Friday, October 29, 2010

The "controversy" that would not die

One benefit to being alone for a few hours in the chez, after one tends to the feline invalids (or, I guess, the felinvalids), is being able to find the time to record a Nostrum, which I did last night. I pointed out to Jules that he was getting a lot of the information wrong, changing the names of things all over the place, and he finally admitted that maybe he and the Mite weren’t exactly concentrating as much on Series 2 as they had on Series 1. Not that anybody actually pays all that much attention, but it would help me, at least, as the one person who has no choice but to pay attention. But what can I do? They’ll both be at Bump, so maybe then I can sit them down and drill some sense into them. Although back in the day when they were on the team that never worked, so why I think it would work now is a mystery. Then again, what isn’t?

I noticed that somebody in one of my debate feeds was launching a series of debates on the November PF topic, in aid of the belief that issues like these are exactly what students ought to be discussing. It’s interesting how this one won’t die, and how people either think it’s an actual issue with two sides or an absolute travesty of an issue that is beyond sides. The VCA knows my opinion on this by now. Just because people in the world are arguing something stupid doesn’t raise the level of their argument beyond its native stupidity. Granted that turning the volume up on crap makes it noisier, but it doesn’t make it any less crappy. It was George W. Bush who thought that there ought to be public debates over whether evolution was a scientific fact in order to air “the controversy.” But it’s not a controversy. Scientists do not argue the fact of evolution. If they did, that would mean that it is controversial and, presumably, unproven, otherwise they wouldn’t bother arguing about it, the nature of science being what it is. The so-called Bushian controversy would pit people who don’t believe in science against people who don’t hold whatever religious belief is guiding those people who don’t believe in science. Where’s the debate in that? Similarly, where’s the debate in people who believe in the free practice of religion in this country against those who don’t? (If you call visiting a cultural center practicing your religion, but I’ll grant you this one.) I guess you could argue that for whatever reason we shouldn’t allow certain religions to exist or to practice their faiths, but I vaguely recollect that this country was built on the ideal, among others, of the free practice of religion. At the point where it’s the free practice of some religions, the ideal becomes a little tarnished. Not to cheapen the so-called debate over the November topic, but as I think I’ve asked before, how far away is the nearest sushi joint from the Pearl Harbor memorial? Shouldn’t we ban Germans from visiting Normandy Beach? And then, hell, the Jews killed Jesus, so we ought to be doing something about limiting them… As I say, the VCA knows my opinion on this by now. If adults want to waste their breath arguing this, let them. I can turn it off, and it’s not as if my entire life there haven’t been people in this country whose beliefs deeply disturbed me. (Notice, by the way, that I haven’t tried to shut them up, I’ve just turned them off personally.) Students we’re trying to educate? With them, I think we should be making the points I’m making here, explaining to them why this is not a good debate, rather than making them debate it.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Well aren't we the busy one?

First of all, not doing speech, while not as much fun as doing it, is a lot less hard on the calendar. Not having the weekly meeting and the daily angst is nice. On the other hand, I went home to an empty house last night while Liz was off taking some classes, meaning, first, I was an hour later than usual due to some hoo-ha at the dj, followed by a greeting from one elderly diabetic cat who will bite your arm off if you don’t feed him immediately and prodigiously but not too fast because he’ll throw up, and then you have to give him his insulin, plus there’s the lunatic in the cage in the other room who is way too energetic for all of this and wants to jump on everything the minute his collar is off (and no, I’m not going to make that joke), and I’m back and forth between them, opening and closing doors and cat food cans and wine bottles and microwaving soup and a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on for very little reward. I did, on the positive side, advance a few levels of Angry Birds while waiting for Tik (pronounced teek) to use his box. I was very happy eventually to settle down and watch a DVD on Imagineering after all of this that I had picked up during the DiDeAd. Did you ever notice, Disney fans, how much more the audioanimatronic Jack Sparrow looks like Jack Sparrow than the audioanimatronic Barack Obama looks like Barack Obama? The president obviously needs more eye makeup.

Speaking of Jack Sparrow, did I hear correctly that Disney is not going to hire Keith Richards to reprise his role in the next film installment because of revelations in his new autobiography? I mean, this is Keith Richards. What didn’t Disney know, and when didn’t they know it?

And through all of this, Jules and the Nostrumite are bugging me about the next episode. Like I’ve got time for all of this?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Permission to come aboard again, etc.

New Plebes have come aboard? Seems as if. There were two of them last night, asking questions like, “What is the point of all this?” Their appearance follows an activity fair at the school, and the interesting issue will be folding them into things in our so-called middle. At least we’ve only begun talking about Nov-Dec, so they haven’t missed anything there. Meanwhile, the PC will try to explain it all to them today after school. If this works out, he’ll explain it all to me.

I know that I should be obsessing over Bump, but there’s not much to obsess about until we get nearer to registration close. At the moment we almost have as many unhoused as housed, and there’s nothing I can do about that, plus there’s waitlists, some of them fairly deep, in every division. Once it dawns on a few folks that the housing really isn’t going to happen, things might open up a bit. In any case, I’ve got plenty of alums coming to judge and eat at India House. Fortunately CLG can’t make it; the last time she and I had Indian food the restaurant burned down the next day.

This weekend is the first NYCFL debate event of the season. I’ve got one novice, four judges and those two plebes (I think). Not quite the normal distribution, but at least it’s plenty of people to carry the equipment.

Once again, as I alluded, last night we had at Nov-Dec again. I have trouble with this one. The neg is squishy at best, trying to have it every which way thanks to the “not” wording (where is “forced to choose” or “in conflict” when we need them?). The aff is stuck with the inherent double negative of “abuse” of “illegal”—both those prefixes indicate an opposite, and the two opposites together add up to total confusion. My assumption is that we go quickly to decriminalization on the aff, but trying to make that stick through the round is tough. At least it’s not US-based, so people can look to countries where drug use is decriminalized. Let’s hope there’s light at the end of the tunnel in Jan-Feb. This one is going to be painful.

The latest development in the activity

I share the following announcement without comment.

Big Old Galumphing Bronx XLI Important News

Thanks to the success of our MJP program at Big Old Galumphing Bronx XL, we will be instituting a new MCP program at Big Old Galumphing Bronx XLI. Mutual Competitor Preferences should make the tournament more pleasant, although it may gum up the tab room a tad. But, they’re pretty gummed up already, so nobody will probably ever notice.

MCP will work as follows. Each competitor gets to rank every other competitor according to these criteria:
1. I can beat this sucker with my eyes closed
2. I’ll probably have to work a little bit and write cases before the tournament starts, but I can probably still beat this sucker if the judge isn’t paying too much attention
3. This person got qual’d at [some big tournament last week] and hasn’t had a bath in seven months, so I’d rather not share a room for the required 45 minutes, if you don’t mind
4. This person won TOC the last two years running
5. This person always runs bizarre kritiks
6 (Strike). This person always runs theory.

Tab will work diligently to line up all mutual competitor prefs as 1-1s or 2-2s, with occasional 3-3s. They may be forced to resort to 1-2s, but only if their teams are the 1s and your teams are the 2s. If they happen to go on a lunch break, they’ll let some Big Old Galumphing Bronx novice pair the rounds, which may mean that mutual strikes will be debating, but hey, it’s only for one round. Brackets will be used in the mailing to TOC, but not in the actual tournament. Speaker points will be consulted in situations where, if we erase them and write something else, we can make things work a little better. Ballots, if they contain embarrassing revelations, will be read at the new “You’re Not Going to Believe This” Award Ceremony, following the ritual bear-baiting demonstration during the round 11 runoff.

Please note that all Mutual Competitor Prefs must be submitted by the deadline three days after the tournament ends. Any earlier would be too confusing.

We look forward to bringing this exciting new aspect of LD to the debate community. We listen to you, we hear what you say, and we act. That’s just the way it is at Big Old Galumphing Bronx, and that’s just the way it ought to be. (And if this works out, start holding your breath now for a new feature at Big Old Galumphing Bronx XLII: MLP—Mutual Lunch Preferences!)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Debate lives!

Holy Cannoli. (And I do not use the expression lightly.)

The first-timers’ (and JV) MHL at Byram Hills was, in a word, a barn-buster. Six divisions, two each of LD, PF and Policy, and they were hanging off the rafters. Joe V did the math, and adding in the NYCFL event running simultaneously (to which bunches of us sent the proverbial other bus), we had about 900 kids competing this last Saturday.

900? 900. And that doesn’t cover the observing noobs and the training parents and the like. Forensics—extracurricular, no less—is alive and well in New York. Wow.

Running a big event like this has some problems, because almost every division had some sort of imbalance with a lot of teams from one school throwing everything into a tizzy. But the numbers were so large that mostly this didn’t matter except in two smaller divisions where one school dominated and we had to do some hand-pairing and intra-team debating. In these situations it is especially important that every round not be with the elephant-in-the-room school. But we’re used to pairing these, and the couple of big programs are used to getting some them-them rounds. I think we’re good enough at it now that real winners emerge. We’re also good enough that we get four rounds in and we’re out by 6:45. O’C calls it Menick MHL Time. Whatever. It works. At Monti we’ll have to remember to slow down a tad so that the Policians get a moment for lunch (4 rounds is a longer day when there’s no flights), but Menick MHL Time should stand. Get ‘em in, get ‘em out. Sort of like the abattoir routine in Monty Python…

Not that the day was without issues. Some folks seem to interpret first time as something other than first time. We will be explaining the absolute nature of virginity to a couple of coaches, with serious repercussions for failure to follow the rules. This is not rocket surgery, after all. And the advantage of having even one tournament over those at their first tournament cannot be underestimated. The first-timers’ exists for good reasons: to get kids to learn and have fun, to overcome their stomach butterflies, to figure out how to read schematics, to see their peers in suits, and to find out how cold a pizza slice can get when it’s been sitting there for three rounds. It is not about winning, although winning is nice. But it’s certainly not about losing, when the reason you lost is that your opponent was seriously more experienced than you. As I say, these infractions cannot be tolerated. We (the MHL management) are girding our loins accordingly. But, fortunately, these infractions were minimal. Still, they were unfortunate, and mar an otherwise great experience.

On the plus side, we also had a number of new programs in the mix. It’s not just the same old schools with bigger teams all of a sudden. It’s new folks dipping in their toes, and I hope we’re making the experience work for them. We are certainly trying. If they come back next week, we’ll know we are on the right track.

And these, mes amis, is Tik (pronounced teek), who shattered his leg and now must wear a collar to keep him from removing the stitches. Awwwww.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Breaking wind news!

Coachean Life has managed to obtain a copy of the list of next year's Big Jake awards. Find out now if you qualify!

The Person of the Year Who Didn’t Get Into Bronx High School of Science Award — Given annually to a student from another high school that shall remain nameless

The Bronx Science “Deaf Ear” Award — Given annually to anyone who can walk by the basement bathrooms when the blow dryer is running and not think that it it’s the end of the world

The Tubby — The Bronx Science Achievement Award for taking longer to download your case onto a flash drive than it takes Rubbermaid to ship a plastic tub from the company’s factory in Brazil

The Teletubby — The Bronx Science Achievement Award for memorizing Star Trek (TNG) episode names

The Sporcle — The Bronx Science Award for Achievement in walking past tab and randomly calling out the correct answer to any question about Turkmenistan

The Foods of the World Award — Given annually to the plate of ziti that looks least like a plate of ziti

The Barney Rubble Award — Given annually to the student in the field who looks most like Barney Rubble. In case of a tie, the award goes to the student who looks most like Wilma Flintstone. If it is the same person in both cases, the tournament is declared over

The Cruzie — Given annually to the first judge to wander off during the tournament, never to be heard from again

The Hamiltonian — Given annually to Ryan Hamilton for reasons that must remain undisclosed

The Muckamuck — Given annually to the highest ranking person in the debate universe who shows up at the tournament for no particular reason other than, I guess, they got off at the wrong subway station

The Natty Bumppo — Given annually to anyone who doesn’t make the wrong turn off the Thruway on the road to the tournament hotel; not given since 1992.

The Custodian of the Year — Given to whoever has to clean up the worst mess caused by the sickest debater; this is the tournament’s only cash award, and the only one given under the table

The Order of the Red Bull — Given annually to the student at the tournament with the highest caffeine intake

The Sexydecimal Award — Given annually in recognition to anyone who knows that the doubles round has a funny name and who can remember what that funny name is; awarded only twice in the history of the tournament, but both winners refused to accept for fear that everyone not only in the debate universe but in the country at large would make fun of them for the rest of their lives, and, perhaps, even after

The Japonica — Awarded annually to the person who eats the most raw fish in the shortest amount of time

The Panivoria — Awarded annually to the person who eats the least raw fish in the longest amount of time

The 666 — Awarded annually to the unpreferred judge not only given the most sixes by both teams in the round, but also by some random team that just happened to be passing by at the time. Also known as the Number of the Beast Award. (The Beast’s cell phone number, on the other hand, is unlisted)

Friday, October 22, 2010

I do love the word "gallivant"

The best laid plans and all that. I was going to close the MHL First-Timers registration yesterday, but then it turned out that it was broken and nobody could get in to make corrections, and when I called CP (this was an emergency requiring conversation, not just a casual email situation), he was out gallivanting with Sara S, no doubt plotting all sorts of mischief at Little Lex, but the good news is he carries his computer with him at all times and he managed to fix it on the fly between the sorbet and fish course, so registration went on and on and on. Of course, it seems that CP was the one who broke registration in the first place, so adequate punishments are perhaps necessary. I might have to talk to Jules and the Nostrumite about turning off Dude Firmguns’s steady stream of willing girlfriends. I mean, sometimes you just need to make a point, you know?

(If any of this is too obscure for you, you’re not the VCA soldier that you think you are. There is a glossary over there on the right, for one thing. Sometimes I think the only one who ever looks at it is O’C, who actually has no reason to look at it except that he’s nuts that way. We did give him the data files for Big Bronx, after all. I figured that would keep him busy until Easter, but yesterday he bugged me that the MHL was still Mid-Hudson instead of Metro-Hudson. Jeesh. And then the Emperor of Hamiltonia threatened a lawsuit… Yesterday was a long day.)

Out of all that, the First-Timers’ Event is the biggest ever. Yay, us. There was some reservation among a few registrants about its first-timer-ness, but we learned last year that the vast majority of the entrants expect it to be firsters only, and that all the benefits of firsters only are lost when it’s not. We could make it open, but then we would lose those benefits. That’s why we went back to the way it always was. Sometimes you experiment and change. Sometimes you try something new and you realize you were right the first time. Read On Liberty if you need to apply this to your debate cases.

Meanwhile, Tik (pronounced teek) is home. (“I didn’t know he had gone away,” sez you.) It seems that while I was tabbing Jake, Tiki was breaking his leg. Or more to the point, shattering it quite a bit. They had to put in a metal plate, which means it will be difficult for him to get through security next time he has to fly somewhere. He returned to the chez yesterday with a collar to keep him from fussing with the area, and a rear leg that was shaven and stapled and sore looking, but this morning looked much less sore. He is surprisingly active and normal acting, for all the horror of the accident in the first place and the subsequent hospitalization and operation. What he can’t do is his normal running around like an idiot for the next six to eight weeks, which is like asking O’C not to hold an award ceremony at Jake next year. We have a cage for him (Tiki, not O’C), and that helps. (Come to think of it, a cage for O’C might not be a bad idea either! Why didn’t I think of that before?) Anyhow, let me warn you. If you’re considering breaking your cat’s leg, make sure you check your bank account first. This ain’t no walk in the fiscal park, let me tell you. It would have been cheaper to have broken my own leg (or, better yet, O’C’s leg, if I think it all the way through and factor in the pain).

What an interesting world we live in.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Houdini, Speaks and Debuts (plus, The Tournament is Over, Let the Tournament Begin!)

The torch is passed. We have hired a new speech coach. Last night I said the magic word at the meeting of the Speechonauts and then, hey presto! I disappeared. I went home and watched an episode of Star Trek. Life is good. Of course, I will be doing the workshop and helping our new person get settled with the millions of little details, so I haven’t gone away completely, but overall, this is a real load off my mind.

We also TVFTed last night. The microphone cum headphone set that I bought at J&R during the Bronx RR makes me sound as if I’m on a respirator, or maybe like a sort of wimpy Darth Vader. It’s okay for basic Skype calls, but falls down on the higher recording-level standard. The hunt continues. Anyhow, we mostly talked about speaker points and I made a commitment to publish (really publish) a speaker point scale at Bump to help normalize the event. We’ll see how that goes. Offline Bietz and I exchanged lustful thoughts about the new MacAirs. I need one like I need a hole in the head, but that doesn’t make it any less sexy. Bietz figures he’ll have one by Glenbrooks. No surprise there.

This weekend we have the MHL First-Timers’ Event. Last year we made it the Sort of First-Timers’ Event, which really undermined the point, and which got a lot of bad reactions. The point of first-timing is to get your feet wet, to learn to stand in the front of the room, to get your cases written on time, all the sort of stuff that goes with overcoming the internal butterflies and not much about actual debating. Leveling the playing field helps; unleveling it makes it more of a competitive (and losing) proposition when that’s really not what it’s all about. Once again I will quote Soddie addressing his team about first-timing. “Did you have fun, and did you enjoy yourself?” Answer yes to both, and you’re a debater for life. Keeping it first-time helps insure the fun part. We have roughly a bazillion and a half people signed up in all the divisions, but we’re used to that. The only problem is that we’re at Byram Hills, which eats the bars on your phone the way [insert your hungry beast metaphor here]. That also means no 3G, hence no MiFi, hence no Sporcle. No Sporcle? What kind of party is this?

And if you were wondering, O’C has begun hiring judges for next year’s Jake. I think he’s also started delivering the food. Thousand year old eggs that are really a thousand years old. There’s a taste of the world for you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It came from the library / The good, the bad and the Hamiltonian

I seemed to sit in the Bronx library for three days straight. Occasionally I’d crawl down to the judges’ lounge, where Matt Dunay’s mother would look at me and ask if I needed to see a physician or, perhaps, a psychiatrist. I would reply that all tab people look like this, grab a box or two o’ joe or a garbage bag filled with bottled water and head on back to the library.

Everyone tabbing everything was in that library, which has been recently renovated but, I’m sorry to say, was not renovated with an eye for everyone tabbing everything. What happens in these situations is that inevitably when you want perfect silence to analyze A+ A pairings, somebody else wants to do a hula demonstration while yet another bunch of tabbers is being attacked by angry villagers with pitchforks. Plus a library is a basic people magnet, so there were easily three or four hundred people in there at any one time who found the accommodations preferable to those where they were supposed to be. They were not particularly rabble-like, but their very presence made a buzz in the room that could not be ignored. O’C took me on a building tour at one point and we found our cave for next year, up on the third floor where it will only be LD people who have a reason to be there, or our invited guests, or our usual suspects from the traveling tab room or the TVFT team. Everyone else? I’m putting Matt Dunay’s mother outside the door with a bazooka. Be scared. Be very, very scared.

One of the very good things that happened in the library was a discussion with Bietz about doing MJP. Not only had he earlier showed me the E (erase) button functionality, but we talked our way through optimizing each assignment until, in the end, I’m pretty sure we were doing it the absolute best way we can. Bietz, who also does it the absolute best way, does it differently, but that’s not a bad thing. We argued about a lot of issues. You can’t just concentrate on the bubble people, because every person on that schematic deserves their highest ranked pref. You can’t do it perfectly because it would take an hour a round and, well, still not be perfect. We discussed this all vigorously for a while and came to great conclusions, and I have to say, we all really enjoyed the discussion, and commented how great it was not to have to argue with civilians. When you argue with debaters, you get somewhere. Civilians? They just don’t know how to do it.

Still, MJP is extremely labor intensive, no matter what your approach. We found that at critical times it took three of us to see everything at once. You print a schem for tab that shows rankings and records. Then you go down the list, starting at the bubble (2 at Bronx) and find any non A+A+ and then you look for 1-1s that fit on the computer, then you look at the printed list to find which of these can be moved out of a round. (This only works after round 3, because in that round practically everyone is on a bubble, and for that matter, maybe not until after round 4.) Then you start juggling everybody, going up to undefeateds then down to the outs, and if you’re doing your job correctly, you have virtually all 1-1 pairings. Or maybe even literally 1-1s. In either case, you know you’ve done the best you can for everybody, starting with the bubble. I would have to say that everybody would grant that the bubble should get the first crack, because everybody behind the veil of ignorance would agree that it’s fairest. Anyhow, after all this you have to assign rooms and fix flights—Oy! That’s where those three pairs of eyes come in.

In all of this, we also discussed things like the max/min number of rankings that should be allowed when doing the prefs. Then we talked about factoring into this an approach going by the number of rounds rather than individual judges. And no matter how you slice it, if you are diametrically opposite to almost everyone else in the field, you are harder to find prefs for, and both you and your opponent may get lesser prefs. But since you’ll pop as a problem, you’ll also get first crack at being fixed. With all of this going on, as you can imagine MJP only makes sense with a very large pool of judges. I’ve talked about that before.

Anyhow, you can see why, whenever I crawled out of the library, I looked like death eating a fig newton. You would have too. Trust me on that.


As always, there were high points and low points.

Music: I like music in the tab room. It helps set the mood, lively in the mornings when we need lively desperately, gentle in the stretches where only gentle will do, off completely when we have to concentrate. I can usually manage to find just about anything to soothe the various savage breasts in the vicinity. Sweeney Todd seemed appropriate Sunday morning for some reason or other, which got the Emperor of Hamiltonia to remark that Sondheim is for pseudo-sophisticate New Yorker readers only. So, we asked him, who do you like? His reply was Andrew Lloyd Webber. At this point, JV was forced to kill him.

Sporcle: remains one of the essentials of tab life. I don’t know how people tab without it, especially on a long weekend like Jake.

Offspring: Kate came by to judge a few rounds. She and O’C had cooked this up on the DiDeAd. In her first flight, she texted me that if she ever had to judge again, she was moving to Hamiltonia. Shortly thereafter, she texted to ask if her paradigm could be that if you run a counterplan, you have to be exiled to Hamiltonia. Things have changed a lot in LD in the last couple of decades.

Raw fish: The thing is, you want to get invited to the Round Robin, either as a student or a judge or a coach, if for no other reason than dinner at Japonica, which is O’C’s home away from home. (I think his grandfather works there as a fry cook.) This year the starting time for the feast was too late for those of us retiring home to Sailorville and having to work/school the following morning, so O’C ordered some takeout for me and the P.C. (There was no need to order sushi for the Panivore, who spent most of the trip home extolling the virtues of macaroni and cheese, and explaining the differences among styles of the Kraft varieties.) We sat there scarfing down some of the best uncooked food ever, while others walked by with their eyes bulging, knowing that soon they’d be in our shoes. Absolute bliss.

Shopping: The RR was right around the corner from J&R’s, which is Mecca to tech people. I only went once, and only bought one thing. I was very well behaved.

The PJ Conundrum: The down side of MJP remains that some people, usually those who are unknown rather than disliked, don’t get many rounds. And sooner or later they come in and ask if they are even in the computer. I feel bad about that, but there’s not much I can do about it. It already takes forever to pair rounds; to pair with unused judges as a priority is well nigh impossible. If we happen to notice, we’ll act, but it’s more accident than anything else. Still, those people who did come in inevitably got paired automatically by the computer in the subsequent round. Somehow, TRPC seemed to know…

Print your own damned triples ballots: O’C calls the runoff a runoff, but it’s really a triple octos. And TRPC does not like printing ballots for triple octos. And once TRPC stops liking ballot printing, it won’t start liking it again until the next tournament. Which means blank ballots and handwritten assignments. Aaaarrrrgh!

No hoarding!: The third floor was hoarding ballots. At any tournament, some runner or ballot table is hoarding ballots. The punishment for this crime ought to be, of course, exile to Hamiltonia.

Cancer: There was a march to support cancer as the RR was winding down. People were wearing lymphomaniac shirts and carrying balloons with lights in them during a nor’easter. We decided at some point that they were actually against cancer. Give us time, and we can figure out anything. That is the brilliance of the forensics community.

Big guns: Jake was lousy with them. JW, the Rippin’s—you couldn’t swing a cat in tab without hitting someone with time on their forensic hands that weekend. Lots of chatter from the next tab pod in the library about committees and bids and all manner of things that make many of us long for next year’s summer vacation in Hamiltonia…

Monday, October 18, 2010

A change of attitude

Another Big Bronx is over. And what, you are wondering, was it like? Or, if you were there, what, you are wondering, did the tabfolk think of the proceedings while the riff and the raff were all going about their business?

I absolutely felt a personal shift in the nature of the tournament this year. Last year O’C staked Bronx’s claim on a major tournament, and this year, he and the Bronckians simply delivered it. Of course, all I can speak to is the LD side of things, but that side was, as far as I was concerned, an event that the school can be proud of. I was explaining this at home last night. Bronx Science is, to some extent, a brand. The tournament is one way the brand is established. You could say this of any school and any tournament, but while some brands are local, others are national. To establish a national brand, you need a national approach, while regional brands require something unique in their region. No two tournaments are alike, even if they’re exactly the same number of people, with the same level (or not) of qual and whatnot. Each tournament has a personality. People pick and choose which tournaments they go to, like any consumers. They will choose your brand because it satisfies their needs not only on the forensic level but also on the financial and travel and competitive and fun levels, and probably on the levels of half a dozen other criteria. To work a national brand, you are certainly in the national spotlight, and given that your tournament will be trying to get people to spend a lot of money on planes and hotels, you’ve got to offer pretty solid value. It’s not that tournaments are in direct competition with one another so much as there’s just so many tournaments to be gone to and so much money to spend, and all tournaments are in competition for attention when teams decide where they’re going to go. They will pick the brands that suit them.

The Bronx brand builds on the history of the team and the history of the tournament. Given the team’s size and scope, its ambition to be a national brand is reasonable. I mean, by comparison, I could fit all of my novices in one of their novice’s policy tubs. So they have to deliver a class tournament. It is done by limiting the admissions, hiring scads of judges, providing enough food so that no one passes out from hunger, finding reasonable accommodations that people can afford, offering state of the art tabbing that the community expects. Bronx adds some niceties like a Round Robin, shuttle buses, some kid housing, and a Mr. Softee ice cream truck. (Okay, that last one is not one of the tournament’s direct perks, but Mr. S was there and I had my chocolate dipped soft chocolate cone and it was a personal high point.) O’C and all his award ceremonies connects people in a good way and recognizes contributions within the community at large, while not losing the focus of the team acknowledging those contributions. I joke about the awards, but they are part and parcel of this event, like keys are part of Emory, and say what you will, they have a good effect. In any case, the overall thing is, O’C was delivering all of this stuff before they got the octos bid. This is not the first year the tournament seemed like an octos bid. It just happened to be the first year it was an octos bid. I felt that last year they leaped the final hurdles in establishing the brand. This year, they just drove the brand through the weekend.

For me, this required a small change of attitude in tab. My tab rooms are always as relaxed as possible, as musical as possible and as efficient as possible, but this time I quietly (and often presumptively) acquiesced to all of O’C’s requests for the ephemera he likes so much, the pdfs of skems and things like that for instant posting to WTF. I became a part of the brand machine, in other words. Usually I would torture him about all this stuff, but this time I just did it—except for the one time I slipped in a Disney princess, just to keep him amused and on his toes. The thing is, I got caught up in the brand as well. We often talk about various events as being “Nostrum tournaments,” rather amateurish weekends that only marginally hang together. All our MHLs are Nostrum tournaments to some extent. But this was a professional tournament, requiring a professional attitude. I was happy to oblige.

My guess is that anyone in LD at this tournament felt good about it. They got all the possible rounds they could expect, they got good mutually preferred judges (which got better as the tournament progressed, and I’ll talk about that later), they got reasonable efficiency, they got openness. A couple of times people came in with a question and we just showed them the computer screen and they were satisfied. A few people slipped up in getting their prefs in on time, and we got them in for them as quickly as possible. We weren’t trying to punish them for missing the deadline—which we had to establish to operate the tournament—but helping them as much as we could if they did miss it.

So, that’s my take on the thing critically. Of course, there are tales to tell. I’ll start them tomorrow

Friday, October 15, 2010

Once more unto the breach

The quote from Henry V, not the Star Trek episode, you wiener!

"Gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here." Which translates into, O'C sent me a bunch of drops early in the morning, before I lit out. Yesterday was the RR, where we gave all the judges a round off and double-checked the MJP. It was a most miserable trip, fighting NYC commuter traffic in the a.m. and a nor'easter in the p.m., but it was worth it because I got to roam around J&R and think about buying more useless tech stuff, and Bietz showed me Angry Birds, which I then immediately bought, and the P.C. spent an hour reading three paragraphs of Derrida and managed to get a case out of it, to which my comment was, essentially, good case if you take out the Derrida. Bietz also showed me the legendary E button in MJP, the one that JV is afraid to press. We pressed it. It was good.

I know. You wish you too were here in the Bronx right now for three days of peace and love and rock & roll. Oh. What a minute. That's not the Bronx. What was I thinking? Could I go wherever you are?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The First Annual Hide-and-Seek Round Robin

There are those of us who wonder where the RR will be tomorrow. There are those of us who just trust that turning left in Chelsea will be close enough… HoraceMann, the Superhero Without any Superpowers, apparently gave up on trying to find the place and I won’t have him to judge for us after all (or argue with me about movies), but O’C promises that he’ll be able to cover the Panivore’s judging, for a tidy sum. I certainly hope so. I don’t have the time myself to do it, because I’m about a million years behind on things like the NYSDCA, not to mention setting up for Jake.

Speaking of tournaments, Bump is now in the pupa stage, where the parts all start to come together in the little cocoon of tabroom. Everything’s waitlist at this point. All I have to do is track registration changes, which at this point are more people signing up to wait. The P.C.’s mother has begun the housing campaign. There’s not much else to do at this point. By the way, next year we’re running on 11/11/11. How very binary of us.

Last night’s Sailor session included a faux practice round, where the Panivore insisted that cyberpunks would hack into the wireless at USSTRATCOM and thence nuke us all back into the stone age despite the P.C.’s protestations to the contrary that they might have halfway decent security around the launching sites. I think the round would have been better if someone hadn’t brought Saltines to the meeting. Waving a box of Saltines in front of you-know-who is an invitation to what, for her, is a food orgy. Moving away from gluten addiction to drug addiction, we discussed Nov-Dec for a while without much traction. It’s a little hard to figure out what the aff is actually proposing, for one thing. We live in the neg world. What, exactly, is the aff world, then? And I keep stumbling over the “abuse of illegal drugs,” wondering what the opposite of that is—the “use of illegal drugs?” Oh, well. I don’t have to debate it…

I have to say, I’m looking forward to the next four days and all the excitement, but I’m also looking forward to the subsequent three weeks, devoid of weekend excitement aside from one-day events. 190 LDers at Jake? That’s a lot of ballot entry. With MJP? Oy, but I think I’m pretty good at it now after working with JV at Yale. Still, there’s going to be a lot of tsuris in the air, with half the 5-2s having to fight it out in a run-off (or, to put it another way, to break to a partial triple, or as they call it in the Bronx, quasidecimalduckobuckos or something like that). You could conceivably win this tournament by having to go for 14 straight rounds.

Brink your oxygen tank.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Illegal, official and officious

There’s a round robin for Jake on Thursday. O’C is keeping the location under his hat, for some reason. I hope he tells me before Friday.

We recorded TVFT last night, concentrating on the Nov-Dec topic. One of the points that was made is how, 10 years ago, there would be a tacit agreement to interpret the topic a certain way, and we’d go from there. But no longer. When there’s a problematic word in the rez, instead of eliding it to get to the meat of the content, we theory it to death. Thus have we evolved, for better or worse. In Nov-Dec, the problematic word is illegal; listen to the podcast if you’re wondering why. One thing is clear, I think: the varsity rounds are going to be radically different from the noobie rounds. Thank God the noobs still tacitly agree to stuff, perhaps without even knowing it. Whatever. Tonight the Sailors begin to brainstorm this rez, unless the Panivore and the P.C. have some other plan for taking over the novice world that they haven’t told me about. Wouldn’t surprise me. They’ve taken over organizing the Plebes the way Hitler took over Czechoslovakia. Makes my life easier, I guess. I sort of miss coaching, though. Maybe next year.

We also talked a bit about the PF hoo-ha, but I can’t say I was that interested. The idea was floated that the NFL had abdicated authority to select topics because of sponsorship, but that was sort of tied into everyone otherwise always following the NFL topics in the first place. There’s a rich history of people doing whatever they want, using the “official” topics at their own discretion. It requires control of the region where your debates are happening, because you wouldn’t want one school to prep on one topic and another school to prep on a different topic, but after that, why not? In the olden days, Bronx always had its own topic, and I liked that. It kept things interesting. NY State finals also had its own topic, at the same time we would be learning about the CatNats topic, not to mention the NatNats topic (the presumably official one). People could easily be prepping LD cases for exactly one tournament and one rez, serially. Granted the topics were less specific and more philosophical, but they were still different enough. In the Northeast, of course, we have our own novice topic through November of the year. So in practice, one uses the NFL topic because everyone else uses it, unless there’s a good reason not to. It has been ever thus. The authority of the NFL resides not in its irreproachable ethics but in its lack of competition, at least as far as I’m concerned, being that their one tournament is not on my attend list, and I don’t get all that much else out of them. My organizations are the local ones that run tournaments regularly, like the MHL or the local CFL. If these didn’t exist, it’s not hard to imagine that, somehow, we’d do something under the loose auspices of the NFL, but they do, and we don’t, and as far as I know we never did, and there you are. It’s a northeast thing. We start school after Labor Day. Other people start school mid-August. They’re out in May. We’re out late June. Different universes. With different aliens. Not much you can do about that. So I don’t think much about the NFL, and they don’t think much about me, and nobody loses much sleep over it.

Meanwhile, coming up, not one, not two, not three but four days of Big Bronxiness. The mind boggles. If you’re there (and you probably are going to be there, given the size of the thing), drop by and say hello. My tab door is always open. We’re going to be in Room इल्.*

*deleted at the request of the owner of this blog

Monday, October 11, 2010

The little mountain

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve got a feeling that Big Bronx isn’t happening this year. Last year I got so many preliminary messages from Cruz that I had to open a new email account. This year, relative silence. In other words, it’s quiet out there. Too quiet.

This last weekend was Monticello, a tournament that seems fixed in the forensic firmament for the region, in that it is one that never seems to change, although thanks to global warming, it’s now at least not snowing when we get up there. Otherwise, to begin with, there’s always wonderfully concerned parents making sure the judges get nice homemade food, while I have no idea what, if anything, the debaters eat, although there’s meal tickets for them to prevent some other horde of junior-lawyer-looking people from coming in and stealing whatever it is. I’ve never understood meal tickets as much of a barrier to pilfering, because at most tournaments there is generally nothing worth pilfering and no one around to pilfer it. The thing is, these tickets come in a set of about 5000, so I guess they’ll be using them until they run out. Meanwhile, at Monti the ballot table is the furthest distance possible from the tab room short of locating it in Toronto, but I have to say that we never felt as if we weren’t getting our ballots in as timely a fashion as if we were on the spot. Although I will say, if walkie-talkies had not been invented, I wouldn’t miss them. Then, adding a new wrinkle, it was the first time strikes were used at the Kaiser, which was sort of good news / bad news for the debaters since while they had some strikes, they hadn’t all taken in TRPC. Go figure. I’m not sure why, and I’ll eyeball this much closer next time out and doublecheck them all carefully. It’s been a while since strikes have disappeared on us like this. There were other TRPC oddities, too. We merged the JV and V policy fields on tabroom, and for some reason the resulting TRPC file refused to accept rooms, not any way, not no how, and I assure you we tried everything. We finally ended up creating a new TRPC file altogether. Then about halfway through the tournament, TRPC decided to forget what schools all the policy judges were affiliated with, and paired accordingly. Needless to say, that was a nightmare. As Kaz and I said, and as is said often at tournaments, the combined experience of the tabbing team is usually inclusive of hundreds of tournaments, yet somehow TRPC always manages to come up with some new weirdness. At least we have the experience (and the transcendental calmness) to solve the weirdnesses. I can’t imagine how people start up on this program. For that matter, I can’t imagine I ever did. Go figure.

What we did have in abundance at the Kaiser was good judges. The break round panels were quite solid, and the bid round panels would work anywhere. It’s nice to have enough experienced folks to get the job done.

Capping it off, the People’s Champion managed to win the tournament, a nice little bonus, to put it mildly. Of course, that means he’s got to dig in to get that second bid, the poor devil. Two bids is good, and no bids is not good but relatively common, but one bid is a bee in the bonnet that will not stop buzzing. The Panivore also has one bid. Which means the angst level on the team is now set at 11. Fortunately it’s still early in the year. For that matter, Jake is this weekend. If it’s really happening. That dearth of emails is awfully uncharacteristic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

No way

I object to Jules's statement on his most recent Nostrum Nation blog post. I do not club baby seals. I never have clubbed baby seals, and I never will. Why? Because I'm a macho kind of guy. I only club fully grown seals.

You know, I do them a favor, reading their silly stuff, and that's the thanks I get for it. There's other high school debate soap operas out there I could be narrating, fellas. Just don't forget that.


Friday, October 08, 2010

Parental units

Last night I met with the parents. This is always rather fun. I have notes of what to cover, of course, but to some extent when I talk like this—and talk I did, endlessly—it’s as much a race to see how much I’ll overlook as anything else. For instance, I forgot my favorite bit where I tell them that for tournaments they have to dress their kids like little lawyers. Always good for a larf. I’ve also used the paradigm, they should look as if their grandmother has dressed them for a religious service. They should not look as if they would be at home in a rap video, in other words, although I’ve never put it that way to the adults. Accordingly, I also forgot to tell them that, if they (the parents) accompany us, they can look exactly as if they’d be at home in a rap video. I certainly do, when I go to tournaments. People often stop me and ask me if I am a gangsta. I just give them a menacing look in reply.

[Insert musical interlude: “I see by your outfit / That you are a gangsta..”]

Anyhow, it was a good turnout, with some gaps, unfortunately. I should be used to that by now, and once or twice it’s only been because there’s many a slip between the kid finding out about the meeting and the parent actually getting the news that the meeting is happening, but generally it’s because the parents figure it doesn’t matter. And I guess, for them, it doesn’t. Another thing I didn’t say last night, but which is absolutely true, is that I’ve never seen a super forensician who didn’t have solid parental support, be it schlepping or judging or helping the coach run their own tournament or whatever. Fortunately, most parents are on the ball. What can I say? As any teacher will tell you, when there’s a need for parents to show up at the school for their kids, the ones who really didn’t have to show up always do, and the ones that should be showing up always don’t. Anybody can have a kid. Not anybody can be a parent, though.

My parent orientation spiel explains what the school does (Hen Hud pays for a lot but not all of it), how tournaments work and which ones we go to, and how the various activities are structured. I describe LD and the speech events. I tell them my door is always open and that there’s more brain dump on my website than is even marginally sane. I told them we’re working on getting a speech coach Real Soon Now. I tell them that if their kid goes to the Harvard tournament, their likelihood of getting into Harvard is as much improved as if they had simply kept the kid home with a plate of Harvard beets. I tell them that if their kid wants them to spend $500 or so a pop to fly around the country to the schmancy tournaments, it behooves them to discover if the kid has a warrant for being there, seeing that it’s their money, and that I will help them do the CBA on it. I tell them that we will train them to judge, and when they should show up. And finally, I enlist their aid in running Bump. I do this by throwing myself against the door and telling them that no one gets out alive until all the positions are filled. Last night they were well up to the challenge, and all the positions are indeed filled for the 2010 edition, and I am sanguine about the quality of grub in the judges’ lounge and in the cafeteria, and I am close to getting a guarantee of more housing slots.

So, all in all, it was a good session, well attended. I’m now back to only two nights a week in the hole. And when the Speech Coach comes on board, only one. And after the People’s Champion takes over my job, as O’C insists he well, I can finally stay home and catch up on Law & Order, which I’ve just started watching. The first season. I’ve seen 3 episodes. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

My petition for more time

I’m going crazy lately.

First of all, I’m up to my eyeballs in DJ, which seriously impinges my ability to do almost anything else. After all, these are the folks who pay the bills, and they get first crack at me. In a way, this is good (it means I’m still gainfully employed) but it also means that my energies get sapped from the night job. Most of the time I can keep the balance pretty well, but, as I say, lately not so well. But wait, there’s more.

On top of running the debate team, I have seconded myself over to Speech for a while as we seek a new coach for the Speechonauts. Not only does this add the time of the Wednesday night meeting to my schedule, but also the planning of the meeting, and the thinking about the meeting, and the next thing you know, I’ve created another gap in my existence. I love the Speechonauts like Elmo loves Katy Perry, but as I told the Commander at the Hud, I just don’t have the time. With luck, this will be resolved shortly, and in a couple of weeks I can, at the very least, have my Wednesdays back.

Speech is fun, though. Last night we concluded that the Speechoplebes should start with OI because they don’t have to memorize, and we brainstormed some authors. I also watched a Speechonaut I had only previously watched doing a somber OI as this time he did a hilarious Duo. (All right, half a hilarious Duo.) Hidden depths! That’s why it’s so much fun. Anyhow, next week the Speechoplebes have to bring some pieces to the meeting to start work on. They’re targeting liftoff on 10/23. Not far away at all…

Meanwhile, tonight is Parent Night at the naval academy, postponed from last week (because of tornados or earthquakes or monsoons or potato blight or some damned thing). Yet another night out of the house. Oy.

And tomorrow, Monticello. I need a tournament to catch a break from everything else. I have a ton of stuff to do for NYSDCA, worked out with O’C last Saturday at the workshop, and finally I’ll get a chance. I don’t even remember what it was that I was supposed to do, but I wrote it down, hopefully clearly enough to actually do it.

Of course, we can’t misunderestimate the existence of Bump in all of this sapping of the Menickean strength. Registration opened Friday, and I didn’t look at it until Sunday, at which point it was virtually closed. I remarked to CP about the swiftness with which tournaments fill up these days, and he suggests that the ease of the software alleviates all the hoo-ha we used to have when it was every man for himself. Could be. In any case, I managed to carve out some extra rooms, which meant that I was able to open up the Novice PF (fully subscribed) a little bit without impinging on VPF. I am happy that NPF caught on so quickly. I just sent out a message telling people which of the 500 possible scenarios I’ll be using as the PF resolution (FYI, the official NFL one). Makes me glad, for the moment, I’m in the LD universe.

Anyhow, that's what I'm up to, if you're wondering. Et voila! Back to it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Post #MD

1500 blog entries? The mind boggles. Hell, the mind bloggles. That’s over five years’ worth, going back to July of 2004.

What a colossal waste of typing.

While I’ve been in the debate business for a lot longer than that, the years covered by CL have been pretty interesting on their. LD, my main business, has changed quite a bit. It has definitely moved into tougher, more complex ground at its most competitive levels, but it has held its own as open to lay audiences at regional and younger levels. Its numbers remain strong. The clarion call that X is the end of LD life as we know it has been shouted from the rooftops a number of times, but LD goes on. What a lot of people seem to forget is that most people in the activity are not at its most competitive levels because, well, they go to school once in a while and that sort of takes up a bit of their time. The VCA well knows that I love the casual and learning debater every bit as much as I like the $ircuit monster, if not more, and I’m happy that newbies keep coming in the region, and that I’ve done my bit to provide events for them. I absolutely feel that I’ve been instrumental in opening many novice events in the region, while helping create events for second-years that won’t send them into a state of permanent depression. That’s good stuff. Still, there is some trickle-down from the $ircuitous competitive arena, and it would be disingenuous of me to ignore it. We now post round results immediately, as well as elim brackets. A case without decent evidence is like a bicycle without a fish. People now know a lot more about what happens in tab rooms and how it affects them. People know what some of the influential folks in the activity are thinking, and have access to them and help participate in decisions. Schisms remain where they probably ought not be, but perhaps that is human nature more than debate nature. Maybe some changes have been dubious in nature, but as I say, none of them have brought down the house, and it’s been fun documenting them here and commenting on them.

This would be a great moment for me to announce that I’m quitting blogging, or quitting coaching, or quitting podcasting, or quitting tabbing, or quitting something, please, put us out of our misery. But, alas, none of that is going to happen. I now have all of three new debate Sailors as I get close to passing the Speechonauts to a new coach (while keeping my hand in marginally, just for the fun of it). These noobs strike me as an especially promising bunch, and I can’t wait to see how they do. I have tab room commitments through till kingdom come that I look forward to fulfilling them because I have both a lot of fun running tab rooms and a good head for it. (Interested in joining one of them? The door is usually open. Come on by if you want to learn, especially at MHLs where we could use an extra hand—provided you’ve got an extra judge, which we usually need more). I haven’t tortured O’C half enough yet, and that “Rude” tag is always just waiting. And there’s always something going on that I feel I’d like to write about, and write about it I will.

So, I’m sorry for having inflicted 1500 blog posts on you, but it ain’t over till it’s over. And it’s not as if any of you spalpeens pay for it or anything. Not once has anyone put a dollar in an envelope and sent it to my email. I may be willing to do it without getting paid for it, but if you want me to stop, they you are going to have to pay me. A lot. That’s just the way it is.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Slouching into Hudville, or, Post #1499

This is a pretty interesting year on the ship of Hud. On the debate side, I have exactly one new student. Or at least one new student capable of answering an email. With faith and trust, and a little bit of pixie dust, I may get that up to two new students, as soon as the second one also learns the fine art of answering an email. I have had one student this year, on the speech side, advise me that her brother, who wants to be on the team, doesn’t “do” email. I advised her back that I wouldn’t be able to “do” her brother. Yes, I understand that we are raising a generation of texters, and that email is sooooooo 2009, but it’s not exactly rocket surgery. Jeesh!

Anyhow, two debaters is not quite a quorum. On the positive side, if they prove to be engaged competitors, they won’t be fighting anybody for slots. In a way (very small), that helps explain the Panivore’s success. Not that she’s not naturally talented and a hard worker, but add to that the fact that she’s been able to debate whenever and wherever she wants without being shunted aside by an army of entrenched varsity. On the negative side, it will make it harder in the future to develop even newer debaters. Momentum requires mass (and thus ends today’s physics lesson). But, there’s not much I can do about that. We recruited like [insert humorous metaphor here; if I were you, I’d allude to bedbugs]. We didn’t get the recruits. So it goes.

On the other hand, we amassed a veritable armada of Speechonauts. About half of them have figured out the riddle of the email sphinx, and absolutely none of them do what I tell them to do, but you’d think I’d be used to that by now. We are in the process of acquiring a new speech coach, and should have one soon, but in the meanwhile, I am filling in, spreading the wisdom of my vast years (or is that the vast wisdom of my years?) as best I can. As I tell them, okay, I’m not Olivier, but how many speech coaches have my background in literature, as a consumer and purveyor both? I know more about writing (creating, cutting, selecting) then most people know about [bedbugs?]. Whatever. I’ll be out of their hair soon enough, except for those who want to work with me occasionally on the side. Or, to put it another way, they’ll be out of my hair, but something tells me you’re not buying that metaphor. Which is why I don’t do metaphors. There’s no profit in it.

And yes, I am waiting for debate to get bedbugs. It will. Trust me. I will say no more, but remember this day, 10/5/10. That was the day that, once again, I was right, in this case in a remarkably prescient fashion. And no, I may not amaze you, but I amaze myself, and on a regular basis.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Post #1498 (somebody put the champagne on ice, please)

Moving right along… (And let me tell you, the temptation to mire oneself in a certain discussion is strong, but, alas, not very entertaining, and entertainment is where the big coachean bucks are, or so they tell me.)

What a weekend! The centerpiece was, of course, the MHL workshop. For those who have just tuned in, well over a year ago someone (I think at NDCA) suggested things that we all should be doing, and among these was trying to find ways to bring people into the activity without their spending any money. Sounded good to me, and it sounded good to O’C and Kaz and JV, and the MHL Workshop was born. O’C was able to get us rooms at his school, and we had a pretty good event. Our problem last year was that the school calendar was nutty and we had to run it awfully early. This year the calendar is nutty again but in a different way, so we ran it later, and O’C was again able to open the doors of Bronx Science for us, and we got what I would estimate to be about 150 participants, including PF, LD and Policy, plus parents getting orientation and judge training, plus bringing in this year’s crop of new coaches, plus training varsity kids as team leaders with their novices after the event. Once again CP came down to oversee the PF, while Kaz brought her assistant Peter in to work policy, and O’C had some of his assistant coaches onboard for LD training. Plus of course we were all in there running modules ourselves. When one school arrived late with about 40 kids, we had to tack on a whole extra division, and we enlisted the People’s Champion to start them, and then I took over, which meant that I started talking at about 11:00 and by 5:00 my throat was killing me.

And I’m sorry, but I have no choice but to pat us all on the back. O’C and I were beaming all day at the wonderful thing we were doing, and telling each other it’s the best thing we do all year. And it is. The MHL, since its inception, has dedicated itself to bringing debate to the youngest students who can easily be overlooked in the varsity world of invitationals and universities and national circuit. But, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve got to start somewhere, and with MHL, you get to start at a level of equality with other novices and JV, which means you learn and grow together, and competition isn’t a grind guaranteed to hand you a loss. MHL leadership has gone through many hands over its long life but it has never changed its goals. I’m proud of us. Really and truly.

As an antidote to the pride I was able to feel over our forensical activities of the weekend, I was forced to feel nothing but shame for the subsequent event of the weekend. CP stayed over at the chez, and we went out for a little spot of Sunday golf with another friend of mine. The good that had been done for forensics on Saturday was, I’m sorry to say, eclipsed by the bad that was done for golf on Sunday. This was some of the worst golf I have ever seen. Some of the worst drives. Some of the worst putts. Even our cart-driving left something to be desired. The only thing that could have made it worse was if we had asked O’C to complete the foursome. As a matter of fact, when things looked bleakest (about every five minutes or so), we would console ourselves with memories of O’C in the miniature golf video from the DiDeAd: only in the even more abject misery of others could we find any balm for the abject misery of ourselves. And thus, I am afraid, I call an end to this year’s season on the links as the debate season heats up for real. Nothing like ending on a down note. Yet, somehow, we still managed to have fun. Go figure. Then again, if it wasn’t fun, why would we do it? But then again again, we also do debate…

Sunday, October 03, 2010

It's over, let's move on

I am something of a believer in the best of people. I believe that NFL made an honest mistake in their original PF topic, and that the substituted topic (which I am no fan of) is an honest attempt to move on. I have no reason to believe otherwise, and plenty of reason to believe so. God knows, I've said a lot of things against the NFL over the years, primarily because the organization by its structure does things that do not help my particular region. Is this problematic? Yes. Is it evil? Of course not. The NFL is an organization that is good and honorable by definition: they believe in forensics as a dynamic educational tool, and do their best to promote it. I too believe that forensics is a dynamic educational tool, and I too do my best to promote it. We don't agree sometimes? We don't agree. One of us is evil or even wrong when we don't agree? Hardly. We all understand the nature of debate too well to believe that one side must always be right. We'd never come up with a topic if that were the case.

Some questions arise. Should the NFL change an announced topic? As a rule, no. But if the topic inadvertently gives offense to the children we are attempting to educate? Of course. It did, and they changed it. What about the topics I just happen not to like? Well, anyone who listens to TVFT knows that my friends often think that those topics are the best ones. In my entire debate career I have never once written to NFL about a topic. This time I did. I would imagine that I never will again. I am pleased with the organization's swift response. It does not indicate shallowness on their part, or some inherent flaws with PF (which may or may not be inherently flawed; I don't know, because I don't know that much about it). It indicates realization that it was a good idea to change this topic. They did. 'Nuff said.

So, what about the topic itself? Why all the complaints? Well, I could post a long exegesis of the subject area proving its meretricious nature, but The New Yorker has done so already: look at recent back issues to find the (lead) article I'm referring to from about a month ago. I'd do it myself, but I throw the magazine away after I read it. Big mistake this time. In any case, I find the subject beyond loathing. Let me just say that I support the fact that a target of 9/11, the Pentagon, continues to offer Muslim prayer services on its premises. I may be wrong but I've always understood that the United States offered everyone freedom of religion. In my studies I have never come across a limitation of freedom of religion putting it at least X number of yards away from where it bothers somebody. Of course, that's not the real issue of the so-called controversy. The real issue is racism, with a liberal dose of stupidity. Disagree with me? I'm fine with that. I'm not here to argue this. Don't bother to try. This is my blog, not yours. I get to say what I want.

Anyhow, I had the great experience yesterday of helping run the Metro-Hudson League Workshop. It was our second year. Really big turnout. I forced The People's Champion to, with no planning, go into a session and teach forty new kids all about LD. I came in near the end: he did a great job. I was not surprised by his accomplishment. I was, however, mighty proud. I spelled him at some point, and took the kids through the next module on five big ideas of LD, including morality and justice. Let me tell you. It is extremely enjoyable to try to get a group of forty students to tell you what the source of their morality is. Where do you get your beliefs about what is right and wrong, I kept asking them. It took the longest time before anyone suggested it might be what they had been taught. I went on to explain how most people derive their beliefs about right and wrong from their religion.

This was, of course, the group from Al Noor, the Muslim school. All the girls covered except for their faces. All of them having a ball learning about debate and Enlightenment philosophy. And, yes, this late PF topic, if they were interested in forensics and rolled that way, would have asked them to conflate themselves with the attackers on 9/11. You could not make me do that at gunpoint. That isn't what the topic would have done? Get real. There's absolutely no other reason to claim the cultural center shouldn't be there.

Political discourse in this country today has sunk to its absolute lowest. Lots of people want nothing better than to tell me how to live my life, and will do anything they can to put themselves in a position to do so. There is no intelligent discussion of policies and proposals. Why don't we want government health care? Because Obama is a foreigner without a birth certificate. We say we don't want gay marriage because it destroys the institution of marriage, but what we really mean is that we hate gay people. We don't want a cultural center near where a horrible thing once happened because we don't care that the reason we were attacked is because we believe in the rights of all, because we believe in the rights of all cultures to exist wherever they want to exist, and this belief in freedom was found to be repellent to a dangerous, ignorant few. We were attacked because we believe in the rights of all, by people who hate us for that. At the point where we say, okay, screw the rights of all people, they won't have to hate us anymore...

By definition, the NFL exists to provide real discourse. They are the antidote to the false discourse in our country today. So are all of us who actively promote debate and discussion and the free flow of ideas. Let's stick to our guns. Which means let's feel free to make mistakes and learn from them, and then to shut up and move on. That's what I'll be doing.

Friday, October 01, 2010

This saddens me

The November PF topic is "Resolved: An Islamic cultural center should be built near Ground Zero."

This is not acceptable. Regardless of what one thinks of the subject, as responsible adults we should not be putting the students we are educating in the position of arguing against the sincerity of their own religion. Nor, for that matter, should be be putting students we are educating in the position of arguing against the sincerity of someone else's religion.

The groundswell against this has already begun. I would imagine that if NFL does not come up with a new topic by the end of the weekend, we will substitute a different topic for the tournaments in November, including the MHL and Bump.