing we need to do is figure out who, exactly, is already blogging, even just a little bit.

Meanwhile, the next concentration has to be the free MHL Workshop in September. I’d like to get a broad sense of the curriculum in hand for CatNats to spread it around to the assembled multitudes there for input. I actually did create a signup at, but just in the vaguest sense. I’m really looking forward to this, and expect to bus down literally all the Sailor plebes when the time comes. It’s so early in the season that no one has quit yet, and it will capture a little of the (black) magic that is the debate universe.

And last night I saw Star Trek. If you go on a Tuesday night in the boonies, you share the theater with about half a dozen people who, like me, remember watching the original on black-and-white televisions and thinking, even then, that this Shatner guy must have been related to the producer. Anyhow, the movie was a hoot, and I enjoyed it from start to finish (although I have as much trouble imagining Harry as a starship navigator as I did imagining Kumar as a pathologist). I noticed that Star Trek is one of the trending topics on Twitter. My guess is that everyone who tweets has already seen the movie by now; it’s sort of like the far-from-secret handshake. Those who haven’t seen the movie (or who don’t plan to before the week is out), are simple Twitter poseurs. I wonder what Oprah thinks about the new transporter effect?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Debate Coaches Online

First things first. O’C has now spent more time watching Star Trek than Leo Tolstoy spent writing War and Peace. I wonder if there’s a surprise ending, and if there is, if he’s surprised every time he sees it. I know for a fact that every time he sees The Empire Strikes Back the first thing he does is call up everybody he knows and says, Guess what, Darth Vader is Luke’s father. For that matter, he also thinks that Darth Vader is Norman Bates’s mother in Psycho, and that Kaiser Soze is really Captain Kirk but a lot younger. There’s an Oliver Sacks book in this somewhere…

Meanwhile, back at the “let’s throw all the coaches into the pit and see which ones emerge” discussion, our story so far took up where Bietz left off in his old Rostrum article, bemoaning our lack of conversation when, first, there is so much to converse about and, second, it is, theoretically, so easy to do so. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I live surrounded by blogs and social networks and a general sense that, for example, Bietz, who lives a few thousand miles away from me, is a friend I can talk to at a moment’s notice, publicly, about issues that concern us both. My ultimate suggestion was that we should publish something akin to an ad hoc magazine, moderated, easily available and concentrating on our big issues.

Let’s look at the comments that arose along the way.

Rob: “More importantly however, I really don't know if there would be much buy-in. This format isn't all that different from what already exists in Rostrum and other publications, except the volume would presumably be greater and more easily aggregated. Assuming one were able to harness the energies necessary to produce quality content on a consistent basis (and that's a big if), wouldn't it be better spent working through existing channels rather than attempting to build up the necessary critical mass to make this endeavor worthwhile? The infrastructure is in place, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. To the extent we're willing to invest more energy into communication, it seems most fruitful to increase the content of existing mediums.”

I think that CP has addressed the lack of interest from the existing group that should do this (NFL) and the difficulty in competing groups attempting it. I am, as true members of the VCA know, rather ambivalent about NFL, but my bottom line is that I believe that they ought to be considered the voice of our activity. The problem is, de facto, they aren’t. This would be the perfect opportunity for them to step up to the plate and, for example, make Rostrum an online publication that would do this job, but that is highly unlikely. It would be nice if they did, but I won’t be holding my breath.

I do disagree with Rob about the existence of content. I think there’s plenty of things out there, and new ones all the time (e.g., the PF paradigm, which at the moment does not seem to exist). Every problem solved is a step toward new problems that need solving, at least from a dialectic perspective. If we do run out of content, then we’ll be done.

PJ Wexler, the major domo of the old ld-l, offers the following: “Getting a critical mass, and keeping it is the crucial issue. In the LD-L Days of Yore, there were certainly Days of Quality and Days of Yuck. Which is why, even though I am still paying $5 a month to keep it going (more from inertia than anything else ) we want to strike the proper balance. So your dividing up the posts to 1)keep the size managable and 2) give people a reason to check in) is proper.

“Having a central location, priceless.”

I was, like most other folks at the time, a dedicated follower of ld-l (if for no other reason than to keep up when Jules and the Mite published new Nostrum episodes). And true, sometimes the conversation degenerated, but as often as not interesting and important issues were being discussed. The problem was that most of the discussion was done by the young and the restless. For whatever reason—technophobia, teenophobia, noiseophobia—most coaches steered clear of it, not only as contributors but as auditors. The only thing worse than foolish youth is foolish old age, if you ask me. Anyhow, at the time a listserver was state of the art, and it bypassed all the problems like different platform and the like. But that was then, and as I say, there was little coachean buy-in. Limiting discussion to coaches, or at least separating coach and student discussion (I want to hear student opinions), is probably a necessity.

Rob later adds: “Also, one thing that has clearly created a sense of community in a certain sub-community of blogs I visit (related to mass-transit, urban design, and biking issues in my particular metropolis) is the frequency with which everyone links to each other. The dialogue you had a few weeks ago over computers in extemp was a great example. Doing so really helps at getting a multitude of voices, and increases awareness of all the blogs out there. This would require no central planning, quotas, or real any type of mandate at all. All you need to do is adopt a norm among existing authors.”

He’s absolutely right here, but the problem may lie in the fact that, realistically, there aren’t that many coaches out there blogging, and certainly few are blogging as regularly as I am, or at such length. A network, connected by the various tools du jour would do the job, but my guess is that most coaches don’t use the tools du jour, and/or won’t use them. A social network of coaches communicating with whatever would be great, however. Maybe that is the way to go, but the same problem arises that CP talks about. No matter what we do, we need someone in the middle to put it together.

At the moment, I would put this back on the shoulders of those with organizations already in place. Maybe I’m wrong about NFL, but absent them, I’d go with NDCA, which brings us back to MB. But the key is, we need the catalyst, the person to make it happen, the person to find and connect people, to focus discussions, to keep us honest.

Any volunteers?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Today's guest blogger is—Oh, no! Not him again!

Read CP, then we'll talk. And let it be no spoiler, but I agree with him completely. (I hate when that happens.)


Friday, May 08, 2009

A musical interlude

We need some feedback on the communications issue, so I’ll leave that for a minute and see if we actually get any more responses. I know CP has something (undoubtedly wrong) in mind, and one does need to hear from MB…

So, another subject entirely. Music storage.

Okay, first of all, I have music I’ve purchased going back to the Dark Ages. I don’t have my 45s anymore (I’m still fuming over their “promotion” by a bunch of lowlife politicos in college who thought they would serve us well as an election ploy if we donated them to the local coffee shop; that they were mine and that I was never consulted is the issue—grrrrrr!). My LPs are in the chez basement: the sleeves aren’t in very good shape (the original Siamese, Minx, considered them the perfect scratching post) and God knows what shape the vinyl is in. I’ve got a few hundred cassettes left after cherry-picking the good ones for mp3ing; I’ve just sorted these remaining tapes into categories, and will salvage what I can over the next few months. I’ve got skadoodles of CDs going back to their invention (I was a relatively early adapter), many of which I’ve ripped into mp3s. And I’ve got mp3s acquired various (legal) ways; members of the VCA know well my stance on intellectual property, and the immorality of claiming that easy access somehow warrants theft. (Keep in mind, by the way, that I do not claim that all music, or whatever, must be kept in tightly held copyrights, but merely that the owners of intellectual property get to decide what to do with it. They’re perfectly within their rights to give it away, or not. The issue of when copyright ought to expire, and why, is a different one, and quite fascinating, but that’s for another time.)

So, in other words, I’ve got music up the wazoo, including a whole bunch of unripped CDs. My friend Peter, who is a nut worthy of being a forensician, and who makes the concept of obsessive look like casual disdain, has even more music and a bigger wazoo, but only came to the mp3 universe a few months ago with the purchase of his first iPod. He originally started ripping everything he owned in the lossless format, until he realized that this would only capture a fraction of his collection, and, additionally, he couldn’t tell the difference when he listened to stuff. So he went back and did it all mp3-style. When I demonstrated the “Remote” app to him (using the Touch to play iTunes throughout the house), he discovered that, unlike him, I hadn’t ripped my entire CD collection. “Why not?” he asked. “Why?” I riposted wittily. “Because it’s there,” he explained. Which got me thinking. Certainly at any point in the conceivable future I have more music than I can reasonably fit onto even the biggest iPod, but I could quite easily get myself one Big Sucker hard drive for the house at least for regular AirPort listening. And I could simply create a playlist of oodles of it for my MegaPod as I do now for the Touch.

Meanwhile, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting all my mp3 music into one library. Having added drives over the years and been sort of sloppy on occasion means that I have music spread out all over the place. As far as I know there’s no easy way to solve this short of laboriously finding the tracks and moving them physically album by album. But this process has convinced me of the goodness of the idea of a terabyte drive devoted entirely to music storage. So, I’ve been studying the available products, most of which look roughly identical: if it doesn’t die the first week, you’re fine. Whenever I have bought the biggest drive possible it has always cost about $125, and that remains true. The drives get bigger, the dollar gets smaller, but the price remains the same—curious economics which seem to apply to almost all computer-related purchases. Anyhow, I should have a 1T drive picked out and ordered by the end of the weekend, and then I’ll have something to continue to play with over the summer.

And this, gentle reader, is what people do at night when debate season is over and they’re not involved in any summer institutes.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Coachean Life, Time, and Sports Illustrated

I won't comment much on MB's last point, on program retention. It is certainly a concern of the MHL, which I co-direct. We exist for younger debaters, and are running a free workshop next season, with material for new coaches, plus we will be offering the first year free of annual dues for new member schools. We're doing our bit, in other words, which says it all...

I hate to give away the trade secrets, but this last bunch of entries, commenting on Mike Bietz’s Rostrum article, were pretty much all written at once, and then strung out as daily entries. I don’t do this to make myself appear busier, but because I try not to overload this blog with endless entries if it’s not necessary. It’s one thing to bloviate at length about something that actually requires lengthy bloviation—I do not underestimate the attention span of the VCA when an attention span is necessary—but another thing altogether to go on and on about a lot of different things at once in a medium that generally relishes brevity. My guess is that the average member of the VCA pops in, reads a little, and then goes elsewhere, using RSS (if you’re cool) or whatever (if you’re just sort of lukewarm). The original Bietz article covered a lot of interesting areas, and I wanted to touch on all of them meaningfully, one at a time. That done, we can get to the bottom line.

The thing is, as the article clearly stated as its core message, that coaches simply are not communicating as they could, and perhaps should. One could theorize why until the Guernseys return to the roost, but I’m not sure that it really matters why, unless the solution is tied to the cause (that is, if they don’t communicate because they’re all computer illiterate, then suggesting a literate computer solution would not be much of a solution). My sense is that it’s a combination of things. Yes, they are merely average when it comes to computer skills, or maybe better put, computer interest. There is nothing about being a debate coach that connects to being a computist. And there probably is a natural fear of spilling trade secrets, not so much in “how to coach” as in giving away some strategic edge that belongs with the team rather than the world. I certainly would not want to be perceived by my team as giving away their ideas, but at the same time I see nothing wrong with sharing ideas in the first place. One has to tread gently here, but one can tread. I think the real issue is, simply, we have no place to do it, not that we don’t have the fire in the belly to want to do it. The institution that, naturally, should be underlying this is the NFL, but, of course, they don’t. Or if they do, they’ve hidden it so well that they might as well not. They do provide plenty of stuff on their impenetrable website, but when you click on “community” there’s no sublinks. It does take you to some page where it asks you to sign up for something, and some random clicking brought me to this monstrosity, redeemed to some extent by Ella and Louis in the video, at least. For all I know, this is, indeed, what we’re looking for, but I seriously doubt it. NFL is mostly about their annual tournament. My history with them as the world’s worst district chair did nothing to dissuade me from this opinion.

Bietz is Mr. NDCA these days, and reasonably speaking, everything I’ve seen from NDCA (I’m not a member) gives at least lip service to building community. My guess is that they want to go further than that; I can’t imagine what other purpose they’re supposed to serve. In lieu of any viable alternative, then, let’s say that whatever we do should be through NDCA.

As I’ve been blogging about all of this, people have been suggesting some forum software, including bbpress, invision and vbulletin. I’ve looked at all of them, and if we absolutely had no choice but a bbd, then bbpress looks like the one to go with. But I’m not excited about bulletin boards slash forums (although at least bbpress does feature some RSS). I have never found these sort of forums that useful because it is so easy to miss something. There’s no center to them, no focus. And I have to admit that much of the commentary is mere noise (some people would say, rightly, that most commentary on the interwebs is mere noise). Meanwhile, NDCA also has their listserver (and thank you to whoever got rid of all the addresses in the digest), but an active listserver can quickly become a pain in the patootie, as any of us old ld-l folks can attest.

I would propose a different solution, sort of based on blogging. What might work is a sort of virtual publication. It would be managed (presumably by MB). First, we request volunteers who want to be writers for this publication. One can canvas the usual suspects. Then we publish an article by one of these US people on something, let’s say, #2 on the Bietz inventory, research and evidence. The article is then distributed from a blog slash webpage (with RSS available). We prod people to respond, but not just in comments but in response articles. In fact, we could even suppress comments altogether. Our managing editor then moderates and publishes the responses (and, if necessary, prods other US people to make those responses). Using the normal tools of blogging would allow us to tag the articles in archives, but I would also suggest that, if we get something good going, with agreement, we put together greatest hits (like I do here), maybe making pdfs of the good stuff aggregated from different sources.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Bietz continued: here come da judges

Mr. Bietz does not go far enough in his point on judge training.

8. Judge training
There should be three minimal explanations made to all judges before tournaments:
First, judges should be reminded that they ought to leave their preconceived notions about the resolution at the door and that their decision should be based on what is said in the round.
Second, judges should be told that flowing is a requirement. Just like we expect referees in high schools sports to have some minimal training and certification, judges in debate should try to fit their process of adjudication into a way that is at least somewhat predictable for debaters.
Third, with only some exceptions, judges at the varsity level should be expected to disclose their decisions. In my mind this is also related to the openness issues. It is unfair that some students know decisions and their records and some debaters do not.

I don’t disagree, but I think the problems go deeper than that. At the core of this issue is that so many teams simply do not “train” their judges at all. They come to the tournament with some baffled but mildly game adult in order to gain admittance to the event, and they consider that the end of it. Not only do the parents not know enough about LD to judge, they don’t know about schematics or obligations or, well, anything. They just know their kid asked them to help out, and so they tagged along. At which point, their wonderful children abandon them to the wolves. And, in my experience, the teams who bring these poor befuddled parents are the first to whine themselves when their own judges are less than sterling. Ah, human nature!

First of all, tournaments need to demand that schools bring at the very least judges they have trained. I realize that this concept of “demanding” is pretty unenforceable, but it’s worth a shot. Tournaments can also provide judging guides along with their invites. (There are plenty online, including what we’ve created for the MHL, which is what I direct people to in my Bump invitation.) I will admit that I have occasionally dumped judges from the pool both unofficially (they’re totally inept, which is usually obvious from their ballots, so I turn them off except maybe for a down-four round) and officially (at this year’s CFL Grands, after the opening judge assembly one judge asked me a question, stating that this was his first time judging. Sorry, Charlie, but the rules are that this had to be your third time judging. No quarter, in that case. It wasn’t that I was too weak of spirit to dump a kid from that team, but I didn’t do it because, to be honest, in the heat of the moment I didn’t think about it. Too bad.)

What can we do to enforce this, to make sure not that all the judges are already experienced, which is an idiotic expectation and, frankly, one that even if it were feasible would not particularly benefit the activity, at least in my opinion? I don’t really know. But this is something that, as collected coaches discussing the issue, we might be able to come up with some accepted practice. It’s worth a try.

As for Bietz’s three points, of course to number one, which should be part of the training. Number two would force a few of LD’s bigger holes-of-the-nether-regions (we all know a few of them) to actually pay attention during a round rather than trusting to their superior intellects, in addition to cueing the new judges into the standard practice. Go for it. Number three I agree with as well, but given that the norm a few years ago was not to disclose, this does probably need to be made clear off the top, especially at tournaments where a lot of old-timers are brought in. No disagreement then, as I said above.

And I look forward to working with others to solve the problem of the relatively rogue teams with crappy untrained judges that seem to pop up at every tournament.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Bietz continued: the snobs vs the slobs

Bietz talks about the schism between local and national circuit teams. He does not go far enough, not so much in explaining how bifurcation exists, but how people in debate, who wish to cast aspersions at someone, usually end up accusing them of being a member of the other camp. In my experience, when people have disagreed with me, they have complained that my problem is that I am too committed to the $ircuit.

Puh-leeze. I mean, I’m the one who put the dollar sign in there (only because I couldn’t find the cents sign).

Then again, I guess you could accuse me, on the basis of this semiotic, to be anti-national circuit, but loyal members of the VCA know that that is not the case either. I have enjoyed the challenges of circuit debate with my debaters at that level. I am critical of everyone, everywhere (including myself). I play no favorites. My point is, and always has been, that there are two different arenas, that the one that is right for an individual debater is the one that is right for that individual debater, that both are valuable, and that it is the responsibility of coaches to foster sensibilities that support an open attitude on their teams.

Again, I come back to the coaches. That’s where the responsibility begins.

But still, although debaters may not have reached their legal majority, then again, they are not totally blameless. Tribalistic practices among any group isolate the others who are not in the group, with all the hoo-ha that goes along with otherization, but in forensics there isn’t a lot to be gained from it in the long run. We are all competitors, but more importantly, we’re all citizens of a relatively small and rather exciting little group, and the others are not those who debate differently from us, but those who are not in a position to benefit from debate at all. Those debaters who see themselves as leaders, who actually believe in what they are arguing, need to take their own meaningful positions on this. You need to ask yourself, if you’re a hot circuit debater, how do you treat your random draws? With respect and friendship? Or with disdain and, after they are gone, scorn? In a universe of very few people interested in debate, do you really have the myopia to treat some of those people poorly? These are your spiritual compatriots. Sure, they might be your “inferior” in a particular debate sense, but I don’t think that sportsmanship somehow doesn’t apply to debate, or that the purpose of sportsmanship doesn’t apply. On the other side of the coin, debaters who do not aspire to the circuit should nonetheless welcome learning what they can from circuit styles and content. I personally look with suspicion on a lot of the popular styles that come and go over time, and I expect anyone with half a brain will do likewise, but some of the stuff always proves out to be useful in the dialectic move toward truth. For instance, maybe knowing a little theory might enlarge the brain even if you never use it yourself in a round. Say what you will about Nietzsche, you’ve got to admit that he’s important to anyone studying modern thought. And so forth and so on. Different and/or new doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it different and/or new. Study it for a while. Learn about it. If you’re going to reject it, reject it based on knowledge of what it is, not ignorance. But probably you’re going to get something out of it. Which is not a bad thing at all.

I don’t expect everybody at a tournament to start singing Kumbaya and holding hands and whatnot, but a level of respect is required from everyone. If you don’t have it, question your motivations and your actions. Did you sign up for debate only because you wanted to debate, and not because you wanted to hang out with like souls, to exist in a multicultural realm where intelligence is valued (a rarity in some high school milieus) and where increasing intelligence is the name of the game? As I say, it begins with the coaches, but students are culpable here too, if they are not treating everyone with respect. That the activity is about treating people with respect, about fairness and justice, about otherization, about ethical behavior, only underlines the need for all its citizens to act in accordance with the principles to which we are giving lip service. If it’s only lip service, well then, it’s just a lot of lip. And at the point where debate is just a lot of b.s., it has virtually no value whatsoever, and you can count me out.

Monday, May 04, 2009

From the Bietz tablets, continued...

Moving right along (we’re going to pretend last week never happened, not because something horrible transpired but because something predictably mediocre transpired which is of no real interest to anyone in the VCA)…

6. Bid fetish
As the years go on, the bid-counting and the desire to attend tournaments that have bids exclusively has become absurd. There are a couple of problems:
First, only tournaments that have TOC bids are truly able to have their tournaments be effective fundraisers.
Second, students who do not travel or do not care about the TOC are seen as second-class debaters by the national circuit.
Third, tournaments that do have bids are able scale back on providing a good experience while at the same time raise their prices because the bids are seen as so valuable.

7. Local / National circuit bifurcation
Teams that are exclusively national circuit or that are exclusively local have made the gap between the two circuits wider than ever. We talk bad about each other and tell stories that embellish the problems with the “other.” To local circuit coaches and teams, the national circuit is ruining debate. To national circuit coaches and teams, the local circuit is backwards and lame.
I certainly respect the fact that some people will make choices about how they want their team to be. The problem arises when the justification for choosing which circuit on which you debate has to be because of something wrong with the other type. I don’t like that my students have to feel uncomfortable when we debate at home, and I feel bad that more local schools don’t attend our TOCqualifier.

I am a firm believer in the idea that all forensics, when seriously practiced, is educational. I am also a believer that seriously practiced does not begin and end with the accumulation of TOC bids. And since I’ve had a decent enough number of bids accumulated over the years, and decent experiences over the years down in Kentucky, anything I say negatively can not be ascribed to any sort of sour grapes. I’m all in favor of the TOC, when kept in perspective. The thing is, TOC is to general debate as speed metal is to general music. Speed metal is hard and complicated, but not necessarily better than any other kind of music and, in the scope of music in general, is just one small genre. Some people like speed metal, and some don’t. That it does require technical competence underlies its value to its proponents (as compared to, say, an awful lot of garage-band stuff that my cats could play in their sleep, and often do). To do it well you have to be a solidly good musician. But that doesn’t mean solidly good musicians must only do speed metal, or that there is no value in other music. Adherents of the genre (or the TOC) may make this claim, but anyone who is not an adherent can readily see that obsession for what it is.

I’ve discussed TOC obsession often in the past. I am sort of forgiving when it comes to students being obsessed with the TOC, insofar as they are young and inexperienced, but when coaches are TOC-obsessed, it’s another matter altogether. It is coaches who make decisions of where their teams participate. It is coaches who explain to their team why top debaters should appear at non-bid tournaments. It is coaches who are responsible for the life of the activity over the long term. The TOC is in no way, shape or form inherently interested in the life of the activity over the long term, as compared to, say, the NFL, which has forensic life over the long term as its mandate (in which it succeeds/fails in varying degrees). Many individuals involved in TOC are, of course, interested in that deeper aspect, but that is simply not why TOC exists. TOC celebrates entirely the competitive aspects of the activity. There is nothing wrong with this, but as Soddie used to say, competition is a means to the end and not the end itself. Feel free to pursue that end, young padawan, but it is the journey that is the real goal. (Soddie never said that last sentence, however, to my knowledge. It’s his successor who sees everything in terms of George Lucas.)

I wonder about what MB is saying about tournaments as a result of bid fever. I mean, I have run a quarters-bid tournament for years now. To be honest, I have tried to make it better every year. To be honest, I did have to raise prices a couple of years ago to cover custodial costs. And to be honest, it is a fund-raiser for me. But I don’t believe that possession of bids is inextricably linked to a declining experience. I work my own and a lot of other bid tournaments, and most of us actively work to improve each year (especially the colleges, under CP’s gentle persuasion). I’ll go back to what I said above. Since I also support a lot of non-bid tournaments (and run one entire non-bid league for younglings with O’C), I firmly believe it is up to the coaches to support these tournaments and to make sure their students see the value in attending. And it’s not hard to work these into a general schematic of participation for a team. My general sense is that the hardest thing for your average debater to be is a sophomore or a junior. At the varsity level, there’s an awful lot of people who are just more experienced, which counts for a lot. And bid tournaments attract people who are just more adept than the average yabbo. Non-bid tournaments around here tend to be broadly supported by second- and third-year students, making the fields lively, even ones, with a sprinkling of novices getting their heads handed to them as they dive in over their heads, and a sprinkling of strong seniors who keep the sophomores and juniors honest. These are excellent tournaments, with excellent experiences for the participants. Your team is too good to support your small regional tournaments? That’s great. The good news is, with that attitude, in a few years your activity will be dead, or at least dying. I mean, in the northeast policy is absolutely down to dying embers, and one big reason is people not supporting local events. (Including mine, so I speak to this with some authority, having abandoned policy after many years at my own tournament. Lack of policy bids made some regional teams decide I wasn’t worth it. Now I offer novice LD and sell out. What would you have done?) At the point where you prefer to spend a lot of money to travel really far to chase a bid, you create a situation in the future where you might have no choice, if you want to compete, but to spend a lot of money to travel really far just to debate, much less earn bids. Local tournaments are the activity’s lifeblood. Lose ‘em, and you may lose the activity. Again, it’s up to the coaches to keep that from happening. (Any coach who thinks I’ve got it wrong should follow the policy coaches’ discussion on NDCA’s listserver.)

This is a great subject. I’ll continue next time. By the way, it’s total accident that I happen to be addressing this after TOC weekend. Really. I look forward to revisiting Kentucky some time in the very near future, and I know I will enjoy the experience as I always do. I am, in other words, a fan of speed metal. But I am also a fan of pretty much every other music (except some of the stuff Bietz likes). I think that all coaches need to be fans of every other music. One note just ain’t enough.

More tomorrow.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

I repeat myself

From my comments when the list of all the rezzes was released.

R: Military conscription is unjust.

Interesting subject, although, well, it’s not. Unjust, I mean. Oh, it could be handled unjustly, I guess, but not inherently. Still, this rez would force people to evaluate what responsibilities we have as individuals to society, and it also might raise questions about just/unjust wars, so it could be interesting.

This remains problematic because, on face, conscription simply isn't unjust. Since no particular government is named, you can't say that it's handled unjustly (barring women or gays or something like that) because you have no specific polity against which to cite examples. You're stuck with, ahem, an inherent presumption for the aff because the aff happens to be true and few people would seriously suggest otherwise except for those whose religions/morality are anti-war (although even conscientious objectors must serve, by law). I was right in my original quick take that people will be forced to consider the responsibilities of individuals in society, but I wouldn't want to be on the side that shrugs these responsibilities off.

Sooooo, if you're going south this June, flip aff. Oh, wait. It's NFL. No flips. How about, send a few bucks into the tab room before each round, a little pourboire for the coaches. Na'ah, they probably have rules about that too.

Harumph. Well, if we adapt a Bietzian topic approach, maybe in 2010-11 all the resolutions will actually have two sides. Wouldn't that be great?

Meanwhile, I don't think I announced it here, but the Modest Novice topic is now official (and this time we really mean it). Mosey over to for the details.