Sunday, February 28, 2010

Uncharacteristic weekend post

This weekend was the worst. I won't bore you with tales of true debate coach adventure, how I survived the cold and the lack of electricity and the lack of internet because it's too boring, but it was also boring going through it. And cold.

And to think: I coulda been at Lakeland.

Anyhow, much returns to normal, and Lakeland will live on, on the weekend previously owned by the MHL Grand Championships. We will combine the two. Since Lakeland is already free, and we were only going to charge a small trophy fee for the MHLGC, it seems to work. There are one or two details to iron out, but iron we will. So, save the weekend of 4/10 not for a one-day but for a two-day event. With me and Cruz at the tabbing helm.

I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

They bewent thataway

Last night a handful of intrepid Sailors arrived at the chez in a light mist and left an hour later into a raging blizzard. The weather around here has been, shall we say, a little punk.

Lakeland is this weekend, and in this regard a day or so ago Stefan sent out a message saying, to wit, “Snow? What snow? I look snow in the eye and tell it begone, and that sucker turns tail and begoes! There will be no snow at Lakeland. Don’t even think about it.”

This was followed the next day by a message, “The weather looks slightly worse than originally thought, but the powers that be here in the Land of Lakes insist that we will hold this tournament this weekend at any cost.” Which is odd, because it’s free, and therefore there isn’t any cost. He goes on. “If we have to we’ll start late on Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday. We’re tough here in the Land of Lakes!”

The most recent message reminded us that the original Lakeland Tournament, in 1912, was conducted on the Titanic. All of the policy teams went down with the ship during their 1NCs of round 4. The LDers, on the other hand, misunderstood the “women and children first” announcement and practically stampeded to the lifeboats where, on hearing that they actually did qualify as children, they refused to board, insisting that no child in anyone’s memory had even understood the social contract they way they did (this was before theory and kritiks replaced philosophy and ethics with smoke and mirrors), and thus they too went down with the ship, leaving only a handful of Declamation freshmen to survive the ordeal. The Unsinkable Lakeland Tournament, as it has ever since been known, insists that no iceberg, on land or sea, will ever stop it again.

As for me, I’m betting on the likelihood of a bus from Sailordom to the Land of Lakes on Friday is pretty small, and have instructed the ABs to secure some transportation in advance, just in case. I’m wondering if the entire LD division will just be me and O’C in tab listening to my four-album set of “It’s a Small World” outtakes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Take that, Richard Dawkins!

I will not be able to go to Omaha to CatNats. I’m not quite sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. The reason I can’t go is family stuff, so it’s good on that point. And my desire to see beautiful downtown Omaha isn’t as high as, say, my desire to see the Taj Mahal. And for all I know, we won’t qualify anyone, so this could all just be pipe dreaming. But then again, I usually enjoy CatNats. Often they set them up so that you are unable to find a meal in the host city after, say, 8:00 pm because the host city has already been closed for the last two hours. Except of course for Rochester, which had no city to close, and the only accessible restaurant was a BBQ joint with a ten-hour waitlist of Hell’s Angels. Detroit was fun, though: it took two hours just to get to the head of the line for the elevators, and then there was the whole stealing-of-the-cots that took most of the first night, not to mention the literal lockdown on the prairie for the actual rounds. Minnesota was great because we managed to break into Benihana just as it was closing by sneaking out of the awards after the first three hours of thankarama; I have no idea where everyone else ate. And who can forget beautiful downtown Albany, which is, uh, in Albany? If nothing else, CatNats gives you a menu of disasters from which to choose when one is by the fireside in the ensuing years, narrating tales of great debate adventure.

On the other hand, there is a tribal thing about the event, seeing people you don’t often run into. Although, come to think of it, mostly I’m trying to avoid all of those people I don’t often run into, so combine the lack of sustenance and the threat of tab disaster with the proximity of some schmegeggie you’ve been trying to avoid for the last few years, and toss in a cross-country trek to the middle of nowhere (defining nowhere as virtually every city in which they locate CatNats, with the possible exception of NYC, the last one of which I spent at Loyola emptying trash cans), and that whole good thing slash bad thing is seen in a totally different light.

Let me run this again.

I will not be able to go to Omaha to CatNats. Which proves that, yes, there is a God.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Civic obligation

I spent a lot of time yesterday organizing the upcoming tournaments vis-à-vis the Sailors. One monkey wrench in the machinery was that I have been called for jury duty in mid March. Oh joy, oh rapture. I have to wonder how desirable someone deeply involved in the justification of jury nullification will appear during voir dire, but then again, if the defense’s case really sucks, I may be looked on as their savior. Whatever. Unfortunately this coincides with some serious DJ burdens, but at least I’m not going on vacation and I don’t have any debate trips planned, so the pain is entirely my own and business-oriented. What really sucks is that they don’t allow electronic devices in the building. Jeesh! Then again, it insures that I will do DJ work on the train and during downtime. Forced labor, if you ask me, and a good thing it is, given my tendency to digress.

I digress? Moi? Yeah, right.

Anyhow, because of those DJ burdens, things may be a little thin on the ground here at CL HQ. I trust that the VCA will patiently abide my other obligations for the next few weeks. I will post, but not in much depth. But I’ll be back in strength eventually.

Onward coachean soldiers!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Speaking fluent Bietzish; the Debater Wears Prada (not); Hi-ho, Land of Lakes!

Bietz tells me that he doesn’t really understand Nostrum. I don’t know what to say to this. Jules suggests that maybe he and the Mite should consider offering it both in English and in translation to whatever language Bietz speaks (presumably some combination of Californian and Minnesotan) but this seems like going awfully far just to win over one person. I think they should simply publish Cliff’s Notes, which would help not only MB but also any future students who need to pass AP Nostrum Studies to get into a decent college. Whatever. I’m just the narrator.

Speaking of narrations, if you’re following TVFT you should probably be looking at the comments on the blog site. Bubb posted a bunch of stuff, proving that, if nothing else, Bubb was listening to us as well as CP. O’C and Bietz maintain that plenty of people listen to us other than Bubb and CP, but I have no way of verifying this. View stats of the blog wouldn’t necessarily say anything, and I’m not sure how to get hits from iTunes, although there must be a way, and the truth is that I just wasn’t really planning on looking. I take an agnostic position on the whole thing. Some people will listen, some people won’t. I don’t expect it to replace Conan O’Brien Jay Leno any time soon, but it’s probably got more followers than Jay Leno Conan O’Brien. Maybe we should do video. When we first start up on Skype, I always see O’C via his Mac webcam; the shocking thing is that he wears sweater vests even when he’s home alone. What a fashion statement! Then again, this was fashion week in NYC. Maybe he was just going along with the flow.

The next event on the agenda is Lakeland next weekend, which you probably already know all about, given that it’s going to be about the size of Cleveland. Conveniently priced (i.e., free), as far as Policy goes it’s amazing, and it’s no shirker on the LD side either. O’C and I will be running our side of things at a middle school down the road from LHS, which is good, because last year Stefan kept announcing things to the policyfolk over the school loudspeaker like, “You should now be in your 2NR” and so forth, which I’m sure kept the Policians moving along smartly, but which confused the LDers no end. O’C and I got a kick out of it, though. You gotta love the voice of God at a debate tournament. Stefan has also set out some new strict rules for those lovable teams who believe that their judges need not show up for all the rounds. Bravo! The VCA knows well my opinion of this practice: it’s nice to see that I’m not alone in this. Every round of a debate tournament needs to be judged, so your judges need to be available for every round. End of story. Don’t have the judges to cover? Don’t bring the debaters.

Anyhow, I don’t know about you but I’m off to a weekend without a debate moment in it (except for some debate stuff I’ve got to do). Mostly it will be relaxing and reading a little for the DJ. Nice.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bits and pieces

We hear a lot about Mother Teresa, but nobody ever says a word about her husband, Father Teresa. Why is that?

Anyhow, this weekend we had originally planned to conduct an MHL down at Bronx Science. Traditionally this has been a small affair, sort of a what-the-hey event, since they were already hosting their local NFL district tournament. Most people around here are on vacation, but a few folks stay behind, so the thinking is, why not give them a few rounds of debate? We figured on continuing the tradition, but this year we just couldn’t get the numbers up to make it work. I think the biggest difference was Pennsbury on this weekend, which is taking in a lot of people, which is fine by me. They get to have a nice shindig, and I get a weekend off.

A weekend off? What is that, anyhow?

On the bright side, this will give O’C a chance to buy the medals that he didn’t buy for the Brooklyn MHL. He made up a bunch of rather nice certificates that act as IOUs for future tin. No way O’C will be affiliated with a tournament that doesn’t give spiffy awards, or at least promissory notes for future spiffy awards. At the moment he is desperately trying to figure out what his Nostrum Series 2 role will be; we know, but we’re not telling. Drives him crazy, let me tell you.

Last night we brought a ringer in to TVFT to discuss March-April. The entire conversation was about the new topic, so if you’re interested, check it out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The unreport

I see that Jules has posted E3 over at Nostrum Nation. I also see that he was up at Harvard over the weekend. As the VCA knows, I was down at the unharvard (after an unusually extended bus trip, which I reported on yesterday). I prefer my location, to tell you the truth. Anyhow, here's how it played out.

First of all, for reasons that elude me, we lost some people due to a snowstorm that was over about 4 days before the tournament started, but I couldn’t do much about that. My theory is that if Monticello can make it to the tournament, anyone can make it to the tournament. I mean, the only reason the Montwegians don’t normally have classes on the 4th of July is because the school is closed because of snow, so if they can show up on Presidents’ weekend, so can you.

Central staging for the tournament was at a student center, so there were comfy chairs and wireless and many restaurants (I recommend the creperie and the assemble-your-own-pasta). Because of the generous number of good judges the Uns had hired, we were able to single flight all the debate rounds, which does make for easy going for those judges. And because we had the time to do it, we had generous breaks, especially in the novice division (which I believe, theoretically, should always have the most generous breaks possible). Of course, the much publicized cheese steaks (or, in some cases, cheeseless steaks) had a major flaw, viz., lack of greasy onions, but this did not stop me from devouring one in about two minutes flat. Next year I’ll bring my own greasy onions; I’m sure I’ve got some lying around somewhere.

For Saturday I wore my Disneyland shirt to get CP in the mood for WDW (I so want to see him upside down on the Aerosmith coaster to the sounds of “Walk This Way”). The Sailors had a full contingent of Speecho-Americans and debaters, and SuperSquirrel managed to win her division (not bad), while the young S-As got their first taste of university performing. One thing I noticed is that we have managed to collect a couple of students whose mouths are set on the Endless mode; I am not one for listening to anyone’s endless monologue, not even when the monologist is one of my own students. The more you say, the less likely I will listen to you, and vice versa. Good rule for life, by the way. You should take it to heart even if you don’t wear a sailor suit.

Anyhow, this was my first Unharvard in more than a decade, and I have no recourse but to point out that the last time we were there we also won it. Which is not the reason I will return next year, however. What I like about it is that it is a sane tournament, nicely run by the Uns (Ali H is a marvel), reasonably priced with the proceeds supporting urban debate, with good judging. My guess is that people will sooner or later realize that, even with the best physical operation possible, breaking a minority of the down-twos is not the best situation for most debaters. Nor is spending as much money as you can the best situation for most schools. Oh well, suit yourself. I know where I’ll be.

Special: Olympic fever strikes CL

I occasionally mention 43-man squamish, my favorite sport. For those who need them, here's the rules.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tales of Great Debate Adventure: Satan's Bus Trip

I have a vague recollection of this occurring as fiction in Nostrum Series 1…

Friday our bus left right after school. Or at least, that was when we were scheduled to leave. Given the Swiss precision with which Sailor buses usually appear to sweep us away, I was rather surprised to see nothing yellow that was bigger than the proverbial breadbox. For a while I’d walk up to the buses that did pull up in front of building, pressing my nose against the driver’s window, only to be told that this particular vehicle was heading to the basketball game or the 43-man Squamish competition. A series of phone calls (“A bus? To Philadelphia? What are you, nuts?”) ultimately yielded a big yellow taxi at about 3:30, an hour late.

We should have seen this as an omen.

Fortunately I had written down clear and detailed driving instructions, plus printed up a few Google maps. We were shortly on our way. I watched a WDW video and an episode of Diggnation on my trusty Touch, and before long our first Speecho-American announced that he had to go to the bathroom.

This was when it all when inextricably wrong.

Normally I do not allow Speecho-Americans to go to the bathroom. Debaters understand, of course, that this is a bus trip, not a pleasure cruise, but S-As don’t get out of the house much, so what can you do? We stopped somewhere for a minute, and the thing was, when we got back to count the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, we were somehow on a different spur. Cars and buses and trucks and low flying aircraft were zipping by us to our right, while we were now traveling at a rate of about a mile a year, give or take a few yards. It took us an hour to progress the next two miles through a toll both. EZ Pass my foot!

The good news is that we had no real destination time. I texted CP telling him I wouldn’t be there at the crack of 7:00 for registration, but I fully expected that we’d have a nice dinner.

Then the bus got a flat tire. The first reaction of my chaperone parent on hearing the sound of the blowout was to ask if anyone had gotten shot, the normal speech parent thing, I guess. Debaters, used to long trips and the sound of gunfire, are able to recognize a dead tire when they hear one.

We were now 2 ½ hours from home, and 1 ½ hours from the unharvard. They told us they’d send down another bus from home. I texted CP and told him I’d see him sometime during the Palin Administration.

The good news (of course, at this point, even the election of Sarah Palin would have been good news) was that we were able to hobble to the Molly Pitcher rest stop. Viva la Pitcher! So we hung out for the next few hours, first having dinner (there’s a Dick Clark Grill, for God’s sake, where the food was edible enough and they showed Sonny and Cher videos, which were not edible), then playing cards and downloading the tournament data and entering and reentering the room changes (they had wireless for $3.95 an hour). Unfortunately, they didn’t have a bar, which would have come in handy at this point. What kind of highway rest stop doesn’t have a bar? Jeesh!

The rest of the trip was uneventful except for the fact that we never saw the road I had so meticulously noted on my directions. It had to be there somewhere, but, well, exactly where still eludes me. The wolves were howling in the night, and we hit about the third big sign saying “This Way to Philadelphia, Sort Of” when I finally gave in and said, let’s try this one. Finally, a stroke of luck, as this was Route 76, which takes you practically into the tab room. I mean, all we needed was to get lost at this point, and I would have fed myself to those wolves, and deservedly so.

We finally hobbled into our hotel a little after midnight, the point at which they had cancelled our rooms. The hotel was actually a couple of floors high up in the middle of a hospital; I think we were between the terminally depressed above us and the chronically itchy below us, but I wouldn’t vouch for that. In any case, we had set a team record for the Sailor longest trip ever, somewhere between 9 and 10 hours, depending on how you interpret our start time. The only saving grace was the knowledge that Bronx Science holds the overall record for bus trip length in the region, which is 11 hours to get from Bronx Science to Dewitt Clinton (which is situated directly behind Bronx Science) via the George Washington Bridge, the Appalachian Trail and the Erie Canal. But we did come close.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Great New Product!

We here at Coachean HQ are proud to announce that PFUI! is now available for debate programs everywhere. PFUI! — the Public Forum User Interface — is guaranteed to have no effect whatsoever on your success as a pfffter, but it will give your program some new crap to buy that they can barely afford, just when the economy is totally going down the proverbial crapper. How can you live without it?

What is PFUI!? What isn't PFUI!? Are your opponents annoying worms who don't deserve to exist on the planet? PFUI! will make this clear to all but the most obtuse judges (except at CatNats, where you'll need the extra Vatican Add-on, available for a nominal extra charge). Don't have enough ideas to fill up the new extra minute of Final Focus? PFUI! provides weapons of minor distraction that will cause your judges to turn around to see what's going on behind them, and when the smoke clears, the timer will go off, and you're done! Can't make up evidence quick enough to counter the evidence your opponents just made up? Turn to the PFUI! evidence generator: all the dubious "facts" you need, when you need them! Wish you were doing LD like your teammates, but your coach made you do PF because all the LD slots were filled? Turn on the PFUI! LD Emulator, and it will make both your partner and one of the your opponents disappear, at least in your own mind, for the next half hour. Can't figure out why PF, which is shorter than an LD round, runs longer than a Policy round? Turn on the PFUI! Time-Sucker, and discover that flipping a %^&#@(+ coin can take two hours in the hands of inept enough debaters and a judge who speaks no known language from planet earth.

Heard enough? Get your copy of PFUI! now! Send all your money to this website, and we'll see what we can do. Can't afford to send all your money? Send part of your money, and we'll see what part we can do.

PFUI! The Public Forum User Interface! How can you live without it?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Off to the unharvard

Bietz once famously tweeted about tournament ROI, i.e., return on investment. How much does one get for one's investment at tournaments, in other words. One compares the costs to the benefits, finds the latter outweighs the former, and one signs up. Or not.

Which is why I am going to UPenn.

Let's put aside any comments on the nature of Harvard except for one, namely, the size of the fields. According to my trusty iDebate app, 310 breaks all 5-2s to triples after 7 rounds. Not bad. But wait. There is no triple. 12 5-2s break out of 52. 40 don't. We're talking 5-2s here. From my personal ROI, that's a bad bet. Which means that I would have to be going for other reasons. Sadly, I have no other reasons that would warrant the high expense.

Which is why I am going to UPenn.

Unfortunately, the unharvard took a fair hit this week in drops, mostly from wimps without shovels (sounds like a good band name). That's too bad, but I'm not bothered by it. It's my first time at UPenn since the 90s, and I like them on this weekend, and I will continue to support them on it. The only alternatives that make even marginal sense are in September, and I feel that they are no alternatives at all. Every other weekend is a conflict with another regional tournament, and we all know how well that works out.

So, while you're up in Cambridge, think about us, especially if you manage a large squad. You've got some reasons to be up there and not here? Fine. But your whole squad? The ones who can't even dream of being in a position where the above math (which can be applied to every event) will ever come into play? Is all your registration money better spent on name because it is the more resonant brand? What is your motivation for entirely bypassing a tournament that runs to earn funds for urban debate programs? Too expensive to send to two different places? No. I know how much Harvard costs. Not that I'm trying to guilt you out or anything, and I hope you have a successful and enjoyable weekend. But I ask you to think about the possibility, next time out, of an alternative.

Give it a shot.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Our tribute to seafood!

My goodness.

First of all, I think that, once I turn on the microphone for TVFT, I immediately get even grumpier than usual. Last night I couldn’t find myself saying anything good about anything, which is ridiculous, because I am the ultimate Mary Sunshine. I’ll work on that.

CP wrote a long comment on the TVFT college tournament show (all of this can be seen over at the TVFT blog). The subject remains interesting, but I think one thing needs to be clarified: the presence of CP at the universities that he godfathers has been a strong positive factor in making those tournaments not only run better, but run better every year, with an institutional memory (CP’s) that might not otherwise exist. A big problem with universities that he has solved has been that institutional memory. Pre-CP, every year many of them would start all over again from scratch with new directorates, and not only make new mistakes, but revisit classic mistakes of the past. The presence of CP limits them to new mistakes and deliberated improvements. Of course, there are a lot of universities that do have admins in place for the duration, e.g., Harvard, where the problems are entirely different. And God knows, you don’t have to be a college to screw up a tournament or a league.

There’s a couple of things that need to be in place in order to get past my general biliousness. First and foremost, good intentions. We all start out ignorant. I have my own history of forensic lunacy. But what is our goal? If we aim to do the right thing, we can practice aiming until we do. Second, concerned use of power. This may be my chief gripe with the activity, the installed power bases, sometimes quite isolated, sometimes overarching, who misuse that power for whatever reason. Third, people who don’t change, who don’t learn, who think they’re right. Do I think I’m right? Of course I do. One hundred percent of the time. The VCA is well aware of that. Can I learn that, in fact, I was wrong? Of course I can. As often as necessary. The VCA is well aware of that too. Do I make mistakes? Sure. Do I admit it and correct them? No, I blame O’C and have him correct them, but that’s roughly the same thing. My point is, if you think you know what is best for, well, anybody, you may be right, but I would advise you to keep wondering. One never knows, does one?

Speaking of correcting mistakes, it turns out that Bietz thinks I’m anti-Asian for foisting cheese steaks on them, as if I’m responsible for their lactose intolerance. Which is, needless to say, pretty anti-Hindu on his part, what with all those steaks (although I’m not so sure that cows, or for that matter, any predictable farm animal, is the source of some of those “steaks”), not to mention his obvious disregard for the gluten intolerant (I’ll venture a guess here that this is mostly Methodists, a group that seldom gets its fair share of abuse, if you ask me). And he has the nerve to attack me? Jeesh. Let me make it clear that I am attacking the language of cheese-free cheese steaks, not the concept of cheese-free cheese steaks. You want to be Asian? Don’t let me stop you. But a cheese-free cheese steak is not a cheese steak. I’m sorry, but there’s principles involved here, and I’m sticking to them.

One last note. As usual, the message and the messenger are once again totally confused. Let me explain this for the millionth time. Jules O’Shaughnessy and the Nostrumite write Nostrum. The wrote Nostrum: TOS and they’re writing Nostrum: TNG. I simply host it on my website. My performances of the episodes arise from my need to keep busy: I am like a forensic shark that never sleeps. (All right, maybe not a shark. I’m more like a forensic halibut that never sleeps, but you get the point.) I ask that you do not confuse creator and publisher, so to speak.

Jim Menick, forensic halibut. Why do I think they’ll put that on my gravestone?

(And by the way, don't try this at home. Oh, wait, you already do.)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Do you want fries with that?

I have become the concierge for the unharvard.

CP is tied up this week, and I’ve taken over some of his chores, and I now know why he is a wreck of a human being. Virtually all of the issues that have come up have been small, but it’s like playing Whack-A-Coach. My favorite concerns the miracle of the cheese steaks. Apparently UPenn brings in cheese steaks for lunch on Saturday, a fine tradition given its location. Originally there were about 39 cheese steak options on tabroom. The unharvardians decided that this was too many (I can’t imagine why) and have now limited the choices to two. I’ve never tinkered with concessions before on tabroom, but eventually I made the change.

But here’s the thing. The two choices are cheese steak with cheese, or cheese steak without cheese. Am I missing something here? “I’ll have the fried rice.” “Will that be with or without rice?” What?

A more important concern for the VCA, and one which a couple of people have already heard about in great disbelief, is the March on Orlando this summer. Those who know us (you poor saps) know that O’C and I can spend the entire day listening to the soundtracks of extinct Epcot attractions. Driving in the car with us is almost frightening as we go through my playlist of Disney songs you’ve never heard or now wish you’d never heard (we almost managed to convince the Panivore to quit debate last year during our Bobcat commutes, which in a way is like ordering a cheese steak without the cheese or the steak). Somewhere in all of this we opined how we definitely needed to go to WDW together someday to get this all out of our systems. And then somewhere in all of this opining we decided to do it this summer. And while we were at it, we invited a bunch of other family and friends, if they were interested (although the numbers aren’t yet in on who else is crazy enough to be coming). Not since the Old Baudleroo fell in love with the Disneyland parking lot has there been such a potential for pure…something. I’ve already planned practically ever minute of the event (those who go to WDW without a plan to avoid the lines deserve their hour-long waits) on a listserver of the potential attendees. O’C has already decided what outfit he’s wearing the day he gets Cinderella’s autograph (which is a big bone of contention between us, because I maintain, first, that Cinderella is not a real person, and second, that even if she were real, this isn’t her—I have a lot of trouble with the roaming characters in the parks, in other words). As time goes by I will now bring the VCA into our planning. You may not be coming with us, but you’ll suffer through it as if you were.

Have a #(*&$%^@ magical day.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Scarswegia, mostly

Sappy dog stories make me cry. That’s why I work where I do, viz., the day job. And that should answer the question of what I do when I’m not doing this, i.e., debate stuff.

Moving right along…

This weekend was Scarsdale, which began with a phone call from Sailorville telling me that our buses were cancelled in fear of the snowpocalypse. Not a bad call, actually, as a little bit of snow on the ground, as expected Saturday morning, is possibly the most dangerous for driving, and who wants their team to go off a cliff or something? So I headed down alone on what turned out to be the driest weekend in the history of the Scarsdale tournament. The Panivore, a conniver of the first water, also managed to make it, but that was it. With a little planning time I might have been able to make more out of it, but I don’t think my job is to argue with the admins about their decisions over school safety, nor is it to pick and choose students to bring to tournaments. Since the P lives to debate and vice versa, her desire to be there is sort of transcendent. We’ll leave it at that.

On the one hand, Scarsdale, with its alternating novice and varsity rounds, with some of the latter field in the judge pool for the former, is pretty complicated. One needs to balance the judging responsibilities, for one thing, and keep them under control. You don’t want to advantage some yabbo who isn’t judging over the yabbos who are doing their bit as responsible debate citizens, but on the other hand, there’s no reason why everyone has to judge, and you wouldn’t set it up that they have to. It’s not a thoroughbred race with handicap weights, after all. Anyhow, for all practical purposes the tournament is a series of single flights, plus the usual goofiness of PF (which is slower than the slowest thing you can think of if you slowed it down even more and then had parents judge it except they usually don’t show up because, well, who knows why). Which means that ballots are coming in and going out all the time. Every now and then we’d get so caught up in the business of it that we’d forget to put out a posting for a while until JV would saunter by (have you ever seen JV saunter by anywhere? Na’ah) and ask if the pairings were ready, but in the event we went absolutely lickety-split and beat all predictions of when things would happen, and we ended in time for me to go home Saturday way early and have a lovely dinner at the chez. Very nice. Plus some parent had brought in a homemade German chocolate cake to the judges’ lounge. Oh. My. God.

Yesterday I got ready for the grand opening (Wednesday is coming, trust me on that, even though the P rushed the gun on it) and also seriously began sorting out the Unharvard. They’ve got about 500 people coming, not exactly chickenfeed. One of the things I had to do was sort out the cheese steaks. You can order a cheese steak with cheese or a cheese steak without cheese. Now, where I come from, a cheese steak without cheese is a steak. Or maybe, a cheese steak without cheese could also be called a monkey steak or a golf ball steak or any other number of things that it doesn’t have on it, if it didn’t have it on it. (What? Whatever.) Who doesn’t want cheese on their cheese steak? Is there some new bizarre food group like the vegeterribles who eat animals but not animal byproducts? Where is Peter Singer when you really need him?

And one last thing. O'C tells me that today his family finally disavowed all connections to foreign potentates. If you ask me, it's about time!

Friday, February 05, 2010

February? For you, maybe, but not for us.

If I’m going to have to handle Nostrum episodes again, I’m going to have to figure out how. Didn’t they used to come out on Wednesday, back in the olden days? Wasn’t there a slogan, “If this is Wednesday, it must be Nostrum”? That’s probably what I’ll do now, put them out on Wednesdays, that is. And TVFTs come out on Thursdays. I guess I’ll get my money’s worth out of the microphone, if nothing else.

What’s the business model for all of this, anyhow?

This is Scarsdale weekend. This week has been an amazing learning experience for me, as plebe after plebe has claimed total ignorance of such questions as whether there’s a bus and when there’s a bus, et alia. You would think by February these are the sort of questions that they would have figured out how to get the answers to. As far as I know, my own team is the only one in America that doesn’t regularly consult my online schedule. [Sigh.] There is no question in my mind that there’s been a time slip this season. I don’t know why or how, but it feels like October, novice-wise.

Anyhow, Scarsdale is when we have the varsity judging the novices, alternative single flights in the same rooms, which requires a level of organization beyond the norm, but we get it done. The key thing is to make sure that kids don’t judge every single round, if at all possible. We don’t want to undermine their own competing. They do get tuckered out, though, and that’s a fact. There’s allegedly a little snow coming in tonight, but not so much as to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery. I certainly hope not. The Sailors are sleeping in their own beds; I’d hate for them to be blizzarded in tomorrow morning.

We’ve also begun shaking down the Unharvard tournament. More on that as it gets settled.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


This is curious. I received the following message late last night.

Yo, Jim. (It’s strange to call you Jim, but the way I figure it, I’ve earned it, starting from Mr. Menick and going on to Menick way back when, and God knows I’m old enough now to practically be a contemporary of yours—all right, maybe nobody’s that old, but you get my drift.)

I will point out that, before I met Jules and the Nostrumite, I never used parentheses. I got it from them. They’re contagious, sort of like punctuation swine flu. The message goes on:

Anywho, I’ve been back in the country a couple of months now, actually since September. If you were following Moravian news, you know about the coup, and about how my chances of ever taking back the throne now are somewhat less than nil. So it goes, eh? The house of O’Shaughnessy finally falls. I think I would have made a pretty good king, all things taken into consideration, or at least a passable duke or earl, but what with the public beheadings of most of the royals, desertion seemed to be the better part of valor, so I gave up and returned to the States.

Needless to say, my first stop was up in Cambridge to visit the Mite, who as you know is teaching at Tennessee Williams High School. I can’t believe he has two kids of his own now. Who would have thought he’d be the first of the two of us to breed? The kids are cute, by the way, in a Nostrumian sort of way.

I lived on the Mite’s couch for a month or so until I finally got a job and a place of my own, thus preventing the Nostrumate from killing me in my sleep, as I’m sure she would have done if I had stayed any longer. They’re not much (neither the job nor the place) but it isn’t easy for displaced royals to get work nowadays. This is not a factor of there being too many displaced royals trying for the same positions as there just isn’t that much work, even for the commonfolk, among whom I must now number myself. But I managed finally to get a bookstore job, which should hold me for a while. And a small apartment in the rattier part of Harvard’s backyard.

Maybe I should send him over to CP’s house. Although for all I know that’s in the same ratty part of Harvard’s backyard, and would be no improvement. And the last thing CP probably needs is a permanent boarder like his former royal almost majesty.

The reason I’m writing, aside from updating you on my life and times, is to tell you that, well, in our spare time, the Mite and I have returned to the scene of the crime. We loved what you did with the audios, although we wish you hadn’t run out of steam halfway through. After all, we didn’t run out of steam writing them until we were all the way through, sort of, and we were the ones who had to do all the creative work while all you did was sit there reading them out loud with your feet up while you were eating chocolate bonbons; feel free to finish up any time you want to. But meanwhile, we have begun to work on what we’re calling between ourselves N2, and we thought you’d like to know about it. A lot has changed in debate since the old Nostrum days. So far, the only person who’s still in the activity that we’ve been able to track down is Tarnish Jutmoll, but there could be others. We never did plan too far ahead, if you remember correctly.

Another thing that’s different from back then is that the old delivery system of emails and whatnot is long gone. Getting started won’t be easy, seeing as we’re doing it without portfolio, so to speak. I mean, you’re the one that holds the reins on all the old stuff, after all. Not that we resent it or anything, because, well, it’s not like you’ve made any more money on it than we did, but, given that you’re there and we’re not, we were wondering if you’d mind hosting us in the future for a while, until we get our act together, so to speak.

Let us know.

Yr hmb svts,
Jules and the Nostrumite

That was, to put it honestly, an email I thought I’d never read. Jules and the Nostrumite are back? Writing more Nostrums? The mind boggles.

Of course I’ll take on the hosting for them. It is, after all, the least I can do. I might even do some audios.

I wonder how long this will last…

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I fought the law and the law won

I put up a Google alert on jury nullification and the first thing I got was my own blog entry.


I’m fascinated by law, as members of the VCA, or at least those who follow the feed, know well. You can make a lot of claims about what law is, that it is socialized morality, for instance, but I’m reluctant to go so far. There are laws against spitting on the subway, for instance. This act of expectoration, while crude, hardly strikes me as immoral (unless you have some viciously contagious disease that will infect anyone who comes within ten feet of your phlegm, or can envision some other science fiction scenario worthy only of the greenest philosophical novice). We legislate all sorts of stuff. Law is part of society’s attempt to organize itself, to identify a set of actions that are not permitted, for whatever reason. I guess you can say that anything that there is not a law against is allowed.

Law as we’re discussing it here is, obviously, social. That is, we are talking about laws that are enacted within a society as a measure of civil order. Whoever holds the power in a society gets to make the laws, to create the civil order. There is no guarantee that the power-holder always makes what we could call “good” laws. I mean, look at who could be holding the power. In a dictatorship, it could be some monomaniacal strongman general who is robbing the country blind and who makes laws to protect himself from his enemies who would stop him from his evil-doing. Monarchs share this dictatorial focus of power in one person or family, but can be either enlightened or comparably evil, and will act accordingly. In a democracy, where power is held by the people, we still don’t necessarily only get laws that somehow benefit the people, although that would theoretically appear to be the goal. It doesn’t make sense for democracies to enact laws that would harm the members of the democracy, but that this not happen would require that the enacting of law be a perfect system that always works as intended. We have plenty of evidence that demonstrates that this is not the case.

Still, the intention of democracy is law that benefits the populace, since the populace does, by definition, create the law, and we can intuitively assume that the populace would have its own benefit in mind. Locke classically explains how laws should be created, and the centuries that have succeeded him have offered no better scenario. The idea is to create a legislative body that represents the people, and have that body come up with the laws that will manage those people. The entire scope of this legislative body is that creation of law, not its execution, not its application. Legislators make legislation: end of story.

So law exists to create a civil order, and in a democracy a special legislative body is empowered to create that law. Once laws are created, they are out of the hands of the legislative body, and into the hands of the executive, which enforces those laws, and the judiciary, which interprets those laws.

The resolution at hand, jury nullification, deals only with the subset of law that defines criminal acts or areas of civil dispute that are resolved by juries. The passing of a healthcare bill, or non-passing of a healthcare bill, is another thing altogether. But when crimes are committed, or disputes are taken to court, juries usually come into play. Juries are composed of the peers of those who stand before the court. Whether or not you committed such and such a crime, broke such and such a law, is decided by the people at large, in other words, based on the evidence brought before them. These are, theoretically, the same people who created the law that you are accused of breaking.

In a courtroom, everyone has a particular role to play. The two sides of the case argue their positions, presenting such evidence as they think will win the day. The judge is there to make sure that both sides of the case follow the rules, and also that the jury follow the rules. The judge will see to it that the lawyers don’t cheat, in other words, and also to make sure that the jury understands what is going on. Every trial is a question of whether there was some sort of violation of the law or, in civil suits, the violation of a party’s rights. It is the judge’s job to clearly present to the jury what exactly is being charged, and what the law is regarding it, so that the jury can go off and decide if a law has been broken in this case or a right has been infringed. It does not matter if the judge believes one side or the other; it only matters that the judge make it clear to the jury what their job is in this particular case, so that they can make a decision. What the jury believes is all that matters.

There are, of course, plenty of process issues that can throw off the rather ideal picture painted above, of two sides being kept within fair boundaries by an impartial judge who clearly explains the situation to the jury so that they can decide without prejudice. One judge might admit evidence that an appellate might consider inadmissible, and so forth and so on. An appellate might even determine that a judge’s statements to a jury are prejudicial. If you’re really interested in all the ins and outs, either go to law school or rent the DVDs of any popular legal TV show. You’ll see it all, sooner or later.

Jury nullification is, very specifically, a jury saying (explicitly or implicitly) that a particular law is unjust, and that they refuse to prosecute someone under that law. It doesn’t matter if the person “did it,” although the assumption is that they did. What matters is the law itself, and the jury’s refusal to apply it. The jury, a handful of people with no standing as legislators, the creators of laws, or judges, the interpreters of law, take it on themselves to do, or undo, both that making and that interpretation. In other words, they take the law into their own hands.

Shades of civil disobedience!

I cross-posted some material from Jim Anderson’s blog on the Feed that you might want to take a look at. It will provide the legal standing (or lack thereof) of nullification, but not necessarily a commanding explanation of why it is right or wrong. That you’ll have to do for yourself. There are so many ins and outs to his subject, you can start almost anywhere. As I said Monday, I wish that more people were debating this one more often.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Breaking wind news!

The Board of Governors of the Kingdom of Sail are pleased to announce the following changes for the 2010 Bump Tournament:

Round One, formerly known as Round One, will now be known as the Hamlet P. Buglaroni Tutorial.

Round Two, formerly known as Round Two, will now be known as the Rupert Murdoch Pay-As-You-Go Tribute. (A fee of $2 per debater will be charged to attend this round, which will be broadcast live on MySpace.)

Round Three, formerly known as Round Three, will now be known as the O’C Disco Ball Exegesis.

Round Four, formerly known as the Yes Virginia 7:30 Round, will now be known as the Yes Virginia 7:30 Remedial.

Round Five, formerly known as the How Many Rounds Are There Again Round, will now be known as the Is There Another Round After This Round Meditation.

Round Six in novice LD, formerly non-existent, will now be known as The Still Non-existent Sixth Round.

Round Six in VLD, formerly known as the Will This Thing Ever End Round, will now be known as the Wilbur and Orville Wright From Wrong Wround Wrobin.

There will be no elimination rounds. However, random debaters will be chosen from all the entries almost by preliminary ranking, to participate in the following:

The Ron Paul Pointless Demonstration Debate (32 participants)
The Derrida is Still Dead (Thank God) Loaner Model (16 participants)
The Eliot Spitzer/Mark Sanford Ethics Seminar (8 participants, 18 or older please, unless accompanied by an adult chaperone)
The Rufus T. Firefly “Hail Freedonia” (4 participants, all of them brothers)
The Alex Trebek Daily Double (2 participants, with all CX answers in the form of a question)
The Will You People Please Go Home so that I can go to India House (0 participants)

Also, this year, we will begin honoring the coaches who have paid us the most money historically in registration fees. Honorees will be given an authentic replica Willy Wonka Golden Ticket, allowing them entry into the Bump Hall of Horrors, and will be entitled to refer to themselves as the Barons of Bumpetry. They will also get to adjudicate, as a group, the Alex Trebek Daily Double, provided that they haven’t judged a debate round since the Truman administration, they really should be judging Dec, and there’s someone over in the corner giving them hand signals on who is actually winning the debate, which will be entirely devoted to theory, specifically that naming debate rounds reduces the amount of education in the world, and that it’s better to number them irrationally than to name them irrationally, but hell, what do we know?

For further information on the history of the Bump Tournament, please consult Stump the Chump. We here at Coachean Life want nothing to do with it.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Making a difference for generations to come

A tear falls from the coachean eye. Probably 4 sailors will debate jury nullification. And over in Pfffter land, where trees are regularly falling to deaf mariner ears, they get to play with affirmative action. There is a certain ouch factor to this, but at least we’ll get some discussion in meetings. And speaking of ouch factor, is it true that if a tree falls on a deaf person who doesn’t hear it coming, it doesn’t hurt? Just asking.

(Instant translation of previous paragraph: I like the new topics, and wish more of us would be able to debate them.)

This weekend we ran an MHL at Brooklyn Tech, which is roughly the size of the Pentagon only with one less side. It’s a minute over the Manhattan Bridge, and it wasn’t terribly hard to find (we used the mantra, “Hey, there’s the Scarsdale bus; follow them!”) but it was a bear if you had to park. Once inside the place, it was sort of plain and industrial without feeling oppressive; it’s just the kind of building you’d build if you wanted to put a lot of students in one place at one time a minute over the Manhattan Bridge. The classrooms were quite cheerful and bright, the cafeteria was bigger than my entire school, and come to think of it, even the elevators were bigger than my entire school. The killer, though, was the auditorium, where we held the awards. It was four or five stories high and absolutely spectacular. My guess is that the designers of the building deliberately went to town on it (its vintage is similar to some of the old classic movie palaces). In any case, it made you want to have all your ceremonies there. (O’C take note: Big Jake is Punk City by comparison.)

As for the event itself, it was mostly your regular MHL. Confusion at startup was minimal, with the usual suspects attempting to change their registrations and being told no, with a new (and potentially usual) suspect not understanding the concept of signing up for the tournament or, apparently, simply following directions. But we got things started by 10, the goal, and ended by 6:30, the other goal. In the middle we required the services of Mr. Shelton to go into policy rounds and hit judges over the head with frying pans as a means of explaining to them that the novices might not benefit all that much from a critique twice as long as the actual round, which did get things back on track after a minor snafu at lunch (too many people trying to eat at the same time, mostly as a result of judges whose critiques were twice as long as their actual rounds). Good grub, by the way.

Coming up this weekend is triple witching hour, with dueling-banjo tournaments at Scarsdale, Newark and Pennsbury. I will, of course, be chez JV as usual, sorting out the alternating novices and varsity. And sleeping in my own bed for a change, which I rather enjoyed this weekend. That, and reading bulletins from Emory from O’C and the Panivore, not to mention not reading O’C’s history of the event on Stump the Chump. I mean, my weekend was literally filled with not reading it. I didn’t read it Friday. I didn’t read it Saturday. And Sunday I made it complete by not reading it twice. I’m sorry, but it’s a high school debate tournament, people, not the Nobel Peace Prize. We honor those who came before us, yeah, yeah, yeah, but as the VCA knows, it’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I feel there are better ways of spending time at tournaments than the adults patting each other on the back. I don’t care what the hell you name after me when I’m gone (or for that matter, when I’m here); what I care about is sending legions of debaters into society to demonstrate pen twirling to their grandchildren some day. That, my friends, is making a difference. The rest of it is all dust in the wind.