Monday, August 31, 2009

Killer moths (shades of Mieville), killer PSATs, killer tweets, killer dummies

This is the last day of August. Once again we wonder how we managed to squander an entire summer without feeling as if summer ever happened. In the northeast, this was possibly the worst weather ever, with a couple of nice days but mostly rain whenever you needed sun, and cold whenever you need warm, and generally bleeech whenever you needed aahhhhh. So it goes. If past were meteorological prelude, the coming winter would look like something out of some story with a lot of winter in it (I can’t think of one offhand, so you’ll have to be a little supportive here of my failing memory), except, as far as weather is concerned, there are no reliable signs of weather to come. Past is not meteorological prelude. That is, if the wildebeests or carnivorous caterpillars or whatever have mangier coats this summer, that does not indicate above average snowfall in the coming winter. The coats of wildebeests or carnivorous caterpillars or whatever can only reflect last year’s snowfall. Trust me on this. I’m a weather lore expert. (For example, “Cat sleeps on its brain, sure sign of rain.” I got a million of ‘em.)

The Sailors of the Junior persuasion seem to have suddenly suffered PSAT shock, as in, “The test is Big Jake weekend, wait a minute, how does that affect me?” Given that 3/4s of my entry is of that junior persuasion, this could be a real slimming down. They are all at sixes and sevens, and I’m no help because, not being a school sort, I have no idea what the options are, if any. I’ve suggested they actually ask someone who knows something about the subject, a radical idea if there ever was one, but then again, I’m full of radical ideas. I trust they’ll sort this out over the next couple of days. Same group is debating Sept-Oct elsewhere, however, regardless. We’re putting together a nice entry for Monticello, for example, and I’ve already got a couple of hotel rooms at the notorious oh-no-two-nights-minimum-oh-wait-we’ll-call-you-back motel that is the only one in the city that doesn’t offer on-site shootings. And of course there’s also the Pups, although I must point out that my Speecho-American entry for which is about as solid as [damn, I need another metaphor; it’s been one of those days, obviously]. Don’t ask.

I just did a little test of @tabroom for the Pups, by the way, as in, I do a direct message from my cell when I don’t have wireless. Worked fine. I will alert the troops shortly of the tweeting of the event. I notice the WTF is reviving their Twitter account to tweet, well, every event. I await the results of this with trepidation, since my interest in tournaments I am not attending ranks about as high as [no, no, not again!!! I’m going to need to remove the word “as” from my writing vocabulary].

The MHLW is slowly getting some decent numbers. I’ll send out a couple more reminders this week and next, to get things working. O’C will help me assign instructors today or tomorrow, and we’ll be set there. If you’re coming and you haven’t signed up yet, please do, even if it’s only dummy names, so we’ll have some ideas of numbers. Just don’t tell your debaters that you think they’re dummies.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sliding into the penlast of the weekends

There is now a listserver for NY coaches to discuss issues about the NYSFL with league reps. It’s nysfl at Yahoo groups; any coach can sign up. Let me know if you need more information. At the moment we’re discussing qualifications for the state tournament. Interesting.

Just as an update: If you’re not following the Coachean Feed, you’re missing articles on CDC and circumcision, how torture is enculturated via Hollywood, lots of feminism stuff (including the numbers on women and math), and some general stuff on poverty that might be useful on our next international topic. And that’s just the last couple of days… By the way, if you’re at all into books, follow, where I do the same thing for the book world. (I’m really into this interwebs thing.)

And so, we enjoy the penultimate non-debate summer weekend. If it rains enough, maybe I'll learn something about Sept-Oct.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chez nuts, fan boys, yabbos and pills

So we sat around chezzing last night and came up with bupkes on Sept-Oct. Okay, not exactly bupkes, but close enough. The thing is, standardized testing seems to exist as an attempt to provide equality. While it could conceivably fail to do so because a particular test is flawed, I really don’t believe in CT arguments that would claim that all testing in inherently flawed and unjust. I mean, people, it just ain’t true. If you really believe that an algebra test discriminates against anyone because of race, gender, creed or color, your issue isn’t with the test but with algebra itself. (Unless women aren’t good at equations with both X and Y in them because of their chromosomes? You know, that would explain the gender gap in math if, in fact, the gender gap in math wasn’t a myth.) This shifts the question to whether algebra, or any subject you may care to name, is intrinsically flawed as a study in secondary school. The tests seem rather incidental to the question at that point. Anyhow, no immediate hooks for serious discussion of the issue arose as we sat around relatively undisturbed by Tik (pronounced teek, who seemed much more interested last week in attacking coaches than he did this week in attacking students. He is a cat of discriminating tastes. We will attempt the same again next week. I’ll do some more research myself in the interim, for what it’s worth. Anyhow, it was nice to tentatively get back into the swing of (debate) things again. The season slowly clicks into place.

I noticed yesterday that this blog has a Facebook fan page. Interesting. I wasn’t aware of that. I always feel so friendless on Fb compared to, say, O’C, who has more friends than Carter has little liver pills (now there’s a line I haven’t heard since my great-grandmother died). Of course, I hardly ever befriend anybody unless they keep getting recommended to me by the Fb software and I get tired of looking at their face and I befriend them to make the recommendation go away. Which, I think, is not the point of social networking, but what can I say?

(Two weeks till the MHLW. Have you signed up yet? What are you waiting for, you yabbo????)

For those of you who track this sort of thing, I think I have finally gotten back into the normal pacing of existence following my northwest vacation. This one really threw me off: the DJ is just too busy and demanding these days. Which, of course, just engenders the need for more vacations, followed by more displacement and busier and more demanding DJ days. But I’ll give up vacations when O’C gives up Carter’s Little Liver Pills. I like having the break. I need that break. It’s just the mess the break leaves behind that’s the problem. So it goes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The negative aff

It has been suggested by a Sailor that it’s hard to argue against doing something when no argument has been put forward in favor of doing it. That is, Sept-Oct forces the Aff to come out against tests, which no one has at any point said are a good thing. In other words, once again the aff is going neg.

The committee can correct me if I’m wrong, but I have detected a trend over the last few years to frame a resolution so that the negative has a clear advocacy in favor of something. In other words, the negative can’t just say no, usually because the resolution already does (mostly with the word “not”). This is spiritually in keeping with the rule that there is no negative presumption, because the heretics who persist in the belief that there is a neg presumption will pick up negs who do nothing but refute the aff, whereas the point of LD is that both sides should have an advocacy. I’ve discussed this at length in the past. The expression “the best defense is a good offense” is wasted on a lot of debaters who think that the best defense is a good defense. Sadder still, some judges join them in this thinking. A switched-advocacy resolution pretty much renders such an approach impossible. In Sept-Oct, the neg has no choice but to argue in favor of tests (or do a mind-twist dance that might have repercussions all along the time-space continuum).

The problem with a resolution as specific as this one is that, as a result of the inverted advocacy, it is now the aff that is sort of boxed into the corner of running pure defense (as my Sailor says, against an as yet unspoken offense). If you’re not arguing in favor of tests, my guess is that you’re arguing against them. What else can you do? Run an aff counterplan? Well, actually, yes, because if you’re not testing, you’re probably forced to come up with some other way to verify that someone is worthy of a diploma…

When a resolution is vague, the switched advocacy probably does enforce better debating by negatives. When it’s as specific as this, however, I wonder if it won’t, as I had originally suggested, end up becoming sort of repetitious early on. That is, there won’t be that much variety in arguments put forth because, given the nature of the sides, there’s no way to reasonably get them out there. Before long every round will be pretty similar to every other round.

But I would suggest that that is not necessarily a bad thing. There have been some topics where virtually every round was identical, in my experience. Capital punishment back in the 90s was one of them, when you could flow it in your sleep after a day or two (I judged a lot back then). But what happened when cases were pretty much identical was that debating was forced to kick it up a notch. It was all about the arguing and not the content. The content was a given. But when it came to arguing about it, miss one step, and you fell off into the crocodiles. Good debaters always beat lesser debaters on the basis of debating skill, not tricky (or tricked up) positions that confused everyone and snuck by the judges. Maybe Sept-Oct will end up likewise.

We’ll see.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The thing that is Bump in the night

Last night I started Bump 2009.


First thing, there was the requisite digging in the chez catacombs for any leftover trophies from last year. I seem to have a wandering herd of octos trophies, probably from PF. (I don’t label my trophies, allowing me to give them to any division at any time. I also don’t date them, for the same reason. O’C, on the other hand, does date his trophies. I don’t mean that he puts a date on them, I mean that he takes them out for dinner and a movie. That’s another difference between the old guard and the new guard, but I’m not sure which one of us is which.) I blew the cobwebs off them and decided at least I had a little leg up on this year’s purchase. There’s also a ton of mugs; I’ll probably migrate over to medals next year for the double-octos folks, but for now, have a cappuccino on us. Or at least, have a place to put your cappuccino on us. Close enough. As for crappy prizes, I have enough of them in the crappy prize closet to last until President Palin’s impeachment trial.

Then, on to putting together the order for the trophy company. Simple enough, just update last year’s order. Except, where the hell was last year’s order? In the transition from Little Elvis to Bigger Elvis (which has become the new computer’s default name; btw, I just learned that O’C calls his MacBook PortaPotty, for reasons that elude me), I managed to overlook a hard drive that had been hooked up through USB, so there was a lot of sturm und drang over that for a while, but I finally found 2008 and transmogrified it into 2009 for the trophy order. And, of course, I found a bunch of other stuff that I’m sure will come in handy and that I’ll port over to somewhere useful in a day or two. In any case, I’ll be stopping at the trophy place Friday afternoon to put in the order.

Meanwhile I’ve got about a hundred to-do calendar postings telling me to start working on Bump. It won’t be terribly different this year, except I’ll probably eliminate late-change fines as just too much of a pain in the patoot to bother with. However, I will be charging people for rounds they aren’t covering with judging, which the VCA knows always bothers me. If you are required to bring a judge, bringing a judge who will only cover some of the rounds doesn’t do the job unless, as I always say, your debaters are willing to only debate the rounds that they have judge coverage for. If you don’t cover all your rounds, then I have to. And if I do it, it costs me extra money. That money will be from your wallet, you yabbo!

Other than that, the invite and the tabroom data will be mostly the same, but I do need to get on it. It does take time, and this is the last full week of August. The last full week of August? Egads! Another summer shot to hell.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Adventures in computing

I’d heard dicey things about Fusion and TRPC in the past, although nothing specific. Now that I have thrown the dice myself, I understand.

The thing is, Fusion (and the version of XP I’ve put on there) has certain ways of communicating with OSX. It will automatically use attached printers, for instance, which is pretty important since, at most tournaments, I tend to print stuff like ballots and schematics and the like. Marginally useful, you know? And it will grab data off of disks of various persuasions, connect to specified folders, that sort of thing.

So this weekend I brought up last year’s Pups in aid of getting a file together of the rooms at the high school to remind myself of what we had and eliminate the need of all that reentering. I carefully culled the file down to the right rooms. No problem so far. Time for hard copy. All the settings were correct in Fusion for sending print files to the printer attached to Bigger Elvis via OSX. And every time I tried to print the room list, TRPC crashed.

Some tests were in order.

The natural assumption is that the settings were wrong, but they weren’t. But no way, no how, could I send data to the printer from Fusion to OSX. So, I reset everything and loaded the printer drivers to the XP partition. I set it not to send to OSX. Now everything printed in every program I tested except for TRPC, which of course is the only reason I have Fusion in the first place. One last idea. I kept the printer attached to XP but told the program to send the data to OSX. Henceforth, TRPC worked like a charm, despite the fact that, as far as OSX was concerned, no printer was online. Which means that as long as you tell the data not to go where you want it, TRPC will ignore that instruction and print just fine, thank you very much.

Another two hours of my life shot to hell.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

MHL is now MHL, topics, justice, Pups, orgs

I sent out an update on MHL today, although most of it was old news, aside from the fact that the MHLW will include modules for varsity team leaders. We have transitioned from the old name (MHL) to the new name (MHL). Anyone who has trouble with the change can use the mnemonic device More Hungry Latvians (MHL!). That’s how I remember it.

We talked a bit about topic choices Tuesday night at the Elder Hostel Chez, a natural since JV is on the selection committee. Which reminded me I’ve got to get my list put together. I was just looking it over again. How much you want to bet that if the nuke topic is selected, some yabbo critiques states as entities like Rhode Island? Can you imagine if Alaska had had WMDs during the tenure of the previous governor? Mama mia! We wouldn’t even have had death panels to help her choose who to nuke!

I played with my new thoughts on Justice against my old material on Justice last night, and decided that the new was better than the old but that the old did contain some good information left out of the new. Which got me going into the cur for the first time this season. Sure enough, last year I had kicked off with morality because of the fat-trolleyman topic. It worked okay, but I do sort of prefer a political theory kickoff over good old right and wrong. Anyhow, the cur is now pulled out of the dusty pile of old stuff and back into the get-on-it-bubbo pile of new stuff, which makes the season seem all that much closer. And, of course, it is.

Yale opened yesterday. As of my last look, the Pups had almost gotten VLD totally filled up. There’s a new look to, and it only took a minute to get used to it, and most of it works fine. The Sailors are totally organized, sort of, for the event. 10 ABs altogether, 4 LD and 6 Speecho-Americans, 3 judges, 6 hotel rooms. Kaz said that there’s going to be space for early-arriving Policians to hang out on Friday (they don’t start debating till Saturday) which solves a problem I had of a couple of S-As to dump somewhere without sending them off unchaperoned into the wilds of New Haven. One less thing to worry about.

Meanwhile I’ve got to find some time to drop in on, which O’C has unaccountably breathed new life into. I’ve never been a fan of bbds but I do recall following the org’s threads back in the day. The day is apparently here again. O’C even made me a moderator. I should go find out what it is I’m moderating…

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chez Moi: Elder Hostel Division

There are chezzes and there are chezzes. The usual chez has me sitting at my desk in the family room and Sailors sitting scattered about and Tik (pronounced teek) nastily biting anyone who forgets for even a second that there are monsters walking the earth. We gossip mindlessly for a while until finally getting down to business and talking about the resolution or whatever, interrupting ourselves with more gossip and we go along, plus solving the occasional medical emergency brought on by the cat. As a matter of fact, I’ve scheduled just such a chez for next week to discuss Sept-Oct with the assembled multitudes.

Last night, however, we had a chez of a different stripe. JV and O’C and Kaz came over to hammer out the curriculum for the MHL Workshop on 9/12. If you ask me, we did a pretty good job of it. Sure, we did have to have dinner first and gossip mindlessly for a while, but to tell you the truth, not much has transpired lately that you don’t already know about. Everyone’s aware, for instance, that Bill flew the Coop, or Coop flew the Arthur L, or whatever, for instance. A few programs that have been just under the radar may be resurfacing, which is a good thing, but there were no surprises there either. There was nothing as earth-shattering as O’C forswearing Disney princesses or anything else equally cataclysmic. And when Tik started attacking people and striking poses variously interpretable as either oddly cute or incipiently maleficent, I locked him out of the room for the rest of the night. So, mostly, we got down to business, and it’s looking awfully good. We should be able to publicize it by the end of the week, after we all polish it up. One big new thing is the addition of a, for lack of a better term, Senior Track. We’re going to invite teams to send their top varsity to help us scope out ideas for developing ModNov, and also brainstorm among themselves ways to train their novices. Since we’ve also got novices and JV and parents and coaches covered, in LD, PF and Policy, I think we’ve covered just about everything. As I say, I’ll send everything out by the end of the week. If you’re on the fence about being there, it’s time to cut bait, or whatever.

It was also nice to see a substantial portion of the Northeast’s Traveling Tabroom again after a long hiatus. We work together so much during the year, and I sort of miss everybody during the summer, since unlike them I get no forensics fix via any camps, aside from looking at the WTF site and trying not to gag. So just on a social level, it was fun. Damned hot, though. If I hadn’t known it was summer, last night would have set me straight.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Pie of Justice

I’ve never been pleased with my materials on justice. It’s not the easiest concept in the world to explain to bleary-eyed novices, or for that matter, to be explained by bleary-eyed political scientists. At its core it’s simple enough, but the further you stretch it from the core, the more goofy you start to sound. The fact that there are different kinds of justice that we often deal with (to wit, distributive and retributive) doesn’t help. If we have a justice-system resolution early on in basic training, it can throw a noob’s understanding of justice per se out the window for a couple of years, if not an entire debate career.

Distributive justice alone, however, ought to be simple enough. Easy as pie actually, if you think about it.

Imagine a pie. Imagine one person. Now, that one person gets to keep the whole pie. There’s no issues there. The world would be so simple if there were only one person in it (unless that person was Jon Cruz, but that’s another story altogether).

Now imagine a pie and two people. Now we start to think about cutting up the pie in a satisfactory way between the two people, and that’s where justice comes in. Justice is the business of settling claims among a number of people, not just one person. So now we have two people with a claim on one pie. In the simplest of worlds, we just cut the pie in half and each takes an equal portion. That sounds eminently fair. Justice is fairness after all, the settling of claims in such a way that the settlement seems to be correct. If the settlement did not seem to be correct, we would say it is unfair, or unjust. To some extent, fair and just are synonyms, so when a debater (or John Rawls) defines justice as fairness, or giving each fair due, it’s a bit of a tautology. But if you dig into the definitions, you’ll see perhaps minor differences. For our purposes, however, they’re much of a muchness.

In order to insure the fair deal between the two pie eaters, by the way, we might install a precedent established in nursery school: one person cuts, the other person chooses. This approach to justice might be innate: if we have a moral instinct, this is one of the ways it inevitably expresses itself. Or, perhaps, it’s just so damned logical that we reinvent it again and again. Whatever. In any case, we have two issues, determining what is fair, and determining how to achieve that fairness. Halves are fair. Switching cutting and choosing achieves the fairness.

Pies being rather filling, we can cut them into satisfactory pieces for quite a few people. But, eventually, there’s really not enough for everyone. There is a limited amount of pie in the room. We have pie for, say, twelve people, but there are twenty people in the room. For argument’s sake, we will declare that the pie cannot be cut into few than twelve pieces. What to do?

If there’s twenty people and twelve pieces of pie, everyone cannot have an equal amount of pie. One solution to this problem that would perhaps be fair is to have a lottery for the pie. Every one of the twenty people has one chance at winning a piece of the pie. There will be twelve lucky winners. In this case, everyone has an equal opportunity at getting a piece of pie, even though everyone will not have a literally equal piece of pie. This, too, seems fair, and it much resembles some of the lotteries of life. In a just situation, we all have an equal opportunity for something, although all of us might not get that thing. If a university offers an entrance exam to everyone, and selects the top hundred people, everyone seems to have an equal opportunity of getting in, although only the top one hundred actually will. (This raises issues about what determines who is at the top, and whether its fair that Joe is smarter than Jack, but they are issues buried deep in the example. Let’s assume that the test is absolutely unbiased, whatever that means, and leave it at that.)

So we have equality, and we have equal opportunity, which are two different things, but which both seem fair. But let’s take it one step further. Our pie is not blueberry or apple. It is a metaphor for the amount of money available for financial aid for college. Like any pie, it is finite: it can only be cut into so many pieces. There’s also a meaningfulness aspect to it: give everyone just a dollar, and it doesn’t count. Financial aid needs to really aid people.

So, we have a finite amount of financial aid pie to divvy up among a large number of applicants for that aid. There are more applicants than can be aided. What do we do? This is, of course, representative of justice in the real world.

Before we can distribute the financial aid pie, we need to establish the criteria on which we will base of distribution decision. In the broadest either/or analysis, we could favor the people who are the smartest and have earned merit-based scholarships, or we could favor the people who are the poorest and need the money most. Neither of these is particularly right or wrong, but they would conflict. How do we decide the criteria?

John Rawls addresses this issue with his concept of a veil of ignorance. For Rawls, when we’re talking about distributing goods, we have to remove ourselves from the equation. That is, in this particular example, we cannot know if we ourselves happen to be smart or poor. Knowing this would prejudice our decision. The veil of ignorance is like a black box with us in it. We don’t know what we are, so when we make our decision, we will have no predetermined personal stake in it. This is a pretty good idea, otherwise those in the position of making the decision would presumably always choose in favor of themselves. Another term for this is the original position.

But of course, this doesn’t help us actually make the decision, it simply removes our biases from the decision-making. We are still faced with the challenge of determining how to spend the money (with no presumptions of how spending the money might affect us personally).

One can get pretty academic at this point, but one thing is pretty clear. However we decide, we need to give everyone an equal opportunity to share in the distribution. We can’t say that we’ll limit the distribution to only one racial group, for instance, to have it be equal on face. But then again, if one subscribes to a need to adjudicate cultural/societal inequalities in one’s distribution, then maybe one ascribes a system of weighting a la Affirmative Action. Meanwhile, it seems unfair to the smartest person in the world not to be rewarded with a scholarship because that person is, say, Bill Gates’s kid. On the other hand, if someone can afford the education without aid, why give them any, when that would take it away from someone else? Do we give it entirely based on need, where if you need the most, you get the most? In that case, how do we determine what need really is?

These questions can be answered a number of ways. Depending on what kind of pie exactly you’re talking about, some of what Rawls says might apply, to wit, that any decision must favor the least advantaged members of society (this favoritism is called the difference principle). But then, define “advantaged.” There will never be any easy, definitive answers.

So that’s what distributive justice is all about. How do we take goods, and fairly distribute them throughout society? Now, Rawls’s original position and difference principle are hypothetical ways of understanding the nature of society and justice. (Isn’t all philosophy hypothetical? Philosophy that isn’t hypothetical is call science.) To ask if this sort of thinking is at all relevant to the real world, think about taxes. Where does the money go? What should we do about less economically advantaged members of society? What about immigrants, especially poor folk who sneak in? If we’re going to give away some health care, who is going to get it? How are we going to split up Social Security payments? How do we apply any of this across borders with international aid? What are the just answers? They’re debatable. And, I assure you, debate them you will.

Anyhow, that’s distributive justice. Keep it in mind, and you’ll have it in a nutshell.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's all in how you look at it

Resolved: Public high school students in the United States ought not be required to pass standardized exit exams to graduate.

When this was posted originally, I didn't comment on it much except to say that it was one of the hot-button issues in education, and that I was worried that it might not allow for the most creative positions. After all, I had recently judged roughly the same topic in PF at Districts, and heard roughly the same things over and over again, so I wasn't necessarily thrilled, but I wasn't aghast either. It's perfectly debatable because there's clear sides that clearly clash. A classic albeit special (in philosophical terms) subject area, the nature/goal of education. It will work out well enough.

I can't say that it gives me any second thoughts about ModNov, though. I like to begin novice training with broad principles about ethics and politics and morality, and later apply those principles to whatever topic is at hand. Granted that some topics don't easily allow such application, but most do. What this Sep-Oct does is favor coaches who like to start with the strategy and tactics of debate per se. Nothing wrong with that, and Anjan makes a good comment about that over at WTF, citing how this topic has an immediate recognition factor with noobs. Of course, the value of ModNov is long term, and certainly doesn't deter anyone with a practical startup approach, although God knows, it's way more philosophic to the poor ninth graders out there than something like this that has real relevancy to them.

My greatest disappointment/relief is that the marriage resolution didn't get voted in. On the one hand, if it had, we could have sold tickets to ModNov, but on the other hand, everyone else, poor devils, would have had to debate it. Anyhow, this reminds me to dust off next year's list and send it in. I know the rezzes I like, and what the Sailors like. It's just a matter of pinning down which goes where.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Breaking news

I've already announced (I think) that the MHL is now the Metro-Hudson League since Mid-Hudson no longer seemed appropriate, and O'C had nothing better to do in between Big Bronx announcements than to come up with new league names. We've also changed the art, so that nasty looking eagle surrounded by Mid-Hudson League is now a nasty looking eagle surrounded by Metrosexual Metro-Hudson League. We also have a new email address, All the contacts have been ported over from the old address, and the old address will continue to be viable for a while.

Now aren't you glad you checked to see what was happening?

Slouching toward ModNov training

I can’t wait till next week, when my mind won’t feel so much like leftover broccoli soup. I’ve had to catch up on so many things at the DJ that I’ve barely treaded water anywhere else. This can’t keep up, I would imagine. I’ll get back to the correct speed and back on top of things soon, and life will go on accordingly. At least I hope so.

I’m starting to direct what little thinking I have available to the issues of how to start off novices in the world of ModNov. I’ll probably do some cross-posting over there, but needless to say, it is an issue of timely necessity, given that we will all have novices in about a month or so. Aside from topic-specific stuff, which wouldn’t come until a little later in the process, it’s not so much creating new curriculum as sorting and organizing the old curriculum in light of ModNov. Last year, thanks to the Fat Man on the Trolley resolution, I started with morality, which appeals to me on some levels (absent ModNov), because people generally have given at least some thought to the concepts of right and wrong by the time they’re high school freshmen, but I don’t think that makes sense in a vacuum, much less with civil disobedience. Do we not challenge the rule of law through civil disobedience, and by it place our own relativistic view of the world higher than the world’s view of the world? If you look at it that way, the rule of law is a much more difficult concept than the rule of relativistic self, and requires more explanation. That explanation goes directly to the creation of society, and thus the social contract. That is, why do we create a society? Then, what happens when we disagree with the society we’ve created? This order sounds right to me.

Speaking of which, the CatNats arguers on a right to health care often simply stated that because the classic constructs of rights protected by soc con did not include health care, therefore there was no such right. As I understand it, John Locke had really good coverage from his AARP supplemental plan, which is why he didn’t make it life, liberty, property and health care (at least except for preexisting conditions; this was the olden days after all). Anyhow, this kind of dogmaticism is probably why classic ethical training in LD has gotten a bad rap. We don’t believe things because Locke (or Rousseau or Kant or Rawls or the Old Baudleroo) said them; Locke (et alia) said them because they believed them. Philosophy is like mathematics: abstract constructs for understanding the real world. At the point at which philosophy is taken as reality, it’s not philosophy anymore.

I think I need another vacation…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jake, the MHLW, Pups and Bump

While I was away, of course, Big Jake came and went. Registration, that is. It opened on August 1st and closed on August 1st. According to O’C, he’s got enough people on the waiting list to run another tournament simultaneously. And a really good tournament at that. But he’s doing it the right way. There have to be limits, of both schools and field, otherwise a handful of schools can throw off the competition completely. All the major national tournaments worth anything work likewise. Not that I don’t like a venue with open limits, mind you, especially when I’ve got a mess o’ novvies to herd, but if you’re trying to develop a highfalutin event, you need highfalutin rules. So it goes.

A few of us are meeting next week to polish the curriculum for the MHL Workshop, or MHLW as we call it. (If you haven’t already done so, check out the details on the MHL site, and feel free to sign up.) We’ve already got a good starter set of JVers signed up in both LD and Policy. Given the late start of the school year (after Labor Day, which is also late), I don’t know what our novice slate will look like. There won’t be any Sailors, for instance. I won’t even have had the first meeting yet. But it might be better if the workshop this year is small. It will give us a chance to try things out and, if it’s a hit, make it bigger, and later, next year.

The next registration on the docket will be for the Pups. I don’t think CP has put anything together yet but he’s got a few hours before it opens and I’m sure he’ll come through. I’ve got a bunch of Sailors lined up, and a bunch of hotel rooms, and some drivers, and at some point between now and the end of this week I’ve got to finalize all of it and make it so.

After that, I’ll have to start thinking about—oy—Bump. Nothing much will change from last year, although I’m beginning to focus in on judge commitments. A lot of people sign up for a tournament and register judges, and then add notes about all the rounds the judges won’t be able to attend. My theory is that if you have debaters in all the rounds, you need judges in all the rounds. Am I missing something here? I’m thinking about eliminating pre-registration fines altogether and instituting missing-judge surcharges. The only problem is, I don’t want people to think that I’m condoning it because I’m allowing them to buy out. Other than that, as I say, it will probably be status quo. As longtime members of the VCA know, I hate Bump with every fiber of my being. I’m happy to run your tournament, but running my own? It is for the proverbial birds.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How I spent my summer vacation

I guess a few summary comments are in order before moving on.

I spent the last two weeks on the left coast. We started out in Palo Alto with a wedding, which I can’t really speak to on an intimate level as these were in-laws with all their preexisting relationship patterns which we visitors simply pass by while keeping our heads down. I pretty much like all of them, but I have no context for their lifetimes of being brothers and sisters and parents and children and whatnot, not to mention the skein of relationships on the other side of the wedding with in-laws of in-laws. Most of us never go there in our lives, and neither will I.

We breezed up for a quick visit to SF after that, primarily to eat and not have to talk to anybody and to catch a train. That worked well, and we traveled overnight from Oakland to Portland in a sleeper car that was no so much reminiscent of “Some Like it Hot” as perhaps being the actual train from “Some Like it Hot.” Shared meals in the dining cars with people from hither and yon with their stories to tell, like how their earlier train hit a boat in Denver and got delayed there, things like that. I took advantage of the opportunity of anonymity and offered to trade murders with a tennis player, but he turned me down.

Portland was 106 degrees when we arrived there, a heat wave like they had never experienced before, and for that matter our entire trip was not crazy hot like this but nice and summery hot throughout, which is unusual for the northwest where it’s always cold and rainy. I was not complaining. Portland is a cute little city that always gets props as being highly livable, and it’s easy to see why, because it’s low-keyed and full of parks and rather cute. It’s also populated by neo-hippies with enough tattoos to keep Queequeg up at night. What is it with the west coast and body ink? Not to mention piercings and goth drag and the like. Thank God I had brought a lot of black clothes with me. The high point of Portland was Powell’s bookstore, which we kept going into and stocking up from. That alone was worth the trip.

By the time we reached Seattle, which is like Portland on steroids, the heat had subsided. To me the (literal) high point was going up the Space Needle and reading how I was probably safe if there was an earthquake. I had not been thinking about earthquakes until I read that announcement, at which point I fell to the floor and crawled back to the elevator.

In addition to body ornament, both these cities were rife with mendicants (secular). You can’t walk five feet without somebody hitting you up for money for something to eat, or so they say. Some of them have dogs, and it is a curious human phenomenon that one feels sorry for the dogs but not for the people. I felt that both of these cities should elect Rudy Giuliani for mayor for a while. For that matter, SF’s homeless situation hasn’t changed in decades, and when we finally reached Vancouver, that whole deal finally exploded, as there were whole neighborhoods of literally crazy people haunting the streets. There’s a curious issue there, whether the mentally ill are better off on the streets. I have no answer.

Anyhow, we saw CLG in Seattle (she’s doing a stint at Redmond working for the former evil empire) which was fun, and it was a pretty good city overall, also livable I guess, but if you’re going to go for living in a city, I say live in NYC which is the paradigm of cities. Anyhow, the last leg of the journey was Vancouver, a pretty place with lots of water and wall-to-wall Canadians. Another manageable city, I guess, if you don’t mind the crazies. Definitely of a piece with Portland and Seattle, except I couldn’t find a Bank of America cash machine. What’s wrong with these Canadians? Aren’t they in America? Jeesh.

Mostly this was a trip of walking around and looking at the sights, many of them natural, plus studying local history, most of which is remarkably recent, aside from the Indian populations. After a while you really want a totem pole in your backyard; I settled for a refrigerator magnet, which is not quite the same thing, but it is easier to get on the plane.

Through it all, I had occasional email access on the Touch, thanks to wireless in all the coffee shops (and this is coffee shop nirvana), so I kept up with O’C who has apparently decided not to run the Big Bronx tournament this year after all because it’s too much of a hassle. Instead he’s going to take my advice and visit Seattle’s SF museum. Of course, it he does, he’ll never leave. I almost didn’t leave. You know you’re doing something right when they have a copy of the book that you’re literally in the middle of reading on display behind solid glass (Perdido Street Station, if you’re curious). The other half of that same museum is dedicated to rock musicians from Seattle (quite a few, actually, aside from 90s literal Nirvana types, chief among them being Jimi Hendrix).

And now I’m back. Lots to catch up on, lots to do. MHLW, States discussions, planning ModNov curriculum, Bump, Pups, etc. A new topic will hit the streets shortly. I’m ready for all of it. I think.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A PF question to ease out of hiatus

It’s going to take me a while to get back to business. So instead of actually blogging anything…

Today’s question from the coachean mailbag is:

I am a Public Forum debater going into my second year of debate. The only experience I have had with debate is PF (unless Congress counts). I read your series on PF, and I just have some questions. I understand the value of using a BI to structure a case, but what strategy should be used in rebuttal speeches in the case that the other team is not using a BI, but three separate, less developed ideas? Furthermore, if one of our three points that make up the Big Idea is taken down in a round, would the rest of the points be enough to support our side?

Damned good question.

If your opponents aren’t using a clear Big Idea to underlie what they’re saying, you have a number of possibilities.

First, they could have a Big Idea, but not know it. The construct I’ve presented of the Big Idea is to help focus your arguments, both when you’re creating cases and when you’re debating them. Sometimes people do this intuitively. So first of all, consider what the opponents have said in their apparently unconnected ideas, and see if they tie together. If they do, then extrapolate the Big Idea from them, and show why that BI isn’t as good as your BI. Sticking to the health care example, let’s say that everything your opponent says is in aid of saving money, and your case is in aid of saving lives. Simple enough.

Of course, if they really are random ideas, and this is quite possible, especially against less polished teams, then your job is to link each of the random strands to your own BI, and demonstrate how your BI takes out those random strands. This maintains clarity of resolve on your side, refutes their side, and makes you look focused and them look random. Better yet, if you can see contradictions in their random points, there’s your main rebuttal. If one thing they say raises costs and another thing they say is in aid of reducing costs, you call them out on their conflict. There are few more satisfying wins then showing why the opponents’ case doesn’t work regardless of your own case.

The key to this, and any refutation, is listening. So few debaters really listen to what the other side says. Often people prepare blocks for things, and apply those blocks even when the blocks don’t really apply. Coming close isn’t good enough, especially if your judge is actually paying attention. In PF this does put an incredible evidentiary burden on both teams, of course, a burden that may not be able to be met in real life. That’s why focusing on the Big Idea seems to important to me. It’s the one thing that any team can do, once they know what they’re talking about. It doesn’t eliminate the need for lots of evidence, but it does make that need manageable.

As for how many legs of a tripod are necessary to hold up a Big Idea, as a general rule independent lines of analysis are obviously better than totally linked lines. Take out one, and the others should still stand. On the other hand, if you are making one straightforward argument in three parts and you lose one part, then yeah, you lost. That’s the way logic works. If your evidence is separate enough that any one is good enough for a ballot, you’ve got the best case scenario. Given that the round will probably boil down to one voter issue at the end, the more things you have that can stand alone and achieve the BI, the better when it comes to choosing what you think is the winner. Unfortunately, that’s the best case scenario. A lot will depend on the actual resolution. So the rule of thumb is, try for independent legs, and try to avoid completely dependent legs. In real life, you’ll usually come out somewhere in the middle.