Monday, February 28, 2011

Blow it out!

The MHL Blowout was a rather remarkable event in many ways. More than anything it was a reminder that debate can be fun and serious at the same time. Too often people forget that, and things are taken so seriously and so all-the-fun-wrung-out-of-it that you wonder if in fact we are negotiating the end of life on the planet as we know it rather than an extracurricular high school activity. Lighten up, in other words. Why so glum? It’s high school debate. It gets you out of the house and meeting new people, it gets you thinking new ideas and it allows you to get some nice credentials for your resume. Years from now you will remember all the fun and forget all of the glum, so I advise you to make sure that there’s enough of the former in it to make up for the presence of any of the latter.

At the blowout, each round began with all the opponents drawing a power. This might be something like having an extra speech, your opponent having no prep time, or your judge being able to interject during the speeches (“I’m not buying it!”). You might be able to get a varsity debater to handle one of your rebuttal speeches, or get a debater or coach to sit with you and coach you through the round. There were numerous variations on these themes, and as each person drew a power, JV announced it to the assembled multitudes to great moaning and/or glee, depending on the power. He quite enjoyed his role as maitre d’ of the event, adding his own level of glee if the power was particularly poisonous. After all the powers had been drawn, everyone went off to their rounds, and a splendid time was had by all. We had powers for all the divisions, although adjusted for whether it was LD, PF or Policy. You might be able to detect that, in addition to adding some humor to the proceedings, there was an underlying educational benefit. Shouldn’t you be able to run a case without any prep? Or without any flowing? Or at least try it once in your life? You might fail, but you’ll learn why.

At the end, we managed demo rounds of LD and Pffft with bona fide stars (for instance, the Panivore handily managed to defeat the hipster K, whatever the hell that is). Policy, which ran much longer, as always, ran longer still with addition of the powers, so we couldn’t do a demo there, but that was all right. At the end of the day we all assembled at roughly the same time to give out awards, including a set that each team had designed for its own novices. Being awarded “Most likely to forget your case” or “Most likely to wear skintight jeans” or whatever seems a fitting end to the day. Let’s face it. Some novices never win nuttin’. They should at least get an award for effort. The award for “Least likely to show up for practice” was given in absentia, of course.

The blowout with its silliness immediately became a must-do-again event. Maybe next year we’ll call it the MHL Blowout Classic II, and O’C will start giving service awards. He wandered off early to slice pizza or something, so I can’t say I saw much of him Saturday. The divisions were fairly small and Kaz and I were able to handle everything on one machine. And then, home by 7:00. A good day, on all counts.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The ragtop blues

I failed to mention that Chavez also managed to ruin my life completely by showing me the video of David Hasselhof singing “Hooked on a Feeling.” I’ll never be able think of the phrase ooga chaka ooga ooga ooga chaka in quite the same way again. Not that I ever did, but that’s neither here nor there.

This weekend is the final MHL, which we’re referring to as the Blowout. We have a lot of ideas for making it memorable, but we haven’t pinned any of them down yet. I’ll report after the fact. One team did question whether the competition would be up to their excruciatingly high standards, to which we responded with fart noises, so that answered that.

I have made live the NY State District Tournament website on the Goy. I know. You’re waiting sooooo patiently for me to comment on this. I will. I promise you, I will, but probably without too much vigor. I’m fairly out of interest on the subject by now, and have little to offer that hasn’t been offered in the past. But I understand the needs of the VCA to hear the latest invective, and far be if for me to ignore that demand.

Tonight is poker, for the first time in ages. I have a slight cold, but nothing short of the ague or St. Vitus dance would keep me away. (Although, come to think of it, I haven’t heard the phrase St. Vitus dance since I was a kid. My parents were always talking about it, so perhaps it was more popular back when they were young and hopping about. Or maybe they were referring to my dubious terpsichorean skills, which are, admittedly, minimal at best. Whatever.) I feel that this game is the first sign of spring, for some reason, although I almost killed myself on the residual ice on my driveway this morning, polished to an almost invisible fare-thee-well by a driving rain during the night. I want to be roaming the streets without a coat. I want to be a flaneur sipping absinthe on the boulevard. I want to feel the warmth of the sun and to put the top down on my car (not that it’s actually a convertible) and drive around listening to Beach Boys hits (like, for instance, “The Warmth of the Sun”). I want to scoot around the links in a golf cart, thinking to myself that if I can just get the next shot to within a mile of the pin I might, for once, not run the risk of being expelled from the course for sucking beyond the pale. I want to eat gelato in the West Village.

Soon. Soon. Soon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Would you like bugs with that fodder?

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, and I now stand to testify that Mr. Chavez has already wasted his completely and may prove to be of no further use to mankind. During the usual Sporcle sessions in the tab room last weekend, Jonathan demonstrated not simply a good memory for Academy Awards, not simply an encyclopedic memory of Academy Awards, but rather an ability to rattle off obscure and complete data in such a way as to frighten ordinary mortals. At least it frightened me, and I’m as ordinary as they come. Thank God this data is of no practical use. If it were, Chavez would be certifiably dangerous.

Last night on TVFT we talked some more about award ceremonies, continuing CP’s and my conversation from the previous week and not venturing too far from my original position that they are usually a good and useful thing, but they need to be swiftly executed. Listen to the podcast if you’re a tournament director, and follow our prescriptions. Please. Your attendees will thank you for it. In keeping with the spirit of the discussion, it’s the shortest TVFT to date! (Of course, following the logic that the best TVFTs are the shortest ones, no TVFT would be the best of all!)

I spent some time over the last couple of days securing accommodations and transportation to various events including TOC, NDCA and NYSDCA. Tomorrow I will do likewise for CIA, FBI, FDR and CBGB; after that, I will be moving on to whole words. Let me tell you, some of these were easier than others. TOC? No way you can do the so-called tournament hotel, but I found something not far away that will save the Sailor treasury a couple of hundred bucks, so there. NYSDCA folks were nice, although the invitation directs you to a woman who has nothing to do with the actual reservations. I warned her to take her phone off the hook for a couple of weeks. As for Scranton, that was the best, with a working dedicated hotel reservation site. My problem is three people, one to a room. I’m hoping that O’C or someone will come through with some bed fodder to take up the slack.

Bed fodder? That sounds strangely…strange. “Hi, my name is Bruce, I’ll be your bed fodder for the weekend.” Yep. Definitely strange.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More Philadelphia cheese

Aside from occasionally braving the four winds to battle my way over to Starbucks, I didn’t leave the building much over the weekend. That whole food court in the basement thing, including the great crepes place, mitigates the need for much roaming about unless you absolutely want to do so. If it had remained warm, I might have felt otherwise, but those trips fueled more by a desire to pick up the Times than the need for coffee were more than enough. And yes, this last Saturday was indeed a tough puzzle. If I were a giver-upper, I would have, but I’m not, so I didn’t, and I solved it. But I’ve got a few scars from it, let me tell you.

One problem we had was that the printers that the Quakers provided did not speak fluent Mac, and although CP banged around in the guts for a while and got them to at least spew forth ink, I couldn’t print from Vegas Elvis out of TRPC for love nor money. So, it was create pdfs and port them over from the Dark Side and print them out of MacOS, which is a pain, but at least it worked. On the assets sheet, in hindsight I’m more than happy to have decided in advance not to schlep around Philadelphia with my traveling tab printer, what with the 800 stairs leading out of the trolley stations. A little of that would have gone a long way, or at least longer than I personally wanted to go.

While we were doing our bit, I was of course following the progress of my couple of Sailors who insisted that they were better off in Harvard. Unfortunately the P’s C did not complete his set of quals for TOC, but he made a valiant effort. The Panivore did take top speaker, which is nothing to sneeze at, but then again, my sole novice did likewise in her division at Penn. Not bad. I learned this week that said novice has no truck with Facebook or Twitter or any other of that few-nangled fom-toolery. I find it interesting that I apparently have on our team probably the very last social network holdout under the age of 40. Maybe we should start a pool for when she succumbs. There’s money to be made in this.

Speaking of money awards, I guess I should acknowledge that the Qs saw fit to give yours truly a service award, which is a little embarrassing but it is a nice honor. Of course, I really am only in it for the money, the lack of which continues to disappoint me. Let me remind you: I run a clean tab room. But not for lack of trying. Feel free to drop off your bribes at any time. No contribution is too small. Really. Just don’t let Kaz see you, otherwise she’ll no doubt want a matching gift. As will CP, Chavez, JV and O’C. Hmmmm. Forget what I said about small contributions. We’ve got a lot of mouths to feed here. Big contributions only, please.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Notes from the City of Bro' Lovin'

The Philadelphia experience was excellent.

It started at the tournament hotel, where we were met with a level of welcome packetage beyond all previous experience. Aside from their actually getting all the reservations correct (mine was a bit screwy, with late addition and subtraction), they had a manila envelope for each room, in which were tournament info sheets, maps, trolley schedules and very specific instructions for using the trolley (“Go out front, turn left,” that sort of thing), not to mention a little packet of 16 tokens. According to the Quakers (that’s the Penn mascot, congruent with Ben F as the mascot for everything else in Philadelphia including the cheese steaks, the cream cheese, the mall, the dog walk, the water treatment plant, the drug dealers and the sports franchises), this was mostly done by the hotel, the Crowne Plaza on Market Street. Simply put, I want to have their baby.

I popped over to the school, a short ride away, and checked in, finding CP and, shortly thereafter, Kaz. We had a nice dinner and when I got back to my room I uploaded the tournament and was all ready to go. That Friday was the warm one, and the streets of Philadelphia were thronged with warm Pennsylvanians, which are apparently an unpredictable enough group that stores were shutting down out of fear of their eruption. None of this was around us, however, and only Kaz had encountered it as she drove about in her car obediently doing whatever her GPS told her. At some point it told her to trap me in the back seat, and I almost ended up spending the night in the valet parking before it was decided to set me free. I cannot explain this, and will not try. I will point out that not only was I held prisoner, but at some point CP held us up as he did some sort of random posting, costing us at least three precious minutes of my life which I will never get back, which is a lot more than it sounds when you add in all the complaining I did to CP about the three precious minutes of my life that I would never get back. Figure an hour or two, give or take. Still, I manfully went on, managed to get a good night sleep, and was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning.

Somewhere along the way we acquired a couple of Bronx Scientologists who were bunking with us for the weekend, and they and my novice and Kaz headed out Saturday a.m. on a blustery morning quite different from the preceding one. Not much you can do about that. The underground trolley got us where we were going, and we got down to business. There was some confusion about scheduling, in that I thought we were starting at nine (silly me, I had looked at the posted schedule) and CP thought we were starting at eight (silly CP, he had posted some other schedule somewhere else), but we got everything up before nine, and got accelerated as the day progressed, and we ended the 6 rounds of PF by nine o’clock thanks to a couple of single-flighted rounds, so no one was complaining about that. No one complained either about the digs for central HQ, given that it’s all comfy chairs with a superior and healthy food court in the basement.

The biggest problem, endemic to colleges it seems, was the loosey-goosey participation of the parli people in the judge pool. They’re good for PF, but their names changed with a regularity that was mind-boggling. The outset of every round was marked by a totally new slate of adjudicators. We didn’t have this problem in LD, where you really need people who know the activity, but we certainly did have it in PF and Speech. The Quakers have been apprised of the undesirability of this business, and will work it out with their parli partners for next year. I somehow managed to keep a relatively cool head for this, although I did lose it in the morning when coaches didn’t show up to judge the first break round. This is just not acceptable. There is an obligation that we all share, and when I’m there at the crack of dawn trying to get the round out and you’re home in bed eating madeleines and sipping jasmine tea, we are not going to have what you would call a meeting of the minds. Simply put, don’t do this if you expect me to treat you with professional courtesy, because you have forfeited your professional credentials. Genuine issues that arise are one thing, and often there are reasonable excuses, but absent that, it’s a no-brainer. Be there. Do your job. Fulfill your responsibilities. End of story.

But these were minor blips. Otherwise, the tournament ran as smooth as a goat, and we watched with glee as our cousins to the northeast lugged their way through turtledom while we rabbited to the finish line. If you were there instead of with us, I hope you can satisfactorily answer the question that this was a wiser choice for your team than joining us at a well-run and shorter event where all the profits go to support inner city debate. We’ll be back at the old stand again next year this time. I hope to see you there.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

He said, he said

I broke a lawyer’s heart at the DJ today by telling him that Linda Ronstadt is about 40 years older now than she was 40 years ago. If you have any lawyers’ hearts you want broken, send them to me and I handle it for you.

Speaking of the DJ, yesterday I encountered an actual human being who referred to herself in the third person. This is extremely odd, but when you add into it that the person is Canadian, maybe less so. One positive thing about eliminating the first person from your speech, of course, is that verb conjugation becomes so much easier. Also finding the weirdest person in any particular group of speakers, but I don’t think either of these is her motivation. But, what can I say? Or as she might put it, what can he say? Eh?

In my latest crash of insomniac nights I’ve been playing with a writing project idea that I’ll probably unfold shortly. You might not like it, but he does I do, and it might be a worthy experiment. For that matter, I have a finished writing project that I was unable to publish that I’ll probably self-publish in a little while. Sometimes I wonder where I get the spare time from, but then again, I’ve never watched even a single episode of American Idol, so think of all the hours I’ve accumulated for useful output.

This weekend is UPenn, which is small on the LD side and humongous on the Pffft side. We’re bringing a raft of Speecho-American Sailors and one novice LDer. For the life of me I can’t understand why people would prefer Harvard, unless mesmerized by the bid chase or in relatively decent position to break in whatever activity. As the VCA knows, my team officially swore off Cambridge the year that it broke the budget bank, and while various of my mavericks have seen fit to expose themselves to it (as far as I can recall with little reward), it has just not been what I would call forensics-efficient. If you have a small, building team, doesn’t it make sense to put them into appropriate competition? I guess you can argue that they’ll see all these good people, and that might be true, but at Boston hotel prices? Na’ah. Doesn’t work for me. I do appreciate that they have been doing something about the randomness of the LD event, however, bringing in members of the Traveling Tabroom to coordinate with them. If it’s going to be a zoo, at least have all the pachyderms in one enclosure and all the marsupials in another. I guess that the more time passes, the more I agree with Bietz that all colleges should have small bid levels (if any). Probably five percent of the people there are really chasing a bid; the rest are visiting Harvard, an understandable desire. Oh, well. We’ve talked about this before. There’s no point in beating it to death.

So I leave tomorrow after school. I should be there in time to help CP at registration. Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The revolution is at hand

You might have seen the comments to yesterday's post. I’ve thought about the fact that it takes longer to MJP than not, as CP points out, but at a smaller tournament, with an appropriate percentage, why not? We certainly did it at Ridge a couple of years ago with little disruption and absolutely no experience. As we get better at it, it won’t ever be absolutely instantaneous, but I think that most folks would accept a little longer break between rounds in return for mutual judging. And yes, of course you could put all the strikes in simply as 6s in MJP, but that just dangles the old carrot. Give ‘em the whole thing, I say. We’ve been moving toward it philosophically, so why not just go all the way? We’ll get so good at it quickly enough that we’ll never remember when we didn’t do it.

And, let’s face it, the Panivore has given it her approval. Do you want to argue with her about it?

Bietz also mention this. I read it, but found it unenlightening unless you have all the time in the world and you don't mind allowing for half hour judge critiques. It's nice to know that someone's thinking about standardizing the running of tournaments, though. I guess they're talking about colleges and not high schools. Pre-pairing and releasing the night before teams show up? In the high school universe? Can I send you the names of a few coaches who can't tell you the names of their teams halfway through the tournament, much less the day before?

Anyhow, speaking of the Panivore, I've run out of things to say (actually, I did this around 1999), so at last night's meeting the P took over, explaining weighing to our vast horde of one, plus the People's Champion. The results—the photo of the rapt audience on the right—speak for themselves. I found it interesting, but I ended up taking pictures because, well, I can do the math.

Seeing the size of our team, you might want to compare it to the one below, taken at a recent Big Bronx LD meeting. Sometimes you've just got to envy the size of other programs...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let's do it

So here’s what I’m wondering: Why not just do MJP all the time?

At the last few tournaments I tabbed, I went with the predictable community rankings of the usual suspects. I mean, let’s face it. Everybody in the pool inevitably shows up week after week, and there are very few of them we don’t know. Almost by definition, someone new is someone inexperienced, which is fine (provided they’ve been given a clue or two by their teams, which may or may not happen, but that’s another issue altogether), and everyone else is the same old same old. There are people who are always highly ranked, except by You-Know-Who, who inevitably strikes them, and there are people who are always struck, except by, again, You-Know-Who. (Come to think of it, there are often a couple of YKWs in the field, making things something of a challenge.) Everybody wants to be judged by judges who allow them to perform at what they perceive is their best. I think it’s silly to assume that everybody wants to be judged by people who will always vote for them, because that just doesn’t happen. If you’re in a tough round with a good opponent and a good judge who usually picks you up, chances are that the judge also usually picks up your good opponent. You don’t select your judges for the their mythical “guaranteed” ballots, but for their legendary powers of adjudication, which are two different things entirely.

But here’s my point. While, granted, MJP at a smallish tournament is something of a mug’s game from a tab perspective, if you handle the numbers correctly, it will allow for a decent number of strikes, and conflicts, plus it puts the ranking entirely in the hands of the debaters rather than either tab or the community at large. At those smallish tournaments you might have to specify 40% or 50% 1s, for instance, but at least they’re your 1s and not somebody else’s. And too, you might have a few more 2-2 rounds than you might prefer, but then again, it’s mutual. Where’s the down side of this?

I would point out that I’m not entirely benevolent in this. Giving individual strikes means that I’ve got to enter them all, one at a time, and I’ll make a mistake or two, no doubt, although lately I’ve gone over to striking more rather than fewer when there’s any doubt. But even if this is conquered technologically and the strikes can go into TRPC automatically, is it so bad to offer MJP, period?

Talk me out of this, please, or else let’s just do it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Another Scarsdale slips into the mists of time

I slept about two minutes last night, and I feel like death eating a fig newton.

Anyhow, Scarsdale is in the can, so to speak. It’s a wrap. It’s history. Etc. This is where varsity get to judge the novices in their off rounds, but for some reason, a lot of them don’t opt in. It’s not just a question of covering their entries, but participating in the tournament in a different way. As I said last week, there’s lots of debaters who never judge, and I think they should. Maybe they’re afraid that it will affect their performance at the tournament, but a lot of the breakers were in both the front and back of the rooms over the weekend which belies that. Maybe they really do feel that it is only about covering their entries, although Scarsdale has enough good student judging from its own team to dig the Panama Canal. Go figure. They’re missing a good bet, in any case.

From the tabbing perspective, it’s relatively nonstop but not terribly difficult. It’s a single flight every hour of the alternating divisions. Which means that the next round is always ready when you need it. Pffft, on the other hand, was captive to the whims of its judges, and I wisely, albeit not maliciously, passed that over to CP and O’C while Kaz and I stuck with LD. In the Pffft world, the judges come and judges go, talking of Michelangelo, especially from schools that have no real coach (i.e., either no coach, or no one worthy of the designation). Tracking them down is tough, but then again, the food in the judges’ lounges is superior, and you can usually find the culprits there tossing samosas down their pieholes, if you can get them to own up to being Central HS Judge #3, which is how they’re entered into the system. More shenanigans in Pffft than in LD, in other words, and I wasn’t a part of it. Ah, the cleverness of me.

Yesterday I sent out the first info about the district tournament to the interested parties. What a great way to spend a Sunday; I had forgotten how much busy-work there is in a district event. There is, of course, much of a story here, and you’ll get it eventually, but at some point Saturday we were looking at our district and shaking our heads over our red light status because we seem to have gotten our numbers where they were supposed to be after previous negotiations with the Evil Rippin’ Empire. But that’s a long story, and we’re not ready for that yet. One subject, more or less, at a time…

If there were any theme to the Scarsdale weekend, it was contained in the words, No mango left behind. That, and Get off my lawn. No wonder I feel like death eating a fig newton.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I am not a thief

I think we ended up with crossed wires last night, so only CP and I recorded the TVFT episode, but record it we did, so there you are. It continues what I was saying yesterday about tournaments and award ceremonies. We’ll probably revisit it with O’C next week. How can you talk about awards and not include Mr. Award himself?

This week is Scarsdale, and surprisingly enough, there are no blizzards, earthquakes or plagues of locusts predicted. This is the one where the varsity judges the novices in alternating single flights, which is something of a challenge in tab, but nothing terrible. It just requires not overworking the people who also have to debate. But it’s a good thing. At Newark last week I put a varsity kid who had been eliminated in to judge some novices, and he said that it was the first time he had ever judged (albeit through no fault of his own). And he’s a senior. I strongly believe that judging is important in rounding out the debater’s experience, if not the debater’s skill. A round is different when you have to adjudicate it. And it is the first step in giving back to the activity. If you’re getting something out of the activity and not giving back, you should try to fix that. If it’s impractical now, come back and judge when you’re in college. You don’t have to do it week after week, but when the traveling debate circus puts its tent up in your area, pop by for a while. They’ll probably even pay you for it!

I’ve been reading the new Autobiography of Mark Twain, which weighs just slightly more than the average Extemper. I ran across this quote last night: “A parenthesis is evidence that the man who uses it does not know how to write English or is too indolent to take the trouble to do it; a parenthesis usually throws the emphasis upon the wrong word…a man who will wantonly use a parenthesis will steal. For these reasons I am unfriendly to the parenthesis.” I point this out because, day after day, pound for pound, there are more parentheses in this blog than there are nauseous parents at a Justin Bieber concert. I maintain that my use of parens is far from wanton, but the VCA will have to be the judge of that. (By the way, I just found out that Justin Bieber is Canadian. Figures.)

(Speaking of which, that “don’t do well if your name is hard to pronounce” bit from yesterday, which met with some disdain, is a line I’ve used about a million times at opening ceremonies, and it always gets a medium snicker. Not that I’m defending it objectively, but you can’t argue with success.)

One high point of Newark was sitting around with TSWAS (there’s an oldie for you: The Superhero Without Any Superpowers, AKA Craig) watching YouTube videos. Raul Esparza singing “There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute,” Astaire dancing “Quarter to Three,” the stateroom scene in “A Night at the Opera.” I love sitting around talking about movies with Craig, because he’s one of the few people I know who seriously thinks about movies, which is a subject near and dear to me. Of course, he wants to make movies as a vocation, but he tells me that others who have the same desire don’t necessarily share his love of the medium. Odd. But then again, in my DJ life, I’ve known people who want to get into publishing who aren’t necessarily readers. Hard to imagine, but true. Go figure.

Oh, yeah. As a matter of course and with no discussion, we posted all the Newark ballots online. I recall not too long ago when this was perceived as the end of life on the planet as we know it, and no doubt made everyone involved in the business subject to immediate arrest by the Debate Police. All of our open-tabbishness seems to have made this reaction rather silly. They’re ballots from a debate round. Yes, occasionally someone misspells a word or writes something dumb, but that’s no different from real life. If you want to maintain your self-respect in this situation, just say that the RFD is “the aff was more persuasive.” Your judging cred will be secure for all time. Trust me on that.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I would like to thank the members of the Academy...

One thing that seems to have gone by the wayside at tournaments these days is the award ceremony. Except, of course, at Big Bronx, where next year I understand it will be three days of nothing but award ceremonies, plus the display of a video of a round from last year at the very end just to keep up appearances.

Seriously, I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I strongly believe that in a competitive event like ours, it is good to have a celebration of effort and performance. It’s more than just taking tin: it’s the recognition by your peers. The announcement of the name and the applause—even the zippy one clap—is meaningful. Walking up to the stage and shaking a hand and getting something tangible is meaningful. Walking back and getting a pat on the back from your teammates is meaningful. I don’t want these things to go away, and I have a special cold spot in my heart for teams that disappear from a tournament as soon as they can, slinking off into the night, so to speak, especially when their trip home is eleven minutes. Okay, you didn’t win anything, but is that a reason for you not to acknowledge those who did?

On the other hand, it is the responsibility of tournaments to manage their award ceremonies intelligently. Despite everything I’ve said above, I do not like sitting around in an auditorium wasting an hour that could otherwise be spent either debating or going home. O’C gets around much of this by having his service awards at the opening ceremony, when we’re still preparing the tournament, thus not taking away time from anything else. That’s smart. Then there’s specific acknowledgments for each division at a reasonable time for that division, mostly just the speaker awards at a point when everyone’s still around but no one is itching to be elsewhere. That’s also smart, and that’s the key. The awards need to be when everyone is both around and not wishing they weren’t.

I propose the following guidelines:
All tournaments should have ceremonies at which awards are given out.
At a high school invitational, these awards should be at around the quarterfinal point, which would keep people hanging around, and then, if they left, the tournament would not fall apart without them. This is very civilized.
Tournaments have to accept that people might leave before an award ceremony. It’s not prison, after all.
By the same token, people who leave have to accept that they’re not going to get their ballots. These people who are leaving are not following protocol, and with so much going on during a tournament, they can’t expect to get special treatment. It’s their problem, not the tournament’s. Bring stamps and a big envelope. Tournament directors: note this in your invite.
Ceremonies need not be for every event at once. In other words, never keep people sitting around waiting for awards, not theirs and especially not someone else’s. You can do PF now and LD later, and vice versa.
It’s okay to run finals during the awards ceremony, in aid of not keeping people sitting around waiting.
Full names should be announced at all times, and not initials. I am not Hendrick Hudson JM, I am Jim Menick from Hendrick Hudson.
I don’t need to know the ballot count from each and every round. Especially if it’s a rout, do we need to broadcast it throughout the auditorium that so and so lost on a 5-0?
One clap is enough. Move people along. Just because we are being traditional doesn’t mean we have to be pokey.
Don’t thank everyone in the home state of the tournament for making it happen. Thank the parents as a group, the students as a group, the tab room as a group, and move on. This takes one minute. The more people you thank, the less the audience will give a crap. Use the standard of CatNats and NatNats as an example. They thank everyone under the sun for at least an hour, boring everyone so much that by the time the actual awards start, almost everyone in the audience is engaged in texting ribald comments in real time on every person who has just been thanked, or else playing Angry Birds, You Don’t Know Jack or Minesweeper (this being the only instance in anyone’s life so dull that even Minesweeper is preferable). If you really want to thank somebody, do it in person. Give them a bottle of wine or an Amazon book certificate, whichever is more appropriate. But do it privately.
Don’t give us a big song and dance about something that only matters to you. We don’t care. If it’s funny (e.g., the history of the Bump traveling [fruit] cup), it’s worth three minutes, otherwise write it up in your invitation. An award ceremony is about giving awards. If you have a special award named after someone, that is fine, but simply announce it as the Special Award Named After Someone, explain why in a sentence, and then announce the winner.
A participant’s walk to the podium to accept an award should not last longer than an AC. Move your butt. Meanwhile, the award announcer should not wait for this slow-butted person to come to the stage, but should keep moving. One clap. Get that rhythm going. If necessary, film JV at one of his ceremonies and do what he does.
If your name is hard to pronounce, try not to win an award. It just slows things down. (Okay, maybe this one isn’t such a good idea.)
Shoot for twenty minutes tops. Send people out happy. Leave ‘em wanting more. In other words, the fundamental rules of entertainment apply. The less fun it is, the less likely people will stay around for the next one.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Menick the rail-splitter

Ryan makes good points in reply to what I said yesterday, especially the size of neg cases. I should clarify my feelings about standards, though. I don’t mean simple as in simplistic and vague, because that’s certainly no good. I just meant not so complicated that it takes me a paragraph of flowing to write down and when I have to think about it as a weighing mechanism I abandon the field. In fact, one of the rounds I judged had exactly the sort of simplistic standard that was so easily shot down that it might as well have not existed. So we’re probably on the same page at least there.

Meanwhile, the Friday morning of the RR I mostly spent setting up the regular tournament. Normally this isn’t all that big a deal, but we allowed 5 individual strikes, which meant a lot of entering data for me and O’C. Not hard, just time consuming. I’m beginning to believe that, first, individual strikes are the way to go as the more positive benefit to debaters when compared to the broader-based team strikes, and second, that 5 strikes in a pool of 40 is absolutely invisible in the tabbing process. Set as a percentage, maybe you could strike as much as 15% of a pool and have no harm in the tabbing process. Of course, some judges are wildly unpopular and struck by practically the entire field, but the program assigns the hardest-to-place judges first, which means that their unpopularity isn’t really a problem. I mean, nobody is 100% struck. And if they were, you’d be encouraging them to take up another hobby anyhow. Number One way to get struck? Have Mr. or Mrs. as your first name. (Coaches, please. Can’t you ask your parents what their names are?)

I should point out, by the way, that there are no turns in Newark. Not in the rounds, but on the streets. We stayed out at the tournament hotel by the airport, and coming and going both, you could see your destination, just over there, a mere left or right turn away, but lo and behold, there was always a sign saying, “Don’t even think about turning, you yabbo.” Every time we needed to get off the road we were on, we spent a month or two exploring the jungles and deserts and caves and mountains of Newark rather than just turning left or right. This is, I think, the city elders’ way of promoting tourism. Since people don’t necessarily come to Newark as a vacation spot, whenever people do stumble into town they are forced to explore every inch of it whether they want to or not. There is no way around this. So it goes.

Thanks to aggressive judge acquisition by the Newark folks, the VLD part of the tournament was single-flighted. This is both good and bad. It’s good in that things move along, but bad in that literally every judge gets used just about every time. In the random rounds, you get what you get. Once there’s a bubble, As go to the down 2s, and by the time you get out of the problem areas, it’s good luck Charlie. The Mr. and Mrs. judges get to see a lot of undefeated debaters for a couple of rounds, until we can move them over to he defeated debaters. This is good insofar as the best debaters have no choice but to adapt, and bad for about the same reason, that the best debaters, all prepped for a killer round against one another, are forced to tone it down a bit. Again, so it goes.

Overall the weekend went well from our perspective. I kept having to move away from the machine in the VLD breaks because of having my own horse in the race, I can’t exactly hand-pick judges from the ever-diminishing pool for my own debater, but O’C was up to the task. We do have a pattern of assigning judges in breaks that gets us past this problem most of the time, going up and down the rounds with the judges as they are offered, but when you get into quarters and further, and you have a lot of possibilities, this doesn’t make sense. Which is why we don’t have just one school in the tab room at invitationals. Not that we’d be all that corrupt (well, maybe you would be, but not me) but to allay even the appearance of corruption. I want people to think of me as the Honest Abe of Tab. Honest Jim.


Why I'm enjoying The Eyre Affair

"I don't believe in coincidences, Miss Next."
"Neither do I. Now that's a coincidence."

(That may not be the exact quote, but you get the drift.)

Monday, February 07, 2011

Your judge paradigm is WHAT?

Now that was a long weekend.

It started Thursday with the first day of the Round Robin. For once, I wasn’t tabbing, although I had helped set up the pairings, something at which I am now rather proficient. Newark had a ton o’ judges, so that part of it went quite well. I showed Carlos how to look for judges who had judged on one side to judge folks on the other side, and he was golden. Then, I judged a few rounds.

It’s funny, judging after you haven’t judged for a while. Needless to say, people have their ideas of what I’ll like or not like, and they do slow down, I think (inability to handle speed is a factor of practice, not preference), but all of that adaptation stuff is a good thing in a public speaking activity. A good debater has to pick up all ballots, not just the ones he or she would prefer to pick up. Anyhow, you fall back into the flow of judging pretty quick (and the flow of flowing, for that matter). One of the big reasons I don’t like to judge nowadays is, admittedly, that it poops me out. Back-to-back double flights requires a level of attention that I find elusive during those mid-afternoons when normally I’d be at the DJ doing my best to keep my eyes open. You can’t close your eyes when you’re judging. You need to be alert to everything, or at least as alert as possible. And as I say, that much alertness poops me out, and I’m lucky that I’m pretty good at tabbing so people will let me do that instead. To tell you the truth, from what I hear I’m not the only person in the universe whose alertness is curtailed after judging a hundred and twenty rounds in the last 72 hours. Human beings get tired. Debaters who put a lot of pressure on judges late in the day should think twice about that.

Needless to say, or maybe needed to say to some people, LD hasn’t changed all that much lately, at least from what I saw. But there are some things that I don’t like that have gotten worse. First, there’s the non-existent negative. A value, three independent reasons for some standard that epitomizes the concept of cockamamie, followed by a once sentence blip, does not constitute an advocacy. I’ve been decrying this one way or the other for eons now. Negatives with a strong offense have the opportunity to debate on their own ground. Negatives with virtually no in-case offense have no choice but to debate on the affirmative ground. That negatives win from this strategic weak start demonstrates to me—if everything we’ve said on TVFT about neg bias is true—that there’s a lot of judges out there who need to move away from the flow pad and think for a minute. If it turns out that it’s fashionable to demand nothing of a negative but a demurral from the affirmative, then no wonder negs win a lot. If you don’t have a position, and all you’re held to is how well you attacked the other guy’s position, then we are absolutely hogtying the poor affs. Neg presumption in LD went out with white disco suits, but a lot of judges apparently haven’t gotten the memo yet.

I also wonder why people want the most complex standard possible rather than the simplest standard possible. If the standard is simple to understand, it is simple to use as a weighing mechanism. If it’s complex, then weighing becomes more complex, if it’s possible at all. You can run very complex cases that are, nonetheless, simple for the judge to understand. KISS as one of the top tools of good case-writing seems to me to still hold true. The best debaters run very complex stuff that nevertheless is easy to understand. I have nothing against complexity. But I shudder at obfuscatory complexity: it’s like novices always coming up with the most bizarre, complex ways of looking at simple things rather than trying to find the bright line that informs complex things and drawing from that simple conclusions. It’s a novice way of thinking.

I did have some discussion with assorted Scientologists over the weekend about dumb-ass stuff. Most judges, when they hear dumb-ass stuff, which is rather often, are just wishing the other debater would say, “You know, that is one powerful bunch of dumb-ass stuff.” But debaters hardly ever do call out dumb-ass stuff, even when the dumb-assedness is so manifest it stands in the room with a torch and a top hat. Calling out dumb-assedness would probably win people a lot of rounds, if they could just summon up the nerve to try it.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

That dinosaur is starting to look familiar...

Newark is this weekend, preceded by another Round Robin. They have varsity judges up the wazoo, and haven’t solicited any at all for novice, which they’ll mostly handle themselves (although I’ve got a ringer or two for the field, because, well, why not?). There’s lots of single-flighting, which might come in handy when the next blizzard arrives on Saturday. I have to admit, this weather has gotten out of hand. There’s been no school here for a couple of days, on top of all the previous days off, which means, of course, that the Sailors are doing anything but working on their cases busily editing their cases, taking advantage of all that free time.


Last night I signed up for the NDCA tournament in April, although I haven’t looked too closely at the hotel and the like. I’ve already agreed to tab it. (I guess they wanted some bedrock in the machinery. That’s what Newark called me: Bedrock. Like Fred Flintstone.) I’ll probably have to work toward some hotel-room-splitting with O’C. That’s the down side of having one girl and one boy at an event. Everyone tells me that the physical plant will be great for the tournament, and Scranton doesn’t look terribly far away on the map, so it should be fun. And, as I say, it’s in April. I can already feel the warm, balmy breezes.

Anyhow, back to the RR. They have me judging, which is fine for me, if not necessarily for the poor suckers in the front of the room. (Reason for decision? Yabba dabba doo!). I’ll need time Friday morning to set up the tournament, though, with the strikes and whatnot. Five per person is nice, and quite manageable, but there’s a lot of inputting necessary to make it happen. And, of course, there will be those people who come in and say that they didn’t get their strikes because they’re being judged by someone they thought they struck but didn’t. And the folks whose coaches forgot and then they blame me, or whose coaches didn’t forget and struck someone they didn’t want them to strike, and then they blame me, and then there’s various people with whom everything is copacetic but they still come in and blame me anyhow on general principle. I can handle this. I always just blame O’C. Still, it amazes me how some people, tournament after tournament, don’t get their strikes straight. It’s not that hard. Really.

Of course, there are those who are solidly against strikes. Some coaches look on strikes the way music critics look at Justin Bieber. This is fine, but only when that coach’s team does not avail itself of said distasteful strikes. I mean, if you’re going to rant and rave about the state of LD in the world today (good luck with that), the least you can do is bypass the hypocrisy of having your own team do all the things you are ranting and raving about. Don’t eat your cake with your mouth full, or words to that effect.

So I’ll be away from home for a few nights, again. But at least with the promise of good Portuguese food tomorrow. There’s a silver lining to every cloud, I guess. Or at least a nice cataplana.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Well, instead of the good news, they could have brought the haggis

Last weekend, while some of you were hobnobbing with the beys and poohbahs and assorted muckamucks at some tournament with a longer official name than many of the rounds, the rest of us were doing the day-to-day work of the activity, digging the ditches with the novices and jvers and making the world safe for people who don’t happen to have keys dangling from their nether parts. (Do they dangle the keys from their nether parts? I’m just guessing here.) At the MHL we don’t have keys, we have medals, and we give them to the debaters, not the coaches. We’re strange in that way.

(Of course, whether the medals would make it to us or not was a sort of “Ghent to Aix” kind of adventure, as it turns out. They had been left…somewhere, and…someone…forgot to pick them up, although…someone else…forgot them altogether in the mad rush to dangle the key from his nether parts, so…someone else again…had to beat the horses to death getting them from…somewhere…to us. But they did arrive, so I won’t mention it.)

I had never been to Beacon before, but it’s easy to drive to, accessible right off the West Side Drive. Parking was another thing, because NYC remains under about thirty feet of snow, but there was a cheap garage (really!) in the neighborhood, so that was no big deal. We only had about 40 rooms for the rounds, but that was fine, and we had just enough overage for switcheroos when one of the ceilings fell in and other catastrophes like that. Harry F, the Beacon coach, had to solve those problems. When someone came into tab and told me the that ladies room was about to float away on the flood, I was happy to refer them to Harry rather than having to grab a mop myself. Such is the joy of working in someone else’s building.

We ran four rounds and had them finished by six, thanks to the rule that no table changes are accepted anymore other than drops. The usual suspects who ignore the idea that their students should sign up a couple of days before the tournament rather than at the tournament or maybe halfway through seem to have learned their lesson. Round 1 was on the boards by 9:45 and in action by 10:00. That’s good. We even threw in a half hour break for lunch at some point. That’s very good. The era of the half-starved polician is no longer!

Of course, this was the kind of event where you do everything yourself, aside from mopping up the ladies room, although I had great help from Ms. Diaz and Mr. Bathhurst, both of whom know how to move kids and sort ballots and all that sort of thing you need to do to run an event. I even managed to sort out the pairings for the upcoming Newark RR during down time, but by now that’s second nature: I did the heavy RR lifting a long time ago (and believe me, pairing RR rounds the first time or two you do it is heavy indeed). At the end of the day Harry’s eyes were wide when he asked if he could read the results. Like a little kid, you know? Apparently he’d never done that before, and I have to admit, it is kind of fun. As the VCA knows, I’m very bad at pronouncing names so I always cook the results so that only kids named Smith and Jones ever win, but I don’t let on about that because, well, it might not be so popular in the world at large. (Actually, I always feel I pronounce everyone’s name perfectly, and they’re the ones who get it wrong, but what can you do? Is it my fault their parents are confused?) So Harry was happy, the medals were distributed, and the ditches were dug.

All in all, it was a successful day. I crept out while the awards were going on, and got home in time for a nice pasta Bolognese. What more could you ask for, except, maybe, a key dangling from your nether regions.