Monday, September 30, 2013

Actually, that last post wasn't the end of MJP. So I lied. What are you going to do about it?

I would like to abandon the subject of MJP, but I can’t. I just threw together a piece for the NDCA’s Nostrum Rostrum column, at CP’s behest. (He had left out the part about it being due today!) I haven’t seen a copy of Rostrum since the Eisenhower administration, for reasons I need not explain to the VCA, but then again, I wonder if the fly actually enjoys being in the ointment. The article is a plea for everyone to pref, and an explanation why. I’ll pass it on here shortly. On top of that, I got a panicked call from O’C out in some Midwestern state between New Jersey and Nevada, I’m not sure which one, asking for help doing assignments for a Triples round he was tabbing, and we got to chatting about this and that, like his having to explain the definition of the word “mutual” more than a few times. The real issue is the mechanics of MJP. I don’t know how they got there. And I think we might need to change them.

TRPC has two possible setups for MJP, 6 categories or 9 categories. Since 9 won’t work with flighting, in LD we do 6. I have no idea where these numbers came from originally, as there is no Big Book of Debate Tabbing that explains these things. We do 6 because we do 6. There you are. Shuddup.

In earlier utilizations, 5s were occasionally meant as a conflict, meaning that you really had 4 categories, since 5s and 6s were effectively strikes. I was always a little perplexed by this, mostly because of the fungible definition of conflicts, and the fact that allowing debaters to denote them could lead to debaters simply increasing the amount of their strikeage, whereas other people were complaining that the opposite was the problem, i.e., potential conflicts not being reported. Whatever. We have since set conflicts aside as a separate issue in registrations (and it is a separate issue that I want to discuss here in the future). So we have, as a rule, 1-5 plus a strike category.

So the question becomes, why 5? At some tournaments with smaller pools, I’ve made it 1 to 4, on the assumption that the number of the judges didn’t warrant a split in 5 directions. Some people complained that there was such a distinction between the categories that I was, by forcing a greater number of 1s, making them put 2s into their 1 category by default. Et cetera, et cetera, up and down the line. But it seems to me that the more categories there are, spread across smaller numbers, while you may get to stick out your pinkie and pref with your traditional delicacy, you’re setting yourself up for getting fewer 1-1s when all is said and done (provided we get everybody up to preffing speed).

I will add that I can’t get my mind around demurring from mutuality as soon as we get to the 3-3s. Yes, some coaches may prefer this, but then it’s not mutual anymore, which on face is enough for me to wonder why any of it should be mutual. Either it is or it isn’t. And as I’ve argued, at the point where we never place 3s, a substantial portion of the judging pool is relegated to uselessness or the depressing thought of only judging bad debaters.

So, if it’s MJP, it has to be mutual. Let’s not argue about that here.

It’s the number of categories that is problematic. I’ve been thinking back to the days of tab ranking, where we had As, Bs and Cs. (I gather from O’C that fellow tabber Greg Malis is thinking the same way.) Three categories allowed us to place As in the bubbles, then the Bs, then the Cs. It marginally had the effect of, well, marginalizing some of the judges, but not as dramatically as the 5 MJP categories. If your lowest category is 3 out of 3, 3s will get placed. And only As will judge bubbles, and As and Bs will judge above the bubble, theoretically.

The same can apply to MJP. You break the pool into three equally sized categories, plus some strikes. Simple as that. You designate a third of the field that you want in your most important rounds, a third of the field that you’ll settle for in your most important rounds if your first choice isn’t available, and a third of the field that you’ll accept in your non-important rounds. I see two benefits from this. First, as I’ve said, it utilizes all the pool better, and whether you like all the judges or not, the judges are the judges and they are there to judge, so let’s let them judge in acknowledgment of the idea that competitive reality drives the tournament (As above the bubble line). Second, debaters have to learn to debate better in front of judges who are not their personal favorites, meaning that they will learn better speaking skills than if they only perform in front of favorable audiences. Anyone can pick up a ballot from their mother. Can you pick up a ballot from me?

I’m seriously thinking of going to 3 categories at Bump, but I hate being too radical on my own. (Well, actually that’s not true, but I’ll leave it for the sake of argument.) I’d really like to get some dialogue on this. I’m thinking about collecting a cadre of tabbers and having a little colloquy somehow. Feel free to comment here, in the meanwhile.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

And so we bid a fond farewell to MJP

Somebody asked for the math. It wasn’t an easy pull, so this was just eyeballed, but let’s go back to the start.

Last year a lot of schools at the Pups entered no prefs, to my recollection about 40%. This year, it was about 20%. Those numbers are not precise, but close enough. All other factors remain roughly the same (including the tab staff’s ability to do the assignments).

Some of the assignments are terrible, because the assigned judge didn’t show up. Throw those out.

Assuming an “acceptance” of any 2-2 and less satisfaction with 3s or worse, I looked at them. In 2012, there was one 4 assigned in the first 5 rounds. In 2013 there were 11 4s (or worse) in the first 5 rounds. In 2012 there were 20 3-3 pairings in the first five rounds. In 2013 there were 27 3-3s. Add the numbers together, in 2012 there were 24 3-3 or worse assignments in 2012 and 38 3-3 or worse pairings in 2013.

Although totally unscientific and mathematically unsound, I absolutely believe that the situation underlying these numbers is what I have been talking about, my sense as I’ve been doing it, that as more people pref, the less likely you are to get your highest preffed judges. This certainly stands to reason, and, apparently, to some quick real number analysis.

Now granted, this is not hell in a handbasket by any means. There’s about 300 pairings in those five rounds, and we’re probably under 10% worse than 2-2, but it’s not statistically insignificant. Do the math: if you have 5 entries, at least one is virtually guaranteed to do worse than 2-2. (This could be in a non-competitive round, but a 4-4 is a 4-4.) Add to the the math of there being only so many mutual 1s in the pool, and we’re pretty much underlining what I’ve been saying this week.

Debaters are going to have to learn to debate in front of less than (what they perceive as) optimal adjudicators. We are nearing the end of the honeymoon where only the competitive circuit schools pref, meaning that their judges get precedence. Now everybody in the field sets precedence.

Impact —> Debaters are going to have to learn to adapt, if they want to pick up the most possible rounds.

There are other aspects to MJP that remain open to discussion. Of those open questions, I don’t think that throwing out mutality the minute you go below a 2 is acceptable, as that is a virtual strike of most of the judge pool. But aside from that, we set 6 categories, one of them a strike. Is that the best thing to do? If we had 3 categories—A, C, Strike— with a lot more As, are we better off if indeed we’re entering a world where the math is new because MJP is universal? There may be more ways to peel this banana that are similarly worth discussing.

In any case, I am very happy with what is happening. I have argued for a long time that universal MJP could have an effect on LD, to wit, acting to preserve multiple styles of debate as reasonably acceptable. And I can’t believe that the idea that judge adaptation becomes important again will be perceived as a negative by most educators in the activity.

I will continue my push to get EVERYONE to pref, until persuaded otherwise.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MJP - When it's not quite mutual, or, Can I strike virtually everybody?

To elaborate on what I was saying earlier in the week about judge adaptation, yes, you can get 3s and 4s and 5s in MJP. People seem to think that ranking anyone less than a 2 means that they won’t be judged by them, that giving a judge a low preference means that, effectively, they’ve limited the pool to about 25% of the available judges.

That is a really, really bad thought.

There is a question that arose from a discussion about a break round, that some people would rather be on the wrong side of, say, a 1-2 rather than get a 3-3 or less. The assumption here is, I guess, if they are not getting mutuality, they’re getting a “better” judge, or at least a better judge according to their lights. In fact, at one tournament (I can’t recall which), when we were first dipping our toes into these waters, we allowed coaches to indicate in advance if such was their preference. (Along these lines, at the NDCA in Scranton, where we simply couldn’t accommodate mutuality, we tracked imbalances in aid of, by the end of the prelims, evening them out.) But with the passage of time, I’ve come to believe that this is a bad procedure. First of all, there’s the simple question of either you’re running a tournament with MJP or you’re not. The thing is, MJP is a clear standard. MJP allows all the debaters to rank all the judges, and then the assignments are based on those ranks. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you only get A+ judges. It means that the system will try to give you the best judge it can on a mutual basis. Keep in mind that the system does look first to brackets, so your likelihood of getting mutual A+ judges (provided you and your opponent have any) is greatest when you’re on the bubble. In other words, you’ll get your best judging when you’re down 2. We do those first, then the down 1s, then the down 0s, and then everybody else. This makes competitive sense and, after all, tournaments are competitions. Since there is a lot at stake at many tournaments, you want to give people their best shot at doing well. Assignments by bracket do that.

But let’s look at any pool of judges. Generally a pool is broken down into known circuit judges, first-years who were very successful in high school, old-time coaches, new-time coaches, experienced parents and inexperienced parents. The more competitive teams can easily distinguish among these groups, and also easily prioritize within these groups. What happens at a strong competitive tournament, as a result, is that the range of the most preferred judges to the least preferred judges is, in fact, exactly as I’ve listed them, seasoned to taste: known circuit judges, first-years who were very successful in high school, old-time coaches, new-time coaches, experienced parents and inexperienced parents, in that order. Depending on overall numbers (as in, if it’s really tight, everybody works), there is little question that the most preferred judges will get used more than the least preferred. There’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s why, if I can, I like to pre-assign rounds off, to give the highly preffed a chance to take a nap or eat the odd burrito. But one thing I’ve noticed is that the most competitive schools in the field tend to really not agree all that often. As a matter of fact, the most competitive $ircuit schools tend to almost inevitably disagree on almost every judge except for a really tiny handful (if that). Which means that it’s often the hardest to find an A+ match for the most competitive schools, which means that, the further they are away from the bubble, the less likely they are to get an A+, because there’s only so many of these matches to go around. So the 2s and the 3s and, gasp, even the 4s and 5s might come into play.

So what about that alternative of using 1-2s and 2-1s instead of lower mutuals. Well, if nothing else, this virtually guarantees that the lowest preferred judges will never get a round, or that the only rounds they judge will be pretty dreadful. Want to alienate a big portion of your judge pool, and turn off the newcomers who would eventually learn? Marginalize the lowest prefs even more than they already are, then; that should do it. Or look at it like this, that the people who aren’t in the top brackets will never get a top judge, even though the dumbest schlub debater in the building paid just as much to register as the guy with 11 TOC bids. I have heard from people who should know better that my obligation to pair carefully ends once I get to people who are no longer getting to elims. I disagree. Granted, I don’t give them first pick, but they are due the respect of the tournament nonetheless, and I try to give it to them. If I randomly assigned judges to everyone out of competition, we’d save a lot of time. And I would hate myself, and find another brilliant way to spend my weekends, because this would obviously not be the right one.

But here’s the real bottom line. At the moment we go to 1-2s and 2-1s, we are giving teams not 10% of the field to strike, but 60-70% or so. I mean, they’ll never get another 3 again, at least if they’re on or above the bubble. Is that what we want in debate? I would suggest that we might indeed want it at TOC or NDCA, the ultimate contests with unique judging pools, but everywhere else? No. Aside from the harms to the activity as a whole by virtually invalidating a large portion of the pools at most tournaments, and condemning everyone who isn’t a top debater to a distinctively crummier experience never being given great critiques by a top adjudicator, you’re also deluding yourself about your so-called competitive abilities. If you can’t pick up ballots from everyone in the field except your strikes, and you want to effectively strike 70% of the pool, well, pal, you don’t deserve to win.

It’s as simple as that.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

More on MJP, or, Judges Mostly Suck

Actually, let me clarify that further. That is, the comments I made to the last post.

First of all, it took three of us to do the assignments in Yale tab. Six eyes are better than two at seeing solutions to mismatches and, simply speaking, getting the time-consuming job done. Anyhow, I don’t have my tabbing computer with me during the day, so I haven’t been able to dig into the past to get statistics, but I did look at some data on tabroom which is available to me as CP creates the new tabbing software. There are some cases of non-matched judges, but these were not our doing. And this is extremely important to keep in mind, so much so that I’ll put it into a new paragraph.

The biggest problem with MJP is judges who don’t show up for their rounds.

As much as we would like to put our feet up after all but two of the ballots are handed out and the rounds have started, we tend more often to telephone the judge or the judge’s immediate friends and family, asking politely where the &^^*##$ the judge is and why the #&^%%$ the judge hasn’t picked up the ballot. As a general rule, judges who disappear off the face of the earth tend to not respond to our gentle reminders that they should be in their room, so we are now faced with the situation of pushing the ballot to the best possible person we do have available, the handful of people who wait by the ballot table until all the ballots are picked up and they are released. We call those people saints, and we worship the ground they walk on. Unfortunately, all saints do not fit perfectly into all rounds, but a half hour after the posted time, anyone other than a strike is handed the ballot. Fines are levied and all sorts of hootin’ and hollerin’ transpires, but there is no other solution to the problem. Of course, most judges do show up and pick up their ballots, but there are some who don’t. While a lot of people might, after the fact, complain that they got a substitute judge, I will add that if every unused judge was a saint, and every unused judge was standing by, it would ameliorate the situation of the missing judge somewhat. But trust me on this, most judges, the minute they learn they are not on the pairing, teleport immediately to the nearest Starbucks. They will be the first to complain, of course (and I’ve documented this to my personal satisfaction in the past) but they will be the last to pick up an extra ballot. Saints in this activity are few. In fact, this is one of my main worries about the new system of notifying people online that they have rounds, as this similarly notifies them that they don't have rounds.

Of course, there are marginal ways this situation can be improved, and one of them is that the tab room, the ballot table and the judges’ hangout all be within spitting distance of one another, which we will do next year at the Pups, as we do, for instance, at Princeton. But that proximity only marginally solves, as the number of people who remain in the judges’ lounge after they learn they are not judging is maddeningly small. It’s always the same ones, of course. The saints. As a rule they’re no one’s top preferences (a handful of whom are out getting potted at the nearest gin mill or equivalent), but they’re the good old reliables who believe in fulfilling their obligations not only to the letter but beyond. They know who they are, and I know who they are.

I’ve always wondered why people duck ballots. Yes, if you’ve judged every round you deserve a break, and when we can, we try to accommodate. (At Big Bronx we systemically assign rounds off before the competition begins, for instance.) But for the most part, if you’re judging at a tournament, your job at the tournament is to judge. If you have something else to do, don’t come. If you’re a highly preferred judge from a serious team, that inevitably means that sooner or later someone from your staff will be in the tab room whining about some assignment or other, and if you want that whine to get a hearing, don’t also whine that you’re judging all the time, and why not even go the extra step of standing by for us? No doubt what you’re whining about in tab is that you haven’t gotten an equivalent judge like yourself to judge your team, because that judge disappeared like a shot when the pairings were announced. (And I don’t mean they went to coach a kid, which is acceptable, and can be done in such a way that you remain available for a pushed ballot.)

Here’s the thing. While there may be systemic problems in any operation, those problems tend to be clear and addressable, and those of us in tab (same old same old most of the time) do work to fix them. I think that’s pretty clear to anyone who follows this blog. But there are cultural problems in the activity that we can’t fix. All judges should be on call for every round until told otherwise. Do that, and all the meticulous work that goes into your making your prefs and our pairing according to those prefs won’t be tossed into the junk heap when the preferred judge disappears, and all the best substitutes have also disappeared. This is a matter of personal responsibility. Each team should demand that all its judges act like saints. Until they do, and until the culture becomes one of rising to the occasion rather than acting like a smartass college kid who would rather sleep or drink or do anything rather than judge a round, tournaments are going to remain problematic in the execution.

In other words, be available. Or shut up.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Where is MJP going?

I know I’ve yakked about MJP till the cows come home, most specifically here, in the letter I send to people urging them to do it at tournaments I'm tabbing. Originally MJP happened only at a few circuity tournaments, so the first people to get attached to it were $ircuit folks. As a general rule, they would all rank the same judges about the same way (or totally opposite), but they were at tournaments with strong judge pools of a circuit mindset, and life was honky dory for the most part. Meanwhile, as it was introduced at more and more tournaments, a lot of people—including me, to begin with—were perceiving it as a circuit finagle, a way of engineering judges favorable to you and not to your opponent, and they refused to use it. After some experience I learned otherwise and became a supporter, hence my letter of explanation, telling people why this perceived finagle was not inherently the case, and showing how, if only circuit people ranked, then all the circuit people would indeed get judges favorable to them who were, perhaps, not favorable to the unranking opponent, whereas if both sides ranked, we would move the needle back a bit on the march of circuit styles, and more importantly, even the playing field. I created the Circuit/Traditional/Newcomer designations to make preffing easier for folks who didn’t want to spend their lives poring over judge paradigms.

Going by my experience at Yale, a lot more schools are ranking than before, so maybe my push has been successful. The down side of this, if this is in fact a down side, is that the more people rank according to unique preference systems, the harder it is to find a 1-1 judge. More than ever in anything I’ve tabbed, this tournament had a lot of 2-2s and 3-3s, not because of anything other than that the students debating had no common 1s. In fact, a couple of times we had literally no mutuality whatsoever. That is, two debaters hitting in the round had not ranked a single judge identically (with the possible exception of strikes, but they don’t come into play because mutual strikes are not a potential possibility). But the real issue was not lack of mutuality as much as lack of highly ranked mutuality. So whereas last year if there were a couple of 3-3s, it would have been a lot, here there were indeed a lot of them. And some 4-4s and even 5-5s. People kept coming into tab saying that they’re getting a 4, to which I inevitably responded, “So is your opponent.”

Here is the point that needs to be understood as MJP becomes more common. It is MUTUALLY preferred judges, meaning that tab will assign the best judge that you have ranked identically to you and your opponent. Which means that, as MJP becomes more common, you are no longer going to get nothing but highly preferred judges. Sometimes you and your opponent are going to get someone whose paradigm is unfavorable to both of you, or who is a newcomer, or who is someone you think is dumber than a box of rocks but you’d already used up your strikes on the ones who made these losers look like little Einsteins. In a way, it is a step back in time to when you just got random judges and no one looked at the judges’ abilities, although with the important difference that both you and your opponent, going into the round, both perceive of that judge the same way, whereas in the past, one of you might have been advantaged by that randomness. In any case, that step back in time requires something that we used to value higher than any other aspect of debating skill, something that may be one of if not the most important lesson to be learned in public speaking, but which has sort of gone by the wayside. To wit, debaters have to learn (or relearn) how to adapt to judges. If you’re a $ircuit kid debating in front of one of your 1s, you do what you want because that’s also what the judge wants. If you’re a $ircuit kid debating in front of one of your 4s, you'd better do what the judge wants.

Adapting to your audience is the number one most important skill a public speaker must master. If you are lecturing on genetics at a graduate course at MIT, your lecture should be different from the one you would give on the same subject to the Middle School PTA. In debate, how many times have we heard judges complain that they were asked for their paradigm, and mentioned something like speed, which is easily adjustable by the debater, and then been totally ignored. “If you were going to ignore my paradigm, why did you ask me?”

Judge adaptation is the kiss of death for some people, and in the brave new world of MJP, they will pay for that. It doesn’t just work against circuit styles. Traditional kids might find themselves in a room with a circuit judge. Then what?

I don’t know how much of an effect MJP will have in the long run, but I’m beginning to suspect that my hopes that the effect would be positive are being realized. As educators, it is our job to train students to do some very narrow thing really well. We look to the benefits not of the thing itself, which are inherently narrow, but the aspects of the thing that are not narrow, e.g., the need to research, to write, to think. If we can add to this list the need to win arguments in front of a diverse set of adjudicators rather than a limited set of adjudicators, we are doing a better job and adding a truly valuable skill.

I’m all for it.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

The last 'nanigans come down the runway

Eponymous Matt says he was able to load the TRPC software and it ran for a while before giving him some errors. I’ll take that as a good sign. If it weren’t going to run at all, it wouldn’t run from the get-go. Run-time errors after that are probably a result of lack of real data. I’ll bring a back-up PC to the Pups just in case, plus Catholic Charlie will have one, and of course we could do it all on one machine (I did that last year), but multiples are better. Meanwhile, the Pups ’nanigan defenses, which continue to roll down the pike, have ranged from petulance (always a winner in my book) to wounded doe-ism to good old-fashioned Big Daddy mendacity. Some of them have surprised me, not so much in their content but in their source, but most of them, when you boil them down, are the same old same old from the Usual Suspects. I know you’d like it if I named names and provided all the gory details, but by now the members of the VCA are well aware that my point is not to accuse individuals of offenses real or imagined, but simply to point out that offenses occur, and that they are noted on the other end, and one is better off not committing offenses in the first place. Keep in mind that mistakes are not offenses, because if we weren’t allowed to make mistakes, we’d all be up the creek. Repeating mistakes, on the other hand, is a different business. One’s goal in life ought to be to go forth and make new mistakes rather than falling into the rut of repeating the old ones. Words to live by, sort of.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading up on OS7, and I’m starting to believe that it looks really like quite an advance. I won’t load it right away, having been burned by that in the past given Apple’s history with .00 releases, but in a couple of weeks, definitely. Of course, that means I have to get this bloody Mophie battery off the phone, which is an adventure in itself. I like having decent battery life, but this thing is tighter than [supply your own metaphor for some really tight thing]. Oh, well. After that, I’ll have to decide about going to the new OS on the Mac, which I gather is coming around October. I’ve never been dissatisfied with a Mac upgrade in the past; my only worry is that my old Pro is at the edge of the ability to run the new software, which could be a problem. We’ll see. Sometimes in that situation it is best to leave well enough alone. After all, my iPad is already un-updatable, so I know what it’s like to be an orphan. And don’t ask me about my first generation Touch!

Not much else going on, as one’s head is mostly in the tournament at hand. I do need to figure out the subject areas for the Sailors’ meetings so that by the first debate they’re actually ready to compete, but that’s no big deal, just a matter of organization. I’m really, really hoping that we get a good turnout for the second meeting. I’m worried that none of the noobs have as yet signed up for the team, but that always does take a boatload of harassment on my part. Why it is so hard to send me an email and then respond to a group invitation is beyond me. Maybe these kids nowadays really don’t understand email. Could it have really gotten beyond them? Or have they gotten beyond it? I mean, email may not be their first choice for interwebs communication, but it’s a mode they have to learn and utilize. Then again, maybe all the noobs read my mind and preemptively have gotten off my lawn. I wouldn’t blame them if that were the case.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sailors up the wazoo!

Well, that was unexpected. We got about a dozen potential debate novices showing up last night. This is about 25 times as many as we usually get. And some of them seemed to be engaged by the whole business (introductory talk about CD with a side order of WMDs). My normal math is that half will return next week, plus a couple of new ones who didn’t make it last night, and then half of them the week after that for the duration. Meaning maybe I’ll have three or four novices this year, a bumper crop. I’m going to have to start paying attention again.

Pups? Yeah, they haven’t cancelled it or anything. I’m seriously into the zone, but the bottom line is that I’m only tabbing it, not running it, so although I regularly provide incredibly wise counsel over every ’nanigan, eventually they go off and do whatever they want. In other words, I don’t get to fully engage in God Mode, as O’C calls it. But Bump is coming soon, and there’s more where that came from. At least we tend to have most people trained to understand that, with MJP, once judge rankings open, the game is over, because every change requires the entire field to comb over the rankings yet again. My advice to anyone is, do your rankings at the last minute, and that way you’ll only have to do them once. For everyone else, make sure you have reliable judges.

I reminded Eponymous Matt to upload the tabroom version of TRPC, and also to check it and make sure it runs, as there have been problems in the past with missing library files (although I think the tabroom version solves that problem). With JV on one machine and V on the other, the real bottleneck is Friday night, where we have to get all the ballots in and at least V set and preferably both for the start Saturday morning. Starting friction is always rough enough without us adding to it. Of course, Saturday night we only have to prep V octos, because JV will have transpired and everyone knows who broke, and we have hours to do the pairing for it in the morning. But V kicks off at 8, and we’ve got to post results and do doubles, but at least it’s only one division, and if we’re lucky, it will follow a single flight of run-offs. I can never remember from one year to the next the previous iteration, but I do remember eating a nice late dinner last year on the main Yale drag, so we must have made fairly decent time. Given that I’ll have Catholic Charlie with me, and he fuels solely on red meat, the meal is going to be very important.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to do an update mailing to the MHL, since we now have a venue for 2/1, the Superbowl Saturday abandoned by Newark. Horace Mann to the rescue! Also the NYSDCA finals are set for the Bronx at the end of March. In other words, most things are falling into place. And maybe this year I’ll have a team to enjoy it with.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

So You Want to be a Sailor!

Tonight is the noobs inaugural meeting. My team leaders have been pounding the nautical pavement, and the fruits of their labors will finally be seen. There may indeed be potential debaters, at least according to Pickles, our former middle school debater. Fingers crossed. Regardless, I’ve updated the team rules: it’s amazing how much things change when you think things aren’t changing much. And we can spend a little time at the meeting lighting fires under those returnees who haven’t moved over to the new Google group. Which means I can start the season by telling people to get off my lawn. What more can I ask?

For reasons that elude me, it was suggested that I consider running for one of the board seats on the NDCA. This is a group I like that I think has a lot of unrealized potential, so I decided to do it. I sent them a candidacy statement, extolling my many virtues and/or lack thereof, and voting will take place this month, and either I’m in or I’m not. I would have asked O’C for some excess campaign buttons, but all the ones he has say either Mondale, Muskie, Burr or Debs, so they wouldn’t be of much use. Maybe I’ll haul out a few What Would Menick Do shirts and pass them around to the campaign staff. Right after I get myself a campaign staff…

The adventure of the Pups continues, and rather remarkably. I have to say, if I was expecting things to lighten up after last year’s record-setting season of Forensicians Behaving Badly, I was in a total dream world. Aside from the various ’nanigans, there have also been textbook imperiousness, profound obtuseness, blatant impoliteness, and chutzpah as big as the Ritz. Fortunately, there have also been some very nice people asking reasonable questions I’ve been happy to answer, and making polite requests to which I have been eager to comply. So it’s not all snips and snails and puppy dog tails, I’m happy to report. It’s just that the bad things overpower the good things, and take up so much more of one’s time.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Pups pend

Nothing like closing a tournament to bring out not only shenanigans but also henanigans and even a few transanigans. Plus there’s a flurry of questions and requests that could have transpired weeks ago that have taken on the sudden urgency of the coach waking up and realizing that the tournament is next week. Oh, well. That’s what makes it fun.

In honor of the last weekend pre-season, Friday I headed up to Saratoga, not for the fourteenth time, a phrase that, in my mind, always follows the name of that town, but for the first time. We started with a visit to a museum in Glens Falls (yes, they have a museum in Glens Falls) showing Georgia O’Keeffe’s work in the Adirondacks at the Stieglitz house. The place was packed to the gills. Obviously GOK is a big draw (no pun intended). After that, the mosey down to Saratoga, which apparently—and deservedly—won an award for the country’s best Main Street. We promenaded up and down a number of times, saw the local sights, blah blah blah. It was all quite pleasant, and every now and I checked my phone to see who was pestering us about what now. Not as much as usual, to tell you the truth. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

I sent out a message to the assembled LD multitudes this morning telling them to register their judges on tabroom and to make sure to pref even if they think MJP is the go-to tool of the devil. It will be interesting to see if this year there’s more preffers than last year. The less preffing the better as far as tabbing is concerned, but all these people who whine about what LD is becoming or has become could actually do something about it if they preffed, and when they don’t, everything they don’t like about LD takes another step forward. People just don’t get it. So it goes.

Closing numbers, btw, are pretty much at the building limit, a very good thing. We’ll lose a couple more people due to dengue fever and the ague and whatnot, but mostly they’ll all be there, so Eponymous Matt and Catholic Charlie and I will have our work cut out for us. As usual, I’ll get up there relatively early Friday for a tour of one of the museums (it’s back to the British one this year, with my 2 Pffffters in tow) and then lunch before the games begin.

I’m exhausted already.

Stop and Frisk

Friday, September 13, 2013

Debate Etc. 9/13

Check out Debate Etc for new articles: military intervention, Plato, illustrated bad arguments, Posner on sovereignty, the Confederate flag—you know the drill.

The Other Stuff 9/13

John Lennon as Superman, Captain Beefheart, "Double Indemnity", the original "Alien" chestbuster (before everything started looking like cheesy CGI), PK Dick—what more do you want? The Other Stuff

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Heading into the last free weekend, unless you're Texan or Jewish

I think I’ve begun to find the balance between my old Yahoo account and my new gmail account. One can be for real stuff, and the other for business emaily stuff, and while the twain can meet on IOS, they’re easy enough to keep separate in the computer world. Debate on gmail, certainly, what with all the connects to Groups and Calendars and whatnot. To be honest, other than that I don’t see any great functionality benefits to gmail. Hard to get worked up over, in other words.

With any luck the Sailors are recruiting their butts off this week. I saw that JV had a couple of thousand new recruits, and O’C always has to rent Radio City Music Hall for his first meeting. I don’t think I could really run a big program from offsite, but one does have to be a little envious of the momentum of continuity. The only continuous thing on my team is me, and I’m starting to leak in a few places myself. In any case, our opening shot across the bow is next Tuesday. With any luck, they’ll unlock a room for us. With even more luck, the room will have to be bigger than the third stall down in the faculty washroom.

I told the Tiggers to open their registration a couple of days after Muchos Bronxos. I think it was last year that registration opened in the middle of the Bronx, when virtually no one’s mind was on it. I have it set so it’ll open in the early afternoon, except for O’C, for whom it will open at midnight. He needs a taste of his own medicine. He thinks people want a Midnight Madness experience for Bronx just like a Lucas film, whereas most people don’t want it for either. (Come to think of it, more people are attending Muchos Bronxos this year than attended the last Lucas film.) And I’ve seen that there are some schools who think that getting in when the bell goes off will somehow overcome their delinquent ways otherwise, whether the bell is set for midnight, tea time, elevenses or what-have-you. It won’t. Meanwhile, I haven’t seen the Tig invite yet, but the only thing I’ll change, there and at Columbia, is that congress judges need to be a real, unique requirement. They have a tendency to get lumped into the IE pool, which means that wheeling and dealing must take place during the tournament. Better to have a set group, which means that schools might actually bring people who want to judge (and can judge) the event. In other words, a little more respect for yet another red-headed stepchild. (With apologies to any redheads out there who happen to be stepchildren: I don’t make up the clich├ęs, I just use them at the drop of a hat.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wheelin' and dealin' - A Buyer's Guide

I love the horse trading that goes along with running a tournament. (Discounting, of course, the abject pleas for more slots from O’C, which comes with every tournament. Including his own.)

The thing is, there are only so many slots to be had at any tournament because buildings do not endlessly expand to take in the load delivered, plus if there’s too many people, tabbing becomes impossible. And there are only so many judges to be hired because, well, someone collects a pool of judges for sale, and they can cover only so many slots, and there you are. While you can count on a fairly predictable contraction of numbers from the opening to the closing of registration, at the big popular tournaments like the Pups, which is one of the big events of the season (and for some people, the big event), you’ll still probably fill up all the space. So you have to be careful about making promises you can’t keep.

That said, there are some tried and true ways of getting special consideration (or, for that matter, any consideration, aside from normal FIFO dealings, which dominate the proceedings), and I’m happy to share them.

  • First of all, if I do you a favor of some sort, please reply with a simple thank you, unless you expect this to be the last favor you ever ask of me.

  • Don’t have a history of blowing off judge obligations. While a case may be made for selling you judges to make up for your no-show judges, I’m happier selling those judges to teams whose judges are normally do-shows. Your money isn’t that important to me; as Brother John likes to quote Soddy, Fines can’t judge a round.

  • Have a really good story. I like to be entertained as much of the next person. And if you really do have a hardship of some sort, you’ll probably get precisely the consideration we would want if we were in that same tough situation. We are only human, after all. (This applies to debate events that I’m directing; it you’re talking about speech events that JV is directing, that whole only human thing is totally off the table.) (Unless you’re bleeding or vomiting.)

  • If you want extra slots, cover their judging.

  • Come from far away. If you need to buy some plane tickets, we know you need to plan early. If you’re from relatively nearby, you can wait until the others are taken care of.

  • Don’t blame me for your problems. As I said at the top, there is only so much space and so many judges. Since the people who complain the most have never run a lemonade stand much less a national tournament, if you want to whine, and especially if you want to whine publicly with a theoretical letter to the Times, think twice about that. If you want to help, on the other hand, we can probably find a place for you. Either you’re right and you can show us the error of our ways, or you’re wrong, and you’ll understand why things are the way they are. John Stuart Mill would advise roughly the same thing.

Mostly, be patient. Things usually do work out well. The tournament directors want everybody to be happy from day one, and the tab room wants to go home early just as much as you do. Presume good intentions. I mean, you’re willing to make all sorts of cockamamie presumptions when judging a debate round. Can’t we ask you to make just one more?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ah, the B.I.s... Can't live with 'em, can't push 'em off a cliff.

There are two kinds of debate people in the world, the good debate citizens and the bloody idiots. Most people fall into the first category. As we’ve struggled with adjusting the calendar over and over this season for one reason or another, schools have kept stepping forward, offering to help out. The good debate citizens happen to be pretty much the usual suspects, by the way. They’re always there, offering their services, covering an extra round, whatever it takes. My eyes always light up when I see them, which is usually when I’m approaching them for yet another favor. They make the debate world go round.

The bloody idiots? Na’ah, they’re not worth talking about.

So, we solved the MHL/CFL conflict by moving 11/2 to Newark (notoriously good debate citizens, but you knew that already). Not sure which building yet, but we’ll find out soon enough. The end result of all of this is that, in 2013, there is enough novice and JV debate to satisfy everyone, what with Monticello’s Academy schedule and the MHLs and CFLs, not to mention what the NYCUDL is doing. I always say that the best way to get debaters hooked is to have them debate. This year, it’s an embarrassment of riches, so presumably we'll hook our maximum to the limit.

And Pups continues to heat up. I’ve offered to move judges around between the divisions, specifically from VLD to JVLD, and a few people have taken me up on it. I have to say, it beats sitting around in the judges lounge for three days straight. We’re fine on the VLD pool, but still a little dicey in JV land. I expect that to improve on a daily basis, at which point I can shuffle out the lurkers in that pool who should be in VLD. When all is said and done it will work out fine; it just takes a while to say everything and do it.

The first official meeting of the Hendronauts is tonight at the school, but not for the newbies, just the returning ABs. There has been talk of a practice round, but there has also been talk of a Bigfoot sighting, and I’ll believe both of them when I see them.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd…

Saturday morning was the NYCFL moderators’ meeting. All the usual suspects were there, and there was rapture among them all when we did not spend an inordinate amount of time arguing obscure points of Congress, or, for that matter, any points of Congress, despite Catholic Charlie having brought some manuscripts of changes of old obscure points of Congress into new obscure points of Congress at the CatNat level. Without such things to distract us, we were able to dig into the good stuff, like obscure points of Declamation (or Declamatory Debate, as O’C would call it).

The high point of the meeting is always the going over of the schedule, during which it somehow eluded us that the first NYCFL debate tournament would be up against the MHL First-Timers’. Whoa, say what? This finally dawned on us as we were practically out the door. We scrambled around to find some solutions, and I think we have, but I’m now waiting to hear from the solutioners if, in fact, what we proposed makes sense. I’ll keep you posted, but for now, I’ll keep things a little vague to protect the innocent, whoever they may be. I also officially enlisted Catholic Charlie’s services in working with me and Matt on Pups LD. I’m figuring VLD on my machine, JVLD on Matt’s, CC working the reading and everybody and their mother eyeing the prefs. I find the combination of the three of us interesting. I mean, there is no Genesis on my iPod except for a few random scraps of Phil Collins and a solo album from that other guy whose name I can’t remember, whereas CC eats, lives and breathes those guys. God knows what Dunay eats, lives and breathes. I’m thinking my extensive collection of classic Hawaiian music should please everyone.

Maybe not.

Anyhow, after the morning session I drove down to NYC with Bronx’s extemp coach, who thinks Chicago was a good movie. To punish him for this, I had him carry the traveling trophy to Collegiate after I parked the car, and let him suffer the hernia. That thing is ridiculous. And Collegiate is bizarre, at least in layout. If you can find your way around in there, you can find your way around anywhere. When we arrived all the RRers were scarfing down pizza, so I got to talk to O’C and CP about this and that. CP promises that there will be an escape hatch in the tabroom software in a couple of weeks, and everyone seemed to be in seventh heaven over electronic balloting, but blissful though this may be, it is to me a bell and a whistle, and confident tabbing comes first. I’m semi-confident, but errors still pop up. Don’t worry: the Pups will be the old fashioned TRPC style.

While I was there I offered my services to O’C for his Humongo Bronco RRs, which he happily accepted. I’ll work with CP on it, and get a first hand look at the automated features. Realistically, a Round Robin doesn’t need much in the way of tabbing software, since they’re all preset rounds. Just look up and see which judges are available and there you are. The thing is, I have a lot of days off I can still take this year, and throwing one more at the Bronx won’t hurt. Much.

It was nice to hang out for a little while at a debate tournament again, especially since I didn’t have to do anything other than get back to my car before the parking meter ran down. Which I did.

And so we begin again.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Readin’ & Writin’ Friday

I/ve posted links to the latest Flip magazine updatess. The thing is, they’re updated the minute I read the articles, but it makes sense to me just to promote them when there’s a new amount of critical mass. Needless to say, what with Syria and all, there’s been plenty of transmutable fodder for Sept-Oct PF on the Debate Etc. side, plus there’s just stuff that it strikes me debate people will be interested in. As for The Other Stuff, there’s always plenty of that.

Meanwhile, if you follow me @jimmenick on Twitter, you get a marginal sense of my overall book reading, most of which is for the DJ and doesn’t really engage me. When I tell people what I do for a living, they ooh and aah and say how great it must be to read books all day and get paid for it. They don’t necessarily understand that most of the books I read, it’s only because I am getting paid to do it. Of course, the books I actually choose for the series, even if they are not necessarily something I might seek out for my own personal pleasure (romances, for instance), I enjoy. So that means that I read about 30 or so books a year for the DJ that I enjoy, and all the rest that I don’t. All the rest probably adds up to another 150-200 (although not cover-to-cover; I am paid to select books, not to mindlessly plod through the rejects). All this pouring of words into my head does have its effect on my ability to read at home, needless to say. Someday I’ll be able to read only what I want. The thought is magical.

Along those lines, I am finishing up Camille Paglia’s Glittering Images, which I’ve enjoyed immensely, and recommend to anyone interested in art history, especially those new to the subject. It’s a nice production with full-color illustrations, and short essays on each piece, going back to ancient times up through today. On the one hand, it’s a good, digestible little survey that anyone can get something out of. At a higher level, it’s got some wonderfully controversial readings that, if you already know a little bit, you might be inclined to disagree with. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I felt the same way about her poetry book, Break, Blow, Burn. I’m no expert on Paglia and haven’t read anything but these, but she’s a good writer, regardless of what she’s saying. She’s in my virtual queue for the rest of her books. She makes me think about stuff.

And finally, if you haven’t read The House on Summer Street, have you at least tried the audio sample. Don’t decide that it must suck unless you’ve proven it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Debate Etc 9/6

Check out Debate Etc for new articles: the trolley problem revisited, "wrong hands" arguments, chemical weapons and ethics, golden rice, gender bias in poly sci, and more.

The Other Stuff 9/6

The Other Stuff has been updated over the week with—among other articles of interest—the truth about cow tipping, a great interview with Dick Van Dyke (who was asked to play James Bond!), the most insane amusement park ever, and the cover feature, "Thug Notes on Fahrenheit 451," which manages to be both hilarious and a totally perfect analysis.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Bump 2013

Having some time free over Labor Day, I set up Bump for 2013, starting with dropping off the trophy order, and then moving into updating and, finally, posting the new invitation.

You’d think that this would be a no-brainer, since I’ve been doing this since the Buchanan administration, but every year it’s something new, for one reason or the other. I kept a lot of notes from last year, and acted on all of them, except for the one where if someone didn’t show up to judge their round I’d feed them into the school guillotine (and this wasn’t out of compassion, but simply because the school guillotine is usually tied up with other business, which is why you can always get ahead at Hen Hud). So in many ways the tournament, however old, is new again.

We did get some more space back in the grammar school, but I’m sticking to my original decision to limit novice to LD only. This is a bad decision economically, but it’s better to have one robust fully subscribed event than to have two restricted events with a lot of people not getting into either of them. I still maintain that PF gets shafted in general for lack of novice/JV events, but I can only do what I can do. And God knows I push for Academy and the MHL. Still…

Secondly, I’m going entirely waitlist. There are just schools that have pissed me off so many times that I don’t want them around. If I get money hungry at the end, maybe I’ll let them in, but those teams that have repeatedly told me that their judges are leaving now even though they’re still obligated? Ta-ta. Keep in mind that this is an invitational; the nature of the internet makes it look like everyone is invited, but no, just some people.

Thirdly, last year we had no housing because of the hurricane, and adjusted the schedule accordingly. Given that housing is one of our biggest headaches because of the small size of our team, I’m limiting housing to schools out of commuting distance, i.e., beyond NYC, and holding on to that adjusted schedule. Get out around 9:30 Friday night. Catch the 7:43 train out of Grand Central Saturday morning and you’ll be walking through our doors at five minutes to nine. Not terrible. If you don’t like it, rent a motel room.

Fourth, five rounds of LD into a runoff of some sort. We don’t need 6 rounds for a semis bid.

There may be some other little things, but those are the biggies. Of course, the invitation itself sounds rather hysterical, because I’m responding to the miscreants with restrictions and judge fines and whatnot, whereas the overwhelming majority of folks are in fact very good debate citizens. But what can you do? The whole thing is posted on my site and at, and there you are. Registration opens October 1. May the Lord have mercy on your heathen souls.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Sailing, sailing, jumping off the railing


First, on the positive side, the move to Google for the Hendrinauts is proceeding apace. Everybody really does seem to have a gmail account already, and if they don’t, setting one up couldn’t be easier. Sweet.

I sent out the first message today to the LDers at the Pup, telling them that they’re not getting judges and to get off our lawn and whatnot. They’ve still got a ridiculous waitlist, and the tournament is less than three weeks away. It’s time to fish or get off the pot. Of course, there are those who think they were somehow singled out to not get their hired requests for some reason, but the reality is, we just can’t fill that many. So it goes.

The bad news was that we have to move the First Timers’ tournament. Bronx Scientology has to give the city’s special school entrance exam that day. We’re considering a couple of other possibilities, so we’ll have something, I’m just not sure where.

Dickering has also begun among the assorted nabobs about the date of the State finals, but I think that’s sort of settled, since everyone seems to agree on early March. Makes no never mind to me one way or the other.

Meanwhile, the debate Sailors met last night, with their knickers all in a twist over unilateralism. Does the person who came up with this PF topic read the papers every day about Syria and think, “Boy, did I come up with a great topic or what,” because if that is the case, I want that person to come to my house and draw a red line somewhere so that I can say in response, “You and what army?” [Sigh.] Oh, well, what can you do? At least reality points up all the flaws or correct assumptions in the various scenarios. And nuclear proliferation is sooooo different from chemical warfare…somehow. It’s not like they’re both WMDs or—Oh, wait a minute.

When does the November resolution come out?

Back to the positive side, last night I did get to introduce the team pipsqueak to the song “Short People,” and I showed all of them the video for “The Sailor Song,” our team anthem, except maybe the music for the Main Street Electrical Parade might really be our team anthem. It’s hard to say. If that’s not a productive meeting, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Yahoo R.I.P.

Every now and then some purveyor or other throws a monkey wrench into the machinery, and you have to scramble around and find a new way to do something you’ve been doing perfectly well for years. The latest wrench-tosser is Yahoo. The Sailors have been using Yahoo groups since the dawn of computer time. Not only was there basic listserver functionality, but a built-in calendar and databases I could create for signing up for tournaments and places to store files. I chose Yahoo over Google because Yahoo's groups offered all this other stuff while Google’s didn’t. But in a fit of Google-envy, Yahoo has upgraded (?) its groups by removing most of this functionality, and seriously damaging the functionality it didn’t remove. There were so many mouse clicks to get anywhere, if you could even find where to go, that I threw up my hands in disgust. I’m not the only one. Response to these changes among users seem to be uniformly disgusted hand throw-ups.

So, over to Google we go. Google still doesn’t have that functionality built into its literal group software, but it does have Drive and Calendars and so forth, so it’s all there under the Google umbrella. And let’s face it, the Google umbrella is way more coin of the realm these days than Yahoo. I’m even changing my default email to my Google account (although that’s a process that I expect will take months). The switch from Yahoo to Google amongst the Hendronauts was very efficient; I think I got them all over in one day or so. Most of them already had Google accounts, so it was really no big deal. Getting the Speecho-American coach over won’t be quite so easy, as she uses email once a year whether she needs it or not, and always from a different address, but we’ll deal with that. She’s a great coach, just not much of a computist; give me the former any day.

Tonight is a true Forensipalooza. I’ve got people dropping off trophies, I’ve got the speech coach over for a parlay, and the debaters will be chezzing it up for their regular meeting. Quite a zoo, but at least it’s all one night, leaving the rest of the week free to not do any of those things. CP is en route to the good old USA today, so he can stop sending snarky responses about his new software from the UK and get back to doing it from American soil, as is his wont. We’ll meet up Saturday as I’ve said at Collegiate to go over things with the usual suspects.

And things are really beginning to heat up for the Pups. Way too many unresolved registrations. I want them to let me start haranguing people, but it’s their game so they keep sending out nice pleasant reminders instead of GET YOUR #(*&$%%%$ BUTTS IN GEAR, YOU MEATHEADS messages, which are something of a specialty on my part. Oh, well. Things will work out. They always do.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Debate Etc latest

Check out Debate Etc for new articles: Justice Ginsburg isn't going anywhere, a gallery of first wave feminists, political scientists on intervention, articles on electoral studies, and more.