Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How about them Mets?

I seem to have nothing but half-finished and half-begun projects, and it’s probably because, I must admit, I’m not doing anything productive. I’ve put everything off until after vacation, at which point I can begin to feel the light footsteps up my back of an approaching season, plus I’ll be putting out The House on Summer Street, so I should at that point get back into the swing of productivity. I’m so off my normal orientation that I spent Monday doing chores around the house. I am the designated food person in the family, which I consider carrying a pretty good load chore-wise. I am also willing to pay artisans and laborers to pop over to the chez and do the heavy lifting that would otherwise fall to my lot. Cleaning off the patio? I should have photographed myself in the act, just to prove that it was possible.

I continue to get spam comments, but only on one old post. A similar batch of comments keep cropping up to exactly one post in TVFT. I’ve stopped deleting them because it isn’t worth the bother, considering the age of the posts. I sort of want to get in touch with the spammers and tell them that their system isn’t working too well, as it always goes to the same place in dead cyberspace. You know, you start feeling sorry for them… Next thing you know, I’ll be sending money to Nigeria.

Did I mention that we’re good to go with Academy for Monticello? I threw together a schedule that allows an opening module before round one, as we did with Byram Hills. The thing is, they have the day off, so we can get a bit of an earlier start, with registration at 1:00 and then the module at 2:00 and then still have three full rounds. I really want to get this tournament back on track again.

Other than that, as I implied, I’m mostly just treading water until vacation.

Eurovision 13

io9 provides, as a public service, a compilation of some of the nuttier numbers. Like this one:

Friday, May 24, 2013

Coachean Feed: Iraq update, women in Poland, young marriage, groceries worldwide, sexism

More links of interest to the debate community.
  • A really clear update on Iraq: Yes, Iraq Is Unraveling You might need to sign in (free) via your Facebook account.
  • Poland, land of ‘IT’ girls, home of ‘she-geeks’ This article strikes me as quite instructive on a number of counts. Obviously the US isn't Poland, but nevertheless we are moving toward an agency economy (i.e., expectation of personal entrepreneurship in one's career v. working for a company for 40 years until they give you the gold watch) and women, especially in tech, face unique issues that these folks are attempting to solve.
  • What's The #1 Killer Of Girls Aged 15-19 Worldwide? Also there's this site,, that you should look at.
  • I could look at these pictures all day: a week of groceries around the world.
  • "It seems to be increasingly difficult to talk about sexism, equality and women's rights in a modern society that perceives itself to have achieved gender equality." Our military, and its problems, arise from our country, and it's problems. Our Military, Ourselves

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Turn your radio on

Radio is not dead, but radio’s effect on music is nothing like it used to be. If we want to think about the evolution of music over the 20th century, that has to be part of the discussion.

Commercial radio began in 1920, and before television became the core broadcasting entity in the 50s, radio was the mass market. It wasn’t just music, of course. There was drama and sitcoms and news and just about everything you can think of. I tend to connect the rise of Swing music with the preeminence of radio in the 40s, “coming to you live from the Yadda Yadda ballroom.” Even in my lifetime, dramatic radio was a presence; my mother would be doing her chores in the kitchen when I was knee high to the proverbial, and she’d be listening to Gunsmoke. The radio was always on, and there was a lot of talking coming out of it. As everyone knows, early television in the late 40s and 50s was as often as not the visual version of an existing radio program, i.e., radio with pictures. All the dramatic structures, and commercial breaks, were already in place. They just shifted the medium.

Radio did not die, replaced by television. Old media don’t necessarily die when new media are born; if they want to survive, they adjust. AM radio adjusted, becoming mostly a news and music medium, which makes sense when you remember that, along with a television in every living room following World War II, there was a car in every garage, and a radio in every car. One didn’t listen to the radio because it was 8:00 and your show was on; one listened to the radio because one had a ten minute drive to the store. News and songs, the sort of thing it doesn’t matter when you jump in, worked perfectly. Not to mention that AM radios became cheap and portable (transistors), accessible to the growing Baby Boomer market. AM Top Ten Radio eventually ruled the airwaves. And in some markets like New York, it wasn’t just one station. There were some serious contenders out there battling it out. They were playing those 45 rpm records, and kids would buy those records as a result of hearing them played over and over. (The payola scandal was about bribing DJs to play certain songs.) As far as popular music was concerned, AM radio was it. AM was the medium of Motown, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” and “The Monster Mash.” I have no idea who was buying the father-daughter “Something Stupid,” but when it came out it was inescapable and became one of Frank’s biggest hits ever. Really. “Strangers in the Night” was no doubt up there as well; at least Nancy sat that one out.

Listening to the radio in the car was one of the memes of the times. A song would come on the radio. You would decide in an instant whether to listen to it or not, and as quickly as that, if the decision were negative, you’d press the dial to the next station. Again, the decision. Again, if negative, the next station. There were times when you would hear one great song after another, although not necessarily the whole thing, via the clicking of the dial. There were times when you would click and click and click and click, and it was nothing but something stupid, or worse, “Something Stupid.”

“Don’t touch that dial!” we were warned. Something good was coming. If we ever listened to a commercial, it was a miracle. “Can’t you just leave it on one station?” the parent would inevitably moan. Parents listened to radio stuff like the news where one station would suffice, whereas kids clicked away the minute the news came on. There was plenty of good radio, of course, that had nothing to do with any of this, like Bob & Ray and Gene Klavan and Jean Shepherd, but they were the exceptions. For my generation, it was about the music, and on AM, the music was all about the hits. And the hits were Soul, British Invasion, Blue-eyed Kid-Pop and oddball stuff like Sinatra and Armstrong. And all of it was singles, 45 rpms, if we wanted to hear these songs at home.

That was the nature of free music until roughly the mid-60s, when FM hit its stride. There was suddenly, although I don't think it wasn’t called that yet, Album-Oriented Rock. This was music beyond the hits, although over the subsequent generation a lot of it became hits, now known as Classic Rock. Now you could hear music that was, perhaps, less commercial, and discover new music. FM was the breeding ground for Classic Rock. Everything starts somewhere. WNEW-FM in New York was the main station around here. Hendrix, the Doors, CSN, Cream, Traffic, Airplane, etc.—AOR is where we first really learned about them, until someone bought their albums and we sat down and listened at home.

Radio was important for a long time for my generation, first hooking us into pop aimed at us with AM hits, then taking us deeper into what rock could do with musicians who would ultimately become iconic, and whose music is still listened to. We got all of this initially from the radio.

I’ve never stopped listening to rock, but nowadays it is only one of the kinds of music I enjoy, and no one would ever say that I keep up with what’s going on. Rock got sort of boring in the early 70s and I began to get serious about classical music and theater music and then jazz and cowboy swing and various “world” musicians, until by now my iPod is something of a marvel even to me. Random play for me is really random. In the 70s, FM radio helped me out with all of this, because there were solid commercial stations playing just about anything you might want to hear. Most of which, as far as I can tell, has gone away, and I’m not quite sure why. Certainly in the present environment, internet music has replaced the radio, but the falling off of radio predated the arrival of ubiquitous internet music by many years. Part of this may have to do with the nature of music itself, at least popular music. Rock fragmented into pop and country and punk and hiphop and so forth, and instead of one mainstream music from different founts, now if you liked X you listened to X and the hell with the rest of it. This has always been true, of course, but people who listen to classical not listening to bluegrass is quite different from people not liking country rock listening to punk rock. The former are both music, a broad base, but the latter are both rock, a narrow base. Whatever. The narrowing of interests in our present culture goes a lot further than just music. Our technologies progressively allow us to more easily stay behind our particular firewalls, because apparently that’s what most of us want. And so we do. It’s absolutely true of television, where literal broadcasting is apparently on its last legs, and its true of music.

Curiously, I started all this thinking because of my belief that movies lately were too broad, i.e., too much concentrating on the biggest potential income earners in a saddening display of non-creativity. Maybe that’s just an example of the lowest common denominator visible in all mass entertainment. The most popular movies aren’t the most interesting or creative; the same is true of books and music and theater. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by it, and what’s most interesting is that any mass market survives at all, given all the firewalling technologies mitigating against the broad and pushing toward the narrow. Our challenge in all of this is to keep moving and to avoid falling irretrievably into the trap of the familiar and the comfortable. If you eat nothing but macaroni and cheese every night you end up eating nothing but macaroni and cheese. Watch nothing but Hollywood blockbusters and you watch nothing but Hollywood blockbusters. Listen to nothing but pop hits and you listen to nothing but pop hits. Read only bestselling pulp fiction and you read nothing but bestselling pulp fiction. The resulting deadening of the soul is predictable and, perhaps, irreversible. Please don't try this at home.

Public Service Announcement

Important information for non-Catholics attending CatNats this weekend

Over the years at CFL events, local and national, I have seen non-Catholics make the same mistakes over and over when confronted with the practices of the practicing. For those of other faiths heading to Philadelphia this weekend, here are a few helpful hints.

1. More likely than not, at some point over the weekend the proceedings will break into prayer. The correct response when the prayer is over, if you feel compelled to respond at all, is to say the word “amen,” not to break into enthusiastic applause. Roman Catholic churches, as a general rule, do not have light-up Applause signs next to their pulpits.
2. If you run into Kevin Tidd, a Benedictine monk who is a member of the diaconate preparing for the priesthood, the correct form of address is, “Holy moly, you coached Zachary Quinto?”
3. Pope Francis is infallible only when he is at work, so to speak, defining issues of faith or morality. Papal infallibility does not extend to the staffs running the CatNats tabrooms. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t bother questioning them if I were you.
4. Catholics are obligated to attend weekly mass, which the tournament directors will make available over the weekend at convenient times when there are no rounds. Non-Catholics, just because they have qualifited for CatNats, are not obligated to attend mass, even if your Duo partner is Catholic and especially if your piece is The Book of Mormon.
5. Regarding IEs, if your piece is from the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the highest rank you can achieve in any round is a 2. Deal with it. Also, the odds are high that, if you have offensive material in your piece of any sort, at least one of the judges in the room will indeed be offended by it. Hello? Catholic Forensic League? If your piece is vile, sacrilegious and pornographic, it is more appropriate to perform it at the Non-Catholic Forensic League finals next month in Birmingham. They live for that sort of thing.
6. During the Depression, the church declared that in certain areas, because of the lack of alternatives on meatless Fridays, possum was not considered a meat. (I'm not making this up.) In present-day Philadelphia, however, possum is considered a meat. Whether this information will be useful to you over the weekend remains to be seen: did you order the Saturday lunch from the League?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Put another nickel in...

Speaking of movies and telephones, one of the key suspenseful scenes in Argo requires that a character be present to answer a telephone, and it seems as if half the movie up to that point has people talking on big old honker phones the size of shoe boxes just to set that idea of answering the phone for viewers who don’t know what a landline is. (Everyone in the movie also wore eyeglasses that took up every bit of their facial landscape from cheekbone to widow’s peak, and had bad hair. Ah, the 70s.)

The evolution of music is another technology worth thinking about. (There’s a wonderful word in a collection of critical Disney essays I’ve been reading: technostalgia.) While we have obviously long ago moved into a mainstream where one need not be in the presence of musicians to hear music, there are ramifications to that that are worth considering. Part of the establishment of the Great American Songbook was predicated on the existence of pianos in the average household, and presumably people who could, to some degree, play those pianos. The software (?) for those pianos was sheet music, mostly songs simplified for amateur players (not a lot of tunes in F#, for instance, whereas E flat was coin of the realm, which I have only understood intuitively in that I find it easy to play in E flat, but maybe that’s because so much music is published in that key: chicken or egg?). Sheet music was sold by song pushers in stores who would play the tunes live, and then you’d buy the music and take it home and play it yourself. Some songs were enormous hits (e.g., Gershwin’s “Swanee” was, according to Feinstein, the biggest success of his career) long before there were people playing them on the radio, much less buying them on records. Recorded media stretches back to Edison, but it was live music that ruled at the beginning of the 1900s.

Recorded media changed over time in great leaps, and each leap had its effect. Records, i.e., vinyl, has its various technostalgics today, but listening to LPs beginning in the 50s and into the 60s, when they really took off, was not the high-toned sonic experience one might imagine. Cheap needles quickly turned the most pristine vinyl into a scratchy, pockmarked and occasionally gauged disk, not to mention that a key feature of many players was a record changer that stacked multiple disks for play one at a time, rubbing them up against one another along the way (and, eventually, forcing the needle to navigate not the level flat of a disk but the wavy oooh-aaaah-oooh-aaaah of a stack of disks). The listening experience required the ear to erase all the extraneous noise to pick out the music underneath. Then of course there was the broken record broken record broken record one never hears anymore, or that sound at the interval between songs pre-echoing the song to come (it was some kind of recording leakage), and worst of all, if you had an album you liked and played it often enough, you could never hear a song on that album again without hearing the next song in your mind. Random play of CDs, when it finally arrive, turned a lot of music fans raised on records into raving lunatics. And, of course, there was a physical limit to the amount that could be recorded on one side of a record, not to mention that if you wanted to hear a whole record, you had to get up and flip it over. Many albums were considered one-sided, that is, one really good side and one stinker side. There was no such thing as skipping a song, short of getting up and lifting the needle and putting it down at the next song (which was clearly differentiated).

It was records like these, played this way, that was the medium of the Beatles, and every other musician from the 50s up through digital recording. That and, on the charts, 45 rpm records. These were little disks about seven inches in diameter, the immediate descendants of the 78 rpm records. (Obviously rpms was meaningful in sound reproduction, the fewer being harder to master technically. Some record players had 4 speeds, from 78 down to, if I remember correctly, 16. I never saw a 16 rpm record.) 45s, costing less than a dollar, were the stock in trade of the youngest record buyers, and maybe if you look at Billboard hit songs for, say, 1968, the youth of the buyers will be in evidence. If you had the $3 (when they were on sale), older kids would buy albums. Parties for teenagers were run with stacks of 45s on the turntable; people might bring their own to add to the mix. That was what they were playing at the hop.

Buying and playing one song at a time has its advantages and disadvantages, but it presages modern music buying for a lot of people, i.e., one song at a time. I think that phenomenon is restricted to the very young still, to tell you the truth. I might like a single, but I buy albums because if I like some of your music, I’ll want to hear some more of it. Maybe there’s some other dynamic at work there; I really don’t know, and can only speak for myself.

The late sixties saw the arrival of tape, and a whole new way of listening arose. Reel-to-reel was ultimately too ungainly, although you could have three full albums on one reel. 8-tracks came out then, but I never saw many of them except in cars. And then cassettes came along, and eventually the Walkman. Music had been portable for a long time thanks to transistor radios, but music players? Not so. Cassettes were a real revolution in listening, allowing you to hear your own music wherever you wanted to. In the case of boom boxes, it allowed everyone within a hundred mile radius to also hear your music, want to or not, but the Walkman solved that for everyone but street buskers. So the Walkman introduced private music, but at a cost. Simply put, mass-produced cassettes sucked. We replaced snaps and pops with tape hiss, which was ubiquitous and made everything muddy. Not all cassettes were bad, and if you made one yourself from an LP, it was fine, but it was a cursed medium in general. At the point where a tape got snaggled and you were in there with your pencil trying to straighten it out, or worse, if it outright snapped, combined with its second-rate fidelity, it was doomed. But it did get the idea of personal player into everyone’s mind. By the end of the cassette run, you couldn’t swing a cat without seeing a cheap player on the shelf of every conceivable store. But the clarity of CDs were the fidelity kiss of death on non-digital tape. (Digital tape never really caught on except with professionals, for cost reasons if I recall correctly.)

Audiophiles were up in arms when CDs first arrived, bemoaning the loss of warmth one heard in analog recordings. The first CDs and players were expensive to boot, so it took a little time for the format to catch on. But catch on it did, as more and more catalogs were digitized and the prices became relatively reasonable. The thing is, they sounded (and sound still) perfect. No hiss, no snaps, no skips, no nothing. I’ve gotten maybe three defective disks in my life, after acquiring thousands. Most people hear them and think they sound great. And you could put a lot more music on them than on a record, which meant that performers and producers could think longer form. (Tapes also could go longer, but seldom did unless you made the tape yourself.) There was no more Sides A and B. You could store a lot of them in a small space (unlike records, which are big and weigh a ton).

There was a problem with personal CD players, in that if you jostled them, you got skips, so CDs and cassettes sort of coexisted for a while. But if you taped your CDs, they did sound great, and then you could pop them into your Walkman and go for a run, and you were quite satisfied. I would bet that the CD age was pretty golden for album sales, because everybody had to update their White Album, plus older or less popular stuff could fill the disk up to the brim (I’ve got all sort of compact compilations). And it all sounded great. A disk played over an hour before you had to get up and change it (much less flip it) and then multi-disk players came along. You never had to get up again.

The greatest joy in all of this, for music fans, was the music store. In the evolution we’re discussing, that store or department went from private piano rooms where you could try out the music (I remember doing that) and song pluggers, to layouts of records to, finally, the megastores where there were thousands and thousands of albums for you to look at and think about, and all kinds of listening stations, and interesting music being blasted (in the appropriate genre) while you were browsing. I would figure a minimum of an hour in any Tower Records, back in the day, and that I would exit with a bagful of goodies. The experience was, obviously, analogous to bookstore shopping (although as a general rule the superstores for books were never as satisfying as smaller, more specialized stores with a mind behind the stocking of the shelves).

MP3s changed all this again. Fidelity is fair to middling in that you can only squeeze so much data into that size of a file, but most people don’t care, if they can even hear the difference in the first place. MP3s offer portability and good price, and on top of that, instant availability. Want a song? You can have it on your iPod in a minute, signed, sealed and delivered. Goodbye music stores, welcome back singles.

I started this by comparing the way changes in telephone technology have changed our lives to the way changes in music technology have done likewise. Once, you had to make your own music, and home pianos were ubiquitous. Now they’re rare. Who do you know who buys sheet music? When was the last time you were told you sounded like a broken record? When was the last time there was a music phenomenon that stopped everyone in their tracks because a given performance was the only way to share in it (from Sinatra at the Paramount to the Beatles on Ed Sullivan)? When was the last time you were at somebody’s place and sat thumbing through their record/CD collection? When was the last time you read the liner notes? What’s a liner note? What’s a liner? Have you had the tactile pleasure of removing an LP from its sleeve by the edges, laying it on the turntable, swiping it clean with a special brush and fluid made just for that purpose?

Has the immediate availability of all music had an effect not only on our personal playing but on our pursuit of the playing of others? Do we go to as many live events, not just arena events but local clubs? Is there a pianist in the background of your favorite spot, or just a lite playlist coming over the speakers? Do as many of us really learn to play instruments (aside from the forced playing in schools that is simply the grammar school’s revenge on the parents for all their kids’ misbehavior prior to the annual concert)?

I really don’t know about a lot of the ramifications of what I’ve been outlining here, and I certainly can’t make too many value judgments. In a way, we are probably in what will be an ongoing golden age of music insofar as it’s accessibility (although I could do without social apps that tell me that Joe McDoakes just listened to Lady Gaga: may they both rest in peace, out of range of my hearing, but then again, I have no interest in any social apps that tell me what my friends are doing willynilly). Good music will be made and distributed, and we can all tune into whatever we like pretty easily, and discover new things to like pretty easily as well. I am, personally, enjoying that immensely. This morning, my gypsy music station on Pandora. Tonight, my obscure 60s rock podcast. What’s to complain about? If I’m lucky, I’ll even find some time to play a Gershwin tune or two on my home (digital) piano. I’m only documenting how much it has all changed. You can decide for yourself if it’s teleological.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"When a man is tired of Star Trek, he is tired of life." — S. Johnson

Best recommendation ever, from O’C’s comment on Star Trek: Into Darkness, Part 2, The Reboot, Continued, Will it Never End: “It was predictable, hackneyed, and derivative. It wasn't very good. Yet somehow, I enjoyed it, and I suspect you'd enjoy it, too.”

Well, that’s got me rushing out to a theater nearby.

I was going to write up a whole thingie on Hollywood’s creative vacuum, but that’s about as imaginative as, well, Hollywood’s creative vacuum. You don’t need me to tell you that it’s nothing but rehashes except on those occasions when it’s the exact same hash. Fortunately good work still occasionally gets through, and there is some entertainment for grownups. I don’t mind popcorn pictures, but I need them to be good popcorn pictures. The thing is, though, as there are fewer and fewer good films making it to theaters nearby the proverbial chez, I fall more and more out of the habit of going and, more to the point, less and less interested in movies, period. I mean, I can watch them as videos easily enough, and I don’t even do that much anymore. I’ve been catching up on last year’s big films, and there were a handful of good ones and interesting ones, but I’ve gone through that handful pretty quickly, and the interruption to my not watching movies at home is over and I’ll go back to the default. I used to watch two or three movies a week, old and new. It was a habit, even an addiction, and like any user, I enjoyed it in mindless absorption. Not so much anymore. There’s yet another reboot of Superman coming out this Summer. for instance. How many does this make? How many versions of Superman can one person live through before they lose interest not just in Superman movies but movies in general? And let’s face it: most of the looked-forward-to pictures disappoint, the latest Star Trek being a good example. The hype going in was beyond the beyond, with all the Cumberbitches going into the ether at the thought that he might be Khan. (For all I know, he is Khan, but Khan was a villain from the original TV show who livened up the second feature film over 30 years ago. That’s exciting?) The reviews when it was finally released, like O'C's, were less than ethereal. On to the next tentpole.

I’m not trying to put down O’C here. He is a true scholar obviously well aware of the contexts and subtexts of his film interests, and no one who has seen Willow that many times is unaware of his personal ironies. I will probably watch the new Star Trek on video, just out of curiosity, as I am a fan of the franchise in general. It’s just that franchises as a whole have come to have less and less interest to me as time goes by, and certainly not enough interest to motivate me to go to the theater unless they come surrounded by incredibly positive reviews. In fact, the progression of franchise installments is positively enervating. And this saddens me because I used to be in love with movies. All movies. Now, I can just look back at movies as an old love affair with occasionally a flame licking up out of the embers. Tis a pity.

Eurovision 2013

We seem to be nearing the finals!!! Who knew that another year had passed in pop hell?

Go to this video for links to everything. Strong recommendation: watch with the sound muted.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Otherwise engaged

Everybody seems to be ridiculously busy in the debate world, despite there being only a couple of tournaments left. The tweets from those two venues alone (i.e., Catholic Forensic League and Non-Catholic Forensic League) are starting to fill up the page with posts like “Oh the tournament is coming, booga booga,” or “We’re ready for the tournament,” or “There are restaurants in Philadelphia that won’t poison you.” This does not bode well for awards ceremonies coming in under two hours…

Meanwhile the busyness I’m talking about is non-forensical. JV is running mini-marathons with Sara S, O’C is turning his critical thumb up on the new Star Trek film (which was a fairly predictable response from the man who took over a decade to admit he was in Star Wars Prequel Denial), and Kevin T is now halfway between being a brother and a father (which I guess makes him an uncle). Alums are graduating like crazy all over the place; CLG got her doctorate marked by a diploma the size of downtown Cleveland, and everyone on Facebook seems to be wearing a cap and gown. Sailor alums Nicole and Ben are counting down to their wedding in a couple of weeks, but I think they’re more nervous about not being able to tweet for a couple of hours than they are about pulling off the party (unless they’re just planning on going on tweeting throughout, which wouldn’t surprise me).

As for me, I was just walking down the street today, minding my own business, and as I was doing so I got a text from Ari with my picture walking down the street, minding my own business. Fortunately, I wasn’t picking my nose, which is how I mostly spend the off season.

I need that vacation I was talking about.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Treading water

So, where are we? I’ve drifted away from debate almost completely, I hate to admit. I did just send some Academy thoughts up to Montwegia, also known as the Venice of Sullivan County (but only to people who have never been either to Venice or to Sullivan County), and there has been the odd email about this and that, like venues and dates for MHLs and the like, but mostly, if you’re still in it you’re thinking of CatNats and NatNats, and if you’re not in it, you’re not thinking about it. Then again, the Pups are keeping me up to date on this and that, so it’s not as if the 13-14 season isn’t already being worked on. But it’s not real work yet. Not until August, at which point we wonder where all the time went.

I hate to admit it, but I do sort of wish I was going CatNats. It’s always a bit of a grueling experience, but I have this inexplicable fondness for the event. It might be because it’s one of the few tournaments of the year when the weather is nice. Around here we pretty much put away the Hawaiian shirts and the huaraches and the woodies on Labor Day, and the odd nice day after that is pleasant but not meaningful, whereas in Spring, every nice day is a blessing and we don’t want to miss a minute of it. Given the weather this recent season, any day with winds under a hundred miles an hour is a blessing, come to think of it. CatNats is also a valedictory moment in many ways, my normal end of the year. I just seemed to peter out starting around March this season, what with the young team that is the Sailors. And since I’m still on golf sabbatical (and enjoying every minute of it), I need to throw a few logs on my idle mind to keep the fires banked until reentry. (What?)

Of course, there is trip planning. At this point, actually, it’s trip detailing. What exactly needs to be packed, for instance? I don’t worry so much about clothes—I’ve got some, and I’ll bring them—as much as, say, entertainment on the iPad. There’s a lot of travel time to account for. Are the right books on the device? And a decent variety of movies? Do I have the right chargers? Should I bring the Kindle? Internationalize or turn off the iPhone? And don’t get me started on playlists. Podcasts? Audiobooks? And then there’s magazines (aside from the collection of New Yorkers building up on the old Newsstand). The bind moggles.

And considering that we’re going first to France, there’s the question of who’s going to be on strike. We know that, it being France, someone will be trying to bollix up life for all and sundry. On our first trip way back when, it was the trains. As in, who needs trains? After a while we started deliberately visiting Paris in August because, since everyone was on vacation, there wouldn’t be any strikes because there’s no one left working within a fifty mile radius of the Eiffel Tower. And then there’s London, where security cameras catch your every move and everybody sounds really posh even if they’re picking your pocket and throwing a gypsy baby at you. You call this a vacation? Don't they have any openings at Guantanamo?

Oh, well. We’ve still got some time Stateside, including the long Memorial Day weekend sans CatNats. We’ll keep busy one way or the other.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What's in the daily news? I'll tell you what's in the daily news. Etc.

Pajamas W’s comment yesterday coincides with a little poll on my DJ intranet homepage, asking where people get their news. The possible choices are TV, radio, internet, mobile device and word of mouth. (Word of mouth?) What’s wrong with this picture?

When it comes to debate, I consider New York Times absolutely essential for the daily intake of information one needs as a general starting point for any specific research when a topic is released. Better to have been following the subject of drones for years, for instance, rather than starting from scratch a month before your first round on the subject and not knowing whether they’re the size of shoe boxes or 737s. It’s like playing a musical instrument: you practice all the time so that you when you perform you internalize the mechanics and concentrate on the music. Or you can use the analogy of sports drills, if you prefer. I tell the Sailors that if they don’t read the paper every day they might as well accept that they’ll always lose to debaters who do, just like the pianists who practice all the time play better than the ones who haven’t touched a keyboard since their last concert. If that isn’t a fact of life in high level PF, I don’t know what is. (In LD, where avoiding the resolution is highly regarded in some circles, it may not quite be so true anymore, but building a well-rounded individual is one of the goals of debate coaching, so I apply it to all.)

I have to admit that I have updated my talk about how to read the newspaper and offer a digital as well as an analog approach. I’ll be honest: when I read the Times on my iPad I do tend to read a little more thoroughly than when I do when I read the physical paper. (I don’t like the Times app, and just use the website version of the day’s paper.) I used to think that the serendipity of news intake required the paper version, but I don’t believe that anymore. While the lack of photos might keep me from looking at something fanciful, the full reading of all the headlines is easier on the tablet. Overall the difference when I finished is marginal, but my real point is that there’s nothing wrong with the digital experience, if one prefers. The serendipity of news, the opening of one’s mind to whatever is offered and attempting to take it all in before filtering down to the articles of interest is there either way.

The point of doing the Times is that one sits down and spends some time doing the news, however one does it. I’m sure that most people do not get their news via newspaper these days (although it not even being a possibility in the DJ poll is ludicrous), but spending some time getting news in some depth is important. Listening to NPR news is a great thing to do, but it takes way more time that I don’t see most students having. Our bus drivers do not play “All Things Considered” on the way to school, more’s the pity. We have a local channel, fifty bazillion watts strong, that is the default, playing that stuff people refer to as “pop,” which is a substitute for music much like artificial sweeteners are a substitute for sugar. If our drivers play anything, they play that, a station where ear worms live forever. So although I recommend NPR news radio, I don’t expect too many people actually get the opportunity to listen to it.

Once upon a time, most people got their news from the hourly one-minute news updates between shows on primetime television. That is a fact. It’s also, at most, two minutes of news. In an internet world, of course, news is redefined insofar as it’s not what happened anymore but, to a great extent, what’s happening. The immediacy is the internet’s great strength: who didn’t follow the Boston bombings on Twitter? The idea that you don’t get news until the next morning, you read it, and no more news happens until the morning after this one, is outdated. But the idea that you spend some time going over the events of the day (and associated commentary) is not outdated. So it’s not a question of getting the news per se as much as devoting time to doing so. I am going to set aside this much of my day to a private briefing on current events, so to speak. There are a few good ways to do this, but not doing it is a recipe for ignorance. Which is why, I guess, so many Americans are ignorant. Not dumb. No, not dumb, just empty-headed. No matter how smart you are, if you don’t put stuff in your head, your head is going to be empty. And if your head is empty, you will indeed act in an empty-headed manner.

Oh, well. I will continue to lecture Sailors every year on why they need the news and a few good ways to get it, and I will point out the themes of each day of the week that inform feature coverage (like tech on Thursday and media on Monday in the Times business sections), and I will repeat my standing offer of financial reward to anyone who can beat me at the crossword or even complete one. Whether or not it takes will, as always, depend.

(You know what really shocked me recently? Not only don’t kids read the papers, they don’t even read what I have always referred to as the funnies. They don’t read the comics! What’s wrong with these kids nowadays? My lawn gets busier every day.)

By the way

This is George Formby (if you were wondering).

Best logo of the day

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Not to mention GPS...

I made an impassioned plea ages ago at the DJ that we not look at the world through multi-app glasses. IOS apps were all the rage, and people were running around at the DJ trying to parlay everything we owned into something we could sell for ninety-nine cents, although they were thinking that maybe they could get five bucks, and I was telling them that even free would be asking too much. My belief was that the bloom would quickly be off the app rose, and that while people would find a handful useful and would no doubt always keep their eyes open, the market was crowded and getting more crowded and there were other ways of succeeding with out content. Now the statistics show that 60% of all the apps in the App Store are never downloaded, and a quarter of those that are downloaded are quickly discarded.

Right again, Cassie.

One thing that amazes me is the number of people who are so plugged into Facebook that, if I even breathe over there, I get a comment or a like. As a matter of fact, almost everyone I know is on Facebook, and to be honest, I’m hard-pressed to distinguish old use versus young use. There are farts every bit my age who are as active as the kids on my team. There may be an initial age-related buy-in algorithm, but I’ve met as many kids who refuse to join Facebook as I have lawn-yellers, and for roughly the same reasons, a mix of misunderstanding, autonomy and general crankiness. The point is, start with possession of a portable device that allows you to be virtually 24/7 in touch with everyone in the universe, and throw in a playing field (FB) where that touching can take place, and you’ve got what most people are doing instead of buying the latest apps. I’m not saying that FB is it, as there are variations on the theme in Twitter and simple texting and Foursquare and the like, but in general, users have decided that mobile devices are social tools. Everything else is secondary. (By the way, businesses today, looking to succeed in the mobile marketplace, have all decided that they must be “social,” so there is a Facebook page for every product known to man. In the earliest days of the web, there was a homepage for every product known to man. Same concept, different medium. The fact that every man, woman, cat and dog up and down the line mostly have better things to do than “like” Heinz Baked Beans, and even if they do “like” Heinz Baked Beans, they will hardly be dependable repeat visitors except insofar as beans do repeat in their own musical way, does not deter businesses from taking the paths of the least resistance. Don’t they realize that Disney faked that lemming footage?)

So all these apps are all well and good, and everyone no doubt finds a few useful beyond the social arena, as well as a game or two to pass the time and maybe something to read, but in essence, mobile devices have become communications instruments in ways that could never have been imagined by someone of my generation. It’s a wondrous thing. Think about it. When I was little, we had a telephone in our house. It was a party line, which meant that if you picked it up, there was a chance that someone would already be having a conversation on it. If you wanted to make a call, you gave the number to the operator. If the call was any distance away, you had to use a special operator. The arrival of our first dial phone, with our very own number, was a step into the modern age. Phones developed in all sorts of ways, but until you could carry one in your pocket, here was the bottom line: if you called someone up, you had no expectation of always reaching them. In the earliest days, it would ring until you gave up. Later, you might have a message machine, which at least meant that your call wasn’t totally in vain. But at the moment when you put the phone in everyone’s pocket, you are now in a world where there is an expectation that, if you call someone up, they will answer.

That’s a big change in our social existence, and you can perm this change across all the other forms of mobile communication, they all being more or less the same thing, and certainly all derived from the same thing. In my lifetime, we have gone from the potential ability to communicate with people at any distance to the omnipresence of communication with everyone everywhere. We have gone from a world of missed connections to a world where connections are unmissable. We are always available, and some of us are not merely available, but literally on. Facebook shows who of my friends are logged on at any time, and I can communicate forthwith, but that doesn’t matter, because if I call them or text them, I know with certainty that they will know it, and more to the point, if they don’t respond immediately, they have chosen not to respond. How dare they!

This is not a small change in our existence. As social creatures in the most basic sense, this transcendent sense that communication is guaranteed at all times in all places changes the basic sense of our socialness. For one thing, everyone you’ve ever met is now linked to you forever. You can’t move on from your friends in high school because they’re your friends online and they keep up with you and you keep up with them. Relatives can’t sort of fade off into the distance because when they announce that they’re “in a relationship” everyone from Uncle Mort to Auntie Minnie knows it immediately. They also know when you were in town and didn’t even stop by for a cup of coffee. Husbands checking into the No-Tell Motel on Foursquare will be immediately discovered by their unsuspecting wives, and vice versa. “I called you but there was no answer” is a thing of the past, because it becomes “I called you and you didn’t answer.” Before, there was a chance you were elsewhere; now, you got a beep on your mobile, so you knew I called, so why didn’t you answer, you crud!

I offer no value judgments on any of this. I’m just writing down some thoughts that were bothering me after reading Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, where in her future 40 years or so from now, everybody has trouble calling people up on the telephone. The tech of the book hardly matters (and I loved it, don’t get me wrong), but that story could never be written as it is today because if everyone had been able to get everyone else on the phone, much of the narrative would have been pointless. The nature of the world has changed dramatically because of the existence of mobile communications devices. And we have taken to those devices with omnivorous enthusiasm.

Interesting times.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

And so we bid a fond farewell to sunny something or other

While I like the Apple environment, where my IOS and OSX happily play together like novices in a nunnery (and okay, I admit, I still don’t get that line in “Modern Major General”), there is the problem of having more IOS and OSX devices in play than I can actually keep track of. I’ve been getting phantom iCal alerts for weeks and just today realized that they’re from my DJ OSX calendar. When did I think it was a good idea to make entries on a calendar I never use? The DJ has its own DJish calendar software, and I tend to run the rest of my life of my iPhone. I really couldn’t figure out where these phantoms were coming from, which I’ll admit is pretty dumb but no less frustrating for all of it. Anyhow, I just cleaned them off simply by opening the app. Finally. Meanwhile, the spouse is apparently weaning herself off of her PC and purchasing a Macbook Pro today, which will no doubt be quite enlightening for her. Her iPhone and iPad won’t be lonely anymore. The 50-pound Dell laptop with the screen that doesn’t work that I think is running Windows 3.0 will finally go to doggy heaven. (Hmmm. Sounds like maybe I should use it to run Bump…)

We’re traveling next month beyond the borders of this fine country, which raises the question of phone use on foreign shores. I’ve looked at what AT&T has to offer, for a price, but given that there will be wireless in both places we’re staying, and I really don’t need to communicate with anyone all that immediate, because worst-case scenario Google Voice will pick up any incoming calls, I can’t see spending the money. I’ll hardly be severing myself from human connection, just from telephone calls that I don’t make anyhow. And, of course, GPS services, which could come in handy, but I’m sure I can live without my phone in my hand for two weeks. It’s Paris and London, by the way, both cities I know well enough to realize that if I’m heading to the West End and suddenly come upon the Eiffel Tower, I’ll know that I should have made that left turn at Albuquerque.

When it comes to travel, we have changed our approach over the years. We used to plan things out to within an inch of their lives, and we’ve become much more go-with-the-flow in our dotage. As a rule, we’ll plan one major thing a day, and then just explore that neighborhood at the conclusion of that major thing. Obviously seeing art plays a big part in any trip, and it’s hard to walk past the Louvre without popping in for the odd peek or two, for instance. Plus I’m curious about the pickpockets that shut the place down recently. I have had my wallet stolen in a crowded subway, making me extra cautious ever since. My favorite pickpocket story is the one about the gypsies in Barcelona, who distract you by throwing an infant at you. As you catch it, they grab your wallet. Which means that not only do you get your wallet stolen, but now you have to figure out what to do with the new infant you’ve acquired. What I don’t know is where the gypsies get all these infants in the first place, so many that they can just toss them away at tourists. I do know that on the immigration lines to get back into the country at JFK, it seems as if every American returning from Barcelona has at least one extra infant in their carryon. Strange business.

Anyhow, I will no doubt bore you to tears regale you with great tales of planning and subsequent adventure as the spring and summer progress. I mean, is there anything more exciting than someone else’s vacation? At least the clock is still clicking away over there on the right. DisAd14 is the one vacation you probably do want to hear about. “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears…”

Coachean Feed: convict organ donors, sexy Merida, boring American Girls, grumpy Ayn, high school philosophy

More links of interest to the debate community.

Monday, May 13, 2013

In which I say nothing about important stuff

It’s funny that I’m having trouble getting my mind around some things that I want to write about, and I’m not quite sure why. Seeing Claire’s comment to my CF posting on women in philosophy and computer science makes me want to write about feminism, but I’m not quite sure if I have anything to say beyond the obvious. Hearing that there is controversy in debate over the use of race theory brings me to the same point. I’d like to say something, but everything I have to say strikes me as belaboring the obvious. Every time I’ve attempted to put down a few words, I’ve eventually given up in frustration. It’s not like me to be what you might call tongue-tied.

While I normally see debate as one of the great solutions to social ills, in that we’re endlessly creating an army of intelligent and articulate young people trained in political philosophy and, presumably, well-prepared to address social injustice, maybe I’m deluding myself. Possibly at the point where social issues are reduced to competitive game-playing we start to lose focus. Shouldn’t the existence of racial and sexual bias be a given in any discussion rather than a debating issue? Our American culture demonstrates gross inequalities every day; more to the point, cultural inequities, by virtue of their being cultural, are if not necessarily built into the system, awfully hard to break out of it. We treat boys differently from girls from day one, because it’s built into our culture. Whites are treated differently from non-whites because it’s built into our culture. Being openly gay in the public arena can be front-page news, because it’s built into are culture. Pick your group: Asians, Mexicans, Moslems. These are people, these are cultural groups, and our (mis)treatment of individuals in those groups is built into our culture.

Maybe the problem for me writing about this stuff is that I find cultural biases profoundly disturbing because I have no idea about how to go about changing them, short of one day at a time, one act at a time, one person at a time. And one at a time is too damned slow. Which is why I’ve thrown my lot in with debate, to have, I hope, a greater effect. If I can process more students who believe as I do, who are conscious of their personal limitations and the limitations of the society in which they live, and who act to remove those limitations as best they can, then we are that much closer to eliminating cultural biases. All that stuff I said I believed in back when I was their age, well, I really did believe in it. I still do.

So I am left at sea on situations where we can proceed in our public forums as if the ills of our society are not a given,where racial/gender/religious/cultural injustice is not a problem to be solved but a piece on the game board to be moved in whichever direction wins the game. How can we possibly be arguing about this stuff? I just don’t know. Maybe I just don't understand what's going on. Which is why I can’t seem to come up with anything to say beyond the obvious.

Sorry about that.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I've been thinking all these thoughts about time travel recently

Second thoughts

Just societies should never deliberately initiate war.

That’s the CatNats topic. I have just been brutally attacked, not on this site, for my dislike of it, if you'll accept that a text calling me an ignorant yabbo because of my opinion is a brutal attack and not just another text calling me an ignorant yabbo in a sea of such texts. On this site, I was admonished that my quick definition of preemptive was fatuous.

So, let’s look at it closely. Maybe I was wrong. It’s been known to happen. Just last week I said it wasn’t going to rain on a day when there was, in fact, light drizzle for a couple of minutes. Fallible is my middle name.

Since I don’t have to coach anyone on the topic, I have to admit I did no initial research other than to look at it and go “Feh,” which is all too common a reaction to the best of topics. The feh response is almost built in when almost anyone looks at a topic or a list of topics. We’ve all been around long enough to know that first blush may not prove out, and that the nature of the debating beast is that the first blush is always negative.

Anyhow, we have to look at a couple of things here. First, we need to know what a just society is. What do just societies do? Well, one can assume that a just society balances the interests of its citizens in a fair way, and does its best to respect their rights. Protecting citizen rights includes literal protection of citizens’ lives from external agents. I always maintain that one of the responsibilities of government is to do things that individuals are unable to do, such as build infrastructure. (I’m liberal to the hilt, of course, and would go way beyond that, but that’s irrelevant to this discussion.) Protecting us from foreign attacks is certainly the job of a government (just or not). That’s what government is supposed to do. Individuals on their side must, by the same token, be willing to help defend their country. One way or another this is basic social contract theory.

Society consists of all the individuals therein, and is not a synonym for government. A just society is built in such a way to protect the important interests of its citizens in a fair way. What, exactly, does that just society owe to others?

That was not a rhetorical question.

One must take a cosmopolitanistic stance to construe that the members of one society are responsible for the members of another society. That is, one must look beyond national barriers. By the use of the word war in the resolution, we can confidently infer that the societies in question are, in fact, nations, and not, say, debating societies or knitting groups. Only entities capable of engaging in warfare—national polities—can be reasonably considered as worthy of discussion. So we can say that just societies can be equated with just nations, that a nation that protects the important interests of its citizens in a fair way, loosely put, a “good guy” nation, is what we’re talking about. Since the business of this good guy nation is taking care of its own, how can we construe cosmopolitan goals as being morally warranted (and let’s just buy that “should never” implies a moral warrant, otherwise we’ll never get around to discussing the topic)?

Should a good guy government poke its nose into the business of other governments? If we believe that morality precedes nationality, that we are human before we are Swiss or French, then we certainly will be concerned about the interests of people outside our own borders. A good guy government certainly wouldn’t launch an imperialistic war, but what about a war that protects the citizens of another country from brutal dictators and genocide, or a war to stop a nation from stockpiling weaponry that it will use on other nations?

I have to admit that I’m fairly soft on doing something about genocide and internal harms. The only warrant I was able ever to see for Iraq in 2003 was based on a premise that an evil Hussein could be justifiably be removed by the US as a policing agent with international (i.e. UN) support. I don’t recall the US ever making this argument, however. We went for the stockpiling weaponry approach, which was problematic in that they weren’t stockpiling weaponry and only pretending to do so to keep the Iranians at bay. (There was also some retaliatory issues over 9/11, but since Iraq had nothing to do with it, we won’t go there.) One of the great needs in preventive attacks is absolute certainty that the attacks are warranted, and also that they’ll be successful. There’s no use launching a preemptive attack to prevent war if there wasn’t going to be a war, or worse, the preemptive attack instigates a war rather than preventing it.

The resolution wording does nothing to prevent us from making our agent of action multiple nations, by the way, like the UN or something similar. “A just society” would prevent that interpretation.

I would be very tentative about taking the preemptive track on the neg, because recent history has not been too kind to preemptive attacks/wars. While past performance is no indication of future success/failure, precedents are precedents.

The humanitarian approach would, therefore, seem to be negative’s way to go. Yes, indeed, there is material here. Calling on the essential nature of human worth transcending boundaries, and the requirement for everyone to respect that worth, added to the moral requirement to help those in need when we are able to do so (read Singer to take this to the logical limit), will yield a case.

Affirmative, on the other hand, seems to have way more ammunition, insofar as just societies may have no moral obligations beyond their own borders, that initiation of warfare may always be immoral on face based on the present state of global politics, or maybe a just society has better ways of dealing with injustice within other societies that launching modern day attacks that seem, if one reads the papers, to endanger the very citizens they are trying to protect. It’s like Iranian sanctions: who’s suffering, and are they doing the job?

Look to Africa for situations where bad craziness is happening, and maybe something could be done about it. Should it be done?

I don’t expect the neg to get the sort of inherent benefits it likes on the $ircuit (the implied albeit nonexistent presumption in its favor, or the various theory arguments that might arise over the nature of the rez) given the nature of CatNats judging. Which means that the neg will have to actually advocate just war as the aggressor. And that’s just it. Aff gets to advocate not being the aggressor and neg gets to advocate being the aggressor. Whatever good arguments might underlie the neg position don’t remove that burden, and it just feels to me that it is a way greater burden than aff’s, especially when aff goes first and gets to set the stage, so to speak. Neg does get to take the moral high ground, however, although on the level of Singer and endless charity, and that is tough ground, if you ask me.

So, yeah, I was precipitous in my feh response. Neg has material and places to go. But is my mind changed? Not really. It’s a resolution that favors the aff. I don't think anything will convince me otherwise. What can I say? I'm an ignorant yabbo. Again. What else is new?

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Then again, Oreos are the Walter Mondale of mass-produced baked goods

I am not particularly taken aback that my various blogs (i.e., this one and TVFT) attract occasional spam comments, but I am rather bemused that it’s always the same postings that get the comments. In the beginning I would go and erase them, but it’s not as if there’s some vast army of archivists scouring these babies for evidence of past indiscretions, or past discretions, for that matter, so it doesn’t really matter much. It does raise the question of spam in the first place, though. Why do obviously bogus messages from dubious sources with ludicrous misspellings continue to swell the interwebs? The answer is that somewhere there is a small number of people who cannot recognize bogusness, dubiousness and bad spelling, much less combinations of all three, who are the target of these messages. I guess we can presume that it’s the statistical deviation; everybody, except for the statistical deviation, knows a certain thing. The statistical deviation, on the other hand, thinks that a celebrity without spell-checking really wants them to lose weight, earn money and impress the ladies in matters physiological. It’s a funny world we live in. It does seem, though, that spam in general is dying out, or maybe it’s just that spam filters are finally working. Surprisingly, I get my worst spam in the highest volume via my DJ account. Additionally, I get a report every day of the spam that got caught by the filters. That’s my favorite. Who doesn’t appreciate the found poetry of a list of spam subject headers?

Speaking of technology, the NY Times today deferred to Feedly as the Google Reader replacement of choice. I’ve been using the app pretty much since day one of the demise announcement, and I have to admit that I’ve settled into it nicely. Breaking in the new app gave me a chance to update my feeds, which was a good thing, as I had accumulated a lot of barnacles. You don’t really need to aggregate a lot of aggregating sites, for one thing. The whole point of RSS is to eliminate the use of aggregate sites, except for a few that have particular value beyond always alluding to the obvious. BoingBoing falls into this category. Sure, it aggregates, but it also has original material, and as often as not, it points to sites that no one else is pointing to (at least, they’re not pointing to them until BoingBoing does). Part of the problem of an RSS reader is that one does tend to overload it, and unless you’re professionally trawling the internet for some reason or other, you really don’t want more feedage coming in than you can reasonably enjoy. If you find something interesting, in other words, you want to read it, as compared to being so overwhelmed by all your other unread articles that you just keep moving to keep up. As I was coming from a heavy need for material when I was feeding the DJ site with content, I had a lot of baggage to dump when it was just to entertain me. I still add and subtract, of course. Feed management is one of those modern chores that never fails to feel productive even though the end result may be anything but. One does need to keep busy during the off season, though.

I admittedly have not been moving as quickly on the audio of Summer Street as I would like. No particular reason, except my own inertia. Although it really isn’t that easy, especially working in the realization that I am far from professional at it. I listen to so many audios that I have no delusions about my own quality as a performer. Still, it is allowing me that one last go-through, and when it’s done, it will be done. I’m still going to publish this summer, and summer is rapidly approaching. That I’ll be away in June means that I really do have to get off the schneid. This weekend. I promise, I will start putting in the necessary time.

A Theory of Justice, the Musical

No, I'm not making this up. Go to Open Culture, sports fans.

When Virgin Galactic gets going, this won't be a problem anymore

Former Sailor Eric I pointed me to his own story on weight-based fares, in response to my ref of the Singer article in the latest Coachean Feed. Whether Eric also proposes that we eat Irish babies or supports some of the other Singerian ideas that are out there remains unclear.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Breaking Wind News: Cruz and Bronx Science Do NOT Win Any “X of the Year” awards from CFL

In a shocking development in their otherwise banner year, Jon Cruz and his Bronx Science students will not be winning any particular acknowledgment from the Catholic Forensic League at the upcoming CatNats event. “For one thing,” an unnamed source close to the Vatican revealed, “I don’t think even one of them is a bloody Catholic.”

Earlier this season, the Bronx team won the coveted “Waffle House” trophy from TOC (which comes smothered, covered, battered, doused, soused, chunked, clunked, diced, sliced, peppered, salted, capped, snapped, slapped, divorced, beheaded, and died), and only this week coach Cruz was cited by the National Football League (editor—check?) as the “Coach Most Eager to Enter Points For Things Most Coaches Don’t Know You Get Points For.”

“We would have liked to sweep,” Cruz admitted to CL reporter Herman Melville, “but alas, it was not to be.” The CFL is notoriously parsimonious when it comes to awarding special recognition beyond the 8037 awards it does bestow at their annual event, in an award ceremony that takes longer than the tournament (and, it should be noted, which ends by the sight of white smoke arising from the tab room chimney). Pope emeritus Benny the Semifallible is expected to attend the awards this year, an extra disappointment for Cruz and his team. “I like to think of Benedict XVI as the Walter Mondale of the papacy,” Cruz said, “although I’m not quite sure why. His retirement came as a real blow to the team and to me personally.” Cruz was pensive for a moment. “But I’m not quite sure why,” he added.

Rumors that the Malcolm A. Bump tournament’s "Annual Jon Cruz Award, Given Annually to Jon Cruz for No Particular Reason" award may not be awarded this year are unsubstantiated. (Are there too many appearances of the word award in that sentence?) However, the board of bumpian governors is at this very moment meeting in camera to talk about something, and maybe it’s that. Then again, maybe not.

Coachean Feed: Singer flies thin, significant philosophers, Sedaris IEs, stats on race & economic inequality, women in philosophy

More links of interest to the debate community.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Controversy (not to be confused with Ted Turner)

It seems only right that the cicadas are crawling out of the ground in their every-seventeen-year rotation this spring, because this has definitely been the craziest year ever, and it deserves to be marked accordingly. These occasional visitors are of the genus Magicicada, a lovely word, and apparently they can be either on a thirteen- or seventeen-year cycle, and while they were historically eaten by Native Americans, they were not that big a part of these folks’ diet because, well, they had to wait either thirteen or seventeen years for the next delivery, and a lot can happen in thirteen or seventeen years. The cicadas last a couple of months before they have mated and their eggs are laid and they die off. The last time Magicicada emerged around here was 1996, if my math is correct. I think that’s also the year I officially began coaching.

As I say, this has really been a crazy year, at least insofar as debate is concerned. To be honest, I think recent times as a whole have been pretty crazy, like the 60s without the good music, but that may just be nostalgia for my lost youth. In any case, for all practical purposes, in debate it’s been just one damned thing after another, whereas usually it’s all just a big blur. Some of it’s been personal. Some schools have irritated me to the breaking point, and I have really just had enough. I’m really sorry that you can’t get your act together and that I’m one of the few people who stands up to you, but that’s just the way it is. You will have to deal with me, and you will have to deal with my righteous outrage, instead of me having to deal with your selfishness and amateurism. I go out of my way to help real amateurs; if you’ve been around since, well, the last visitation of the cicadas, you sort of lose your amateur status. Members of the VCA will probably recall me whining about one or another of these situations over the year; people in tab with me have actually seen me uncharacteristically blow my stack. Enough, already.

More to the point, there have been big issues at almost every big tournament. Some of these have made their way to the public stage, while others haven’t. It began back at Jake, and to be honest, I’m not really sure what the controversy was about because it was all run on a site I didn’t even know existed, and by the time I heard about it, it was out of control enough that I was advised against bothering, advice which I took to heart. I don’t think the controversy was about me specifically, but I do recall publishing some information about how, exactly, I tab, just in case anyone was wondering. Unless I’m working at a league-designated closed tab (e.g., CFL), my door is always open, as long as you keep quiet when I’m trying to work. There’s nothing going on in tab that can’t be shown to any interested party, provided you don’t hold up the business of running the tournament.

The Tiggers had some situations that I’m pretty sure never fell into the public arena, but the tournament itself was one damned thing after another, one of them quite serious that caused a lot of internal concern. The thing about big tournaments at colleges is that a lot of people who attend are, at best, part-timers, and all sorts of confusion tends to arise. Worse, things are so spread out that when something is seriously amiss, you don’t always find out about it in a timely manner. And there are some things, frankly, that aren’t really tournament issues, but they take place during tournaments and one must deal with them. As at every college tournament this year that I worked, the college staff at the Tigs was superlative in their handling of situations. Concerned and mature, listening to advice when necessary, taking actions when necessary, intelligently trying to do what they thought was the best thing. If that had not been the case, I would have washed my hands of all of them. It’s too much work to help run these things if the students you’re helping aren’t there for you.

Columbia was, for me, a nightmare. I know that certain things that happened there did indeed enter the public arena, things that I have no intention of discussing and which, the few times I’ve seen them noted, have been misrepresented. So be it. But in the realm of one damned thing after another, this one took the cake. It was as if everyone took an extra dose of bitter pills that Saturday. I had two shouting matches, and there were a couple of people, if I could have gotten my hands on them, that would have brought the number up from there. That we managed to run a tournament at all is amazing; that it was pretty much on time by the end of the day was a miracle.

UPenn? We needed a revolving door on tab to handle the protests. At the very least, we should have installed a soapbox for a couple of the people who showed up. And there were real issues, too. Fortunately, my divisions were not particularly hit by this. Finally, some bullets dodged.

The high school tournaments were not without their little dramas either. And I almost twice jumped out of my chair to wring a few necks at NYSDCA.

Maybe it’s just me. I just wasn’t made for these times.

But then again, there’s that website that I didn’t know about, that I eventually found out about, and over there, they’re now going through hysterics about the TOC. Of course they are. A year like this, why shouldn’t the $ircuit go out with a bang? Accusations are flying, suppositions are strewing, and bile is spewing at unprecedented levels, as often as not under the cover of anonymity because, well, if I’m going to accuse you of doing something wrong, perish the thought that I do so publicly. I can’t say that I drilled down much into all of this nonsense. The lesson of ignoring idiocy stretches back to the old ld-l, where people would go one forever attacking one another, often anonymously, followed by VBD, the same story with better technology. Of course, adults know that most of this is from high school students, and hence immature by definition, or virtual high school students whose immaturity sell-by date seemingly has passed but we're sort of stuck with them. Which is why most adults don’t, I would imagine, bother to even glance at this stuff except out of extreme boredom. I certainly don’t feel any obligation as a debate commentator to keep up with it, and I do like to keep up with most issues in the community. These aren’t really issues, as such. They are related to issues, however, and I trust that true and concerned dealing with those issues will ensue in more appropriate venues.

So, a whole year of one damned thing after another. My DJ life, by comparison, is dullness on a stick. Any wonder I love doing this?

A comment

Uh, seems pretty clear to me that pre-emptive attacks are exactly what the resolution is talking about...?

Labeling pre-emptive attacks as a prevention of war and not initiation thereof is a baroque side-step worthy of the Bushies.

Perhaps. However, the simplest research (Wikipedia) points out: The initiation of armed conflict: that is being the first to 'break the peace' when no 'armed attack' has yet occurred, is not permitted by the UN Charter (see 'Legality' below), unless authorized by the UN Security Council as an enforcement action. And you compare it to Bush policy. So my point remains, I don't see a lot of juice on the side that has to defend this position.

Monday, May 06, 2013

PF at NatNats, and LD and PF at CatNats

The NatNats PF topic is drones, and the way it’s worded, it’s hard to see any terrible loopholes up front. The history of weaponry, of course, is a steady progression of steps away from the target. I used to play a lot of war games in my day, complicated deals where you had all these little pieces and grids, and archers were always better than infantry, guns were better than arrows, etc. Civilization players know the same story. You want to increase your firepower and you want to protect yourself. Nuclear weapons allow maximization of the former but, as it turns out, thanks to MAD and nuclear winter, not so much the latter, not to mention the issue of civilian casualties, so there seems to be an objective limit to firepower. Drones don’t have much firepower but they maximize self-protection; civilians do seem to get in on both ends, though, insofar as one doesn’t want to kill them, and they just might be the people at the controls—it’s like the obnoxious guy from the help desk is the only one who knows which are the right keystrokes or something. Anyhow, I think there’s a lot to this topic, and it’s a good one for students to learn about.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard anything about the CatNats topics, so I went over and checked them out.

PF: "Resolved: The main goal of US public education should be to eliminate racial and economic achievement gaps."

LD: "Resolved: Just societies should never deliberately initiate war."

Once again it would seem as if the CatNats topic committees have overindulged in the sacramental wine on topic-selection day. I do sort of vaguely remember being asked what I thought about a slew of LD topics by our league director, and not being over the moon on any of them, but I strongly believe that this was not my best-of-a-bad-lot selection. They’ve got all the time in the world to come up with topics, and this—

All right. I’ll keep down the bitching. After all, I’m not going to be in either division, and I’m thankful because, well, it’s going to be torture.

As for PF, while I am a firm believer that education is a cure for a lot of societal ills, if eliminating racial and economic achievement gaps is the main goal of public education, then the one good thing I can say is that it’s a good thing there’s no coin flips at CatNats, because, sorry folks, that's not any reasonable educator's goal. The pro has no real ground other than presenting a series of links that become progressively more sketchy, from the real goals of education (learning stuff and learning to think, primarily) to the indirect goals of education and, ultimately, the resolution: people who know stuff achieve more in society. Oh joy. Oh rapture. All the con has to do is read up on virtually any analysis of the philosophy of education and take good notes. One wonders if any actual educators had anything to do with picking this topic; assuming that they did, can you blame me for thinking the wine was flowing on topic day?

Of course, the real fun will be in LD. The best I can think of is that the rez might refer to preemptive attacks, but they, by definition, are not the initiation of war but the presumed prevention of war. So where is the initiation of war just? Let me think. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Oh, no, wait. It isn’t. Then again, there could be some Philip K. Dick novel I’m unaware of that covers this subject. It’s certainly going to be mostly PKD rounds for a couple of days in Philadelphia, I’ll tell you that. I simply cannot imagine what people are going to come up with the justify literally initiating wars.

Oh, to be in Philadelphia.

Thursday, May 02, 2013


Here's what I said back in June about the no gov v. bad gov:

Resolved: Oppressive government is more desirable than no government.

I can hear the winds of the good old days blowing down the highway. This was a classic in its day, on so many counts. It’s about the old-time social contract stuff that used to be the meat and potatoes of LD, plus since both sides are bad, you have to run the less bad. On top of that, the advocacy is clear: either you’re one side or the other. 20 years ago this was the most beloved topic of all time. It was a serious contender for the northeast Modest Novice topic; we went with civil disobedience mostly because of the two negatives of this one, which seemed a little sophisticated for newbies. If you want to push LD back a generation or two, vote for this one for Jan-Feb. In the best of all possible worlds, this would be the NatNats topic.

Rating: Depends on the months. 8 for Sept-Oct or Nov-Dec, 6 for Jan-Feb (from a $ircuit bias), 10 for Mar-Apr or NatNats.

And NatNats it is.

One obvious pitfall here is those negs who will not advocate for no gov, but will claim that the wording allows them to take the position that neither is desirable over the other. Members of the VCA will immediately recognize that while I feel this is, alas, a possible reading of the rez, it is also mealymouthed. The intention of the rez is that one side is op gov and the other is no gov. For the neg to claim they're equal means that, right off the bat, neg accepts all the harms of the aff, whatever they are. So what burden, exactly, would the neg accept? Not much of a one. The neg would be arguing that, since they're both bad, you shouldn't have either, and therefore should win on face. Duh. Real exciting debate, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Another problem from back in the day was that somehow no gov became anarchy became some system of lite government. I don't remember exactly how this sleight of hand was pulled off, but before long no gov was, in fact, some gov, because the evidence came from anarchists. Well, apparently it was anarchists who didn't own a dictionary. Some gov is not no gov and, in terms of evaluation, yeah, some good gov is intrinsically better than bad gov, so how does this lead to good debate?

Anyhow, as I said originally, this is a real classic, at least in the context of old-fashioned debate. That's why we liked it for novices, because it was a great lead-in to political philosophy. Not that long ago this was the Jan-Feb topic, and I can just imagine how it would play today in high-powered $ircuit debate. The thing is, NatNats isn't the circuit (although plenty of $ircuit debaters will do well) because of the nature of the judging. Ryan talked about this last week, how the judging helped define contemporary styles. (Anyone still questioning that should mosey over to NSD update, where the judges are all having at each other over the final round at TOC, and I haven't a clue to most of what they're talking about when they're actually analyzing the round as compared to analyzing claims of name-calling). I would imagine that, at NatNats, most of the discussion will be resolutional rather than theoretical. I'm pretty sure that's what everyone who voted for this topic is hoping for, at least.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

How's the folks? What's new?

This has bothered me for maybe 40 years now. In the Gershwin song “The Babbitt and the Bromide,” there is the line, “Ta-ta, olive oil, goodbye.”


Last night I read in Michael Feinstein’s new book that he too had thought this had something vaguely to do with Popeye, but that Ira, whom he worked for, told him that in the twenties, olive oil was a slang version of au revoir. Aha!

Here's some decent performers giving the song a try:

Of course, completists want the originators of the song to perform it. No video here, alas.

If you’re a digger, you can find recordings of Fred and Adele with George himself playing accompaniment. If you happen to be a piano player (and maybe even if you're not), listening to George play is mesmerizing.

There aren’t a lot of extant recordings of George playing, unfortunately. There are piano rolls, but I get the feeling that some of those are sort of multiple-tracked, to use a modern metaphor. I mean, not even Gershwin could play that many notes at once. Although maybe I'm wrong: if anyone could, it would be him. And there’s some scratchy recordings of radio performances and a Porgy rehearsal and maybe a couple of other items I can’t recall offhand. This set looks like a good, available collection of it.

So why am I bringing this up now? What does this have to do with debate? Well, nothing, I guess. But if you come into the tab room and wonder what that music is, this might be of some help.