Thursday, July 29, 2010

Case disclosure Part 4

I feel a little bit like a circus ringmaster, trying to keep track of all the issues that disclosure has brought us. And meanwhile, there’s some other issues that are not related, that I will just have to put off for a while (TOC bids, net neutrality, etc.). But I do want to stick to the subject at hand while it is still fresh in the mind. We’ll return to yesterday’s post on the hive.

First, I would advise that folks look directly to PJ’s responses to what I said yesterday. In the main, he disagrees that good debaters will continue to rise to the top as lesser debaters gain more access to tools that might eliminate their need to be good debaters as much as requiring their skill at cutting and pasting. I hope he’s wrong, but if he’s right, he has come up with a summary reason to negate beyond which we need not travel. Unfortunately, we can’t tell until it’s happened, and maybe not even then. Still, it’s something to keep in mind. (The erased comments were dupes, btw, not horrible PJian comments that had to be eliminated.)

In yesterday’s post, I had envisioned the hive of data as a long-term source of debate thought, CP had this to say: “What are the privacy implications of requiring students to put their work — which in some cases is graded schoolwork — into the public view under their own names? Is it really a good idea for the caselist wiki to be built upon and maintained over the years? The educational value as a reference source would be considerable, but on the other hand, a permanent caselist compels students to be forever identified on the Internet with work they did as high schoolers, in a specialized context as debaters. Do we really want that Marxism aff to show up when these kids are running for office or facing a Senate confirmation hearing?”

Let’s compare this to where Bietz talks about the wiki as a tool of peer review: “The idea of peer review is something that is not only accepted but is also expected in academia. Debate is a high-stakes activity. For many of our students, it is perhaps the primary extra-curricular activity they will do in high school. For some of our students, the monetary and time costs associated are burdensome. Regardless of each individual’s commitment to the activity, academic integrity is not something we should take lightly. If a student were to come to you with a case that uses evidence entirely from an unnamed personal blog that cites no sources or provides no qualification, would you accept it as a ‘good case?’ Probably not. However, we do not treat what is said or presented in rounds with the same rigor that we would expect from the evidence we want our students to use in their cases. The ability for everyone to see what everyone else is quoting or using as evidence is important not only because it allows us to check to make sure that everything is done in an ethical and fair way, but also because it is academically proper to do so. We send the wrong message when we take this academic portion out of the competitive activity. The reason why the high-stakes element of my argument is important is because we need to have a side constraint placed on the competitiveness of debate. We need to encourage integrity. Peer review is important to maintaining this integrity.” He adds additionally in a FB comment, “If someone says they aren't going to go to tournaments that require disclosure are they also saying they aren't going to go to a college or submit to a journal that doesn't require peer review? If the stakes at a debate tournament are really that high (which seems to be the case), then shouldn't peer review be a part of the discussion?"

It is hard for me to address this issue in some ways because I have no idea what the legal ramifications might be of publicly storing the work of minors for all to access. Is it right, much less legal, to expose the ideas of a 17-year-old in this way, for all time? I am dubious about the claim that debating a case somehow enters it into open public discourse. Debating a case might enter it into the very limited “public” discourse of a debate tournament, but that is actually a closed, high school activity. I might encourage members of a community to drop by and see how smart all the high school kids are thanks to the exorbitant school taxes that community is paying, but they are invited guests. If the case that lost in the final round was published the next day in the local newspaper, with a picture of the two finalists in their Cruzian hug, I would wonder… Sure, that’s not going to happen, but it highlights the nature of the problem. These people remain high school students. You could claim that the wiki is, somehow, as non-public as the debate tournament, limited to those with the proper reasons for being there, but it’s not. Will the Panivore’s case demonstrating how eating vegetables is immoral keep her from beating Bristol Palin in the 2044 Republican Primary? Probably not. But does a tournament have the authority to take the Panivore’s work and mandate that she publicize it in order to participate at that tournament? It would seem that the tournament would first have to demonstrate a lack of personal and legal harms. The tournament could respond, no, you have to demonstrate the existence of those harms, but I would disagree. Again, we are dealing with minors, and need to give the benefit of the doubt in the proper direction.

As for what Bietz is saying, the issue is about the same. He is absolutely right about the integrity of the information. The question is, are the requirements for that integrity—not the literal integrity of the content but the open review display to measure that integrity—relevant to the high school community. I absolutely expect my students to do honest research. But as high school students should I be holding them to open, public review by what could literally be hundreds if not thousands of people on the internet? I mean, good grief, the old juvie justice topic is on the agenda again this year, in which we will learn beyond refutation that the adolescent brain is a jumble of unformed cookie dough bits. They may be morally culpable for the chocolate chips that emerge from it, but they are, simply put, not adults. No, they should not be let off the hook when it comes to doing proper research, but how much of a hook are we talking about here?

As I say, I’m not sure. Honestly, I don’t think this really is a strictly legal question, although I may have suggested otherwise above. But it is an important question. I’d like to hear Jon (and any other tournament director who asks for disclosure) explain it. The fact that it already exists in policy, by the way, implies that the answers are there, and acceptable. But they should be articulated for a community new to it. As for the Bietzian side of it, he is asking a lot of high school academics. Nice to aspire to, though.

Meanwhile, CP also brings up a different question: “Isn't there a danger inherent in this experiment being conducted exclusively at octafinals bid tournaments? Those tournaments cast a long shadow, and set a standard for other tournaments aspiring to the same level. The folks who know what's up behind the scenes understand that it's an experiment, but it's rather simple for a very small group of people who run the nine octos tournament to effectively force this question, simply by being the standard bearers of what a ‘good tournament’ is in the eyes of the community…and other tournament directors. I think that points more to the fact that our community lacks meaningful national governance, and is run more or less like an aristocracy, which isn't anyone here's fault.”

Damn it, he’s right at the end there. This is a bloody aristocracy. But that’s a different (albeit important) issue.

As for the experiment itself, I would hope that this discussion, aristocratic though it might be, will help hold the line on things. Certainly Cruz’s intention of evaluating the experiment demonstrates his aim of doing precisely that, and I trust him on it, and applaud him for it. But should we (i.e., the aristocracy) have chosen something as big as an octos tournament for the experiment? Over the last year or two we regionally worked ourselves through the various levels of experiment with judge ranking, starting MJP with a small local tournament rather than a big gun. We ended up believing, as it turned out, that MJP is only for big guns. Should we have experimented similarly with disclosure, in light of the possible harms CP suggests?

Again, I don’t know. I was surprised that it’s part of the Bronx, but then again, my approval of the idea seemed implicit apparently from my comments on TVFT. I think that if Cruz were just doing it, sort of following in Greenhill’s footsteps so to speak because that’s what he thinks an octos tournament ought to be, then we’d definitely be in the world CP is describing. But that whole experimentation angle mitigates against this harm. Will the other octonians act similarly? I think not. Or more to the point, they won’t be doing it because the others are doing it because, insofar as they are plugged into the LD community, it’s an absolute landmine for them if they do. And if they’re not plugged in, it won’t occur to them. If I were running an octos bid tournament, I know that I’d wait and see this year how beaten and battered Timmons and Cruz end up before doing anything precipitous. But if they do survive? Then I think CP is right, it will become de rigeur. The horse is threatening to leave the barn, in other words. Which puts a lot of pressure on Cruz when it comes to the experimentation side of things. A pressure I think he is expecting and will handle well. But a pressure nonetheless.

Finally, I agree with PJ’s comment to the LA Coach, who is running a small southern school out of the octos line of fire, and who wonders how the hive will impact his folk. They’ll have access, and be able to draw whatever they want from it. If they do so wisely (which could even include ignoring it completely, depending on the nature of LD in their region), they’ll be fine.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Case disclosure Part 3

So much stuff. So very useful. Thanks to all. Feel free to keep it up.

I want to stick to the non-tournament side of things for a while.

My thought last time was that the publication of cases would do two things. First, it would provide a source for evidence, and it would provide an idea of what folks might be running. When this subject first came up Sophie sent me the following: “Instead of doing your own topic research, many debaters now see the wiki as a free pass where they can go to take another debater's cards. Not that there is anything wrong with sharing ideas and research by any means, but what educational value does it have if the debater is literally copying and pasting cards off the wiki without reading the whole article or fully understanding the position?” Susanna amplifies this in the comments: “Debaters don't do their own research-- I've talked to a lot of kids at VBI who unapologetically announce that their block files consisted of cards from Catherine's cites. I think sharing articles is a good thing, but at the point debaters have to write the first few words and the last, debaters can literally just hit ‘control find’ to cut cards. More, this encourages everyone to use the same authors. Especially in the middle of the topic when debaters are getting somewhat lazy and complacent, the wiki offers an easy out to actually learning how to research.”

This is a reasonable response. While on the one hand, we are communally sharing the fruits of our labors, there may indeed be those who will grab a little of that fruit without doing any labor. Honestly, I don’t think this is preventable. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s that big a problem. No matter what system we have, no matter what aids are available, no matter how coaches deal with their students, there will always be debaters who don’t read the whole articles or fully understand the positions. They will grab ideas from other people willy nilly without much depth of study and without much understanding of what those ideas really mean.

Who are these people? Not the top debaters, who will do all the work, and derive all the benefits of so doing, including deep understanding of the complexities of a position. So it will be people other than the top debaters, and it will be people who as a result don’t really understand what they’re talking about. My response to Sophie and Susanna on this is, well, you may be right, but I wouldn’t worry about it competitively. If you do the work and they don’t, and that material is at issue in a round, you are unlikely to lose. Cruz concurs: “Good debaters, of any format, do their own research. Bad debaters do not. Regardless of whether debaters who do not do their own research are unapologetic does not mean that a case list is a bad thing. Google searches can promote laziness. Getting cases from older teammates can promote laziness.” And Shane also concurs: “Disclosure rewards hard work -- if everyone knows what all the arguments are, then the people that work the hardest will have success…I am willing to bet that most of the best 8 or 16 debaters at TOC do a good deal of their work regardless of the size of their program or the number of their coaches.” As to the bigger point about the purely educational value of this, well, the same could be said for a lot of things. Plenty of outfits sell research and case positions; plenty of individuals do likewise. Is that educationally valuable? If that bought material is a starting point, perhaps, and if it’s an ending point, of course not. If a coach provides cases to students who simply run them as is, is that educational? Not really. As I say, this particular argument against disclosure, that it is not educational, is not unique. It’s not incorrect, but it’s not an inherent flaw of disclosure but an inherent flaw of human nature. It is not a reason to negate.

Once upon a time, a debater doing research went to the library and tried to find books on the subject. (Good debaters actually read those books and studied arguments within them and cited them; bad debaters found marginally related quotes on subjects and used them. The competitive results were predictable.) Nowadays, a debater doing research starts on the internet. The way the internet works is that there are hives of information that have grown perhaps because we worker bees like to build hives. Witness Wikipedia. A hive of information on debate subjects is not an inherently negative thing, although the suggestion is that it can be used negatively (which we’ll address later). But starting at the hive for my research sounds to me very useful. Relying completely on the hive? Not so good. But look to the future. Five years from now, the hive contains not only the cases for Greenhill this September, but cases on everything for the last five years. This starts looking rather valuable to me educationally, not because this is some static warehouse of old news that I can read off as new news, but as an organic source. If you ask me, meaningful access over time is going to be the biggest problem, i.e., maintaining usefulness, but we’ll probably sort that out.

So on balance, the hive of cases is not an inherently bad thing, insofar as while bad debaters won’t get much out of it and therefore it won’t educate them, they weren’t going to get educated anyhow as they were always going to find a way to trick the system. And insofar as everyone else gets a starting point on case content, and the activity gets a library hive of cases providing a history of analysis, we improve the general state of knowledge overall, which is a good thing.

None of this answers the response to Maddie that “the caselist perpetuates the over-reliance on evidence.” That’s an interesting subject worth its own discussion.
Much of the other commentary from the trenches was about what appear to be abuses of the system. We need to look at them too. We are by no means finished with this discussion, nor am I in any way sure how I feel about it, aside from continuing to believe that Cruz’s controlled experiment at Big Bronx is a good way to learn more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Look at the comments. I'll do likewise. I was going to progress from what I said yesterday, but some new thoughts from those in the trenches are worth considering first.

I'll be back.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Case disclosure Part 2

Since the conversation started because of Big Bronx, let’s look at that invite.

“I believe that case disclosure evens the playing field for smaller teams in a manner similar to how posting brackets at the start of elimination rounds…evens the playing field. I believe that openness promotes deeper comprehension and preparation, and I believe that this openness promotes better clash and better debates. Requiring that all competitors participate in a case list helps eliminate the unequal power concentrated with programs that have plenty of resources, employ multiple coaches, or that are members of an ‘inner circle’ and that thus are able to more easily acquire information about other arguments being made by other programs.”

So the expressed goal of disclosure at this one tournament is a more even playing field. Cruz also talks about advance preparation being improved.

In his article for the May ’10 Rostrum, Bietz said this: “Since disclosure happens anyway, it ought to be open to all competitors regardless of the number of teammates, coaches, or friends one has at any given tournament. The current ‘system’ is exclusionary and often makes tournaments hurtful situations. It benefits large teams who either 1) bring many kids to tournaments or 2) have many judges in the judging pool, both of which go hand-in-hand. Finally, open disclosure provides the academic check and peer review of research that is common in all of academia.”

Bietz repeats the goals of the even playing field at tournaments and adds academic integrity, although his article does agree with Cruz on the idea that case disclosure in advance provides to all resources that are normally limited to larger or connected programs.

There seem to be two things going on here that are quite separate. One of them is the publication of case material as it affects debaters outside of tournaments, and the other is the evening of the playing field at the actual tournaments. Let’s look at the former in this posting.

When a new resolution is released, the debater must learn two things: what the resolution is about absent debate, i.e., what does it actually mean, and second, how should it be debated. These are quite different puppies. Let me use as an example our Modest Novice topic, which is about whether Civil Disobedience is justified. We throw this topic at high school freshmen, few of whom have given the topic a moment’s thought so far in their lives. When I brainstorm, either with my own team or at the MHL workshop, everybody seems to have plenty of ideas on the subject, although combined with a pretty shaky idea of what the subject actually is. For some of them, the Civil Rights battles of the 60s were before their parents were born. So we kick around a lot of material, trying to get a feel for what CD is, for what it means to deliberately and conscientiously break laws, to get some sense of the history of the idea. All of this is, of course, talk.

From this point, debaters must research. More to the point, 9th graders must research. The question is, now what? Well, of course they can go to Google and plug in Civil Disobedience, and they’ll get some answers. In fact, they’ll get “about 1,430,000 results,” which seems like more than enough. But wouldn’t it be better to have a place to begin that really gave you pertinent research? What if there were a case wiki on Civil Disobedience? And if I went to this wiki I would see a lot of quotes from various sources on Civil Disobedience that were used in actual cases? In this situation I would have the benefit of the work that has already been done as my starting place. I still ought to read my Thoreau, who does indeed come up on page one of a Google search, but I’ll probably get a lot of other leads as well.

The thing is, we use Civil Disobedience for the novice topic precisely because Thoreau comes up on page one. It’s easy to study. (Not to mention it’s a good way to learn about government.) But what about most topics, where there isn’t such a clear line of attack? I mean, who is the Thoreau of net neutrality (1,720,000 results, beating out CD by 300M)?

In addition to finding resources, the publication of cases will also provide approaches to the subject area. How are people analyzing the resolution and arguing it? One of my classic betes noires is the old civil rights for non-citizens including the right to vote, which to me is about as dumb as it gets. Letting non-cits vote is letting people on the bus without a ticket. I’ve bemoaned this at great length. But if you look at cases, and see that no one is running this idiocy, you don’t have to worry about it; if you see that everyone is running this idiocy, after you wonder if they’ve all hired Sarah Palin as their debate coach, you will at least be prepared to handle it. Disclosure would show us a general range of the material one can expect to see run at a tournament, and help us guide our own offenses and defenses accordingly.

In a big program, or if you have a lot of debate friends, you can pool your resources and come up with most of what you might find useful for cases in advance. If you are all by your lonesome, however, while everyone else is coming to grips with non-citizen voters or whatever, you can only guess how or even if that’s going to be an issue. In fact, you might have to go to a tournament and debate just to find out in which direction the prevailing winds are blowing (keeping in mind that they will shift over time). While I don’t worry much about academic integrity and people making up research and stuff (since it’s patently wrong, and I hope fairly rare, and for which making a seismic change in the debate community like disclosure seems like overkill), I do like the idea that my little team will have access to the discussions, even indirectly, that are taking place in the bigger programs. I don’t write positions, I don’t research, I don’t do any of that coachy stuff that a lot of other people do, so my team isn’t going to get it from me. And going into this season, with the tiniest fleet of Sailors ever, it would be nice if they could get it from somewhere. And even if the Panivore may be nicely connected with a network of debate friends, but what about young Zip, a sophomore with only a handful of small events behind him?

I have to say, then, that before a tournament, the publication of what’s being discussed and researched and presented on a topic seems to have no downside insofar as access to tools is concerned. I do imagine that there could evolve some limits on creativity, but I seriously doubt that that will happen given the competitiveness of the individuals involved. But keep in mind that I do not see any of what I’ve been discussing above as what people might actually run at a tournament. It is what people did run at a tournament. I take this body of information as an index of material on a resolution with no connection to competition. That is another thing entirely. Research on what the topic means, what sources are relevant, what ideas could be in play—that’s it. But that’s a lot. And it seems to me a good thing.

Tournaments, as I say, and competition, are another thing entirely.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Case disclosure Part 1

What I love more than anything about debate is that it is not exactly a breeding ground for inertia. In the almost 20 years that I’ve been involved in the activity, i.e., LD specifically, the beast has changed over and over again. Some of the changes have had people wringing their hands decrying the end of life on the planet as we know it, and some have been roundly applauded by one and all. Many of those changes went on to change again. I was, as the VCA well knows, mightily annoyed when so-called postmodernism was dragooned into the discourse, primarily because most of what was being touted as philosophy and presented as ethical standards were something else entirely. I mean, I love a lot of modern criticism, don’t get me wrong—I do read Baudrillard for the pure enjoyment of it—but no amount of pleasure taken from ideas makes those ideas relevant to literally anything to which I might wish to apply them. That is, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and this was not good for a variety of reasons. At the time I was wringing my hands, decrying the end of life on the planet as we knew it. And, of course, it all passed. Not that idiocy has left the building—far from it—but at least that particular brand of idiocy has been eliminated, or more to the point, pared down to the good stuff.

Many of the changes have been more on the engineering side, you might say, in the way we run tournaments. In my early days, life broke down into the closed inner sanctum of the tabroom and everyone else. The software printed schematics in such a way that if you were paying attention, you could deduce everyone’s record from them, which was the only way you’d find out anyone’s record because there were no disclosure and, as I say, tab was closed. College tournaments were a nightmare of inexperience combined with greed. Manual tabbing on cards was terribly error-prone, but the bugs in the software almost insured a crash at some point, with at least one hour per tournament elapsing with absolutely nothing happening except in the tab room, where people were no doubt wishing they had brought their long swords because seppuku was so much more preferable to sorting out what went wrong when. Debateziti was, indeed, one word.

Today, things are a lot different, and I think mostly better, and I like to think that I was involved in many of the improvements, even the ones I did not originally champion. If I’m in a tab room, the information is open, the process is open, we work fast and we try to get in as many rounds for as many people as possible. Yes, I will bark at you if you do something dumb beyond the norm, especially but not limited to when you ought to know better, but only at the stress moments, when we’re trying to get that next round out as quickly as possible. That’s where tournaments often fail, at the cusp of the rounds, where directors don’t have their teams up to speed on ballot collection or distribution, which means tab has to step in and bully people along or else watch the whole enterprise start to sink. We have one goal in tab: to go home. Everything we do is in aid of going home, as early as possible. When we’re doing our job well, you will also albeit indirectly get a good tournament out of it at your end. The Traveling Tab that exists around here these days does that job well, and has a great time doing it. We hope everyone else is having a great time on the other end. And I publish our processes ad nauseum here to keep things clear and open. No, you can’t all watch over my shoulder all the time literally, but you can do it figuratively.

So why am I saying all this? Well, yesterday I talked about MJP, which does have its lingering controversy. What I tried to explain was that MJP is just one tool in the box, and that used correctly, it’s a good one. In the space of one year we have in this region gone from experimenting with it to finding its place. You’ll only see it a few times, in the big national draw tournaments where it makes sense. It will make those tournaments better for the attendees at all levels. Everyone gains to some degree and no one is harmed. That is a good thing.

And now O’C is going to give case disclosure a whirl at Big Jake. For those of you who follow The View from Tab, you know that we discussed this at length following its implementation at Greenhill last year. I don’t quite remember where I came down on it, but O’C recalls that I was relatively favorable. Perhaps, but to be honest, I absolutely have no real idea how I feel about it because I’ve never been involved in it. I’ll tell you one thing, though: it’s a huge step. You don’t require case disclosure in LD at your tournament, I mean, literally mandate it, without expecting some serious results, good or bad. Since, as I say, I have no experience with the beast, I can’t off the top predict which it will be, good or bad, but I will spend some time next week analyzing it. And more importantly, I’ll spend time evaluating it after we’ve done it, with a little experience in my pocket to make my thoughts more meaningful.

But I will say this. When I read O’C’s notes in his invitation on why he was doing this, I was impressed. He believes it’s a good idea, of course, or he wouldn’t be trying it, and he’s making all the entrants do it, otherwise it wouldn’t be meaningful, but he’s clearly doing it as an experiment, “so we can have an honest discussion based on recorded feedback after the tournament.” Given that disclosure is, for LD, both new and controversial, I can’t imagine a better way to address it than to give it a shot and see what happens at a national tournament where it makes sense to do it, and where we’re doing it with the express purpose of learning from it and acting upon what we learn. I mean, for all I know, I am going to detest the whole thing, find that it has harmed my debaters’ chances at the tournament, that it is the end of life on the planet as we know it—but at least I will know this, and not just whip it up out of the chimeras of my personal biases.

I’m looking forward to giving it a shot. I’m looking forward to learning from it. I can’t wait for the ensuing dialogue. I applaud Cruz not for trying it, but for trying it the way he’s trying it, doing what he thinks is best not just for his tournament but for the activity as a whole. He admits that he may be wrong, but that this is the only way to find out. That’s pretty gutsy, and puts a lot on the line. More power to him.

And O’C has paid me absolutely nothing to say all of this. (Hell, I don’t even like the guy. Uh, pay no attention to that Disney trip. Doesn’t exist. Not happening. Never heard of it.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

In MJP, does everyone always strike Scalia?

Big Jake is going MJP and case disclosure this year. Let's take the former first, which we'll also be doing at Yale. Once upon a time I was thoroughly against Mutual Judge Preference. Longtime members of the VCA might recall this. For reasons that elude me, the debate community, on hearing about my feelings on this subject, did not immediately suppress all further implementations of MJP at tournaments. My influence just wasn't what I thought it was.

Opinions on judge assignment strategies range widely. There is a school of thought that any LDer ought to be able to convince anyone of their position, and thus anyone who can breathe and speak English has met the necessary requirements for judging. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the school of thought that LD is a specialized business requiring specialized adjudicators. Opinions of judge assignment strategies are informed by which end of the spectrum one happens to be on. For that matter, opinions of LD are informed by that same position. I’ll go even further and say that some people have opinions of what LD ought to be, and then decide all practical matters based on that personal vision.

And the thing is, with the variety of regions, the levels of novice through varsity, and the existence of an elite $ircuit, everyone is equally right or wrong.

My personal learning experience regarding MJP began, as I say, agin’ it. I perceived it as a way for the field to manipulate the judging to their own benefit. But as I listened to the arguments of folks who were not agin’ it, I began to wonder.

In a tab room one can, if one is so inclined, randomly assign all the judges. Forget about brackets, forget about analyzing which judges are for some reason or other better than other judges, just let the chips fall where they may. This is not some bizarre practice known only in jungles of the Sahara: I do it every couple of weeks at MHL and CFL events. At these tournaments, we have anywhere from 20 to 100 novices, say, or JVers; the judges are all upperclassfolk or parents we are training at the event (whom we carefully hand-hold and lecture and monitor); there are 3 or 4 rounds. Attempting to rank judges would be a ridiculous exercise. We spend most of our time trying to find the judges people told us where there but who seem to have disappeared into the ether. These events are an exercise in creating a debate factory that, with any luck, after a year or two produces a product known as a debater.

At invitationals, for years we operated under a system of ranking the judges according to our own lights. That is, the tab room, with two or three coaches, would agree that So-and-So is an A, Whosits is a B, and Whatshername is a C. Then we would assign the highest rated judges to the most crucial rounds, where a loss put someone out of the running for elims. At many if not most of these tournaments, the number of judges was just about the number needed to get the job done, so even the Cs judged most rounds, and no one did a hell of a lot of sitting around in the lounge scarfing down the champagne and oysters.

My personal response to MJP was community rankings, which I certainly didn’t invent but which I pushed at my own and other tournaments. With community rankings, everyone is still ranked A, B, or C, but by the attendees at the tournament and not the tab room. The results have been mostly the same, but the buy-in was, I think, a good thing. Probably the biggest difference in tab ranking and community ranking is that people who debated more than a couple of years ago but haven’t judged much are forgotten by the field as a whole but not by the tab room, so we would more highly rank someone who went to TOC 4 years ago than you would if you didn’t know that person as anyone other than an alum from somewhere. This always happens at Bump, where I bring back some great but unknown debaters who get ranked less than they deserve; the field doesn’t know what it’s missing.

Community rankings work fine until, as Bietz has pointed out, you’re not a member of the community. So when he would go to Yale, he would be hard-pressed to do much other than highly rank the handful of admittedly regional judges that he knew, leaving the rest to chance. That’s the flaw of community ranking: it only works when there’s a community. The field has to know the pool pretty well, which is usually true at non-$ircuit events without a national draw. The more national your draw gets, the less successful community rankings seem to be. If nothing else, you’re at the mercy of a region’s opinion of things, and if that region is different from your region, you might not be happy with the results. Some tournaments, like Yale, are in that mixed bag of being not $ircuit but not local. Others, like Glenbrooks or Emory, are squarely in the $ircuit category.

It is that national draw factor that matters when it comes to MJP. At the point where judges are from everywhere under the sun, the idea that you can select the ones you know best as potential adjudicators does not equate with selecting the ones who will let you win. You may know, say, 20 judges in the pool; if you’re lucky, 3 of them always pick you up, and on any given day, even those 3 can drop you like the proverbial stone. Still, you at least know what you're getting, and have some idea of what styles might work. (Note to judges: If you say on your paradigm you never pick up theory, please don’t write as your RFD, “I went with the theory argument.”) So does your opponent, since tab will be matching prefs, your 1 and your opponent’s 1. And sometimes it’s your 3 and your opponent’s 3, and you're still on equal ground. If LD is going to have national events, I would say, MJP at those events becomes a given. It gives you your best chance to do well. And more to the point, it gives the entire field its best chance to do well. And the worst-case scenario, teams that don’t pref? Well, they’re getting the rankings of their opponents, so short of having a judge they would have struck, they will at least get judges their opponents think highly of. Going back to the community ranking model, the communities as a whole tend to think alike. The odds are, short of a total style conflict, your 1 is my 1. So the downside isn’t that down.

So what’s the point? Apply the right method of judge pool management to your tournament. Feel free to experiment; you can always change it next year. But as a rule of thumb, in a jumble of young, inexperienced debaters, random is fine. In a clearly defined community (like the northeast), community rankings are probably a good idea. If you have a national draw, your field is probably going to be happiest with MJP. Should you bow to the wishes of your field? Duh.

But what about those folks who believe any LDer should be able to pick up any ballot from any judge? Well, presumably there are tournaments for them to go to, local events that are extensions of what we do with our MHLs. I’m all in favor of it, because I love parent judging and I’m happy that Pfffft now exists so that it won’t, for a while, go out of existence. Most of the benefits of LD are available at every level, and programs can pick the tournaments they want to go to, and even start leagues that offer what they want if those events are not already out there. (That is not just whistling Dixie, because we’ve done it ourselves, down to the institution of our own standard novice resolution.) But on the other hand, while I might be quite happy with, say, Aaron Timmons, Jon Cruz and Cherian Koshy judging a final round of first-time novices at some local barbecue—in fact, I would love that to death—I would not feel comfortable if the final round of TOC was judged by three people whose first name is Mr. or Mrs., i.e., inexperienced parent judges. The right tool for the job, in other words.

We have enough right tools at this point to choose wisely.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tech in 2010; Debate in the Dark Ages; Movies in Hudville

Sometimes good ol’ seems like a moving target. I feel sorry for CP having to patch it up all by his lonesome, but I’m a user, not a programmer. I mean, I’ve programmed in my day, but that was back on the old Apple II+. And I’ve done some serious systems design for the DJ, and even run a systems department. It’s amazing how one can go from tech type to a person perfectly content to turn something on and just have it work. That might be the appeal of Apple products for me: they do what I need to get done and I don’t have to spend a lot of time figuring them out. It’s as if I’ve gone through and come out the other end. Anyhow, as I try to plumb the depths of the tabroom software, it’s one message to CP after another. And all he wants to do is sit on his porch and swat flies. Life should be so easy.

O’C has posted the invite to Big Jake. Mostly it’s just a recapping of the Big Jakes of the past. Déjà vu all over again. Or debate vu, in O’C’s case. Thank God Bronx didn’t have debate a thousand years ago. We’d all have to slog our way through the winners of, for instance, Grandus Bronxius MCCIX, which was held in Byzantium, I think, including the Maximus Boostus Bumbum Awardium which went to Abelard right after the tragic op but which didn’t quite make up for the loss, etc., etc., etc. O’C insists that there are others who care as much as he does about debate history and the like, but has yet to offer up any names. I guess he knows I would have to kill them, so it’s better my not knowing.

Inception, on a Tuesday night in Hudville, had a packed theater. I guess if you give people a movie that has some originality and doesn’t treat the audience as brain-dead seven-year-olds, they’ll actually go to it. What a concept! It doesn’t bode well for the producers of Garfield III. Speaking of which, am I the only person who thinks that in one brilliant stroke we could create the best trilogy ever? Think of it: Godfather 3D. It would change everything.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is you IM or is you ain't; stop hectoring me; the joy of E

What a nutty day.

Having taken on the role as myrmidon to CP’s Achilles, I dove in and started throwing around tournaments and data like crazy while he lazed around in the tent doing who-knows-what Achilles-like things. It was fun. You get to help random people screw up their tournaments from the get-go, which is great because normally I just get to screw up my own. Why Cooper didn’t want two tournaments in the same place on the same day, for instance, eluded me. Doesn’t the guy know how to think big? Oh, well, I obliged him and sent one to the devil. I even got CP on the IM horn at some point, to resolve an issue or two. He seems to live on IM. Bietz, on the other hand, always seems to have just turned off his IM. Some people are just IMers, I guess, and others aren’t. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just one more way to enjoy a visit with Colonel Panic on the DJ Mac, but that’s just me. (I’ve been getting kernel visits on a daily basis, lately, and I can’t figure out why. I'd ask IT but they're too many continents away.)

Speaking of Myrmidons, capital M, I saw “Troilus and Cressida” Saturday night. Real live Myrmidons! Yes! You’ve got to love outdoor summer Shakespeare. And it’s off to “Inception” tonight, so that I can decide whether to be in the backlash or the backlash to the backlash, before it becomes simply anticipointment. In either case, there’s $1.00 popcorn on Tuesday nights. Normally we have debate meetings on Tuesday nights. When I retire, I’ll be able to improve my Tuesday nights dramatically, unless the Sailors start selling me popcorn. Cheap.

I’m very impressed with this whole electronic book business, btw. I hear something on a podcast or whatever, I go to Amazon, the next thing you know, the book is on my iPad. Maybe two minutes (and $12.99) have elapsed. Pretty cool. As for the experience of e-reading, that’s a no-brainer. I mean, it’s just reading, with a cuter page flip, at least on iBooks. On Stanza, no cute page flip, and I use Stanza to read manuscripts for the DJ, so that’s sort of sad, but the end result is the same. And it beats the hell out of reading books on my Touch. I don’t care how sharp your screen is, or how convenient your phone is, a screen the size of a hamster is not big enough to enjoy reading a book. Yes, you can get used to it, but the Russians had Stalin for over 30 years and I guess they got used to him, too. That doesn’t make him Abraham Lincoln, though, and getting used to the iPhone or Touch or whatever doesn’t make it the Gutenberg Bible.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Time to start Christmas shopping yet?

I have now done a couple of things that put me semi-squarely back into the debate world.

First of all, I’ve been working on the MHL. I sent out an update to the members discussing this and that, reminding them of the schedule and the first event, which is the free workshop, same as last year. And more importantly, I either reminded them or advised them (I don’t recall having mentioned it before, but maybe I did) that we would be starting a novice division of PF at the MHL events. This strikes me as rather seismic in our thinking of PF around here, which seems to sadly lag behind the thinking everywhere else in the forensics universe. But if you can have novice policy and novice LD, I’m hard-pressed to know why you can’t have novice PF. We’ll even be introducing it at invitationals, including Bump. As always, a novice has to be a—duh—novice, and not some ringer who’s annually done every debate event under the sun other than the one in question, but that’s a given, right? Anyhow, the season seems closer and closer. Must be all the heat.

Secondly, I’ve begun been playing with some of my web pages, which is something I do every summer. Not the designs, which are Model T caliber in their complexity and will remain that way, but the content. I’m beginning to sharpen up a few pages O’C and I have been talking about, thinking about the NYSDCA, and punching up my own pages with this and that (things do change from year to year). Very soon I’ll also have to address this year’s Bump invite. O’C’s already been working on Big Jake, with among other things a new sked he’s run by me and Kaz, but then again, he begins working on the next year sometime during the third or fourth award ceremony of the current year. I tend to be less tinkery, since I don’t have that much to hone. But working in the novice PF division will require a bit of juggling on my part, no question.

CP has asked me and Catholic Charlie to do a little support work on, which I’ve just begun. Helping other people set up tournaments, essentially. He’s got this whole back end that is really either tech-ishly elegant or gruellingly overkilling, I’m not quite sure which. But as the system gets more use, no question that he really can’t support it all himself. Given that the last time he took a vacation, Jimmy Carter was in the White House, he does need to back off a little bit. So I’m learning the ins and outs of that, for what it’s worth. At some point I’ll want to take a peek at Yale, while I’m about it, to see that LD is set up the way we’ve talked about it, with MJP and death-to-shenanigan types and totally separate JV and V judge pools and so forth. Meanwhile I’ve got Sailors signed up hither and yon, ready to head up to the Pup in pretty decent numbers, so I’ve got to sort out rooms and transportation and so forth on the local level.

And yes, the Touch now works. With a total system reinstall, the extra software patch, dislocating unnecessary location services and running in the airplane mode, the battery is now back to its old reliable self. Whew. What a pain.

Friday, July 16, 2010

We get to the bottom of things!

I am happy to report that rumors claiming that Jon Cruz is taking over from the Old Spice Guy are entirely untrue.

Mike Bietz is going to be taking over for the Old Spice Guy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The thing is, I couldn't get the Old Spice Dude...

Summer is always so…summery. Not much happening. Little reason to blog every day. Of course, there is a whole lot of NYSDCA stuff to talk about, some MHL stuff to talk about, some Pups stuff to talk about, some Bump stuff to talk about, etc., etc., etc., but I just can’t get myself to talk about of it. I need a couple more weeks to get my brain back on track.

Meanwhile, this whole thing about the news from Camp WTF-a-Mucka being the number one most visited site in the US is, I have to admit, really staggering. Why anyone wants to know who chose which module or who’s falling asleep in what lab is beyond me, even if you’re the person who chose the module or fell asleep during the lab, much less the world at large. But what do I know? I obviously don’t have my finger on the pulse of what people want. Here’s the article from the Huffington Post that talks about the site’s incredible popularity: link.

I was going to write something up on net neutrality as a possible resolution, but my heart isn’t in it. The internet changes nature very rapidly, and today we have a lot of users transmitting or receiving an awful lot of data, and the issue of neutrality arises when service providers want to offer tiers of service in light of usage. It’s one thing to read your mail online, in other words, and another thing altogether to stream Lawrence of Arabia to your MacBook. Service providers tend to be either in competition with television/cable people, or to actually be television/cable people, all of whom have a vested interest of some sort on what content is actually delivered to whom. Net neutrality means they don’t look, but somewhere along the line it is pretty bizarre not to want to pay attention to content that you’re delivering blindly that is competing with other content. That is, there’s a lot of money behind this one way or another. And I guess you can find arguments on both sides, if you want to clash democratic versus capitalistic principles (have fun with that), but it really isn’t at the core a free speech issue as much as it’s a commercial issue. Service providers aren’t trying to stop you from speaking out, they’re trying to stop you from getting your episodes of “The Office” cheaply when they have a way of getting them to you less cheaply. So while this may be important, it doesn’t have much in the way of philosophical/ethical underpinnings. It’s just some popular issue that people argue about, but LD should be more than that. So, I don’t think I’ll be voting for this one, even though it is debatable. It’s just not all that deep.

Meanwhile, I have begun to start thinking about maybe doing some debate stuff real soon now. If I do, you'll be the first to know.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It was bound to happen

We here at Coachean HQ are sad to note that Camp WTF-a-Mucka has been taken over by extraterrestrials. While this comes as no surprise—nay, for some the real question is, why did it take so long—it is still dispiriting to see our students and friends and colleagues assimilated so quickly. We have long suspected that O'C is an undercover quisling for aliens, but his dispatch at selling out the camp to Vulcans, Hutts, Friends of Hutts, Nexus-6 replicants, the CFL, etc., has still taken the entire forensics community by surprise. And the copy of "To Serve Man" under his arm in the photos of him welcoming the aliens to the camp has been in dubious taste, to say the least.

Parents of students at the camp wondering how and if this will affect their own children should look for the three warning signs of alien takeover: 1) preferring to sleep in a very large pea pod at night rather than their usual beds; 2) really pointy ears (unless they already had really pointy ears before you sent them off to camp—these are debaters, after all); 3) aquisition of Tron: Legacy lunchboxes, baseball caps, tattoos, and other souvenir-like paraphernalia. If any of these symptoms are noted, a licensed exorcist should be contacted immediately.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday's Modules are Fair of Face

Dos Equis, Calif. — This morning, our third session of freshly baked modules allowed students to elect Sarah Palin, which, if we're lucky, is that last thing she'll ever win, period, but one never knows, does one. The options during the meshugge morning module were “Affirmative Strategies that Don't Work but Don't Tell Your Opponent and Maybe You Won't do so Badly with Them” with Stephen Babb, “Answering Missionary Positions” with Ben Holguin, “Visiting Hoth on 5 Mazumas a Day” with Jon Cruz and Matt Dunay, “Inefficient Research and Blocking—It's Not Very Good but it's Fast” with Karlyn Gorski and Colin Scott, “The 1AR: It Comes Right Before the NR but After the NC, if You're Still Looking for it” with Todd Liipfert and Danielle Smogard, “Normative Ethics: Exploring the Deontology/Utilitarianism Dichotomy with Gun and Camera” with Peter D. van Elswyk, and “Positional Debating—Beyond the Missionary” with Neil Conrad.

The temperatures in downtown Los Angeles are both in Fahrenheit and Centigrade, making for interesting weather and might good eating. To find who avoided which modules, check with the local police, who will be holding the suspects until the curfew is lifted.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Met this Morning Monday’s Modules

LOS LONELY DEBATERS, CA. — Students last night met with their lab leaders for the first time, and in many cases the first night students met their lab leaders for the last time, except for those who are in the middle of time and don’t know if they’re coming or going. But this morning, which followed last night as the dawn follows the, uh, night, the vast majority of our students are participating in two elective modules because, well, what the hell else are they going to do? (In the loo, the novice debaters met with their lab leaders, Jewish Cruz and Christian Keil, for a full-length lab session, about which the less said, the better.)

Across both morning sessions, students had nineteen modules from which to choose, fifteen from which to misquote evidence and seven to avoid like the proverbial plague. The complete list of morning modules is available here in this article, after the jump. If you prefer not to jump, we understand completely. It was long weekend for us, too.

The options during the first module session are “Hedge Funds for the High Schooler” with Shamus Stafford, “Applying Illegal Arguments in the Debate Context and Getting Away With it Like a Bandit” with Matt (“Evidence? What evidence?”) Wilson, “World of Case Craft” with Lara Croft, “IR You Are Theory and Practice, Part I: In the Beginning, an Introduction, Or, The Early Years—a Prelude” with John (“Start Me Up”) Lewis, “Criticisms of Human Rights and United States Foreign Policy” with Stephen Babb, but don’t let Sarah Palin hear you criticizing them or she’ll set the mama grizzlies on you, “The Lighter Side of the Holocaust” with Happy van Elswyk, “Nostrumia and Permanent Depression” with Bahamas Castillo, “International Relations Theory” with Christian Tarsney (no relation to Christian Kiel, it’s just that we ran out of instructor names so we had to assign some duplicates), and “Flowing 101 Spreads, which Seems Like Maybe 90 too Many″ with Danielle Smorgasbord.

The options during the second module session are “Going Home” with Your Mother, “Conception during Debate—the Naughty Bits” with Tim Case (who really was named after the thing you bring into a round that is either affirmative or negative, because his parents just knew he was going to be a debate person), “Building Presence” with somebody, we forget who, “Defense Against Dark Arts” with J.P. Betterham, “Kant’s Categorical Imperative” with Ryan Hamilton, who is something of a Dark Art himself, and if you ask us, old Betterham should be running a module called “Defense Against Ryan Hamilton,” “International Relations Theory and Practice, Part II: Issues in IR You Are” with John Lewis, who really seems to be into this whole I are / You Are thing, to which we can only say, Pi is round, “A Kiss on the Wrist Can be so Continental but Metaphysics are a Girl’s Best Friend” with Jacob’s Levis, “Introduction to Logic, or Not” with old Happy van E again, and “The Princess of Refutation” with Cinderella.

Who attended which modules? You really care? Are you out of your mind? The World Cup is over and this is what you decide to obsess on? Jeesh!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Topic analysis: Secession

I pass.

That is, I really don't like this topic much, although I have to admit that Jim Anderson convinces me at least that, if it were to happen, there would be stuff to talk about. He's obviously more of an optimist than I am.

So, let him cover this one:

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Yes, Your Majesty, No, Your Majesty; summertime blues; MJP blues; #DDA

Yesterday was O’C’s birthday. He told me he spent the day waving at the Queen. I could think of nothing to reply.

I have to admit I was taken aback when Jules told me that Nostrum was going on hiatus, especially since about two weeks ago he told me they weren’t going on hiatus. They like to stick to their guns, I guess, unless they're sticking to their other guns. Of course, back in the day, the guys always took the summer off (and the Jewish holidays, the Christian holidays, anniversaries of all scientific discoveries beginning with the letter K, and, I think, periods of heavy sunspot activity). Whatever. It gives me more time to go to the movies on these warm summer nights if I don’t have to narrate. Now all I need is some decent movies to go to.

Continuing the MJP discussion, Pajamas Wexler asks: “How difficult is it at larger but not huge tournaments (such as the Bump) to have all 1-1 or 2-2 judge match ups in round 6?” Well, Bump will stay community rankings, which means that it really doesn’t apply, but Joe and Sheryl are pretty religious about using all the judges in the pool as best they can. We tend to have a lot of range, and therefore a lot of flexibility. I’m imagining that at Big Jake and the Pup, using MJP, we’ll be able to match everyone to the exact same number every time, and that it will usually be a high (as in low) number, especially at Jake where O’C hires a couple or ninety extra national judges, including the ones he flies in from Pago Pago, so it would be by design that lesser numbers are used, to relieve the higher numbers, which we will do. In any case, I think we’ve got what has to be an ageless problem of students wanting the best judging and not thinking that inexperienced judges are the best. They’re right, but that doesn’t exclude the need for them to understand and win ballots from those inexperienced judges. At its heart, the activity involves all the basic tenets of public speaking, including knowing your audience and adjusting accordingly. Or, if you will, judge adaptation. No debater who can’t adapt is good. Period. End of story. You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it. It will make a better person of you in the long run: trust me on that. Keep in mind that we also often put lesser judges in the undefeated bracket because there’s less on the line. Since you’re going for speaks, how you get them becomes an issue. And a fascinating one.

Anyhow, I like July because it feels so non-debate. Of course, I have started wrangling Sailors for the Pup and I’ll be reserving motel rooms shortly, but that’s about it on the early early side. I had lunch with CLG yesterday (she’s freshly back from an Ireland trip), and I have to report that the one thing she was most intrigued by in activity news is the Disney Debate Adventure. Of course, I told her, we’ll be live-blogging it. Or at least twittering it to death. #DDA. Will O’C wear a fanny pack? Will Kaz get Cinderella’s autograph? Will Menick get even more Mickey tee shirts? A waiting world wonders.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Topic analysis: Mercs

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

My initial reaction to this was strongly positive simply on the basis of the inherent interest of the subject matter. Let’s look at it in a little detail.

First of all, there is the whole question of what comprises a private military firm. They are, of course, mercenaries, although I prefer “mercs”: makes ‘em sound much more like something out of a technothriller or videogame. If I am going to open an office in Baghdad, the first thing I’m doing is hiring me some mercs for protection. They act as security, they act as trainers, they could conceivably be on the line shooting at the enemy, whoever the hell that is at the moment. The further they get from bodyguards to infantry, the dicier they get in the mind’s eye.

Mercs are legal, and the government can hire them under the status quo, but as always, that means nothing. I would myself start thinking of what the point of the military is in the first place. Given that we come from a nation (isn’t today just a couple of days past 7/4?) that had some strong opinions about standing armies and the like, one could start with a position that the military is inherently at best a necessary evil. It is unfortunate that we need to put our citizens in harm’s way, in other words, or to train them to perform as soldiers, but we have no choice but to do so to protect our citizenry. Hence the draft. This is not to say that what soldiers do is bad—I am personally in awe of soldiers, who have my utmost respect—but that it is a sorry aspect of the human condition that they have to do it. If all humans were angels, there would be no soldiery (with apologies to John Milton). But if we must have soldiers, and we must, drawing on the citizenry for them, as compared to hiring mercs, has a certain social contract flair that one can easily defend.

Which brings us to the mercs themselves. While soldiers defending their country is honorable, soldiers who like soldiering so much they do it for its own sake, for pay, absent any patriotic goals. is something else. Perhaps the need is removed in these situations: countries need citizen soldiers, but they don’t need mercs, in other words.

Of course, what’s missing from this discussion is the end of the resolution sentence, “pursue its military objectives.” Hmmm. That would seem to indicate some measure of evaluation of the government’s military objectives, which are not of one cloth but fairly realpolitik; our objectives in Afghanistan are slightly different from our objectives in the Sea of Japan, for instance. It is hard for me to imagine that there isn’t a whole boatload of argumentation on this alone.

So, we have the nature of armies, the nature of mercenaries, the nature of military objectives—what’s not to argue? I’m probably missing whole continents of possibilities in this quick skim. This seems rich and durable. I maintain my liking of the topic.

Touch battery failure after iOS 4 upgrade

Yeah, the battery simply runs out. This seems to fix it:

Apple hasn't mentioned it. The only people who've noticed are the poor schlubs who loaded the new system right away. What were we thinking?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Breaking news!!!

Okay. This is pretty cool.

It seems that Camp WTF-a-Mucka has been so successful lately that this year they’re going to be studying the morals of the trolley problem using a real trolley. They’ve built a set of tracks behind one of the dorms, with a fork in the rails that separates into two paths surrounded by high cliffs, and there’s no way anyone can humanly escape when the trolley (a Tatra T3—they had originally wanted to use the trolley from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, but that’s now being used to torture preschoolers in underdeveloped countries) comes barreling down on them. In order to maintain a sense of hyperrealism, the camp is going to put real people on the tracks to potentially be killed by the real trolley. This may sound extreme, but the good news is that they’re using only TOC-qualified LDers from Whitman; there’s so many of them that nobody would ever miss a dozen or two. The only problem the camp is having is finding a fat guy to throw in front of the trolley. There are plenty of fat guys in debate, of course, but all of them are coaches and they’ve all been around long enough to know that, when it comes time to throw the fat guy off the bridge to stop the trolley, while most people might have second thoughts, the students at Camp WTF-a-Mucka will do it without blinking an eye. Fat coaches by the dozens are signing up for camps around the country as far away from Los Angeles as they can get, just to be on the safe side. According to unofficial reports from Camp WAM, they may have to tie two or three skinny coaches together to get the desired result. The good news is that they’re using coaches from Whitman because, again, there’s so many of them that nobody would ever miss a dozen or two.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The PJ Problem

PJ brings up the problem of MJP that we haven’t satisfactorily solved, to wit, the atrophying of judges who are not highly ranked.

Here’s what happens. Rounds one and two are random, but the judges are the best ranks possible. We barely even touch the computer, to tell you the truth. This means that all your high ranks are working both these rounds, and your lower ranks aren’t (unless your judge numbers = your judge needs, in which case you shouldn’t be using MJP, which we’ve theoretically agreed only make sense at big, national-draw tournaments with plenty of judges). Assuming that your top judges go to down-twos, round 3 will use all the best judges because the bubble is its biggest. Once someone is down-three, they are less likely to get a highly ranked judge, and the lower ranks finally get some back-of-the-room time.

That’s the standard.

The flip side of the PJ Problem is that highly ranked judges never get a round off. We began solving this at last year’s Big Jake (which didn’t use MJP, btw, but that’s beside the point because any ranked system of tabbing will still have this issue) by going through all the judges and giving them a round off, thus: First judge on list, off round 1, second judge, off round 2, etc. This meant that everyone got at least one chance to go climb a coconut tree, and it also meant that, in a pinch, we could find a substitute (who could go climb said coconut tree some other time). No one complained about having a round off, to my recollection. It’s nice to have a break.

On the other hand, one doesn’t want a break for the whole weekend. Assuming a trained but new and unknown judge, you’re going to see someone sitting around for, most likely, at least three rounds. And on top of that, when they do see a round, it will seldom have top debaters, and it can be discouraging to watch a lot of mediocre debate. What can you do?

Well, the good new is, you can use a judge to fill a requirement in one division while working in another division. The thing is, this issue will only arise in Varsity LD. So say you need to cover two VLD judges, and one of them is inevitably going to be a lowly ranked newbie. You could request that while they cover your VLD slot, they actually work in JVLD or PF. The first option will probably make the judge happier anyhow, although the second option might scare them if they haven’t been trained for it. But, realistically, this would all happen before the tournament, and thus you would have a chance to do that training. You would request the switch/coverage, and either get it or not. Now, this may or may not work, and it would have to be on a case by case basis. First of all, the team has to not need a person on-site, if the divisions are geographically (or chronologically) far apart, as can happen at a college. Second, the tournament needs to have enough judges to be able to manipulate and fulfill the request. But if both sides are happy with such a deal, such a deal should be struck. (The software even has this built in as a possible scenario.)

Of course, this will only work at big, complex tournaments. At most high school regional venues, there usually are a few extra judges, but not enough for a director to get profligate. My own is a good example, and I would say that I could (and do) occasionally fulfill such a request. Others should do likewise if they can. As for the colleges, well, given that CP and I and the other usual suspects run most of them around here, I’m sure we can try to work out something. There are limits, but we would have nothing against it. I would certainly want to see any judge I brought to a tournament being used, given that I am paying them either in cash or in commitment, and I hate to see either wasted. I know that I often bring judges in one division who are perfectly ok in that division, but who would be much better in a different division (for me that’s usually LD judges who would prefer to judge PF, but I usually don’t have any PF teams for them to cover).

The PJ Problem, in other words, can perhaps be solved to some degree. But it does require enlightened tournament direction, and honest coaches. This may be where it falls down. The teams who we were talking about penalizing with MJP suspension are the ones whose coaches simply always (as in all times, every time, inevitably, invariably) tell you one thing and do something else, as if it doesn’t matter to you when you’re trying to run a big, complex event. These are the least likely to consult you early on to work out a good plan for both sides with their judging. But for teams like PJ’s, and mine, for that matter, it is a workable solution. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.