Thursday, December 31, 2009

TVFT Episode 10 is up

I strongly recommend that you drop whatever New Year's Eve plans you might have had and stay home instead and listen to Bietz and O'C and yours truly rake the last decade over the coals.

(I'm not going to provide the link. The idea that any member of the VCA hasn't already subscribed via iTunes is inconceivable, if that's the right word.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

And so we bid a fond farewell to 2009... Pfui.

I was rather disappointed that the problem with the Panivore's brother in tabroom was that I had mistakenly (idiotically?) entered him in LD, hence limiting his participation in Speecho-American events. It never occurred to me to look there. CP, experienced in dealing with mistakes (idiots?) found the problem quickly. All is now calm on that front.

The crack View from Tab team recorded what will have to be part one of the review of the decade in LD last night, since we starting yakking and barely began before we had to stop. When you think about it, a lot has happened concerning, literally, the way debates happen. It was a fun conversation. I should get a chance to edit and post tomorrow. The waiting public definitely needs a New Year's Eve podcast of me and Bietz and O'C. I know that if I weren't me, I'd certainly be waiting for it. Then again, a spot check of Sailors shows that they're all about 8 episodes behind. Given that this one coming up is episode 10, we're not exactly setting any records. Or maybe the Sailors have enough of me already. That, I can believe.

While we were warming up, O'C told us of his second life on the Enterprise in, of course, Second Life. Given that his RL (Real Life, as Secondians call it) is practically already on the Enterprise, this seems pretty much more of the same but he has to pay for it. I wonder how much a cabin on the virtual Enterprise costs. Where does it go? Who gets to say, "Engage"? I remain an agnostic on the gaming front. I tried Sims 3 and it never really jogged my interest. I can do Tiger Woods on the Wii, but even saying those words aloud is probably cause for merriment among some, so I probably should keep that to myself. Nevertheless, I designed a relatively good looking avatar to play the game (he looks mostly like me but with a pointy nose and really horrible teeth) and managed to play one over par for my first round. Just like the real thing, sort of, except for the one over par part.

So, I probably won't post again for a little while as I go forth and revel and whatnot. My hope this year is to make it past 10 o'clock, but the odds are against it. The only time I stay up till midnight these days is if there's rounds to pair. Maybe I should bring along Vegas Elvis tomorrow night and practice MJP just to keep awake. If that doesn't make me the life of the party, nothing will.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A welcome break from reality

Vacations are nice, because you can take care of odds and ends.

First of all, there was signing up for the Gem of Harlem. For some reason, the Panivore's brother (a Speecho-American who, if there were any poetic justice in the universe, would be gluten intolerant) was not acceptable to, but just for this tourament. I've signed him up elsewhere without a problem, but Columbia just doesn't want him to darken their doors, apparently. Very strange (the bug, not the brother). I've passed it to CP to add to his list of things he doesn't want to think about (although, actually, this is the sort of bug that tech folk find intriguing).

Second, I finally made my hotel reservation for ALJ. Another curiosity that tournament directors should explore: the special rate for the tournament is higher than the rate on Expedia. Usually they're no different. We can all get out of the worrying-about-lodging business if the hotels aren't going to worry about it on their end.

Then I looked at the Unharvard hotels. These are pricey, but there are a couple right near the campus, thus eliminating the need for busing over the weekend. I put up a notice to the Sailors to finalize their interest (they pay for the bulk of this out of their own pockets) in a couple of days, and then I'll get the rooms. (The Unharvard is, for those who are not taking notes, UPenn: same weekend, different personnel, way cheaper—and the profits go to supporting inner city forensics. I've got a feeling it's going to be pretty good, which is why I signed up.)

This afternoon there's a chez on Jan-Feb because, well, I think it's a good idea. Then I'll get back into my vacation mode for real. We've been quite busy doing this and that, including heading to see the relatives that didn't head to see us. I've seen muchos movies, read some books I wasn't paid to read, done a lot of updating of stuff on Vegas Elvis, taken bunches of pictures, etc., etc. Another week of this? No problem at all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Organic beans on my lawn get drafted by theory

Bean Trivia is organic. Every time we play the rules change a bit. They’ll be even better next time, no doubt, which will be at the Lex RR. Of course, there’s a difference between playing teams vs. singletons. Teams need to eliminate the other teams, which is hard, because someone on the team tends to know the answer, so what we dabbled at last night that will become a normal feature, is a Jeopardy-like bet-off where teams can gamble a number of their beans, and the team with the most beans after a specific question goes on to the elims (mano-a-mano). In singleton play, on the other hand, it’s easier to lose all your beans because, first, you don’t know everything, and second, other players jump on a wounded player like hyenas at a carrion charity show. (Competitive little buggers, eh? But you knew that.)

Things I learned last night: All Sailors know the name of SpongeBob’s snail. Few Sailors have seen a movie made before 2004, except maybe anything with the word wizard in the title or with wizards in the content. (I think I need to remind the nautical universe about the medium of film a la McLuhan, for what it’s worth.) Also, kids nowadays seem to have no idea that there is any sort of music other than whatever it is they’re listening to when I try to get them off my lawn. As the Duke said, there are two kinds of music, good music and the other kind, which is, intentionally, a pretty wide-open field. Note to the VCA: open your ears over the holidays. Listen to something that isn’t rock. Listen to something that isn’t in English. Listen to something that was a hit before your mother was born. Seriously.

Meanwhile, last night the torch was passed from now Captain Emeritus SuperSquirrel to new Co-Captains, the Panivore and the People’s Champion. Their guiding principle needs to be, Build the Team. We are pretty thin on the ground these days in the younger area, so this is pretty necessary. I think we’re going to need to go beyond the all-volunteer navy and just draft people. You know, go into the middle school and find kids who look marginally intelligent and tell them they’re on the team, period, whether they like it or not. That might work. At the moment we just have too many people of the I’ll-Debate-Someday-Maybe persuasion. Rather odd, you know. I can understand liking to debate, and not liking to debate, but liking not to debate is something that’s beyond me. I guess I need to hear the theory argument on it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Life in Not Debate

There’s nothing like a weekend spent not involved in debate. I had planned to tab the NYCFL event at Regis, which was ginormous, but the Joint Chiefs of Sailor Staff put the kibosh on that early, pulling back on providing transportation. To be honest, one look at the early weather report did not push me to argue with them. On Friday it looked like the forecast for the Apocalypse and then some. Whenever the weather people start talking about not only snow, ice and wind but also famine, death, war and conquest, I know to stay home. As it worked out, this was probably for the best: although Sailorville per se didn’t get hit much, the more south you went, the worse it got. Other, heartier, souls attended, however. O’C took over in the lurch, texting me regularly about such things as runtime errors because there were more Bronx Scientologists in the field than [fill in your own humorous metaphor here; I was toying with something really disgusting and unwarranted, so I’m just going to pass]. When more than half the field is one school, it requires the Dance of the Thousand Tab Veils, which I guess O’C is rusty at. Whatever. I gather that ultimately he pulled it off, that Regis fed the multitudes their expected loaves and fishes, and that a splendid time was had by all. I stayed home and mostly reorganized my photos in iPhoto, a very good use of my time and energy. It’s the kind of thing you don’t do unless you’re struck with a lot of extra time you weren’t expecting. I also printed up some CD covers, found the installation disk of YDKJ The Ride (finally!) for Vegas Elvis, unwrapped the new Wii Sports Resort game and gave that a whirl (Ping Pong is my favorite at the moment), read more instructions for the Nikon, caught up on old Rostrums (I’m not making that up—I see that there’s panic over the state of LD, which makes you wonder how far back I was reading), and managed a fine winter’s nap when I would otherwise have been entering the results of round 2. Given that the next two weekends are also debate free, and that the Parsippany Ritz won’t happen, I am going to have forgotten all about forensics, most likely, by the time the new year rolls around.

Yeah, right.

As I said previously, updates here on CL will be few and far between for the next couple of weeks, but don’t take that as an indication that I have quit the activity and taken up bear baiting. It’s just that I know you read this stuff mostly for the forensical fix; what I do when I’m not forensicating is of relatively little general interest, and I tend to keep it to myself. Except, I guess, this installment, which is the sort I won’t be writing any time soon. Except today.

Have a nice holiday if I don’t see you before then. If I do see you before then, have a crappy holiday. There. We’re covered.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

TVFT Episode 9 is replaced

There were apparently technical issues that got by our crack editing team (which is me doing it as Q&D as possible during lunch at the DJ). Or at least that's what CP tells me, with glee in his eyes as he complains to someone else about a technical problem (ask him to show you my bug list on some day, or as he likes to call it, my discovery list of undocumented features).

So, I posted a new one. It should appear on iTunes shortly as a new episode looking much like the previous episode. I didn't bother putting in the bumper music, because there's a limit to everything.

And think you, Mr. Palmer, for making me do extra work. Jeesh!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beginning to wrap up the decade. Step one: find a big enough box to put it in.

I’m home today because I have a couple of extra DJ days that I have to take in 2009. It’s given me a chance to do some things that otherwise I’d be rushing, like organizing the data for the Regis End-of-the-Decade Conflagration on Saturday. There’s something about this contest that draws debaters like [enter you own humorous metaphor here; I’m off today]. 270 entries? We should get a octos bid for this!

Speaking of which, CP tells me that the latest TVFT went off sync and was pretty unlistenable. Oy. Thank God we weren’t saying anything important. The thing is, we like doing it and will probably continue. Bietz had a software suggestion to grab directly out of Skype. This is not as clear as what we’ve been doing, but on the other hand, it is what it is as it was. That’s probably where we’ll go.

I am quite deep in the process of collecting Bean Trivia material. O’C owes me some debate questions, and I’m working on everything else. (He could ask me who’s the coach at Hen Hud and I’d probably get it wrong.) Some questions just don’t work. Some are just plain hard, some are just plain easy, but that’s okay. Here’s one for you: Which Beatle’s first name was James?

(Of course, that’s not really trivia because who knows that? Perfect trivia is something, when you hear the answer, you realize you did actually know it.)

We’ll probably be going on hiatus here shortly for the holidays. After Regis, there’s not much going on until the new year, now that the Parsippany Ritz Institute has been cancelled. Too bad. I know the kids who were going were psyched to do something debatish over the holidays. Nothing worse than just hanging out with the family, you know? There’s no one to argue with, or at least no one to argue with who’s ever going to win the argument. (“There’s no talking to you. Everything’s a debate!” “Yes, Mother.”) The hiatus will give me time to learn to operate my new camera, which is only slightly more complicated than a Boeing 757 (although I gather you can operate one of them and surf the internet at the same time). Mostly I bought it to take pictures without a lot of hoo-ha, that is, fully manual, but it takes a while to get there. My last SLR had literally no automatic functions at all aside from the meter. You probably weren’t even born yet when I bought that one. For that matter, you probably weren’t born when I got tired of lugging it around (it weighed about as much as Pip the Wondercat after a full can of chopped yak). This one is quite light, although the same size and shape. The nicest thing is that you can learn how to use it without wasting film! Instant results!

And I’ve been watching The Beatles Anthology DVDs, which is why all the Beatles stuff lately. The Walrus was Jim.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

You can't not not handle the truth: A) True? B) False? C) All of the above? D) None of the above?

The problem with the allegedly trick question, “True or false: One of the Beatles was left-handed” is that it does not stand to LD resolutional analysis. The theoretical trick is that the answer is False. Most people know that Paul McCartney was left-handed, but they don’t know that Ringo was also left-handed. The answer that the trickster is thinking is that not one but two of the Beatles were left-handed, hence the trick of the statement not being true, but the thing is, if two of the Beatles were left-handed, that means that one of the Beatles was left-handed and another one of the Beatles was left-handed, so in fact, the answer is True, because one of the Beatles was left-handed. True or false: one of the states in the US borders the Atlantic. This is true. The fact that more than one border the Atlantic does not remove any one of them from its bordering position.

Of course, this is idiotic noodling. Language is often a precision instrument, where we do our best to express our meanings with the exact words that do so. George Washington was a Virginian is a statement that precisely expresses the fact that a given person lived in a certain place. There is nothing arguable about those words (provided that the statement is true). George Washington was not a New Yorker, on the other hand, is not as precise a statement. Saying what something is, the first statement, eliminates the possibilities of what it isn’t. Saying that GW was a Virginian precludes that he might have been a French, a Turk or Proossian (or perhaps I-tal-i-an). He was a Virginian. He came from Virginia. But if the only statement we have to go by is that GW was not a New Yorker, then he could have indeed been a French, a Turk or Proossian (or perhaps I-tal-i-an, although despite all those temptations to belong to other nations—I’m sorry. You give me Gilbert and Sullivan and I have no alternative but to run with them.)

Anyhow, it’s easy to see the difference between inclusive and exclusive statements. One statement includes a fact, the other excludes a possibility. Inclusive is much more manageable than exclusive, at least in these cases.

I only point this out because it’s been going through my head as I put together Bean Trivia questions both for next week for the Sailors and for the Lex RR. It’s what I do, you know?


There’s a different linguistic—and theoretical—problem with Jan-Feb. “Economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives.” What the affirmative needs to do is, of course, explain why sanctions ought not to be used. This is very clear. The only thing offered to the affirmative is that they support the non-use of ES. Anything else they do is beside the point. All the aff can do, I would imagine, at least if aff wants to win, is argue against ES. ES bad, ES ineffective, whatever (there are many potential tactics to support this strategy). It is, notably, no ES, at all times, no exception. If the neg can demonstrate any situation where ES ought to be used, theoretically that would win for the neg.

For the negative, on the other hand, the opposite position is not necessarily that ES ought to be used, although that is a perfectly good position if one wishes to run a strong argument. If the best defense is a good offense, a good offensive position for the neg might be that ES serve an important purpose in foreign policy. (It is, in fact, the status quo in the US, where we believe that the nations of the world uniting against Iran, using the tool of ES, can convince that country to abandon its nuclear position. This doesn’t make the position right, but it does demonstrate that it is part of the FP discourse.) But the language of the rez is such that the neg might claim that it need not run a clearly offensive position. The neg, rather than claiming that a position counter to “ought not be used” is “ought to be used,” a clear affirmation of using ES, can counter that the negation of the phrase is, instead, “ought not not be used.”

I ought not shoot my gun.

I ought shoot my gun. versus I ought not not shoot my gun.

There is a big difference between shooting my gun and not not shooting my gun. Shooting my gun sends a bullet out of the barrel. Not not shooting my gun discusses the possibility that I might shoot my gun without actually shooting it. Ought not not shoot means that I ought not claim not to shoot my gun.

That, in short, is the proposed theoretical substrata of a potential neg that wishes, rather than to take a strong position on its side of the resolution, to simply dangle the “possibility” of a strong position on its side of the resolution versus a forced strong position by aff on the other side. Frankly, this seems weak to me, or at least weaker than the straightforward do it versus don’t do it.

One can go further, of course. Aff can theorize (preemptively?) that being forced to disclaim all ES is somehow unfair when all neg has to do is claim potential ES, or for that matter, only the one ES necessary to negate. I might be convinced to buy the former position, but not the latter. If the argument is that something is categorically wrong versus its not being categorically wrong, that’s a fair debate. I’m not going to use them but I’m going to potentially use them, on the other hand, is just word games. In realpolitik, not supporting a claim is the equivalent of not making the claim. If everyone knows you’re not going to use your nukes, for instance, your nukes might as well not exist. You don’t rattle your saber unless you are willing to use it.

The good and the bad, in other words. Run a strong offense on both sides, or not. People will tell me that not running a strong offense, and running an evasive offense,
is better debating. I think I’d be hard-pressed to grant that, to tell you the truth.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Math, continued; Tolstoievsky; the Aughties; coming out

Following up on the math, at Ridge there were exactly 80 people in the field. Thanks to our trusty iDebate app, this meant that if we had five rounds and broke to partial doubles, we could break half the 3-2s. If we went to six rounds and octos (the only viable alternative) we could break 6 out of 19 4-2s. In a word, no contest. The best chance for the most people, going by our down-2 rubric, looked to us like the fewer rounds and more breaks. And that’s exactly what we did. As we have already concluded here, we’re probably best looking at each tournament when we’re there, evaluating all the factors at hand, starting with numbers and then throwing in time, space and monsters from the id, and then making our decision. Since all happy tournaments are alike, while each unhappy tournament is unhappy in its own way, which is how Lev Tolstoy put it in his classic novel, Petersburg High AK, this is probably the best approach.

(Sometimes I feel that Tolstoy jokes just don’t belong here, but then I think, if not here, where? I can’t tell them to O’C in the tab room because he’s always wandered off somewhere. I can’t tell them to the Sailors because they’re committed Dostoevsky fans—it’s that hedgehog and fox thing, I guess. And I can’t tell them around the chez because Tik (pronounced teek) and Pip the Wondercat are in serious withdrawal over the death of the television soap opera, and the last thing they want to hear is Commie Red Russia propaganda, you Pinko! That leaves the DJ, but to tell you the truth, even though we are publishers, we don’t do a lot of Tolstoy anymore. If he were to start writing pop romances, on the other hand, we’d pick him up in a minute. War and Peace? No way. War and the Single Mom, on the other hand? We’d be on it like wet on water.)

Meanwhile, Bietz and O’C want to do the Best of the Decade in the next TVFT, which we’re postponing for a couple of reasons, one of which is, I guess, the two of them figuring out what the best of the decade was. The VCA is well aware that even if I had much interest in the history of debate, I wouldn’t be able to remember it if it happened before last Tuesday. I’m a forward thinker, not a backward thinker. Best Tie at TOC Worn by A Junior Who Went 4-3 just doesn’t interest me (although I gather O’C has three potential candidates for the prize). Best Team of the Decade? Sigh. Fastest Speaking Debater to Pass Out From Hyperventilation in a Doubles Round? Well, maybe that one. Anyhow, it will probably be a good episode with them waxing rhapsodic over the decade that was and me haranguing them for waxing rhapsodic over the decade that was. Whatever.

Oh, yeah. I forgot. O’C came out last week as an unwaveringly full-blooded theremin fan. All weekend in the tabroom he played us, not merely theremin music, but the absolute greatest hits from his vast theremin collection, both audio and video. The only break we got was when he would wander off, at which point we would go back to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. “Take Me Back to Tulsa” just isn’t the same on the theremin. Seriously. But then again, what is?

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Night of the Living MJP

So, says you, how was the old MJP at Ridge?

First of all, the longer MJP keeps floating around in my mind, the less I am willing to come down against it. The argument in favor of it seems to be based on tab trying to provide the best judges for a given round, and adding the debaters into the decision-making process. That is, we believe that you should get a top judge when it most matters, on the bubble. We have our idea of who that judge might be, and the debaters have their idea. So, with MJP, we defer to the debaters’ idea. After all, they’re the ones in the fray. Given that at almost all tournaments we do manage the judging so that some measure of top judges go where they’re most needed, this is hard to argue with. I mean, we’re already most of the way there. This is all of the way.

The objection to community ranking, which takes the ranking of the judges out of the hands of the tab room and into the hands of the community at large, is that it requires a knowledge of the community. So it works pretty well for regional contests, but if someone comes in from outside the region, they can be at a disadvantage. Agreed. Of course, at $ircuit tournaments, non-$ircuit debaters don’t know the pool of judges as well as old hands, so it’s the opposite situation and the newbies suffer in that situation (and let’s admit it, paradigms are okay but not that predictive beyond things like taste in speed, theory and framework, and even then half of paradigms are noncommittal). I would prefer community rankings to tab room rankings most of the time (which is why, if I didn’t necessarily invent them, I certainly have been their greatest advocate, making them fairly common around here). Nine times out of ten, if not more, tab’s rankings will be identical to the community’s rankings, but the point is to allow the people in the tournament to help define the tournament. Community rankings is better for that than tab room rankings.

Anyhow, the counter argument (which I’ve made myself at times) is that a good LDer ought to be able to pick up any ballot (short of the totally idiotic judge whose paradigm is unpredictability). Pure roll of the dice, in other words. After all, both debaters have the same judge in each round, so they’re theoretically in the same position. But this makes some assumptions, such as, both debaters are identical in approach and therefore equally advantaged/disadvantaged. Let’s say one debater usually debates in front of relatively lay judges, and the other usually debates in front of circuit judges. If they’re now in front of one or the other, one of them is, obviously, advantaged in adaptation ability. So this argument isn’t totally convincing. And even absent that, most debaters come up being judged by parents and the like as newbies, and even the top circuit people get the lay judge once in a while, or the old-timer who hates what LD is today and wants all the debaters to get off their lawn, and they must needs learn how to handle those situations. So when you think about it, good debaters often do have to work what they might consider a less than congenial style than normal. But the good ones do it. You adjust. You adapt. All the MJP in the world (short of a tournament with an infinite number of judges able to provide infinite A+ A+ rounds) doesn’t really change that. So the theoretical argument against MJP isn’t as strong as it appears on face.

Anyhow, in practice, at least at Ridge, maybe half the field did a bunch of preffing and the other half didn’t. The result is that those who didn't pref face the judges preferred by those who did. Mostly this works out as the best judges in the field anyhow, so I would imagine the non-preferring debater isn’t all that disadvantaged most of the time. Teams that don’t even strike, on the other hand, are simply either masochistic, or their coaches are sadistic. Everybody has a couple of people they couldn’t win a ballot from even if their opponent didn’t show up. I know that in my judging days there were perfectly good debaters who I dropped 4 years running. I’d be hard-pressed to suggest that they shouldn’t have struck me if they had had the chance. Hell, I would have struck me if I had had the chance. Going into a round of So-And-So again, knowing that I’d dropped them the last hundred times, was no picnic on my end either.

Another thing, by the way, is that if neither side expressed a preference, they both get a random judge. Assuming that they preferred randomness, they got what they wanted. So the non-preferring either got a judge that their opponent certified as good, or a random judge in keeping with their own desire for randomness. The complaint window will mostly be closed on that one, folks.

My conclusions on MJP spiritually, in other words, seem to be evolving. Practically speaking, it was, as many had predicted, quite easy to work. If anything, it requires less input from tab than general rankings in prelims, and about the same amount of paying attention on elims. (We’ve worked out a very basic system that spreads out the good judges fairly across all the panels, and MJP or no MJP doesn’t have much effect on it, and it is a bit time-consuming.) My guess is that we will see more of MJP going forward. We’re talking Lexington, for instance. Probably not the Gem of Harlem or Unharvard. Certainly at Lakeland. I forget what JV was thinking about Scarsdale. So that’s a couple of shots, at least. And going into next year, O’C is already committed to it the Babycakes Invitational, if I’m not mistaken. So the northeast, those posters of results after each round (and brackets before elims start), instillers of MJP and calibrated run-off rounds and whatnot, are once again not quite the backwater people like to think of us as. We’re a different backwater altogether.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

SR in three brushstrokes

"Sophie, you're right."
"No, no, no, no, no!"
"Sophie, I'm agreeing with you."


"No more talking about debate. [Pause.] That semis round was ridiculous."


"Are you going to eat that toast?"

Friday, December 11, 2009

Next time I get some bright idea about new tabbing processes, please shoot me

This is all just from the world of the imponderables.

CP put MJP abilities into tabroom. People could rank the judges. He subsequently adjusted it so that you had to stick to the ranks as noted (initially you could put in 142 strikes and 10 As and there you were). Then he set it to upload to TRPC. Therein lie the problem. Somehow the judges codes in the MJP file were different from the codes in the general TRPC file.


The first solution to this problem looked like a manual entering of all the data, a lifetime job, but I realized pretty early on that I could tinker with the text file and, with a little care, make it work. The next problem was that judges not ranked all went in as Cs. This meant I couldn’t upload it wholesale, because there were plenty of empties, which would have meant a lot (a LOT) of errant Cs. Which meant enough copying and pasting to sink the proverbial battleship using a get-from-email feature in TRPC. Then I got up early this morning to fix the presumed 10% that I mishandled in the wee hours last night. I was right 1) in getting up early and 2) that I had mishandled about 10%.

When all was said and done it looked pretty good. How it actually works I will report back later after the pudding has been eaten.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Communication breakdown

Running a tournament where everyone is spread out all over kingdom come is a real challenge. I offer the following suggestions if you wish to try it at home.

First, have people text the results. We used a Google voice acct at Princeton, one that the Princeton Debate Panel uses for team business. It worked like a charm. Have people send you judge name, aff code, points, neg code, pts, winner code, + lpw if necessary. 90% of your debate judges are capable of doing this. 5% are capable of doing it wrong, and another 5% are simply incapable of doing it at all. The ones who do it wrong simply can’t read the directions printed on the ballot. There is no way to adjust for these people, because if the directions were worded differently, they’d read those different ones wrong. My guess is that the metal plates in their heads, combined with the botched lobotomy back when they were still in the toddling stage, are cutting off the neural signals in and out of the cerebral cortex. Whatever. The 5% who don’t text at all either don’t have cell phones or refuse to text on principle. Curiously enough, our tardiest ballots did not come from these people, so they may be luddites or simply obdurate, but at least they moved fast on the ground, so they weren’t a problem. This may just have been a happy accident, though. Last I heard, we were coming into 2010 any day now. Trust me, people: It’s all right to own and use the features of a cell phone. You’ll survive the experience.

Second, I used Twitter again for crowd herding. I know people were signed up for the tweets from @DebateTab, and in the event people were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there, aside from the ones who make being late their calling card because they’re so dreadfully busy doing…Well, you’ve got me there. What does one do at a debate tournament when one isn’t involved in the debating part of it? Our slogan is “Ne flanez pas,” which is loosely translatable as, “Would you mind readjusting your busy and important life just a tad to take in our insignificant little tournament that we apologize for inflicting on you, your Highness?” Anyhow, Twitter (or whatever replaces Twitter on the next tech wave) is a good tool for general announcements, and more and more people are using it, if for nothing else than to at least follow our tournament tweets. We’ll use it again next at Columbia, where once more we are all scattered to the winds.

Third, and most inconveniently, CP had put out a phone number for tab, and given us the phone with that number. At the beginning, we thought simply that some random Tigger had left his phone behind, so we ignored it, except the ringtone was execrable, and as we started banging it with a hammer someone on the other end started talking about room problems or something, and eventually we cottoned to the idea that this phone was for us. After that (and after adjusting the ringtone), we carried it everywhere so that when people called us, wherever we were, we could solve their problems. Of course, one or two problems were not for us, but curiously enough, in those cases, the person on the other end of the line, rather than following our suggestion that they go to the registration table or whatever, decided that we were just joshing them and that we could solve their problems, and that continuing to talk to us, endlessly repeating the nature of the situation, would eventually cause us to come to our senses. Which is why all cell phones have that red button that performs the goodbye function without the user actually having to get out of the conversation. Jeesh!

The easiest tournaments to run are in one building, with tab and an umbilically attached ballot table in the direct center, with no stairs anywhere. A pantabicon, so to speak. Move away from that, and the further away you are from pantabicon, the more other measures must be taken. This weekend at Ridge is one of the closest to a pantabicon solution around. I’m looking forward to it.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Judges: can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em (in some states).

There are some hearty perennials out there. You have no doubt seen them all, and heard me talk about them, but a tournament like Princeton seems to bring them out in force.

There’s the varsity judge who picks up a ballot for round one and then walks over to me and says how he’s never judged before in his life and no one, including his absentee coach, has told him what to do.
Talk to him briefly. Put him in novice. Find out what school he’s from. Punish that school’s coach until one of us retires.
Here’s the deal:
Schools are obligated to train the people they send to judge. In the case of parent judges, these heroic folks are really helping out the teams enormously (which the team reciprocates by turning their kids into debaters). For a coach not to train a parent, to send a parent into the fray totally unprepared, in varsity no less, is simply an indication that the coach has no respect for either his teams’ most important supporters or the tournament his team is attending or his team’s competitors, who are stuck with that judge at the back of the room. In this particular case, not surprisingly, this coach is among the loudest complainers about judging when he actually shows up. We will have words about this soon.

The judge, for some reason or other, wasn’t paying attention. A predilection for texting rather than flowing leads the list of offenses, but there are plenty of others.
Study the judge closely. Read ballots. Investigate. Lower the rating. Remember for all time.
Here’s the deal:
Debaters come to tab and say that such and such was going on. The thing is, tab can only do so much. The hard and fast rule is that once a ballot is submitted, that’s the end of the story, and we’ve talked about that here. Tab rooms execute the laws; they do not create them or even interpret them. It is the tournament directors who are responsible for making all the decisions, although occasionally tab will step in if we are confident of our position. The thing is, at college tournaments, there really isn’t a TD as such, or at best, the TD isn’t available because of the scope of the tournament dragging that person elsewhere. In egregious cases tab can do a few things, but we did not hire the judges, we did not bring the judges, and we have no authority over the judges. When there are problems, coaches need to come to tab, not students, and then tab needs to put their problems to the tournament director. (We heard one story that we bought into pretty quickly, for instance, that became sort of a meme for the tournament, but it turned out to be untrue in the long run.) Students love to take control of their judges, and I understand that. But if I were to take out all the “bad” judges from many tournaments, we wouldn’t have anyone left to eat the donuts in the judges’ lounge. And one person’s bad judge is another person’s god—trust me on this, as I go through the MJP for Ridge. The bottom line, again, is that if there is a problem, the coach needs to bring it to the tournament director via tab.

Judges who do not pick up their ballots in a timely fashion, or who otherwise whine, weasel and act wascally.
Usually none, although occasionally we find ourselves blessed with a judge who seems to work so well in the down-4 rounds…
Here’s the deal:
Certain people, the same ones every single tournament, are the last ones to pick up their ballots. As a result, the entire tournament must wait for them, because we can’t pair without all the data. This is why we push ballots as soon as feasibly possible. At Princeton, we ran about an hour behind our schedule on Saturday, more from overaggressive scheduling than anything preventable. At one point, it was nearing two hours, and the only way to get on track was for all the judges to get there and do their jobs. Most did. A couple didn’t. Those couple are the barnacles on the ship bottom of debate. Always were, always will be. By the way, these same judges complain about not having a meal break (this is a debate tournament, not a getaway spa, and besides, at Princeton the tournament was providing plenty of judge food), have no idea where their students or other judges are when they’re late, and are generally pains in the patootie in all aspects of trying to run a tournament. Unfortunately, murder is still illegal in New Jersey.

I’m not trying to make excuses here because, frankly, I know that our traveling tab room does an excellent job week after week. But tab’s job is tabbing the tournament. We may look like we’re in some position of authority, but what we really are is good at organizing things—if Vaughan and I had been in charge of D-Day, for instance, we would have stormed those beaches in late December of ’41. At our own tournaments, we are indeed in charge of things, but we don’t also tab. I mean, JV tabs my tournament and I tab his, and ditto Cruz and, back in the day, Kaz, a deliberate distinction between tabbing and directing. And when there’s a decision to be made, the TD makes it, not tab. TDs determine the nature of the tournament, which is why all the tournaments I tab are not the same. I have no control of anything except the computer and my trusty roll of masking tape, which I guard with my hardware engineer’s life. Everything else is up to the TD. Good, organized coaches have good, organized tournaments. Goofballs have goofball tournaments. Colleges have complicated tournaments. On your end, you need to factor all of this into your personal debate math. You go to this tournament because it’s good and you don’t go to that one because it’s bad. Define good and bad? It changes from tournament to tournament. The tabbing per se, however, at least in those rooms inhabited by the northeast traveling tabroom, is virtually identical. Judge a tournament by its venue and its directorship. Judge a tournament by the nature of its student staff. Judge a tournament by the quality of its hired judges, and by how effectively it insists on schools bringing their own quality judges. Judge a tournament by the quality of its food! There’s a lot of factors that go into the math. Have fun trying to figure them out.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Coming soon to a blog near you!

To answer richmindseed’s last comment up front, Rawls, I would suggest, would not prefer that everyone break (I was actually reading about this last night, surprisingly enough). He would instead tell those who break that they were lucky to be born into the world in such a way as to be better debaters than the rest of the field and that it is absolutely no accomplishment on their part: they have not merited breaking, they were just lucky enough to accidentally have the skills/talent/training/genes to break. And I don’t think that one can take any particular element in a vacuum as the determinant. Debate tournaments exist for many reasons, not just so that one person can win. If that were the case, I wouldn’t take debaters along who I know can’t win. The underlying goals of debate are arguable, but they are certainly not limited to, and could conceivably not even include, winning tournaments. (I’m happy to discuss this in more depth and, in fact, often do.) In any case, going forward, the upshot of the math discussion here is to seriously think about each tournament and its numbers and goals and to act accordingly. We are only at the starting point of this journey toward a workable elim/prelim paradigm. But at least we’re thinking about it and talking about it, not just here but in TVFT and, I understand, at various tournaments over which I have no control. Our work here is not done, but it’s in progress.

What I really want to talk about is judges and judging, and some common misperceptions of the job of a tabroom. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time today, so I’ll just have to make that a preview of coming attractions. Meanwhile, just go about your business in an orderly fashion and do not exit your vehicle until it has come to a complete stop. Have a magical day! (Feh…)

Monday, December 07, 2009

And the magic number is minus two

When did this become a math blog? I don’t remember getting that memo. Oh, well…

We are, of course, working from the pyramid structure, starting with 2 presets and then a variable number of further prelims, leading to a variable number of elims.

Some issues beyond the math:

First of all, everyone does not clear. A lot of people come to a tournament to debate. They may hope to clear (sometimes they even hope against hope), but most of the people who pay their admission fees to eat the debate ziti (literally and figuratively) do not break. On one utilitarian plane, we have an obligation to provide the non-breakers with the most for their money. This would be, of course, the most prelim rounds.

Secondly, we want to do our best to fulfill the hopes of clearing. So we need to have a system of prelims that best leads to elims from a sort of Rawlsian perspective. We need to be behind the tabroom veil of ignorance to determine what seems the most fair. This is harder to gauge than the simple utility of more prelim rounds = more for your money overall. To provide elim fairness, everyone behind the VOE needs to agree that the determination is the correct one, i.e., the best one possible. I would suggest that a tournament that breaks most of its down-twos is distributively just. A tournament that breaks all of its down-twos or most of its down-twos and provides a runoff for the small minority at the bubble is probably more just, although often unfeasible.

Thirdly, we need to work with the materials at hand. A judge pool is what a judge pool is. (I want to talk about judge pools absent this particular discussion, so the VCA need not worry that we will go there soon, and in depth. There have been some issues lately…) It really doesn’t matter if one manages a tournament totally at random or if one goes all the way to 9-step MJP, a given debater will get some good decisions and some sketchy decisions and maybe some terrible decisions. Given the human factor, we need to build in some leeway for sketchy and terrible. I would say, let’s allow you to lose one round because of terrible judging (although I would point out the classic issue, as my daughter does, that your opponent also had that terrible judge and somehow managed to pick up that ballot), and another round because of a bad draw. This is a competition, and that seems reasonable. That the same people break all the time, with strong winning records, regardless of which tournament they’re at, regardless of the nature of the judge pool or the tabbing paradigm, indicates that this works, that good debaters get through whatever judges they have to, however they get through them, most of the time (but not necessarily undefeated). Also, the quality of the pool is a big determinant of elims when we go by straight rankings. Rounds adjudicated by all As versus rounds of all As and Bs versus pure randomness? What you break to, depending on the philosophy of the judge selection, will be what you can reasonably accommodate with the pool that you have.

Fourth, we have space/time constraints. Depending on the venue, we have all the rooms we need as long as we need them, or we don’t, and we have all the time we need, or we don’t, or some combination of the two. High schools, excluding the big octo tournaments, are usually limited in both space and time to one and a half days of competition. Colleges have pressures on space (the entire campuses are not given over to the tournament, and often fees are paid per room). Other factors play into this, with varying results.

So, here’s what we want. We want as many prelims as possible to satisfy the vast number of people who attended with competition. We want that number of prelims to intelligently lead to a correct number of elims, with an assumption that most or all down-twos should break. We need to fit those prelims and elims (and bubble rounds) into the time and space we have available for the tournament.

Simple, right?

I want to throw in one more piece of information. I did the math on Princeton, comparing the 4-2s after 6 rounds to the 5-2s after 7 rounds. Assuming no runoffs, breaking 32 of these people meant 29 were the same, 3 were different. In other words, adding the 7th round meant that 3 people who would have broken after 6 were replaced by three other people. If this is meaningful and not merely anecdotal, it would seem as if 7 rounds + a straight break to doubles makes a lot more sense intuitively than 6 rounds + a straight break. 7 breaks almost all of the down twos and 6 doesn’t. In the event, 3 people are harmed. Very utilitarianly sound. The only viable alternative is 6 rounds + a break to triples. This provides fewer rounds to the non-breakers, and probably advances a radically different group to octos than either of our straight 6 or 7. Whether this latter is good or not remains to be seen. I would say not, but I have no way of testing the hypothesis.

Bottom line? Each tournament has to be balanced on its own from both directions. The tournament directors need to figure what makes sense for their time and space, then provide the field with the right amount of both elims and prelims on a case-by-case basis. The participants need to weigh the costs of the tournament against the returns on the investment. In other words, CBAs on both sides. Tournaments that don't balance well the needs of the many will find themselves hosting a smaller and smaller few as tournaments that are responsive to the community will continue to be popular. Rule of thumb? Seems to me that it's probably this: provide as many prelims as possible and as many elims as possible, always with the goal of breaking all the down-twos. The closer you are to that goal, the better you'll look in everyone's cost benefit analysis. And any individual team's decision to go or not go to a particular tournament is an indication of how well or poorly a tournament is doing its job.

Friday, December 04, 2009


Yes, it’s the first annual ForensiCapades, coming soon to an ice skating rink near you!

For years, forensics coaches, students and bus drivers, all of whom are committed devotees of the Ice Capades, have been demanding their very own Capades dedicated to the activity they love the most. And now, Judd Apatow, Danny Boyle and James Cameron, with the posthumous assistance of Stanley Kubrick and a host of other dead people, have joined forces to fulfill that dream. The water has been poured and frozen, the skates have been sharpened, the sequins have been sewn on the toreador pants, and the ForensiCapades are a reality.

Starring in this inaugural event on the ice is—

I’m sorry. I can’t go on. There’s nothing funny about ForensiCapades. It is, in fact, one of the saddest aspects of our activity, that neither on the national circuit, on the college trail nor in local events is there even a hint of what has made Capades important in the first place. We argue about evidence and theory and resolutions and tabbing practices, but do we care about splits and triple axels and former Olympic stars dressed up as Disney cartoon characters? It is a failing of our community that, even in the dead of winter when the ice is already as high as an elephant's eye, when we pack for a tournament with 3 suits, 5 ties, 2 computers and enough underwear to get us through basic training at Parris Island, we never once think to throw in our skates, our short skirts, or our ankle warmers. And I, for one, have had enough!

Please join me in signing the petition that will begin circulating this month at tournaments throughout the country demanding that henceforth all debating be done on the ice, on skates, according to the rigid NFL (National Frozen League) Capades rules. This will apply to LD, Policy and PF. (Mavericks will be permitted, but they will have to toss themselves into the air and then catch themselves on the way down to qualify.) There is still time to bring the Capades spirit to forensics! Don’t turn your back on the greatest need in our activity. Sharpen your pencil and sign the petition. Then we can all sharpen our skates and head out to explore the true meaning of forensics.

(Offer not available in Canada, Iran or downtown Philadelphia.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Elims v. Prelims. And the winner is?

A lot of discussion has continued over the elim/prelim math, both on TVFT, in my Sailors meeting, and here both in postings and comments. I wonder if we can establish some sort of best practice.

The goal of any tournament with elimination rounds is to advance an appropriate portion of the field from the prelims. I personally have always tended to think in percentages when called upon to make that sort of decision. I roughly settle in at about advancing 25-30% of a varsity field, and maybe 30-35% of a novice field. (There seems to be some satisfaction in letting more novices break, on an intuitive assumption that it will tend to retain them in the activity if they get off to a rewarding start.) My thinking has changed due to recent discussions. Percentage is okay, but it’s probably not the best way to evaluate the break point. Rounds won/lost is cleaner and more precise, and probably more meaningful to the participants.

All tournaments with elims that I’m talking about have a minimum of 5 rounds. Some have 6, and some have 7. There may or may not be limits to the numbers of rounds that can transpire. But the first determination we need to make is, how many rounds are warranted by what numbers. The warrant point, as has been suggested, is a record of down 2; that is, all down-2s ought to break. Why? Again, it’s intuitive, but I think we believe that certainly you ought to be able to lose one round for real and one dubious round and still break. Makes sense.

In our present systems, it’s usually speaker points that make the difference in which debaters will or won’t break who are down 2. The assumption is that high speaks denote a better debater than lower speaks (and we juggle the points, dropping the high and low, to eliminate the extremes in either direction). But speaker points are a notoriously complicated and personal measure that no amount of normalized has ever normalized. They are not the best tool for establishing the break point.

So, we stick with the down 2. We want all the down-2s to break. So first, we have to find a point given the number of debaters in the field where a reasonable about of down-2s come naturally (i.e., 5, 6 or 7 prelim rounds).

69 naturally breaks all 3-2s with 5 prelims
99 naturally breaks all 4-2s with 6 prelims
149 naturally breaks all 5-2s with 7 prelims

From those starting points,

69 to octos, 10 5-2s break out of 11
99 to doubles, 20 4-2s break out of 23
149 to doubles, 22 52-s break out of 25

You probably don’t want to break the 69 to doubles, and 6 prelims for 69 seems pretty over-the-top, so one solution is a partial double, breaking all the 5-2s, with run-offs at the bubble. 99 works almost perfectly at doubles (which is quite generous, 32 out of 99); do you really want a run-off of 3 rounds? Perhaps. 149 to doubles after 7 is the same as 99 after 6, a small run off.

So our solutions here are 69/5 with a partial double, 99/6 doubles (possible run off), 149/7 doubles (possible run off). 69 requires 5 + 5, 99 requires 6 + 5 (+1?), 149 requires 7 +5 (+1)

Can we use triples as an alternative?

Trips makes no sense with the 69, but let’s look at the 99 and the 149.

99, 5 prelims to triples, advances all 3-2s and half the 2-3s.
149, 6 prelims to triples, advances all the 4-2s and 12 of 46 3-3s

The 99 is dicey with a full triple, but a partial triple excluding the 2-3s means 99/5 triples = 5 + 6. 149/6 means 6+6 (and here, you could exclude the 3-3s). As you can see, the use of fewer prelims and more elims seems, at least with these numbers (all from iDebate, btw), to actually lead to fewer rounds but better breakage. It eliminates the need for run-offs.

More breaks rounds, fewer prelim rounds. Anyone still reading this? Thoughts?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A coach's mind is a terrible thing to waste

I learned a lot last night.

First of all, nobody wants a seventh round at Princeton. I have this on the authority of both the Panivore and SuperSquirrel, who told me that, to be more specific, “nobody wants a seventh round at Princeton.” Nobody? says I. Nobody, they insist. Everybody doesn’t want it. Everybody has discussed it at great length and come to this conclusion. Why doesn’t anybody speak up in one of the bazillion venues I offer them, says I. What venues, say they. You want them all commenting on your blog? How about commenting somewhere, I suggest.

My thought is that nobody, everybody and anybody need to get together and agree to something.

I gather the issue is one that CP and I discussed between ourselves, which was whether the nature of a tournament somehow played into a tournament’s math, and we didn’t go far with this. There seems to be an unfortunate acceptance of some tournaments having a lot of rounds and others not having a lot of rounds, entirely tied to bid-ness. As the VCA well knows, and for that matter as the Sailors well know, each tournament exists for its own sake, not the sake of something else. Aside from the qualifiers for CatNats and NatNats, every event we attend we attend because we want to be at that event. We want to gain experience or maybe take some tin or have some fun or whatever, but each tournament needs to stand or fall on its own terms. Think of it as dating. You can date people all your life as a process of evaluating them as a mate, and dump them the second you learn that they aren’t going to marry you, or you can date people all your life and have fun with them and then, someday, you might marry one of them. The latter is highly preferable to the former (and will both get you more dates and a more likely compatible spouse). So I go back to the pure math. Tournaments, standing alone as they do, need to break a reasonable number of its participants. This means a certain number of rounds, and possibly runoffs if the stakes are high enough. This has always been one of my biggest objections to the NY State finals, that they only have four rounds in what is a high-stakes (state championship) event. That’s just not enough. There seems to be some logic in attempting to achieve the paradigm of lose two and break. That is, at any tournament, we should try as close as possible to break all the down-twos. If we can break them all, we’ve hit the ideal. Since often the ideal is unattainable for practical reasons, we aim to get as close as possible.

Other things I learned last night is that when I talk about Chris everybody looks at me like I have a hole in me head. CP and Palmer, on the other hand, are like old friends to them. Additionally, Sailor freshmen don’t know an economic sanction or a foreign policy from a beached whale. And none of the Sailors (spoiled as they were by the audio version) realized that all the coaches names in Nostrum are anagrams. For that matter, some of the Sailors also still labor under the assumption that I wrote Nostrum, whereas I was merely the go-between for Jules and the Nostrumite. And Zip did not know which Beatle’s first name is James.

Interesting night.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Chestnut Roasting on an Open Fire

Economic sanctions? Of course. I mean, first of all, I feel like we’ve debated this about a thousand times, mainly because it is a classic topic. The relationships between countries are an open area of discussion insofar as, while there are plenty of opinions of what can and should be done, there is no accepted body of lore containing a canon of ethical opinions as a starting point. I mean, we can discuss personal liberty from a starting point of utility or deontology or whatever, drawing on a relatively small number of classical sources with which most LD people are reasonably familiar. But when you move away from individuals and their own society to two or more societies, there is no solid Kant or Mill or Rawls or whatever—universally accepted theorists or theories, in other words—to start you off. The thing is, political actions among states are a special interest, so to speak. They only affect citizens in proportion to the nature and especially the power of our state. It makes a big difference if you’re a sanctioner or a sanctionee, for instance. It makes a big difference if your nation is rich or poor. It makes a big difference if you’re talking democracies or dictatorships (on either side). General principles in this ever-changing arena are few and far between mostly because there isn’t really a lot of hoo-ha between nations in the first place on which to base analysis. Either they trade, or they don’t, and if they do, they simply exchange goods to mutual advantage, and if they don’t, they don’t pay much attention to each other. That’s because of the nature of states in the first place. States exist because they are, to some degree, self-sufficient culturally and economically. When they do pay attention to each other, aside from normal trade relations, it’s because of issues aside from trade (or despite trade) that are usually unique, or at least do not point to universal truths about humanity as a whole. Since ethicists are usually looking to understand universal truths about humanity as a whole (if any), they don’t bother much with seeking universal truths about cultures. I mean, North Korea does not equal Iran. Their histories are radically different, their cultures are radically different, their economies are radically different, their politics are radically different. Their only similarities are that they are dictatorships (in practice), and they use the realm of nuclear weaponry to deal with other nations. I guess you could say that they both do it to overcome their otherwise weak military positions (which is the point of nuclear acquisition in the first place), but that’s not so much a great equalizer as simply a coincidence. It doesn’t make them, or their intentions, similar. And the classic sanctions against South Africa during apartheid were yet another story altogether.

Connecting the dots of Brownian motion is, in other words, a mug’s game.

It’s a mug’s game I like, however. I’ve always been a fan of resolutions about multiple nations precisely because the topics usually do not clearly boil to a set area any more than the overarching question of sovereignty boils down clearly. You can go a lot of ways with it, and given that we’ll be talking about this topic for virtually the rest of the season, that is a good thing. I took a peak over at and found, I’m happy to say, relative acceptance (although, of course, the initial reaction, as always, is to drag out the tired old one-size-fits-all tactical guns, but that’s what debaters do, and I should be used to it by now). Step number one is to look at who is sanctioning whom, just to get a feel for it. Go beyond the obvious (the three I’ve mentioned above). Since you don’t have a body of lore (except for whatever half-assed commentators you’ve clipped over the years, none of whom are really acknowledged fonts of accepted wisdom), you’ll have to do some thinking for yourself. If you want to win, that is. You can, if you are so inclined, run the tired old same old, if you want. If you don’t mind judges using your round to catch a few Zs, that is.