Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Full of beans

It must be Christmas: the Sailors and I had a bout of Bean Trivia last night.

It was a rough session. First of all, O’C was unavailable for Ask Cruz. As a substitute, we had a lifeline which was “Call anybody you know and have them Google the answer.” That worked about as well as asking Cruz, since it seemed as if about half the questions were Disney-oriented. But I think I need better Sailors. They thought that “The Legacy” was one of the original hotels on the WDW property. I mean, they were close, except for the fact that there is not now nor has there ever been a hotel called “The Legacy” on the WDW property. This is made stranger because Rafi-Q says he stayed there last time he went. Little Em’ly claimed that she couldn’t answer those questions because she’d never been there. Come to think of it, every question she was asked, that was her answer: “I’ve never been there.” If you ask me, she needs to go somewhere.

We never had any answers to match last year’s Muppet classic, Hermit the Crab. But the event, as always, was rollicking and fun. There’s always the one person who answers the questions regardless of who’s being asked because, lordy lordy, they actually know the answer to this one. This is from a team who decided Fats Waller had to be a jazz musician because all jazz musicians have one-word nicknames, and that he must have played the tuba because he was fat. So, their deductive powers were marginally successful. They thought Lightnin’ Hopkins played the saxophone. They thought that TV’s talking horse was Dr. Ed, which at least gives him a day job. They came relatively close to identifying the main ingredient in haggis—they knew it came from inside the sheep—but went a little overboard claiming that cabbage was a subsidiary ingredient; on the other hand, they’d never heard of saltimbocca. Needless to say, be wary if any of them invites you over for dinner.

We went through my entire batch of questions, which means that next time out, all new categories. I may steer clear of Disney questions for a while, since these people have trouble deciding if Bambi is the character whose foot fit into the glass slipper. I would have thought that kids knew Disney pretty well, but I would have thought wrong. They also don’t know Muppets or classic movies. I think I do a fine impersonation of Anthony Perkins carrying his mother to the fruit cellar. They thought otherwise. They also thought that the character who says the line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” was named Frank.

You don’t want to know what they thought the main ingredient was in spotted dick. Remind me never to ask that question again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Them's the rules

I cleaned this up a little and took out some whining, but it's what I sent to the MHL membership this morning.


1. No partial judges allowed. If a judge cannot make all 4 rounds in the day, please find another judge. The only way all debaters can debate all the rounds is if all the judges judge them. This is a mathematical fact of life.

Note: Schools that provide an amazing overage of trained/experienced judges, that may wish to allow some of them to relieve one another, are not the issue here, and such generosity of judge pool on their part remains encouraged and will continue to be supported.

2. No children in the tab room. If a kid has a problem, they tell the coach, and the coach comes to tab. If the coach isn't at the tournament, there is a responsible adult in lieu. Kids go to their coaches with problems, not to tab. Tab staff will make every effort at the beginning of the tournament to get all the rounds started and to sort out any loose ends, however. This is not a rule to isolate tab from the tournament, but simply an attempt at keeping the communication of problems at the appropriate level.

3. Most importantly, all registration is entirely electronic. Coaches have until 9 on the morning of the day to correct their entries in tab room. (This might mean that teams might have to find web access at the last minute, but there is no question that, if there is no wireless, nonetheless someone on every team has brought either a smartphone or iPad with 3G). Registration closes at 9, tab takes down the data and prints up the schematics. End of story.

It works like this: registration officially closes at 9:00 p.m. the previous Thursdays. No additions are allowed after this point, period. (The chief reasons for this are that we need to assign and sort out rooms and organize the amount of food necessary). All students and judges must be entered on the Thursday deadline. However, we understand that kids get sick, and things come up. So, you have until 9:00 on the morning of the tournament to sort it out. If you are coming from some distance on a bus, you can make your changes en route. If you are meeting at the school at a city event, plan on doing so well in advance of the 9:00 deadline. Students "on their way (maybe)" do not count as entries, and a team's inability to arrive in plenty of time for coaches to take attendance will not be considered an excuse. The idea that round one is the taking of attendance penalizes the students who are there on time and wish to debate and learn. A bye due to a no-show is not a debate. At some point before 9:00, a coach or adult (college students are NOT considered adults for this purpose unless they are employees of the school they are representing, i.e., official assistant coaches) will come to the registration desk and report that their registration is final. At 9:00, any schools that haven't come to the desk will be assumed absent, and their entry will be erased from the tournament. If in fact some of these missing folk are around, they can be added for round two with forfeits for round one. This will penalize the students of the school not registered rather than the students at the schools that did register. Schools en route by bus can text by 9:00 that their entry is set; it is not unreasonable to assume that they could miss the deadline by a few minutes because of traffic, but since they've had all that time on the bus they've had ample opportunity to set things aright on

4. All reported changes after 9 are $25 each, payable at the making of the change. All unreported changes (e.g. teams that are registered that don't show up, missing judges) are $50. In the MHL, no teams will be allowed to participate in future events unless the fines are paid; they will be contributed to the Grameen org. In the CFL they will go toward the Fr Rippon scholarship.


Some comments (that I didn't send, but I share with the VCA):

Coaches who complain that they can't meet the 9 a.m. deadline need to be asked why. Since I'm closing registration at 9 anyhow, why can't they have their team organized by then? In fact, it actually allows them to conveniently and efficiently handle last minute changes. What it doesn't allow is for them to not be there, or to be in a situation where they might as well not be there. It does not allow them to foist the responsibility for a whole team on one assistant college coach who has no idea what's going on in the other divisions. It also forces them to have their kids and judges there in a timely manner. As I say, the ramifications of their not giving accurate registrations is that the good debate citizens, other kids from other teams who have shown up on time and ready to go, suffer. This is not acceptable, and there is nothing in what I am suggesting that is onerous (except the fines for their inefficiency, which need to be onerous).

I will point out that we try to run 4 rounds at CFLs and MHLs to give the kids a better tournament experience, and more experience. Additionally, most of these events have judge training conducted by the tab staff; if the tab staff is still taking attendance through round 3, this valuable training cannot take place.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore

Normally I am the soul of tolerance. I pride myself on my ability to fight off whatever the community tries to throw at me, like a Jedi waving my lightsaber here and there and everywhere, parrying the blasts from the warring clones or whatever is blasting at me and never batting an eye. But this last Saturday, I was O Kenobi sliced up by D Vader, and I doubt if I’ll come back stronger than ever.

No, wait a minute. It was O Kenobi who never really came back stronger than ever. He took his money and went home and counted it and aside from a couple of quick cameos, he never had to do anything else for Lucas other than cash his checks. I, on the other hand, bereft of residual checks, will indeed come back stronger than ever. You can lightsaber me into little pieces, but those little pieces will never die. So there.

The CFL event was a bloody mess, for a simple reason. Too many teams had too few people in charge. We have all sorts of rules about adults registering and the like, not only here but everywhere else, but in the crush of the event, we just want to get registration over with. And besides, we tend to believe people when they tell us their teams or judges are here. We should know better by now.

What happened was that, because the information we were given was bogus, the tournament was bogus. There were people who got byes in every round, not because they deserved them for some bizarre reason, but because they kept getting paired against yet another non-existent team. Some teams came and went. Judges seemed to think that this was a part-time gig, little realizing that when debaters wish to debate all the rounds, someone actually has to judge them. Startling, eh? By the end of the day I had reamed out every coach who had crossed me during the day. They know who they are.

But I rise from those little lightsabered pieces. I have new rules. I’m thinking to myself, why do we have everyone register electronically, then turn it off so that they have to do it manually? Why not just keep it electronic until the point where I’m going to download the data. Rather than them give me 50 changes (all of which, btw, are theoretically not acceptable, but I don’t want to screw the kids just because the coaches are disorganized), let them make 50 changes in tabroom. No wireless? Use a smartphone. It’s not a big deal. Then at 9:00, after a perfunctory check-in of the coaches at the table, I download the data and do it. That has to be better than screwing around trying to be accommodating to disorganized teams whose disorganization always inevitably penalizes the poor kids from the teams who were organized.

I’m circulating these new rules now, and will publish them here once everyone has signed off on them. If you run tournaments and you pull out your hair over last minute changes, and worse, changes after the last minute, perhaps help is on the way. Then again, perhaps not, but the $25 fine per, payable immediately or you're disinvited from the league might have some effect. It’s worked at Bump. This year I banked a paltry $120 into Grameen, down about a third from last year. People don’t like paying fines, and they don’t like it when I demand the published fine now, in person, put the money in the box. They find that, when push comes to shove, it’s better to get their information right.

I was admittedly as pissed off as I get this last weekend. I really have had enough. Get your act together, people. I’m not going to do your job for you, and I’m not going to let you get away with not doing it yourself. It’s just not that hard.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

And the prize for the biggest...

I just noticed on Amazon that you can buy a Justin Bieber karaoke album. I presume that this means you get a Justin Bieber album without Justin Bieber singing on it. How can this not be a good thing?

Someone responded to my post about hanging around for the whole tournament with the suggestion that there should be more sweepstakes awards. These are not my cup of tea. For the most part, sweepstakes are contests among the big schools with mega entries, vying for the bragging rights of being the biggest school with the mega-est entries. These awards bounce around between the same few schools again and again, and while I’m sure they’re all as happy as clamlarks about them, they’re pretty unengaging to the hoi and the polloi from all the other schools. O’C has tried to counter this with sweeps for big and for small schools, but that really doesn’t solve the problem. Wherever you set the distinction for size, it stands to reason that whoever has the most entries has an edge, and why should there be a reward for having a lot of entries? My understanding is that sweeps are very popular with Speecho-Americans and their breeders, or at the very least traditional amongst them. If you like that sort of thing, fine, but given that most of the early sneak-outs are not from the big programs, and most of the people in the running for these are big programs, even if I was in favor, it wouldn’t solve the problem.

I should point out that some tournaments do not traffic in award ceremonies, and I have nothing against that. These tournaments tend to want to run toward efficiency and minimal pomp(osity), and if that is what they want to do, it is their tournament and I’m happy to go with the flow. But if a tournament builds in awards as a part of the event, so be it. And I remain unconvinced by the idea that people have a long way to travel, hence they want to leave early, because I have yet to see anyone who has a long way to travel leave early when they’re still in the tournament. (Well, aside from my daughter, that is, who used to say enough is enough and, in or out, she would lead the charge to the nearest restaurant and to hell with the tournament. She hasn’t changed much since then.)

Of course, my thoughts on people who leave early is merely opinion and open to disagreement. My thoughts on people who blow off their judging obligation is something else altogether. These people are the scum of the debate earth. As I run more and more tournaments I begin to know more and more of them by first name. It isn’t many, but it’s enough, and it’s always the same ones. I haven’t forgotten a scurrying judge yet. That will be the sign that I’m getting Old-Timer’s Disease, when I forget that you left me hanging without a judge. But of course, scurrying judges don’t read this blog. Then again, as I start excluding them from tournaments, they will start having the time to do so. Maybe they’ll put two and two together. But I doubt it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Breaking wood

If you graduated from school about three hundred years ago, you still get this thing toward the end of August when you start thinking about buying new composition books and wondering what the new year will be like. I get something similar around Bump weekend, except now it’s Ridge weekend, and they’re welcome to it. I’ve been over for a month now, and there is no greater satisfaction than having this year’s tournament already in the history books.

Ridge was normal, as far as the tournament went. MJP really does work fine for smaller events. (Come to think of it, the very first time we tested it was a Ridge 2 years ago.) We did learn this time out that you have to isolate the MJP event, i.e., don’t load up two divisions of LD when one of them is MJP because TRPC will just look at you funny and wave its finger at you. Also, it pays to blank out the A+s that automatically come in when no ranking was done, to distinguish them from real A+s. Other than that, it’s becoming rote.

The Sailors went full-bore into PF with an astounding record that would make weaker teams pale, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and this was a learning experience. So, what was learned? We’ll find out tomorrow night at the meeting, but for one thing, don’t dress in your furry mules and look as if you’re one bowl of popcorn short of a Twilight home video marathon. There may be more, but that may be the most crucial.

On the coaching side, we learned never to go to that horrible place on Friday night again, because they’re so loud that the only way we could communicate was by texting. We ended up in CP’s room watching people break wood with their heads, which is about the only thing that happened that I can mention in polite company or, for that matter, impolite company. Some things you just can’t blog.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Tiggers

Princeton has come and gone. Some thoughts.

First of all, we made a conscious decision upfront that we would feature the PF division. It had the biggest TOC bid, and at colleges these days, it’s a big draw. This was absolutely the right decision, I think. We opened 160 slots, and never really had much of a falloff. The field was well-balanced, and geographically diverse, with a lot of Florida folk adding a little sunlight to the proceedings. Dario was handed the data and sent forth, and managed to run everything on time in the expected transparent fashion, and we realized once again that Florida’s gain was our loss, but he loves it down there so what can you do? One thing about transplanted northerners: they know better than to show up in New Jersey in December in short pants. This may be how you can separate the nuts from the coconuts, so to speak.

The second big decision was, rather than trimming the fields, running the LD divisions back to back. I think this went well too. We had to move into PF rooms on Saturday night and got slightly hung up, but not for more than 10 minutes in one or two cases, so that wasn’t a problem, and the word on the street was that having a couple of hours off between rounds makes the day a joy. I remember when Pton used to do that, and I was judging, and that’s exactly how I felt. Throwing in some nice weather (albeit not enough for short pants) didn’t hurt. Even if we can get the HS back next year for PF, I think I’d still stagger the LDs. It just makes for a nice weekend.

Inside LD tab, there were a few things I would change. I thought there would be more interplay between the divisions, so I put everything on one machine, but that proved to be unnecessary, and a bit of a burden in the crunch times. Also, watching O’C balance the tournament on two computers because one is at death’s door and the other must be kept clear from the evil influence of Windows, was like watching a drunk tightrope walker crossing Niagara in a hurricane. Also also, I forgot my new little speaker system, meaning there was a noticeable lack of hula music during the weekend, although Abdul did manfully try to fill in the gap with some of his more obscure material; problem is, computer speakers just don’t do the job, even when you turn them up to 11.

MJP went well, although we discovered that you have to doublecheck that all the prefs do travel from tabroom to trpc. Most do, some don’t. Go figure. We also offered strikes in PF, as it turns out to resounding disinterest. A couple of schools took advantage, but not many. One school that I know about objected. Dario’s conclusion was that they’re okay because those who wanted them, had them, and those who didn’t have them weren’t harmed. We had thought long and hard about this before the tournament, and I’d say that the results are that the jury is still out. I’m not going to do it again for a while, although I did strongly recommend that they do it at the PF snake pit TOC. We’ll see.

Anyhow, overall Princeton has, I think, kicked itself into the top ranks of college tournaments. The students running it are committed, and they’ve got a good system that keeps them in it over the years to oversee that it’s working well. They did a great job, and rule number one of any college tournament is that the host must be totally committed. They were, and the results were clear.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Hello I Must Be Going

In my gracious way, I admit that there is a great temptation to leave a tournament one is not in to get home early. But let’s face it: that’s only true if you’re not in it. Your original plans included being in it, so it’s not as if you haven’t accounted for staying for the whole thing. So ducking out and heading home is not the original plan, it’s the contingency plan, and as I said, I’m mostly against it. At a big tournament, and in the light of a long trip, I can understand it, of course, and make exceptions. I still believe that attending break rounds should be a mandatory part of any team’s participation in a tournament, but leaving a touch early, and even before awards, does make sense if you have to drive forever, and it’s the difference between getting home at 10 o’clock at night or 2 in the morning.

But in my experience, the worst offenders for leaving a tournament, including CP’s own Lexington tournaments, are not the world travelers. It is not the schools who have a long distance home, for whom exceptions might be made. It is more often than not a school with virtually no commute whatsoever. I get this at Bump, too. Neighborhood schools are the first to disappear. They are also usually the first to get dropped out of the tournament. If they hung around a bit, they might learn something. And if they stayed for a ceremony, they might become a part of the community rather than just forensic remoras.

A commenter suggested having supplementary events, which I guess does pass the time, but I would prefer the time to pass observing others in the main events, for their own benefit in aid of improving their competitiveness. Also, as one winds down a tournament, one focuses on the big issues of breaking and pairing and whatnot with what’s left; finding time (and room, and staff) to organize a supplementary event would be difficult at most tournaments. I’m not necessarily against it, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

On the duality of the Ivy League tournament

My phone rings in the tab room. I answer it. “Hello?”

“Hi. I’m lost.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m not sure.”

“So what exactly do you think I can do for you?”

Part two.

The phone rings again. Same number. “Hello?”

“Hi. I’m in East Pyne. Where’s room 8?”

“That depends on where you are.”

“I’m in East Pyne.”

Part three.

The phone rings again. Same number.

I ignore it.

At a tournament like Princeton, in the debate divisions at least, there are actually two tournaments going on. One of these tournaments is populated by the usual suspects in the field and in the judging pool. The debaters go to their rounds and debate, and judges pick up their ballots and go to their rounds and adjudicate, and it’s just like every other tournament they go to. It could be Lexington or Bump or Jake or Glenbrooks or whatever. Everyone knows their role, and everyone performs according to the script. Things run pretty close to schedule, and a swell time is had by all.

And then there’s the other tournament, populated by debaters and judges who have crawled out from under their local forensic rocks who have never seen the sun before and don’t understand the concepts of light and heat. It is as if they have never attended a tournament before in their life, and that may not be far from the truth. I have known of schools with a debate team—they think—that only goes to one tournament a year, inevitably an Ivy Leaguer. That is the depth of their tournament commitment. These are the ones who can’t read a schedule (although to my understanding, debate tournaments aren’t the only things in the universe with a schedule, but I could be wrong about that). They can’t read a map. They don’t show up at general assemblies to hear announcements, and then when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, which was clearly outlined in the announcements at the general assembly they didn’t attend, they complain to you that you’re not giving them the information they need. They are the first in line for the free food, if any, even if you’ve hidden the serving time in the footnotes of the schedule and hidden the location in the footnotes of the map, and only let it be known that there was any food by announcing it at the general assembly: some things they are good at. They can’t believe that you expect them to judge almost every round! The horror! (My comment to them when they make this complaint is that they don’t have to judge every round, but tell us which rounds you don’t want to judge so that we can also let your debaters have that round off too. They look at me strangely for a while until they figure out what I’m saying, and then they wander off.) They think that “I got here late” is an acceptable excuse for missing a round. (I didn’t get here late. I got up early and allowed plenty of time. You didn’t. This is my problem?)

That seems to be the thing about college tournaments, from an operational standpoint. The usual suspects go about their business admirably, and you spend the rest of your time explaining what a debate tournament is to the unusual suspects. Sometimes it’s sort of fun, because not all the unusual suspects are weasels (nor are all the usual suspects furry little kittens). But by the same token, if we’re trying to pair the next round with MJP, your standing there with a dumb question is, shall we say, ill-timed. Your coming into the tabroom at all is ill-conceived. For that matter, anyone’s coming into the tabroom is ill-conceived. Yes, the tabroom is quiet. We like it that way. It’s also ours. But there’s always tab leeches. The thing is, yes, you’re here to quietly grade papers, but then your phone rings and your team has vomited in the boys’ room or somesuch, and the rest of us are just trying to work on getting the tournament run. What is it about the sterling personalities of the tab staff that attracts people who want to hang out with them? It’s certainly not because we’re the cool kids (except maybe Abdul). I’ve met us. We raise boring to new heights. We think Sporcle is important. We generate more paper than the IRS. There has to be other places to hang out. There has to be cooler kids than us somewhere.

Anyhow, if you’re wondering, the Tiggers was a great tournament from my perspective. Phenomenally large PF field, solid LD and speech fields, great operational team amongst the Tigs—they couldn’t do much better. And I enjoyed watching the two simultaneous tournaments transpire around me. I don’t suggest that anything could change the duality. I just find it interesting. It is the curse of the college tournament.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Whatever happened to class?

If we are in this tournament, we’re in it to the bitter end, because that’s the kind of competitors we are. On the other hand, if we’re out of it, we’re out of there like a shot, because, well, that’s the kind of competitors we are.

I love the message that sends: We only compete to compete. There is nothing else about a debate tournament of value. And if we’re not competing, screw it. We’re taking our judges and going home.

As someone who values least the competitive aspect of debate compared to all the other aspects, this really annoys me. And I’m not even talking about people honoring their obligation to judge, which is an obvious ethical commitment which, if you don’t honor it, is a violation of the rules on your part. There’s not much to discuss there. At a big tournament like Princeton, at least in LD there was a satisfyingly small number of people who blew off their obligations, but there still was a number of people. This is not worth a lot of discussion here, because it’s too obvious. Going to a tournament implies a commitment to the rules of the tournament on your part; what else do we need to say?

“Why do we have to stay and judge if our kids aren’t competing?”

“Would you stay if your kids
were competing?”

“Of course.”

“And who would judge them if everyone was like you and left before fulfilling their obligation?”


But let’s look at the team that does fulfill its obligation and then immediately leaves. (Usually, this is after griping about the obligation, by the way, but what else do you expect from these people?) As I said above, they are sending the message to their team that the only thing that matters at a tournament is winning. As soon as you lose, go home. This means that you don’t watch break rounds, which is one of the great aspects of not advancing into them. If you love debate, you want to watch the good people just for entertainment. If you actually value competition, you’ll want to learn from them. And if you value education, you’ll want not only the learning of how better competitors compete, but seeing what they’re running. Maybe you’ll pick up some great evidence or some great approach you hadn’t thought of. Teams that don’t break learn to break by watching teams that do break. Did you ever notice that the teams that don’t break pretty much always don’t break, and the teams that do break pretty much always do break?

Also, the nature of break rounds is not the same as prelims. Any student who wants or expects to break, needs to learn how to handle that difference. Watching others handle it (or not) is how you learn.

So there is an obvious benefit to the teams that observe break rounds. They will learn something they can never learn in the comfort of their own debate room back home. That alone is sufficient reason to stay on at a tournament, for one’s own benefit.

But there is another reason, and in fact it is more related to competition per se. It is the idea of good sportsmanship. Good sportsmanship means that you honor your competitors, whether you win or lose. This means going to the award ceremony not just to cheer the people from your team who won, but the people from other teams who beat you. So and so did the best DI or was the top LDer or was the PF top speaker: good sportsmanship demands that you, who were none of those things, honor those who were. The respect of one’s peers is one of the highest rewards for work well done, and that is what award ceremonies—and staying for them—is all about. My favorite schmucks? The ones whose activity is announced, and then, carrying their trophies, they march out of the auditorium passing in front of the podium while the remainder of the categories are announced. They couldn’t wait another ten minutes?

Does no one have manners any more?

Whatever happened to class?