Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Toward a more civil debate universe

There’s a whole bunch of interesting discussion that went on for a while on the NDCA listserver. I guess you could boil the main focus down to decorum/civility, although other issues were raised. What is acceptable, in other words, and what isn’t, in the world of high school debate? A reach for a code of behavior seemed to be the goal. I can’t speak to this very directly, as I’m not in that many actual rounds anymore, and the ones I’m in are PF, and I get the impression that the real problem area is policy. Still, as I was walking past a room with a round going on recently, I could hear violent argumentation bursting beyond the closed door, aggressive, threatening stuff full of vulgarity. The glass window in the door revealed that not one person in the room was dressed in a manner that could even remotely be described as dress casual, much less business attire. And there is little doubt in my mind that none of this, for one second, would be tolerated by the administrations of either the host or participating schools. No wonder coaches are worried.

On the other hand, of course, the coaches are entirely to blame. I mean, who is making the rules here? Who is running the tournaments? Who is sending their kids into these rounds? While we have an age old issue of how much students ought to participate in controlling the nature of their education, that issue is only about hearing and responding to the students’ voices and concerns that may otherwise elude the actual educators, rather than suggesting that we hand over the control of education from the educators to the people being educated. We do, of course, have good and bad teachers and good and bad educational systems, but this is not to question that educational programs ought to come from professional educators. I’m not going to argue this, because the opposing side would be defending the elimination of education as a profession. Let’s not get ridiculous.

Questions to coaches:
1. Do your students look like they are hanging around on street corners or do they look like they’re going to be representing their schools in competition? The old styles and traditions of debate are actually there for a reason (neutral, professional attire supports a specific level of presentation), and the idea that some people are more comfortable dressed some other way does not make that other way preferable. This is not a question of money, because you don’t need a tailored suit to look neutral and professional, but you might want to go a little beyond a backwards baseball cap, a t-shirt and jeans. That dressing in this way reflects the students’ diversity is an argument that I doubt is being made for the same students on the track team or for the school drama. For that matter, it’s not limited to minority students. It’s the general fashion of policy, it has been for quite a while, and it’s not a positive thing.
2. Do your students use vulgar language in the rounds? That’s an easy one. Vulgar language may be one’s everyday mode of communication, and this has nothing to do with money, race or class, because some of the most foul-mouthed people I know are among the richest and/or smartest. But it is no great stretch of oneself to know when certain language is or isn’t appropriate. If we can’t teach our students that, we’re not doing a very good job, because I assure you, the future for students who can’t speak intelligently without resorting to vulgarity is a limited one.
3. Are you happy with what your students are running in their rounds? If not, then are they really your students, or are you just there for the doughnuts?

My thoughts on all of this aren’t particularly new to members of the VCA. One of the reasons I eliminated policy at Bump was that an army of people who looked like hooligans were coming to my school and acting like hooligans: theft, malicious damage, aggressive flouting of simple tournament rules. Just because you put on a jacket and tie doesn’t make you a saint, of course, but the argument Gladwell makes in The Tipping Point is relevant. Neighborhoods that look like criminal areas allow people to act like criminals; clean up the areas, and people start cleaning up themselves. The externals are very much connected to the internals, and not only do the latter determine the former, but the former can also determine the latter.

I guess you could argue some of this stuff, complaining that I’m old-fashioned or whatever, but then I’ll ask another question. If you’re bothered by aspects of the activities that you’re doing, and you’re aware that other activities in the broad tent of forensics don’t have these bothersome aspects, why don’t you just switch out of the bothersome area? I mean, I stopped liking LD when I stopped being able to follow it. I have nothing against it per se, but I had always liked LD because it was, with a little work, accessible, even to casual parent judges. When it lost its accessibility, I moved to PF precisely because that activity is accessible. What I’m seeing is people getting progressively more frustrated with where policy is going, even though if you ask me it’s their own fault, and now they’re wondering how to change it. Well, they probably can’t, or they would have already since, as I say, they’re the coaches, and they’re the ones responsible from the very beginning.

There also seems to be some great belief that these are issues that must be discussed only among coaches, and maybe not even all of them. What? You think students are acting like hooligans and you’re afraid that the students will find out? Puh-leeze! Open discussions are the core of what we do, and of course that doesn’t mean that everyone can participate, especially in a disruptive way, and sure, you might want to limit the conversation to the coaches, but to limit it so that the students can’t even hear it? Feh.

There’s also some belief that MJP (or as many people refer to it, MPJ) is the culprit here. Well, that’s hard for me to buy, because every screed against the practice seems to be oblivious to the fact that you’re usually talking about maybe 50 or so judges split 5 or 6 ways, where the math and the limitations are constricting, and all their arguments seem to assume infinite number of judges with perfect mathematical distinctions. I’ve been making arguments about how competition works on the NDCA blog (and next up I’ll talk about MJP), and the whole point of competition is, well, to be competitive. Tournaments need to recognize that, for those few hours, the competition comes first. MJP, done correctly, while flawed, is probably the best way to manage judge assignments competitively. Let’s look at and fix the flaws, but let’s not disparage it out of ignorance while spending all week making book on your own prefs and “gaming the system” and pulling all sorts of shenanigans to work around what you think are the inherent problems. And by the way, if you’re such a great believer in random judging, please don’t come storming into tab every time one of your teams doesn’t get one of its 1s.

So, yeah, I’m a little unhappy about this in general. If people really wanted to fix these problems, they’d set a dress code for their team and, if they run a tournament, for their tournament, they’d ban profanity in rounds, and they’d read and edit case materials in advance to insure that they’re academically acceptable at the secondary school level. They’d manage the judges they bring to tournaments to exclude people who don’t agree to the coach’s rules. And they’d call to account the coaches who don’t follow these practices. Would this cause harm to students who wish to promote change in the areas of race, class, gender, etc.? I don’t think so. Real change isn’t going to come from bullying your way to a debate round win. Maybe that’s what the coaches should be teaching their students: Real change is real hard, and real important. Pretend change is a sham that shortchanges the real thing.

Coaches, teachers: Do your job!

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013-2014 Part Deux - the second half of the season commences

Life goes on.

With Newark pressing, some work needed to be done last week on the RR. 8 people, 1 pod, enough judges over the two days. Pretty much one hit the buttons and the thing came to life, although the rooms were the last thing to go in (the Newark debater needed to go into the Auditorium, and I guess I could have made it and him high priority, but I just plugged it in manually). Without all the roomage, tabroom (AKA CP) has a new warning animation that pretty much broke me up every time, for a while, and then sort of didn’t anymore as I waited for it to play through. Other than that, round 5 would not give me 2 judges. I tried again. No 2 judges. Again. No 2 judges. Checked everything. Tried again. No 2 judges. Tried again. 2 judges. Which just goes to show you what I’ve seen before with this system, that if something doesn’t work, doing the exact same thing again might in fact get it to work. Compare this to the standard working definition of insanity, and CP’s evil plan to send me to the Home for the Terminally Tabbing Impaired (Mental Substation) becomes ever more clear. But more to the point, it worked fine. This is so much better than having to set up an RR by hand, believe me. Of course, if one of the judges doesn’t show up, all bets are off, but that’s always true, program choice notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at Sailor cases for the tournament, and very much not quite coming to grips with team assignments. I’m kind of operating under an assumption that, starting out, teams should be flexible. This allows you to be in different positions with different people and develop individual habits before team habits, which is another reason why I start everybody on LD. Secondly, a smallish team means that there’s only so many people to debate with in the first place, and I don’t want anyone getting peremptorily shot out for any reason (yet). For all practical purposes they’re all first year PFers, so everything should be experimental. Or so I’m thinking. Maybe I’m wrong. One problem is that I’m having people write a side for Newark, and go first speaker when they flip that side. In other words, everybody plays lead-off and clean-up. That seems right to me also, because it seems awfully soon to decide who’s better where. But that means that if I team you up at the next tournament and try to keep you on the side you had before, it may not work. Oy. Given that there’s lots of signups for all the January tournaments, this is all getting confusing. The bottom line is that everything is open for the time being. It’s easy enough for me to see who writes the best cases or who are the best speakers, but I don’t particularly see any point in trying to create teams solely on the basis of competitive strength at this point. I want them to learn. I may be going about it all wrong, but at least I’m going about it.

In other words, PF is a brave new world for us old LD people. If I ever figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A special rude CL exclusive!!!

The following are the texts that O’C sends before tournaments. Every tournament. Every time.

Leaving now. No changes in our registration!!!

2 students just showed up not on the registration. I’m fixing it on tabroom. Everything good.

Leaving now. Can I get access to tabroom?

One of our policy teams has to go maverick. Partner suffering advanced stage dengue fever. Missed that. Oops.

Leaving now.

Registration is good. Thanks. You’re the best. No more changes.

One more change. Drop novice LDer Bronx FU.

Leaving now. For real. We’ll be there before registration ends.

Stuck on ramp of GW Bridge.

Still stuck on ramp of GWB.

Stuck on GWB.

Stuck getting off GWB.

Just realized that tournament is in NY and we shouldn’t have gotten on GWB.

Getting off GWB. Turning around, heading back to NY.

Earthquake in Hoboken. Bus only shaken, not stirred. Should be there in time for Round 1.
Stuck on ramp of GW Bridge.

One of my debaters looks like Millard Fillmore. LOL.

Wait a minute. One of my debaters IS Millard Fillmore. OMG!

Heading north in NY now. Could you put us all in Flight B?

Five minutes away.

No more changes in registration. Can we mail in the check?

Driver is lost, and my phone is dying.

Should be there for Flight A of round 3.

We’re in Canada.

Back on track. Should be there soon.

Five minutes away.

Almost there.

We’re pulling up outside the school.

Wrong school.

Almost there.

Five minutes away.


Oops. Wrong school again.

Almost there.

Five minutes away.

We’re here. Really and truly. For real. I mean it this time. I can see you standing there scowling.

Oh, wait a minute. That’s not you. Wrong school. What tournament is this again?

Almost there.

Five minutes away.

Damn it. I left my computer back at the school.

I left my pants back at the school.

Can I borrow a pen?

Five minutes away.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas

Wait a minute. No I don't. Last year O'C played that song on his iPhone every 5 minutes. This year he's being sent away to Spain as punishment. I'll bet anything he doesn't attempt that sort of shenanigan there. Those Spaniards don't have my abundant patience.

The legendary Regis Krunchy Kristmas Klassik is set for this weekend. The Wednesday Christmas means that lots of schools have a full two weeks off, so we normally expect a light turnout for this one. We also only try for three rounds, so that everyone can hustle home and sit by the fire and roast chestnuts or whatever. Seeing that it’s going to be about 60 degrees, they might not need the fire. Whatever. It’s the official halfway mark of the season, and a nice easy way to settle into the break. On the other end of it, with most schools still out, will be the Newark invitational, and then we’re back into it again. So be it.

Because of the small numbers, policy at the Regis KKK (well, that doesn’t sound right) will be extremely slim. We used to have more folks there from the city schools, and there was some confusion over why they weren’t, but Kaz has, I think, sorted that out and we should get them back next year. It was a question of membership, but let’s face it, more rounds trumps membership, especially in policy which is already running on fumes as far as local invitationals are concerned. This came to light when someone asked me about the NYSDCA rules for qualifying, which mandated that some of one’s quals came from a NY school. But if you’re a varsity senior in policy, Big Bronx is the only invitational until Lakeland, which is quite a spread. PF and LD get opportunities at literally every invitational, but policy has slipped out long ago for a variety of reasons. Anyhow, we’ll be changing the qualification rule. There’s an inherent logic to it, of course, but in practical terms it was merely prohibiting admission (at least for those schools following the rules), and that was never the purpose. In a world where inclusion/exclusion is the topic du jour, something as simple and inclusive as dropping that rule is a no-brainer.

Last weekend I just about polished up the proposed details of the DisAd14, which I’ll be sending to the potential attendees over the holiday. The assorted nuts attending the event will need to sign up by Feb 1, since some of the events require 180 days advance reservations. I hope to spend much of January arguing the details, like which restaurant to eat at when. Seeing Saving Mr. Banks next week should put at least the blood relations into the mood; that will be our Christmas Eve movie this year.

I will, of course, remain on the light side with postings for the next week or two, but I do have a few items of interest, so don’t abandon me completely yet.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Snow cancelled Bean Trivia. And meanwhile I'm pretty much up to my ears at the DJ getting ready for a week off.

Have fun without me for a couple of days.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Something tells me this is going to be the year from hell. Two tournaments in a row now I’ve headed home being chased by a storm, not to mention the Tigger health scare. What’s next? Locusts? First borns?

We got Ridge off to a good start. Plenty of people signed up for e-ballots at the beginning, and by the end, LD was well into half the pool if not more. When it came time to print up the ballots, zip zap and there you were, since most of them were electronic. On the down side, the wireless was not exactly robust, and in tab, we simply couldn’t use it. Going forward, that may be our biggest problem. We will be doing it again at Newark, however. There’s a little debate going on about how to train people, given that the whole thing is about as hard as falling off the proverbial log. There’s a likelihood that the system will never be one hundred percent, and I’d be loath to use it at a college tournament, but I would imagine that by the end of this season, we’ll be pretty well established. My original prediction was that it would take much longer, but aside from the issues of schools where the word wireless means that they’re listening to the news on that newfangled Marconi invention, we’re almost there. It helps that the same pool of judges turns up regularly. Once you’re in, you’re in.

Meanwhile, there were other issues. We knew the storm was coming, and come it did. To get in as much as we could, we switched the varsity divisions to single flights, which means wreaking havoc with the room system which is about as unwieldy as some really unwieldy thing, not to mention the comparably (although more understandably) unwieldy judge assignment system. With the former, I’ve taken to working more and more with text files and not even trying to teach the extant dog new tricks: I just delete and start again. With the latter, it’s a matter of built-in workarounds, which aren’t the worst thing in the world, but they’re time consuming. In other words, this was one of those tab weekends when you spent the entire time moving things around and trying not to solve problems but to turn around the battleship barehanded in a canoe. Meanwhile, the weather reports were coming in and the point was to get on the road by noon. Having the last rounds out, and no horses in the race, I left at around 11. By the time the sun set, there was enough snow on the ground to make one really thankful one had been home for some time now. And to think, this was the old Bump weekend. Thank you, Kaz & Co., for terminating the Goldbrick Diversion or whatever it was called at Newburgh. I sucked myself into the resulting November vacuum without a second thought. Following which Y & Co. sucked themselves into the resulting December vacuum from an even more wintry position.

And they’re predicting more snow for tomorrow, which is Bean Trivia night.

Something tells me this is going to be the year from hell.

Assigning judges

I was going to cross-post this from the NDCA last week. Well, here it is, a little late. The question is, who is the most correct agent to assign the judges, the tab room or the competitors? Frankly, I see the former as not merely biased but locked into their biases. What do you think?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tiggers III

Some simple math. 15% of the VLD at the Tiggers didn’t pref. 5% of the people who broke didn’t pref. That seems significant enough to me, although whether it means that people who didn’t pref aren’t intrinsically as good as people who did or whether their not preffing worked against them is hard to determine. But just playing the numbers, your odds are better of breaking if you pref than if you don’t, based on this one statistically useless example. I’ll keep an eye on these numbers going forward, until, perhaps, they are statistically meaningful.

Meanwhile, it was a good weekend for the Sailors. My Pffffters earned themselves a TOC bid, our OIers both broke, and one won the division (and also broke in his other event). The bus showed up and got them to Scarsdale, whence they shared their comfy coach bus for the rest of the trip. Our volunteer parent claimed to have had a good time judging, and everybody got home in one piece. I’m a little upset that we lost our meeting this week due to bad weather; I guess I’ll have to throw together a chez to make up for it, probably tomorrow.

Princeton is me and O’C in the LD divisions, and has been for a while. Of course, in O’C’s case, he was with me in body only (sometimes), because for most of the tournament his arm is incomplete unless he’s texting someone at one of the other tournaments that Bronx is attending (they were spread out all over the country). Yesterday he left his phone at home, and apparently he just sat in a corner all day under his trusty, rusty Muskie for President poster and cried like an abandoned baby. I’ve never seen anyone so attached to one of these things. Then again, most people I hang out with are about ready to enter the nursing home, and the only people they text are their own kids. Oh, well. This will probably be O’C’s last Tigger for a while, as he works on readjusting his schedule for some of that little thing called non-debate, or, alternately, “A Life.” I endorse this completely (his getting a life outside debate, not his not working the Tigger); running a big team that competes every weekend plus teaching all week does look suspiciously like no time left over for anything else, period. There’s other things in the world. Like planning for the DisAd14!

Somehow it seems like, aside from late dinners, we never left the tab room all weekend. I had my message alert set to the opening of “Coconut,” and every time it went off everyone in the room sank deeper into the slough of despond. Of course, the Tigs didn’t want to say anything, but I could see it in their slumping shoulders. On the other hand, I got O’C to download Jake Shimabukuru, so we also got a healthy dose of ukulele music, which led JV to the pronouncement that—and this is a shocker—he is not the world’s biggest fan of the ukulele. You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. My image of JV hitherto has been of someone pretty much wedded to their ukulele, when not actually coaching or teaching. Who would have thought that I was wrong in this?

Coming up this weekend is Ridge, with e-balloting. This should be fun.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tiggers II

Needless to say, we were hit by the whole health scare, but what are you going to do? Speech was especially hard hit, while the debate events, although smaller, were by no means literally small or uncompetitive.

Aside from idiot teams causing trouble, everything mostly went quite smoothly. We had just about every round out on time. Once I realized that I had enough rooms that we could overlap rounds, I changed the schedule to speed things up on Saturday. I did this at about three in the morning on Friday, since I virtually didn’t sleep that night except for the hours between midnight and two, what with one thing or another on my mind, the most worrisome being whether the bus would show up at HHHS for the trip to Newark. (It did.) Anyhow, I had spent a lot of Friday bundling rooms according to instructions from JV, but it took forever for it to occur to me that I had rooms up the wazoo. So I reset them to a three hour span rather than a four hour span, which enabled NLD to finish by nine rather than ten, and for the LD runoff to take place Saturday at 8:00 pm rather than Sunday at 8:00 am. All for the better, especially since the weather was frowning at us on Sunday, and people were itching to hit the road. We got the bid round in before it got too late, and that was the important thing.

The only hitch in tabbing with the new software was preparing the doubles round. It’s the first time we’ve done it, and the issue was not the pairing or the preffing, but filling in the blanks. The screens as they are set up don’t make it easy to see who is in which flight, and if you’re handpairing judges, you don’t want them judging two flights at the same time. One could, of course, plot this all out on paper after the pairings and assignments, and then add the missing links, but that is a giant step backward. CP says that he is planning on putting the flights in separate tabs, which would solve the problem, which is entirely cosmetic. Unfortunately, the cosmetics weren’t there when we needed them, which sorely tested O’C’s and my ability not to explode into little bits all over the Tigger campus. We got it done, but the process wasn’t pretty because we were way deep into it before we figured out all the reasons why it wasn’t working. It will never be that bad again even as is, but more to the point, it will get fixed, and there you are. ‘Taint easy being a pioneer.

Meanwhile, the advantages of working in tabroom rather than TRPC are overwhelmingly remarkable. First of all, it really does do the prefs better. We’re easily cutting a half hour off of the time it takes to get a round out, and when you multiply that by the number of rounds, holy moly! Then there’s all the benefits of sharing the data on multiple screens, the ability to walk around with an iPad to fix problems, the ability to fix problems on your iPhone on the bus—you name it. There is virtually no down side, aside from the learning curve, which isn’t a small one.

Members of the VCA know well my feelings about TRPC, which is a key factor in the popularity of debate as we know it today. That Rich Edwards wrote and maintained this program for the good of the debate community is a wonderment, for which no amount of thanks or acclaim is enough from the rest of us. So don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against the way we were doing things. But we’ve evolved, and we’re going to start doing things a new way.

It’s the beginning of a great adventure.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Weekend of the Undead

The wonder that is the Tiggers…

This is a tournament that is in its groove now. The Tigs do a fine job of passing the lore from generation to generation, and there’s great continuity in the team, so that you see familiar faces every year. They work well with the tab staff, taking direction as needed and taking charge as needed. They’re a joy to work with, and I look forward to it every year.

The big problem with this, and with most college events, is that, while they draw a hearty number of the usual suspects (witness the LD final round and the universal eye-rolling over, Oh, it’s them again), they also draw a sizeable number of what we might call theoretical amateurs. These are not necessarily schools new to forensics, but they are schools where, in a word, no one takes responsibility for anything. If there is a coach, either the coach has come to the tournament with 30 kids and no smartphone/tablet/computer to keep up with the announcements, or else the coach is merely a myth that individuals may or may not subscribe to. If parents are running the show, they will stand next to you while you’re subbing in a 3-3 judge on the bubble trying to make the tournament happen and tell you how they know nothing about the activity and have never seen a round or been trained and that they’re in the VLD pool and they act as if I’m to blame for this. If kids are running the team, they are substituting three new non-English-speaking judges this morning for the three non-English-speaking judges that wreaked havoc throughout their division yesterday.

No. No. And no. And it’s ALWAYS the same schools. There are plenty of new schools that come along, and they ask a lot of questions and they’re real nice about it and maybe something gets screwed up and they’re real nice about it and you're real nice about it in return and help them learn and know that next time everything will be great. They become regulars, because they know what they don’t know and then they learn it and everybody is happy. No, I’m not talking about newcomers because ALL THE SCHOOLS THAT CAUSED PROBLEMS CAUSE PROBLEMS AT EVERY TOURNAMENT THEY ATTEND.

Well, the VCA knows how I handle that with Bump. If you’re one of these schools, you will also not be attending Columbia, because, well, it’s either you or me (and JV). Or Bump next year. Or Princeton next year. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. No, we’re not being unfair, we’re just tired of you sucking down the resources of all the good debate citizens at the tournament as you toss in judges who have been brain dead since 2004, while everyone else is bringing top drawer talent. You get the top drawer talent at the back of the room; those other people get your living dead. Nope. Not fair. And that’s entirely what it boils down to.


We'll talk about the more fun stuff in the next post.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Discussion: Competition – Brackets and Power

This is a cross-posting from the NDCA site. I don't want you to think I've been asleep on the job.

(This is the second post in a series begun with http://www.debatecoaches.org/discussion-tournament-judge-management/.)

I’m going to make a simple assertion: if debate tournaments didn’t exist, most students wouldn’t debate. Yet from the point of view of education, most of the value derived from debate is in the preparation and not the actual competition. Other competitive activities might make comparable claims, but I’d question them. I absolutely believe in the various benefits of athletics, for instance, but nevertheless I see no great benefit to the practice of pitching baseballs if there isn’t going to be a baseball game this weekend, whereas studying philosophy or geopolitics or economics has value regardless of this week’s debate calendar. This makes debate competition an unusual animal in that, while the competition per se is all about winning, virtually everything else about the activity is not.

Be that as it may, and I could ramble on forever about the inherent values of debate, when it comes to tournaments, it is all about the competition. Once you commit to the idea of having competitions, the competitions have to be real and meaningful. The following is a probably not complete but nonetheless essential list of principles for tournament management:

Debate tournaments need to scrupulously fair.
They need to reward the competitors who do the best at that tournament.
They need to run under rules that are clearly presented and fully understandable.
They need to be inclusive.
They need to be open and transparent.
They need to address the needs and concerns of all who attend—contestants, judges and coaches

The first two principles, that tournaments need to be fair and that competitors who do best at that tournament should be rewarded, are procedurally linked. We want a process that addresses only how you debate at this tournament, so we seldom draw on past performance for placement. One exception to this is the NDCA tournament, which does some power protection in the presets based on the points accumulated over the year, the same points that got people into the tournament in the first place, and that makes sense. We don’t want, say, the top four competitors, which is theoretically already determined by their points, hitting one another in the first couple of rounds and, perhaps, eliminating one another before things even heat up. But for most tournaments, everyone is equal before the rounds start. There is no pre-event seeding. However, we do want to protect power, insofar as we want the debaters who are debating the best to make it through to the end of elimination rounds as befits their performance. So what we do is use the first couple of rounds to create a seeding for the particular tournament at hand. That is, in common practice at most tournaments, the first two rounds are random (and usually preset to start things off quickly, starting friction at tournaments often being an issue). Anyone can hit anyone, and the chips fall where they may. Occasionally the presumed top debaters do hit one another in presets, but over time random pairings are just that, and it is pretty hard to imagine the top debaters being eliminated in presets; it just doesn’t happen, or at least it happens so rarely that no one sits around worrying about it. The NDCA setup is simply a guarantee that it won’t happen.

After the presets, we work from a bracket system, where as much as possible, people with a given win-loss record hit other people with the same record. Within the bracket, we most often pair high-low, i.e., the highest seed hits the lowest seed, usually based on points. So on the one hand, you’re hitting people in the same position as you, but at the same time, an effort is made to protect power, once again so that the top debaters don’t eliminate one another too early. When the numbers in a bracket don’t work, we pull up someone from the bracket below. When we’re doing this by hand (which I do relatively often at one-day events for younger students), we’ll pull up from the middle of the lower bracket into the middle of the bracket we’re trying to pair. This seems fair and random, but of course we try to minimize the number of pullups, and at tournaments with big fields, they are indeed few and far between because the large number in any bracket sorts things out without resorting to breaking the brackets. As for elimination rounds, these are absolutely based on seed, top seed hitting bottom seed, second seed hitting second from bottom, etc., again based on power protection. None of this, by the way, insures that the top seeds always win. Far from it. It is simply the accepted way of handing the need to reward the top debaters at a tournament, challenging them but not putting them into a position of eliminating one another so that lesser debaters outlast them in the competition.

I think that, in terms of the principles of tournament management, what I’ve just described is fair, and that it does reward the competitors who do the best at that tournament. I’ve seen variations on the theme and run some of those variations myself. For instance, I’ve seen geographic barriers set, where in the random rounds at a national tournament, the two schools who happen to be from adjacent school districts back home and who traveled 2000 miles to get here won’t hit one another until they absolutely have to. This geography can also prevent them from being judged by their usual locals, going past the presets. This also seems right to me, although the judging issue gets subsumed in our further discussion of MJP, to come. The cost of traveling to a tournament is high enough that the teams involved are probably happy not to spend the event battling with their next door neighbors.

Whatever system one chooses to use for pairing a tournament, it needs to be clear to the competitors. Since most of what I’ve been saying here is pretty standard, no one questions it much, if at all. But if someone is going to run a variation on the theme, like geography or any sort of interference with the natural one hundred percent randomness of the first two presets, then everyone needs to know about it. If there are 3 presets, or if a round is paired high-high, or if rounds are lagged-paired, everyone needs to know about it. We all have an expectation of how a given tournament works, and we want that expectation to be true. It’s not so much that we might object to a certain variation, but just that, whatever it is, we deserve to know about it.

This takes us to the realm of transparency in tab rooms. In my career, I have seen tab rooms go from totally locked black boxes to (one hopes) totally transparent operations open to all. As a tabber, I honestly do find that there are times when having an audience is distracting, but it is never prohibited (except at CFL events I run, which have their own rules on tabbing that we try to adhere to). At the point where I’m doing something I wouldn’t want someone to see, I probably shouldn’t be in the tab room. This is one of the reasons why a good tab room is run by more than one person from more than one school, not so much because we don’t trust one another, but because we want to present to those not in tab a picture of an operation that will, by its very construction, not be biased. We want to be seen as above suspicion. Of course, anyone who has actually watched my usual tab teammates in action know that, far from trying to cook the books, we never even know who the books are about. We deal so much with data as data that we seldom even notice whose data it is. In the middle of a tournament I’ll turn to someone like Sheryl Kaczmarek and remark that one of her students is doing real well in a division that she’s tabbing, and she’ll be surprised to hear it. In the tab room it is all data as data. Which is the way it ought to be.

So maybe something here is controversial, but I don’t think so. But we’re getting to the controversial stuff soon enough.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Prolix? Moi?

First of all, last night I met with the Sailors and wrote the Jan-Feb LD topic on the board, and as I started parsing it, I realized that “When in conflict” has moved to the end and become “when the two are in conflict.” Has the Non-Catholic Forensic League finally given up and hired a grammarian? When they dangle, there’s nothing like a random modifier. The change doesn’t make the topic any better, but at least some of us won’t wring our hands yet again every time we hear it.

Curiously enough, after spewing my venom against balanced negs on the LD side, I got to spew it again when we atarted examining the PF side. Sigh. I’ve been having this argument since Taft was in the White House, or close to it (that is, close to when Taft was in the White House, not back to when Taft and the White House were nearby one another). Sigh and sigh again.


I’ve been working on my series on tabbing for NDCA, and I find it amazing how long-winded I can be (!!!???). I’ve always had a problem starting pieces, going on at length in all sorts of meaningless directions when I should be getting down to business. The VCA is aware of this, of course, and I try to steer clear of it here, where past is prologue and you already know what to expect. I have no idea who the NDCA is, on the other hand, or at least the main body of the membership. What should one explain and what should one assume? It’s tough when you’re unsure of your audience. In any case, CP has gotten the comments running, so I’ll post another one today or tomorrow, once I’m finished winnowing it down. This time out I’m simply talking about how the pairings can be done, which probably isn’t particularly controversial. MJP in all its glory will be next.

We’re mostly ready for the Tiggers. Tonight I’ll do the final divvying up of the rooms, which is always a pain no matter how you slice it. (I’d make some further comment here about how tabroom.com makes it worse, but that would only encourage CP to make some comment about passive aggressiveness, so what’s the point?) The Gem of Harlem is in full swing and nicely booked to the gills. (Sidenote to the couple of schools who stiffed me at Bump on judge fines: it’s too late now, folks. See you next year.) I also remembered to start up the Regis Christmas debate, which is a hassle with varsity and non-varsity divisions up the wazoo with difference judging pools. And I guess I’d better look at Newark, since we’re doing it with e-ballots. And at some point I need to look at MJP at Ridge so that it’s congruent with the size of the pool.

And while all that is going on, I hope someone will explain the Sahel to me.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

In which we revisit the past...

The Tiggers didn’t take all that much of a hit in the debate categories, but Speecho-Americans are avoiding it like, well, the plague. I mean, really. I’m a little in wonder that a school nurse can hold more sway than the CDC, but there you are. Given that speech isn’t even on campus until Sunday, you’ve got to wonder.

I sent out the new evidence guidelines to the registrants today. I think they’re quite clear, and it’s about time PF got drawn into the real world. Speaking of which, while I like the idea of an African oriented topic, I have to admit that Jan’s PF has managed to find a relatively non-existent conflict to build a resolution around. They’ve done this before; one wonders who, exactly, is doing their research.

Speaking of resolutions, let’s go back to last June, when I wrote this:

10. When in conflict, developing countries ought to prioritize environmental protection over resource extraction.

The dangling modifier aside, this would be a great topic (it’s a chestnut, at least used twice before, I think) if one side argued the environment and the other argued economic development (a better wording concept than resource extraction). That’s why they say, when in conflict. Unfortunately, too great a number of debaters evaluate the resolution, for the neg, not as that resource ext would have to be prioritized over environmental protection, but that the environment need not be prioritized over resource extraction. In other words, the aff must argue for the environment while the neg, not feeling restricted to one or another, gets to argue something else, to wit, sustainability. Duh. Of course sustainability is better than either of the two alternatives, but the resolution, ineptly unfortunately, wants you to choose one or the other. That’s where the WIC comes from. It’s hard to argue that the weasel sustainability neg is a misreading, because it really isn’t. But it is weaselly. I judged a bazillion rounds of this back in the 90s, if I recollect the dates correctly. It was horrible. I kept wanting to hit negs over the head for being weasels, and then I wanted to hit the affs over the head for letting them get away with it. I probably voted reluctant negs almost every time. If you have some way of always going neg, and you’re a weasel, this is the topic for you. At its core, as a matter of fact, it’s pretty fascinating. But LD never looks at the core of an idea if it can help it. Never has, as far as I can remember.

Rating out of a high of ten: 3

Well, as you can see, I was not particularly happy. Any topic that allows the neg to either not have an advocacy, or to not have an advocacy opposed to the affirmative, much less to propose an advocacy that subsumes the affirmative, is a topic that will bore the tears out of everyone before the first tree is chopped down in the rainforest. Of course, knowing this in advance might help, but more likely it will just encourage negatives to run sustainability even more, when of course the goal of the resolution is to choose between two big ideas that are not sustainability. I promise you that by the end of TOC, you’ll want to assassinate the wording committee and everyone who voted for this stinker. I also am willing to put my money where my mouth is: I guarantee a neg win in Lexington this coming April.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Odds and ends

I feel as if I’m behind on a million things. The Tiggers closes today, and the Gem of Harlem opens. I only just feel as if I’m getting the hang of doing the setups in tabroom. We won’t be using e-ballots, at least this weekend. I worry about an untrained and large assembly of people with a new system on a big campus. We’ll stick to a launch at Ridge the following week, where there’s nowhere for people to wander off to (except for O’C, who could wander off from bed restraints in solitary confinement at Sing Sing without breaking a sweat). We did get hung up a day on opening the Gem, because the TD was away and unconnected. Amazing how that happens sometimes, and how major the results are.

I enjoyed writing that piece for the NDCA, and I’m going to follow up with a fairly pure discussion of competition. We are caught in a competitive system, but what does that mean? Is it something we should like or dislike, foster or treat with disdain? Interesting stuff.

Speaking of interesting stuff, if there’s a debate person on the planet who won’t fall off their chair listening to Stoppard’s riff on Darkside, I’d be amazed. I’ve never been particularly interested in Pink Floyd, but Stoppard’s one of my favorites, and PF is one of his favorites (witness Rock ‘n’ Roll), so there you are. I listened to it this morning on my way to work, interrupting the other book I was listening to because last night’s OS upgrade scrambled my poor little iPhone all to pieces. Sigh. First World problems are so…trying.

Anyhow, the Thanksgiving break, aside from the NCDA post, was fairly unproductive. Resting up, I guess, given that I’ll be either at the DJ or a tournament through next Saturday at Ridge. Of course, the biggest thing happening this month is the semi-annual Bean Trivia event at Hudsville. The Sailors have already begun polishing their brains. Seeing that the game draws on the entire sum of human knowledge, the poor plebes have no choice but to learn everything ever in order to participate. It’s rough on them, but if anyone can do it, it’s them

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Itsy bitsy teeny weeny Lexarooni

So what happened at Wee Sma Lex?

Well, first of all, on arrival we hit the Chinese restaurant with the buffet. These are the easiest way to ease the plebes into the idea that they have to pay for their food, because there’s no need to figure out who had what. All you do is divide by 11 and collect the dough. Before we reached that point, however, I was struck by how many of this year’s edition are barely out of the state of nature. The holding of a fork roughly the way a Neanderthal would wield a big stick while killing a mastodon, for instance. Unanchored pieces of crab flying through the air with abandon. Piles upon piles of food grabbed quickly just in case the restaurant suddenly closed and left them in the lurch.

My work is cut out for me.

Getting them housed went quickly. After the fact the girls complained that the woman at their house just dumped them in the living room and left them alone. They wanted her to be their new BFF? Then Mary Poppins told me how at Bump she had four boys who practically burned the house down while microwaving popcorn, setting the oven to cook for an hour, a culinary experiment shut down when the smoke practically sent the whole family out into the night. Obviously the lack of civilization spreads far and wide beyond Hudville, or maybe they just acquire it at our border crossing.

In any case, after everyone was settled, CP and I got together for a little socializing, and then I went back to the hotel and tucked myself in and, way too few hours later, I was helping tab WSL. By now I’m getting familiar enough with the general process, but here we had the added wrinkle of electronic ballots, which I haven’t done since the Bronx RR. Here you had some people getting ballots, some getting nothing but emails. It took me a while to get the hang of this, but I think I’m good now for Ridge in a couple of weeks. I don’t think the world at large is ready enough for us to try it at Princeton. I don’t think I am either.

The Sailors did well, with everyone winning a bit, including the rawest PFers. Not-Zach and George were in the top 5, and Not-Zach was 2nd speaker, so that was very good for them.

As always, on the ride back we stopped at Reins Deli, where the lack of civilization was even more pronounced. It took the waitress three trips to bring us all our food. By the time the last plate was set down, the first plate was empty. Simply put, they’re all a bunch of heathens. Which, probably, is an insult to heathens everywhere. Not to mention the fact that, when the bill went around the table and came back to me, they shorted me about twenty bucks.

And of course, on a trip that’s a straight line down one road, the bus driver managed to make a wrong turn. Fortunately it was a wrong turn that once upon a time was my shortcut around Hartford, but still. She pretty much almost missed every other real turn after that. Sigh. This is shaping up to be the year of the bus fiasco, and it’s still only November. Who knows where we’ll end up by February? I hope they have tournaments in Omaha then, because we’ll probably be driving to them by mistake if I even doze off for a minute. Wasn’t it Jefferson who said that the cost of getting home on a Hen Hud bus is constant vigilance?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Readin' Friday

The Other Stuff and Debate Etc. are both filled with new stuff for your debate and non-debate delectation. I got a little distracted with Bump and all, which is why there's been a bit of a gap atwixt announcements. If nothing else, watch Pavarotti sing with Lou Reed.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Listen my children...

The Tigger debate waitlists are up-to-date. A few people have headed screaming for the hills because of the medical scare, but I’m not thinking that this will be a stampede. I could be wrong. My favorite thing is that I sent out a message saying that I have no more information than what the university has published, and the immediate response from people is to ask if I have any more information than what the university has published. Jeesh!

We still have a full boat for Wee Sma’ Lex tomorrow, even though Meh dropped out of judging for some inexplicable reason. I look forward to not having to do any heavy lifting after last weekend. And in a way the Tigs seems to be a bit of heavy lifting too, although without the same sense of responsibility. Still, sitting around whining to CP about the tabroom software seems like a great way to pass the time. Parsing out the rooms for the Tigs, for instance, stretched things to the limit. About 80 billion rooms, all on different days, for different divisions? Oh, yeah. That’s fun.

CP is running e-balloting this weekend, but I got an error message when I tried to link my account, never a good sign. I’m glad he’s doing it, though. I need a refresher course before trying it myself at Ridge.

Meanwhile, I know I’ve announced here that I’m working on the Complete Nostrum, not changing anything, but doing a final edit and a few annotations. Well, I am up to episode 45, which is only maybe 25% of the whole thing. It’s 500 normal Word pages already, which means that I was right back in the day thinking that I was really pounding out the pages. Instead of the tag line, “Where deontology is more than just an idea, it’s a rebuttal!” I’m thinking of going with, “Makes War and Peace look like a tweet!” If I get this thing out by summer it will be a miracle, but on the positive side, it’ll be free. So I promise you this: you’ll get what you pay for!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thinking clearly = the key to everything

We’ve got most of the room information for the Tiggers. Next I sort it out and put people hither and yon and schedule it up and so forth. The thing is, there’s a million rooms in half a million places, and it all has to be sorted out. The good news is that, in tabroom, it will be a one-time process, but this is the time. Fortunately the needs of speech are already in there, since JV has used tabroom in the past for the IEs. It’s just working around him, and getting congress and PF in there, that takes a wee bit o’ work. But I’m on it.

The plebes put on a practice round last night, an always instructive event. For two of them, it was their first PF try, and for one of those, first try for anything period. They’re cutting their teeth at Wee Sma Saturday, which seems a good place to do it. Lots of rounds, not a lot of downside since they’ll be pretty much outranked by everyone so their only expectation is survival without their pants falling down. Plus they get away from the local dominating teams and see that there’s a world beyond our little corner of it.

It seems to me that the hardest thing for people to learn is how to focus on what’s important and what isn’t. I mean, in a debate round; this is obviously true for everything else in life! During the round, if you hear an argument, you need to capture it and distill it in your mind. What does it say? Then the next thing you have to do is know your own case well enough to know how that argument relates, and if you already have the refutation in your case, then you know where to go when it comes time for you to respond. Or is it something for which you have a block, if you don’t have it in your case? Then you have to dig it up for your rebuttal. This is probably intuitive to many debaters, but not all, which is why coaches earn the big bucks, trying to help students make it become intuitive. My guess is that if it isn’t intuitive in a round, it also isn’t intuitive in their other schoolwork. I don’t know whether or not I can help them knock it, but it’s worth a try. It’s also evident in case-writing. Some folks write clear stuff from start to finish from the first day they arrive on the team, and some write a jumble that represents maybe half of what they’re thinking, but that’s the only half they’re able to get on paper, and the gap between brain and text is precipitous. Of course, they've never really been taught to write. I always go back to the same thing, a sort of pre-distillation. Before you write a case, have something to say. What is your case about? Write that down in one sentence, and until you do, don’t do anything else. I figure that if they can get to that one clear sentence, the rest is just grunt work.

We also went over all the tournaments that are coming up until the end of the preliminary season. There’s only 3 months’ worth. If you don’t have your oar in the water by now, you’re in serious trouble. I’m still having problems getting the plebes to sign up on the signup pages, which makes my teeth grind, but what can you do aside from hitting them over the head with a frying pan, my usual fallback procedure. Unfortunately, when the heads are harder than the pans, it doesn't work all that well.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Next up, the NDCA (with some stats on MJP from Bump thrown in)

It’s amazing how the lack of having to run a tournament at one’s high school this coming weekend allows the mind to float freely. All I have to do is show up at someone else’s tournament; I’m not even marginally responsible for anything, aside from getting my yabbos up there in one piece.

How nice.

My next project is getting some discussion going on the NDCA site. Since the whole thing is open, member or not, it could be interesting, and it can invigorate the organization. I’m still stuck contemplating MJP, for instance, and there’s still a lot of unanswered questions. There may be a polarization at the edges, for one thing, where preferencing can isolate controversial teams, or where independent judges who coach for money can drum up business, that sort of thing. There’s the question of the sizes of the groupings, and how it affects the judge pool. There’s the question of the down 3s, and how much attention needs to be paid to them, with the understanding that there’s only so much time to put together rounds. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that every tournament do it the same way, but every tournament needs to know the ramifications of what they are doing and, as a matter of course, publish their procedures. At Bump, where all but 6 out of 96 preffed, we had maybe 2 4-4s (I think from judges not picking up ballots), 3 or 4 3-3s per round, and maybe 3 2-1s all weekend (where there was no mutuality whatsoever). Of 44 judges, 4 (all parents or newcomers) got only one round out of five, another 6 got 2 rounds, the rest got 3 or more. Presumably if I dumped mutuality for the down 3s, they’d get a few more, and the folks who judged every single time might have had some time off. With 44 judges, I set it up with 4 equal tiers, plus some strikes. In the end, most people judged plenty, but some were almost closed out, and I hate to think of them sitting around bored for two whole days. (Which is why I’m happy to toss them into PF, where they can be useful, but that’s not always an option.)

Anyhow, it’s the publishing/discussing at NDCA that started me talking about this. I went over some of the technical stuff with CP; I hope to get started this week, and tidy up with him over the weekend. We’ll see how it goes. I can now think about it clearly with no other things, like Bump, clouding my mind.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The countdown begins!

363 days until the next Bump.

The news this year is that we used tabroom for all the tabbing, and it worked fine. In fact, there were some benefits that we uncovered along the way, like the ability to print up skems for the other building and distribute them without having to rely on a runner to bring the good news from Ghent to Aix. It was our first MJP experience with it, and that definitely was more efficient than TRPC, where half our time is spent doing busywork to see who’s free and who isn’t and moving people around from room to room and the like. I certainly like that fact that when a judge misses a round, you can immediately impose a fine (although I do have to clean up my registration procedures to fully take advantage of this). I certainly went at my miscreants with a vengeance after the tournament ended. Walk out on me, will you? Well, it’s gonna cost you.

It’s amazing how quickly I’ve gone from, maybe I’ll do this, perhaps, somewhere, to doing it everywhere, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. There are still issues to be overcome that have nothing to do with the software, e.g., the lack of internet access at some venues (not to mention the smug expression on CP’s face). At Sailorville we couldn’t connect to the internet because, first, I’ve never been able to connect to our internet, and second, it had just been hacked and eaten a whole bunch of teachers’ files, and I had been warned off by the principal telling me to pass the word. When I announced that people shouldn’t try to access the internet most of them didn’t believe the virus story. Presumably if they ignored me and hacked their way in, the truth of my pronouncement is now clear to them. Anyhow, I had my little Virgin MiFi which worked only through registration in the cafeteria; the walls of the library are too thick, which also affected Kaz’s phone, although she could access the internet if she put her phone on the windowsill in the grammar school. We used CP’s wifi in the HS, and that got us through, but I still maintain that the Hud isn’t the only antediluvian technology setup, and that this stuff just isn’t moving all that fast. With luck, I’m wrong. Anyhow, we’re ready to go at the Tiggers and Ridge, using e-balloting at the latter. I’ll get myself a refresher course on e-balloting when I head up to Wee Sma’ Lex this coming weekend.

We had fewer alums than usual, but of course that’s because in the last few years we haven’t graduated that many debaters. It was good to see Eric again after a long break before he heads down to Nicaragua for the next three years to set them straight. The People’s Champion seems to have recovered from the Vassarian Section, but I didn’t get to ask him what he did with all the leftover hot dogs. Kaz stayed with us at the chez Friday night, since she didn’t have any kids to schlep to Newburg. It was nice to get back early enough to chat for a while rather than being lucky if you get 2 hours of rest between the two days. Having eliminated housing for commuters and stopping earlier and starting later on Saturday made this happen. Unfortunately, it also postponed semis until Princeton for one round and Lex for the other, but a solid 12 hours of debate seems enough for anyone, however pumped up they might be. And they already got their bids, so now all we have to do is hold the round to make it official. Not a big deal. And I’ve always been against torturously long debate days, which offer no educational benefit except to demonstrate that people who run tournaments can be heartless nincompoops, but most people know that already, so it’s not exactly a stop-the-presses learning experiment.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hanging up the stockings on Bumpmas Eve

Everything that should be done at this point is probably done, but I don’t feel that way. There’s been a couple of problems that have nothing to do with the tournament, but those are things no one can do anything about. We’ll cope. Otherwise, mostly it’s assemble stuff tomorrow morning, print out a few signs and whatnot, go pick up the trophies, eat lunch, pray to Kritikius, the patron saint of debate, show up at the school and hope for the best. No hurricanes are predicted, or blizzards, and it’s even going to warm up a bit, or so they say.

CP has put a smart twist into the setup. When determining tie-breakers in the past, we’ve used adjusted points, even in round 3, which means using the single middle point. He’s set it up to use total points until round 5. I agree that this is a better arrangement, and more indicative of where one stands in the bracket. You could arrange every bracket differently, if you were so inclined. I also see now how to do break round pools, which wasn’t really an issue at Vassar where all we did was ask the People’s Champion who was available. Other than that, what remains to be seen is the handling of prefs. CP has been very happy about that when he’s run it, but he’s a much less stern critic than JV and I might be. The good news is that, unlike Vassar where we had to curse CP from afar whenever we got confused, this weekend we can do it to his face.

And that’s about it. A few days from now it will all be over. Let the rejoicing begin.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Did CT ever say anything else?

I’ve always maintained that if you hit enough buttons at random, the technology you’re trying to get to work will, eventually, work. In other words, after about an hour of trying every possible combination of pw and acct number in every possible setting area via every possible access device, I’ve gotten the Virgin WiFi working with my new iPad. Whoop-de- damn-do, to quote Justice Thomas. I’m ready for registration Friday afternoon.

This is the best part of any tournament. People are already committed to pay for what they’ve signed up for. Any changes will only be deletions, for which they will continue to pay, plus they pay additional fines for making the deletion so late. This is also when you realize who reads the invitations and who doesn’t. I’ll send out a last message tomorrow to update everyone on the cockamamie schedule, and this and that. To tell you the truth, I’d like to drop a handful more LDers; I can use the rooms for PF, rather than stuffing people into the corners of the library. However, que sera, sera. I haven’t decided who, exactly, to stuff into the library. Who’s quieter, LDers or Pfffters? Maybe I’ll leave the decision to JV and CP, who, after all, are the ones who will have to deal with said stuffed people.

The Sailors met last night, and we started pretending that they were going to responsibly sign up for tournaments, but we’ll see. They seem to think that the last minute is the best minute, but of course they have no idea about judging requirements and the like. They’ll learn, I guess. At least there’s pretty good parent representation. Literally every freshman parent can now judge. That’s better than ever before.

Not all the plebes have forsworn LD. One plans to soldier sailor on. I advise them all early on that I won’t be much help to them once they’re firmly embarked on this path, a point that was brought home to me yesterday when I read something on the NSD site that I literally had no idea what they were talking about or, as I read it, what they were saying. The problem is, I know full well why people like to turn what they’re doing into a closed-society operation; it gives a sense of specialness and belonging, something that travelers through adolescence (and often beyond) sorely need. Unfortunately, it helps take down the general operation in which they are claiming their special status. I mean, I’m not particularly dumb, and if I can’t understand what you’re saying, try as I will, I wonder who can. I’ve been doing this for ages, and plenty of new stuff has come along and I’ve picked it up well enough. Back in the day I read enough French philosophers to turn my brain into fois gras. But this nonsense? I seriously doubt the educational value of any of it. At least with the pomos, you learned the difference between meaningful and meaningless philosophical writing, so that at the end, you could embrace the good stuff. What’s to embrace in all this heuristic rhetorical analysis that is apparently mostly in aid of removing any conceivable content from debate rounds, making them totally about debate, with its language completely removed from the world of the resolution? Push every round into a totally meta context, and there’s no real text. Yeah, a lot of people are getting a real kick out of this, but it does much less to educate students than understanding the basic resolutions in the first place. Our tenth graders: should we teach them highly suspect argumentative constructs as such, or teach them about democracy and rights and the individual’s place in society? Your choice, and maybe LD will carry on for another thousand years as the former, but, well, it’s not for me. Way more fun, like at last night’s Sailors meeting, talking about the real world of immigrants. All the data are way different from what one might think, especially in a relatively non-immigrant-filled suburb like Hudville (although at least 3 of the parents I’ve met, from 3 different families, were not born in the US).

Ah, the Real World. Ya gotta love it, or at least what’s left of it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

And on Sunday we pick out our Christmas tree!

Insomniacs don’t usually need a cause. They lose sleep for no particular reason, and short of heading off to the opium parlor, there’s not much they can do about it. I’m of the wake-in-the-middle-of-the-night persuasion. I can fall asleep standing up, but I can’t stay asleep. As I say, more often than not, there’s no underlying reason for it. It’s not like the pressures are getting to me. I don’t have that many pressures. But this week I can state categorically that Bump is keeping me up nights. It does every year. And even though at one point last night at around 3:45 a.m. I got distracted from worrying about Bump and started worrying about the Tiggers, my main concern was the one at hand, in my own backyard.

What can go wrong? Don’t ask.

I’ll be checking people in using tabroom online at the school, where there is no wireless (and where we do the check-ins, no Ethernet). My Virgin MiFi hasn’t been working lately, so I need to test it with the iPad Air. If it doesn’t work, I’ll need to get littler fingers to do the check-ins on my phone.

I have no idea where we stand with concessions. My speech coach called me up last night and asked me if I wanted the new Superintendent at the opening ceremony. I have an opening ceremony? The speech coach’s job at Bump is concessions, but she didn’t mention anything about sweets, water or salty snacks. When I’ll see her tonight I’ll remind her; I hope it’s not a surprise.

Meanwhile, what am I going to do when the new Supe shows up? I figure walk him around to see the hum of a tournament, then drop him off into a PF round. The possibility of him stumbling into a content-free LD round at top speed could cost Hen Hud its debate team!

Housing seems okay, but the parent in charge has never done it before and doesn’t seem to use email.

Food will be fine, but the parent in charge seems to be going door-to-door extorting financial support of the judges’ lounge by threatening plagues of locusts.

We probably have enough judges, but I’m paying them more than I’m charging for them.

The schedule, thanks to the late start, precludes India House on Saturday, meaning that the Alumni Dinner will be moving to a new venue. (Actually, that’s okay, since I get Indian food for the tab staff Friday anyhow, and there’s two perfectly good places open at 10:00 on Saturday for reminiscing and catching up.)

We’re using tabroom to tab. Fortunately CP will be there. I want everyone else to press the buttons while he stands beside us slapping our hands with a ruler if we are about to cause irreparable damage.

I mean, what could go wrong?

Don't ask.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The 550 Frankfurter Invitational

Holy cannoli! This weekend we tabbed two divisions of the (thankfully small) Vassar invitational and six divisions of the (unusually large) November MHL. Normally this would be par for the course, but to spice things up, we used CP’s new tabbing software. As I put it in a debriefing to CP after the fact, “Doing a live tournament is, I think, the only way to really learn. Doing two live tournaments simultaneously, one of which has 6 divisions spread out over a campus the size of Peoria, on the other hand, is idiotic. I'm glad it was me who decided to do it, because I wouldn't want to be the person who suggested it if it were someone else, because I would have to cut off their private parts and feed them to the muskrats.”

I went on, “The real problem was that having so much going on at once curtailed our ability to dig in and solve problems calmly.” And that was it indeed. MHLs are always a crapshoot to begin with, but we’ve learned to manage them with TRPC even when they’re completely imbalanced with same-team pairings and all kinds of kerplooey. Imagine this. There were on 6 JV LDers, 4 from one school and 2 from another. To give them a reasonable tournament, for their first round we put them into a single flight debating the down-3s from the invitational (which, as it turned out, was quite fair, as the young ’uns won half of them). Try to do this in any program! Great googly moogly! And that was just one division. So for the entire day Saturday we were tabbing like little Beavers, with at one point 4 computers running something or other, all of us doing our best to keep things moving.

On the front end, nobody thought much about us because they were in a different world altogether. The invitational moved like any invitational (although it took CP until today to unravel the LD elims). And the MHL moved like six pairs of 47 man squamish teams with food poisoning rolling down a hill toward the single available one-holer outhouse. Until now, all MHLs have been held in a single building. It never occurred to us that there was a reason for this, but at Vassar, the only university I know of with its own cemetery on campus, we used multiple buildings at a radius of about 7 miles from home base. We had round 1 paired by 9:30 and distributed by 10:00, and still hadn’t gotten back all the ballots at 2:00. That, my friend, is the reason to keep things in one building. Can you say, “Eek!”? Still, we managed to send them off with a normal 6:30 award ceremony, albeit after only 3 rounds, so go figure. Not our finest hour, but somehow it all came off. At least there was that.

And, admittedly, we did learn a lot about the software. And one can only truly learn in the heat of battle. I had played with data in the comfort of my office for hours, but that’s not the same as working the data as people are flying all around you with a smelly carload of frankfurters (yes, there were 550 of them, thanks to the People’s Champion, who no doubt will think twice about his wiener order next time out) and Baby Cakes tart orders and missing judges and befuddled looking Vassarian Section judges asking the P’s C to explain novice LD between now and the start of the round a minute from now, and parents coming in to be trained, and enough people asking “When” questions to make JV’s brain spontaneously combust. At one point O’C barred the door when I wanted to venture out, telling me that I didn’t want to see what was happening out there, and to just trust him that I was better off staying put. Then again, we had the only bathroom in Poughkeepsie in our building, so it made sense to stick close to home. At one point O’C and I needed to use said facility and found a line stretching all the way to Albany. O’C, a Vassarian Sectioner himself, explained that there were plenty of bathrooms where they were going so get out of his way because he was going to the head of the line. (And yes, it was a one-holer. I stopped making this stuff up when I stopped writing Nostrum.)

I won’t be tabbing this coming week, since only someone who’s never tried it tabs his own tournament, but I’ll be looking over CP’s shoulders, especially during the break rounds, as he’ll be using it with JV on both PF and LD, the latter with MJP. O’C and Kaz will be using it down at the Novice LD division, but that has no break rounds, so it should be more straightforward.

So the march to the new software has begun. If one remembers back to one’s first baptisms of fire with TRPC, it’s pretty much just more of the same. And one can easily see the benefits of the new software. But it will be a while before we can enjoy them to the fullest.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Readin' Friday

Debate Etc. has new articles on immigration, morality and brain scans, how to keep women from voting, and so much more!

Meanwhile, The Other Stuff has some wonderful one-star reviews of Moby-Dick, an Oz theme park, some videos of skateboarders who aren't dead yet but who no doubt will be shortly, and, of course, so much more!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

This, that and the other thing

Vassar is shaping up as pretty small. I think we may have a situation where we’ve got a tournament too many. Bid tournaments do fine, but non-bidders have to have a gimmick to survive. That’s one of the reasons I came up with Academy, the idea being to provide rounds for people who aren’t at the top of the varsity ladder. I mean, at Bump, for instance, there’s a limit of 5/6 students in the PF/LD varsity divisions, and that means that, for a lot of schools, seniors only, or seniors and juniors. But sophomores and the rest of the juniors need something. It doesn’t make sense that a college tournament be that something, though. The Ivies don’t lack for people who just want to visit, bids notwithstanding, but even UPenn, before it got its LD bid, was primarily a PF venue, where it did have bids. In any case, there will be a lot of discussion over the weekend about the direction Vassar should take in the future. It should be interesting.

I’ve now decided to run both divisions on tabroom. That should be interesting too.

I met with the Sailors last night, postponed from Election Day when school was closed. We did a rather bizarre demo PF round, as the Plebes will be trying PF in December. Of course, they all think that they get to decide who teams with whom, which makes no sense to me in their fetal state, where they should all just get as many rounds as possible. I told them to think about the future, i.e., which tournaments they could attend in December, bring that information with them to the next meeting, and we’ll plot accordingly. (Note to self: good luck with that.)

We also divvied up the Bump jobs, although oodles of Speecho-Americans weren’t there (they always meet on Wednesdays), which was sort of surprising. Oh, well. They mostly get the concessions tables, which makes them perfectly happy, and there you are. As for the rest, we should be in good shape with enough runners to cover the territory.

Speaking of Bump, all the TBAs have flown the coop. We’re still a little overbooked, but the library can handle it if necessary. There is always a last minute rush to the exits as fees are set, and that should do the job. Food has been ordered, in any case. Parents have been shamed into contributing to the judges’ lounge. Trophies are being forged, software is being updated (it won’t show the school fee), places are being set at India House for the alumni dinner. What else is there?

Nothing, I hope.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Apple gets another boatload of Menick money

Velvet Elvis, the MacBookPro I travel with, is four years old, which is about 54 in people years. It took the Mavericks upgrade (which when all was said and done didn’t change much noticeably), but it’s time to start thinking that it’s near the end of its practical, do-it-all life. So I decided to get a Mini for the chez, and just use Elvis on the weekends, to extend its usefulness; after all, if all it needs to do is run a browser and TRPC, it’s fine. I picked up the Mini on Monday, and threw in an iPad Air for good measure, as my first gen iPad is definitely not keeping up with the times.

Which means, in a word, tech turmoil.

For some reason simply hooking up the two machines to copy files didn’t work, but I didn’t need all that much, and sharing over the wireless did the job. Since I had iTunes on a separate drive, I hooked that up directly, for an estimated day to copy. Using the old Mac as a disk drive, mostly to assure myself that it worked that way, I installed Office. I still need to bring over the rest of my data, including pictures, but most of what I have other than photos is on Dropbox, so there’s not much there. In fact, it always surprises me when I can’t find a file on Dropbox. I work on too many different computers and devices to store much locally, except when I’m not paying attention. (The pix are also backed up on my Amazon drive; better safe than sorry.)

The turmoil comes when you start deciding what hardware to keep and what to toss. I have two little standalone drives that I used for the MacBook backup and the iTunes library. I figure that, once things are set on the Mini, I’ll reassign the backup drive there. I don’t know about the iTunes one. The Mini has enough storage space to handle all my music two or three times over, so I might as well run the music from that machine. I might pass that second drive along to the spouse to use as a backup for her MacBook. No point in wasting it.

As for the iPad, the differences are few except that the weight is very meaningful. Plus some of the things that were dicey on the first gen work fine on the Air. This time the question of what to do with the original is simple. I’ll be passing it to the daughter so she can play Civ and watch movies. So everything remains in the family.

One benefit of a big hardware upgrade is that it gives you the opportunity to survey the workspace and clean things up. I still have attachments for Little Elvis, for instance, my original iBook. I figure that will become my DVD slot (remote) for the Mini. Some of the wires on my desk seem to be attached to nothing; they need to be sorted out. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

While I was playing with this last night, all kinds of things were going on with Vassar, but I totally missed them. Fortunately, things tend to work out fine when you’re otherwise engaged.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Bump nears

The trophy guy called me up last week and told me that their acrylic supplier had flown the coop, so they were substituting blue glass for the Bump trophies. Thus are traditions made. I originally moved to acrylic back in the 90s to put my own stamp on things. Now the acrylic supplier has put its stamp on things. Fortunately I trust my trophy guy. Oy.

The tournament remains oversubscribed, but I’ve cleared off every school’s initial entry from the waitlist. I feel good about that, that no one was shut out. We will dwindle down, I know, but since I’m using too many library spaces for comfort, I’m fine with that. All in all, it’s a sellout, and it’s nice to be back after the hurricane.

I’ve decided to go with tabroom.com tabbing in the varsity divisions, seeing that CP will be in the tab room. He’s very sanguine about things, and this will give JV a chance to see it in action. I’ll be using it for PF at Vassar this weekend, just to get a feel for it live, my worst case scenario being a port over to TRPC if disaster strikes. But I’m not worried. Much. Meanwhile, Bump novices will dance to the tune of TRPC. They’ll survive.

I’ve worked out the Sailors’ job assignments. Some of them surprised me as I made them, but they were sensible. Number one priority at any tournament is making the rounds happen, and that was my guiding principle. I’ll announce them at a joint meeting of tutti of my fruttis tomorrow night at the school (today was a day off, of course). I will point out here that the one thing that always surprises me is the popularity of manning the concessions. To me, this sounds like boredom on a stick, because all you do is sit there and people give you a dollar and you give them a bottle of water. There’s no there there. Actually, it’s usually the Speecho-Americans who value the candy tables so much. Maybe it’s genetic. Debato-Americans prefer making the trains run on time, while Speecho-Americans like to walk through the trains selling Hershey bars. An apt metaphor.

The best thing about Bump is that, starting the day after, I don’t have to think about it again until the next summer. That happy Sunday twelve days from now, I assure you, is the high point of my debate season.

Monday, November 04, 2013

New Jersey, home of the New Jerseyites!

We ran our first MHL of the year on Saturday in Newark's Central High School.

First of all, there was some sort of mass amnesia as just about every other coach missed the signup deadline. Initially I was making the changes for them and then after one too many plaintive cries I just threw the damned thing open again. Fortunately the school we were at was enormous, so space wasn’t a problem. I did send a suitable reprimand to the tutti of the fruttis that this sort of thing couldn’t be a habit. We have procedures for a reason, and the Thursday shut-off is to secure enough rooms. This will be especially relevant this coming weekend, where we’re either on the Vassar campus or down the road, and we won’t know which till the MHL numbers are in. Sigh.

Other than that, things went pretty smoothly. We only did three rounds, but to tell you the truth, more would have been almost impossible. We had newbies coming out our ears, and there’s just so much you can expect from that. For instance, there was the one girl who came up to me as I was standing at the table, who told me that something very unusual had happened, that she had been affirmative in the first round but that in the second round, she was scheduled to go negative. My initial instinct was, of course, to agree that this is indeed very unusual and promise that it would never happen again, but it’s hard to be that mean to a serious little freshman at their first event. That’s why first-timers as often as not get three rounds, in aid of keeping their brains (and our brains) from falling out.

There was one interesting session of falling brains, however, as the 7 JV PF teams all seemed to be prepared to debate different topics. Why this was so eluded me, but O’C finagled a way to make everyone happy, and before you knew it they were sharing evidence and baby pictures and it was the epitome of good debate citizenship. Very nice to see: charity trumped competition. I unilaterally granted them all 2 pts (half a full qual) for the NYSDCA tournament after the fact. They deserved it, because win or lose, they acted like champions. I respect that.

In the middle of the event, we snuck out to the only restaurant nearby, proudly serving what it called comfort food, and holy moly, were we comforted. Meat loaves and mac & cheese and banana puddings and curried chicken & rice and red velvet cheese cake and—Ah, the pounds we added were worth it. Fresh ginger lemonade… Sigh.

Of course, finding the school, and then finding our way out of the school was a comedy of errors. We explored much of Newark, both in the early morning light and in the dark of the Jersey night, but somehow we did ultimately get both in and out. Two of the three competing Sailors went undefeated and earned medals, a fine outcome to a good day.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


I installed Mavericks on my MacBook Pro, and I’m wondering about it. I am at the edge of compatibility, after all, and everything just seems slow all of a sudden. I’m seriously considering getting a Mac Mini for home and just using the rather aging laptop for travel, so it probably won’t matter in the long run, but still… It does run Windows under Fusion as before, although I haven’t upgraded Fusion in some time; I hate to tempt fate (and spend money). To be honest, in my reading on the new OS nothing jumped out at me as all that interesting, aside from the presumed improved efficiency which, as I say, I haven’t quite seen. Maybe it just needs a little rest. I haven’t turned it off, except to restart, since Regis. We all need a little down time now and then.

I realize that today is Halloween, but I never do much about it. We don’t get any trick-or-treaters because the chez is on a fairly busy street without any sidewalks, and I haven’t worn a costume since, well, as long as I can remember. I might have scuzzied myself up a bit to look piratical when I used to take my daughter out when she was little, but I don’t count that. There’s nothing like Manhattan’s Halloween parade in Hudville, needless to say. So I have to be satisfied with the vicarious thrill (right word?) of watching O’C get all duded (definitely not the right word) up. He’s been threatening Cruzerace for years now, but in fact going as not much more than a scuzzied up pirate. He did Roy Orbison once, but you if all you have to do is put on heavy framed glasses, well, that’s not exactly Vegas Elvis. Cruzerace, on the other hand, does do the job, although I’m a little disappointed that he opted out of the hot pants. (And I defy you not to compose a little rift on the idea of O’C opting out of his hot pants. I defy you!) I did buy some little Snickers bars, just in case the odd All Hallows refugee appears at the chez door. If the odd All Hallows refugee turns out to be Cruzerace, he can have a couple of little Snickers bars. He’s earned it.

I’ve finally gotten the rooms for Bump. We’ll go to 100 in novice in the grammar school, and 140 split between PF and LD in the high school, probably at about two to one. We’re finally in the drifting-off stage, where I get to clear the waitlist every now and then. There’s still schools shut out, but I’m sanguine about there being room for them in the long run. I might even be able to eke out a few extra entries for the more robust teams in the region. We’ll see. Last year, thanks to Sandy, we had space aplenty. Pent-up desires have worked their magic this year. So it goeth.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Transitioning to PF

For rather elusive reasons, a sophomore and a junior have been in and out of the newbie sailor group, but I gather that henceforth they are in. Including them, we’re planning a fairly preemptive move to PF by December, except for a couple of boneheads who didn’t show up last night. Whatever.

(I can call them that because the likelihood of them ever reading this is somewhere between nil and zero. About the same as getting them to look at the team calendar.)

My whole process has been thrown into disarray, simply because we haven’t had any numbers since back when I committed to PF. When it was only one team, I didn’t have to give it much thought, but now I have to think things out. My original premise was to start them in LD, and I’m still sort of thinking that’s the way to go, because it allows me to work with them on introductory philosophy/ethics, which would otherwise go by the board in favor of whatever topic is at hand. Another reason I like starting with LD is that there’s no partner issues, so you can learn how to build arguments and get your feet wet all on your own. This whole thing will keep evolving. It’s not as if I don’t have the materials to work with them on, simply that I keep juggling them.

The alternative, starting with the topic at hand and working top-down, so to speak, rather than bottom up, is certainly possible. It’s just that I haven’t chosen to do it. What I really want to do is try both ways simultaneously in the lab and see which works better. Unfortunately we don’t have that luxury.

On another note entirely, I’m pretty sure I’m going to try tabroom for tabbing part of Vassar next weekend. It’s hard to see a reason why not. I won’t get my feet wet by standing on the boardwalk.

And wait a minute. Bump is two weeks from this coming Friday? Really? I so don’t feel anywhere near ready for it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More mischief!

I am now on the board of the NDCA. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The NDCA doesn’t get a lot of traction in the northeast, which surprises me. After all, there is no other group concerning itself almost solely with providing services and resources to coaches. Presumably the NFL does some of this, but only behind a pay wall. (I find it hard to justify paying a fairly decent amount of money just so my kids can get stickers every few months while being virtually locked out of their tournament or at best treated as second-class citizens. Where’s our second-class citizen discount?) What the NDCA does is free for all; membership is optional and cheap. Plus they run a national tournament according to reasonable procedures, with agnostic apolitical qualification standards, unlike the TOC which, from my personal experience, is an oligarchy built more on personal politics than the realities of high school debate. (Anyone looking at the list of quals could figure that out easily enough.) Still, the TOC, at least in LD, is the ranking national tournament. So it goes.

I have some goals now that I’m part of the group. I would really like to see more coaches around here joining up, and also attending the tournament. My thought is that, if the NDCA communicated better, this might happen. The board splits itself into various responsibilities; I chose working on the website, with a minor in increasing membership. That seems to make sense, given the things I’m good at. I want to build a blog over there for discussion of issues that affect all of us, like MJP. CP, their tech guy, is helping me set that up. I also want to get their Twitter feed more vigorous. There’s not much to it now. And I think that their resources need punching up; some of that stuff is a little long in the tooth. As I said, this is stuff that I’m good at.

What I’m not good at is going to the tournaments that the rest of the board attend. We skyped with them during Big Bronx, and we’ll probably do the same during Glenbrooks. What can I say? I’m not exactly a circuit coach. Then again, I’m totally non-policy, which is also different from the rest of them, I think. A little PF/LD influence never hurt anybody.

Monday, October 28, 2013

And they're off!

The first of the first-timer events is now under our proverbial belt. From the Plebe point of view, it was fine. Everybody picked up at least one round—remember, our team has no varsity LD and no team LD memory to pass down—and one of the three brought home a lovely almost new mug taken directly from the back of a closet somewhere in Regis and dusted off handsomely before being dished out to our young stalwart. The trophies as a whole were, to put it in the softest terms, a mélange. But as I’ve said a bazillion times, novice debate isn’t about winning trophies, it’s about winning over nerves and intestines. Everything else is just gravy.

People are truly falling into the process of handling their own teams and checking in so that we can start things in a timely manner. We went up to tab at 9:05, to pair 7 divisions. Following opening remarks, distribution of schematics, and judge instructions (which, as always, were ignored by the judges most likely to flout them egregiously, thinking that they know so much better when, in fact, the air in their heads would power the Goodyear blimp), all the ballots were picked up by 10:05. Nifty-galifty, to put it in Mr. Rogers terms. Getting in 4 rounds was a piece of layer cake.

Problems? Well, always a few. Untrained judges, but we had enough overage to shuttle them from the back of the room to JV’s training sessions. Sophomore judges, which are not allowed? You betcha! Unchaperoned teams? Well, one, yes, which is the ultimate no-no. Just because you are being paid to judge by the school does not make you an adult in an emergency. Oh, well. On the back end, we had normal sizes in all the divisions except VPF, which I paired as a small RR, with 3 double-flighted rounds and 2 single-flighted rounds in the same time slot, the sort of thing that makes my brains fall out just thinking about it, but somehow it worked. As for the rest, a few same-school rounds, unavoidable when someone is half the field, but we’re used to them by now, and always provide neutral judging, which at least elevates them beyond a mere practice session.

Awards (well, old junk from the Regis closet) started promptly at 6:30, right after I heard that the bus we were sharing with the Sailor Speecho-Americans was about to set sail from 5th Avenue and 16th Street to Park Avenue and 85th Street. We were out by 6:45, just in time to get picked up by our bus at 7:45. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the first time I heard from the bus after it launched was when they called to tell me that they had left Manhattan and headed over to Queens. This is an accomplishment. Not since the Bronx bus to Westchester (the suburb immediately adjacent to the Bronx) headed across the Hudson toward Pennsylvania has a bus gone so impossibly and inexplicably awry. Oh, well. What can you do? It’s debate, as in, “It’s Chinatown, Jake.” You just accept it and move on. The alternative is an aneurysm, and who needs that so early in the year?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Readin' and Writin' Friday

The latest Debate Etc.—Drones, drinking, discussions of LD and PF, and more.

The latest The Other Stuff—Archie horror comics, Vincent Price, Bill Watterson, the greatest Beatles performance of all time, and, of course, the proverbial more.

And if you haven't read The House on Summer Street for Halloween, there's simply no hope for you.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Final words on SOTLSEGB

For all practical purposes, aside from our initial need to fix some of the prefs, SOTLSEGB went off without a hitch. We’d have a round, ballots would come back in a timely fashion, and we’d have another round. No real crises worth reporting. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Let’s not jinx it for the next time. (There was one interesting, shall we say, problem, that has come up before and which might be of interest. I’ll address that separately, as it’s really not specific to SOTLSEGB.)

CP and I returned this year to my tab cave, which was absolutely my choice for a workplace, based on previously working in Grand Central Station with a hundred other tabbers all talking at once when I wanted to be talking, and vice versa. I just couldn’t get any work done there. In the past we’ve been here, there and everywhere in the building, but I always prefer peace and quiet. However, somehow I missed the fact that O’C was re-divvying out tabroom spaces this year, so when I went to check in on PF, I discovered that, in essence, they were tabbing in the palace at Versailles, my own quarters being the Bastille by comparison. They were all port and cigars and leather chairs and big screen TVs watching college football games while their valets polished their shoes and straightened their cravats for them in the principal’s office, which hadn’t been open to us since the Soddie days, when he used to rule from the principal’s throne like the pharaoh overseeing the building of the pyramids. How did I miss out on this? I don’t begrudge it them, though. I don’t want to fall into their louche, sybaritic ways. On the other hand, I did decide I wanted to improve slightly, so next year we’ll be next door to Grand Central Station and policy tab, where, if we’re so inclined, we can take advantage of the couches, the microwave and pleasant conversation, otherwise we’ll keep to ourselves and listen to “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” over and over again.

Foods of the World Unite were pretty good this time out. Friday night we had “Tastes of the Via Veneto,” AKA debate ziti. Saturday lunch was a nice change, “L’apres-midi en Provence,” AKA debate ziti. “Festival of the Greeks” on Saturday night was especially interesting: they served debate ziti. We went to the Far East on Sunday with the imaginative “Foods Marco Polo Brought Back from China” buffet, which heavily featured debate ziti. The thing of it is, given that most of the judges are college students, they just wolfed this stuff down like vultures ripping open a fresh gazelle. There’s not enough debate ziti in all of Forensicia to hold them. Older people at a tournament like this have a glazed expression on their faces before they even arrive, so I think they don’t even notice, and let’s face it, debate ziti is easy to gum when your teeth are mostly replaced by crowns and bridges, and easy to digest after a lifetime of steaks, chops and raw oysters.

One doesn’t sleep much in one’s little hotel room during tournaments like this, so I’ll admit that I was happy to slip back to the chez for Sunday dinner (chicken, not debate ziti). Princeton opened Tuesday, the first-timers hit the deck this Saturday, and Bump is percolating on the back burner as our housing parent is making steady progress. In other words, the season is just about in full swing. When all is said and done, SOTLSEGB is just one not-quite-small part of it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


There’s nothing terribly SOTLSEGBian about my judge complaints yesterday. I had similar complaints about Yale. Short of using techniques that would make Dick Cheney shudder, I don’t know what we could do about it. At both these venues it wasn’t as if there was anywhere to wander off to, as one of them was in the wilds of New Haven and the other in the wilds of the Bronx, neither surrounded by anything even remotely seductive. No Starbucks (Starbuckses? Starbuxes?), no gin mills, penny arcades, pool halls, cock fights, abattoirs, etc., the things that usually draw away one’s judging pool. Just irresponsibility, which has no limits.

Meanwhile, as expected, the vast majority of the pool did pref. On the one hand, the tournament is more circuity than Yale, but there is little question in my mind that preffing is just becoming standard in LD. I did have a kick-off argument with one coach, telling him that I wasn’t going to strike 60% of the field for him; you know that argument, because I’ve already conducted it here. After that, there were a couple of verifications requested, that this particular crappy judge was, at least, mutually crappy. They were. One thing I noticed was that, even with the less-preferred judges, there were rounds for them—decent, top-bracket rounds—or at least more than there were at Yale. I’ll be watching this to see if it’s an accident or a function of pool size. Intuitively I would imagine that at a smaller tournament more judges would get less usage in top-bracket rounds, and vice versa at big tournaments, simply because a bigger field insures someone who sooner or later matches someone else, even with judges who are hard to place. Gather enough people, in other words, and even the saddest Joe McDoakes, the world’s most popular strike, will find some supporters.

While tabbing prefs in TRPC is very time-consuming, period, it’s hardest in the first three rounds where everyone is, theoretically, worthy of 1s. There’s nobody out of it, literally, and in the first two preset rounds, nobody even closer than anyone else to being out of it. Finding 1s for everyone all around is virtually impossible; 1s and 2s (keeping in mind that we’re divvying up the pool evenly) pretty doable, with the odd 3-3 here and there. One thing about presets is that you are less likely to get pairings where strong schools with odd prefs hit other strong schools with dissimilar odd prefs. That helps. As the tournament goes on, of course, there are fewer teams still in contention for prelims, and if we go by the Rawlsian just distribution of the best judges to the “in it” rounds, things get easier, or at least it’s easier to give all the in-its 1s, unless they have simply impossibly clashing paradigm analyses. There are always the paired teams who have literally no matches in the entire pool (there’s a button to press to see that), but usually they just have less-preferred matches. So it goes. Learn how to debate in front of a more diverse pool, and this shouldn’t bother you. (The success of the two debaters in the final round, both of whom can, if my understanding is correct, persuade a wide diversity of judges, may be indicative that learning how to do this would be wise for other debaters as well.)

As I said, regardless of the number of matches, tabbing prefs in TRPC is time-consuming. I’ll go over it in a separate post, but the bottom line is that it takes about a half hour of intense busywork to make it happen with a tournament the size of SOTLSEGB. Right before pairing the 7th round, we were listening to my iPod, which was on the table behind us out of reach, and which has lately been going through all my songs alphabetically. “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” came on, and CP remarked how he actually knew this show tune, a rarity indeed for him, and we talked about how easy it was to sing, and how even Marlon Brando had been able to conquer it. Then the last ballot came in, and we dove into the maelstrom. Meanwhile, “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” from the original production ended, and the Nathan Lane version of “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” came on. “I’ve got a couple of these on my iPod,” I explained, and we went back to tabbing. The song ended, and then Frank Sinatra came on and sang “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.”

We kept tabbing, the Sinatra version ended, and the Sinatra live at the Sands version of “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” came on.

The Tony Bennett version of “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” came on.

The Michael Feinstein version of “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” came on.

The John Pizzarelli version version “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” came on.

I think it was during the Milli Vanilli version of “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” that CP pulled out his light sabre and bisected my iPod.

For all of us in tab, this was the worst half hour of our lives, including the time spent getting dental surgery. In the future, if anyone wants to send me or Palmer into a state of permanent depression, you only have to hum a few bars of “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and the job will be done.