Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Toward a more civil debate universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaches, teachers: Do your job!

Monday, December 30, 2013

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

Life goes on.

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

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

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

A special rude CL exclusive!!!

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

Leaving now. No changes in our registration!!!

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

Leaving now. Can I get access to tabroom?

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

Leaving now.

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

One more change. Drop novice LDer Bronx FU.

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

Stuck on ramp of GW Bridge.

Still stuck on ramp of GWB.

Stuck on GWB.

Stuck getting off GWB.

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

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

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

One of my debaters looks like Millard Fillmore. LOL.

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

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

Five minutes away.

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

Driver is lost, and my phone is dying.

Should be there for Flight A of round 3.

We’re in Canada.

Back on track. Should be there soon.

Five minutes away.

Almost there.

We’re pulling up outside the school.

Wrong school.

Almost there.

Five minutes away.


Oops. Wrong school again.

Almost there.

Five minutes away.

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

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

Almost there.

Five minutes away.

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

I left my pants back at the school.

Can I borrow a pen?

Five minutes away.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


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

Have fun without me for a couple of days.

Monday, December 16, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

Assigning judges

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tiggers III

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tiggers II

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the beginning of a great adventure.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Weekend of the Undead

The wonder that is the Tiggers…

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Discussion: Competition – Brackets and Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Prolix? Moi?

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

In which we revisit the past...

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

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

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

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

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

Rating out of a high of ten: 3

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

Monday, December 02, 2013

Odds and ends

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

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

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

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