Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fingers poised over the keyboard? Na'ah.

I just gave thumbs up to an accordion track on Pandora. Something tells me this will not end well.

Registration for Sorta Large Bronx opens tonight at midnight. I assume that this late hour is in honor of some sort of tradition, and for all I know the opening of registration is actually named after some Bronx alum or other. Most of the universe has moved to a more sane opening in the middle of the day, which makes things easier for East Coasters who, perhaps, would rather be asleep at midnight than signing up their TBAs just to get their slots set, but at least the Californians can sign up before they put on their pajamas, if Californians even own pajamas. Anyhow, if it’s a tradition, it will never change. Tevye O’C wouldn’t allow it.

Speaking of naming things after alums, I understand that this year each of the Foods of the World Unite is thusly credited. The Matt Dunay Baked Ziti. The Nita Lowey Scallion Cream Cheese. The Jon Cryer Swedish Meatballs. All sliced with the Bobby Darin (Mack the) Knife.

Is it October yet? On the plus side of the balance sheet, I've marked one of my two tabroom accounts (don't ask) as email-free. Which means that henceforth I'll only get one each of O'C's inevitable bazillion emails. The barrage has already started. I guess writing them gives him something to do while he's waiting for them to cut up his raw, dead fish at Japonica.

The topics will be released on August 15. For those who missed it, starting this year, PF will do the same topic in both September and October. This is a boon to us around here, given that there’s only one tournament in September, and what with the Jewish holidays and all, the first month of school is usually more like three days and then all of a sudden it’s October and we’re all looking for our woolies. And if you’re an NFL member, you can start to vote tomorrow for the next batch of LD topics. I’ve already given my analysis, and something tells me that the ones I ranked highest will mostly be the ones that stick. (Go back and find them, you lazy lout, if you can’t remember them. It wasn’t all that long ago.) There was quite a gap between the usables and the what-were-they-thinkings.

By the way, I’ve got something new I’ve been working on, and I should be able to bring it out next Monday. It’s not new new, but the approach is new enough, and I think people will like it.

And with that, I’m going to bed. A la Scarlett, I’ll think about Sorta Large tomorrow.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Usquebaugh, etc.

Two registrations open this week, Fairly Large Bronx and the Pups. If that doesn’t mean the new season is about to begin, I don’t know what does.

I’ve finish updating the Academy Debate memo so it’s ready for primetime, which will be the launching of the Monticello registration. We’ve got to work on that and the curriculum for the Workshop pretty much at the same time, but that’s okay. The Workshop is fairly well established at this point, and it’s more just a matter of updating who’s doing it as compared to deciding what they’ll do. Academy depends on what, exactly, the new topics are, and we'll jump off from there.

CP is running off in August to tab in Ireland, then traversing the old sod before traveling thence to Edinburgh and London. I think he’s making a big mistake refusing to try the haggis, which I (seriously) recommended to him. The other national dish of Scotland is deep fried Mars Bars, which I would suggest he avoid, but then again, both dishes are washed down by the local whiskies, so who knows how impaired his judgment once he gets over there.

The DisAd14 tribe will be gathering in mid-August to play miniature golf (sadly without CP, obviously). I’d really rather go to WDW, but, well, you know that we postponed it. Just about a year to go, if you’re following the countdown.

And the move to our new digs at the DJ has uncovered more crappy prizes than I have room for in the Crappy Prize vault at the chez. Too bad. You can't swing a cat around here without hitting a CD collection of non-hits by has-beens (my favorite musical category), or a random Barbie accessory or the odd hugging Elmo. I should rent out O'C's new apartment for storage. He'd never notice all my crap, what with all his crap already in situ.

Friday, July 26, 2013

True Life Adventures

Boss: I love musicals. I like to binge on them.
Me: Excellent.
Boss: I don't like Andrew Lloyd Webber anymore, though.
Me: That's normal. It's a part of growing up.
Boss: The show of his that turned me off was Into the Woods.
Me: That's not Lloyd Webber. That's Sondheim.
Boss: It still sucked.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I think I have recovered from my excitement over the birth of the young royal, who will presumably be refered to henceforth as Prince G.A.L.

Moving offices at the DJ has resulted in lots of flying debris and general dysfunction, which some might say is no different from normal but I would suggest otherwise. The amount of flying debris most of the time is quite manageable, whereas at the moment, I fear slightly for my life. The literal move is the first weekend of August. Between now and then we’re all packing away, and every now and then someone rushes into my office after an explosion to see if I’m still alive, and so far I have managed to answer in the affirmative. If things change and I answer in the negative, I’ll let you know.

I’ve finished up the author page for Amazon, and in so doing realized that I haven’t updated my website yet to launch Summer Street. Last week I started updating everything just because the new debate season was slowly approaching, but I got distracted when the NYSDCA link was amiss. (It’s since been fixed.) I’ll get back to all of that forthwith.

And I’ve collected as much as I could find about Academy Debate, which will be good to go at Monticello, but which isn’t really explained anywhere particularly accessible. It turned out that this was actually my idea in the first place, which means that I’ve got to get on the stick to keep its momentum. We’ve only done it once, in January at Byram Hills, and realistically we won’t do it that often, although there is a nudge in the back of my mind thinking that we could incorporate training sessions into MHLs if we really get into the swing of this. I’ll keep that on the backburner, but it is there. I’ve talked to people about tournaments that do things like force all the debaters to do extemp and the like, and I really love that sort of thing. But you can only do so much at once. We need to get Academy locked into the system as originally presented before moving on, and that means putting together a document of explanation, and given where we are on the calendar, doing it pretty soon. With luck, I’ll have it done by the end of the weekend or the beginning of next week. It's mostly just editing the bits and pieces already created.

I will admit, it’s nice to be busy again. My summer hiatus started back in April, and then there was traveling in June, so at this point I’m all charged up and rarin’ to go. Those who had institute chores never stopped going. And then there were those like O’C, who has spent the summer so far at a month-long salt-and-pepper shaker convention in Las Vegas. During the lulls in the festivities, he’s found time to go off on the search for lost Liberace artifacts in a city known to overflow with them. Presumably this includes Liberace salt-and-pepper shakers. Whatever. I’m sure he’s full of pent up debate energy. And also pent up salt-and-pepper.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Show me the money. Please.

Writing a book is one thing. Publishing it is another thing altogether.

Having gone through the initial folderol to get the book into a Kindle edition, one would like to think that that’s the end of it. Hardly. That was just a bunch more typing, hardly onerous if one has plowed one’s way through numerous drafts of a novel. Mostly it’s just saving it as HTML and looking it over and thinking, okay, it doesn’t look any more or less crappy than any other Kindle book. Press the button, and there you are.

When the book went live, I got a message asking me if I wanted to build an author page. Okay, sez I, I’ll do that. But this takes 5 days to go live, and there’s all sorts of choices one must make. You can put in Twitter or a blog feed, a bio, a photo (that I did, the standard one of me looking like I just stole the royal baby and am holding it for ransom and nobody has a clue that I was even mildly involved), video, biography, yadda, yadda, yadda. Then I’ve got to start beating the bushes to get people to buy it. That’s the key thing, people buying it. (You’ve bought a copy, right?) I don’t care if anyone reads it, as long as they buy it. It’s not as if I intend to live off the proceeds, but that’s about the only measure there is of how well it’s doing. If people like it, they’ll tell me. If they don’t like it, they won’t admit to having read it. I know how these things work.

Kindle has this plan where, in return for exclusivity, you get a higher royalty and they claim that they’ll do this and that, but I find it unconvincing. I’ll look into it further and report back. Maybe I’m missing something. Let’s face it: I sold my soul to Amazon years ago. What’s another year in hell compared to eternity?

Meanwhile, I was talking to O’C this morning. Apparently he’s been having battery problems on his iPhone. Join el clubbo. Last week I went into Manhattan at 1100 hours with 100%, and by the time I got on the train at 2000 hours, I was totally out of juice. (Like that military time thing?) All I did during the day was send text messages to the people I was meeting up with, corralling and whatnot. No games. No calls. No check-ins. No nothing. Including no juice.

To cure this, I turned off all location services (except for Find My Phone). I also notched down how often it checks for mail, since I have no need for getting my mail instantly, and since then, I’ve got juice coming out my ears. Seeing that it was only the GPS and Google apps and mail that were actually turned on, this makes one realize just how much crap goes on in the background when you’re not using your phone. Google is, apparently, an enormously busy battery hog. (Also, I need to remember to turn off wifi when I’m on the road, as the search for wifi is another drainer.)

Goal: a phone with enough juice that you don’t have to think about phone juice. Do you think there is such a phone, Toto? O’C is also in the market for new hardware like a mini iPad. Moi, I’m seriously likely to buy a new MaxiPad when the next iteration comes out, as my original V1 will by then be two OSes behind, and is already unable to perform as it should (and won’t run some apps at all). Which is why people should buy my book. I think that the least all that writing can do is earn me a new iPad!

I just can't get enough of the royal baby. (Yeah, right.)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The House on Summer Street

Well, there it is, on Amazon.

And here's a description:

A lot of things are happening all at once to Benjamin North. He’s starting middle school in a few weeks, his father has just remarried, which means that Ben now has a brand new stepmother (his dentist, of all people) and stepbrother (an annoying, nonstop eating machine), and on top of everything else, they’re all moving together into a new house that, to put it mildly, needs a little work. And if that weren’t enough, Ben discovers that the house seems to be haunted, a claim that no one else in his family believes.

But Ben finds an ally in his ghostly encounters. A mysterious girl in white whose name is Rose knows an awful lot about the dark history of this spooky old place. She will help Ben discover the deep secrets behind the spirits that roam these halls at night, and she promises to stand beside Ben when he finally faces the frightening truth of what is really going on in the house on Summer Street.

The process of getting it up on Amazon was pretty painless, even though there is no setting for the Save As that they wanted; the preview looked all right when I checked it, though. For the rest of it, you just click a few buttons, give them your tax info and your firstborn, and there you are. (For new members of the VCA, I outlined my adventures creating the cover a while back; as for writing the actual book, that was just, well, writing.)

If you want an audio sample, to wit, the first chapter, click over in the box on the top right of this screen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Free stuff!

A free audio sample of The House on Summer Street is now available. It’s only me reading it, so it’s hardly one for the ages, but you’ll get a taste for the thing. I hope to get the book online this week. (Writing that previous sentence will motivate me to make it happen.)

Speaking of one for the ages, we saw King Lear Saturday night with the Clintons, although I would imagine that from their perspective, it was just a matter of seeing King Lear and we didn’t really factor into it. Everyone in the place seemed to need to take a photo of them (except for me; I’ve already seen plenty of pictures of them elsewhere, so the picture to the left I picked up on line). Whatever. Apparently the couple is in regular attendance, which I guess helps the actors get over the celebrity-in-the-house aspect. Otherwise, with theater in the round and celebs at 48 degrees, the temptation would be to play every line to 48 degrees and the hell with the rest of youse guys. As for the play itself, to tell you the truth, it’s another one of those where Shakespeare just strung together a whole lot of famous quotes and tried to make a story out of them. A king falls for flattery, and everyone winds up splattery, to take a “That’s Entertainment” angle on it. (“A ghost and a prince meet and everyone ends in mincemeat” is one of my favorite song lines ever.) Anyhow, it was time well spent. The forecast had been for strong thunderstorms—how appropriate is that?— but they never materialized. I guess the Clintons refused to let them happen. (And I have to wonder. I mean, this was King Lear. What the hell are those two laughing at so heartily? "Look, look, they just blinded that poor guy, ho ho ho!")

The first registrations for the new season are a week and a half away. I’ve probably got all the Sailors lined up Pups-wise, or at least all the Sailors I’m going to get. The Pups actually reminded me to sign up right away. So cute. It’s me and Dunay at the controls for this one this time around; Pups tab has cycled through a lot of people over the years, what with one thing or the other. JV is over in IE land these days, and Kaz does their policy, so new blood is needed. Anyhow, I probably should give the tabroom account one last glance, to make sure everything is copacetic. Big Bronx too, for that matter, although I’m assuming O’C is on that one with his usual maniacal diligence. Then again, O’C is at his Shaker Revival Meeting in Las Vegas at the moment, as anyone who hasn’t yet blocked him on Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook already knows. Three days of salt and pepper and nothing but salt and pepper. It’s like Woodstock without the mud or the music. Maybe he’s forgotten he has a tournament this year. Big Bronx. It’s also like Woodstock, three long days, also without the mud or the music. Or even the salt and pepper shakers. Historically, aside from the duration, the only similarity between the music festival and the tournament has been the presence of Wavy Gravy at the one and wavy gravy (AKA Foods From Far And Wide But Mostly Rice) at the other.

Too bad we postponed the DisAd. I would really like to be in WDW a month from now. Or right now, come to think of it. Boating along with O’C, merrily singing that it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears…

Saturday, July 20, 2013

All those years of dance lessons for this?

Dangerous Minds suggests that this is the worst Star Wars video we'll ever see. I certainly hope so.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Coachean Feed: College philosophy, children's books, Communism, the latest Rolling Stone cover

More links of interest to the debate community.
  • "I've long thought that the debate about whether universities should be offering trades training or educating citizens is something of a red herring -- the discussion should be about whether to study knowledge or nonsense." We all know that university journalism courses are booming while journalism in the real world is going down the tubes. Talk about disconnects. Finally somebody stands up for value in education: Be Employable, Study Philosophy (But not pomo, please.)
  • Gender stereotypes plague children’s picture books I found this surprising. I guess I was thinking that kids' books were changing with the times. Yeah, right. But then again, are the times changing? "See Jane. See Jane read her first book. See Jane’s ambitions recede."
  • "A worker creates more value in a day than he gets paid. This extra or surplus-value is taken by the capitalist." Today's lesson in Marxism: What is Surplus-Value?
  • The picture of a terrorist on the cover of Rolling Stone raises questions. Time summarizes the issue. Four Reasons Why Rolling Stone’s Cover Is Upsetting

"It got stuck in my head, and it was like having a disease."

For those who missed Marc's comment:,100241/

On my last trip to WDW, the DiDeAd, the ride was down for refurbishment. Thousands cheered. O'C, on the other hand, suffered traumatic shock.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Not to mention JT's shoeshine head

The heat paralyzing the northeast doesn’t warrant much discussion here—it’s hot, deal with it—but it does slow one down. Plus we had houseguests for a few days, and we’re moving offices at the DJ, so one’s concentration is sort of elsewhere. Still, the roads must roll…

CP tells me we can now run an RR with the tabroom software. I only tab one of these a year, at Newark, which I usually do long distance, although this coming year I’m going to try to be there just to look the judges in the eye before assigning them. They’re an evanescent group, if you know what I mean. To be honest, I like to do my RR pairings in Excel because I’ve got a perfectly good schematic for various numbers of players, and all I have to do is find and replace the names, then I pour it into tabroom. I don’t think I’ve ever actually used TRPC’s RR functionality; it’s never the right number of contestants, and I just don’t trust it. Still, the software determines who wins, as if it were a regular tournament, but one does need to keep an eagle eye on it because, well, one tends to be sloppy with data entry in RRs because it always looks easier than it is and it’s so much more relaxed than a tournament, and even with raptor vision, the tiniest error can throw things into turmoil. Anyhow, I’m ready. See you in February.

For the overly interested, we run a listserver for the DisAd (as you can see from the countdown, we’ve tripped over into the 300s). We are presently arguing the merits of the actors Nicolas Cage, John Travolta and Tom Cruise, which at least makes sense for the first two as they both have bona fide Disney credentials (I can see O’C furling his eyebrows trying to figure that out, and having done so before reaching the end of these parentheses and feeling really proud of himself). Meanwhile, I just found out that they’re going to update Star Tours in 2015, which means that O’C will have to spend a whole day on it during the DisAd before it goes away again. Life is tough. At O’C’s birthday party, we picked up a potential fellow traveler who claimed that her dream in life is to get stuck on “it’s a small world” for 24 hours straight. She really said that. I hope that, if she comes and if she wishes on a star, and if I happen to be with her at the time, her dream does not come true. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

On the home front, I’ve goosed the Sailors again about Yale, given that registration opens August 1, and more to the point, hotel arrangements need to be secured. I have rooms already, of course, but probably more than I need, and we have to dump the overage at the earliest moment to make the space available for other schools. The popular places do sell out for the Pups, as they do for the other college tournaments.

Next week I’ll get back to The House on Summer Street, to release it, I hope, by the end of the week. And then I’ll start my annual update of all the debate sites, such as they are, heading into the new season. Meanwhile, I need to go back to our DisAd listserver as we compare the acting skills of Messrs. Cage and Travolta. Some people in the group think that these two are the world’s two worst actors, but they nonetheless enjoyed watching them in Face/Off. They seem to forget that, in that movie, the world’s two worst actors were faced with the challenge of pretending that they had changed places, i.e., each of the world’s two worst actors was playing the part of the other of the world’s two worst actors. That is either the easiest or the hardest acting job in Hollywood. (And you don't want to know what O'C thinks about Legend.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

The world continues to twirl

Summer is getting away from me. Since we were away for a couple of weeks in June, and the weather while we were away was rather cool, my brain is somewhere about a week before the end of Spring, but meanwhile, my body is in the depths of New York heat doom and my calendar is crazy booked up through August, and the next thing you know, it will be Christmas.

(Listening to Three Dog Night on Pandora. Note to self: How come there’s no TDN on my iPod? Too many versions of “it’s a small world” taking up all the space? Then again, “Mama Told Me Not to Come” is Randy Newman, and I do have him singing it. There is some salvation available.)

(Then again, why is Three Dog Night playing on my British Invasion Pandora station? Wasn’t there a Revolutionary War? Is there any hope for iRadio?)

The first peeps of the new season are beginning to be heard. For one thing, we’ve rebranded the MHL Workshop, running it under the combined auspices of the MHL, the NYCUDL and the NYSDCA. We’ve always used it as an opportunity to get NYSDCA board members together to hatch this or that; last year we agreed on details of Academy Debate. Eric Fogel, the head of the NYCUDL, whose real name I think is Eric!! Fogel!! (his liberal use of exclamation points is legendary) got in touch and we all put heads together. We’re trying to coordinate MHL and UDL events a little better, and there’s one at Brooklyn Tech that looks like it will get a lot of MHL business, and the UDL will be probably be hitting Monticello and Wee Sma Lex, etc., plus Eric asked that we include IPPF at the Workshop, a subject about which I know nothing but it seems like a good idea, so we will. Can’t hurt, right? I’ll say one thing. With the interwebs and information sitting out there readily available, it makes planning for a season a lot easier than it was back in the Dark Ages. You know when things are going to be, and you know the details, and there you are. No great reason for not knowing when a tournament will be or what it offers; this has to be helpful to new forensics coaches, but hell, it’s helpful for old ones too. Whatever it takes.

Also the colleges are already kicking in. The Pups of course opens registration 8/1, and we’re set with LD; I’ve enlisted the aid of Matt Dunay in tab, since he is one of those weird people who actually seems to like the idea of tabbing. The Tiggers are collecting their staff, and I’ve even had the odd conversation with the Gem of Harlem. UPenn has gotten a TOC bid in LD, which is a very nice development, and proof positive that there is life outside of Cambridge on President’s Weekend. Moving to that weekend was a risk, but it has proven out over time. CP was right. It would develop slowly, but it would develop. We offered solid facilities and tabbing, the students running it are great, and it just keeps building. I love going there; if nothing else, the tournament hotel is great, and you take this underground trolley to the university and it’s handled professionally and it’s fun. And it doesn’t take four days. A small team like the Sailors doesn’t get lost there. What can I say?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why Are We Doing This?

I was going to expound a bit on what I said yesterday about novices, and I wrote some stuff, but it didn’t come out right. The thing is, when you think about novices, you’re mostly thinking about what, exactly, you think debate ought to be. Not the actual rounds, specifically; that is whatever it is and changes however it will change despite whatever anyone might think about it personally. And at some point, the actual rounds are inconsequential compared to what it takes to get into those rounds. Take some unintelligibly fast TOC-style round filled with theory and off-case material: the students in that round started intelligibly as novices, they overcame their fear of public speaking, they learned how to write and research and think, and now they're putting all of that into the 45 minutes of competition. Twenty years ago that 45 minutes in LD was radically different, but those students still started as novices and conquered their guts and marshaled their adrenaline and learned to write and research and think. Things haven’t changed all that much.

Still, I always worry about the students who are not naturally attuned to the rhythms and wiles of debate, the ones who never rise to stardom and who do not want to make debate their end-all, be-all. I want them, too, to conquer their guts and marshal their adrenaline and learn to write and research and think. If my only goal was to send students to top tournaments and win everything, I’d have to do things radically differently, I think. I’d have to research topics, I’d have to come up with positions and blocks, the whole thing. I know a lot of coaches who consider that their job, and for them, perhaps it’s the right thing to do. If your team’s funding depends on your team’s success, then your team better be successful. I don’t think the football coach is thinking how he wants as many students in the school as possible to savor the learning experiences derived from playing football; I think that coach just wants to win the game this Saturday. When you think about it, forensics is one of the few competitive activities where, most of the time, people don’t win. In debate, only 25% of a field advances and only one team wins at the end of the tournament, and most debaters, although they win some rounds, never really get to go the distance or even close to it. In individual events, with six people in a room, there are five losers. We are involved in a world where winning is nice, but mostly, people don’t win, or at least they don’t win very often. Coaches can concentrate on the potential winners, but I think what motivates most of us is the material itself, and its educational value despite winning and losing. Honestly, I think forensics has the ability to make students into better people in the long run. Which is why I think so much about that long run, and extending it to as many people as possible.

Forensics is not taught much in schools around here, aside from the occasional bout of model congress or model UN. I would like to see speech and debate incorporated into curricula, but in a universe where it’s not already there, with the reality of education funding in New York (and presumably everywhere else), good luck with that. Schools need to concentrate on graduation rates and class sizes and safety, et cetera, and enrichment, which no one thinks is unimportant, comes in small and cheap doses. Speech and debate around here costs money, if for no other reason than you have to travel to get there. Buses are not free. Nor are motels, if you go to a multiple-day tournament. Some families find their religious beliefs at risk when their children travel. And so forth and so on. That’s why I’m big on the MHL, which is all one-day tournaments, and all for younger students. We’re working more closely with the NYCUDL this coming year, and we’ve always been close to the NJUDL. You can make a pretty decent debate experience, competing and judging, over the four years of your high school career just in this small universe, and I’m extremely proud of that. That’s one of the reasons that, at our final MHL event of the year, we give everyone a medal that is, admittedly, for having shown up. These kids worked hard all year, and some of them never win a thing. I like that they have something tangible to show for it. But of course I know that they do have all the intangibles, and that’s the important thing. Needless to say, we charge as little as possible for all of this, essentially just enough to cover the cost of the medals over the year. Nobody has ever made any money off the MHL, and I know that some of the people involved have lost money in the deal and never, ever, spoken a word of it. Good people, with their hearts in the right place.

During the summer, lots of people are involved in camps, which are entirely competitive concerns. It’s good that camps are there, especially for those of us who have limited time we can devote to the activity. They take up the slack, and they focus the mind. But I do hope that, coming into a new season shortly, we keep in mind the truly important aspects of what we do. Forensics is a powerful and wonderful experience. It should belong to as many people as possible. Those of us in positions to make this so should, indeed, make it so.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

We also had a topic where we would eat the Irish novices

With the vacation duly dispensed with, I guess we can get back to business.

First, I noted this on Facebook, but wanted to alert people here as well. It’s Manand’s article in the New Yorker on the Voting Rights Act. I think that the history here will serve everyone well who is teaching (or learning about) Civil Rights vis-à-vis the Modest Novice topic (and for that matter, Civil Rights and the VRA in general). To think that all of this has taken place in my lifetime is more than enough reminder of where we were, where we are, and where we still have to go. I don’t know how long the link will stay live for non-subscribers, so read it while you can.

Speaking of which, apparently the Modest Novice concept has been endorsed by the NFL. Members of the VCA will of course appreciate that I am very happy about this, as the saga of ModNov has long played out in these posts. I came up with the idea lo those many years ago because of what I saw at the time as its many benefits. It provided a topic that would work well for students starting out, for one thing. We discussed this at great length in the region, to pick not only a subject but the best wording. (If I remember correctly, opp gov v no gov was also a strong contender.) This also meant that coaches would be able to develop and use the same materials each year rather than scrambling every August not only to teach Sept-Oct to upperclassmen, but to find entry points to it for novices, which was not always easy. And given that, before long, upperclassmen would have experience in that topic themselves and could pass that experience along intact to their newbies added another benefit. It all seemed pretty straightforward to me.

The big fears that arose were, first, that there would be some body of cases that would just be handed to the novices, which would give them a leg up, and second, the confusion of multiple topics at the same tournament. As for the latter, that proved completely to be a non-issue; for the most part, those folks judging novices at an event only judged novices, and the few times that they did cross boundaries, they didn’t care much, since already people often would judge both LD and PF at the same tournament, or both speech and debate, or whatever. Not a single head exploded, as far as I know.

As for handing downed canned cases, there’s nothing unique to ModNov about that. Some people think that newbies should have a lot of material when they start, allowing them to concentrate on tactics and speaking, and others think that they should build from scratch, allowing them to focus on strategy and writing. Pick your poison, because it won’t be long before they have to work on everything. As it turned out, no teams were so craven as to develop unbeatable novices for a span of three months, if such a thing were even possible. Starting debate is simply not about winning versus losing. I see novice debate as, for the most part, simply an introduction to the activity with the unfortunate distraction of awards, insofar as one’s success as a first-year is not at all an indication of success later on. First-years can come on strong if they’re really smart (not unusual) and confident and then peter out completely if they, as we say, don’t get it. Our goal as coaches is to help as many as possible into that get-it category. Winning a lot, or losing a lot, as a novice doesn’t really count much in the long run-up to winning or losing in varsity, because the higher levels of LD are so different from the starting levels. (And Academy Debate is my attempt to keep people around if they are turned off by the higher levels, but that’s another subject completely.) Of course, some people start strong and stay strong, but those are the 1% to whom this activity comes naturally. Of more interest are the other 99%. By doing a lot of public speaking, the ineffective and less than confident public speakers overcome their phobias and start getting good at it. First-years begin to learn the ins and outs of rhetoric, and are introduced to the literature. They learn to speak and write and think and mix and travel… The specifics of the first couple of weeks don’t matter much, provided that those weeks are intelligible, and the ModNov topic guarantees subject matter of the clearest and most relevant intelligibility.

Anyhow, we’ve done ModNov for a number of years now, and it’s proven its value. Frankly, I think it’s one of my most significant accomplishments as a coach, coming up with it in the first place and convincing almost everyone in the region to go along with it. I had always hoped it would go beyond us in the Northeast, and perhaps now it will. I would love for that to happen.

Coachean Feed: Cosmopolitanism, another trolley ride, men and childcare, hate crimes and the Ender's Game boycott.

More links of interest to the debate community.
  • The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy updates Cosmopolitanism.
  • In our novice sessions I pretty much cover all of these ramifications. Still, if you tend to take your trolley straight, Sinister Variations on the Trolley Problem
  • What? Men aren't doing their share? Oh brave new world, that has such old world wonders in it. Childcare – why don't men pull their weight? This is why Leaning In can only go so far.
  • "For those interested in a wide-ranging debate about hate crime, this fundamental fact needs to be grappled with: hate crime is about policing people’s beliefs and thoughts. Whichever level of hate crime is engaged (offence, aggravation or sentencing), the thrust of a hate crime is that the offender is punished for behaviours that stem from his beliefs and thoughts." The UK keeps expanding its hate crime parameters without actually examining the nature of hate crimes: Punish criminals for their actions, not their thoughts
  • Ah, Orson Scott, you're such a Card. I have very mixed feelings about this boycott, On the one hand, it won't accomplish anything, but on the other hand, "it’s not OK to support somebody who’s engaged in hateful discrimination on multiple occasions, and maybe next time people will think that through more carefully." Judge for yourself, but think it through. Orson Scott Card responds to threats of Ender’s Game boycott.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

How I Spent MSV, final installment

For members of the VCA who couldn't care less, good news. This will be the last vacation post, unless something occurs to me to report on separately thirteen years from now.

The Victoria & Albert is one of our favorite museums. Fans were breaking down the doors to see the special Davey Jones David Bowie exhibit; I've never seen a line for anything there before, and this one rivaled Alexander McQueen at the Met. As someone who prefers the Shatner version of Space Oddity, we passed on that.
We headed over to Camden Market, where you can pick up all your Goth essentials, among other things. This market has been around forever, and it mixes amazing crap with some really interesting items. Worth a visit, but not the first time you're in England. If you're like me, you can ponder this sign forever and never actually figure it out:
One thing I'll say about the Brits: they understand nutrition:
This little school was in the middle of a park. We watched a series of students do wonderful things or practically kill themselves for a while:
I cannot strongly enough recommend the Museum of the City of London. Very educational, plus a lot of amazing artifacts. With the oldest stuff, it provides context for a lot of items in the British Museum.
There's this little pocket park with a Fanfare for the Common Man wall, with all these plaques celebrating unsung heroes. I love the language.
One last famous dead person, in a memorial not far from the original grave site. The French have it all over the Brits when it comes to cemeteries.
And finally, an artsy shot of the Millennium Bridge. And so we bid a fond farewell...
The whole set of pictures is on Flickr.

Monday, July 08, 2013

How I Spent MSV #7

London feels dramatically different from Paris. Almost on every level, you get the sense that these two places represent different universes. Obviously, of course, you hear a lot more English being spoken, and since language is core to culture, you absorb the Englishness (or Frenchness) that is in the air without even thinking about it. French always sounds to me like an angry language, as if the people speaking it on the street are always arguing with each other. Maybe they are, and maybe they’re arguing about Sartre. The streets themselves are different, with Paris being the result of the Baron Haussmann redesign and London just plopping itself down. Both cities are on rivers, but the Seine is more charming than impressive and the Thames looks like you can send battleships out on it. As you walk along the river in Paris, every few minutes a tour boat zips by with someone’s voice in the loudspeaker echoing for what seems like miles around, making you really glad you didn’t take a tour boat. We did boat down (up?) the Thames, but we were actually going somewhere (Kew). A totally different experience. As a city with a Catholic heritage, Paris has a church about every two feet, as is common also in Italy, but those anti-Roman English have no truck with such things, and when they do have churches, they are much more calm and quiet. And lastly, the streets of London are not lined with people sitting at cafes smoking and drinking and arguing about Sartre.

London, by comparison, feels like home. It’s New York with a tony accent.

I’m just going to talk about some things at random, rather than a day-by-day diary. To begin with, we saw Regent’s Park. We actually ended up walking through here a couple of times, as later in the week we were strolling down the Regent’s Canal. If you like this park, you can rent a chair to sit in it. Or maybe you can sit on the grass for free. When we came out of it on that first day, there was a street fair going on in Westminster, with lots of handmade art and craft items. We grabbed a bellini for the wandering through the tents; I mean, who wouldn’t?

This is Hampstead Heath, not far out of town, where you can roam about for months.
There is a great view of all of the city below you, once you make it to the top. There were also a lot of fishermen about, and they all seemed to have multiple rods and fancy tents and whatnot, and I was reminded of the saying, Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll spend thousands of dollars for the rest of his life in the pursuit of about a hundred dollars worth of fish that he could have just bought in the store. The allure of fishing eludes me, but then again, I enjoy golf, so who am I to talk?

One does need to visit the British Museum, where they have stuff like this from my favorite fair,
but more to the point, a lot of really old stuff. I had been doing the History of the World in 100 Items podcasts, so I was geared up for the place, although certain areas, like the mummies, were so throttled by Japanese tour groups that you could barely see the dead people, to which you wanted to add a few more. How can anyone possibly get anything out of being at the back of a pack of thirty tourists being herded through at top speed is beyond me. We had lunch with the son-in-law, who works nearby and who told us of the latest in the extended honeymoon adventures, this time to Barcelona. We look forward to having him in New York. So, presumably, does Kate.

This is a cab shelter, open only to cabbies, where they can hang out between fares and not get drunk, which is why they were built in the first place. Ah, Temperance! There are few still in existence, which I guess means that now, when they’re on break, the cabbies go to the pubs.

Kew Gardens is definitely worth a visit. We took a boat down, a very nice little passage along the Thames. Kew is where the Crystal Palace of 1851 ended up after the exhibition closed. There’s a display there of the work of Marianne North, one of those trademark Victorian women who put on their stout boots and traveled the world like there was no tomorrow, in her case painting every last flower of it. It’s not the most remarkable body of work art-wise, but its very existence is a tribute to the exploring spirit.

There’s a whole bunch of guys like this in front of what they call the Palm House.
Kew is a bit of a trip, but if you like to take photographs, or you like plants, it’s a must-see.