Thursday, June 23, 2011

Whither the NDCA?

Today we settled the Aged P in a nursing home, putting an end to what has been a very rough period in the old chez. Getting old is no picnic, because your body stops being reliable, but short of a true mental impairment, there’s no great reason why your mind should also stop. Mark my words! Learn to appreciate everything in life, and learn to keep going forward. With luck, we’ll all get really old. With determination, we’ll make being old just another phase of life, and we’ll find the good in it. The alternatives—not getting old, and not getting old gracefully—pale by comparison.

Last night on TVFT we talked at length about the NDCA tournament, and the NDCA in general. Here’s the thing. Each of the finals events has its particular purpose. TOC, as I discussed here not long ago, is about competition qua competition, and is rather fierce and narrow in that regard. (This was not a value judgment on my part, merely a reflection of what I saw.) CatNats and NatNats are, in their way, culminations of local debate, but as Bietz pointed out last night, quite limited. Only 2 people in a district go to NatNats, even if there are 20 people in the district who are just as good. TOC, because it breeds in the $ircuit pool, is fairly limited to schools/students who are resource-rich. (In policy, especially, it requires a full team, whereas in LD a lone wolf, albeit with some long green, can do fine.) The point of NDCA is to provide a culmination tournament that is not artificially limited in numbers, and is not fiscally limited vis-à-vis resources. That is good on face, but we’re not sure how it’s coming off. I think that what we were batting around on the show was that fact that you’ve gotta have a gimmick, and aside from good intentions, NDCA doesn’t have one yet.

Give it a listen. I really enjoyed the NDCA experience, not only because B Manuel and Schenectady made for excellent hosting, but because the organization seemed determined to listen to the community, which cannot be said of any of the other culminators. If NDCA can carve out its niche, not replacing anyone but complementing everyone, it would be a very good thing. Curiously enough, the feeling is that the tournament is there when it comes to policy. LD? Still a bornin’.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2011-12 (real) LD Resolutions

Quick notes off the top of my head, mostly on the subject areas rather than debability.

1. Resolved: The United States ought to extend to non-citizens accused of terrorism the same constitutional due process protections it grants to citizens.

I like this subject a lot, because it cuts deep to the rights and privileges of individuals versus governments. The wording is uneconomical, but that may be inherent in the subject. In any case, it’s both deep and current. You can do a lot with it.

2. Resolved: It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a deliberate response to repeated domestic violence.

The question here is, essentially, whether there is any situation where deadly force is justified, so domestic violence is provided as a situation as dire as any, so that you’ll concentrate on the deadly force. That is, you could argue that dv isn’t dire enough, but that really isn’t what it’s about. This may be a bit narrow, but it’s certainly core to LD.

3. Resolved: In the United States, possession of handguns ought not be an individual right.

A great topic, cleanly worded. The thing is, people have strong opinions about the subject of guns, and while I would imagine that, at least in the Northeast, the vast majority of people in forensics are not heavily armed, the country as a whole is fairly well split. Which means there are arguments on both sides. And, again, it’s an important subject. I could see this rez in any slot.

4. Resolved: The use of eminent domain for private economic development is just.

We argued this back in the old days, before Kelo, where the courts went aff and the world in response went neg. It’s a meaty subject area. If I’m not mistaken, back then it was Jan-Feb.

5. Resolved: Estate taxes are just.

A four-word topic? This is the sort of thing I would imagine working as Mar-Apr or NatNats. I don’t think it has enormous depth, but it’s got currency and proponents on both sides, and it’s about something important.

6. Resolved: A government has the obligation to lessen the economic gap between its rich and poor citizens.

Another contender for the late season, or perhaps those poor areas that are too snooty for the Modest Novice.

7. Resolved: A just society ought to prioritize environmental concerns over the production of energy.

I remember arguing this in the context of developing nations. Almost everybody argued sustained development, even though that old topic did have a “when in conflict” cause. In other words, no one took up their burden, and all argued a third side. That wouldn’t float nowadays. Here, affs must argue Env and, because they have no prescribed burden, negs will inevitably argue sustained development, which will always win. So, I’m against it.

8. Resolved: In the United States, law enforcement ought to be required to have probable cause to search data an individual has stored on remote servers.

Good subject, too many words. They keep trying to pin this one down, and I don’t think they’re there yet. (I have no better solution, by the way: the wordiness goes with the subject.)

9. Resolved: Targeted killing is a morally permissible foreign policy tool.

Strong topic for educational purposes (you’ve got to know a lot) with a nice political science slash philosophy underpinning. Perhaps limited, though, i.e., not for Jan-Feb use (except by teams with great resources).

10. Resolved: Individuals have a moral obligation to assist people in need.

This would be a nice novice topic or a NatNats topic, which is fine, but I don’t see much interest among the average LDer of this day and age for grittier events.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Before I forget, read about Nozick and libertarianism, if that's your cup of tea.

Not much happening, meanwhile, on the coachean front. I did get occasional messages from NatNats, what with the Panivore putting paid to her debating career and whatnot, and O'C having fun on the resolution committee, and all the powers that niffle wondering why I wasn't there because they missed me so much and wanted to touch the hem of the garments of the world's worst district chair. The tournament seemed to last as long as the entire rest of the season put together. And of course NY schools are still in session, although it was nice to see Diana made it to the final round. Some New Yorkers will go (and when they do, watch out!)

I gather that the TVFT crew will gather another time or two to go over all of that. I am starting to miss everyone and everything, but then again, not so much as it will cause any psychic damage. Things usually heat up around debatewise around the beginning of August, when I start regrooving for Yale and whatnot, and that's only a couple of months from now. It is nice, otherwise, to have a break. This weekend I actually golfed only slightly miserably, which means that I'm finally beginning to believe that summer is here. Weatherwise this was a crappy spring. A crappy winter, too, come to think of it. I blame George W. Bush for it, needless to say.

Anyhow, just checking it so you'll know I haven't gone over to the Dark Side (i.e., giving up my job to travel with Sarah Palin's bus tour). Summer will mean few entries, especially given the continuing busy-ness of the DJ and the Aged P. Come to think of it, I really am looking forward to debate season kicking in again. I could use the rest.

Friday, June 17, 2011

2011-12 LD Resolutions

I wasn't there, but thanks to my spies for forwarding me an early copy of next year's proposed LD resolutions.

1. Resolved: The United States ought to limit non-citizens to persons of the French persuasion, Canadian comedians and the Pope.

2. Resolved: It is morally permissible for debate judges to beat their heads against the wall if a debater is spouting nonsense. If it's really serious nonsense, they can beat the debaters' heads against the wall.

3. Resolved: In the United States, possession of hand lotion ought be limited to really old people.

4. Resolved: Incidents of lese majesty against tab room staffs should not be tolerated except by those who do not know the meaning of lese majesty.

5. Resolved: When in conflict, morality is just and ought to be legally permissible.

6. Resolved: A just government ought to keep for three days in the refrigerator.

7. Resolved: A just society ought to value societal justice over just socializing.

8. Resolved: College students ought to shut up.

9. Resolved: In the United States, we are not outside of the United States. (Jumping up and down doesn’t count.)

10. Resolved: If it moves, shoot it.

11. Resolved: Individuals ought to be prioritized above pasta dishes, except for lasagna.

12. Resolved: Gender will only get you so far, but, well, there you are.

By me, this is one of the best lists ever. I can definitely see #5 at next year's NatNats. After that, it's a toss-up.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer camp on the cheap

Members of the VCA will recall that a couple of years ago, in response to some plaintive cry in the desert or other from the NDCA, we here in New York started up the free one-day MHL workshop. We are big fans of free, and almost as big fans of cheap. Along those lines, I just received the following missive from Ryan Miller. If you're in that neck of the woods, and you've got a little time on your hands and would like to sneak some debate into your summer, and feel that Mr. Taylor needs all the pizza he can get, you might want to talk to Ryan and his team.


With the assistance of Zach Taylor and Dallastown coach Steph Borger, I’ll be running an LD camp in York County PA this summer from Tuesday 5 July through Monday 11 July. Intermediate-level students will learn skills necessary to succeed on the local and national circuits. Depending on the level of interest, we may split into ability-based labs; more advanced students can also come with cases written on Thursday the 7th. Cost is only $20 payable to Zach’s college pizza fund; housing with Dallastown students may be available by prior arrangement. Please pass this along to anyone who may be interested; I can be contacted at 717-968-1585 or

We will likely be offering a quick two day Sept-Oct prep / advanced camp in August, date TBD. Also, Dallastown alums who have cleared at both HS and college national tournaments will be running an Extemp camp July 8-10 if you know any extempers who would be interested.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Greetings from the Culmi Nation

As for the NY State conflict, as referred to in a comment, there is less there than meets the eye. I haven’t gone to NYSFL debate events for years, because change of that organization in ways that I favored proved impossible. I would imagine that this has become a matter of religion: either your religion is NYSFL or NYSDCA when it comes to debate, and as a coach you follow your own sense of which is the true faith. Supporting members of the one are in a fairly contained universe, as are supporting members of the other, with a small overlap of invitationals in the middle if you’re drawing the Venn diagram. So when it comes time to culminate, you do so in your own universe, perceiving the other universe as faulty. As any empiricist can tell you, one is bound by the limits of one’s own senses, which in this case tell you that, whichever path you take, it is the right and righteous path.

Which sums up a lot of this whole subject. Even with the tiny team of Sailors, I see great variation from student to student in what they are seeking from the activity. I wasn’t in this business for long when I tried to solicit from each student a debate goal for the year. Not surprisingly, those goals were all over the place, and some of them weren’t strictly speaking even competitive. This was when I was learning the truth behind the stated premise that it’s not all about the competition. I established a base level of team participation, e.g., you had to come to meetings pretty regularly, but after that, it was up to you. For instance, a lot of folks fall away between sophomore and junior year rather than pursue varsity success, which is a lot harder than early success. The latter requires a bit of natural “debate intelligence,” but the former requires debate intelligence plus a boatload of work. Some choose not to do that work. But I don’t want to lose these people. I try to angle them into judging novices, which they usually like to do. And they stick around a bit at meetings, so we get to hear their input on whatever we’re talking about. Similarly, some folks just aren’t the type for TOC/$ircuit debating, which doesn’t make them lesser debaters, only different debaters. Let me emphasize that however I may disparage a given tournament, I would never disparage the accomplishment of those who are competing at it. I am loath to make the value judgment that the winners of TOC are somehow better debaters than the winners of CatNats, for instance. I think they are different by default, because of the nature of the tournament, but better? That, my friend, becomes another question of the true faith, and you can’t argue faith because it is a leap beyond reason.

It might be axiomatic to my TOC series last month that we need to keep people on the right track for them. TOC is a perfectly good track for this group. Pointing toward a state event is a perfectly good track for that group. Pointing toward CatNats or NatNats is a perfectly good track for other groups. My opinions of these events is neither here nor there insofar as often they are simply expressions of my debate religion beliefs. If it were me, in other words… So I guess I’m saying that the best thing anyone can do as a coach is not try to create a one-size-fits-all approach to the activity, because it would be a mistake to believe that one size fits all. It doesn’t. Each debater is unique. Tournaments change over time. Styles change. Enabling individuals to succeed in the way that is best for them ought to be a basic enough educational goal.

So don’t confuse my ideas and thoughts and ramblings with my actions, which speak for themselves. I write this blog, to some extent, to provoke thought and discussion. Often I write something today that I learn tomorrow is totally wrong, and I love when that happens.

(Then again, the real reason I write this blog is because they told me it would make me rich. You just can’t trust…them!)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


The mononymous Dan posts in the comments: “So what would you push your LD'ers to attend as a culminating event? You've already expressed issues with the way the TOC is run, the NFL is too impractical for your school system, and the NCFL is something of a poorly run tournament. What becomes the championship the normal debater in your program strives for? NDCA? Though NDCA has it's own issues with size. It's kind of hard to see a tournament that only has about 40 kids and accepts anyone who applies until they get to 70 as a national championship either (though I really do like the way NDCA is run and it definitely has potential). But so what does the end of year culminating event become?”

That’s a good question.

I don’t categorically object to TOC. I simply question its relevance to more than just a small number of national debaters. The issue becomes, do I try to point my own Sailors toward that small number. I would say that this is more a question for them than for me; I have no particular resources to help them if that is their goal, and they will have to go beyond me to succeed. This was not necessarily true a decade ago, but I’ve changed in one direction and TOC has changed in another. I’m not in the back of the room much anymore, so I admittedly don’t have great skills at what is au courant. When I judge, people have to do a bit of adapting to me with speed, and that means some compromises. Anyhow, assuming that I don’t have anyone on the team willing to go beyond available resources, then what? As Dan says, NFL is impractical and CatNats, with its small number of rounds and random judges, is not a test of skill reflective of the events of the rest of the year.

Does that leave NDCA? I don’t know. I’m late to the game, and this was the first year I’ve attended. I had no particular expectations, and I admit to not knowing well the application process, which is something I want to learn more about. Obviously, if anyone can get in, it is far from a national championship. One question has to be, how can it distinguish itself from TOC (since it already distinguishes itself from NatNats and CatNats). I don’t know the answer to that, and maybe only time will tell. It will be on my mind though.

To answer the specific question of culminating event, as a general rule I like the idea of having a meaningful State finals. Meaningful here is defined as representative of the events of the rest of the year, but limited to the most successful debaters at that event. Staying within the state keeps expenses down, if nothing else. My school is strapped when it comes to money: if Sailors don’t have their own long green, they’re not on the $ircuit. At times I question the need for national events, or at least for 4 of them.

As I said in my original post, I’m torn on all of this. I don’t have great answers. The best I can do is what I have always tried to do, guide Sailors along on paths that make sense for them as individuals. Everyone doesn’t have to be trying to qualify for TOC. Everyone doesn’t have to go to expensive college tournaments. I can provide a very satisfactory, educational experience for a debater without ever going off our regional circuit. If they save a few shekels and can attend a college event during the year to enjoy the running around attendant to such an affair, better still. My biggest worry about TOC in that series of articles I wrote was how serious we all take it. I wonder if we’re forgetting that it’s just a high school extracurricular activity. I suggest that there’s all-consuming and then there’s mind-bogglingly all-consuming, and that we’ve jumped from the former to the latter, and that we may have had a shark under us when we did it.

So, no answers. Lots of questions, though. C’est la guerre.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

All unquiet on the Coachean front

The personal life and times remain crazy.

Unlike what I posted earlier, the Aged P is not exactly settled. I am hoping that by the end of this week this situation will finally wind down. It is a matter of finding the right level of care, a time-consuming process at any level. Almost there.

The new work at the DJ, the creation of an entertainment blog, is in a holding pattern because the nature of what I want to do is so different from the nature of what’s already there. Fitting it in without changing it is the goal. This too is a time-consuming process, albeit not mine. As I wait for the technical issues to be resolved, I am sorting through a good thousand web pages a day in the hopes of finding 3 or 4 good ones. I zip through this using Feeddler on the iPad, for the most part. I find that I now know way more about popular culture than is good for me. There is no way I will ever report on, say, Snooki, but there is no way to default out of coverage of the Snookis of life in one's researches. On the other hand, I do manage to find wonderful material pretty regularly. The internet isn’t all bad. There are prizes and peanuts in a Cracker Jack box. Unfortunately there is also a lot of caramel corn to keep you digging. Life is like that.

The regular aspects of the DJ remain unchanged. Which means my day has shifted a lot. That I have managed to make it up quite a few levels of Lego Harry Potter amazes me. But if it wasn’t for stuff like that, the brain would just melt.

This is the time of year when I don’t give hoot one or hoot two to debate, but in a couple of weeks I know I’ll start getting antsy and do things like updating the Bump invite and cleaning out the Stygian home page and the like. Because of weather and injuries, golf has been erratic at best this year. This weekend we were cancelled due to 1) a pierced lung and 2) a nasty booboo on my partner’s finger, plus the fourth guy off on vaction. I will accept a pierced lung as something worth skipping a day on the links for, but a booboo? Anything that if you kiss it makes it better is just not a great excuse, if you ask me.

Monday, June 06, 2011


Last Wednesday night on TVFT we talked about, first, CatNats, and then TOC. It’s either amazing or remarkably mundane that all you have to do is point us in the right direction and we’ll immediately start blathering. It’s what we do best.

The subject of CatNats was not a positive one. I haven’t been for a couple of years, but I’ve honestly mostly enjoyed the experience because it’s usually been in an interesting city, and you get to see people you may not have seen for a while, and you get to hang out with friends and your varsity folk. I’ve never given much thought to the tournament itself because it just always seemed to be there, iconic, locked into what it was, and you went because you went. In our universe, the NYCFL is very active. Throughout the year we have plenty of speech events, plus two big debate events, plus our qualifier for Nationals. That qualifier is tough. Usually there’s a dozen competitors in the field who could easily grab one of the six slots. One just falls into the lockstep of participation, and since qualifying is such an accomplishment, one aims for it.

Then there's the tournament. The thing is, it runs differently (in debate) than every other tournament, in ways quite contradictory to what we usually proselytize on TVFT. It's not transparent by any means: not only don't they tell you who won which prelims until days later, they don't even announce the winners of the elim rounds until the next elim is posted. It's got too few rounds for a meaningful break. It's exhausting. It's expensive. It's got random (and often inexperienced) judging uncharacteristic of a national finals event, with no paradigms and, for that matter, no identification of the judges. It's got lag pairing and, perhaps, three out of five random rounds (but we don't know much about these, because of the lack of transparency). It's got an odd number of rounds. It is, in a word, the anti-tournament.

Still, as I say, I haven't given it much thought. I have no expectation that it will change, and no interest in changing it. It's not evil, it's just lost in some universe different from the rest of our debate universe. I push our Speecho-Americans toward it as their culminating national event, if they're up to it. But should I be pushing our LDers? I really don't know. But I have to admit that after last week's conversation, I'm beginning to have my doubts.