Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Topic analysis: Corporate speech

Resolved: In political campaigns within the United States, corporations ought to be afforded the same First Amendment free speech protections as individuals.

I have mixed feelings about this one. My initial reaction was a sigh due to Citizens United overload, but I wonder if I was a bit preemptive. If you don’t feel the same way, then maybe this is a good candidate for Jan-Feb. Perhaps even if you do feel the same, it’s a good candidate. Certainly the issue is important. I just wonder how much one can say about it. Is there enough there to support not just two but four months of debate? Even my own thoughts are just mostly ramblings. I don’t have anything really definitive to say, as you’ll soon see.

Citizens United is, of course, the case where the Supreme Court decided that corporations did have this political right. Which decision, of course, means nothing on the scale of “ought”—“SCOTUS says so” hasn’t carried much moral weight since, I don’t know, Judge Taney?—but which is why this topic is on the list in the first place. It is hot, and important, and there is a body of literature on it now, from both sides, to support plenty of argumentation. But as I say, I wonder how limited the scope of the sides will be. How much good argumentation is there?

Free speech in the US is a civil right, explained in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It is probably a good idea to remember that the framers had recently fought a war for independence, and that their freedom to speak freely was a direct issue in allowing that war to happen. In other words, they had recently had a horse in the race, so the idea of freedom of speech was not simply philosophical. The grammatical connection of speech and the press in the same phrase is also telling; freedom of the press was considered important as a check on government, just as individual free speech was considered a check on government. Our idea of free speech has expanded over time to now, in many of our minds, meaning simply the freedom to say and think what we want, absent its effect on the operation/control of government. We do have a few limits to speech, like slander and safety, but we are, legally, pretty tolerant. This is, I would say, a good thing. (Feel free to disagree. [That’s a joke.])

So our original conception of free speech was as check on the government, and our present conception of free speech is as self-expression. In the context of political campaigns, these two certainly tend to come together, as we contribute money to the politicians of our choice, or campaign for them, or whatever. We see this as well within our rights as individuals in a democracy, regardless of how big an idiot the person is we’re campaigning for. (In the immortal words of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” stupid people have rights too.)

Meanwhile, on a different track altogether we have the idea of corporations. For a variety of reasons, none of which are philosophical, corporations, as Wikipedia puts it, “are recognized to have rights and responsibilities like actual people.” That is, legally we treat them, if not as literal persons, often as meta-persons. They pay taxes, they can commit crimes, etc. Look up “legal personality.” There is no doubt that, since corporations exist in the real world, with real interests, they will have legitimate concerns over who gets elected to what. As far as the Supreme Court is concerned (i.e., the five activist conservatives who now rule that particular roost), this means that corporations ought to be afforded the full rights of any individual in getting their people elected. One problem with this is that, okay, Greedo, Inc., is a legal personality, but hell, it ain’t no person. Corporations have money and power (and concerns) that are far different from those of individuals, and therefore could have much more sway over elections than individuals. Additionally, since corporations are made up of individuals, there is the question of who that corporation is representing when it uses its power in an election. Its workers? Its stockholders? Its officers? These three groups may have similar interests, and may not.

Some of the complaints about the Citizens United decision is that it is political, playing into the desires of a political court to get their guys into office, since corporations, which love laissez faire and the least amount of government possible, will spend their efforts on conservatives of that stripe, which is, of course, the same stripe as those five activist judges. For all the so-called originalism of SCOTUS today, one doubts that the framers really believed that Greedo, Inc., ought to have the same clout as Jefferson’s essential republican farmer.

So the background to the discussion is a combination of free speech and corporate identity. But what are the arguments? That corporations aren’t individuals? Well, duh. Obviously the first thing I would do is pull out the opinions from the case and read those in detail, and then you can run through searches till the cows come home on both sides of the argument beyond the court. I have a feeling that this one will get chosen, and maybe for the big slot. I just don’t know if it’s good enough.

Here's some more grist:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer fever

I’m curious about the new Digg, which I heard Kevin Rose talk about this weekend on TWIT. This may be useful for debate stuff, or, maybe not. A new adjunct to the Coachean Feed, if not a replacement? It’s going live in a month or so. Anyhow, I registered with Digg today. We’ll see how that goes.

Roughly one month later, I still love my iPad, if you’re wondering. Notes: get the biggest one you can; I’ve already filled up the first 16 gigs. The Apple case is better than any other I’ve seen (a lot better in some cases). I don’t miss 3G because I have wireless both at home and at work; on school buses, I’ll watch Star Trek episodes. In the tab room, I’ll play Civ. End of connectivity story. Have figured out how to make FeeddlerRSS work really well (it connects to Google Reader: to enjoy the articles, don’t just use it as a list; go into the articles and then go from one to the other, which is how you’ll get the audio/video stuff). I’ve read one full book (Roughing It), and realized that this is the easiest way in the universe to catch up with your classics, given that they’re all free.

On the entertainment front, we saw Alan Cumming last week at Feinsteins. He was predictably entertaining and uncensored. Best line of the night was from an audience member after the show, a very old lady complaining to her companion, “Well, I didn’t think he was funny.”

I miss TVFT. For some people, summer in debate is just like winter only warmer. For the rest of us, it’s total cold turkey. Even Jules and the Mite are talking about hiatus. Jeesh. People were made of sterner stuff back in my day!

And I think I’ve grown tired of movies. That is, I’ve seen so many mediocre movies that I just don’t want to see any more of them, or even put myself in a position to possibly see any more of them. I did enjoy TS3, though, which is the only thing to get me out of the house in months, but even at home, I’m only watching old TV shows via my Netflix account. I guess I could watch artsy Afghan films or something, but a little of that goes a long way. Is it too much to expect intelligent popular entertainment? Maybe.

God, my life is tough!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Topic analysis: Drug abuse

Resolved: The abuse of illegal drugs ought to be treated as a matter of public health, not of criminal justice.

I instinctively agree with this as stated, but not because of any elaborate (or, for that matter, elementary) thought process. It just sounds right. Drug abuse is a problem, of course, but off the top it seems to be more of a problem for the abuser than for anyone else. If I decide to start smoking crack in the tabroom, I am endangering my health, both mental and physical. There are, presumably, two ways to get me to stop (per the rez): put me in such a frame of mind that I no longer endanger my health through the powers of public health, or forcibly take away the drugs through the powers of law enforcement.

Of course, the above paragraph is filled with nonsense.

I don’t think I would like to see the rez twisted into arguments for or against legalization of marijuana, which is certainly an issue du jour, because the language does not support the idea that drugs ought to be legalized. That is, it states very clearly that we are dealing with illegal drugs. Asserting that some drugs should not be illegal, and then arguing about them as legal entities, would be pretty lame an approach, but nonetheless, one that I fear. This is the Pavlovian response: you hear illegal drugs, you argue something about legalization, even though that’s not the issue. Oh, well. I won’t discuss at length misreads of the rez, which would be, on my part, an incredible internal contradiction.

So, back to it. The idea that drug abuse is private is not true, just like the idea that suicide is private is not true. At the very least, others are affected. In the drug abuse situation, others are also responsible. That is, it is pretty hard for me to take up crack smoking in the tabroom all on my lonesome. I need a source of the drug, to begin with. And the sources of most illegal drugs tend to be complex trade systems, to wit, organized criminal organizations, although with plenty of freelancers at the bottom of the distribution chain. Marijuana is, perhaps, a little different, as unlike other controlled substances it requires no processing: you grow it, and there you are. No chemistry sets, in other words. (The lack of criminal network would seem to be part of the pro-legalization movement.) The point is, my drug abuse is dependent on a system of drug production. You can’t have one without the other. So, the logic of dealing with the problem as a law enforcement issue is pretty straightforward. The user is the final link in the chain of illegality, so you start there and work backwards.

The problem is, this doesn’t work very well. The statistics of imprisoned drug users or smalltime dealers is frightening, and the reason these folks are imprisoned is because of mandatory sentencing, where the punishment is written into the statute and not at the discretion of the judge. These rulings do not seem to affect the illegal drug trade; they simply punish the least important cog in the machine, with disturbing additional social affects (racial imbalance in prisons, ridiculously large prison populations, etc.). They nonetheless are popular political approaches to the problem because they appear successful: you do get lots of arrests when you target users or smalltime dealers. But that’s all you get.

So maybe this approach doesn’t solve the problem. Since we’re only asking about abuse, period, the argument that a different approach is better seems simple enough. And this is my problem with the resolution, because this seems so manifestly true to me that I wouldn’t want to argue against it. There are so many disadvantages to a justice system approach to the drug problem at the user level that I think you’d be hard-pressed to claim it’s a good one. I guess what you’d have to do is demonstrate that the health mechanisms are no better. Since every disad I see is endemic to the actual system, one could perhaps make claims that the actual systems of public health are no better at solving, and somehow worse, presumably in their ineffectiveness overall. Perhaps.

I’m not sure if what I’m saying here just scratches the surface or is, more or less, the whole shooting match. I’m a little afraid it’s the latter, and the way I see it, there isn’t much of interest here for good arguing. Even granting even sides, what are we arguing about? The best way to deal with drug abuse. Granted, it’s a problem, but it has no great depth beyond a cursory retributive justice discussion. I’m not taken by it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ah, yes. It's that time of year again.

City of the Angels, Ca — This page has a number of things you should know (and do) prior to arriving at Camp WTF-a-Mucka, plus a number of things you shouldn’t know (or do). No attempt has been made to differentiate between the two, so good luck with that. This summer’s version of Camp W-a-M is our largest this summer. It is very important that people follow all procedures and get all the proper forms in on time, otherwise it will only be the our second largest.

On this page you will find the information you need prior to arriving at C W-a-M. Please make sure you read this page carefully and fill out any forms that are required prior to arrival. We have now said prior to arrival three times. We are not going to say it again, you spalpeen!

You should also check back to WTF Daily for minute-by-minute updates that will add to your confusion, plus maps and directions if you are planning on being dropped off directly on campus instead of being real cool and flying in on your private jet.


The resolution that will be used at Session I is: Resolved: When forced to choose, a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over its national interest.
The resolution for Week 3 is: Resolved: In the United States, juveniles ought to commit violent felonies just like adults.

While some overachievers may choose to do work prior to camp, there is no requirement at any level. In fact, those overachievers are in serious danger of being shipped to the Gulf to help clean up the oil spill. I mean, if they’re so smart, let’s see how they handle this!


Please make sure you arrive prior to arrival. (Okay, that one was unnecessary.) Please fill out the arrival form even if you are not arriving.

Please make sure you fill out the competitive record form. This form is not about your debate record, but about your ability to fill out forms. How many other camps offer competition in form-filling? Do we give you your money’s worth or what?

Please download and fill out and return the Medical Release Form. Indicate all your allergies, special needs, self doubts, genetic predisposition to criminal activities, etc.

Please fill out the Self Evaluation Form at least 1 week prior to your arrival to C W-a-F: we want to see how deluded you really are. If you have never done LD Debate before C W-a-F, you still need to fill out the form. Be creative. Don’t claim to have won everything, ever. Somebody might actually read these things, after all.


- A typical day runs 24 hours (exactly—we do not have a different way of measuring the rotation of the earth than the rest of the planet). We will give at least 90 minutes off for lunch and 90 minutes off for dinner. Breakfast will be served in bed to whomever fills out the most entertaining self-evaluation forms.

- The dining services at UCLA are rated number 1 in the country. This is not a measurement of the high quality of the food but of the poor quality of the dining service rating system. You will be fed up with the options at every meal. They always have vegetarian and vegan options available, but no one will force you to eat them.

- The amount of additional spending money you should bring is dependent on your own spending/eating/gambling habits. We provide 3 meals per day even if you’re not hungry; we will force feed you intravenously if we have to. Some students choose to order food at night, although the food will not necessarily obey those orders. Some labs may walk in to Westwood (about 30 miles distant) to get Starbucks or Ice Cream. Although we really limit our lab leaders from doing this too often because, well, 30 miles is quite a hike, even if we did capitalize Ice Cream for no good reason. There is only 1 meal that is not provided – that is dinner on the Sunday July 18 and Sunday August 14. (Granted, this looks like two meals, but we like to stretch it out with wine pairings.) We will be at the Santa Monica Pier; God knows where the students will be. Students are responsible for their own meals, that is, they have to shop, chop, cook and serve: your mother isn’t on this trip, mister! There is a WMD in the dorms.

- If you are a commuter we will let you know where to be picked up and dropped off a week after camp starts. We have to have UCLA tell us where to go.

- Students are only allowed to leave campus without a staff member ONLY if they are picked up by an adult with prenatal permission. Note the two uses of only in that sentence. We’re only not whistling Dixie here. You should fax signed permission to the last surviving fax machine on the west coast, if you can figure out how to do so on your end.

- Basic linens are provided for students. This includes: Pillow, Pillow case, fitted sheet, flat sheet, blanket, jaunty sports coats, cargo shorts, tidy whites, fitted ball caps. Fancier attire is the responsibility of the students.

- Students will have access to swimming pools, tennis courts, soccer field and the wooden rec center during camp. If we’re lucky, next year we’ll get the concrete rec center.

- Bedrooms are air conditioned with thermostats in each room. That being said, some students prefer to sleep at different temperatures. If you prefer to sleep at a different temperature, then please explain to us what we mean by that.

- If, on the day of arrival, you do not arrive, please call our office right away prior to your non-arrival. We have staff waiting at each terminal. We will need to alert them of the change prior to the change happening, if it does. If it doesn’t, then please don’t bother them with your silly pestering, even if it’s prior to your change not happening.


(Each student has different needs while away from home, so if you must bring dried squid, there’s not much we can do about it. These are all things that we recommend students have with them during camp.)

- If you have access to a laptop computer, we STRONGLY, STRONGLY recommend bringing it with you. If it’s a really hot sexy machine, we STRONGLY, STRONGLY recommend that you don’t bring any lock or anything because we have needs too, you know. If all you have is a mainframe IBM, don’t bother, even if you can figure out how to get it on the plane. We have access to two computer labs on campus. These labs do have limited hours and are first-come, first served. NOTE: If you are concerned with your student bringing their expensive laptop you might consider looking at the pictures of your hard-working, honest staff. Would we steal your really hot, sexy machine? Us? Puh-leeze!

- Notebook
- Pens
- Water Bottle
- Water (not provided by the camp; bring both for drinking and washing) - Personal care and toiletry items, especially deodorant, because there’s nothing worse than a smelly debater
- Sweatshirt/light jacket (it often gets as cold as minus thirty centigrade at night)
- Flip Flops (which will begin to teach you the fine art of changing your arguments in mid-contention)
- Sunscreen
- Large towel if you plan on going swimming
- Laundry detergent
- Athletic shoes – the campus is big. There will be ample walking, and lots of laundry lying around.


- Debate clothes. You will not have an occasion in which you will need to dress up.
- Illegal substances, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.; these will be provided by the camp
- A big library of books. We will have plenty for you to work on and read. It will just take up space in your bag. Plus, we want you to discover new stuff to read!
 That way, you can pass along your recommendations to us for the rest of the year. - Water guns, water balloons, or other items that lead to tomfoolery.
 Tom will be on hand during the summer to provide his own foolery without your help, thank you very much. - Peanuts or snacks containing peanuts (people have allergies to peanuts that can be really sensitive). However, keep this in mind during the season: many a debate round has been won by a debater sneaking a Snickers bar into a round when facing an allergic opponent.

We will have a small refrigerator in the dorm to hold medication. At registration we will collect medication from those who would like to leave it with us; if it’s interesting, we’ll test it and see if it’s the good stuff. While we would strongly suggest that students leave their medication in our office in the dorm to save us the trouble of having to procure our own, we understand some students are perfectly fine remembering, securing and self-administering medication. Roving the streets of Los Angeles in the wee hours to buy illegal “medications,” on the other hand, is frowned upon.

During camp we have someone monitoring our phone 24 hours per day, although we only turn it on during tea time in the afternoons, and then only for a couple of minutes to check for messages. If it is not an emergency we strongly recommend calling your child directly. We do like to keep our phone open for emergency situations and for talking up the hotties over at the concurrent cheerleader camp. Our phone number during camp is unlisted, but we will be happy to share it with you for a small fee. You can also email, but a lot of good that will do you.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wait a minute. Didn't we strike Judge Dredd?

Here’s the thing about MJP. It only works if everyone does it. But there are different levels of not doing it.

First of all, a team can ignore it completely. That is, for whatever reason, the debaters do not assign rankings to the judges. When this happens, the system automatically gives all the judges a rank of 1 for those debaters. In practice, this means that those debaters will always get the 1s that their opponents chose (assuming that their opponents did avail themselves of the system and didn’t also ignore it). This is not necessarily terrible, since most of the judges ranked highly are fairly universally so ranked, and there is a good chance that the ignoring debater is getting a judge that they would have ranked a 1 themselves anyhow. On the other hand, one debater’s 1 is another debater’s strike, so there is a possibility that the ignoring debater is heading into certain doom. So debaters who don’t rank can suffer, although they are not guaranteed to suffer. Why don’t some teams rank? I think that those teams that don’t find MJP to be wrong in principle. I certainly initially found it wrong in principle, until I learned more about it, and compared it to the alternatives. No judge-assignment system is perfect, and MJP is not the cherry-picking of judges that I had initially assumed, and I’ve come to appreciate it in the appropriate contexts, namely big, national-draw tournaments, where it allows the debaters to select a fairly wide pool of people with whom they are at least familiar as potential adjudicators. MJP equally helps the old-fashioned and the new-fangled debaters in finding judges attuned to their styles. (The idea that any good debater ought to be able to pick up any ballot is no longer true in LD. A good debater ought to be able to pick up the ballot of any judge he or she understands provided that judge isn’t prejudiced against them for some reason, but that’s about as far as it goes, and even then, sometimes the judge misses the reason you really did win and awards the ballot to the other side and there’s nothing you can do about that except bang your head against the wall. Such is life.)

So, a debater who chooses to ignore MJP could find that it doesn’t work in that debater’s favor, although that is not guaranteed to happen. That’s not particularly surprising.

On the other hand, everyone doing MJP means the following: that everyone who participates in the ranking of judges has entered their own judges (or purchased coverage), and that those judges are the ones that show up at the tournament. You may think that this is pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people abuse it.

Here’s the problem. You enter your judge, Joe Dredd, to cover your entry. MJP is opened, and some people rank Judge Dredd a 1, some rank him a 3, some strike him, etc. The way MJP works, there is a proportion of each rank set by the tournament director. That is, you get a certain number of each. So, let’s say I strike Judge Dredd, and I was allowed 5 strikes. And then Judge Dredd doesn’t show up at the tournament. I now have 4 strikes. The debater who was going to bring Joe D along, however, gets 5 strikes, because, obviously, Joe Dredd was not on their list because he was their judge.

You can see the problem. In early days of MJP for us types, we occasionally had the judge drop/name-change capability still on while MJP entry was in process, which meant that every five minutes you had to reenter your data. We can fix that in the system, of course, but we can’t fix the fact that a judge is promised by the entry deadline, and between the deadline and the tournament, that judge doesn’t show up, and that absence is screwing up the tournament.

So, what can you do? Well, if you’re a coach, you bring the damned judges you entered. End of story.

And if you’re the tournament director? Well, you make sure that people bring the damned judges they entered, or as close as possible thereto, by eliminating all MJP from any teams who have promised but not delivered their judge(s). That is, at the registration table, if a judge is dropped, the team loses their preferences, period, end of story.

Draconian? No. Every single entry in the whole broad field is penalized somehow by every judge who doesn’t show up. It is not feasible to rerank every judge between the close of the registration table and round one, so since corrections can’t be made, punishments must be issued.

We’ve been kicking around this policy for Yale, and will presumably follow through at other tournaments we run with MJP, which isn’t all that many. But the few that do will put attendees on warning, that the shenanigan of blowing off judge requirements will not be allowed. The good news is, only a few teams really ever do this. The bad news is, it’s the same few teams tournament after tournament. The other good news is that, if they try it in the future, they’ll pay the price. The other bad news is that, knowing these people, it won’t stop them. Still, they’ll no longer get away with it. That is, I fear, the most we can hope for.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Topic analysis: UHR v National Interest

Resolved: When forced to choose, a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over its national interest.

I gather that Camp WTF-a-Mucka has chosen this resolution for their first session. If their choice is predicated on likelihood of selection, it’s a good one, as I can’t imagine this one not getting voted in. If their choice is predicated on value for education, again, I’m with them, as there’s a lot of background one can discuss. There’s only one flaw with the rez, which is that, simply put, the answer, Real World speaking, trends seriously towards No. I’m not sure how that will affect rounds, however, and it’s not as if there’s no aff ground, but whereas the negative has the logic and literature of countless generations to guide it, the aff has to be clever. That could be difficult.

The thing is, governments exist to support their constituents. Even putting aside the whole social contract business—as I’ve discussed in the past, there are plenty of things for governments to do, based on their size and aggregation of the populace versus the capabilities of individuals that have nothing to do with rights protection—there are no governments that exist for the benefit of someone other than their own citizens. That would be the logical analog of forming a bicycle league for trout. The operation of, and the benefits of, government, are by and for the polity. When Lincoln said government of the people, by the people and for the people, he wasn’t just whistling Dixie. (Come to think of it, if there was anyone who was never just whistling Dixie, it was Abraham Lincoln!) Implicit in that sentence is the people of that polity. He was not talking about government by and of one people but for all people.

A just government is, inherently, one that organizes the most fairly the needs and rights of its citizens. That is, it does its best to work for the people, to wit, the people who are its “by” and “of.” (So I have never grokked the famous JFK quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” although I can see its rhetorical benefit for its conclusion of working together with other nations. My country is supposed to do stuff for me, which is why it exists. I will pay taxes and whatnot, and perhaps even claim a cultural stake, but the doing seems to be in its hands, not mine.)

Now, one can say that human rights precede any other consideration, and this could be true. A regard for human rights is a moral tendency on the part of an individual (however that morality is derived, e.g. through religion or intellect or whatever). We ascribe to others what we like to call human worth, or human dignity, and we value them for this essential quality, disregarding any other qualities an individual might have. In other words, our basic dealings with all other humans prioritizes the human worth of all; everything else is secondary.

Governments, of course, operate in the sphere of international politics. That is, governments deal with other governments, and, in fact, one reason they exist is to do that dealing. What the resolution seems to be asking is, when governments are operating in that sphere, they place the moral worth of individuals above their own political interests. Given the rationale of governments in the first place, why the hell would they do this (if they even can)? Well, let’s say this, for one thing: Any government that doesn’t value human worth is inherently immoral. And since human worth is the prioritized human value, valuing human worth, and hence UHR, is prioritized by any government acting morally.

One could argue that a government acting morally is acting justly, which is another kettle of fish altogether, and where I see a lot of potential confusion in rounds, because there is no logical link between the two. I can be fair and I can be bad: the two are not mutually exclusive, and all the talk in the world won’t make them otherwise. So perhaps it behooves affirmatives to remove the justice angle from the discourse, on the assumption that neg’s arguments won’t necessarily concentrate on justice per se. And of course you can indeed be both moral and just at the same time, as long as you remember that the two are not necessarily automatically linked.

Still, while there will be plenty of traditional literature for the neg on how to structure governments, the aff is not totally helpless. The subject of human rights is not lacking commentators. I’m thinking of my favorite P.A.P. blog by Filip Spagnoli which I’m always quoting in the Coachean Feed, and which contains a wide variety of data on rights with statistical links to just about everything under the sun. And that’s just one source. And of course, the idea that a government is not doing its job by its citizens unless it’s screwing some other citizens is pretty nasty. If a government is dedicated to rights protection in the first place (e.g, the USA), at what point can it be doing its job if it ignores the rights of people outside of its borders? Extrapolating this thought to any country trying to be good guys gives you some sense of what the aff is all about. But as I say, the path to getting there is tougher.

Personally, I see this as a topic for either Sept-Oct or Districts or even NatNats. I think it will be too sloppy for the long term of Jan-Feb. I could be wrong though. At least it is a topic of interest and, for that matter, a topic that applies to the world we live in, while still being deeply philosophical. This, to me, is very LD.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A sad state of affairs

Frankly, I found this news to be rather dismaying.

As you know, O’C is in love with awards and awards ceremonies. In fact, when I created a March-Madness type bracket for him, I set it up so that those two would face off in the final round. But I thought that his love of trophies only extended as far as debate, honoring forensics achievement both past and present. How little I knew, that his love of trophies was ecumenical in scope, going far beyond the local, parochial world of high school debate. But if you ask me, this time he’s gone too far. I mean, it is one thing to provide trophies to the Metro-Hudson League or to his own Big Jake Invitational, but his expansion into second marriages just doesn’t seem kosher. The idea that he is now supplying trophy wives to rich, middle-aged male debate coaches (and, when required, trophy husbands to rich, middle-aged female debate coaches) seems to take the concept beyond where it ought to be. Sure, there’s plenty of debate coaches out there who have accrued megabucks over the years (just imagine how much Harvard Bietz got paid, for instance, for coaching a NatNats champ), but they’ve only been able to feed their gargantuan bank accounts because of the early help from their first mates, who were with them when they started out, training novices not to pick their noses during cross-ex and the like. Who is out there seeing to the deposed initial mates now? Not O’C, obviously. It’s all about the trophies, as far as he’s concerned. If you want to know more, you can check it out at

If you ask me, this is just wrong.

Friday, June 18, 2010

LD Festivus

Ah, yes: The airing of the resolution grievances. Let’s take a look.

Resolved: When forced to choose, a just government ought to prioritize universal human rights over its national interest.

This strikes me as either very good, or, possibly, entirely clash-free. In any case, I like it until proven otherwise because it forces an analysis of what, exactly, government is all about, and what UHR is all about. Worthy.

Resolved: The abuse of illegal drugs ought to be treated as a matter of public health, not of criminal justice.

Of course. I mean, I guess I can see this as being debatable, but not particularly commanding. One can analyze all those people in prison and make related CRT arguments and whatnot, but the real issue isn’t drugs, it’s poverty, and the causes thereof do not include drugs, which are merely a symptom. So, I'm on the fence with this one.

Resolved: In political campaigns within the United States, corporations ought to be afforded the same First Amendment free speech protections as individuals.

Somehow I see people jumping on this one heavily, so I’d be surprised if it wasn’t picked for one of the slots. Personally, I’m already sort of tired of it, having studied it a lot and heard everyone ad nauseum since Citizens United. The thing is, I don’t think there’s a lot of breadth to what one can argue. Not terrible, by any means, but not terribly promising for a long stretch.

Resolved: The United States is justified in using private military firms abroad to pursue its military objectives.

Cool. I can’t remember looking at the role of the military in any way at all. I don’t know how this comes out in rounds, but I like the subject a lot.

Resolved: On balance, internet neutrality is desirable.

Surprisingly, there is a reasonable argument on both sides, even in the techie sphere. However, like corporate free speech, I wonder how much can actually be said.

Resolved: Progressive income taxes are just.

Core. Hell, any taxes are just would be an interesting topic in our present environment of idiocy on this particular subject.

Resolved: Justice requires the recognition of animal rights.

I don’t like the wording, although I like an animal rights topic. Justice isn’t what animal rights is all about, I don’t think. Morality, yes. I’ll pass.

Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.

A classic.

Resolved: The constitutions of democratic governments ought to include procedures for secession.

Well, first of all, you need a federal system of some sort, and second of all, you need to create a nation where you don’t care if your constituents drop out capriciously… Are we saying that Liverpool ought to be able to leave England, or Brooklyn ought to be able to leave New York, or Kandahar ought to be able to leave Afghanistan? As far as I’m concerned, unless I’m missing something (maybe we should rethink the American Civil War?), this is the other real non-starter, with the unjust animals.

Resolved: Secular ethics ought to be prioritized over religious ethics in the legislative process.

This is interesting, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be a muddle, since at the core, there is no difference between the two except perceived origin.

Bottom line? Possibly one of the best lists I’ve seen. Good work!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


No, not the ones who throw babies at you and steal your wallet while you're distractedly making the catch...

Curiously enough, when I went to create a Sanseverino channel on Pandora, it started out with a Duke Ellington tune called “Accordion Joe.” I guess Pandora thinks that all Frenchmen play the concertina on the Metro or something, so one squeezebox is as good as the next. Not so, especially since Sansverino is a guitarist. Jeesh. As Pandora kept trying, I skipped a bunch of tunes, all of them swing, until I finally deleted the station. I love Pandora, but it isn’t perfect.

Why Sanseverino? Check out “Mal o Mains.” This will lead you, through this, perhaps with another stop along the way at Stephane Grappelli, to, eventually, Django Reinhardt. What a lovely trip…

On the other hand, please note that I am not mentioning the death metal version of “What a Wonderful World,” so you can thank me for that. (All right, I did mention it, but only to disparage it.) (But I definitely didn't mention the new first-person shooter app on the Touch where the victims are ersatz Muppets.) (And if this keeps up, it’s going to be a long, cold summer for debate fans here at good old CL.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oh, what a day to be in Dublin!

Ah, yes. Now I remember. It’s called Camp WTF-a-Mucka. How could I forget something so simple? I did not, however, forget that today is Bloomsday. I’m thinking of banning myself from Apple to celebrate.

And I appreciate CP resolving the baffling question of which NY baseball team to prefer when the last time you saw a NY baseball game the Bambino wasn’t even famous yet. (Actually, this is not true. The DJ had a family day back in the ‘90s, which included tix for the nuclear F plus one hot dog per mouth. You had to buy your own beer: I only bought one. Cost me $258. I’ve never been back.)

There is a new Nostrum up and running, if that is your cup of tea. Not having Tuesday night meetings does free one up nicely for other activities. I’m even thinking of going to the movies, but I have to admit that Hollywood has not been forthcoming with anything to get me off my duff lately. Aside from TS3, which I assume will be the berries, it’s been one stinker after another, and predictably so. I mean, how many of us were champing at the bit for The Prince of Persia, eh? I like the game as much as the next yabbo, and probably got through about 25% of it on more than one platform, but that’s about the extent of it for me. It might have something to do with Jake G as action hero, but maybe not. It may just be, while I like action and adventure and whatnot, I’m getting a little tired of how low the common denominator is vis-à-vis Hollywood. Whatever happened to the thinking man’s action picture? For that matter, whatever happened to the thinking five-year-old’s action picture? Hollywood could solve all its woes at the box office by making better and, dare I say it, original pictures, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. I mean, even TS3 does have the 3 after it, but then again, one would be pretty nearsighted to look at Pixar and say that these guys are anything if not original. “Up”?

I’ll leave you with this thought. On one of the roads I regularly traverse, there is a billboard with a message for the ages. Look on this, and tremble. It is an advertisement for two doctors who bill themselves as “The Proctologists You Can Trust.”

Do we dare to consider the proctologists we can’t trust?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'm sorry teacher but zip your lip

It’s probably just me, but I never did figure out, after my one visit there, why the Kansas City airport was so filled with Oz knickknacks. The whole point of Oz, originally, is that it wasn’t Kansas; even the movie got that part right (not that I have anything against the movie—far from it—but it isn’t what we’d call canonical). It’s sort of like the Pilgrims landing in America and opening a gift shop on Plymouth rock to sell England knickknacks. Whatever. I am not in KC myself, of course, although the Panivore is, because I couldn’t possibly take a week off from the DJ for one tournament. I probably take a week off in the aggregate for all the other tournaments I go to, and in the cosmic forensical balance, I don’t think this one is the equal of all the others combined. But, I guess, that’s just me. As religions go, the VCA is well aware that I do not worship at the altar of the NFL. I don’t hate it or anything; it’s not as if I’m marching in front of their doors with a sign saying death to the infidels or whatever. But in our region we’ve got other organizations that do a better, or at least more apt, job of promoting forensics, and I’ll stick with them for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of the DJ, we are moving to new offices next week, and our present offices look like a war zone. Boxes everywhere, books placed on tables in the hopes that rather than letting them be turned them into pizza boxes someone will take them home and read them. I’ve already skimmed the cream of the crop of the crappy ones for future awards, but even a bonanza like this yields only so many stinkers. It’s the good ones that I’m sad about. But I’m already looking forward personally to not buying too many more books in the future, unless they’re lavishly illustrated. Buying them on paper, that is. I’m very happy reading on my iPad, which is a much more satisfying experience than reading on the Touch. As the trope goes, when the iPad came out it I dismissed it as a big Touch, but one learns quickly that a big Touch is quite a joy. I’ve now got all my photographs on it, for instance (some of which need more weeding, I’ve discovered). Once upon a time we put our pictures into shoeboxes and never looked at them again, or albums, and never looked at them again there. It’s a shame. I love looking at photos of places I’ve been. Now I can do it more easily (at least as far back as the purchase of my first digital camera a decade or so ago). And those activities—reading and picture viewing—are just two things of the many that the Pad can do. I carry it with me everywhere, at work and at home. Ah, young love…

By the way, I’m listening to “Right Ho, Jeeves” on my commute these days. Any writer who can create a character named Gussie Fink-Nottle is a writer you just have to love. Performed beautifully on audio by Jonathan Cecil, who’s done a number of Bertie stories, this is heaven on four wheels. Makes me want to get in the car and go to work.

As we navigate our way into summer, we here at CL HQ will probably find ourselves with less to say of interest to the VCA, and we may even occasionally take the odd breather. This means nothing except that we are husbanding our resources for the season to come, so don’t take it askance. Of course, if you’re spending your summer at one of these debate factories like Camp WTF, debate will not end for you, ever, but for most of us, the warm weather is welcome relief. By the time the next school year rolls around, I’ll be ready, but meanwhile it’s summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime…

Monday, June 14, 2010

To the End of the Earth and Back Again

You may think that the life of a debate coach is nothing but champagne and caviar and yelling at people who stumble into the tab room looking for the lavatory. But sometimes we must set forth on adventures far beyond our ken, or your ken, or anyone else’s ken, for that matter. While thousands were herding like llamas in the direction of Kansas City this weekend, I took a more dangerous trip, to the literal end of the earth, also known as Fitchburg, Massachusetts, for a golf tournament in honor of CP’s late firefighter grandfather.

Fitchburg, for those who haven’t been there, which is pretty much everybody and for good reason, is one of those towns where the streets make little or no sense, and where Google Maps and global positioning and just about every known attempt at finding where the hell you are have failed miserably. Random boulevards have signs with numbers slapped on them, but as you drive along listening to “Born to be Wild” and dreaming of Dennis Hopper, a minute later you are on a dirt road with a different number slapped on it altogether, and the music has changed to the soundtrack of “Jaws.” I did find a Christian Coffee House (I wasn't aware that coffee believed in God) and the Straight Apartment Building. That I found the golf course was a miracle. The map said go here, turn left, then left again. In the event, I went there, found no lefts for the taking, so I turned right instead. Lo and behold…

Most of the celebrants were of either the relative or firefighter persuasion, and I alone carried the banner for the forensicians of the world. I was thrown in with three folks whose age, added together, almost reached mine. They were, I understand, rather bummed by having to wheel around a fossil from the McKinley administration, and kept texting CP asking if there was any likelihood that I would make it through the day without my walker. He responded that I normally dealt with high school students, so I would probably be able to survive our encounter. I would have added that I have gone so far as to judge a Nietzsche kritik, so I could handle anything that they threw at me.

Our first attempts at conversation were not promising. After we established that they were from Boston and I was from New York, they asked me whether I preferred the Yankees or the Mets. They could have as well asked me if I favored Sennacherib of Assyria or Mushezib-Marduk in the Babylonian revolt of 689 BC. They were also rather taken aback by my lack of a burning need for beer at nine o’clock in the morning. However, there is no greater bonding mechanism than the great and glorious game of golf. Old poop that I am, and incapable of hitting the ball 500 yards with the bloom of energetic youth though I may be, I was also the only one of us who could actually connect with the ball after the initial drive. We were playing Best Ball, which means that everyone shoots the best shot after each attempt, i.e., the best ball of the four, and surprisingly enough, after the drives these young bucks powered out there, those best balls were almost invariably mine. By the end of eighteen, my new young friends were carrying me on their shoulders and crowning me with laurels. We made a great team.

Unfortunately it was a rather rainy day, mostly mist but occasionally really coming down, which means one has to put on all sorts of raingear to stay dry (unless one is young and nuts, in which case the norm is getting wet and freezing your tuchis off), followed by taking it off when the rain lets up, and putting it back on when it starts up again. One’s grip on the club, like one’s grip on reality, is tenuous at best. And I am now covered with bug bites, although at the time I never saw any of the filthy little blighters. Fitchburg bugs: fitchbugs? Whatever. As for the golf course itself, it was really right up my alley, not very long but lots of shots that required one to think a bit before acting, not that I actually ever do think a bit before acting—that seems to be counter to the whole reality of golf, which in no way reflects the philosophy of golf—but it is nice to know that, if one were to do so, one might achieve good results.

So, I had fun and I’m glad I went. Now CP and I need to find a golf course somewhere maybe halfway between us, since he’s been taking to the game lately. I snuck out for the long drive home halfway through the proceedings that followed the event, lots of fundraiser raffles and whatnot, after my last ticket did not win the case of beer (which I would have started drinking the next day at nine in the morning), while CP was flying up to the podium to collect whatever he had just won with his ticket.

The games were rigged, obviously.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The post WTF won't publish!

Angus Flotilla, one of the first winners of the NatNats LD Final Whizbang back in the 1950s, before they even had LD, offers some advice to this year’s competitors.

Howdy, you lucky sons o’ guns (and daughters o’ guns). Things have changed a lot since I won the old Horse on a Stick, as we used to call it, but a lot of things are still the same. The most important thing to keep in mind is that, while the tournament is longer than most, it’s not as long as it used to be. In my day, the season lasted one week and the tournament lasted nine months. Today, it’s the other way around, which means that there are fewer bedsores, and the bathrooms stay cleaner a lot longer. Still, you need to husband your resources. Make sure you get a lot of sleep, but make sure it’s at night, and not during rounds, even if your opponent is a boring as an Ashton Kutcher movie. Eating well is also important. Avoid junk food, unless you’re really, really hungry and it’s chocolate or deep-fried or both. And don’t attempt any exotic steps at the local Dime-a-Dance parlors: better people than you have lost a limb or three with an errant cha-cha move.

The next important thing to remember is that the judging is different at NatNats. First of all, some of the judges actually know the rules of the NFL, although usually it’s the rules of the other NFL, and the last thing you need is some judge yelling out “First down!” in the middle of your NC. Secondly, the good news is that the league no longer allows corporal punishment. It’s one thing to drop a ballot; it’s another thing altogether to be caned by some sadistic lunatic who thinks that fast-speaking is a criminal offense. The bad news is that the judges are totally unpredictable. If you are unsure of your judges’ paradigms, even after they’ve told you, then it’s probably a good idea to ignore my earlier advice and attempt to teach them some interesting cha-cha maneuvers. It can’t hurt, and it might help. Another thing to keep in mind is that your judges may not be up on the latest LD styles. Theory, for instance, may be common where you are, but most of these judges, well, it’s like the theory of evolution, and they’re just not buying it because it's just a theory. In my day people ran a lot of pre-modernism (which later became modernism, and then post-modernism, before everyone realized that no matter how you sliced it, it was nonsense on stilts), but when you got to NatNats, you put all that behind you and ran the Social Contract. It's the same today: Trust me on this.

Another piece of good news you have is that your topic is well-balanced. The affirmative and the negative are equal… Wait a minute. I take that back. What you want to do is flip neg. I realize there’s no LD flip at NatNats, but your judges may not know this, so it can’t hurt to give it a try.

Finally, a real piece of good news, bad news. The bad news first. The tournament is in Kansas City. If you’re coming from a real city, you will be struck by the difference, although on the bright side they do have decent barbecue (unless you’re from the south, and have religious reasons why their barbecue isn’t barbecue at all, but I’ll leave that to you and your conscience). The good news is, that when it’s all over and you’re heading home, you can turn to the person sitting next to you and say, “I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The person next to you, having not expected this, will laugh and laugh, provided the person sitting next to you has the mental capacity of a three-year-old.

So, enjoy yourself. NatNats is the most fun you can have in the middle of June in Kansas City. And that, my friends, is a fact.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Don't ask

Okay. My day today really sucked. You don't want to know why, and it has nothing to do with you, so let's just move on.

While I was going about renting my garments and grinding my teeth, apparently Jules and the Nostrumite, with absolutely nothing to do to keep them out of mischief, have published a whole batch of Jules's old epistles to the forensicians on the Nostrum site. Jules blogged about it here. If I were you, I would avoid these writings at all costs, but Nostrumian completists might feel otherwise.

Tomorrow I'm heading up to Massachusetts for a memorial golf tournament for CP's grandfather. I'm looking forward to it. I need to hit the road for a while. If I shoot any holes in one, I'll let you know.

Pursuant to our discussion

You may think I know nothing about branding. But I think I know a hell of a lot more than GM. "Drove my Chevrolet to the levrolet but the levrolet was dry...."

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Regarding the Feed

I seem to be moving at half speed, for some reason. Pretty busy at the DJ, I guess, sapping energy from other things that I’m not getting paid for. It happens.

As I do occasionally, I’ve been rethinking my various enterprises. Chief among these are the Coachean Feed, which is probably the most underrated and least utilized thing I do (unless it is the most useless thing I do, and I’m just deluding myself). As the VCA knows, I’m a big fan of using RSS to aggregate internet content. I use Google Reader on my computers; to be honest, I haven’t found the perfect reader on the iPad yet. Feeddler is okay but not great, and no other seems to have hit the sweet spot yet going by the reviews. (Simply using Google Reader in Safari on the pad, unfortunately, is not as satisfactory as it is on a computer because of some interface issues, otherwise I’d just do that.) Anyhow, when I feel like seeing what is going on in the world, I turn to my reader and browse my very organized content feeds. Some of these feeds contain material relevant to debate. My goal with the CF is to act as a curator of this material and to pass it along to interested parties.

For a while I would grab the content, highlight some catchy parts, add a comment and the link, then put it into a separate blog, which I would then feed to myself and mark, which would then send it to the CF. To make sure these things were getting out there, at one point I was even linking this blog to my @jimmenick Twitter account, having them cross-posted there. But this is a lot of hoo-ha for relatively self-explanatory material most of the time. If I simply mark an article as I read it in my own travels, it will also automatically be sent to the CF. That’s what I’ve been doing lately. So if you follow the feed with this link, you’ll still see a pretty regular stream of articles that, it seems to me, anyone of the high school debate persuasion would find at least marginally interesting. Since I will seldom write a separate blog entry on these pieces, I’ve disconnected the link from them to Twitter.

Anyhow, I still maintain that the Coachean Feed is worthwhile for anyone in the activity. You can simply point a bookmark at it and read it every few days, and I guarantee you will find something interesting and/or useful. Or, if you’re like me, you can plug the link into your own RSS to see articles as they’re marked. Whichever. The bottom line is, it’s good stuff. There’s a lot of chaff on the internet: why wouldn’t you occasionally want some straightforward wheat?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

This is pretty good

It's quite serious, and a nice way to learn about Plato's key idea about philosophy/reality.

Plato's Cave in Claymation

NYSDCA organization

I’m not quite sure what to call last Friday’s meeting of the New York State Debate Coaches’ Association. O’C and Stefan have been beating the bushes for folks to help design an organization that would do the things that we feel need to be done in the region, and some of the usual suspects and some new suspects turned up to join in the brainstorming. It was fun and productive.

Some things came out immediately. First, we’ll create a novice division of PF in the MHL and at other venues (I’ve already written this into the MHL site). Why should this activity be treated differently from the others? We’ll try to post a good calendar for the region, which we’ve come close to lately but haven’t hit spot on yet. We talked about some issues like membership and the board and whatnot, the predictable things one discusses at such an event. Even when we disagreed, we had remarkably good discussion that led to results everyone was happy with. The point of the exercise is openness and inclusion, which is the way debate is moving these days, which is as it should be. Any activity built on a dialectic ought to move towards a perceived better place through the combining of the best ideas at any time, always trying to improve. An organization charged with moderating such an activity ought to do the same.

It was a hot Friday, meanwhile, and I got into Manhattan early and roamed all over the city, camera in hand, visiting places I don’t ordinarily visit, like St. Patrick’s and Trump Tower, and poking my nose into parts of Central Park I don’t ordinarily stroll. After the meeting O’C and Kaz and I repaired to a Brazilian restaurant (feijoada all around!) to discuss the ins and outs of the Disney Debate Adventure, which is of much more enduring importance than the NYSDCA. A very good day, in other words.

One thing was interesting. Every single person at the NYSDCA meeting had a Mac (or, in my and O’C’s case, an iPad), except Kaz, who brought a pencil and paper (whatever they are).

Monday, June 07, 2010

More on branding

Says Craig: “While you are right to say that branding is a critical step in establishing a long term business model, the real problem that the internet presents is how you create that branding in the first place. For something like the New Yorker the physical artifact is, I think, relevant. Most magazines, branded or otherwise, can't say that."

Branding is one of the great banes of the business universe. Established companies with known, long-term brands hire herds of recent MBAs at extraordinary expense to tell them what their brand is all about. As a general rule, after a long enough period of time, the owners of corporate brands seem to no longer understand the meaning of their brands. I mean, someone starts a business based on a good idea, and that business succeeds, and the product of that business is recognized by consumers, and the brand, which is the consumers’ gestalt concept of that business, is developed. Then the company starts making other products, and the founder dies of old age and is replaced by a board and a bunch of business execs who understand running businesses but do not necessarily understand the products the business produces, or the brand those products represent. Until, eventually, you get companies whose name, derived from their original product, no longer make sense because they no longer produce the original product. Send in the clowns MBAs.

The key here is that the brand, despite what the producers might want it to be, is controlled by the minds of the consumers. The brand is what the consumers think it is, not what the producers necessarily want it to be, although in a good business situation, those two are identical. I was talking about magazine branding, but what applies there applies everywhere. Good branding is branding that identifies products the way the company wants them to be branded and how consumers want to consume them versus bad branding, the release of products that are inconsistent with the brand, either on the part of the producer or the consumer. A perfect example of good branding is Apple, where all products come across as the brainchildren of Steve Jobs, elegant, safe, classy, expensive, simple, effective, stylish, hip. Whether the products are all of those things is another matter altogether; the important thing is that is the brand, so when you encounter an Apple product, your response to it is a combination of those things. (That the Apple brand also includes paternalism, Big Brother control, v.1.0 fails, etc., is probably limited among the technoscenti, and not the public at large, who simply don’t care about DRM because they have neither the time, patience, interest nor inclination to torrent files.) Bad branding? Well, let’s say the makers of a certain product tangentially associated with chocolate released “Ex-Lax Brand Truffles” to candy stores…

So a brand is more than just a name of a product. It is the concept of the product. The meta of the product. The gestalt. Whatever. Amazon has become one of the biggest internet companies working from scratch, with a name that has no identification with its initial service, and it established its brand (cheap, fast, exhaustive, accessible, friendly) by doing a good job with books and slowly expanding into everything else. Once upon a time there was no Amazon, now it is indispensable. And it is a meaningful internet brand. So brands can be established on the internet with no previous connection to a product. Content brands on the internet tend to be aggregators, like Digg or HuffPo or Boing Boing, but then again, Andrew Sullivan writes plenty of original net-only stuff from a recognizable brand position (absent The Atlantic).

In magazines and newspapers, the brand is relative to the perception of the public of the editors of that periodical. If the editors are perceived as having an identifiable, coherent stance, then it’s a brand. Like the New Yorker, and plenty of others. This brand starts somewhere, and sticks or not. Wired is a recent example of a strong brand in magazines. Oprah is another. I maintain that this branding can transcend a particular medium, but the brand owner needs to be clever to make it happen, and to understand the other media it wishes to enter. My original contention was that the content of magazines is now available as the content of the internet, and that the internet is rendering magazines obsolete. Publishers of magazines, to survive, need to become publishers of web content, at which most of them suck. Boing Boing services my need for “magazine” content, and does it better than a magazine because it’s fast, current, and multimedia. BB also has a recognizable editorial voice, in its writing and its aggregation, which is why I wouldn’t recommend it to my mother. There used to be magazines for everybody; now there’s websites for everybody. The content—short-form journalism—is the same.

So, today’s magazines, as I say, will live or die as they master the new medium, the same way movie studios lived or died in the 50s when they confronted the new medium of television. Same content, different delivery system. Some old brands will travel along, some new ones will be created. Possession of a strong brand will be no guarantee of being able to make the leap. Lack of a strong brand will be no guarantee of failure, as long as you work toward overcoming that lack with consistent content that can be seen as a brand.

Think about this. Today, J schools are enjoying their greatest popularity ever. What are all those journalists going to do when they graduate into a world with no newspapers or magazines? They’ll think of something.

Friday, June 04, 2010

On magazine publishing

There seems to be a lot of hoo-ha over magazines figuring out what to do in the age of e-media. The magazine publishers ask themselves, how can they port their magazine over to the iPad or the Kindle or whatever technology is the flavor of the moment, as if the problem they face is that paper has been replaced by something else, and they need to transfer from their traditional paper to that something else.

They’re looking at it the wrong way.

It is the internet itself that renders magazines obsolete. (And, for that matter, newspapers.) The thing is, we turn to a particular medium for the benefits we can derive from that medium. Magazines provide us with content of varying lengths, but usually not too long-form, on just about any subject matter. It is no stretch to say that the internet also provides us with content of varying lengths, but usually not too long-form, on just about any subject matter. (Both, by the way, occasionally also do long-form.) The competition, in other words, begins at the core of what the content is that is in magazines and what the content is that is on the internet. The first question we should probably ask is if there is a qualitative difference between those two contents. Is one better than the other, absent its location? The simple answer is no. Since magazines have been an entrenched medium for a long time, they certainly have had the ability to draw on, and pay, a certain pool of quality journalists, but although the internet has no shortage of inexperienced, poor quality writers, many many sites also have the ability to draw on, and pay, a certain pool of quality journalists. There’s nothing about writing in a magazine or writing on the internet that makes one better than the other, aside from the fact that the entry level requirements for the latter are so low that there’s no inherent expectation of quality on the part of the consumer, whereas one does expect when one buys a magazine that, at some point, the editors of that magazine got some good writers to create the articles. (As magazines die and professional writers move over to internet positions, one can reasonably expect better quality in the internet, but that is beside the point I’m trying to make here.)

So, theoretically, content quality is identical. What else is different? Well, certainly the physical aspects of a magazine are quite different from a computer. Magazines are cheap, portable, and lightweight. Working against them is the fact that they need to be printed, and the production cycle of content is much longer than the production cycle of content online. With the creation of cheap, portable and lightweight devices for reading internet content, suddenly that advantage of magazines goes away, and we’re left with slower production of, virtually, the same thing.

But is it the same? If there is no New Yorker, for instance, either as a physical magazine or as an online magazine, do I lose whatever it was that I was getting from the New Yorker? Not really. This particular magazine has goings-on and reviews (readily available elsewhere), political analysis (way readily available elsewhere, of exactly the same liberal bias or any other bias you might prefer), fiction (ditto), commentary on the arts and life in general (ditto), and articles of serious journalism about whatever the editors think is important (ditto). Every single thing you can get from the New Yorker you can get from somewhere other than the New Yorker, and you can get it at a similar level of quality.

So why do I need the New Yorker? Especially when I can get an analogue to all its content, and I can get it on my portable device?

Well, that’s the big question, the one the magazines should be asking. If I can get everything in a magazine somewhere else, why do I need a magazine?

There’s only one real answer here that I can think of. A magazine like the New Yorker has, for lack of a better term, a brand identity. It has a recognizable editorial personality. I read the New Yorker not because I want a review of Iron Man 2 but because I want the New Yorker review of Iron Man 2. I want their comments on life in general. I like their brand. I like their aggregation of content.

The problem for most magazines is that they lack this sort of brand identity. They may be about something, foreign cars, for instance, but they don’t bring anything more to the table than their concentration on their particular subject. I can get tons of foreign car material on the internet and forego the magazine entirely. As a matter of fact, as one gets more specific on subject, the internet, with its low entry cost, becomes better able to provide content. There are people on the web who are fans of everything you can imagine, and there’s twenty-eleven websites devoted to anything you can think of. Magazines, with their production costs, can’t meet this level of granularity. How many Disney magazines are there? How many Disney websites? And Disney isn’t even obscure.

Magazines, to survive, will have to do a couple of things. First of all, if they don’t have a transcendent and viable brand identity, then it’s a hopeless cause. This is why I’m not taking my hard-earned salary and making a bid on Newsweek. I can’t think of anything about it that makes it a viable concept in the internet age, either on paper or on pixels. Food magazines? Tough, when I can get recipes online so easily, but if they have a face then they have a brand going for them. If you like Jamie or Rachael or whomever, then you’ll want their stuff and not just generic stuff. (RIP Gourmet.) Wedding magazines? Well, they have no content and are only repositories of advertisements, so they might be the last to go.

Computer magazines are an interesting case, seeing that the people most interested in them are the most likely to be, well, computing. Wired has an interesting paradigm. They have the magazine online, they have the magazine on paper, and they now are taking a device-specific approach on the iPad (which looks good but has gotten mixed reviews, but after all, it is v1.0). Wired certainly has a brand identity that I seek out, that will transcend medium. If Wired were a web organization and not a publisher, it would have that same identity.

Publishers need to become, simply, publishers, as compared to being magazine publishers or even web publishers. But they have to think it through. They have to learn what it is that they have to offer that is unique to their brand, and make that their selling paradigm. Make me go to you because whatever it is you have, I can’t get that elsewhere, for whatever reason. Publishing on paper, on websites, on apps, is beside the point. But it must be factored into the equation. Portable devices have arrived. They’re still boutique-ish, but not for long, and along with them is coming steadily growing wifi access. And they enable the magazine-like content at a level of magnitude above a website, plus they replicate a magazine’s portability. Going forward, a magazine on paper can have the best photographic reproduction, but websites have video and audio and apps have functionality. You can’t just translate from one medium to another, you have to rethink from one medium to another. You might even be able to survive in multiple media; smart thinking will, at least, allow you to survive in one of them.

Bottom line? Draw a chart. On one axis, put the number of magazines in print. On the other, put the price of portable reading devices. They will both got down together. Print magazines have had a good run. They won’t go away completely, but they’ll go away mostly. To tell you the truth, many of them already have.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

iPad adventures

I have, a number of times, read entire books on my Touch for the DJ. We receive about a quarter of our submissions electronically, which, given that approximately 102% of all writers work electronically in the first place seems a little odd to me, but publishers are nothing if not inefficient (which is why so many of them are in trouble in the 21st Century). On our end, we have not been issued any sort of e-readers, unlike some editors at some houses, so we have been on our own recognizances, as W. S. Gilbert might put it. My recog has been the Touch which, as a book reader, does do the job, but just barely. Obviously, the damned thing is too small. To be able to read on it, you need to blow up the type size, and then you get maybe a paragraph at a time, and you click your way through it like a little house afire.

Not optimal.

One of the reasons I bought the iPad was to get a better reader. I never really wanted a Kindle much, or any of its single-purpose cousins, because my desire to read electronically isn’t all that great, aside from the needs of the DJ. I mean, I’ve got a few books on paper at home that I need to read first, and some I need to reread, before I would need to start collecting an electronic library. But the idea of a multi-purpose device that also reads? That was pretty attractive. Of course, most of the functions of the iPad look, on the surface, to be the same functions as the Touch, which was my original reaction to the thing, so I didn’t dive in immediately. After all, I brought the Touch with me to England and carried the internet in my pocket for two weeks, which was a miracle of convenience that can’t be beat. There was wireless everywhere. There will be more wireless in more everywheres in the future. I would not have lugged an iPad as willingly: my pockets aren’t big enough (and I’m already lugging an SLR and an extra lens, making me more sherpa than tourist, to tell you the truth).

So what got me from “I’ve already got the iPad nano” to buying the iPad? Satisfied customers. Not just Bietz (who loves all tech on first blush and can’t be trusted until the first six months have elapsed) and O’C (who got his for free and therefore can’t be trusted because of the lack of fiscal investment), both of whom are talking life-changing, but the tech people I follow either on Twitter or on podcasts. Even Cory Doctorow’s dislike of the device played into my wanting one. You know, it isn’t 1982 anymore. The computer isn’t a tinkerer’s toy that comes with not just a manual but a guide to Basic plus a complete guide to the machine language of the beast. Apple may control the apps in a Big Brother fashion, but at the same time I can access anything (except flash) from the browser, so it’s like Big Brother with Benefits, if you get my drift. Anyhow, everyone who loves the thing says that it has its own niche and that it’s a niche you weren’t aware of and once you find it, there you are.

This may be true. So far, and it’s still early days, one thing that is clear to me is that I’m going to have to redefine my Touch usage. No need to watch a movie on that screen when I can watch it on the iPad screen. Civilization? Oy! And then, of course, there’s iBooks.

It took a couple of days (literally) but I finally found out how to get from whatever I have to a book in iBook. Basically you get yourself a pdf, then you run a program called Calibre which converts the pdf into an epub, and then you drag the epub file into your iTunes library, and the next time you sync, you read, all of which is easier than it sounds.

And you know what I really love? Playing with a new device, a new computer, whatever. Figuring out how best to use it, getting it organized with the rest of my machinery, experimenting. For instance, I haven’t yet found a good solution to RSS. You can’t really run the Google Reader efficiently because it doesn’t scroll correctly. I tried an app that I’m not happy with because it lost the connection to Google and a hundred login attempts wouldn’t reconnect it (although I’ll try again today). The best Twitter app (as in “free”) only allows one account, unless I want to “pay,” which I’m not ready for yet. Come to think of it, a lot of what is hard to do on the Touch, therefore requiring apps, is easy to do on the larger screen in Safari, obviating the need for those apps. As I say, that’s what I love, sorting out the pluses and minuses and working out the details to my best advantage.

There was a short period of time when I considered buying a netbook. I would like to now publicly thank the gods of commerce for stopping my hand and keeping me ready instead for the iPad.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Good news, gooder news

There are, occasionally, twists on the old “good news, bad news” business that just boggle the mind.

The DDA had long ago resigned itself to the sad, nearly deal-breaking news that Star Tours was going to close for regrooving a week before our trip. O’C, who pretty much spends his whole DHS day at this attraction, couldn’t speak through the tears, and even I was more than a little disappointed, this being one of my top favorites. And then, lo and behold, it turns out it’s going to be open while we’re there after all. The gods of the Lukas Ranch were smiling on us. Not that I necessarily feel a need to ride it five times, like some people, but one last farewell trip? The Force is obviously strong with our group.

One ride being open unexpectedly, to some people, might not represent much. Not even a ride as important as this one. But then, last week, while doing some research, I discovered another piece of startling news. “it’s a small world” is going to be closed while we are there.

As my daughter said, this proves there is a God.

“iasw” could possibly be the most controversial attraction in any Disney park. On the one hand, it has the pedigree of the 64-65 Fair, and the whole Disney tech breakthrough that I’ve talked about. It is also about the children of the world, with a transcendent message of peace and brotherhood. The Mary Blair art on which it is based is positively inspired. There is no attraction more iconic than this one. It even has music by the Sherman Brothers! And, well, there’s the problem. The music by the Sherman Brothers. It’s a cute little tune sung by children in different languages throughout the ride, and it has the general effect that can only be matched by an anesthetic-free colonoscopy, even if you yourself happen to be one of the Sherman Brothers. I honestly did once get stuck on this ride for half an hour, through which the music never stopped. I was one of the few survivors of the experience. The rest went straight into the nursing home.

And the bad (?) news we will not get the opportunity during the Disney Debate Adventure to have a similar confrontation with insanity. Star Tours, yes, “it’s a small world” no. Not to mention that, most likely, we’ll get to see Captain EO rather than Honey I Shrunk the Audience, which already has O’C doing the Futterwack happy dance.

This will be a trip to savor.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Back to business after the holiday weekend

I’ve started putting photos of the UK trip up on Facebook. I’d put them on Flickr but they say I’ve already got too many and should start paying them. Didn’t they read that book about the internet being free? What I really need to do is figure out a way to post them to my own site. Some day, when I’ve got some time on my hands. As it is, editing the photos takes longer than going to England and taking them in the first place. The SLR is still new to me, and I seem to have taken a lot of pictures that are slightly askew, something I noticed late in the trip that I starting thinking about on the fly but meanwhile I’ve now got to fix it on the ground, and it takes forever. I’ve worked out a system using iPhoto and Elements alternately, and it’s very confusing and, trust me, you really don’t want to hear about it. I estimate that, at the rate I’m going, I’ll be done in time for the DDA. At which point I can start all over again.

I also managed to record a Nostrum over the weekend, but had all sorts of issues with the uploading to my site and the RSS and hearing it in iTunes. I ended up loading a couple of different versions, and never did understand the problem. So maybe, if you’re a subscriber, you’ll hear the same episode (with Botch and Wednesday) twice. Maybe not. It is available on the NostrumNation blog, in any case, if you need to get it. Which, I guess, stretches the definition of the word need beyond your wildest nightmares.

I wasn’t able to go to CatNats, where SuperSquirrel debated her very last round (always a gleeful moment). I’m curious to see how she and the Panivore did in the ballot count. And of course, the P has to prep for NatNats. No rest for the wicked. Anyhow, before the event we had a call for a TVFT from Rob Frederickson, as I like to call him, which Bietz set up, and I enjoyed that conversation a lot. Adam T was also with us, and in addition to CatNats we discussed NatNats, so if you’re running that LD topic, you might want to check it out. I also posted a segment of Fred trying to set up Skype. The man is not a technophobe, but he’s not exactly Mr. Skype either. And he does resort to salty language at times, so there goes our G rating. I’m thinking of making a hip hop recording out of it.

And, oh yeah, there is the iPad. It took me a while to get it set up, mostly because there was a whole new EULA that I didn’t bump into right away that was walling me up. Then there was the Apple store guy telling me to let it run down the charge, so I haven’t gone back and synched it again to see how some of the issues were working out. One big thing for me is reading books for the DJ, and that means getting mss that come into the office into iBooks, which requires, first, turning them into ePub format, and second, dumping them into iTunes on Vegas Elvis, then synching the iP to VE to get them into iBooks. A lot of bloody hoo-ha, in other words, but worth it. Something as simple as reading them on Stanza doesn’t work because the Stanza software for the Touch, while it expands to cover the territory of the iP screen, gets too fuzzy for extended reading sessions. And a simple pdf is possible, but it has none of the elegance of an iBooks title. Anyhow, my overall take on the device at the moment is pretty favorable, and I haven’t even tried to play iPad Civ yet. It’s a little heavy for reading, but not prohibitively so: it wasn’t so bad that when I virtually tried to turn the page that I fell out of bed or anything. O’C wants to use his for tabbing, which requires a virtual connection to your home machine, which seems to avoid the need to do something simple like print schematics, but that’s him and not me. I’m seeing him this Friday, so we can compare notes. I do need a name for mine, though. Nothing immediately comes to mind, but I’ll keep working on it.