Friday, March 30, 2012

As March goes out like a cotelette d'agneau

There may be no more nautical debating, but there are a few Speecho-American Sailors on the loose, heading for the state tournament the end of April. We’ll have a workshop or two at the chez for them. This is where we have them perform but take them apart practically word for word. Since I haven’t seen them in a while, and a couple of pieces not at all, it’s a good opportunity for them to get a last shot at seeing what’s working and what isn’t. The first of these sessions is next Monday, during our school’s break.

Running the NYSDCA tournament this weekend should be interesting. It’s small, and I want to try pairing using TRPC’s pairing-on-screen function, which I’ve never used before. I’ve certainly asked CP to incorporate something like that into his new software, so this will be a fun test. It’s also supposed to be sort of a crappy weekend weatherwise, so I don’t feel as if I’ll be missing anything I could be doing. The really warm weather is coming, and those strolls around Manhattan…

O’C and I recorded a TVFT Wednesday, but the sound quality is miserable. Not miserable enough not to release it (that distinction goes most recently to the “The Train Has Left the Station” episode with Pajamas W), but miserable enough to want to not repeat it. O’C says the problem is Time Warner, and if he’s ever home to let the cable guy in, all will be fixed. Of course, if the cable guy sees all the Willow memorabilia, he may become too distracted to do the job he is paid for.

Grinwout’s continues apace. I’ve started a Facebook page for it, that I’ll promote next week after I play with it a little more. I realize that when I was doing this for the DJ I sort of became obsessed, and the obsession has stuck. My brain is a mess of lightly connected data informed by books and movies and culture in general, which is one of the reasons I’ve done okay as a book editor, where a certain dilettantism can be a plus if you do general stuff. In other words, I have a great interest in a lot of things mixed with a short attention span; this is the mix an editor needs, I guess. Unless you want to edit brain surgery texts, that is. You want those folks to keep their eyes on the ball, so to speak. You’re in there disconnecting the cerebellum from the carburetor or whatever, and the last thing you need is to be distracted by a really good tap dancing video.

Slow books

Reading is good. Granted. But everything we read isn't equally good. Light, ephemeral entertainment is okay as far as it goes, but it doesn't go all that far. It's only a step up from watching reality television to reading the latest vampire thriller. They might both entertain, and that might be all we're in the mood for at a given moment, but as readers, sometimes we need to do more. There is only so much time in one's life to read. Why not spend as much of it as possible reading something worthwhile? Not just books, but literature?

Maura Kelly proposes a Slow-Books Manifesto, based on Michael Pollan's healthy eating manifesto: "Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics."

Why the emphasis on literature? By playing with language, plot structure, and images, it challenges us cognitively even as it entertains. It invites us to see the world in a different way, demands that we interpret unusual descriptions, and pushes our memories to recall characters and plot details... Neuroscientists have found plenty of proof that reading fiction stimulates all sorts of cognitive areas—not just language regions but also those responsible for coordinating movement and interpreting smells. Because literary books are so mentally invigorating, and require such engagement, they make us smarter than other kinds of reading material.

One of the wonderful boons of the e-reader age is that so much great literature is free. The public domain expands well into the 20th Century, and aside from the initial cost of the reader, you could devour endless numbers of classics and never spend a penny. And there are still libraries out there, of course. And even a few bookstores. Holding a beautifully made book in one's hands, and a classic to boot...

Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics. I like that.

Have a good weekend. Take this opportunity to read a good book!

A bullfighter

If, as we alluded earlier today, horse racing has fallen under scrutiny lately for the harms it causes animals, what can we say about bullfighting? The whole point is harming animals. It's been banned in some cities, beloved in others, thought of as a fine art by some and as a cruel blood sport by others. We have never attended a bullfight in person, but watched them on TV while visiting Spain, out of curiosity more than anything else, trying (unsuccessfully) to figure out the appeal. We still wonder.

An article by Andrea Aguilar about the torero José Tomás helps bring the activity into some focus:

The bullfight proved to be crude and epic. Tomás was gored three times. After each goring, he stubbornly stood up, planted himself on the ground, and fought on, never stepping back from the bull. His torso bent achingly slowly, inches from the animal, to subtly guide the charge. His calm was astounding... Some viewers accused him of being suicidal; others saw the consummate performance of Spain’s best bullfighter, one who was ready to fight steadily till the end. When a journalist asked the old former matador Esplá, “What is courage?” he answered, “It’s the spot where José Tomás stands.”

Read Death in the Afternoon.

Falling cats

There is, at Grinwout's headquarters, a cat that flies around from surface to surface as if living in an endless feline Cirque de Soleil. You can't walk across the kitchen without him leaping in front of you from counter to counter, making any attempts at food preparation something less than pacific. You get used to this after a while, but you have to wonder: what is going on in that devious little mind of his: Why must he always climb up on things? And what will happen if he falls?

The answer to that last question is, probably, not much. Cats are very good at falling. We know this because, when cats fall, they don't get all damaged, or at least as damaged as you might predict. As Daniel Nasaw writes in the BBC Magazine:

With scientists unwilling to toss cats off buildings for experimental observation, science has been unable systematically to study the rate at which they live after crashing to the ground. In a 1987 study of 132 cats brought to a New York City emergency veterinary clinic after falls from high-rise buildings, 90% of treated cats survived and only 37% needed emergency treatment to keep them alive. One that fell 32 stories onto concrete suffered only a chipped tooth and a collapsed lung and was released after 48 hours.

Well that's the problem, isn't it? To test the hypotheses on plunging cats, scientists would have to keep tossing them off of extreme heights, and even the most resilient cat will eventually tire of such treatment. But still, the evidence is clear that cats do well in falls, and this article explains why. In a nutshell, it's because cats are arboreal, and like all arboreal animals, they've evolved ways of handling the inevitable unexpected trips to the ground.

This is interesting science: Who, What, Why: How do cats survive falls from great heights?



Today is Eric Clapton's birthday. But say what you will about the guitarist, he never set a record in a Triple Crown race, which co-celebrant Secretariat did, twice. ("Big Red" might actually have set a record in all three, but there's controversy over the Preakness time because of a malfunction in the infield timer.) And Secretariat's records still stand.

Secretariat was born March 30, 1970. He tore up the track pretty much from the beginning of his career. When he won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in 1973, he was poised to become the first triple crown winner in 25 years, and he caught the imagination of the whole country. People who never thought much about horses one way or another were taken by this guy. He seemed to appreciate the adulation; here's how he did at the Belmont Stakes:

That is probably the most amazing Thoroughbred race ever run. Secretariat set the record that day for the mile and a half, which is why it looks at the end as if he was the only horse to bother even showing up.

Secretariat retired at the end of his three-year-old racing career. He went on to stud, making his best success as a sire of broodmares; a lot of breeders believe that racing magic always skips a generation, and while there's no scientific proof one way or the other, they were right in Secretariat's case, on the damsire side. The horse was euthanized in 1989, when he suffered from laminitis. His passing was front page news, and he was very seriously mourned throughout the country. He was buried at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.

Racing isn't what it used to be, unfortunately. But there are still great horses now and then, animals that somehow connect to us because of their heart and spirit. Secretariat was one of the greatest of those greats.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How Simple Ideas Lead to Scientific Discoveries

Ah, TED. And Adam Savage isn't so bad either.


Creating violins

There is something fascinating about watching people who are really good at something doing whatever it is they do. In a way, it doesn't even matter what it is that they are doing. We are taken by their mastery in and of itself. It is that mastery that intrigues us. But when the mastery is of something as magical as music...

Sam Zygmuntowicz is a master luthier. He makes violins, and he is considered to be one of the best in the world. Of course, when you're talking violins you inevitably think of Antonio Stradavari (or, if you're a fan of crossword puzzles, Nicolo Amati, whose last name seems to fit so well so often). Zygmuntowicz wants his work to be perceived by artists as of that quality, and it may well be. After all, there's nothing special about 17th Century Italy that should make its violins better than 21st Century Brooklyn. In fact, with all our technology today, we ought to be better. The only thing we can't make today is an object that is 400 years old...

The Art and Science of Violin Making tells the story of violin making, and includes a couple of videos of Zygmuntowicz at work. If you too are fascinated by people who are really good at doing something, or love violins, or both, check it out.

Pick 7

Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, and Quee. Quee? They may sound like household cleaning products, but they are actually the names of the seven dwarfs in a 1912 Broadway production of Snow White.

No wonder Disney decided to come up with their own names.

Lists of Note provides us with the working list of 47 possible dwarf names. Which ones would you have picked? And no, Bashful, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy and Doc don't count.

Personally, we're very intrigued by Hickey. Was there some hanky panky going on in that cottage that has hitherto been unrevealed? No wonder these guys were whistling while they worked!

Say no more, know what I mean?

Eric Idle was born on March 29, 1943. While Grinwout's would normally go out of its way to seek out the obscure and the forgotten, in this particular case we prefer the unforgettable (nudge, nudge).

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An so we bid another fond farewell

Well, that’s that. Another season bites the dust, at least as far as meetings are concerned. Last night we had the final chez of the year. Tears were shed (not of sadness but of pain, when Tiki attacked poor Zip). And there you are.

With one and a half teams, the meetings have been odd, at best. Last night Zip regaled us with tales of great adventure, to wit, his taking down an entire army of gangbangers in Times Square Friday night. We did talk a bit about mandated vaccines, but we probably talked more about Nabokov. Meh came dressed as a ghost. At one point I had to go online to prove that there were such things as snake-handling religions. Spongebob Squarepants, Saved by the Bell, Alfred Hitchcock and NPH all came up in the conversation at some point. No wonder we’re not winning a lot of trophies!

I have been proceeding updating the cur. I’m now up to the research section, which is a crucial one in the PF world. LD obviously requires research, but it’s of a different nature. It used to be more generally philosophic in the olden days, then it went sort of resolutional. I’m not quite sure what it is now, but people have plenty of cards that they read at speed, so it must be something. In any case, the nature of PF research strikes me as somewhat similar to Extemp, at least insofar as you have to have a solid understanding of the news of the world in general, requiring info intake on a daily basis, rather than just hitting a topic when it comes. Just researching topics is like learning to drive and being unable to shift gears: you jerk all over the place and don’t get very far. Current events tend to be related at least marginally, and a general knowledge of, say, the Middle East, will help you get started when the topic is about Pakistan. A general knowledge of science and international medicine doesn’t hurt thinking about mandatory vaccinations. And so forth and so on. Regular info intake gives you the instincts to find a starting point. Getting that habit, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily so easy. Even I’m not that good at it. A news junkie I’m not. But I’m learning.

Anyhow, there’s the State tournament this weekend, and that’s the last time I’ll have a horse in the race. After that, NDCA in Las Vegas, and the season is officially over. And this time, no golf to fill the gap. Or at least, I’ve stuck to my non-golfing guns so far. I’m not quite sure what I’m doing to fill the time I would have otherwise been golfing, but I vaguely remember reading a book on futurism last Sunday. I wonder when’s the last time Tiger Woods read a book on futurism.

The unique Fred Astaire

Whatever it was that he did, he was the only major movie star of the studio era—perhaps of any era—to have had the career his talent meant him to have, and to have had it as long as he liked.

Dance critic Arlene Croce is the author of the indispensible The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book. Perhaps because she understands dance so well, she understands Fred Astaire. It's not just that she can discuss his style and appreciate what he did, but she can explain why. Astaire was unique. Although he was a child of Vaudeville and Broadway, it was in movies that he found his metier. He invented Fred Astaire as a movie performer:

What Astaire produced was himself, in all his variety—as soloist, as partner, as singer, as actor, as instrumentalist (piano, drums). He choreographed all his own numbers, usually with the assistance of his near double Hermes Pan; he supervised the filming and cutting; and before choreographing a number he worked out its whole musical structure... In short, wherever you looked in the musical as opposed to the scenic and dramatic process, you found Astaire.

Ostensibly in They’re the Top Croce is reviewing two books, one on Fred and one on his career with his sister Adele. She takes the opportunity to dissect the two, and to write an extremely informative piece, even to someone who knows Astaire backwards and forwards. Read it, if you have any interest in the art of film, the art of music, or the art of dance (or in Fred Astaire's case, the art of all three put together).

And here's Fred dancing solo in Flying Down to Rio in 1933:

Ultimate Legocity

We like Legos as much as the next person. More, perhaps. Unless the next person is this guy named Jim Hughes.

Brick Fetish comprises two sections. One, the timeline, is an exhaustive history of Legos. The other, the archive, is a collection of relevant art and whatnot from all over the world. You can get lost in this easily.

But don't, because after you're finished here you'll want to check out Codex 99, his visual arts and graphic design blog. No RSS, unfortunately, but you can follow him on Twitter.

Here's just a sample to start you getting lost (clicking will make it even bigger):

The prom

The prom, as a high school institution, has certainly changed over the years. It's gotten less formal as a dating ritual, for instance. I'm pretty sure that in my high school in the 60s, the idea of going stag was simply beyond imagining. If one were lucky, one had a girlfriend, so finding someone to go with was not an issue. But if one were "playing the field," so to speak—that is, a totally inept, asocial bumpkin—it was a little more difficult. I want to an all-boys school, a torture from which I have never fully recovered. My junior prom (we had one both upper class years) was spent in the company of a girl I had never dated before, nor since. We muddled through it, but I'll bet you that today she has as much trouble remembering more than two minutes of it as I do. As a senior, I did have a steady girlfriend, so I didn't have to spend six months getting up the nerve to ask somebody. But I have to admit, I still only remember about two minutes of it. (They were a pretty good two minutes, though, and no, it's not what you think. Two minutes? Nobody's that fast.)

Over the ensuing decades people have breached a lot of barriers. The solo prom attender, obviously. Gay couples is another big one. It's not that we didn't have gay kids in my day, but they didn't admit it at that ripe young age. There was no LGBT group at my Catholic high school, in other words. The only person I remember ever coming out in high school was one of the Vincentian brothers, who quit both the order and teaching, but who honestly didn't make as much of a stir as the other brother who quit the order at about the same time to marry the school nurse. That was something to get one's mind around!

The Smithsonian article by Sloane Crosely The 21st-Century American Prom is a fun personal story, but more than that, a showcase for the prom photos of Mary Ellen Mark. Make sure to both watch the slide show and the video.

By the way, I wore white for the junior prom and black for the senior prom. No powder blue tuxedos for the Grinwout!

Siskel and Ebert

Their television shows went through a few different names, but what remained was these two critics in the balcony, reviewing the latest in the week's films. Their approach to movie reviewing was revolutionary. Before them, you read the paper to see what someone thought about a movie. Now you saw a clip of the movie, and then not one but two people told you what they thought. Sometimes they agreed, sometimes they disagreed. When they were through, you really had an idea whether or not you wanted to see that movie.

But for dedicated viewers, that was almost beside the point. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert had the sort of chemistry that made you want to watch them even more than the movies. When they agreed, it was something of a miracle, and when they disagreed, it was Television with a capital T. The thing was, these guys really didn't get along with each other. They respected one another, certainly, but they were not friends. They were barely business acquaintances. They were a team without any teaming, and while you sort of suspected this watching the show, they were usually civilized enough to convince you that it might just be the moment. But their not getting along wasn't an act. It was the getting along that was hard.

The Original Frenemies provides an oral history of the two:

One day, [Gene] went under the table to catch a few winks while I was typing his and Roger’s scripts for the teleprompter. Not long afterward, Roger came in the room, and without noticing Gene, he made a phone call to arrange an interview with Nastassja Kinski for a piece in the Sun-Times. When Roger left, Gene got up and hit the redial button. He proceeded to tell Nastassja Kinski’s representative that he was Roger’s assistant and that Roger had to cancel the interview. Then he looked at me and said, “Not a word!”

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Superman is a twerp

It used to be that comics, rather than having one story spreading out over multiple issues, had multiple stories in one issue. They also used to cost a dime. In the '50s, a quarter would get you a gargantuan annual, the comic equivalent of War and Peace. When the price of regular comics went to twelve cents, I, for one, was outraged. Who could afford such an investment?

Meanwhile, I guess if you have to grind out a whole bunch of stories month after month after month, you start to weary of all that super good guy stuff. 17 vintage comic book covers where Superman is a complete sociopath demonstrates some of where this weariness led.



Not that many people can see their careers stretch from films like Gandhi, Superman, and The Empire Strikes Back to Up and Toy Story (all three of them). And somewhere along the line, a television show called Cheers.

How did it start?

I was a carpenter. I did a little bit of acting in college, but nothing serious. I found out that I had a knack for comedy in college, when I forgot the lines of a play and just started making the lines up. Unfortunately, it was a Tennessee Williams play.

Ratzenberg did a long stretch of improv back before most people knew what improv was. And because he was young and had the right body for it, he was in a lot of movies where they needed people in costume. Lately he's voiced every single Pixar feature. And there was that mailman in the middle, still hilarious, as evidenced by the Jeopardy clip.

Check out the interview with John Ratzenberger at A.V. Club.

The sewers of London

This is not about a new musical group. It is literally about the sewers of London, into which journalist Rose George traveled with a group of what are known as wastewater operatives, i.e., sewer workers.

Here's how the adventure begins:

I am presented with the things that will protect me in the hours to come: a white paper overall suit; crotch-high waders with tungsten-studded soles that will grip but won’t spark; a hard hat with a miner’s light; heavy rubber gloves, oversized; a ‘turtle’, a curved metal box that holds emergency breathing apparatus, to strap around my waist, along with a back-up battery; a harness to loop through my legs in case I need to be dragged out.

Being dragged out? That's a heartening thought.

What is found below the streets of London, running out into the Thames, is some of what you might expect, and some things you might find surprising. No alligators, alas. Not much wildlife at all, come to think of it. The good news is, you can read about it without any protective gear: Travels in London’s sewers. (Via.)

How to cure the American education system

These guys obviously aren't Republicans, but then again, neither are the Finns.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Paris revisited. Again.

We were big fans of the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. There was something magical about traveling back in time to his version of the emigre scene in 1920s Paris. Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso... All of the stories are legendary, and most of the works still dazzle. The reason the hero of the film is transported back to this time is precisely because of all this magic.

It was a real time though, and probably really magical. We have the books and the art from the time to tease us about it. Warren Perry writes about it all in the National Portrait Gallery Face to Face blog:

The other preoccupation of this period was, of course, art—in all its forms. Painting, writing, theater, and dance were all appreciated facets of the cultural scene. While Fitzgerald and Hemingway were alternately feathering and grinding words onto paper, [Gerald] Murphy and Picasso were splashing paints onto canvases, and Zelda Fitzgerald somehow convinced herself that she should become a ballerina, though her habits and age were somewhat ballet-prohibitive. All of these individuals met with creative success, even Zelda, who danced in staged works and gave herself over manically to ballet.

The glimpses of the art are well worth a visit: A Moveable Force: The Resonance of the Expatriate Experience

What'll they think of next?

I recently spent a lot of time trying to find the perfect way of handling my iPod and headset for my daily exercise. I passed on this particular setup on the right, primarily because it only handles radio, and I wanted to listen to mp3s.

No doubt the Rick Santorums of life are all in favor of the wooden bathing suits modeled by this foursome. As swimming attire, they lack a certain je ne sais quoi, but from the political point of view, they are the perfect birth control method.

There's way more of these at 27 of History’s Strangest Inventions. You'll probably look at one or two of them and think, that's not a bad idea. But the execution usually leaves a lot to be desired...

Sherlock and the escape artist

The incongruity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle being a spiritualist has always been a poser. He created a classical character whose entire premise is his rationality, while he himself was a sucker for the irrational. Granted, Holmes believed that if you removed all the likely possibilities, then the unlikely possibilities were the correct ones, but it is still a great leap from the difficult-to-understand to the magical. But Doyle spent much of his time pursuing that magical.

Harry Houdini, on the other hand, was anything but magical. Much of his career was spent debunking the spiritualists of the day. Of course, Houdini knew first hand that the most amazing events ultimately consisted of tricks and secrets. Houdini didn't use magic to make his great escapes: he used hidden tools and a lot of practice. There were no ghosts in his life.

That Conan Doyle and Houdini got on as friends is one of those great pairings of history that are at once puzzling and at the same time oh-so-right. Margaret Eby writes:

Their friendship illustrates the warring impulses of intellectual life—the need to pick apart things to eliminate falsehoods, and the heartfelt want to be bamboozled sometimes, to acknowledge some sort of truth with a capital T... The gap between them is why both great detective stories and great magic tricks work. What are magic tricks anyway except for pretty little fictions about doves evaporating into thin air and smiling assistants being sawn in half without consequence, humans casually violating the insufferably strict laws of science?

The article is Hocus Pocus.


Grinwout's goes all foody

We at Grinwout's pride ourselves on our prowess in the kitchen. We can make a meal out of anything, from the barest pantry to the most luxurious farmer's market. But we are not perfect. We occasionally make mistakes. It turns out we are not alone in this.

As a general rule, we don't use the interwebs much for food. Lavish printed books with gorgeous photographs are more our style. Food porn, in other words. We want inspiration more than instruction. And it is not like us to post how-to-cook articles here. We leave that to those in the business.

But every now and then an article comes along that every cook has to read. This one is called The Most Common Cooking Mistakes, and it's full of excellent information that will help any cook who isn't a pro. Even Grinwout learned a thing or two!

(via Coudal)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Shocking (albeit late) realization

Shazam is the best app on my iPhone. I've had it for a while, but only used it today for the first time.

I'm in love.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Let’s get off this MJP kick for a while. I think I’ve made my point, right or wrong. I do not believe that MJP is the hand basket in which LD is being carried to hell. It is, at worse, neutral, and potentially it’s a tool for traditional teams to hold their place in the activity. Neither is bad.

Last weekend was the CFL Grands tournament. A few years ago we realized that putting in 3 judges in each round really wasn’t all that great if there were 20 or fewer debaters, so now we put in 2, which means that no one has to see the same people on the other side, which is good for the teams, and we can single-flight, which is good for everyone. We did double-flight one round for the purposes of lunch, though, so that everyone would get a break (except for two poor soul judges who got both flights, but didn’t look that hungry to us). In other words, not a hard gig, although we did it entirely with cards. Speaking of MJP, fans of random judging can rejoice at a tournament like this: all the judges have to have experience, and we just toss them where they fit. Which may explain why a lot of $ircuit debaters avoid CatNats. For that matter, it may explain why a lot of traditional debaters avoid CatNats. Judge adaptation is one thing. Adapting to a random panel of unknowns? Wow. Plus not all 4-1s break? On the bright side, you get to go to remote schools on the edges of random cities, bussing out at 5:30 a.m. and returning home before the next semester starts, and that’s always an attraction. Especially on a unique topic. Oh, well. Honestly, I’ve always sort of enjoyed CatNats. What can I say?

The tournament was on St. Patrick’s day, which meant that we felt we needed Irish music. I failed miserably to supply any. I have one Chieftains song on my iPod, and a CD at home (never ripped) of Celtic music that I don’t really like. It’s not the CD, it’s the whole genre. Lots of pipes and clodhopping, if you ask me. If this were a Hawaiian holiday, on the other hand, I would have been able to get us through for a couple of days. Brazilian? A couple of weeks. African? French? Spanish? Caribbean? No problem. But Irish music? That’s one of my much needed gaps. Fortunately (?) JV’s iPod was drowning in the stuff. We plugged it in at some point in the morning and it was still going strong when we took it off life support at the end of the day. How can somebody who likes that much Irish music also like Sondheim? Is a puzzlement.

My vow to quit golf remains unshaken. I suffered no adverse effects last weekend, and this week I moved all the paraphernalia that was sitting in the front of the basement to the middle of the basement, i.e., a bag of tees and this bizarre plastic hand that one uses to extend the life of one’s golf gloves. I do like the golf gloves. They should have debating gloves. Or at the very least, tabbing gloves.

And, of course, I’m up to my ears in Grinwout’s business. No doubt I’ll eventually kick that habit as well, but it is fun. It gives me incentive to keep up on stuff I want to keep up with, that I ordinarily would let slide in favor of reading a book. I read plenty of books already. When I was doing this in an early version to demonstrate to the DJ that it was viable, it turns out we got about 35M hits doing virtually nothing, no promotion, no nuthin’. That’s not bad. I don’t pay too much attention to stats (although the new version of Blogger tosses them in your face), except that I do know that, historically, I am not writing this blog for my own benefit. Well, all right, it is for my own benefit, but it is being well-read. People in debate want to know if I’m insulting them directly or indirectly, for instance. (Feel free to send me a sawbuck or two and I promise I’ll do it however you like.)

And finally, this week O'C and I tried to TVFT on a test basis, and it was a disaster. There is no volume control in the new Mac Skype. It’s not that we couldn’t find it; it’s not there. This is the dumbest thing since [insert metaphor here; I’ve written enough for one day]. We’re working on a work around. Or working around a work. Or rounding a work work. Or something.

Things to keep in mind while heading into the weekend

Thank Larry Niven for his understanding of how the universe works. And Lists of Note for capturing Niven's Laws.

For instance:
There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.

Since the list is short, when you're finished with it, read The Mote in God's Eye. Not only will Niven pick up a nickel or two in royalities, but so will co-author Jerry Pournelle. And you'll get to read some classic SF in the bargain (it's a Grinwout's favorite).

Have a good weekend!

(photo by David Corby)

Dame Edna is retiring

You may not take this particularly hard, from not really knowing much of her work. So, Possums, here's a sample:

Barry Humphries won a Tony Award in 2000 for his portrayal of Dame Edna Everage. Children, probably not a particularly large Dame Edna fan constituency, will no doubt recognize a different portrayal, the rather frightening Bruce:

You've gotta love Dame Edna, in any incarnation. Or is it Barry Humphries?

The art of video games

There is much contesting of the idea that video games can be art. On the other hand, there is little argument that games are not a part of our cultural landscape.

Computers are not particularly old, and the first computer game was patented in 1948. Pong was released in 1972, and the age of the video arcade soon followed. So did the age of the home console, with the Magnavox Odyssey coming out that same year. When PCs came along in the 80s, games were right there with them. Today games are ubiquitous, on virtually every technical device that manufacturers can squeeze them on, and they range from the light and casual to the hardcore, and there’s something for everybody.

Are they art? Well, they certainly incorporate a lot of things we think of as art in other contexts. They have a strong visual component, and they often incorporate music, but then again, my supermarket uses visual tricks and music to get me to buy more cauliflower, so those alone may not be enough. They also have narrative, that is, a beginning, a middle and an end, and in that are like movies (which also have the visual and audio components). That the narrative is driven by the viewer/user and not the creator (in a way, although the creator is still ultimately responsible for the parameters of the experience), gives some critics pause. The question has to boil down to our definition of art. If art is something that moves us on a combined emotional and intellectual level, which is not a bad definition, than I’d have to say that they are art. Marcel Duchamp’s found art, which is a signed piece of old plumbing, moves us on a combined emotional and intellectual level. Monet’s lily pads move us on a combined emotional and intellectual level. Citizen Kane and Hamlet move us on a combined emotional and intellectual level. Beethoven does it. Why not BioShock? Let’s put it this way. Even if you believe that video games aren’t there yet, they’ll be there soon enough. And just as all paintings and movies and plays and music don’t move us on a combined emotional and intellectual level, neither will all video games. That any of them do, makes those that do, art. The ones that don’t? Either they’re just commerce, or bad/failed art.

In any case, whatever you believe about games as art, they’re now being exhibited in the Smithsonian. But keep this in perspective. They also have locomotives and Fonzie’s leather jacket in the Smithsonian.

Smithsonian scores with ‘Art of Video Games’ exhibit

How Video Games Ended Up in the Smithsonian

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford was born on March 23, 1905. She seemed so much an actress of her time; it's hard to imagine her as anything but the woman she was, when and where she was.

One of the things she was? The quintessential flapper. Those art deco sets probably won't convince you that everyone lived like that back then, but they'll make you wish they did. Crawford's flat-footed dancing may make you fear that everyone did dance that way, however. The remarkable thing is, she actually was considered something of a dancer, and was even later partnered up with Fred Astaire. Fortunately for Astaire, there were other partners out there more suited to his style.

If Crawford was the quintessential flapper, she was also the quintessential Other Woman. In The Women, an absolute classic of cattiness, well, she takes the cake (and the heroine's husband, at least for a while). Watch this clip through to Crawford's final, deadly line: The Women

Of all the clips one could watch, this next one is a personal favorite of mine for too many reasons to enumerate. Well, aside from one, to wit, Mommy Dearest.

Most people don't go out of their way nowadays to seek out Crawford pictures. But some of them are very worth watching. Put together a triple feature of Grand Hotel, Mildred Pierce (speaking of quintessentiality, Joan Crawford was also the quintessential actress to play the part of a woman named Mildred), and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? You will see the span of Crawford from sexpot to working dame to has-been. What a trip!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

No one understands MJP, alas

How about everyone gets three strikes, all judges publish a paradigm and no mjp. Oh wait we cant do that because that would force students to gasp!!! A-D-A-P-T

And if i have to slow down and make reasonable arguments all that money i spend on camp is wasted.

Well, I’ve already addressed paradigms. Read a few some day, preferably when you are suffering from insomnia…

But this comment falls into the realm of really not understanding debate. Does the writer really believe that there is a circuit world where debaters don’t adapt? First of all, how many debaters only argue at elite national events in front of elite national judges? Even if such a creature does exist, why would anyone assume that circuit judges are identical, in the same paragraph where it is assumed that paradigms are a good thing? At the level of argumentation about pre-emptive thises and off-case thatas, circuit judges are not all in complete agreement. If you can stay awake, read those paradigms. I don’t suggest that people stop writing paradigms if they want to, nor that debaters ignore them. Quite the contrary. I’m just saying that to get the great MJP unwashed into the fold, let’s simplify on a tournament-by-tournament basis. But the point here is that all debaters pretty much find themselves regularly in situations where they either adapt or lose, and smart debaters adapt. Circuit debaters do slow down and concentrate on resolutional rather than technical arguments. I see it all the time. In the average tournament, only a handful of the judges are really anyone’s 1s, which means you’re going to put in people who are not your style in the 1s and, of course, the 2s, and you’re going to get them. If a tournament has 70 debaters, it might have 20 judges. I mean, really, you’re going to have to adapt to someone sooner or later, MJP or no MJP, strikes or no strikes. MJP means that, especially on the bubbles, you’ll have your most preferred judges for both sides. It does not mean a circuit judge, it means agreement. If one debater is circuit and the other trad, it’s hello adaptation in front of a 2 or a 3! And when circuit debaters do a round robin, where a sizeable portion of the field is alums or coaches or even members of the school board? Well, my friend, they do A-D-A-P-T, and the good ones do it well.

There are ways of solving issues, and ways of demonizing those on the other side of the issue. Don’t fall into the trap of the demonizers. That’s what most people who don’t believe in MJP do, but by demonizing it (essentially by claiming that it is the death of LD by the promotion of homicidal judges) and ignoring it, they are doing way more to harm the activity than the people who are simply using the tool at hand. If all the nutjobs take up using iPhones, if you claim that iPhones are for nutjobs and refuse to use one, sooner or later that will be true. Understand logic before making your claims. My argument, which I’ve been making at great length, is that everyone using MJP is a better safeguard against a uniform (and highly technical, camp-driven) direction of LD than not. MJP is about 2 years old around here in LD; all the problems people are claiming about LD are way older.

I will grant that camps mostly promote highly technical, fast styles, however. Camps promote what wins; they make their money on their reputations, and their reputations on the successes of their graduates. If something else starts winning…

Harry Potter Studio Tour

After all the videos today, it's time for something completely different. (No more birthdays to report.)

Most of us will not be traveling to England any time soon to take the new Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour. It looks to be about as far away from downtown London as Heathrow; to get there, you need to take a train or drive on the wrong side of the street, whichever is your preference. (If you can go, here's the official website.)

The blog Disney and More is lucky enough to have been there already, prior to opening. And they have taken pictures that are to die for. Any fans of the Potter films will eat their entire hearts out looking at this. We at Grinwout's haven't even been to Orlando yet to Universal Studios, and now this has come along.

When is that next London trip?

Harry Potter Studio Tour Report:
Part One
Part Two

You can't fool me. There ain't no Sanity Clause.

We conclude the birthday follies with the natural followup to our other celebrants, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim and William Shatner. Of course the final celebrant has to be Leonard Marx, born March 22, 1887. He was, of course, a noted pianist:

Why not a duck, you ask?

Watch the timing on this one. It looks a little slow, because in the theater (where the brothers often practiced their routines before filming them), this is where the audience would be laughing, and you never want to step on a laugh.

With the Marx Brothers, there really was no sanity clause.

Still need more proof?

We here at Grinwout's have never been able to fathom the meaning of the following scene. The preamble to the Constitution does not contain magic words of ethical pronouncement, but merely an explanation of why this new document was being written at a time when there was already a federation of the states, and many thought that the Constitutional Convention was not a legally viable proceeding. Nevertheless, Captain Kirk brings to these sentences a ferocity usually reserved for something more overwhelming, like "all men are created equal." But who looks to Star Trek for their history lessons?

Not only were Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim born on this day. So was William Shatner. Grinwout's loves William Shatner, so why haven't Lloyd Webber or Sondheim ever used him in one of their shows? He'd be great in Cats. Maybe as Old Deuteronomy. Or imagine him as Sweeney Todd! But as musicals go, maybe our fellow birthday celebrants caught this performance, and figured what he did to Camelot should not be done to them:

Never make fun of Bill Shatner, because he'll beat you to it by a mile. He's got a one-man show on Broadway now, so maybe he doesn't need a composer anymore. The show is called Shatner's World, and we may live in it, but he's its god.

Live long and prosper, Mr. Shatner.

Proof that astrology is bunk

Today is a remarkable day in birthdays, at least to musical fans. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim born on the same day? Okay, in different places and different years, but still, both Aries. Yet aside from the fact that they've both written a show tune or two, how could you possibly connect the two?

Oh, wait a minute. There is a connection. (Interesting choice of piano player in the second video, by the way.)

Happy Birthday, Baron Lloyd-Webber and Mr. Sondheim. (And how come Americans don't make their stars into noblemen? We need to rethink the Revolution.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

MJP continued

There were so many $ircuit judges that it seemed to me that in a round where the opposing coach preferred $ircuit judges that all that would happen is that my "3"s would be passed over in favor of another "1" which my opponent prefers and who is still likely to be a $ircuit judge.

First of all, as we said, let’s rename the categories under which folks register their judges. They’re either circuit style, traditional or new. That’s really all you need to know. The hair-splitters will find fault, but in general, everyone is one or another of the three, and you don’t need a Geiger counter to true them up.

Next there’s the issue of, what happens when you rank? Let’s say that you do have all the information you need to make educated decisions. Then what? There are people who attempt to game the system. There are all sorts of elaborate assumptions that these are the people who will be hit, and they’ll rank these folk real high, but that will favor them, but if I rank my 1s as 2s, blah blah blah. This is way over my head.

The first thing everyone needs to remember is the first word of the game: mutual. It is mutual judge preference. If you rank someone a 3, and your opponent has ranked that person a 1, that judge will not adjudicate. It has to be mutual. Now, granted, there are times where the best we can do is a one-off (i.e., a 1-2 or 2-3), but not for lack of trying, and for argument’s sake, it’s best to simply assume that, no matter how you rank someone in MJP, you opponent ranked the judge identically. (If only one person ranks, on the other hand, TRPC shows the rank of the one who did rank and a dash (-) for the one who didn’t; in those cases, we have no choice but to take the rankers highest pref.)

You opponent ranks all the circuit judges as 1s. You rank all the traditional judges as 1s. Contrariwise, you rank all the circuit judges as 3s and 4s, and your opponent ranks the trads as 3s and 4s. What happens? You’re going to meet in the middle with a 2-2, with the judge on the fence that you don’t hate but don’t love, that your opponent neither hates nor loves. You’ll talk paradigms in the round, but dollars to donuts this round will not transpire in a maximization of either side’s preferences. You’ll adjust. You’ll find common ground. The winner of this round is the smarter debater, not the one who picked the right judge.

Of course, that scenario only holds when trad debater hits circuit debater. What happens when trad hits trad? If you’ve both ranked accordingly, you get a mutual 1, a trad judge. If neither of you ranks, you get a random judge after all the other judges are assigned to the people who did rank. And that’s the rub. If you both don’t rank, you get the leftovers. If only one of you ranks, you that that person’s preference. If you both rank, you get an equal judge.

So, my theory is that, if everyone ranked, there would be all sorts of rounds among trad folks adjudicated by trad folks, and tournaments would look a lot different. The value of circuits learning to debate trad (and trads learning to debate circuit) would increase, not decrease. Since as a rule only the circuits tend to rank, of course things go to the circuit style. Get the trads to wake up and smell the obvious, and it will be a different ball game.

The History of English in 10 Minutes

(Via Galley Cat)

Johnny Ramone

Punk never really did make it. Or at least it didn't make it to the extent that Johnny Ramone wanted. He thought his group would be the next Beatles. They weren't.

Maybe because, at heart, Johnny was a Nixon Republican. Maybe all punk rockers were Nixon Republicans at heart. That would explain a lot.

Johnny tells his story in his autobiography, excerpted in New York Magazine:

The most important moment of any show is when a band walks out with the red amp lights glowing, the flashlight that shows each performer the way to his spot on the stage. It’s crucial not to blow it. It sets the tempo of the show; it affects everyone’s perception of the band... No tuning up onstage. Synchronized walk to the front of the stage and back again... It was a requirement we adopted, a regimen that started immediately when we’d hit the stage, to make sure you immediately go into the song and not lose that excitement before you even start.

Personal favorite Ramones song? I Wanna be Sedated. They look like they're working so hard!

A touch of noir - Joan Bennett

Film noir, for all practical purposes, begins in the 1940s and thrives into the 50s, psychologically fueled by the angst of World War II and the Cold War, thematically fueled by the popularity of the pulp fiction detective, and practically fueled by the fact that these were cheap pictures to make in an age where the big studios were losing their power and television was beginning to raise its competitive head. Studios eventually went broke trying to make movies that you couldn't see at home, like Cleopatra or Hello Dolly, but nobody went broke making black and white pictures where femme fatales led hapless males over the brink without doing much more than batting an eye. As a matter of fact, in those days, all a femme fatale could do was bat an eye, or maybe show an ankle. This was still the old Hollywood, after all, with the Code still in effect. These gals didn't have to do more, though. That batted eye or that turned of an ankle was all it took. Guys were stupid lunks back then. They still are, for that matter, but nowadays it takes more to get them to prove it. Sometimes...

Film Noir’s Hard Luck Ladies: Joan Bennett profiles one of the actresses who may not be that well remembered, but who did the femme fatale job to a turn. In fact, her life is pretty fatale:

Wanger, already suspicious of his much younger wife, was having her followed by a private detective. When Wanger was informed that Bennett and Lang were spending sweaty afternoons together in a Beverly Hills apartment, he flew into a rage. On December 13, 1951, he found Bennett and Lang returning from a midday tryst, and as they were getting out of Bennett’s car, he shot Lang in the crotch with a .38.

Can the plots of her films match up to that? Can even today's tabloids do the trick? Eat your heart out, Lindsay Lohan.

Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.

The "glorifier of the American girl" was born on March 21, 1867. Today we remember Flo Ziegfeld primarily for his Ziegfeld Follies shows, theatrical revues that ran on Broadway for for almost 25 years in the early Twentieth Century. They did indeed feature plenty of women dressed to the nines and displayed as shimmering objects of desire. He was also the original producer of Show Boat, and the husband of Glinda Billie Burke.

There may be creaky footage of actual Follies, but MGM's take on the whole idea is brilliant. Plus, you get to see a most unusual Lucille Ball.

By the way, today is also Johann Sebastian Bach's birthday. But he never put on musical revues with lots of pretty girls (at least that we know about), so no one remembers him anymore.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The state of nature

We at Grinwout's occasionally work outside of the interwebs box, in the world of high school debate. In that world, where students are introduced to serious philosophy for the first time, the idea of the State of Nature, as Hobbes called it, is the perfect starting point when you're thinking about organizing society. After all, there's "continual fear, and danger of violent death," and life is "nasty, brutish and short." How convenient for debate coaches that William Golding wrote a book that is the State of Nature delivered on a silver platter, and that that book is quite a favorite among younger readers.

Golding himself sounds like a fascinating character. Toward the end of his life, he looked like a biblical patriarch, a suitable style for a Nobel laureate. He lived on the remote west end of England, in Cornwall, because "people can't get us." When Nigel Williams set out to meet him, in aid of doing a theatrical version of Lord of the Flies, he described him thus: "His beard, his watchful eyes and his no nonsense walk all suggested a schooner captain who had just got in from the South China Sea after some pretty hard sailing."

Williams's story of working with Golding and creating the theatrical piece, is that sort of reminiscence that makes one wish one was a fly on the wall for all of it:

When we got to his house, though – a big square place in its own grounds, just off a main road – it turned out to be as neat and precisely laid out as a ship’s cabin. We went straight through to the kitchen. On the wall was a note in charmingly childish handwriting, congratulating Grandpa on his Nobel prize... He was about nothing less than the important task of showing how a slowly nurtured democracy can collapse in the face of the lust for power, how religious instincts can be perverted into becoming a cloak for brutality and how the competition for scarce resources can betray humans into revealing their fundamentally animal nature.

The article is William Golding: A frighteningly honest writer.

Evelyn Waugh

I had a high school English teacher who claimed, in his youth, to have visited Evelyn Waugh's house. When he needed to make use of the facilities, Waugh directed the young man to a room, in which, my teacher said, was an altar, on which sat a portable army toilet. Or as my teacher put it—and here his voice would roll and tumble with plummy resonance—"a thunderbox."

For some reason, I don't believe this is true, especially after reading Waugh's list of how to deal with strangers. Few if any people would seem to have been able to get past the front door, much less the thunderbox door. I am taken, however, with one item on Waugh's list, indicating how he would respond to various requests:

"I also have some post-cards with my photograph on them which I send to nuns."

Maybe he did have a thunderbox!

What made Alfred Hitchcock happy?

Via Open Culture.

Fred Rogers

Start watching this, and if you ever watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, you'll be hooked as soon as you hear his middle name.

Rogers was born on this date in 1928. His television show, in contrast to the fast-paced contemporary feel of other shows aimed at children, was always comforting and reliable, but also very exploratory. He would show you how, say, crayons were made. What kid (and what adult) doesn't want to know how crayons are made? He would guide you on an airplane so you'd know what to expect when you flew, especially if you were flying alone to visit a separated parent (he lived in the real world). One thing he showed you on that plane was that there were bathrooms, so you wouldn't have to worry about not being able to go during the trip.

I loved this guy, and I loved watching the shows with my daughter when she was little. It was her first television experience. It couldn't have been better, and I thank Fred Rogers for that from the bottom of my heart.

The whole interview from the Archive of American Television is here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Give me twenty hours, and I'll give you my paradigm

This whole MJP issue intrigues me. Read the comments on the last post.

Anonymous, fresh from occupying…something, makes an interesting point. A lot of judges don’t publish paradigms, so when it comes time to rank them, it’s a crapshoot. Absolutely. Then again, if you’ve ever read a paradigm, you will be up to your eyeballs in crap, and will want to shoot yourself. Who invented the paradigm, anyhow?

Here’s the thing about paradigms. You take a bunch of young folks who think they are the masters of the universe and ask them to talk about this mastery, and throw into it that they’re all language addicts, and they will go on and on forever. There are paradigms out there that make War and Peace look like a one-liner. The idea that all this content is somehow predictive of a judge’s actions in a round is to believe that that a meteorologist can predict the weather without actually knowing the atmospheric conditions of the spot where he’s predicting. Until you’ve heard what someone says in a round, you can’t know what your reaction is unless you’re an automaton who only reacts to the exact words exactly the same way every time. You’re not. Get over it. Even the same case content, in the forge of an actual round, will vary depending on responses, emphases, presentation, etc.

By the same token, there are judges without paradigms. It’s almost impossible for a tournament to enforce that a paradigm be published for each judge simply because who has the time to track that down? And even if you do, is it that important? Given the nature of most paradigms, which make what a bull does in the woods look like the God’s truth, probably not.

Still, we want to rank, right? I’m thinking that all a ranker really wants to know, and needs to know, is a couple of things. How thin are you going to slice this sucker? I mean, primarily all you want to know is if your judge is a circuit type or an old fart. Anything beyond that is fantasy, because circuit types will judge on non-circuit material occasionally, and an old fart who hates theory will pick up based on theory. Complex paradigms are not predictive, but the general nature of the judge is: in general, old farts want old fartness and circuiteers want circuitness. That’s all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

I suggest that instead of putting in the categories we have now for judges, which usually ask for a measure of experience, we put in a simple three categories:
Circuit judge
Traditional judge

Do you really need to know anything else? And they are completely value-neutral; we don't make any of them sound better or worse than any other. Of course, we insist on all judges being put into one of these categories in the pre-registration. They may, of course, have those complex paradigms as well, and you could consult them to your heart’s desire, but if you only knew this much about the judges you don’t know personally, you would know an awful lot. Add to this that you will also know what school they are from, and you probably have some idea what the general approach of that school is. Say a school is notorious for bringing an army of experienced parent judges. They would all be categorized as traditional judges from that particular school. That is more than enough information to rank them.

I’m going to do this next time I have a chance. I think it makes a lot of sense.

We’ll talk about the other issues from our Occupy Debate Street guy next time. They’re good issues to discuss, as is Pajamas’s.

The most watchable movie ever made?

Casablanca turns 70 this year. If you haven't watched it recently, what more excuse do you need? If you've never watched it, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Let's get one thing straight right away. It's not the best movie ever made. It's a slapdash affair in many ways:

Pages were being written even as the film was being shot, with [writers] the Epstein brothers and Koch working separately from each other. When Koch claimed the link between different sequences was illogical, director Curtiz reportedly replied, “Don’t worry what’s logical. I make it go so fast, no one notices.”

But it's so... Hollywood. The dialogue. The stars. The character actors. The sets. Everything about it says Hollywood's Golden Age. It's even a war picture released during a war, so it's got patriotism and selfless acts of sacrifice. There's even gambling, although you may be shocked—shocked!—to hear it. How did it become the cult classic that it now is? Liam Lacey (source of the quote above) answers that question at Here's lookin' at the cult of Casablanca. I would answer it simply, how many movies can you watch that often, and fall in love with every time?

If you don't watch this movie, you're going to regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life...

You don't know Pan

There is a certain ubiquity to the idea of Peter Pan in our culture. As Alison Lurie writes in Who Is Peter Pan?:

Over the last hundred years this story has itself taken wing. Peter Pan’s name is now used symbolically for a bus company (speedy, thrilling travel), a brand of peanut butter (childhood treats), and shops, motels, and restaurants all over the world. A psychological disorder, the Peter Pan Syndrome, has also been named after Barrie’s hero. This unfortunate condition, according to the formerly best-selling book of the same name by Dr. Dan Kiley, published in 1983, afflicts a great many American men. Unlike the original Peter Pan, the victims of Peter Pan Syndrome don’t want to remain children; instead they are stuck in adolescence... This is all the fault of their parents: fathers who are cold and distant and mean; mothers who are weak and needy and neurotically emotional.

Good grief. That's a lot of baggage for a little boy who doesn't want to grow up. Still, that idea has an amazing appeal. If you're a kid, the idea of not growing up is pretty attractive. If you're an adult, the idea of being a kid is pretty attractive. If you watch the musical, the moment that will grab at your throat and mist over your eyes is at the end, when the boy Peter returns and faces Wendy once again, disappointed and somewhat accusatory at her committing the cardinal sin of growing up.

For people of my generation, the classic Pan was Mary Martin and the classic Hook was Cyril Ritchard. The play was aired regularly on TV, although probably not as regularly as The Wizard of Oz. Still, it was this version, and not the Disney one, that stuck overall, although Disney's Tinker Bell takes the award for overall cultural hegemony, Peter Pan division.

Lurie's article is very much worth reading for even dabblers in Peter Pania. One thing she leaves out that I read once, and which I really love, is the idea that in the play, Hook, always a dual performance with the children's father, was in one early version going to be a dual performance with the children's mother! Let your psychologists have at that!

The other papers

Today if you wish to find out what is happening, or read articles of a particular political slant, or follow writers who are not in the mainstream, you can pretty much just switch on the nearest electrical device and get total satisfaction. It has not ever been so, or at least not in the not so distant past.

The history of newspapers is one of ever-increasing centralization. The press that was given freedom by the Founders in the Bill or Rights was an opinionated cacophony of paper, some of which had news and most of which had attacks on one politician or another, some of them far from genteel. President John Adams, while the ink on the Constitution was still not quite dry, was already fed up with the whole thing, and thus we got the famous Alien and Sedition Acts. In a way, the early press, in cahoots with relatively general literacy, is similar to the early days of computing: everybody who wanted could pretty much have access to the means of publication, and publish they did. (Come to think of it, that also sounds like today's computing!)

As newspapers became businesses (think Citizen Kane), competition was fierce. New York after World War II had a lot of papers, morning and evening. Different editions of the same papers were published daily. News hot off the press was literally hot off the press. And then, one after another, the papers started dying off. There are still a few holdouts, but are they the same source of news they used to be?

When the newspaper scene was still relatively heady in New York, there was, nonetheless, a similarity among all of them. The world was going through unique cultural changes, but the papers, aside from being various flavors of liberal or conservative, were nonetheless not a part of those cultural changes, which as far as they were concerned might as well not even exist. Into this countercultural background came, in New York, the Village Voice and the East Village Other, alternate papers that offered not merely a unique political viewpoint but a glimpse into a whole other world. Other big cities started having their alternate papers as well. Journalism started to change. It wasn't about capturing the events in a neutral voice anymore; the journalist could interject his or her own voice into the story. At the extremes (for example, with Hunter S. Thompson), the journalist could become the story.

The internet, of course, makes all of this sound old hat. An article like John Wilcock: The Puppet Master of '60s Underground Newspapers brings it all back so clearly. Read it if you're curious about the mainstream of non-mainstream 60s culture.

Dazed and even more confused

Start here: Dazed and Confused by Jake Holmes.

Pretty good.

Dangerous Minds pulls out the story of D&C from the wonderfully titled piece The Thieving Magpies. Something with that title is not, as you can imagine, flattering. It makes all sorts of accusations of music being lifted wholesale, transformed a bit, and reattributed. Hmmm.

Grinwout followed The Yardbirds back in the day, but never with what might have been the necessary commitment. I mean, a group that included Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page has to be thought of as, shall we say, seminal. As for Page, before being a Yardbird, he did studio work: "some musicologists have estimated that he appeared on 60% of everything recorded in England between 1963 and 1966." Then there was the question of who, exactly, were the Yardbirds, as in who owned that name. And there was a potential other group including Keith Moon and John Entwistle. And the song D&C in various incarnations.

The story starts here, and you can find all the links out from there to "Magpie." Fans of classic rock have to read this.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Weekend Pot Pourri Part 2

A few more stand-alones to end the week:

Anne RIce gets the full interview treatment: Authors@Google & Google Play Presents: Anne Rice


Andy Warhol’s ‘Screen Test’ of Bob Dylan: A Classic Meeting of Egos Andy Warhol iconocized (is that a word?) celebrities. Bob Dylan was a celebrity. Here's the result.


Artists at Google Presents Cirque du Soleil: TOTEM:


The movie opened 40 years ago this week. How many times have you seen it since then? The Anniversary You Can't Refuse: 40 Things You Didn't Know About The Godfather

Weekend Pot Pourri Part 1

Some links that are self-explanatory (although we explain them a little):

In praise of the Girl Scouts, who strike us as way more modern than the Boy Scouts: The Six Secrets the Girls Scouts Have Kept for a Century


You can try your hand at guessing who this blogger is talking about, but you probably won't succeed. You'll enjoy reading about her, though, right through the big reveal: Remember Her?


Barbara Tuchman is one of the greatest writers of history ever. Barbara Tuchman's Opening Lines is a good appreciation of the author; to really appreciate her, read her books, for instance, the new collection from Library of America.


10 Ultra-Weird Science Fiction Novels that Became Required Reading Since Grinwout has read exactly one of these books, it's time to get cracking...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Joey goes maverick

From the comments:

Lets say that in september of next year, a kid joins the debate team. Lets call this mythical kid, Joey.

He a smart hard working kid, who is lets say a junior. His coach, is a brand new teacher who has just been assigned to coach the debate team, and is the sole coach. The kid, being new, did not go to an institute, and never will because his parents do not have the money. He certainly cant get a private coach. But otherwise, we have a talented kid. Joey is a well rounded kid who likes debate, but also is involved in other activties, say he plays on the baseball team.

In 1995, that kid could have gone as far as his talent and work ethic would have taken him. Yes, there would have been a learning curve but once he gained some experience, his sucess probably would have been dictated by his abilities. The lack of a summer institte, asst. coaches, and the fact that he does another activity outside of debate, would not necessarily preclude him from local or national success.

There is a Joey at every high school in this country.

Would someone under those fairly common circumstances succeed in the LD of today?

Define success.

One of the things that I’m not taking into consideration is the world of LD outside of the northeast and the $ircuit. I can’t speak to what happens in California or Nebraska or Iowa or Texas. For all I know, there may be a broad base of LDers debating like it’s 1995, and they all get together at NatNats to duke it out. (Although in recent memory, the debaters in late rounds at NatNats were mostly $ircuit folks, although they modified their styles for the more general judging pool.) If that’s true, little Joey is all set, unless he moves to the northeast or wants to win TOC.

In the northeast, though, there are few schools that don’t know about, and in LD, to some extent aim for, TOC (although there are some that, in fact, specifically bar it). At the point where, at any tournament, a sizeable number of the debaters are trained at institutes and in their competitive experience often come up against others of that ilk, and where the judges are preferring that style/content and those kids are winning, it is natural that this will be the content/style emulated and that it will eventually dominate. That always happens, no matter what, exactly, the content du jour might be.

And here’s where a lot (and I mean a LOT) of people make a big mistake. If a tournament were not to reward a specific behavior, that behavior would not rule. Look at NatNats. It is not TOC, and even the TOC debaters who attend do not debate as they would at TOC. At invitationals, especially at the colleges, where the field and pool are large, and we offer MJP, the coaches who do not wish to see $ircuit style debate dominate have an opportunity to do something about it. If they put in their preferences, then the judges who are not 19 years old might pick up some bubble rounds and make a difference. When only the $ircuit style is preffed, the $ircuit style will dominate. Simple math. As a general rule, the coaches who are most vocal about the demise of LD when it comes to cocktail party blather, so to speak, are the least likely to use MJP as the tool that it is to turn their opinions into action. Only the most $ircuit influenced schools pref. It’s a fact of life. As MJP extends to more and more tournaments, small and large, the longer coaches believe mistakenly that MJP is the tool of the devil, they will dig a deeper and deeper grave for the styles and content that they themselves prefer.

Next year, where I can, I’m going to send out a long screed on this to get these schmegeggies off their non-MJPing butts and stop blaming the tool that could get them what they want for getting them what they don’t want. I, for one, have often noticed that when I don’t use a spoon to eat my soup, a lot of it ends up in my lap. Non-MJPing coaches are spilling the soup of LD on their laps, with the obvious result that $ircuit styles dominate, and I am forced to resort to ridiculous metaphors to make my point.

Oh, the humanity.

Finishing a book

I don't finish every book I start, because my Day Job is selecting books for a very specific purpose, and if a book is not fulfilling that purpose, at the moment I realize it, there is no point in continuing to read. I'd be wasting my employer's money if I went on. I will admit to having stuck with a few books that were off the menu way beyond that point of (getting) no return. I excuse this on the basis of its adding to my education about what's being published out there, but in fact, it's probably simply more a way to goof off while looking busy (if one can ever look busy if one's job is primarily the reading of books).

At home it's a different story. Because I read so much professionally, when I read recreationally, I am extremely selective. I only have so much reading time left in me, and I want to use it wisely. This does not mean I limit myself to a certain kind of book. I'm as likely to read serious history, Kant, a James Bond novel or a Superman comic book in my limited private reading time, depending on my mood. One thing I won't do, however, is spend time on a book that is not doing the job for me.

Tim Parks takes this discussion a step further. To him, not reading a book because you're not enjoying it is a given, as it should be. He's more interested in books that you enjoy very much, and nevertheless do not feel compelled to read them to the end. In fact, he blames the structure of novels for the very existence of endings, many of which do not do justice to what preceded them. Take Huckleberry Finn, for instance, which famously goes off the track when Tom Sawyer shows up. Wouldn't we be better off just stopping reading at that point?

To put a novel down before the end, then, is simply to acknowledge that for me its shape, its aesthetic quality, is in the weave of the plot and, with the best novels, in the meshing of the writing style with that weave. Style and plot, overall vision and local detail, fascinate together, in a perfect tangle. Once the structure has been set up and the narrative ball is rolling, the need for an end is just an unfortunate burden, an embarrassment, a deplorable closure of so much possibility.

One big problem with endings, Parks claims, is that so many of them are so terrible. This is a great essay about the nature of literature: Why Finish Books?

The Broadway musical is going nowhere

My beef on Broadway musicals lately is how many of them are revivals. I have nothing against these revivals per se, and in fact, I like the idea that one can see top-rate performances of the classics on the stages where they were born, and that they're not all relegated to the annual show at the local high schools. But after a while, one does long for something new. And more, one longs for something different. You begin to believe that Broadway musicals are in a rut, and the new ones that come along, even the really good ones, aren't much different than the ones that came before. The reason, of course, is commerce. Broadway musicals are expensive to produce, and enough of them are flops already, so if you're investing your money, you want to see some return on investment. An experimental Broadway musical is pretty much an oxymoron.

Which would be fine, if there were other venues for experimentation. But as Ryan Bogner writes in Bound By Broadway: The State of the American Musical, Broadway isn't the place for it, and there are virtually no other places:

There are artists out there who are passionate about the form with varying ideas, who want to create work that is envelope-pushing, different, and meaningful, but who need institutions that want to nurture new voices in musical theater. In order for the full potential of the American musical to be reached, we will need institutions that will give these artists the chance to grow in an environment free from the pressures of commercial Broadway entertainment and expectations of financial success.

Where are those institutions? If you love the musical, you should read this article.

Do not listen to the music in this video. You've been warned.

I remember it well. It was one of my family's first visits to Walt Disney World, before there was an Epcot or any of the other parks. There was just the Magic Kingdom. "it's a small world" was one of my father's favorites, and of course we rode it, but the ride broke down and we were stuck in the middle for over half an hour.

The music did not stop. If I'm not mistaken, after this experience, my father decided to find a different favorite.

There are reasons why this song may be the most reviled of all time. Everything about it seems to rub you the wrong way. For instance, Jason Richards writes in the Atlantic, one could point to the cheerful young singers of "It's a Small World (After All)." An online poll conducted by composer Dave Soldier in 1996 surveyed approximately 500 people about their most and least favorite musical sounds. Children's choirs were on the "hated" list, along with bagpipes, accordions, banjos, synthesizers, harps, and organs.

So we hate the singers. And the song itself? The song is a common "earworm," a piece of music that can easily get lodged in the auditory cortex, the part of the brain that retains audio information, identified by researchers at Dartmouth College in 2005...No one would argue that "It's a Small World (After All)" isn't simple or repetitive. The word "world" appears 14 times in the 22 English lines of the song. Its verses are short, and the chorus consists of one line, repeated three times, followed by a slight variation on that line.

Richards not only traces the history of the song, but takes it apart piece by piece, explaining exactly why it affects us the way it does. The article is It's an Annoying Song (After All). And yes, it may Robert B. Sherman's "most enduring accomplishment," but the man who wrote the lyrics for Mary Poppins and a million other unquestionable classics, is entitled to have written a classic of more dubious distinction.

Jerry Lewis

Joeseph Levitch was born on this date in 1926. His unlikely partnership with Dino Paul Crocetti brought the two of them an amazing traffic-stopping popularity. In their routines, Dean was the straight man, the "adult" as it is often described, while Jerry was the crazy adolescent. Their act originally began (and as the clip below indicates, continued) with the concept of Jerry interrupting Dean's lounge singing act.

On their TV show, Jerry did some work alone.

If you read any biographical material on Jerry Lewis, you quickly become amazed at how many different things this man has done. For instance, he taught a film course at UCLA; among his students were Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. After his breakup with Dean Martin, he went on to a successful solo film career. The Nutty Professor, which he produced, directed and co-wrote, and of course played a dual Jekyll/Hyde role, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Here he is in the Hyde persona:

Among those many different things Lewis has done, by the way, don't forget to include a fairly successful singing career.

Jerry Lewis is not universally beloved. He is a man of unique complexity and multiple talents, but his classic goofy characterization is not necessarily to everyone's taste. The goofiness of it, juxtaposed against the droleness of the Dean Martin character, may account for the team's initial success (since neither of them were doing particularly well before they teamed up). The best book about them is Lewis's own Dean and Me: A Love Story. But say what you will about Lewis, like him or not, he was a master at what he did. This simple piece has an amazing elegance that has to be admired:

Happy 84th, Jerry.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

PF's road to perdition

Look at the comments on yesterday's post.

I wonder if PF really will go the path of previous debate activities. A couple of things need to happen.

First of all, we need to eliminate all the lay/parent judges. As long as virtually all the judges in a given pool are practically straight out of the cabbage patch, there is little likelihood that competitive debaters will be tempted to get too inside baseball. There’s no future (and no ballot) in it. Can this happen? Can we transform the judging pool? I look back to LD in, say, 1995. There were graduates, but no real breed of assistant/private coaches. There were coaches. And there were parents. Today, it’s primarily graduates and assistant/private coaches (at least in the most preferred category). I remember strolling over to LD land last year from PF land, and all my friends, coaches of star debaters, were sitting around doing nothing…

Keeping the pool lay will require some unconscious commitment on the part of the community in general, but the inertia of using parents—they’re cheap, they’re easy to train at the present level of the activity, they’re inherently interested in what their kids are doing extracurricularly, they provide built-in chaperones—will be hard to unseat. It could happen though. Tab rooms will have to commit to the same inertia: put all the judges who can’t do anything else into PF. All those judges are, pretty much by definition, intelligent adults. PF was built to influence intelligent adults. So far, that is all good.

Secondly, we need to build up a solid structure of institutes, staffed by former debaters. One of the big reasons that Policy and LD are so inside baseball is that they have enough time on their hands to go inside baseball (i.e., summer vacations), and a willing crop of college graduates to help them along with it. Will we have a system of PF camps across the continent before long? As sure as the girl scouts sell cookies… But these camps aren’t particularly dangerous without the following point.

Thirdly—and this one is something we haven’t talked much about yet, but eventually we’ll get to it—before PF can go inside baseball, there has to be an inside baseball. LD didn’t really know what it was until the value/criterion paradigm was invented (which happened after LD was invented: LD was values debate, whatever that was; the V/C answered the question). When we talk in the back room about the problems of PF, one that always comes up is that no one has really figured what it’s about yet, in the meta sense. If no one ever does, we’ll be okay. If someone pins it down, it gives the folks at the institutes something to feed on, and the path to perdition will begin being paved.

There may be a tendency for any activity to eventually start gazing at its navel, and start confusing its navel for the rest of itself, but there are also brakes that can prevent it. I’m willing to bet that the parent-judge nut won’t be cracked for quite a while. That’s our best hope. Because there will be institutes, and those at those institutes will do their best to earn their keep by creating some sort of mystical lore worth paying for. That’s certainly what the Policy and LD institutes do now. They teach you all the stuff you coach doesn’t even understand, and thus you’ll win like it’s going out of style, because you’ll know all the latest techniques, and you’ll know what debate is really all about.

We have to check back in in about ten years, and see where we are.