Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Well, that's just sad

Davy Jones, that is. Makes you fell so old, if you're my generation.

According to the Harry Nilsson documentary ("Who is Harry Nilsson"), this is the song that broke him through to the big time.

People aren't smart enough for democracy

The thing is, when we don't know something, we don't recognize that other people don't know it either. "To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people." Great. Assuming that the great unwashed don't know much about, say, fixing the economy, how can they pick someone to fix the economy? Link: People Aren't Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish, Scientists Say.

No, you can't multitask

At least not successfully. "Human information processing is insufficient for attending to multiple input streams and for performing simultaneous tasks." What a shock. Worse, the study in this article shows that texting and Facebook are crucial factors in lower GPAs, as compared to other multi-t distractions. Then again, it could just be that people with lower GPAs do a lot of texting and Facebooking (which may even be more telling!).

The eagle-eyed will note...

...something called Grinwout's on the right.

The thing is, I got really attached to my Books and Entertainment blog at the DJ. While it may come back some day, it probably won't. So, I'll do it myself and see what happens. Without the specific target audience of the DJ, it will become more...something.

If it works, I'll sell it to O'C for his nerd site. If he can afford it.

J. P. Finch-ish

This is what I mean:


England loves Radcliffe, anyhow

Daniel Radcliffe's The Woman in Black sets British horror record. Interesting, given that the picture seems to have barely existed in the US. One has to wonder about the future of the Potter actors: after 8 movies in character, and having grown up in those characters, how well can we accept them as someone else? On the other hand, Radcliffe looked pretty J. P. Finch-ish in How to Succeed. 

We'll see. 

Update - All new. Again!

So here's what happened. For the longest time my team wanted to get something up on the internet to officially support our products. We finally got the nod, and for about six months, we did whatever we wanted to do, trial and error without much feedback, and then the powers that be revised the corporate website, without a place for what we were doing. Business is like that.

Still, one gets into the habit. There is so much out there, so much junk you don't want to see, but also a lot of good stuff that may be hard to find. So, why not just go on? Not a lot of explanation, not a lot of analysis. Just a bunch of good stuff to read and watch.


TVFT or die

I will try again tonight. Join me, if you dare.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Another way to switch from LD to PF is to throw a fat guy in front of the trolley

I’m going in deep and revamping everything.

Once upon a time I had a pretty decent curriculum for weekly LD meetings. I started with some key concepts like rights and morality, then went on to the structure of rounds, and the parts of an argument, etc., etc. Which was all swell and good when we were an LD team, but if we’re going to mostly be a PF team in the future, something’s got to give.

So, I’m rethinking everything, and planning everything out in my great book of debate life, AKA the Cur. Everything has to be looked at. Even my remarks on parents’ night are no longer entirely accurate. But the first big issue that arises, to which I have no particular answer, is when to switch the average novice from LD to PF. I still like the idea of starting people in LD. There’s no partner issues to worry about, for one thing, and an argument is an argument. Plus, early rounds have little to do with debate per se and much more to do with things like showing up and thinking on your feet and writing cases and public speaking. (Yes, novices in LD do engage in public speaking, although nowadays we quickly move them away from anything so unrewarding as speaking well.)

Because we run the Modest Novice topic from September through November, I can get three solid months taken care of without thinking about it. But what happens in December? I’ve been thinking that, since the team as a whole will hear the December PF topic on Nov 1, and we’ll quickly start brainstorming on it (provided I actually have repeat offenders next year), starting the noobs in PF in December makes some sense for that reason alone. Unfortunately, there are more novice LD opportunities after the turn of the year than there are novice PF ops. There’s no question that the debate community has yet to embrace Novice PF in this region, despite the popularity of PF overall. Old habits die hard, I guess.

Of course, the switch time will never be set as hard and fast. Some folks may never want to switch, and I’m certainly not going to force them. And maybe I’m deluding myself that I’ll have enough novices to create even a single PF team, considering how tiny the Huddian Navy is at the moment.

Oh, well. Thoughts to ponder as a plough the waters of the Cur.

Monday, February 27, 2012


It's Google that translates superpowers as superpuissances. That doesn't sound right to me. Any French scholars among the VCA? I much prefer Les Puissances Grandes.

Et voila, les superpuissances

It is only to ask, to receive. A partial list:

Public Forum Debate:

The judges gets to flip pro or con before the round. Then both teams are on the same side. Whoever is the most con or pro, wins.

Your topic is: Ron Paul would make a better president than Newt Gingrich.

Switch partners: Judge gets to decide who pairs with who.

Famous Coach Who Will Remain Nameless Power: the judge gives a live commentary throughout the round, letting the debaters know how s/he is feeling about arguments, the round, or life in general.

Judge asks all the questions in all cross-examinations. 

You can be as nasty as you want in crossfire. The nastiest team wins.

You cannot be nasty in crossfire. The nicest team wins.

Your topic is: Newt Gingrich is a good example of American family values. 

Final Refocus: You get one extra three minute speech.

Your topic is: The NFL ought to have better PF topics.

The Fifth Amendment -- the team with the power can refuse to answer any question posed by the opposition without penalty.

Judge decides who goes first and on which side, after listening to two minute argument from each team on what he/she should do.

Your topic is: Birthright citizenship should be abolished in France. [Cruz comment: this is evil.]

Mr. District Attorney -- the judge gets to intervene if someone is being unduly evasive in CX/crossfire.

Resolved: The costs of a college education outweigh the benefits. Both sides must go Pro.

Add or subtract a word in the resolution.

Lincoln-Douglas Debate:

Special guest star: a varsity debater will give a speech of your choosing for you.

Phone a friend: you can have a partner with you through the entire debate to advise you.

Strike That: strike any argument or card off the flow. The argument no longer exists and the judge may not consider it in the round.

The speaker points of both debaters will be determined based entirely on speaking.

Katie Menick Lives: debaters have three minutes to review their cases prior to the start of the affirmative constructive, but must extemporize their cases without notes.

Extra two minutes total of speaking time to be added to any speech(es) of your choice. 

The 1AR will be five minutes long.

The 3NR: you get a bonus speech

Famous Coach Who Will Remain Nameless Power: the judge gives a live commentary throughout the round, letting the debaters know how s/he is feeling about arguments, the round, or life in general.

No prep.

Only one side gets prep

Mr. District Attorney -- the judge gets to intervene if someone is being unduly evasive in CX/crossfire.

The Fifth Amendment -- the team with the power can refuse to answer any question posed by the opposition without penalty.

The judge is God -- the judge gets to decide which team/individual upholds which side.

Add or subtract a word in the resolution.

Policy Debate:

Evidence Interpretation: The HI Policy Round

No prep (can be used for LD too) [Cruz comment: this is especially evil.]

Only one side gets prep (can be used for LD too)  [Cruz comment: this is the most evil of all!]

Strike That: strike any argument or card off the flow. The argument no longer exists and the judge may not consider it in the round.
Famous Coach Who Will Remain Nameless Power: the judge gives a live commentary throughout the round, letting the debaters know how s/he is feeling about arguments, the round, or life in general.

The 3NR: you get a bonus speech

Policy: Inside Out: The negative starts and ends the debate. In other words, every speech that is usually an aff speech is a neg speech and the reverse.

The judge is God -- the judge gets to decide which team/individual upholds which side.

The Fifth Amendment -- the team with the power can refuse to answer any question posed by the opposition without penalty.

Policy can have the guest star power, the phone a friends power and the 3NR power.

Mr. District Attorney -- the judge gets to intervene if someone is being unduly evasive in CX/crossfire.

Add or subtract a word in the resolution.

So long, MHL

I just shut down the MHL for the year by marginally updating the site and putting in the info on the next tournament, which is the First-Timers on Oct 20.

Oct 20? Yikes. I'd better start ordering buses.

Of course, I'll have to update for real at some point, with the dates of the actual tournaments and whatnot. Talk has been that the Nov event will be in Spackenkill, loosely tied into a Vassar event, but it's early days to really believe that it will happen. The People's Champion is working on it, though. (Speaking of which, he's now officially a Bronx Science graduate. Who knew?) And January will be a bust, but then again, in 2013 Beacon will be the New Improved Beacon, now featuring Rooms! Not much else will change, though.

I love the MHL. I love a league devoted entirely to newbies. Get 'em while they're young, eh?

Lingering vs loitering

Loitering is a crime?

In which the meatloaves come home to roost

I guess we should take it as a milestone that we now have the Official Meatloaf of the MHL, but if you followed the excitement on Saturday, you know that there was some dispute on how official this meatloaf really was. It looks as if O’C, having scarfed down enormous quantities of said loaf up at Monticello (and I can’t imagine when, since he wasn’t at the tournament, so he must have shot up there some other time specifically to serve loafish ends), and proclaimed it the best to ever walk the earth, so to speak, the chef responded by baking another one especially for him (although it must be noted that, if the rumors are correct, if wasn’t exactly baked yet, but I may be wrong about that). Upon its arrival at Horace Mann, the niftiest tournament site since they stopped letting us use the Taj Mahal, O’C immediately publicly announced the officialness of the item, thus leading all and sundry to believe that there was meatloaf in our luncheon future, only to have our hopes dashed when it turned out that there was meatloaf solely in O’C’s future, no doubt in between trips to Japonica, which as I understand it does not serve meatloaf, and sees in this pile of meat a grave threat to its hegemony over O’C (whose mayoralty is in serious meatloafian jeopardy over this whole incident). Much agina was felt over all of this on Saturday, and promises were made, but I will point out that the meatloaf disappeared way before lunchtime and never was served to the teeming masses, and anyone who wants a slice will apparently have to go Chez O’C to get it (unless he left it behind at HM, abandoning it in shame, or maybe he was fearful of carrying it on the subway—if there was ever a mugger magnet, the Official Meatloaf of the MHL would be it).

The MHL Blowout lived up to its reputation. This is the tournament where people draw superpowers (or whatever you want to call them). Maybe they get a new topic in PF. Maybe they get an extra speech, or the judge gets to make a running commentary of the round as it progresses (a highly coveted power for judges, needless to say). My favorite is that you can add or subtract a single word to the resolution, although I was also kind of fond of the PF round where one side was Pro and the other side had to be even More Pro. Everyone accepted these with good humor, and we spent a lot of time announcing them and milking them for all they were worth. We of course only got three rounds in, but we expected that.

We also give medals to every novice attending, as an acknowledgement of their work over the year, regardless of how they did competitively. It is not whether you win or lose, but how much you learn that ultimately matters, but still, it’s nice to win, and it’s nice to get awards. Here we theoretically bow to the idea of Unnecessary Enhancements to Self-Respect, but with the extra fillip that every award has a name, bestowed by the novice’s teammates. Some of them were pretty nutty, and all of them were fun, and nobody had to carry home a big heavy box of medals, allowing them instead room to carry home a big heavy box of, ahem, meatloaf.

And thus ends another season of the MHL, not with a whimper but with a blowout. Nice.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oh, the humanity

It's late in the day. The rounds are ending, and we'll soon go to the awards ceremony. But it is a sad group of high school students and coaches. Not one has tasted any of the Official Meat Loaf of the MHL. It was so tightly wrapped, we couldn't even smell it.

And we're starting to get hungry. Tea time has come and gone, without tea. And certainly without baked animal flesh fashioned into convenient brick shapes for stacking. (Why do they do this, anyhow? Who, exactly, stacks meat loaves?)

A long day of MHL ignominy is about to conclude...

Important Update on the Official Meat Loaf of the MHL

After Jon Cruz has given the Official Meat Loaf of Jon Cruz back to the MHL, hence making it once again the Official Meat Loaf of the Metro-Hudson League, the chef of the Official Meat Loaf of the Metro-Hudson League has advised that it needs to be cooked with a top, which can't be done here at Horace Mann, even though the tuition is higher for kindergarten than for freshman year at Harvard. Hence, the meat loaf has been renamed The Official Meat Loaf of Jon Cruz. Again.

Sigh. So many young students drooling over the idea of an official meat loaf, so few getting even a scent of the official meat loaf. It is a debate tragedy of unprecedented proportions.

You call this an official meat loaf?

Today we designated the Official Meat Loaf of the Metro-Hudson League. However, it turns out that this particular meat loaf is, in fact, not for the MHL, but for the private consumption of the director of forensics at a certain urban high school that will remain unnamed (The Bronx High School of Science). If you ask me, this makes it the Official Meat Loaf of Jon Cruz.

But what do I know?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Post #1800, in which the waxing is philosophical

Riding back from Penn on our rather small bus was about the usual. It was a one seat per person arrangement, with one of those seats occupied by the driver’s mother. I can appreciate that; it’s a long drive from the Port of Hud to beautiful downtown Philadelphia, and who would want to travel it alone if they didn’t have to? Apparently Mumsy was also the navigator, although the trip back demonstrated that neither mother nor daughter had the greatest grasp of northeast geography. I stayed awake long enough to get them heading north on the Jersey Turnpike, and then dozed up through about Newark, at which point I overheard their nefarious travel plans that seemed to include anything but the shortest distance between two points. I managed to extricate them from their doomed path through the slough of despond (which in fact is not another name for the Jersey swamplands), up the Palisades and over the Tappan Zee and up toward Henhudville, but every time there was a turn and I told them which way to head, they looked at me as if I were the devil incarnate. No, I told them, the devil incarnate was up at Harvard this weekend. It’s just me and I know where I’m going.


Fortunately the Speecho-Americans were also all pooped out, and slept rather than sang, although they do seem to have a pathological dedication to Mad Libs. I like Mad Libs as much as the next person, but after the first couple of hours, I sort of lose interest. Also, there was much discussion of ballot remarks, and for those of a debatish cast, it’s good to know that there is an IE version of the “more persuasive” judge comment, which is to say, “Great job!” and rank the person 6 out of 6.

Jeesh again.

At one point the conversation drifted to the nature of tournaments, and the sadness with which one must face the real world the following morning. To this I say, so true. Forensics tournaments are not the real world by any means, but they are a complete and unique world all on their own. Unlike the real world, which just trundles along without any particular narrative, they have a beginning, a middle and an end, with a true narrative arc regardless of how one is doing at the tournament. They have the excitement of anticipation, the journey to the venue, the adrenaline of performance, the awaiting of results, the socializing, the move toward the elimination rounds, the climax of a final and the anticlimax of the award ceremony. Aristotle would have recognized the form of drama in all of this, and the cathartic nature of the business. For me, going from one fully formed unique world of my DJ to this other fully formed unique world, it all becomes extremely narrative, but with no narrative being the defining one. Absent home life and family, which is one’s most defining narrative (even if virtually non-existent), one is defined by one’s role in one’s most regular pursuit. Having two regular pursuits becomes rather odd. Am I an editor or a debate coach? Depends on who you ask, I guess. How do those narratives define me? They totally blend, of course.

The same holds true for students. Having a full and rich extra world is not the norm in high school. Yes, there are other activities aside from school per se, but few as whole and intact as forensics. And as all-encompassing and self-defining. Often students prioritize forensics over general school as their defining activity intellectually and socially. Some commitments to sports come close, I think. Not much else, though. We all enter this full other world and redefine ourselves, or add multitudes to our previous definitions.

Interesting. Is the attraction the content of the world, or the mere existence of the world? It probably depends on who you ask. But world it is, and the results are, well, up to you.

And then I listened to Avenue Q...

Well, I wasn’t exactly true to my podcasting plans. I did check Skype last night at 9:00, saw no one lit up, and immediately went on to other things. Then again, no discussion had ensued during the day about TVFTing, so what did I expect? I need to set better ground rules or something. Part of it might be that I really don’t want to do it every week. Every other week sounds much more sane. How much of people whining about debate can anyone take, after all? In addition to what they get in person, that is.

And I will point out for you audiobook fans that 1Q84, which I started listening to on January 2, 2012, ended this morning. This is at the rate of about an hour and a half a day. I obviously enjoyed it, or I would have bailed weeks ago, but still, that’s almost 8 solid weeks. And to think I was considering George R. R. Martin! I can read him way faster than I can listen to him, I’ll bet. As a listen, I wouldn’t necessary recommend or not recommend the Murakami. If you’re really looking for a good audiobook, grab Stephen Fry reading Hitchhiker’s Guide—pure bliss.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The joys of reply all

Next year's calendar starts out fine, and then goes into Cloud Cuckoo Land once the calendar turns 2013. MLK weekend is late, and that's Lexington weekend. There's the usual number of weekends in the month, but the first one is rather orphaned by having only a couple of days preceding it, meaning that Emory is the weekend following Lexington, then Newark, then Scarsdale. In all of this, there must by a Columbia; I'm suggesting that it fall on the Emory weekend, as it's done in the past, with no harm done to either event. It could conceivably move to the weekend before Lex, but I don't like that for a number of reasons, mostly because it's hard to get much of a tournament going that early after the holidays.

We'll see. After that, things fall out normally enough. It does seem that every year there's one month that goes awry. Next season, January is that month.

(I point this out because some yabbo is trying to put together a tournament calendar, and he sent out an email to the usual suspects, and virtually all of them have responded to all, rather than to him. Honestly, I'm glad they have, or I never would have realized that Lex was as late as it is.)

20 rules for judging at debate tournaments

1. Read the schematic. Yes, you could stand in front of the ballot table and block everybody else while you're looking for your name among the ballots that are sorted alphabetically which, apparently, isn't something you're familiar with, but on the other hand, if you simply looked at the schematic, you'd see your name, or not, and you'd know exactly what you're supposed to do.

2. Hang around nearby until all the ballots are distributed. Yes, you'd rather do anything but judge, but judging is your job at a tournament, so just do it. If you pick up ballots that are pushed, you will get a reputation in the tab room as a living saint, and this will benefit you in all considerations forensical. Nothing has a longer memory than a tabber.

3. Write a paradigm that is no longer than one paragraph. For the most part, either you're an old fart or a new fart, and either you can handle speed or you can't. Other than that, nothing really matters, and a paradigm that is longer than the constitution of Uzbekistan does credit neither to you nor to the Uzbekistanis.

4. Do not be the last person to return your ballots. By the same quirk of tabber memory that brings down sainthood on the ever available, vilification is thine if, every single round, we're waiting for you to make up that confused chopped salad laughingly referred to as your mind. If the round is too difficult for you to adjudicate, flip a coin. If you're always the slowest person in the room you probably don't understand much of it anyhow, so don't kid yourself.

5. Pick up your ballots right away. If you wish to coach your teams, fine, but do it with a ballot in your hands. We will only wait so long for you to show up, and then we'll push your ballot. The debaters who were expecting you to adjudicate (and you were one of their A+ judges), and finds instead one of their D- judges, will quickly figure out that you're one of those bozos who is time-telling challenged when it comes to getting to rounds, and you will sink in their estimation to a D-, and they will whine to all their friends, and the next thing you know, you're judging all the 0-4 rounds.

6. Don't complain to tab that you are getting too many ballots. See number 2 above. Judging is your job. Do it.

7. Don't complain to tab that you are not getting enough ballots. The reason for this is probably because the field at large struck you, including all the people in the 0-4 bracket. It probably took years for you to earn the reputation as one of the worst judges in the field. Savor it. All the other judges envy your lazing in the judge lounge. Again.

8. Don't complain to tab that you don't like the rounds to which you are being assigned. The software does it, not us. See number 7, above. If it were up to us, you would judge every round as far away as possible, because the further you are from us, and the more often, the better.

9. Put your phone away. Yes, it is nice to check Facebook every three minutes of your life so that the airheads titularly referred to as your friends can see your whiny post about having to judge 0-4 rounds, but your job is to judge, not to text. Texting is your hobby, yes, and the one thing you are capable of doing marginally well, but it is not a marketable skill, nor is it a worthy athletic achievement, so leave it alone for the next hour or so.

10. Do not pick up someone else's ballot. Even if you engage in barbaric acts of the flesh in the back of the bus with this person regularly, your ballot is your ballot and that person's ballot is that person's. You are not interchangeable in debate terms, even though you may be interchangeable in all other general life situations, thus throwing into disarray the ontological concept of Human Worth.

11. Do not write messages to tab on the ballot. We don't read them. All we care about is points and winners. If you want to talk to us, come and talk to us. We do not scour the ballots for the crumbs of wisdom the judge pool is leaving for us. Really, we don't, hard as it is to believe.

12. Do not write your RFD on the back of the ballot. It will not be copied. Duh.

13. Do not write your ballot in light blue pencil. It will not be copied. Duh.

14. Unless someone has told you otherwise, give either whole or half points. If you don't, we will. We will also wonder why you weren't paying attention when no one told you otherwise.

15. Don't come into tab and ask us questions while we're huddled over the computer. Either we're pairing the rounds or we're playing Sporcle, and neither activity should be disturbed for any reason short of the building being on fire or a student's bleeding.

16. Inform the tab room of conflicts before we pair the rounds, not after we've assigned you to judge a person with whom you engage in barbaric acts of the flesh in the back of the bus.

17. Don't argue with Joe Vaughan. It won't do you any good. It has never done anyone any good. That's just the way it is. Deal with it.

18. Don't ask when the next round is coming out. As a general rule, the next round comes out after the last round goes in. If we could pair every round of the tournament a day early, I assure you we would do it. Keep in mind that, no matter when you get out at night, the tab room gets out later, meaning that we want things to move just as much as you do, if not more so.

19. Do not come to tab to tell us that you shouldn't be judging because you don't know what you're doing, because we took one look at you and were able to figure that out for ourselves. This is a problem between you and your coach, not you and the tab room. If it's actually true, at the very least you should tell the debaters you're judging, so that they will adapt to a newcomer (which they will do gladly, if they have any sense and would rather pick up a ballot than preserve the ideal nature of debate the way they do it, which should not be sullied by people who can't understand their amazing albeit chimerical brilliance).

20. If a team doesn't show up for a round, you could either never tell us, or let us know after about ten minutes, the normal amount of time to agree to a forfeit. Guess which one we recommend!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ah, the joys of sleeping in on Monday

Penn was pretty straightforward. With all the registrations being done on tabroom, there wasn’t any point in going to the school Friday, so after our bus navigated the shoals of Philadelphian traffic, I just socialized with my team and, for a little while, with CP. The tournament hotel, the Crowne Plaza, once again did a fine job of settling us in and, what I like more than anything, supplying us with tokens for the trolley. One expects a trolley to be very Clang Clang Clang and Judy Garlandish, but this one is underground, sort of like Dostoevsky visits the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, if you get my drift. Climbing down a set of steep steps with my printer bag on Saturday was nothing compared to climbing up a double set of steep steps at the school stop. Normally I grab the first debatish person I can find to help me schlep, but I was so early I was on my own, wondering what the odds were that I would have a heart attack, and why I was going to have to die in Philadelphia, which just seems too W. C. Fields for words. But somehow I survived, and then things went normally, or at least normal enough. I can only run a tournament as fast as the ballots come in; if you’re ever sitting around, wondering what’s going on in tab and cursing us for not putting out the next batch of ballots, please understand that in tab we’re cursing you for not bringing in the last batch of ballots. And the answer to the question, When is the next round coming out, is, Right after the last one comes in. Although I’m pretty good at guessing results, most debaters prefer to go by their real record rather than the one I’ve imagined for them. We are not getting hot stone massages in the sauna lodge when we should be pairing rounds; we save that for after all the ballots are picked up.

I ran the LDs; Kaz and La Coin ran PF and Policy. I wasn’t particularly strapped for judges until Sunday, although I soldiered through, while PF, because it single-flighted rounds 5 and 6, was beating the bushes big time. Policy, on the other hand, just didn’t have a lot of leftovers, but somehow they managed to find someone every time. As for numbers, with PF over a hundred, you’re talking some serious juju. LD was smaller, but not tiny. It gets a little bigger every year. We’re obviously not getting people chasing LD TOC bids, since there aren’t any, but the competition isn’t a pushover either. I think that as more people get tired of paying Harvard prices (especially considering that the lower prices at Penn go to PYDF rather than Penn’s own team’s coffers), this will change a little bit, but as long as Harvard has an octas bid and Penn has none, the dreamers among us will continue to believe that they really can win an enormous national tournament even though in the past the best they’ve done at a national tournament of any sort is finding a quarter under their seat in the auditorium while others have taken all the tin. You can see it in the eyes. Everyone at a tournament thinks, in some corner of their mind, that they could win it. Look at those 6 Speecho-American finalists on the stage at any award ceremony. They all think that someone else probably won it, but they hold on to that hope that, well, it might be them. Every time a name is announced that isn’t theirs sets that little forensic heart a’ beating…

I think the biggest problem with Harvard is sheer size. It’s too big to accommodate everyone comfortably, so it accommodates them uncomfortably. There’s long breaks between rounds, and it takes three days rather than two. One of the things we’ve insisted on at the tournaments I’ve been working is that we set limits and stick to them. At the point where you run out of rooms to move a tournament along, you’re done. I always used to enjoy the two hours up, two hours down business that we did this year at Princeton (where I first encountered it years ago) and Columbia. Just enough time to get food and relax a bit, keeping things easy on the judges, but at the same time, just enough time to dump one event and make room for the next, so you can run precisely on time. Penn is nearing its size limits, but there are things that can be done, for instance, staggering the speech rounds over a longer day: they had it easy. If push came to shove, I’d eliminate the novice LD division if Varsity expanded or if PF grows. I’m dubious about maintaining policy, but it needs to have a chance to take root. Anyhow, we talked a lot about next year, and how things would improve. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a fun tournament that I like quite a bit, and when it’s over, I’m home Sunday night and I get to sleep in and relax on Monday. Perfect way to spend a holiday weekend.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Battle of the (Debate) Bands, Pt 2

UPenn used to run in the Fall. It came late to the game, so to speak, so Yale had claimed one weekend, and Monticello had claimed another. That left one weekend that was, as often as not, on the Jewish holidays. I went down there once, and had a pretty good time. Our team did well, and I enjoyed the nice weather on the nice campus, but I don’t think we ever went back again more than once, because they started competing with Monticello, which for me was no contest. High schools always trump colleges, simple as that. As for competing with Yale, I don’t think they ever did, but that was beside the point. Yale had become about the worst run tournament on the planet, and I simply didn’t go at all. Midnight is a little late to start a round, if you ask me… The rebirth of Yale is another story altogether.

I lost track of UPenn for a while, because it always seemed to be some weekend when I was already booked, or something. I couldn’t tell you why I wasn’t going. It had nothing to do with UPenn per se. But for all practical purposes they were a a tournament roaming the desert, lost and lorn.

Meanwhile, there was Harvard. First of all, in terms of owning weekends, discussed last time, keep in mind that there is no reason why two complementary tournaments can’t run on the same weekend. For instance, for the longest time we ran MHLs on the same weekends as various invitationals. The invitationals were for the varsity and the MHLs, usually at a nearby school in the same district, were for the young ‘uns. This worked well, and we might do it again in the future in Poughkeepsie. On the other hand, the year that there was a weekend collision caused by Emory (which didn’t give a crap, if you asked me, if their playing fast and loose with their weekend hurt the community they were allegedly supporting with their tournament), and Scarsdale and Newark were on the same weekend, was a nightmare. I love both of these tournaments. Having to pick one was a mug’s game. No one was happy.

Anyhow, the idea that you could run another tournament on the same weekend as Harvard isn’t exactly unheard of, at least not in California, where they do just that, at the Octas bid level. But there’s not a big conflict, because of geography. But what if… What if people wanted to run some other tournament, also in the northeast, on the same weekend as Harvard? Why would that be? And what would be the goal of that other tournament? What need would it fill, what constituency would it serve?

Well, let’s look at the facts, rather than the opinions. It doesn’t matter if people think that Harvard is a good, bad or indifferent tournament. I have my opinions, but I haven’t been there in years for a reason that is not subjective: It’s too expensive. My team can’t afford it. The last time we were there we spent the equivalent of our entire annual budget the subsequent year, after we lost some funding (ever hear of the economy?). I couldn’t afford to go if I wanted to. The tournament itself is more expensive than any other invitational, plus the cost of hotels in Boston is prohibitive. End of story.

So the thinking at UPenn was, why not offer an affordable alternative in the northeast? Offer top drawer tabbing, get good deals at hotels, genial hospitality, charge reasonable fees, get it over by Sunday night and keep the numbers workable. It was hoped that, if we did it, they would come. And they did. Not in great numbers at first, but ever growing. This year the PF field was over a hundred, from near and far. The speech fields were very competitive, and LD was no pushover. Plus, there was a novice LD division. The popularity of the tournament is set. The move to this weekend was a good one. I think CP was the one who had it. He was right. Simple as that.

You don’t have to choose between Harvard and UPenn because they’re offering different tournaments. You pick the one that’s right for you. If you don’t know which that might be, try both in subsequent years. The thing is, there’s plenty of forensicians out there, enough to fill both these tournaments, and Berkeley out in California, and probably a bunch of others as well. The key to being a good coach is not only working with the team but finding the right venues for your team to compete. If you have limited funds, that’s also an issue, and one that might preclude all college tournaments, because honestly, once you throw in big cities and hotels and the like, the price tag is high no matter how you slice it. Plenty of teams go a long way paying little or nothing at local leagues, and you know something? The educational value to the students is just about the same. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to roam around the real world one day and look at how the lessons of forensics are integrated into lives and careers.

Anyhow, I could offer all kinds of other reasons in favor of UPenn or against Harvard, but they’re not as straightforward as the simple fact that ownership of a weekend isn’t literal. My tournament owns its weekend, but there’s plenty of tournaments around the country on that same weekend. There’s a speech tournament just down the road, run by my local CFL league. A conflict? Hardly. A complement? Indeed. UPenn and Harvard are complementary. Both can fill up to the brim absent attendance at the other, so any competition between the two is more perceived than real.

Me, I’ll keep going to UPenn. We have fun in the tab room, it’s a short walk to Starbucks, there’s a great food court in the basement (moose tracks ice cream!), a nice tournament hotel that gives you tokens for the trolley, and it’s about the same distance from my school as Boston. If someone on my team wants to chase a TOC bid up in the yard, they do so with my blessing (and on their dime). But the team as a whole, we’re with the Quakers.

The Battle of the (Debate) Bands, Pt 1

In the comments, New Coach asks why UPenn and Harvard are on the same weekend, and if they could go on separate weekends.

So much history. So little time.

First of all, in debate, you’ve got to understand the concept of weekend. A weekend is an item of time that is devoted to debate tournaments. If a tournament has been around long enough, it is perceived as owning that weekend. So let’s say that, for argument’s sake, there is no tournament in a region on the second weekend of November. That would be an open weekend. Any school wishing to claim that weekend can start a tournament thereon. If the tournament is any good, it will get a reputation and people will show up in decent numbers, and before long, that weekend belongs to that tournament. By the same token, if the tournament sucks, it will also get a reputation and people will stay away in droves; that weekend, in the state of debate nature, is seen as up for grabs.

Some tournaments work toward attracting a national audience. The same rules apply, at the beginning, but if they work real hard and eat all their vegetables, they too can become national.

In the northeast, there is a debate tournament every weekend. Some are really local/regional/limited; e.g., NYCFL tournaments are only open to schools in the region of the archdiocese who are also members of the organization. Others are open to one and all and attract members of the region, and perhaps a few outliers, at varying numbers; Bump, for instance, fills up all its rooms and brings in folks from the northeast and down the coast a little, with the odd Pennsylvanian. Still others are national, like Big Bronx. The thing is, every one of these events is always on the same weekend. There is no point for me to decide that I want to move to the Big Bronx weekend, for instance. It is their weekend, and I would obviously put them completely out of business with the attraction of fewer award ceremonies and a handsomer tournament director, but I’m too fond of them to make same suffer such ignominious disgrace.

So by unwritten agreement, we all take our weekends and run with them. If someone new comes along who wants to run a tournament, they can try going up against an established tournament, or they can wait for an opening. And openings do come. I used to run in December, subject to the ice and the snow. When NFA decided not to run anymore on their weekend in early November, I quickly claimed that weekend, at which point Ridge took my December weekend. (Of course, there was discussion among the metaphorical Five Debate Families about this, to be sure that everyone was on board and didn’t have a conflicting claim.) Occasionally a tournament looks dead in the water but refuses to go away. In those cases sharp hunters may come a’ stalking—there’s no law that says a tournament has to run forever, if it’s not serving its constituency. Which is why, on TVFT, we advise that if someone wants to start a tournament, they should have a good reason to do so, and a meaningful constituency they want to attract. Just doing it because you want to do it won’t work, especially if you don’t have a reputation in debate. For instance, when Scarsdale opened up, they had a clearly established record as a serious debate school, and JV instituted some interesting new wrinkles that were very attractive in the region, especially the V judging the Ns, adding a whole new educational aspect. People showed up from day one because they knew they could trust the venue to do a good job. The event has been growing ever since, and is now a fixture.

Tournaments can be dicey, though, as everyone knows who has ever been to one. There is, to begin with, the ebb and flow of life in general. Changes of leadership of a team can change a tournament, for the better or worse (or not at all). Tournaments that work hard to make their experience a good one for all and sundry tend to thrive. Tournaments that work hard to collect your money and do not provide amenities or good judging (that you’ve often paid for) or whatever, tend to earn people’s distaste and distrust, and those people will, as a result, vote with their feet. If I look at a tournament as a bad experience, I don’t go. I’ve got plenty of tournaments I do go to; more than enough, actually. Why would I support one that doesn’t suit my needs or doesn’t deliver the goods? It’s not my money, after all. I’m spending the school’s dollar. They deserve a decent return on their investment.

(Cont'd next time.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Saints preserve us

The Speecho-Americans on my bus are singing their little hearts out. If I had a kitchen knife, I could beat them to it.

Oh, for a bevy of debaters. Not one has ever tried to sing, and I applaud them for it.

I'd rather be in Philadelphia

I have officially posted the Coachean Debate Dictionary (V1.0) in the greatest hits. You may think of it as less than a greatest hit. You may think of it as the greatest miss, or a sacrifice fly, or a bunt, but I liked it, and it's my website, and who needs you, you spalpeen!!!

I leave today for the Venice of Pennsylvania, or whatever they call it. They probably do call it the Venice of Pennsylvania, since about half the places I've visited in my life have been the Venice of something or other, including Venice, which refers to itself as the Venice of Italy, which is a hell of a lot better than the Philadelphia of Italy, at least in my estimation. I was once in a car driving from the Oklahoma City airport to the University of Oklahoma, looking out on a bleak, flat expanse of bleak flatness, and the driver proudly announced that there is more waterfront property in Oklahoma than any other state. I did not challenge this statement; no doubt Oklahoma City is the Venice of Oklahoma, and I'm perfectly happy to let people believe what they want to believe. I've read my John Stuart Mill. I'm down with both liberty and truth. (Does anybody still read John Stuart Mill anymore? Does anybody still wear a hat?)

To all those at those other schools holding tournaments this weekend, have fun. In a way, this is the end of the normal season for all practical purposes. In these here parts, we're on to the MHL blowout and the various qualifiers and finals, with only lone lorn Lakeland between us and invitational freedom. The golf clubs are staring at me from their berth in the basement, and I am staring back.


Thursday, February 16, 2012


So the only person who showed up last night for TVFT was O'C, and he and I talked about the whole number of topics question. Next Wednesday at 9:00 I will again be at my Skpye-ish post, bringing in voices from down your street and up your alley and across the universe to discuss...something. Anyhow, the new one is posted at the usual place. Or will shortly arrive on your device of choice via the magic of RSS, reminding you once again that it's time to upgrade your RSS and get rid of the damned thing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


We are really bad at doing The View From Tab. First of all, as often as not, we can't get a quorum. Am I the only person in the world who isn't busy at 9:00 on a Wednesday night? We originally chose that time because of its likely availability. Who knew that it would eventually rival Saturday night at the singles bars, or wherever these people hang out when they're not TVFTing. (Actually, on Saturday nights they're most likely on a bus home from some high school in the middle of nowhere, so maybe that's not the best example.) I mean, we've even gotten Japonica to set up a private recording studio just for O'C, and that hasn't proven enough!

Then there's the whole technical thing. You would think that by now we would know what we are doing, but every now and then we try something new, and all hell breaks loose. It needs to be written on the wall: Do What You Did Last Time. No new computers. No cell phones. No new versions of Skype. No new headsets. One of these or another has been our most normal downfall; last week, because I kept looking for PJ (sounds like a lost Tennessee Williams play, "Looking for PJ") I got Skype all befuddled and never captured the audio. I never did find how to get the list of contacts to pop up, a real flaw when it comes to looking for your contacts.

Every Wednesday morning one of us emails the group and asks if we're doing it tonight. When enough of us agree, then around 9:00 we round one another up and start the proceedings. Since I'm the one who posts it and marginally edits it, I start the conference call.


We may or may not get one off tonight. In any case, starting here, starting now, at 9:00 on Wednesdays I'll be on Skype and I'll turn on the recording. If you want to get on the podcast, find me and I'll add you to the call. It's not as if there isn't a lot to talk about; that whole subject of the choosing of topics, for instance, has a lot of life in it. Think about it: the March-April LD topic is targeted killing. What infinitesimally small percentage of LDers will debate it? What a waste!

Got Skype? And a decent microphone? Or is Wednesday night your Singles Night too?

Military bases in the Middle East

I would call this the map of the day, via P.A.P. blog.

The French

I'm beginning to think that everything I don't like about certain tribes of narrow-minded Americans is nothing more than a demonstration of their solidarity with the French.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jules, on the other hand, is fomenting revolution somewhere in Overthereistan

For all practical purposes, Scarsdale is a single-flighted LD tournament. We start with one division, then go on to the next; the wrinkle is that some of the varsity is in the novice judging pool. Numbers being what they were, we were able to limit rounds judged to two per person, which isn't bad. When the tournament first started, it was more like every round, and we had to carry the varsity debaters out on gurneys.

Those were the good old days.

In the tab room, this means that while we're regularly engaged, there's not a lot of pressure, because we have all of this round to get out the next round. Meanwhile, PF runs in a traditional double-flight mode. Kaz and I were doing LD; O'C and CP were doing PF. In other words, the tab room was quite entertaining, with just about all of the usual suspects. For the record, O'C, when he now wanders off, says he's going to X, which according to him, means that he's not wandering off. Right. Meanwhile, due to the Penal Colony aspects of the school, you can't use your phone and there's no access to Sporcle, but CP managed to bypass that and we found the best game ever, identifying movies by letters of the alphabet. There were only the first 5 or so, though. Sporcle! Get going! We're depending on you.

I'm not sure what possessed my to compile the dictionary, but I'm polishing it up now, adding a few missing pieces and improving what needs improving. I hope to publish a permanent version, in alphabetical order, by the end of the week. This is what happens when I have extra time on my hands. Speaking of which, some random Bronxwegian came up to me to tell me he likes Nostrum; why is he telling me this? The Nostrumite was actually at the tournament. Why not tell him? Jeesh.

You confounded anchor baby!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Coachean Debate Dictionary, Installment 6

Eponymous debate round: 1. At Big Bronx, a round named after someone who, if they are judging the round, is struck by all the debaters.

Menick time: 1. Five minutes ago as the starting time for the next round. And that's when I'm feeling generous.

Judge paradigm: 1. Specific exegesis, often online, of precisely what nonsense up with which a judge will put.

Speed: 1. That thing that, when you asked about it, you were told not really, but you ignored it and when as fast as humanly possible anyhow, so why did you bother to ask in the first place?

They: 1. The people actually running a tournament, as compared to the tournament director and the tab staff, who are simply the front men. Often quoted throughout the tournament: "They say they're breaking only one 4-2..." "I hear that They are going to break all winning records, including the 3-3s..." "They are going to have 8 rounds...." "They ate all the bagels..."

Coachean Debate Dictionary, Installment 5

Signposting: 1. Clearly stating in a round the argument to which you are responding, so that the opponents and judges will know what you are talking about. (NOTE: Novice only. After that, it's every man for himself.)

Road map: 1. Overview before a speech explaining where the speech will go and in what order. Usually more confusing than the actual speech, and seldom an accurate prediction of what will be talked about. 2. A good way to figure out what you're going to talk about next without running down the clock of either prep or speaking time.

Card: 1. A piece of evidence. (Source: Originally all evidence was written on index cards, hence this usage. Anyone who can remember when all evidence was written on index cards should be an automatic strike for all varsity debaters.)

Warrant: 1. Good reason for doing something, i.e., the motivation behind an argument. (Mythical.) 2. What your arguments have that your opponents' arguments don't have, and vice versa.

Assertion: 1. 99% of what you hear in any debate round.

a priori argument: 1. An argument that bears no relationship to the concept of a priori argument, but is rather something you expect the judge to accept without your having to prove it. Let's face it: Kant only came up with two a priori concepts; if yours isn't one of them, well, I knew Immanuel Kant and you? You are no Immanuel Kant!

Social contract: 1. Concept in political philosophy regarding rights, society and the individual that applies only to novice debaters; anyone in their second or later year of debate arguing the social contract receives an automatic forfeit.

Justice: 1. Value in an LD round where the debater couldn't come up with anything better.

Values debate: 1. What LD no longer is.

Wording committee: 1. Confused collection of NFL members chosen at random for their inability to manipulate the English language (LD). 2. A random NFL staffer tossing a dart at a copy of today's newspaper (PF).

Institute: 1. Debate summer camp. 2. The road to perdition. 3. Money for nothing (when applied to college student instructors).

Evidence: 1. Proof that what a debater is saying is correct. 2. Measurement tool (PF); the team with the most evidence, regardless of whether or not it is introduced in a round, wins. Simply putting a substantial accordion folder on a desktop is good enough in most situations. 3. What LD didn't have back when it was good.

Drop / pick up: 1. A loss (drop) or win (pick-up) in a round. (Usage: The judge dropped his ass faster than a tasteless joke that shouldn't be printed here.)

Dropped argument:
1. An argument that is never mentioned again in a round. If a debater drops an argument, it was of no consequence and does not play into the reason for decision; if an opponent drops an argument, it is the only crucial argument that was made in the round and should be the only reason for decision.

Judge panel: 1. A group of judges, usually 3, adjudicating a single elimination round, chosen by tab so that no two have even remotely the same paradigm.

Runners: 1. Slow moving novices charged with racing ballots to the tab room. Recognizable by the wings on their sandals and the cobwebs on the rest of them.

Major domo: 1. Team member assigned to work with the tab staff, a tournament job that most students would drop in a second if they could, say, milk a swimming pool full of cobras for the day instead, if, indeed, they could tell the difference between the tab staff and a swimming pool full of cobras.

Coachean Debate Dictionary, Installment 4

Schedule: 1. Clearly outlined times for all rounds, meals, housing, awards, etc., at a tournament. Usually fictional.

Novice debater: 1. Student in first year of debate. 2. Student in second, third or fourth year of debate, whose coach doesn't understand the meaning of "first year of debate."

Junior varsity debater: 1. Student in second year of debate. 2. Student in third year of debate that should have joined the chess club.

Varsity debater: 1. Disreputable gangsta with research (policy). 2. Junior varsity policy debater (LD). 3. Mean-spirited high school senior with exceptionally poisonous sneer (PF).

Flow: 1. Notes taken during a round, often but not always reflecting what was said by one or the other of the teams debating.

Disclosure: 1. Learning the decision after the round directly from the judge. (NOTE: Judges who disclose before the round has ended, while being honest, are not necessarily being tactful, and should be warned to wait until a more suitable moment.)

Pre-registration: 1. Entry of names, usually fictitious, at the first possible moment, to insure more slots at a tournament than a school needs. Usually performed online, often by students masquerading as coaches, and occasionally by coaches masquerading as coaches.

Hired judge: 1. Hungover college student, at either graduate or undergraduate level.

School lavatory: 1. Mildly noxious bathroom facilities located throughout the building (day one of tournament). 2. Seriously noxious bathroom facilities located throughout the building (day two of tournament). 3. If there's a day three of tournament, hold it till you get home.

Regional debate: 1. Second rate debate, when referring to regions other than one's own. 2. Top-rate debate being consistently ignored by the TOC committee, when referring to one's own region.

TOC committee: 1. Satanic cabal, possibly non-human, working out of an undisclosed location somewhere in the state of Kentucky.

NFL points: 1. Measurement of how often a debate coach goes online to register that the members of his or her team actually showed up somewhere in a forensic capacity. 2. Mathematical paradox where debaters who lose get more points than IEers who win. 3. What you get for your hundred bucks a year.

Schematic: 1. List of who's debating whom, where, and with which judge. Usually posted online or distributed throughout a tournament hot off the printer. (NOTE: It is generally believed by debate judges that reading a schematic will cause scabies, dengue fever or the yaws, and therefore it is preferable to stand in front of the ballot table trying to find your name in the pile of ballots. Since the number of debate judges who can find their names in a pile of ballots, even when that pile is sorted alphabetically, is woefully small, this usually slows down a tournament by about half an hour per round.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Coachean Debate Dictionary, Installment 3

Judge obligation: 1. The requirement to judge a certain number of rounds as a contingency to your registration. AKA, “Since I’m such a bad judge, you won’t really want me in out rounds,” AKA, “We have to drive a long way to get home, so can we pick up our ballots now,” AKA, “When I didn’t read the registration, I didn’t read that,” AKA, “I’ve never heard of such a thing, but then again, I’ve never been to a debate tournament before and/or I’m a total idiot.”

Mutual Judge Preferences: 1. Both teams rank the judges, and tab finds them their most preferred judge for a round, thus guaranteeing the tragic death of debate as we know it in the US, Canada, the Philippines and the open market.

Community rankings: 1. Everyone attending a debate tournament ranks the judges, and tab places the judges in brackets according to majority rankings, thus guaranteeing the tragic death of debate as we know it in the US, Canada, the Philippines and the open market, albeit at a slower rate than with MJP.

Coin flip: 1. How all sides are determined in break rounds; in LD, if one wins the flip, one can choose to debate either negative or on the losing side. 2. How all sides and precedence in all rounds of PF are determined, except under the purview of the Pope, where sides and precedence are strictly prescribed. (NOTE: In some CFL tournaments other than Nationals, bingo can be substituted for the coin flip.)

Presumption: 1. In Policy debate, the burden of proof that the system must be changed falls on the affirmative, hence the status quo is presumed to be okay as is until determined otherwise in the round, hence there is a “presumption” for the negative. 2. In LD debate, the mistaken idea that LD is policy.

One-clap rule: 1. Instead of people hemorrhaging and participating in virtual orgasms after the announcement of each of their teammates in an award ceremony, the assembled multitudes are limited to one clap per name, except in response to the naming of the winners of an event, in which case hemorrhaging and virtual orgasms will be allowed for up to thirty seconds.

Trophy strut: 1. Ability to walk from one’s seat in the auditorium to the podium in no less than five minutes, moving every part of one’s body except one’s feet, in order to savor the moment, or more to the point, moments.

Bracket: 1. Breakout of who is scheduled to meet whom in which round, so that teams that are larger than the population of North Korea can send troops in to scout the upcoming competition.

Coach-over: 1. When two teams from the same school are scheduled to meet in an elimination round, the coach can choose which team advances. This is usually the team with the better speaker points, unless there is a seniority rule in effect, or some team that is larger than the population of North Korea is trying to break this one and not that one into TOC.

Speaker points: 1. In rounds where the speed is so pervasive that no one understands a word anyone is saying at the time, the random assignment of numbers rating the oratorical ability of each speaker. 2. In rounds where the speed is not so pervasive that no one understands a word anyone is saying at the time, a numbering system from 0 to 30 without any objective criteria, where only some of the numbers are used, often including half points and even tenths of a point, in order to rate the oratorical ability of each speaker. Really. I'm not making this up.

Speaker awards: 1. Recognition of oratorical prowess in activities mostly devoid of oratory.

Bagels: 1. Doughy bread products available only in New York; if a tournament isn’t in New York, whatever that thing is that looks like a bagel, isn’t.

Caffeine: 1. Primary fuel driving the judge pool, available in coffee, tea, carbonated beverages and that stuff like Red Bull that tastes like human waste that costs twice as much (as soda, not twice as much as human waste, which most people can’t even give away). 2. Secondary fuel driving the competitor field, as above. (NOTE: Primary fuel = adrenaline.)

Sleep: 1. What judges do whenever they can, including during rounds. See also texting.

Arrogance: 1. Air breathed by pretty much everyone in the activity.

Individual events: AKA speech. 1. The other stuff people in forensics do, none of which has any value except extemp.

Speech: See Individual events, if you really don’t know what speech is, but why do you care anyhow?

Speechies: 1. Vulgar nickname for participants in speech events.

Speecho-Americans: 1. Correct nickname for participants in speech events, except in other countries, where they would be Speecho-Italians or Speecho-Frenchies or whatever.

Bye: 1. Free win. The later in the tournament you are given one, the more you suck.

Forfeit: 1. Automatic loss, usually given for showing up half an hour late (and blaming everyone but yourself), breaking down in tears halfway through cross-examination, throwing a chair at the judge, throwing a chair at your opponent, throwing a judge at your opponent, texting your coach during prep time and asking for an answer to util, etc.

Util: 1. Water works or electric company.

Rand, Ayn: 1. A name you don’t hear much in debate anymore, so there’s at least one positive result of so-called progressive debate.

Progressive debate: 1. The way I debate, which is the latest thing and way smart and clever, as compared to the way you debate, which isn’t.

TOC: 1. Tournament where you have to pay even if you don’t get in, an idea that you’d think would catch on among cash-strapped schools. 2. Only competitive event held in Kentucky that doesn’t feed its participants bags of oats. In fact, it doesn’t feed its participants anything, another idea that you’d think would catch on among cash-strapped schools.

CFL Nationals: AKA CatNats. 1. Annual speech tournament with marginally different rules from NFL Nationals. (Debate events are also rumored to be offered at CatNats, but so far no objective data has been submitted to support this claim.)

NFL Nationals: AKA NatNats. 1. Don’t know: never been, never gonna go. Don’t ask.

Catholic Forensic League: 1. League for forensics students of all religions to participate in competitions that open with a prayer, to which the correct response, people, is “Amen,” not a round of applause.

National Forensic League: 1. League for forensics students throughout the country, except the northeast.

Coachean Debate Dictionary, Installment 2

Kritik: 1. Case you only have to write once in your entire debate career that demonstrates that every possible affirmative on any conceivable resolution is utterly laughable.

Flex prep: 1. Only opportunity you’ll get during the round to literally read your opponent’s case and try to make sense of it, since it was read aloud so fast in between multiple gaspings for breath that no one in the room, including your opponent, has the least idea what it’s all about. 2. At circuit tournaments, opportunity to sit down and take a load off your feet.

Cross Examination: 1. Alternative to flex prep, preferred by novices, lay judges, and coaches born during the Polk administration, where you have to ask your opponents to answer questions. 2. Alternative to flex prep, preferred by novices, lay judges, and coaches born during the Polk administration, where you have to avoid answering your opponent’s questions.

30: 1. The number of speaker points you thought you should get. 2. The number of speaker points you didn’t get. 3. The number of speaker points given to both teams in the down-four round by judges who, in their own debating careers, spent a lot of time in the down-four rounds.

Judge training: 1. A bad sign, if you’re waiting for your judge to arrive from it.

Judges lounge.: 1. Declarative sentence explaining what judges do during most of a tournament. 2. Imperative sentence telling the judges to cool their heels for a few minutes.

Judge’s lounge: 1. Sad attempt by novice debater to label the room where judges should go for cold coffee and whining about tab/debates/education-in-general. Misuse of punctuation assures that only one judge will be allowed in the room.

Judges’ lounge: 1. The room where judges should go for cold coffee and whining about tab/debates/education-in-general.

Education: 1. In theory arguments, that thing that your opponent’s case does not support, that you carry on your shoulders while it’s wearing laurels and doing the Queen Elizabeth royalty wave to its minions.

Topicality: 1. The ability of a debate case to reflect the resolution. 2. Argument that your opponent’s debate case bears no relationship to the resolution, including the words “and” and “the.” (NOTE: Not to be confused with “tropicality,” the ability of a debater to make you wish you were on a warm sunny island with a cold drink in your hand and a good-looking native by your side, rather than sitting here listening to this drivel. Also not to be confused with "Tropicana," purveyors of fruit juices that you'll never be served in the judges' lounges, where Tang is still the liquid of choice.)

Award ceremony: 1. Allocation of accolades from the tournament, where the top participants receive trophies. 2. [Usage, Big Bronx, always plural, “Awards Ceremonies”] Series of regularly occurring events between rounds where debaters, alumni, coaches, bus drivers, trophy manufacturers, pastry chefs, drum majorettes, chicken farmers, coal miners, door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen, Oscar Meyer Weiner truck drivers, Las Vegas showgirls, George Lucas, axe murderers, dictators from third world nations no one can find on the map, school administrators (who wear special badges to distinguish them from dictators from third world nations no one can find on the map), theremin marching bands, the inventor of the clothes pin and other forensics dignitaries are given trophies thanking them for their service to the community. Recipients who haven’t gotten a clue why they received this award are allowed to turn them in for fifty cents on the dollar and take a cash prize instead, while the trophy is recycled for the event following the next round where another hundred people will be honored.

Trophy: 1. Physical recognition of a tournament job well done.

Trophy wife: 1. Spouse of a trophy. If a trophy is female, then the correct term is trophy husband. If a trophy is of indeterminate sexual orientation, it is sent to the nearest speech tournament.

Coachean Debate Dictionary, Installment 1

Turn: 1. Another name for any argument whatsoever (novice only). 2. Way to get your opponent’s argument to work either in your own favor or against your opponent. Care must be taken with arguments that turn both your own and your opponent’s cases, following which neither of you is better off than when you started (varsity). 3. That thing which, when correct, is what your bus missed two hours ago.

PF (Public Forum): 1. LD for dummies.

LD (Lincoln-Douglas): 1. Policy for dummies.

Policy (P): 1. LD for schools without an LD program.

Congress: AKA Legislative Debate, Congressional Debate, Chloroform on the Hoof. 1. PF for dummies. 2. Extemp for dummies.

Extemp: 1. Complicated dance which begins with dropping hand into hat and drawing three slips of paper, throwing two back, running to desk to research, scratching out case on index card, walking through hallways to round talking to oneself, standing still and telling same empathetic personal story in no way related to subject for the one thousandth four hundredth and eighty eighth time while demonstrating how it relates to subject, two steps to the left, contention one, two steps to the right, contention two, two steps to the middle, spin your partner, do-si-do, summarize, walk out of room, whine to coach. 2. Repeat.

Theory: 1. Thing one may lose on, but never in.

PIC: 1. Argument which, if you have to wonder if your judge will understand it, your judge won’t understand.

RVI: 1. Affirmative argument that judges inevitably a) do not understand, and b) will cite as key in their RFD.

RFD: AKA Reason for Decision. 1. Why a given side won a debate. Example (college judge): “Oral.” Example (parent judge) “The aff was more persuasive.” Example (high school junior judge): “Your argument isn’t what I’m running, so you lose.”

Ballot: 1. Explanation from the judge of what happened in a round and why a particular decision was rendered. 2. Missing item from any crucial round where the decision was not clear.

Minorities in debate: 1. The majority of people in debate.

Tab room: 1. Secret location at tournament where pairings are cooked up out of the imaginations of coaches too removed from the activity to actually adjudicate, using their private little cadre of demonic judges promoting their hidden agenda to ruin [insert LD, PF or Policy] debate for all time, to which entry by students is strictly limited to those who are bleeding profusely and entry by adults is strictly limited to those who are not here to complain, hang out with the cool people or generally exist in the same universe. 2. Place where the door is always open, and everybody knows your name, and whatever you want comes before what they want.

Tab room staff: 1. 1. Nastiest adults at any tournament. No, really. You should watch these people in action.

Ballot table: 1. Literally, a table where tab room staff put the ballots. 2. Place at which, if a student is sitting there, said student mistakenly believes he or she is running the tournament. Advent of preprinted ballots eliminated need for students to sit at ballot table in 1992.

Debate ziti: 1. Large tubs of formerly hot pasta available, usually for free, at debate tournaments. 2. “Tastes of the Mediterranean” or “Pasta Bar”. But no, really, it’s still formerly hot pasta, no matter what they call it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Who’s in Charge Here? Or, what does E.G.G. stand for?

I’ve been working with AB lately in tab, trying to break in a little new blood. One of the big lessons is that the tab room is not in charge of anything. I point this out to the boringly named commenter John (thanks to whom I now know what H.A.M. means). (I will also point out one of my favorite Goldwynisms: When the legendary Hollywood producer was told about a new potential film, and what the name of the main character would be, he replied, “John? What kind of name is John? Every Tom, Dick and Harry is named John.”) He asked why there’s no MJP at Scarsdale. You’re asking the wrong person. I don’t run Scarsdale, or Newark, or most tournaments I tab. Instead, I tab those tournaments. There is a big difference.

Tournaments definitely have personalities, which is reflected in a lot of my commentary here. They are not all the same. Some of them are dreadful, but most of them are perfectly acceptable. Some are exceptional. But whatever makes them what they are all stems from the tournament directors; tab is just one piece of the machine that the tournament directors manage. When there are problems, it is the TD who solves them, not tab. One of the things I’ve been demonstrating to AB is what problems are not in our domain. If people don’t want to judge certain rounds, or in certain divisions, or whatever, this is not our business. Of course, we can technically make the switch, but the decision to make the switch comes from the TD, not us. When a round is in dispute, we can look at the ballots (which is the only guide we use in tab for determining a decision), but if there is something not on those ballots it is the TD who must listen to the arguments from both sides and make a determination. When someone wants to complain about a judge, they need to do so to the TD, not to us. (By the way, that person you’re complaining about has usually been complained about so many times before that you should just take a number: your real complaint in these cases should be to the coaches who drag inept people to tournaments to judge week after week, which is the only thing the TD can do, and it never really takes, to tell you the truth.)

The TD does everything. The TD decides what kind of food will be served (if any). The TD decides the nature and prices of the concessions. The TD decides if there’s housing, or special hotel arrangements or transportation. The TD hires (or doesn’t hire) judges. The TD sets fees. The TD decides how many rounds there are, what will determine team rankings, if judging will be preffed or random or ranked. The TD knows how to get the rooms unlocked. The TD secures tab staff. The TD staffs the ballot table and trains the runners. Et cetera, et cetera.

What makes a tournament good, bad or indifferent? How well the TD does all of these things. What gets prioritized? How organized are things? How friendly are things? I make a big issue of that one. I remember early in my career going to a tournament where I felt that the tournament director literally hated everyone in the place. I did not enjoy that tournament, and subsequently acted accordingly. I do not want to feel like an unwelcome guest.

To be honest, I feel that all the high school tournaments I go to get high marks on all of these counts. The TDs work to the best of their abilities to run a good show. Colleges, on the other hand, can be hit or miss, which is something that CP helped improved by taking on TD responsibilities himself at so many of them. As he’s slowed down, some of the rest of the traveling tabroom have filled in, so things have overall held firm (I’m especially pleased with how Columbia was revived this year).

So you can fault me as TD at Bump, the MHLs (unless O’C is in the vicinity, in which case, it’s his fault) or the couple of college tournaments I’ve stepped up to. As for the rest, talk to the TD. Tab is just a cog in the machine. We’re just following orders. As the saying goes, we’re not being paid to think.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


Saddled as I am with all this extra time on my hands, I figured I'd sign up for Google+.

Oh joy. Oh rapture. I now have a program that looks just like Facebook, although I gather that if I want I can make it look just like like Twitter.

It's a good thing I don't have Facebook or Twitter—

Oh, wait a minute. I do have Facebook and Twitter, which I already underutilize to the fullest.

Isn't technology great?

Marginalization of black music / Michael Jackson

Having lost (at least momentarily) my DJ outlet, I still keep finding things I want to share. Like this:

Historically, this dismissal of black artists (and black styles) as somehow lacking substance, depth and import is as old as America. It was the lie that constituted minstrelsy. It was a common criticism of spirituals (in relation to traditional hymns), of jazz in the '20s and '30s, of R&B in the '50s and '60s, of funk and disco in the '70s, and of hip-hop in the '80s and '90s (and still today). The cultural gatekeepers not only failed to initially recognize the legitimacy of these new musical styles and forms, they also tended to overlook or reduce the achievements of the African-American men and women who pioneered them. The King of Jazz, for white critics, wasn't Louis Armstrong, it was Paul Whiteman; the King of Swing wasn't Duke Ellington, it was Benny Goodman; the King of Rock wasn't Chuck Berry or Little Richard, it was Elvis Presley.

The article is about Michael Jackson in particular, and the importance of his music. The Misunderstood Power of Michael Jackson's Music

This is too much

I have to ask, which of these is on O'C's toyshelf?


We recorded a TVFT last night. Started with me and CP and Ryan Miller, and shortly thereafter Pajamas Wexler showed up. It was very interesting. You would have loved it. I would have too, if I had actually recorded it. Alas, I screwed up. How doesn't matter; in the future CP will back me up. Can't hurt.

Anyhow, we talked about the topic cycle, and didn't necessarily come to any conclusions, aside from the fact that better resolutions is a good idea.

Here's something Ryan posted when we had our original discussion:

LD should have two resolutions a year, one released August fifteenth and the other December first. Resolutions should be drawn from a very long list which has five added to it every June by the topic committee. Advantages:

1. The list can grow very long (a hundred?), thus making current prep on the entire list infeasible for even very large teams, and lowering the edge provided by going to a summer camp which luckily picked an important topic (and the resentment from paying a lot of money to a camp which failed to do so). This also means that resolutions will tend to spend a long time on the list before being picked, allowing campaigns against those with poor or offensive wording.

I just love this idea, or something like it. As it stands now, the topic people (who, we all agreed, do a great job under the circumstances) come up with some topics in a couple of days, and then a list is posted, and then when most people aren't even really at school we vote, with no chance for input or real analysis, and there you are. This may make sense in the age of the buggy whip, but we have the interwebs nowadays. Why can't NFL come up with a system like Ryan's suggestion that allows the community an opportunity to really study and polish the resolutions? There is no rush to run LD topics, as they are inherently timeless, as compared to PF topics, so giving them a chance to get good, so to speak, far outweighs any needs of immediacy. I wouldn't suggest eliminating a dedicated committee, because someone digging in on this is a good idea. But why do they have to get it done at NatNats? Don't any of them have email?

Lots of things are done a certain way because that's the way they are done. LD topic selection need not be one of them.

And, lucky you, I've saved you over an hour of your life listening to CP curse like a sailor (and not a Henhuddian one, btw) and me try to find PJ on Skype; you can use your iPod for more satisfying pursuits, like finding all the Madonna songs you've acquired and feeding them to the crocodiles.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

How MJP Really Works

JA was pretty adamant last weekend against MJP and its effects on LD, as is Pajamas W. They are far from alone in this.

They are also wrong.

First of all, in theory, all MJP does is allow people to rank the judges. Then tab assigns judges based on those rankings. That is, we try to give you 1-1s, or else 2-2s or whatever, the best number we can, always equal. We are not giving you the judges you want as a debater; we are giving the judges you and your opponent both prefer at the same level of preference. Granted, this means a lot of 1-1s, but it also means 2-2s and 3-3s and even, occasionally, 4-4s. The point is mutuality, not guaranteed bests.

Doing this, the argument goes, somehow prefs certain judges who are detrimental to the practice of LD. Well, no. If people all want certain judges over other judges, that’s going to happen anyhow, MJP or no MJP, because tournaments wanting to succeed financially will hire those judges, and teams who only have experience of those judges will bring those judges as their adjudicators, and MJP has nothing to do with it. Beyond that, I really don’t see the link between MJP and the Decline and Fall of LD. I have rants about various in-round practices going back over a decade, and rants about college judges pushing sketchy agendas, way before MJP was even a twinkle in the tabroomian eye. The claim that MJP pushes those practices and agendas has to stand against the alternatives, which are either community ranking, tab personnel ranking, or no ranking. Let’s look at each one individually.

No ranking at all means that a tournament is judged at random by whoever is in the field. I know some people like this idea, but they are not at the tournaments I am at, where every week some new, totally untrained judge (actually, usually more than just one) wreaks all sorts of havoc. By untrained I don’t mean they haven’t sat in one of our training sessions; I mean they have no idea that their kids were even on the debate team until they got dragged into this this morning, they have no idea what will happen in the rounds, and they spend more time in tab trying to get out of their obligation than they do actually judging. If these judges didn’t exist (and believe me, they do, and they are in endless supply), and if all the judges were at least trained to some extent, the idea of dice-toss assignments would be acceptable according to a certain vision of LD. But kids who work hard on their cases and their presentation deserve better than some whiny parent who literally—in the correct sense of the word literally—knows nothing about the activity.

By the way, these untrained judges ruin it for the trained judges. I see it week after week. There are plenty of parent judges who are fine adjudicators, well-trained and capable. Good debaters can easily develop strategies to pick up their ballots. But no debater wants to be judged by parent judges because of the fear of those untrained ones. All parents get tarred with the same brush. It isn’t MJP that is tainting these capable parents; it’s the schools that repeatedly bring raw, worthless adjudicators (the blame for which can be either at the coach level or the student level, because there’s no reason why coachless teams like YouKnowWho can’t train their own damned parents, coach or no coach). (My favorite worthless adjudicator whine, by the way, is that somehow the tabroom is responsible for training them. Hello? The tabroom is responsible for tabbing the tournament along the lines set out by the tournament director. I’ve published all sorts of documents on how to judge; what do you want me to do? Stop tabbing and read them to you aloud, and then tuck you in with Teddy in your arms and a smile on your lips? Grow up.)

If we can’t go totally random, we can have some sort of rankings. The tabroom can rank everyone, or we can have the community rank everyone, from which rankings assignments are made of the highest ranks first on the bubbles. The thing is, tabroom rankings simply perpetrate the beliefs of the tabroom, however right or wrong they may be. I think that certain people are good judges, and that others aren’t. What gives me the right to assign on the basis of my personal beliefs? As for community rankings, they simply do the same thing on a grander scale in what is perceived as, but in fact isn’t, a more democratic fashion. I have a lot of experience with community rankings, and they inevitably worked out to give the highest rankings to the college/circuit judges. Why the mechanics of this worked out that way could be because a lot of schools didn’t vote, or maybe because familiar names always win. I’m not sure, but in any case, tabroom staff is biased and so is the community as a whole, which is democratic only insofar as voting is open to one and all, but closed in that the results are predictably parochial.

MJP theoretically removes the bias of both the tabroom and the community. The thing is, people who are against MJP often don’t rank. If you don’t rank, we put you in as a blank, and give you the highest ranked judge of the opponent. If neither of you rank, you get whoever is left over after all the preferences are adjudicated. When I say we I mean the software; there’s less hands-on in MJP than any other tabbing, at least in large fields. And that is the core of one of the best arguments in favor of MJP, that it is automatic and non-biased by outside influences.

Here’s the thing. People who don’t “like” MJP don’t rank. People who don’t rank get the judges of the people who do rank. The people who do rank tend to prefer college/circuit judges. Therefore, at most tournaments the college/circuit judges direct the results.

This can be changed. If everyone ranked, then every judge in the pool would be up against every other judge in every round, and tabbing really would find the judge that both debaters mutually prefer. There would be a lot fewer nix-1s and a lot more 3-3s. As it stands now, if two non-ranking schools hit, they get the leftovers, whereas what they might really want is a long-time coach or some really experienced parent. If you want those sort of judges to adjudicate your rounds, fine. Vote for them with your feet, so to speak. Sneering at MJP as the tool of the devil, on the other hand, simply relegates it to the position of the tool of your opponents. It is a useful control over practices you don’t like, whatever those practices may be.

So that’s the real issue here. At any given tournament, maybe a third to a half at most of the teams pref. MJP is better than all the alternatives in terms of the least biased and the most likely to favor competency. There is no inherency in MJP toward the Evils of Modern LD. But as long as most schools, through misguided philosophies, don’t pref, those who do will indeed call the shots, and move LD in whatever direction they prefer, with the judges they prefer. If you want to see LD go some other way, actively preffing judges that agree with you may be the most important thing you can do. (That, and getting your friends who agree with you who aren’t members of the VCA to do likewise.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Oscar Wilde: "One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears...of laughter."

I am beginning to suspect that I was acting precipitately in my evaluation of my DJ internet work. I say this for two reasons: first, I like using the word precipitately in a sentence, and second, while no one has actually come out and said so, my exclusion from the scene may have been due to oversight rather than deliberate inaction. I’ve been a little lost, not spending every waking minute surfing the interwebs to find maybe 4 good articles a day. It seemed like a worthy endeavor, in its way, the sort of thing the DJ ought to be doing, given the brand and all. Oh, well. Nowadays most people think I’m a teacher anyhow (outside of the DJ, that is; inside the DJ they think I read every book every written), so what difference does any of this make to the VCA? Aside from giving me more time to post here, that is.

Meanwhile, today is the birthday of Charles Dickens. My first experience of the man was in sixth grade. I only recently replaced the little paperback I had of Oliver Twist, which I read hidden behind my textbooks while the class did whatever it was doing that was, truth to tell, dull as ditch water and couldn’t hold a candle to Bill Sikes or Dodger. From there it was on to Copperfield, and that was the end of me. For some reason or other, Dickens wasn’t really taught much when I was in high school, but I do remember that we were greatly expected to read GE, which ultimately provided me the name of the late lamented Pip the Wondercat (we had great expectations for him when we acquired him, as compared to acquiring him to be a cabin boy, if you happen to recall the character in Moby-Dick before the one in GE). While I enjoyed GE, DC remained my favorite until after college (where the only Dickens I encountered, without having the time to actually read it, was Hard Times), when I decided to read Bleak House for the simply reason that I couldn’t imagine a book with a more forbidding title. It became one of my desert island books, unsurprisingly for those who know it, and then I decided it was high time to read all of Dickens from start to finish, which I did, in order, except for Hard Times and Barnaby Rudge, the former because my avoiding it in college started a lifelong avoidance that to this day I have been unable to overcome, and the latter because I couldn’t find a copy in my local bookstore the day it came up next, so I simply went on the to subsequent book in the oeuvre. (I caught up with it later; meanwhile, HT is on my iPhone, if I ever get the urge.)

Sum total of wisdom derived from all this Dickensian reading?
1. Best characters, and best character names ever. (Murdstone? Never topped by anyone.)
2. DC, BH and Our Mutual Friend best novels, the latter two by virtue of objective novel stuff and the former by virtue of CD’s personal investment.
3. It is absolutely better to read these books because you want to, not because you have to. Mark this well, oh high school student, and go back to them in ten years when you have the time to enjoy them. You will. Trust me, you will. The books are filled with humor, for one thing. Great writing for the most part (although, sure, there are a few dry spells, but after a chapter or so it’ll get great again).
4. Perfect memorability of many, many scenes, and many, many lines. “And it was my mother, cold and dead.” “Annual income twenty pounds…” “It is a far far better thing I do…” “She had brought me up by hand.” Et cetera, et cetera.

Having this conversation with high school students is like addressing penguins on the mechanics of hummingbirds. They just don’t get it. Oh, well. I, for one, will celebrate on this day, thanking the heavens for giving us Mr. Dickens, and thanking Mr. Dickens for giving us Scrooge, Barkis, little Em’ly, Quilp, Sam Weller, Pecksniff, Wackford Squeers, the Vaneerings, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce…