Saturday, October 31, 2009

FLASH! Menick gives up! Read all about it!

The most fervent members of the VCA know that for a while I was podcasting Nostrum, and then I gave up on that, and then for a while I was just republishing the episodes, and then I gave up on that after a hundred episodes. The conclusion of Nostrum (not that it ever concluded, but there were still an astounding 75 episodes unrevived) was lost in the mists of time and AOL Hometown.

AOL Hometown?

Well, I finally decided the hell with it, and I've given up on giving up, and I just dumped all those files onto my server, where they can be read as they were written, complete with extremely humorous references to the events of the time which will now bafflle even the people who lived through them. There's a lot of dead links, but the stories are there. Imagine, 75 new episodes of Nostrum. And you wondered how you should spend the rest of 2009... Hell, just reading the episode titles is literary adventure at its finest. "Make Him an Aff Case He Can't Refuse." "So Is Teeny Todd Really Sweeney's Little Brother?" "She Looks Askance With Arms Akimbo." And that old favorite: "EconoHovel. Always the Same. People Come. People Go. Nothing Ever Happens." The mind tingles at the thought.

And thus, a legacy of debate fiction is brought to a conclusion. Jules and the Nostrumite, we salute you!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Religion, Part 3 (conclusion)

So far we’ve established that religion is a concept based on non-rational thought that is, by its nature, at the core of believers’ perception of reality. At which point you say, okay, this is all well and good, but what does it have to do with debate?

I’m taking off from a particular reaction to the Nov-Dec topic, but that reaction was not limited to this topic, and has arisen in the past where there have been religious areas in play in a resolution. The issue at hand was a religious objection to immunization; the reaction was, “That’s just stupid.”

The one thing you’ll notice in this series I’ve been writing is that I haven’t addressed the content of religious belief. Nor will I. Because of the nature of religion, one can never address the content of religion as a starting point for discourse. You can’t argue about it, in other words, not only because of the close holding of the belief but also because of faith’s lack of rational structure. You cannot argue against something that does not respond to argumentation. As I said initially, religious beliefs are a-logical, outside the realm of logic. Argument is a tool from the realm of logic. Arguing about religion is like using a power saw to play the piano. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

This is why we don’t use religion as the warrants for our claims in debate. If we are arguing a moral question, most likely our religion provides clear warrants for a particular position. But to make a claim and warrant its truth as its being the word of God would not allow for much subsequent discussion. If I quote Joe Biden and you quote God, then pretty clearly your source outranks my source. So what we do is look for ways of making ethical judgments other than our religions. Good ethical judgments grounded in secular thinking ought to be roughly what our religions tell us. Good ethical judgments, for instance, tell us not to kill and steal and so forth, with no appeal to religious doctrine. We can make ethical determinations, in other words, without appeal to religion that are nonetheless congruent with religion.

Still, we do come up against issues where we are arguing about religion. In these cases we cannot argue religion’s content (in the case in point, the reason a religion might object to immunization), because that is irrelevant to the discussion, and impossible to change (because, being religious, it’s non-rational and core). What can be argued in any situation I’ve ever seen where its come up, is the role of religious versus secular concerns. That is totally debatable, and we see examples around the world of almost every possible combination of religion and secular in different cultures ranging from the totally separate to the totally intertwined. To evaluate what they mean, we need to step back from the content to the structure, to look not at what is being said but how its being said. We must look at the religious and the secular as societal structures, and evaluate their interplay abstractly, with an understanding of what religion is and what society is, absent a concern with the nature of a particular religion or a particular society.

Are you feeling structuralist yet? Are you doing the Caveman dance? The pulling away from the study of content to the study of structures was one of the milestones of 20th Century scholarship. And as far as I can tell, it’s the only way for debaters to meaningfully address issues of religion in society.

Back to the example. The X people won’t be immunized because it is against their religion. Responses?
1. “This is scientifically wrong because immunization yadda yadda yadda whatever.” Not a good response. Why? You’re arguing the content. The X people don’t give a crap what science says, and all the science in the world won’t change their minds. So even if you’re right, you’re not solving the problem.
2. “Society must prioritize public health concerns over private religious concerns.” A much better response (although I’m not necessarily saying it’s the correct one). Here you’re allowing for the X people to believe whatever they want to believe, but addressing the issue in a “what do we do when secular and religious conflict” mode, regardless of the content of the conflict.

I hope you understand what I’ve been trying to say. In a nutshell, I’m suggesting that you, first, understand what religion is, and, second, begin to think about ways of addressing it that take that understanding into consideration. Your beliefs or my beliefs or anyone’s beliefs are beside the point, but the role those beliefs play in arenas outside of the purely religious are very much the point. You can’t argue religion, but you can argue about religion, in other words. That’s the bottom line. And considering the religious nature of the society we live in, it’s probably good advice. People can believe whatever they want to believe, and they do, in vast numbers. That’s fine. When their beliefs cause a conflict beyond the boundaries of religion, that’s not fine. And that’s the ground on which we can stand as debaters.

(Podcastian interlude)

Check out Not only is the latest episode up, but I've belatedly responded to the comments on the last episode.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Religion, Part 2

As we said, religion is both primary and transcendent. What you believe about your religion probably takes precedence over all else, and it probably provides meaning or context for all else. Religious belief is mental ground zero. And as we also said, because religious belief relies on faith rather than logic and experience, it is different from most of our empirical approach to life in general.

This might be a good analogy. Imagine that you have a headache, a pounding in the back of your brain that won’t go away. You visit the doctor, who performs all the possible tests and discovers that, beyond any doubt, there is nothing wrong with you. What happens when the doctor tells you this? Does your head stop hurting? Of course not. Whatever you feel, you feel, and someone telling you that you don’t feel it is patently absurd. That you feel the pain is incontrovertible, even if, objectively, there is no reason for you to feel the pain. Just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean your head still doesn’t hurt.

Philosophers have juggled around the complexities of what is objective reality and what is subjective perception since the first powwow in the cave lo those many years ago. We intuit that there probably is an objective reality, but we realize that each individual brain may perceive that reality differently. Each individual brain has no ability to know anything beyond its own perceptions. Thus we piece together what we think might be objective reality by pooling our subjective perceptions. (And this can, at times, not be a good thing: study your Foucault, for instance, if you want to understand the nature of relativism in the 20th Century.) We are each a relativistic brain possessing its own share of objective reality.

The nature of knowledge, meanwhile, is variable. For instance, I know that Nightingale McQueen played Prissy in “Gone with the Wind.” You come along and tell me, no, it was Butterfly McQueen. I realize that you are right and I was wrong. Henceforth, I will store Butterfly in my brain instead of Nightingale. The thing is, this is just some random piece of information in my brain. I have no investment in it’s being correct or incorrect. I don’t really care. It can be this fact, or that fact. Whichever. It is just an item on the shelf, replaceable by another item, if the need arises. I do not define myself by what is one these shelves; they’re just storage areas for data.

Another form of knowledge is derivational. That is, I have worked it out on the basis of various premises. It is the result of my own active mental processes. For instance, I have studied anthropology, and know all the various branches of early hominid. I can name every fossil line from the missing link to Sarah Palin. The problem is, all of a sudden they discover a new skeleton in the Olduvai Gorge, and the whole schema of human evolution needs to be rewritten. Now, this may be harder for me to accept than the Nightingale Butterfly problem, because while that was just some random fact, the process of evolution is one that I have studied in depth and one on which I have reached various conclusions. Still, when the new skeleton comes along, I can rethink everything I’ve thought before and work that new piece of information into what I already know. After all, the accumulation of knowledge about this subject before I know about that skeleton was also a process of adding new information and evaluating it, and I’m just continuing the process. Even when it requires a total paradigm shift, I can handle it. It is the rational part of my brain doing its job, which is reasoning: new information, new thinking or perhaps rethinking. Whatever. It may be harder for me to make the shift for the new skeleton and a total new picture of evolution than it was with Nightingale Butterfly, which was simply a substitution of one fact (erroneous) for another (correct), but I can do it eventually. My investment in my prior knowledge was deeper than N/B, in that I had worked for it, but it was not self-definitional. Even if my job were anthropologist, I could make the shift, because that’s part of an anthropologist’s job, to update the paradigms when a new skeleton is found. In fact, it’s the so-called scientific method, to test ideas against the evidence at hand. The scientific method pretty much explains how the brain does its rational thinking on a philosophical level, whether or not we’re talking about science.

So, we see two types of knowledge, simple and complex. But both are flexible. Unlike the pain in my head, which I felt, these were simply pieces of information in my head, mere thoughts that I knew. Tell me that they’re not there, so to speak, and I have no problem with it. But tell me that the pain in my head is not there? Sorry, my head still hurts. Even though it is only what I think rather than what I have had demonstrated to me as true, my brain still accepts it as true, and more to the point, true beyond analysis or refutation. If I feel the pain, the pain is there.

Religious belief, based as it is on faith rather than rational process, is like the pain in the head, not because it’s real or unreal (that’s not my point) but that we feel it rather than rationally deduce it. At the point where we move from reason to faith, we leave reason behind. We believe what we believe because we believe it. Religion is not random facts like N/B, or knowledge we’ve worked out like science. It is things that we believe because we believe them, and because we choose to believe them. And, because they are prime, transcendent beliefs, they are probably even more unshakeable than that pain in our head. What it boils down to is, not only is religion the most important thing to many people, it is also a thing that is not subject to rational evaluation. This is why you can’t argue with someone about their religion. People believe their beliefs because they believe them, and they are of primary importance to them. You come along with some mere rational objection, and the religious person doesn’t care. Their beliefs, formed by faith rather than rationality, are not subject to rational evaluation. It’s pointless to attempt such an evaluation. You’re the doctor telling me my head doesn’t hurt. Sorry, but it does hurt. You can’t tell me otherwise.

Remarkably enough, despite the fact that religious belief is non-rational (it is not irrational, which is something else altogether, which I’m not going to go into because I’m not arguing about the content of religion but the nature of belief, which are two different things entirely), most people on the planet are religious, and do hold religious beliefs. This is rather curious, in a way, and points to a few possibilities. Maybe there’s something about being human that requires spirituality, or maybe spirituality is an objective reality and our religions are our ways of approaching that inherently unknowable concept. It doesn’t matter. The point is, most people do believe, whatever it is they believe in, and whether or not what they believe in is true.

With one tiny exception. There are no atheists in foxholes, as the saying goes. But, damn, there are an awful lot of atheists in debate rounds. Ask these people to evaluate something with a religious aspects, and they’re at a total loss. They simply cannot get past the rational/objective: “You believe in what? That’s preposterous.”

Well, yeah. It’s faith. It is non-rational, by definition. But, young padowan, you’d better get it into your head that this doesn’t make it any less real to the people who believe in it (who, by the way, might be right). And so often non-believing debaters want to attack the belief rather than the structures that contain it.

In this path lies madness.

[To be continued.]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Religion, Part 1

There’s a lot of interesting material for discussion in a subject area we normally tend to shy away from. As a general rule, that area is not only divisive but, I would imagine for many teachers, potentially dangerous. They could lose their jobs over it, in other words. As the saying goes, you can’t argue religion or politics. In our world, we just can’t argue religion. I can’t say that I’ve talked about it all that much myself, at least here. My goal is to inform and/or entertain, not to piss people off. So I’ve avoided the subject because of all its landmines.

So much for that.

The debate world, by default, does not make arguments that appeal to religious beliefs. Our task is to employ a combination of evidence and logic in aid of reasoned discussion of issues. Religion, on the other hand, employs neither. Therefore, an appeal to religion would not result in a reasoned discussion of issues because that is not what religion is about. Religion is about faith. Faith, by its very nature, is a suspension of logic and empiricism as the mind accepts as true ideas that are not logical and for which there is no evidence. Faith, therefore, appears to be a very special aspect of human thought, because unlike most human thought, it runs on a track that accepts things unquestioningly versus a track that questions everything. Abraham’s willingness to kill his son at the command of God is one of the great examples of faith over all else. There is no way Abraham can do this without a most powerful faith (and trust) in the Almighty. This faith and trust is notably rewarded when God relieves Abraham of this burden after he has proved himself worthy.

So faith does not rely on logic. But the point is not that faith is illogical. It’s a-logical. It’s in another realm altogether. It is not measured by the tools that measure logic or facts. It is not thought of in those terms. There is much writing by religious people on this subject; there are plenty of teachings in, for example, the Roman Catholic religion on faith that are very much along these lines. Having faith asks you to accept things because you accept them. You accept them not because you can prove them but despite the fact that you cannot prove them. That’s what faith is all about.

The need to maintain faith without resorting to logic seems to apply to all religions. The study of the role of religion in human society (absent the truth of religion in human society) demonstrates a number of things, chief among them being that the vast majority of people in the world do maintain a belief in religion. We can extrapolate from this a number of possibilities. One is that people have some sort of need for religion in their lives, and therefore invent religion to fulfill that need. Another is that there is indeed a spiritual world, and the variety of religions extant in the world are our attempt to understand that spiritual world. That spiritual world is, by definition, beyond our limited human understanding, so we do the best we can trying to figure it out. Often we have what we consider divine revelations to help us along, i.e., books or signs that we interpret as the emanation of the divine. Some religions like to think that their revelations are somehow the true ones, and everyone else’s revelations are untrue. Other religions take a more ecumenical view, trusting that most revelations are indeed divine, and simply different from culture to culture because, as I said, the spiritual world, while it does exist according to their thinking, is beyond our limited human understanding. This sort of thinking leads one religion to respect another religion. Thinking that your religion is better than someone else’s religion, on the other hand, leads to things like holy wars (the ultimate oxymoron).

Faith is not only logic-defying, but deeply held. One is not a proponent of their religion at the same level that one is a proponent of, say, their local baseball team. The latter is an arbitrary commitment that can take on an appearance of depth, but is never more than just fandom, even when engaged in rabidly. There are a lot of the trappings of religion, though. One is a fan of a team for reasons that defy logic, and one supports one’s team over other teams through thick and thin. But, ultimately, it’s just being a sports fan. It is subscribing to belief in an alternate universe (sports) for the purpose of recreation or, perhaps at its deepest level, self-identification because that sport is, for the self-identifier, the key pastime. It can even be an obsession, but it is never comparable to religion even when it is metaphorically a religion. Religion holds the power of eternal life and death, of explaining the mysteries of the universe, of connecting the human to the divine. For even the biggest sports nut, none of these are possible returns on fan investment. Comparing sports fandom to religious fervor merely allows us to begin to understand the sports fan; it does not make sports and religion identical.

As I say, religion is the realm of eternal life and death, of explaining the mysteries of the universe, and of connecting the human to the divine. There can be nothing of greater importance than these ideas to the human mind. From a structuralist perspective on secular society, the hierarchy of concern is self then immediate family then extended family then friends then community, etc., in the long line of formative moral binds (although, at times, they can be juggled, for instance when a soldier gives his or her life for country). Religion is the transcendent idea preceding even the self, taking the structuralist to a level beyond secular: the divine, then self, etc., etc. By definition, therefore, nothing can be more important to the individual than religion. And religion not only tops the hierarchy, but it transcends all the other levels.

Religion, in other words—i.e., belief and faith—is, among those who possess it, an absolute primary. Is it any wonder, therefore, that we don’t want to argue about it?

[Continued next time.]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

There's a difference between flying a plane and having wings, as Miyazaki would point out

Max Xatx asks the musical question: “What do you do as a judge if a debater says something totally false.” By this he meant not that the debater was lying about something, but that what was being presented as fact was, in reality, so much onion sauce. He thought that this might not be a bad subject for the blog.

Now, I’m open to people suggesting subjects for CL. Members of the VCA are well aware that I ran out of original ideas somewhere back in 2004, so it’s nice to move away from the tried and true (and tried and tried and true again, truly) into something different. Then again, if MX asks for a royalty, the hell with him. Let him talk to O’C, who’s still getting that $5K per WTF post. Nobody pays me $5K for CL postings. I mean, I’m lucky to get maybe two grand out of each one of them. If I had Cruz’s money, on the other hand…

Anyhow, it’s a classic conundrum, and one that we actually teach our new parent judges. The deal is this: one debater says that pigs fly. You, as the judge, know that pigs are land-bound, but that is not the issue here. It is up for the opponent to respond that pigs don’t fly. So there are a number of possibilities. First, the opponent responds that pigs don’t fly. At this point, pigs don’t fly. Depending on that opponent’s argument, we may have grounded our pigs forever. Then again, if the first debater comes back with further evidence of pig aviators (e.g., some stills from Porco Rosso, q.v.), then we’re in the middle of things again.

The rule of thumb is, if an argument is made, it is up to the opponent to refute it. If the opponent doesn’t refute it, the argument stands. If the unrefuted argument is fallacious, it still stands. That’s just the nature of debate. It’s about the two people in the front of the room, not about the judge. If the judge were evaluating the truth of each person’s case, they wouldn’t have to debate it. They could just hand in their cases and sit down and wait to hear who had the best material.

Kaz was there when MX and I were talking, and as she pointed out, it was unfair to the flying pig debater for the judge to intervene with his or her own information on porcine aviation. “Why should the opponent who doesn’t respond that pigs can’t fly, and apparently doesn’t know any better, get the benefit of the judge’s pointing it out?” Good point. When a judge intervenes, it benefits one side and harms the other, and by what mechanism can a judge know when it is okay to intervene and when it is not okay to intervene? Debate rounds provide no such mechanism, which is why it’s not right to do it. *[See exception at the bottom.]

Judges need to keep in mind that common knowledge may not be as common as you think, especially among high school students being judged by college students or adults, who by definition have acquired more experience and, by extension, more knowledge than younger folks. I always get my knickers in a twist, for instance, when students confuse the Declaration and the Constitution, which is like confusing hamburgers and broccoli, if you ask me, but I don’t determine winners and losers on the basis of their confusion (although I do write enlightening little essays on the ballot on the history of the US, part one, the early years). It is how the round plays out between the two debaters that matters, not what the judge knows and thinks.

This leads obviously into a darker area, where the judge has opinions on the resolution, or opinions how the debate ought to progress, or any sort of opinions about what is happening that is not simply the opinion that the debaters will debate and the judge will pick up the debater who, theoretically, wins the argument that has ensued for the last 45 minutes. This is what we mean when we want a judge to be tabula rasa. We want a judge to enter the room with the least amount of preconceived notions, and to listen to the round that actually occurs, and to adjudicate it to the best of his or her abilities. This does not mean testing what is heard against the judge’s own knowledge or opinions. It means testing what is heard from one side against what is said by the other side. Even the rules of LD allow for ad hoc voting issues to be set in CX, meaning that whatever agreement the debaters set for determining the win, that is how the win will be determined. It doesn’t matter if the judge thinks that’s good or bad, that is still what the judge has to go by. Judges who go into the round thinking that, I don’t know, all debates are searches for the truth or some nonsense like that, and that the debater who comes closes to the truth wins is just engaging in self-delusion. The debaters determine what the debate is about. Deal with it.

There’s another aspect to this, which is simply the dropped argument per se, good or bad. Some arguments are more important than others, certainly, and all arguments need to be weighed, but realistically, if I’m training a new judge, I’m advising them to look at drops, and no doubt they are evaluating the rounds as much as anything on an arithmetic analysis of droppage. They will develop past this as they learn to flow and hear more debates, but this is a good rule of thumb for any debater standing in front of a neophyte judge: That judge is, by virtue of experience (or lack thereof) more inclined to take a quantitative view of the proceedings than a qualitative one. So, adjust accordingly. Some parent judges may never see past the drops, in other words. Adjust your arguing accordingly.

All of this points to why I think that the worse judges are, in descending order, high school upperclassmen, first-year-outs, and everyone else, with the first two groups virtually neck-and-neck. Debaters and recent debaters tend to put too much of themselves into a round, comparing what they hear to what they would do themselves. College judges eventually get past it, especially if they do a serious amount of judging, or so little judging that they really don’t have a horse in the race. Upperclassmen judging underclassmen, on the other hand, can be awfully wedded to their own ideas, however idiotic. And, after all, they may be only a week older than the person they’re judging, if that. Debaters, in those cases, need to adjust accordingly, but since they’re underclassmen and by definition new to the game, it’s not that easy.

So, that sums up about 27 different things, but I think MX’s answer is in there somewhere.

[* The exception: there are some arguments that are patently offensive and need to be regarded as such. I would ask that judges keep their sensitivity set on bull moose as a general rule, but statements that are aggressively racist, sexist, anti-religious group, etc., do need to be addressed in the adjudication by the judge. You shouldn’t pick up the guy proposing killing all the Jews or blacks or women or whatever, in other words. There needs to be a stern penalty for content that goes beyond the social norms of acceptable high school discourse. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is a different business altogether from what I am discussing here.]

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grizzly veterans v. fuzzy-face noobies

Historically the first MHL has always been for first-timers only. In recent years, we have added a JV division. So far, no problem. But this year, a couple of schools that were involved in a two-round scrimmage wanted to come, but would have been disallowed because they were no longer first-timers. What the hey, we said, no one will have debated much, so we will just call it the first MHL. We were being good guys all the way.

It didn’t work. In addition to those hapless scrimmagers, there were some debaters hitting the boards for the 4th time this season, which gave them an overwhelming advantage over the raw noobs. Not that the first MHL is about winning over your opponent so much as winning over your adrenaline and just getting the hang of things, but this was counterproductive in the extreme. The executive council (O’C and I, with Kurt unavailable for comment) of the MHL has decreed the following for next year:
1. First-timers is reinstated as first-timers. If you’ve debated elsewhere, then that was your first-timer event; leave this one for somebody else.
2. If you debated in middle school, then you aren’t a novice in the eyes of the MHL.
2. JV is, simply put, sophomores in their second year; sophomores who debated in middle school are not permitted, nor are juniors in their third year. Exemptions will be granted on a request basis (for juniors in their second year, but we want absolute clarity on this).

The thing is, there is no place for third year debaters at the MHL, whether they are JV in their third overall year in high school or in a combo of middle and high school. For the life of me I can’t see how debating down does much of anything except give an obvious win to the over-experienced student who will, as a result, not get any better, and give an obvious loss to a student who, at least in this one venue, ought to have had a chance. It’s tough enough being a novice or young JVer. Being a novice or young JVer against impossible competition is a disservice to everyone involved.

Of course, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. For the most part, the bazillion debaters at Bronco Scientology on Saturday were in the right place at the right time, and all the usual novice follies ensued. They’re so cute before they start reading Foucault! They get lost, they are struck dumb, they ask when it will end… So cute. But of course, you’re reading this blog because you want the dirt, and as usual, there were a couple of schools (same ones year after year) that were up to their old tricks, in addition to the above (which, honestly, was our own damned fault). Such as:

“Hi. I’d like to change the following thirty entries.” Incorrectly.


“We’re all here and accounted for.” Except the ones who weren’t there and accounted for, because we never even bothered to check.


“Our judge has to go home now. He’s got to get his flatulence vaccine.” Or some other excuse. One wonders how these goobers expect a tournament to run every round without judges judging every round. Maybe they think we have an endless supply of the ever-popular Clarence Thomas inflatable SCOTUS dolls that we can prop them up in the back of the room with a pad and pen. Jeesh!

The problem in at least one of these cases was the lack of an adult signing in. I missed it in the rush. Next time, I’m carding them! In other cases, it was willfully ignoring the 27 emails I sent telling them that we were not interested in their shenanigans. On the positive side, the vast majority of registrants were shenanigan-free, for which I thank them enthusiastically. As for you yo-yos who just don’t get it, you try our patience! But our patience is not available as free samples. You have to earn it. You have not.

I’ll be bringing my army of attack gerbils to registration at Byram and Monticello. Be warned!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Twas the night before the MHL, you jolly old elf!

I spent a while last night sorting out the data for tomorrow's Metro-Hudson League inaugural event. 125 novice LDers, for a start. There had been a glitch in tabroom’s data upload that CP fixed, so thankfully everything came in like a dream, except of course with this many people, name repetitions are rife, and they come in as XX and ZZ and the like. But it doesn’t take long to sort those out, as long as your remember to do it. Then, of course, there’s the dawdlers, who forget about the deadline. The thing is, one does do other things with one’s life other than sitting at the computer making your changes (although, I admit, between this blog and TVFT and Twitter and Facebook and whatnot, in my case it really doesn’t look like it, but I assure you that it’s true). There’s no penalty for lateness other than my giving you dirty looks. Some of them (the dawdlers, not the dirty looks) are honest, some of them are well-meaning, some of them are every single tournament, week after week after week. You know who you are, you spalpeen! Yeah, you. No, not that new coach down the street just figuring out the ropes. No, not that veteran who made an honest mistake. No, I mean YOU! AGAIN!


By the way, O’C is terribly upset that the medals for tomorrow still say Mid-Hudson League instead of Metrosexual League. On the bright side, at least now we know that there is one person in the universe who, A) noticed that the medals for tomorrow still say Mid-Hudson League instead of Metrosexual League, and B) cares that the medals for tomorrow still say Mid-Hudson League instead of Metrosexual League. If O’C didn’t exist, I guess we’d have to invent him. (With minor modifications.)

The list function finally appeared on my Twitter page today. Thank goodness. I like following a lot of people, but there’s a difference between people I know and people who amuse me. (I amuse you? You think I’m funny?) Twitter lists (like FB lists) will allow me to sort them all out. Yesterday, for instance, I mistakenly sent a DJ tweet out through @debatetab instead of my DJ account. My initial inclination was to send another tweet disavowing the previous tweet, but that just compounds the error. Lists oughta help me here.

As one might expect, with prior knowledge of the players involved, my daughter’s comment yesterday on judges and yappy students cut to the chase. If you want the judge to talk, fine: the judge talks, the debaters zip it. ‘Nuff said. And to think, it took me about three blog posts to get to that. And I’m the one who condenses for a living. Jeesh.

Anyhow, tomorrow will be the usual comedy of novices bumping up against the walls for the day, parents realizing that jumping out the window won’t solve anything because they’re in the basement, Bronx toilets bubbling at right below the overflow stage—the full inaugural monty, so to speak. If I said I wasn’t looking forward to it, I’d be lying. Let the Metrosexual Debate Games begin!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back to the Bronx; The Case of the Disappearing Debaters; TVFT vill be bock; Xatz!

271 teams for this week’s first MHL. 70 of them are policy, 30 PF, the rest LD (127 of these being novices). Yee-ha! Just when Bronx Science thought that it was going back into its box, we return the following weekend with one of the biggest tournaments in the northeast. Again. (Better them than me.)

As a general rule, the first MHL of the year, attended as it is by multitudes of raw recruits, is something of a jumble. There’s a lot of not knowing where to go and what to do, all of it come by honestly. Throw into this a bunch of parent judges that we’ll be training, not to mention that I’ll be training Go-go Joe on the back end on how to tab, and you’ve got quite the clambake. The confusion usually settles down by halfway into round 2, however. I hope.

This week’s Sailorfest was remarkably well unattended. (I went looking for a jokey tumbleweeds image to post here, and found this: Check it out, and leave it on for a few seconds. Welcome to the 90s.) The plebes were there in newbie force, but the rest of the team was apparently abducted by aliens. Of course, I had planned for a 50/50, so the second 50 was all vamping, entirely calorie- and nutrition-free. Oy. Better planning in the future. In any case, two of the plebes are set for Saturday. As for the others, one looks to have cases ready by Easter, and the couple of others could be ready any time from right this second to that date on the Mayan calendar when Roland Emmerich comes out with a new movie. (I shudder at the thought. Of the movie, that is, not the cases.) We’ll see. One thing we did at the meeting was some ad hoc flowing instruction. Went well. I read a paragraph, and some of them caught a few words. Then, for comparison, I asked SuperSquirrel (who did show up) to flow a different paragraph, and, well, she missed maybe a few words. Very impressive display, if you ask me. If you learn nothing else from debate you will learn how to take supremely solid notes, a skill that will actually be worth something beyond high school. So at least we’re good for something.

TVFT was interesting last night. We mostly talked about placing judges in rounds, everything from random to MJP. The more you look at this stuff, the harder it gets to hold some hard-and-fast opinion that it ought to be one specific way (the story of my life). I’ll be working on the podcast after this gets posted, and it should be up before long. Keep an ear out. (And do comment over at the TVFT blog. We want to hear what people have to say.)

And I’ll explain what I meant about something a few days ago: Max Katz. The K sound is spelled both with an X and a K. The S sound is spelled with both an X and a Z. It should be, unquestionably, Maks Kats. Or, questionably, Max Xatx. I sort of like Max Xatx; it’s like an old D.C. superhero secret identity. Of course, my favorite wrong name of all time (aside from names like Beauchamps pronounced Beechum and Talifiero pronounce Tolliver and those other British jumbles) is Sean Bean. Is it pronounced Seen Been, long Es? Or Shawn Bawn? The correct pronunciation is, needless to say, totally ridiculous. (Sean, if you’re reading this blog, my apologies for dragging you into this discussion. Then again, if you’re reading this blog, your career is worse off than any of us could have imagined, and that’s something I do not feel a need to apologize about. You can’t blame me for that.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Final answer? Part Two: Final Harder

Max’s question in the comment to the recent post highlights the original problem. The judge starts talking, and the debater responds, and then the judge is not sure of the decision anymore.

Well, that could happen, for a variety of reasons. But here’s the issue. What about the other debater? Does he get to put his two cents in too? Going back to the first debater, how long does he have to speak in the afterround? How long does the opponent have to speak in the afterround rebuttal? What, exactly, are the rules for the debate after the debate is over?

That’s the crux of this. The debate is over. In this example, the decision has been made. Given the number of split decisions in multi-judge rounds, of course there’s more than one way to look at a round, and an alternate decision is often possible. But that alternate decision wasn’t made in this case, even if it might have been. At the point where we go off the clock, and beyond the rules, and are still arguing, and the ballot is still fair game, we lose the ability to provide a fair environment for the contest. When you think about it, most of the rules of the activity are devoted entirely to that fairness, rather than content.

Back to the beginning. The round ends when the timer sounds after the 2AR. Then the judge makes a decision, absent any interference, in a reasonable amount of time, studying the flow and, if necessary, calling for evidence. There can absolutely be no calls for clarification from the debaters: they already had 16 carefully regulated minutes each to do their clarifying. At the point where the judge announces that a decision is reached, and/or the ballot is collected, the decision is final.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Final answer?

It takes a while to get back on track after 4 days away. My feeds, for instance, both for debate and the DJ, are woefully unattended, being secondary functions at best. I did prep up last night for tonight’s Sailorfest, however. Last chance to convince the plebes that, for reasons that are apparently hard to understand, actually going out and debating is one of those pesky albeit integral aspects of being a member of the debate team. Also, I had a moment of enlightenment on Bump and realized that, worst-case scenario, I could put tab in a classroom and a bunch of PF rounds in the library. The waiting list has shrunk accordingly. And it’s not as if our library is all that great as far as tab rooms go. No comfy chairs, no internet, nothing special. In fact, putting tab and ballots over by the cafeteria makes a ton of logistical sense. Even if things settle down and the entries start dropping like flies, I may still make the move. And last night I even entered some NFL points; I’m hoping to catch up with O’C and the Scientologists one of these days. Except he knows all the ways to garner points and I only know one: try to remember to enter points now and then. No surprise there, eh?

One issue that I think I can address without too much mental exercise (there’s a couple of issues outstanding) is that of when a ballot is over. That is, at what point is a ballot considered submitted and fixed? There are different aspects to this worth discussing. First of all, we need to establish the premise that the ballot is the judge’s evaluation of the round. Period. Nothing else should play into this. Other things often do, but they shouldn’t. We all know that sometimes judges vote on reputation, or personal bias, or something patently bogus, which is something we, as a community, can’t do very much about. If the topic is capital punishment and I’m against capital punishment and no argument will ever convince me that cp is good in any situation, then I shouldn’t be judging that round. Most of us aren’t like that, at least that baldly, but there are other, more subtle prejudices: a tendency to prefer one kind of debate over another, for instance. But even judges with strong opinions about debate are usually more than open to whatever goes on in the round, and don’t vote on their preference when it obviously lost the round at hand. What I’m saying is, the goal is that the ballot reflect the round, and the round only.

With this idea in mind, it is pretty standard to suggest that, after the round ends, the debaters should not continue debating it. While there are rules about speeches and timings during the round, there are no rules surrounding how much time someone can spend convincing the judge after the last timer has gonged. If the judge is unclear on a point, asking the debaters for clarification is not the solution. Of course, a judge can ask to read evidence. That’s fine by me. On the other hand, I personally am a little against asking for a case; if the debater was so garbled that you couldn’t understand what he or she was saying when he or she said it, unless there’s a physical disability involved, reading the case is counter to the idea of public speaking, an inherent aspect of debate. To me, reading a case is sort of cheating on the judge’s part, and not fair to the debater whose case isn’t read. Unless of course both cases are read, at which point we could all have stayed home in the first place. So, point number one, no more persuading after the round has ended.

Occasionally (and this happened at BBv3.0), a judge will come by and say that they want to change the speaker points after a ballot is entered (sometimes way after a ballot is entered). This is not allowed. (Of course, if they’ve read the results posting and seen an inaccuracy, that’s different, and of course we’ll fix our errors.) The thing is, we have no idea what has transpired since the ballot was delivered, and neither do the debaters. Once you’ve given your ballot to the runner (or ballot table, or tab), it’s over. We could all reflect till the cows come home and honestly and sincerely change our minds a hundred times, so we set a moment beyond which you can’t do that. That moment is when you pass the ballot along into the system.

A third case is when a judge changes his or her mind while contemplating the round. This is not unheard of, and what happens is this. The round ends, and the judge precipitously marks up the ballot. But, while putting together the RFD and studying the flow, the judge realizes that such-and-such was said or whatever, and that the decision is not as originally seen. The ballot is changed accordingly. (This happens a lot with speaker points, less often with actual decisions). In these cases, it is simply the judge sitting there thinking and making a decision. There is no discussion with anyone. Now the thing is, we’ve already established that there’s no discussion after the round, and no changing the ballot after it’s handed in. But the period between the end of the round and the handing in of the ballot is the judge’s time to do whatever the judge wants in figuring the round in the privacy of that judge’s mind. I’ve judged a lot of rounds in my day and some of them were over in the AC and some of them took a lot of time after the round was over to parse, argument by argument, weight by weight. So what we are asking for in tab is that the judge deliver the best decision possible, by honest means. If it takes a while, and requires some paradigm shifting, so be it. (Just don’t hold up the tournament, you yabbo!)

By the way, along these lines, quite a few ballots are filled out incorrectly by a judge, and then corrected by that judge, without any influence whatsoever. We write down the wrong thing, fill out the wrong box, whatever. Would the rule be, if we didn’t accept what I’m saying here about this situation, that if a judge incorrectly fills out a ballot, an honest mistake, we are stuck with the wrong decision because that was the original decision? Na’ah.

So the deal is this: once the round is over, the judge is required to use nothing but the judge noodle to sort it out (although with recourse to evidence, if desired). No further debating may ensue, and it is the judge’s responsibility to prohibit such debating. Then, the judge will think and do whatever it takes until submitting the ballot, at which point it is fixed for all time. These parameters are clear and logical. And they’re the ones we use week after week after week (after week after week—I need a new night job!).

Monday, October 19, 2009


Debating at a major tournament has to be pretty draining, but at least you get out before the tab room and you arrive in the morning after the tab room. In other words, the people who sleep the least on a tournament weekend, aside from the tournament directors who leave after and arrive before even tab, are the yabbos at the computer. Like me and Kaz on LD and Stefan and Nicole and Sarah on Policy. I don’t know about any of the others, but the minute I got home yesterday I fell asleep. I set a timer to wake me up in half an hour, at which point I got up and started dinner and then I lit a fire and read the papers and did the puzzle and then we ate and shortly thereafter, after reading O’C’s various requests for paperwork (he even saves the wrappers from the deli sandwiches in the Bronxology archives, so every other document having to do with the event is obviously on his to-get list as well, unlike the rest of us who, aside from saving the results pdf, toss out the entire thing, including the lost and found items, about an hour before the final round is started), I tucked in for the night. I was, in a word, pooped. It’s nice to know that the next three weekends are walks in the park, one-day affairs with novices and JVers. It will allow me to recharge the old batteries for Bump (which is still oversubscribed—would you people PLEASE drop some entries!). Autumn used to be a lot easier, but nowadays, it’s the Yale-Monti-BBv3.0 triangle, with Bump for dessert a few weeks later, followed almost immediately by the Tiggers, who need a bit more hand-holding than the average bear. Then things lighten up. Finally.

At one point in the tournament this last weekend, I got pissed off at something or other, as I tend to do at all tournaments (and which, of course, I immediately regret). I find it interesting that my emotional level is so high at these events. At the DJ, my emotional level is roughly set at comatose. I read and write and edit, all very quiet, intellectual pastimes. I mean, I also schedule and organize and manage and all that sort of thing, and occasionally I am forced to cock an eyebrow, but only one at a time (although, if necessary, I can do one or the other or both, as warranted). But the tide seldom rises particularly high, and we seldom see a whitecap out on the waves, and most of the winds are warm and balmy. Meanwhile, at tournaments, the adrenaline level for everybody is set to boil, and all the winds are hot and barmy. Maybe that’s why I like doing this. It puts a little sizzle in the old existence. I mean, I can’t imagine not doing it. So, yeah, it poops me out, but I like being pooped out. What the hell else would I have been doing in my spare time?

Some interesting questions arose over the weekend. I want to talk about the nature of strikes and rankings on TVFT. Some people obviously have a strategy in mind with these, and it would be nice to sort it out. The thing is, plenty of superlative judges are ranked low by schools that obviously know they’re superlative. An interesting anomaly, obviously for political reasons (as I’ve mentioned here when talking about the RR). We should clarify this. (Also, for the record, strikes should not preclude a ranking: I might strike an A judge for reasons having nothing to do with my estimation of that judge’s skill as a judge.) Max Katz (a name that strikes me as being terribly misspelled) brought up an interesting point on flying pigs that deserves its own posting here. Also the issue of when a ballot is final needs to be addressed, as this came up a couple of times in different contexts (and has arisen at other tournaments recently as well). All in good time, my pretty, all in good time…

By the way, I’m sorry that we didn’t do TVFT last week, but O’C claimed to be too busy. Yeah, right. Getting a pedicure, probably. What else did he have to do last week? Jeesh.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The Big Bronx is not back. I can attest to this first hand. I used to attend the Big Bronx tournament. It was pretty good, in its heyday.

The tournament that took place this weekend is a whole ‘nother animal. It’s not merely Big Bronx rebooted: it’s Big Bronx version 3.0 for a new millennium. It was not pretty good, it was the strongest tournament Bronx has ever run. Let me put it this way: the 4-3s were all pretty much bid-worthy. The 5-2s were epic. I don’t even want to think about the higher brackets.

Putting this sort of tournament together requires a couple of things. First of all, you’ve got to have judges. If you’re going to get on an airplane, you want a certain level of adjudication that is professional, predictable, and readable. This is not to say that you love all the judges, but you can strike enough of them that you don’t like, and rank all the rest in such a way that you are unlikely to get them in a clutch situation. But here’s the key: there have to be enough of them that only the strong judges ever get their hands on you if you’re in any sort of jeopardy, including the presets. With the number of judges at BBv3.0, hired by the tournament, we were able to place ONLY A judges in the presets, except for the tiniest number of Bs (who certainly looked like As to me, but I was only following the rankings of the community that Anjan and I had struggled over for hours.) After the presets, it was a slam dunk: only As in all the down-2 and down-1 rounds. As the day progressed, only As on all the top three brackets. While this meant that a handful of lower-ranked judges were storming the tab room begging for a round (which ‘ardly ever ‘appens), from the debaters’ point of view, this is as good as it gets.

The second thing you need for this sort of tournament is a machine capable of processing about 500 kids and the attendant number of judges, coaches and innocent bystanders. This is problematic at any tournament, but the issue at Bronx Science is that the building is bigger than downtown Peoria. Making things run in a timely manner—keeping the machine oiled and operating—is an absolute bear. What this takes is, mostly, a team, i.e., students, oiled and stoked to work intelligently. They’ve got to know to get rounds started and to get rounds ended and to get the ballots to tab. At a lot of schools if there’s a problem I can just mosey out of the tabroom and get the missing ballot from the classroom down the hall, but at Bronx, I would need whatever is the equivalent of Peoria’s public transit system. Or a team that knows how to do that job. It wasn’t easy, but the Bronx team figured it out amazingly. Saturday, we were ahead of schedule. Let me phrase that another way: Saturday, we were ahead of schedule. A seven-round tournament, with a runoff. Ahead of schedule. Amazing. Kudos to the Scientists: they did the job!

Even I managed to get into the swing of things. BBv3.0 is a rather serious, complicated tournament, and I wasn’t goofing around with silly stuff on the schematics or anything, not because I couldn’t but I didn’t have the inclination. It was neither the time nor place. I was even obligingly providing O’C with pdfs of the schematics to post on WTF! When has that ever happened?

Of course, the thing was exhausting. For me it started on Thursday and went through some pretty short nights up through Sunday. By Sunday, needless to say, things were on automatic and we were listening to Ukelele Ike songs on the MegaPod, but I have to say, I was pretty pooped by the time it was over.

Bottom line? By me, BBv3.0 has arrived. It has met the standard for top national tournaments by any measure. It has added its own spin to that standard. It treats the participating students with respect and enthusiasm; it treats the coaches with similar respect and enthusiasm. (Crab legs in the judges’ lounge? Great googly-moogly!) I’m even thinking of going again next year.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The only down side was that the awards were covered with wasabi

You should have been there.

The Bronx Round Robin, which probably isn’t called the Bronx Round Robin (that would be too easy), and which didn’t take place in the Bronx (that would be easier still) was this Thursday. Twelve debaters from across your country, down your alley and up your whatever, met to argue whether they should have to actually know anything in order to graduate high school. It was an interesting day.

We met at a very nice venue high above Manhattan on the NYU campus. Nice view, until the rain started. O’C brought in an impressive bagel breakfast, including some serious whitefish. My goal for the day was to prep the Big Jake data; HoraceMann, the Superhero Without any Superpowers, who is now studying film at NYU, was covering my judging obligation. While debaters debated, Anjan and I laboriously pored over the community rankings of the judges, entering the numbers for each job. Pretty straightforward, right?

Meanwhile, before the event, O’C asks me if I can bring a printer down with me. Now, da bruddah weighs about 150 pounds, which is why it’s so amusing to me that the Panivore is our Hardware Engineer: the printer box is bigger than she is (and eats better, as a general rule). Which means there was no way I was lugging that thing around Manhattan (although I wouldn’t have minded if the Panivore were the one doing the lugging, but that’s another story altogether). When we arrived, we put the tournament on Vegas Elvis, but there was still no printer. “No problem,” O’C says. “I live two minutes from here.” This translates into about thirty hours passing before he finally goes out to get the Cruz family memorial printer. While he’s away, he calls half a dozen times to check in. “I’ll be there in three minutes.” “I’ll be there in two minutes.” “I’m buying umbrellas for everybody. I’ll be there in a minute.” I mean, how many tournaments have you been to where they bought you an umbrella? Given that the average high school student doesn’t believe in any outerwear whatsoever, despite weather ranging from sirocco to monsoon to potato blight, this was probably not that bad an idea. This way instead of not wearing their coats they wouldn’t carry their umbrellas. Good thinking on the part of the tournament administration.

Eventually he returned to the Top o’ the Robin with umbrellas and a printer. His final excuse was that it was raining so hard that people kept trying to buy the umbrellas from him. It would have better if he had been able to palm off the printer. In a word, it didn’t. It wouldn’t even come on most of the time, and when it did, it just printed endless copies of its test sheet. It passed the test with flying colors; it just couldn’t print ballots. That O’C had bought this printer back at the same time he bought his original Apple II+, the one with the 48K built-in memory (!), may have been part of the problem. Before the end of the day, it was not just merely dead but really most sincerely dead. As far as I can recollect, either we abandoned it or else Ryan Hamilton lugged it with his dirty laundry back to O’C’s department. It didn’t matter. No one ever wanted to see it again. Trust me on that. By the end of the day, we were asking the judges to write their ballots on, well, whatever came to hand. Used tissues, paper towels, ticket stubs from the local gentleman’s clubs. Whatever.

Lunch was John’s Pizza, of which O’C was mighty proud. It wasn’t bad—as a matter of fact it was pretty good, if you like cold pizza. No doubt transporting it through the blizzard was the problem. This was around the point Lakeland Stefan called us up worried that the snow would cause us to cancel the tournament tomorrow. Good gravy!

For reasons that elude me, the powers that be at NYU decided that we had debated enough rounds at our original venue, and shooed us out to another venue for round 5. This was no real problem. It was only about three or four miles away, on foot, during a typhoon, with twenty people who have never been to NYC before in their lives. What could go wrong?

Actually, this wasn’t as bad as it sounds. We got wet, and frozen, but we made it eventually. The new venue wasn’t half as good as the original one. Rounds were in places like “Igor’s Office” and “Lavatory Next to Abattoir,” but that didn’t stop anybody. Eventually we even had a final. What more could you ask?

After the official proceedings, we all moseyed on over to Japonica, also known as O’C’s home away from home. They know him there. They call him O’C (although with a Japanese accent: it sounds more like O’C, if you know what I mean). Given the amount of sushi that the assembled multitude put away, it’s no wonder they know him there. This is my recommendation to you if you like Japanese food: work hard at debate, and get invited to the Bronx RR. Your reward: the best Japanese food of your life.

And the good news, I was tucked in by midnight. Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Breaking news!!! Bump wants the shirt off your back

But, we're willing to sell you a replacement. Go to the Bump website and click on T-shirts. And yes, this is entirely serious.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gadgetry, plus fond memories of the frigid Montwegian north

I managed to dig up from my discarded gadget box this little microphone you hook up to your iPod that I haven’t used since my abortive attempt to interview O’C lo these many years ago. (Charter members of the VCA know well what we call “The Irish Interview,” the thought of which always breaks me up, but then again, I’m easy to please, and while I never laugh at my own jokes when I tell them, if I’ve happened to record them, I roll on the floor laughing, so to speak, during playback, unless there’s a lot of cat vomit around or something. I also laugh at my written jokes, some of which are so subtle—like the tag on Monday’s poem—that probably nobody else even knows they’re there.) It seems to work on both the MegaPod and the Touch. I was thinking of doing something ad hoc with Kaz over the weekend (we’ll have a lot of time to kill) about case disclosure in policy. We talked about it a bit at Monti; very illuminating. And, of course, tonight we record Episode 3 of TVFT, also known as Menick, Cruz and the Chipmunk. With luck, last week’s snafu will not reoccur.

Speaking of Monti, while there were no highlights the equal of last year’s “Stop the Rounds!” moment, it was still an enjoyable experience. For those who don’t attend, the tab room is in the library on the 3rd floor, and the ballot table is by the cafeteria on the 1st floor. This distance can easily be covered in under an hour by all but the most lethargic runner, and I can attest to this fact because there was this one kid there who was, by any account, The. Most. Lethargic. Runner. Every time this particular Eeyore arrived with another couple of ballots he would flop down on a chair in sheer exhaustion and proceed to suck all the oxygen out of the room for the next half hour or so. The only thing that kept him going was his iPod. The bad news is that he was listening to Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder,” never exactly the most rousing music, if you know what I mean. (I know what you’re saying: Oh, crap, now I have to speak German to get the jokes? Jeesh!) To overcome this distance gap, there were the ever-amusing walkie-talkies, an annoyance I find perfectly acceptable in the hands of others, as long as those hands are attached to arms attached to bodies that are somewhere else. Squawk squawk, Come in Colonel Klink, etc., etc. Yeah, right. No wonder the ballot table, in the usual overenthusiastic fashion, occasionally felt the urge to assign judges to rounds without discussing it with me, because they’d ping tab and tab would stare at the squawk box and just sneer. Oh, well…

Anyhow, despite the lack of Tiny Thomas running around stopping rounds, there was the sight of RJT counting the money, which she starts doing two minutes after registration ends, and which keeps her busy all the way through semis. Lots of cackling from her direction, until she finds a problem, and then we’re ordering some poor schlub to come to tab at risk of immediate disintegration by ray gun, and then she dresses said schlub down for a while, then turns him upside down to shake the shekels from his pockets. It’s quite a thing to see, and it explains why nobody ever leaves the Kaiser owing them any money. That is, RJT makes sure that nobody ever leaves the Kaiser owing them any money. Ever. It’s as simple as that.

I did feel bad for Tiny Thomas, though, since he was quite dissatisfied with his name on the ballots, since he wishes to be identified clearly with Hasan Massey, who is his father. (This revelation, in episode five of Monti Wars: The Polician Strikes Back, is considered one of the best dramatic moments in the series.) Little Daddy just doesn’t work for me, but then again, Big Daddy never worked either. Screw You Thomas was quite satisfying on my end after reading a bunch of ballots that critiqued the tab room more than they critiqued the debaters, but I did promise that he’d be Little Daddy at Wee Sma’ Lex. Yeah, right. Wee Sma’ Daddy, maybe. Come to think of it, I never did see Tiny Thomas in the flesh, and he actually ran out early and I had to judge one of his rounds (much to the dismay, I’m sure, of the debaters). Screw You Thomas became ever more appropriate.

Other high points were the pairing of the Pfffter rounds with, if I remember correctly, 14 teams, 8 of them Regis. This must be done by hand, of course, and I explained to one and all that I would go precisely by bracket after, first, allowing all the non-Regis to hit only non-Regis in the presets. The amazing thing was that, doing this, I managed to find, in two different non-preset rounds, two different natural non-Regis pairings. To which I could, of course, assign a Regis judge. I always feel bad for any school that is so big in the field; it happens once in a while at MHLs. The thing was, the school that would have alleviated this problem dropped at the last minute. So it goes. Anyhow, aside from having to read the riot act once to a couple of teams from Clueless Academy, this went well enough. The shocking thing is, Regis closed out semis. Who would have guessed?

The food in the judges’ lounge was, as always, superb, while as far as I could tell no one died from the food served to the competitors, or at least died too much. JV and I managed to go out at one point and run smack dab into a Yankees game. We were held at bat-point and challenged, on entry, as to whether we were Yankee fans. JV made the correct answer (“That’s a baseball thing?”) and we were allowed entrance. I also got to visit RJT’s classroom, aka Green Bay East. I was shocked, shocked, to see football items decorating her walls. And her desk. And the floor, the ceiling, the board, and the two little gerbils (Brett and Favre) that she has as class mascots. Very disturbing.

Anyhow, that about sums up the Kaiser Roll. Starting tomorrow, Big Jake, beginning with the RR. Let the award ceremonies begin!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tab browsing

So I suspended the Tabroom account on Facebook. It was supposed to echo the Twitter @DebateTab, which was problematic at best, but there was also the issue of keeping track of “friends” and the like. One Facebook account is enough for anyone. Two smacks of hubris. If people are too anti-Twitter to follow the proceedings, such as they are, that way, then they can take the proverbial flying leap.

I think that tomorrow night the Tres Hombres will be discussing tabbing, especially in light of our latest drive to publicize what’s going on in general, but that won’t stop me from talking a little today about who breaks and why. This came up in Monticello, and in a different way with Big Jake. Here’s my thoughts.

The first way to break at a tournament is to win all your prelim rounds. This is usually quite effective. The second way to break at a tournament is to win all but one of your prelim rounds. This also usually works. In fact, Menick’s Law #2874 states that it is desirable to lose one of your random rounds, as this puts you into the down-one bracket henceforth, and if your speaks are high, you’re in good shape to win all your rounds in high-low bracketing. This should not be extended, however, in the mistaken belief that Menick’s Law #2874 means that you should lose ALL of your prelim rounds. The odds of breaking in the 0-5 bracket are, in my experience, relatively slim.

Most tournaments break most people who are down two. But they can’t break all of the down-twos without taking extraordinary measures. The reason is simple. You can’t create brackets if you break, say, 39 people. The only way this can be handled is with a run-off round. The problem with a run-off is finding time to do it, and most tournaments simply don’t have that time. TOC does, of course, and we’re making the time at Big Jake to clear all the 5-2s. But these are unusual circumstances, and unusual tournaments. Most tournaments would never end if similar approaches were taken. The alternative to the run-off round is to get higher speaks, although some tournaments prefer other measures for bracketing (opponent wins, for instance). This is an up-for-grabs subject, but the point is, you usually can’t break everybody at the same point in the bracket, so some other measure than win-loss has to come into play. That’s just the way life is. (All competitions work similarly, as far as I can tell, one way or the other.)

The issue of tabbing a tournament is to somehow engineer what is perceived by the tournament director as the correct number of breaks (tab directors suggest, tournament directors decide). Different rules will apply. For instance, in a novice division we tend to be fairly generous, and we’ll almost always break a third of the field if we can because they’re young and we want to be encouraging. Tougher competitions set tougher breaks, but the rule of thumb is about 25% of the field at the most. Bump, for instance, with a field of 120, breaks 32, marginally generous. A tournament with 90-100, maybe break 24. Under 80, probably break to octos.

What’s the difference between 5 and 6 rounds? It depends. The more rounds you have, theoretically the clearer it is who the better competitors are, but there can be more to this than pure math. Tournament size connotes inherent judging limitations. At Monticello, for instance, the nature of the pool (mostly very experienced, some newbies), meant that if we went for a sixth round we might have to use the less experienced judges in important rounds (bubbles or speaker-point contests), whereas breaking a large percentage of the field allowed us to husband our good judges in double-flighted elimination panels. The field was better served by 5 rounds and double octos than the alternative, which would have been 6 rounds and octos. Those were the only real choices (the field was 85 people).

At Big Jake, on the other hand, the pool is rich with experienced judges, and there is no issue about placement of As vs Cs. Plus, many of them are tournament hires, so you can work them to death (although O’C and I are planning on a very strict pattern of rounds off to allow a little nap time for everyone). You could, if you wanted, do the 7 rounds knowing that your top debaters are at the top of the break. But the thought is, you know, any 5-2 is damned close. Off by what, a half an adjusted speaker point? And you paid a bazillion dollars to fly to Bronx International Airport and stay at the South Bronx Burnout Hilton for this? Since they’ve got the time (the tournament lasts longer than WWII), and the judges are available, why not create the run-off? My only objection to this is that there are the poor slobs at the bottom of the 5-2 bracket who have to defend their position that one extra time, the same sympathy I have with the bubble debaters at TOC. The pressure! Oy. (To be honest, I’m not quite sure how we do this in the TRPC software, but I’m sure O’C knows, or else we’ll figure it out. If you know, please pass it along to me. At the moment I'm assuming I'll set up the rounds off-line and stop scheduling the losers.)

So this whole thing is not an exact science by any means. But the general inclination always seems to be to have the number of people break that makes sense, and to have that breaking be as meaningful as possible. No solution is perfect, but looking at, say, the bid round at my most recent tournaments, Monti and Yale, and the people who were awarded TOC quals at both, I’d be hard-pressed to say that the system doesn’t work.

Bottom line: if you want to break, win a lot and speak well. (It’s the giving of advice like this that earns me the big coaching bucks.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

With apologies to Mrs. Browning. And Mrs. Cruz.

How do I award thee? Let me count the ways.
I award thee at the Robin one and all:
At N.Y.U, the encomiums fall.
At the start of Jake when the teams arrive
I love to start the celebration jive.
Bronx boosters, by sun and candle-light:
I give them freely, tossed out left and right;
I give thee purely, each bright loving cup
To ev'ry man jack who's ever shown up.
I love awards with a passion brimming;
Saturday night you get them for winning.
I love awards for speakers and breakers,
I give them to losers, no-shows, bakers.
On Sunday we give at the end of rounds
And Monday, we put in our order for next year, only twice as many, bigger, and this time, use let's encrust them with diamonds because those emeralds are so...gauche, and then let's email Menick and ask if there's time in the schedule to add, say, just three more award ceremonies, PLEASE!!!!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Top 5 ways to get struck from judging

5. Tab the tournament. There's always a couple of jokers who think that striking the tab room is the height of hilarity. And it so is. Why, Oscar Wilde himself, the god of wit, when he was at a loss for words, always struck the tab room. As he used to say at these times, "Uh, hmh, uh, er..."

4. Use the words "big picture" in your paradigm. This is especially useful at TOC if you need to get to Starbucks more often.

3. Describe in your paradigm how you don't really like theory, but you will sometimes consider theory, and then always pick up kids on theory whenever you can. This will make you, theoretically, a hot strike at any tournament.

2. Have either "Mr." or "Mrs." as your first name on the strike sheet. This will work even if your last name is Timmons, Savage, Craven, Jih, Theis, etc. Again, look at it as more quality time with those triple nonfat lattes.

1. Suck hugely. The number one way of getting struck at any tournament remains the tried and true method of judging a lot and getting a reputation as a profound idiot. This is the one I personally recommend as absolutely fail-safe. (If you wish to pursue this option further, send for my handy dandy introductory online instructional package, "Applying Theory to the Big Picture," for a one-time-only price of $99.99, and you, too, will be about to amaze your friends and family with your knowledge of values, criteria, spikes, turns, and the location of every Starbucks in the continental USA.)

TVFT Episode 2 is up

I haven't updated my podcast page yet (maybe today during the down time), but you can link to it on the TVFT blog ( or iTunes. (iTunes is a program that this company called Apple is working on...) It sounds pretty good. No chipmunks, equal volume settings, a couple of yucks. Enjoy.

Friday, October 09, 2009

I caught this morning morning's minion, cross-word of Friday's paper...

I spent last night wanting to work on TVFT Episode 2, but the file I had from Bietz wasn't formatted like the others, so he sounded like a chipmunk. Normally I wouldn't mind if Bietz sounded like a chipmunk, but the sped-up track threw him off from the others, so he'd be laughing at the jokes (if any) before they were told, or crying before the dog died heroically at the end or whatever. As soon as I get the raw file from him I'll put it together, but there may be a delay because connections to the internet at the Kaiser Roll are dubious at best. They block everything but Packer games, if I recollect correctly. (For those members of the VCA who do not know anything about sports, the Packers are a lacrosse team from Sheboygan, or something very much like that. The only thing I know about them for sure is that Brett Favre doesn't play for th—Wait a minute! This just in. He DOES play for th—Wait a minute! This just in. He's now playing for the Mets. Sorry about that, sports fans.)

Not working on TVFT last night, aside from an hour spent trying to understand why Bietz = Alvin, meant I got to prep Monticello. As with last weekend, the data didn't come in right from tabroom into TRPC with the preferred system, but the old system works perfectly well, and once one is prepared, one is forearmed, as they say. The Roll looks like fun. 88 LDers at this point, so that shouldn't change much, and 16 PF teams (18 of them from Regis). With the PF I'll do the usual with such small fields as pair same-school teams early on with neutral judging, then pop out the top ones to debate the others. Not the greatest tournament for them, but better than staying home picking their noses. This way they can come to Monticello and pick their noses there. The difference is obvious.

I will tweet things at the tournament over @debatetab, for what it's worth, just to keep my hand in. Set your cell phones on stun.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Coming tweets, changing venues, cunning folders, clever programs, costumed criterion monkeys

We will be tweeting a little for Monti and probably a little more for the Babycakes Invitational. Sign up to follow @debatetab to enjoy the proceedings.

The latest news on the NY State final is that it is going to be moved to Long Island this year, according to our regional director. For us, this is a move that means little in terms of travel time and probably a lot in terms of hospitality. The folks in Albany have always been stretched. Although they did what I think was a fine job for CatNats last May, with the support of the CatNat organization, over the years they have not been able to handle the numbers for States in all the various venues. I don’t fault them on this; I probably wouldn’t be able to handle it either. But when your stomach is growling and there’s nuttin’ to eat within 20 miles… Well, people get unhappy. Of course, the poor folks who must join us from way up north have a longer journey than usual, but honestly, I make a comparable journey maybe once a month, and there’s worse things in the world than a long bus ride. Add to this that JV is tabbing, and I think we’re definitely starting to see responsiveness in the organization to the desires of the community. And that is a good thing, no matter how you slice it. I did work up some templates for a new website design during the off moments at the Pups. I’ll get those out as soon as I’m at the right place at the right time and remember about them. (Note to self: remember about them.)

How come I can’t find an Ethernet cable in my house? I’ve got enough speaker wire and co-ax to wrap the Pentagon, and not one crappy Ethernet cable? Jeesh. Speaking of supplies, yesterday I bought a folder specifically for important tab papers. The thing is, in tab rooms, we generate enough paper to [insert clever humorous metaphor here]. The problem is, often the unimportant and the important get all jumbled together. You’d think that I’d be better at this after the first million or so years, but just putting the important stuff in the important-stuff pile hasn’t worked yet, and there’s no reason to expect that it will start working some magical time in the future. For five bucks, a nice still little folder? Look in there for the list of strikes, you yabbo! Anyhow, I forgot to buy the Ethernet cable while I was at Staples. Another shopping trip coming up.

Bump is filled up in Novice and PF, but I can’t seem to get those last 7 varsity slots taken. Dagnabbit! Housing is also fully subscribed. I remember with absolutely no fondness the bad old days when I had to do all of this by hand. Now, it’s all automated in tabroom, and all I occasionally have to do is click the odd button. Sainthood for CP? Well, it’s too soon to request it from the Vatican at this point, but some day. On the other hand, his constant turning to me during the Pups and saying, “You have done this before, haven’t you?” started to wear thin after a while. What’s the opposite of sainthood, anyhow? Damnationhood? Sounds right to me.

Speaking of the NYCFL (we were speaking of the NYCFL?) we’re going to speed up the Byram Hills Halloween event so that all those Catholics can get home in time for a little pagan fun and games. Out by 5, home by 6, dressed up in your Tweedle Dee costume and roaming the Village by 7—that’s the goal. Me, I dress up every year as a garden gnome. It just seems to work, and keeps the makeup requirements down to a minimum.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

More on Pups 09

So, let’s see. What else happened over the weekend?

Vegas Elvis was, in the main, quite cooperative. Occasionally it would freeze, but all one had to do was reboot Fusion and you’d be back in business. Given VE’s speed of operation, this was about 2 minutes of your life, once you realized that it wasn’t the end of the world. The printer kept coming and going, but this was merely a matter of CP showing me how to reconnect it via the software, so that wasn’t an issue either. Quite honestly, overall Vegas Elvis worked better than my Dell, which has been known to just peter out from sheer exhaustion, and Little Elvis, which is slower than the proverbial corn syrup. Still, I did keep a backup handy, but thankfully I never had to use it.

For the longest time da bruddah printah had been telling me to change the toner. But, since it printed anyhow, I ignored it. But da bruddah has a habit of stopping in the middle of a print job when it really runs out of ink, and nothing you can do, no amount of shaking and shimmying with the cartridge, will make a difference. Needless to say, this moment of Halt! took place while we were printing doubles ballots. Aaaarrgh! So, we replaced the cartridge, simple enough once we read the directions. I put it in, hit start, and guess what. Da bruddah started telling me I need to change the toner. Nice try, bro.

On the Sailor side, the Panivore discovered Au Bon Pain for the first time. Where has this been all her life? “They had all these…breads,” she reported breathlessly, her eyes wide. She bought one of each.

My favorite line of the weekend was in a round that I was walking by on my various errands. “To respond to his point about education and crime, there is no link between education and crime. Crime is what you do in your spare time.” So much for professional criminals.

JV and I talked a bit about case disclosure, the subject of Episode 1 of TVFT. He made one very good point about the word “openness,” which sets up a binary in which opponents are, obviously, against openness, which sounds inherently wrong. I’m sure we’ll talk more about it on the podcast, but the more I think about case disclosure, the more I think that it’s probably a good thing at some level, but probably not the posting of entire cases so much as a brief on framework and thesis. I have a feeling that in a year or two disclosure of some sort will be the norm; exactly how we’ll make it happen, on the other hand, remains a mystery. The attempt to level the playing field of big and small programs is a good thing; how that is achieved is problematic. And perhaps at some point big programs will always have an inherent advantage because of their size.

Speaking of the podcast, CP informed me that it hadn’t come through iTunes. I checked. I updated the RSS but never uploaded it. Is there any lingering doubt that my mind has recently been encased in cement?

Since I drove the debating Sailors in my car, the vehicle, after they disembarked Sunday evening, was awash with empty water bottles (a substance, by the way, that the Pups were selling for about $50 a pop, tsk tsk). What is it with water these days? They didn’t have water when I was a kid. If you were thirsty, you sucked on a salt lick and were happy for it. And we stayed off people’s lawns, too! Those of you who want to see what some of these people look like, by the way, should check out my new FB profile pic. Only Stealth was excluded, but, uh, her nickname is, uh, Stealth…

Monday, October 05, 2009

Pups 2009, in which certain people feel really sorry for themselves, poor baby

The Pups? Well, we got through it. Although for some reason I just sort of felt out of it all weekend. Maybe lack of sleep, maybe the flu shot. I don’t know. It was as if my head were packed in cement or something; it was very hard for stuff to get in or out of it.

I arrived early enough to solve (sort of) the first problem, which was that the data was not coming in correctly from tabroom. The thing is, nothing had changed from the last time we’d done this, not in tabroom, not in TRPC, but the process of transmitting the data was interpolating a number into the second team member field, then concatenating a # with the last name of the first team member, but # is invisible, so everywhere it mattered you’d get Hen Hud G or Regis S rather than both initials. Hardly enough information… We never did figure it out; I reverted back to using separate team, school and judge files, which worked fine, with the down side that one needs to comb through them for duplicates that will otherwise wreak havoc. Caught all but one, which isn’t terrible. Also entered in all the strikes and rankings at this point. Nothing automated here, but tabroom does keep a record of the strikes, so when someone comes in wondering why such-and-such is judging because they struck s-a-s, we can quickly check and (happily) report that, actually, no you didn’t. Two schools with similar names provided one minor issue here, ending up that both schools got to strike one person deliberately and the other school by ill-gotten strike gain, but those things are hardly a problem in a big tournament.

The rounds went off hitchless on Friday. There’s two of them, with plenty of extra judges. And speaking of the judges, the pool was outrageously solid. Going by the community rankings, as explained in the invitation, we were able to provide As in every potentially game-breaking situation, and most others as well. In aid of transparency, I report that we start at the top of every list (random) and never vary in the assignment of judges: we do not inject our own opinions of who should judge whom. Mostly TRPC does the assignments for us, but if the program puts in less that an A judge on a bubble, we always take from the top. Thank God it’s not alphabetical, or Bietz would judge every round…

On Friday we heard that there might be some problems getting all our Saturday rooms, so we rejiggered the schedule in case we had to stagger V and JV rounds. This would, unfortunately, have also staggered us into Sunday morning doubles, so we were hoping to be able to crawl out of this hole if the worst didn’t occur. And, fortunately, said worst didn’t occur. But there was some scrambling. I’ve never seen a schedule readjust so often, but always moving quicker and not slower. We just told everybody to pay attention, and most of them did. One person missed a round, but given that we were twittering, posting on the schematics and announcing in the meetings, and the other 400 people did get the message, I’ve got a feeling that it really wasn’t us. Anyhow, we got everybody out of there at around 8:00 on Saturday, with doubles under their little LD belts. I miss the old days at Yale, where ballots went out Saturday at about midnight, and coaches carrying torches and pitchforks stormed the battlements. Then again, I don’t think I could have handled too much storming, the way I was feeling. It took me forever to do the Friday crossword, if you want to know how bad I was. Friday? Forever? Moi? No way, Hose A.

One of my favorite moments was when some poor schlub read the schematic and saw a room on the college campus as the location for the round. We were at a high school about fifty parsecs from said campus; this was an oversight on our side, the inadvertent clicking of a little box somewhere in the deep dark past, and a miss of the problem when we eyeballed the skem. The other people in the round came by and said that we had to be kidding, while that one poor schlub hightailed it all the way down to Pup Land. Poor thing. There are very few ways to get the sympathy of the tab room, and a bye. This is one of them. I mean, we did say that was where the round is, so technically it was our fault. Rule number one in life: when it looks too dumb to be true, it’s either not true or else it’s in Sarah Palin’s autobiography. Ask somebody if you’re not clear on things, in other words.

Breaks went fine on Sunday, after I managed to let loose the ballots that we had been planning to distribute by hand. Ah, the wrath of Vaughan! This was my lowest point of the weekend. Fortunately the judges were at hand to keep things moving, but nothing is worse than letting the farflung folks think that they can go wandering off, which is what I did. There’s a lesson in this: everybody screws up. The takeaway from the lesson: screw up some other way next time. Making mistakes is okay, just don’t keep making the same mistakes. Dedicate yourself to making new mistakes. That’ll keep things fresh. That’s what Menick would do!

(Jeesh: I’m referring to myself in the third person. What next? Thanking God for letting me record a rap song?)

There were all sorts of interesting things going on, transparency-wise. We published all the results after the rounds, starting Saturday morning. We published the brackets when we announced the breaks. The ballots went online during the tournament, for coaches to check. I don’t recall any tabbing errors (but then again, I don’t recall anything about 13 hours in the middle there). I tweeted regularly, so anyone who bothered to subscribe to @debatetab, as they were asked to repeatedly, got the important updates, although I slowed down a bit Saturday since, after all, we were all in one place, and JV could make announcements directly. To be honest, I have a feeling that the Twittering of a tournament won’t ripen until Princeton, where everyone is farflung at all times. We’ll see.

There’s probably more to report, but as you can see, mostly things went fine, at least from the perspective of the attendees. Meanwhile, I’m assuming that I’ll get some sleep between now and the Kaiser Roll, and be back to my former sterling self.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

On @debatetab

If anyone wants to provide feedback on Twitter and the Pups, please do so. I used it a bunch on Friday and Sunday when everyone was cast far afield and I had internet access, but not on Saturday when we were all in the high school and I had to use my phone. I can see this being fairly useful, but not absolutely crucial, at the average high school, and quite useful and nearing crucial at far-flung college venues.

Anyhow, I'll do it again at the Kaiser Roll. It does provide an opportunity to keep people posted, if they wish to keep posted. Nothing terribly wrong with that.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Bump is just about filled up.

A few VLD slots left, a couple of novice LD, and that's about it.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Breaking news!

No, this isn't about Babycakes.

The podcast is live. It's got flaws, but it's listenable, and I promise we'll get technically better as we go along.


Modest Novice in practice

So last night MB and O’C and I recorded a podcast. I have to admit I haven’t listened to it yet, because first it needs to be assembled. It was fun doing it, though. I’ll post details—and the podcast—in a day or two (at most).

Meanwhile, whatever happened to the Modest Novice? Well, here’s my experiences so far. (I'll be cross-posting this over at

I started my novices this year with analysis of rights and the social contract. This is obviously elementary stuff one would want to start them with (although this year’s Sept-Oct of high school exit exams hardly seems inclusive of such discussion). Rights is a cornerstone of LD (and western philosophy); protecting those rights is theoretically the goal of society; hence the social contract. What does that all mean? That was our starting point.

Recommended reading: John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government.

Next session we move on to a different subject, morality. Morality, the determination of right and wrong, has many facets. I begin by asking the students if there is such a thing as right and wrong, and how they distinguish between the two. When I covered this at the MHLW, there was strong feeling that religion was the source of morality (true enough), but the problem is that we can’t draw on a religious answer to a secular question. We need an understanding of morality that we can use in a debate round.

The discussion of R/W usually is pretty lively, because students have firm belief in their ability to distinguish between the two. With luck, by the end of the session, you will have shaken that firm belief. In fact, revving up the trolley examples (which are, after all, classic tools of morality evaluation and not just the bad taste in many mouths left over from last year’s Sept-Oct) is not a bad idea at all.

In my morality discussion I usually go first for the idea of deontology versus consequentialism. We can say that an action is either right or wrong because of the action itself, or the results of the action. Simple enough. A deontological test is hard to explain (Kant’s categorical imperative) whereas the numbers of utility are easily understood. This leads us naturally into the question of whether there is, indeed, an objective right and wrong. If not, then we are in a relativistic, subjective universe. If so, all we have to do is find it.

So, a session on rights and SC, then a session on Morality. (Or as many sessions as it takes; I only meet with students once a week.)

The next step in ModNov, I think, is to address the topic head-on, a brainstorming session for the novices (and interested members of the team, given that many will be judging this topic). We need to understand civil disobedience. It is breaking the law. It is not inherently nonviolent nor inherently promotional, although these are the normal connotations; these should be defined and clear at the outset of a case. We need to understand that, in a democracy, we make the laws ourselves. That is what a democracy is (and some understanding of the General Will is important here). We are breaking the laws that we made, in other words. And why? Because of a moral view of that law (the morally justified). The brainstorming should include things like the history of CD from Gandhi on (or Thoreau on), Civil Rights in the US, etc.

Recommended (if not required) reading: Thoreau.

Then we need to brainstorm arguments. Why is the aff right? Why is the neg right? Do that for a while, then go home and write a case, and I’ll see you at the first tournament.