Thursday, February 27, 2014

In which we present a list of best practices for tabbing

And we do it over at NDCA.

In which we find a home for our next offspring

In one of those great Duh kind of moments, last night at about 4:15 I realized that the place for the Tournament Toolkit is the NDCA site. They have a lot of resources covering other things, but nothing really on the mechanics of tournament management. My search has ended. (Of course, I’ll cross post it to my own site as well. It will want to remember where it was born.)

I did some counting. Let’s say I’ve been tabbing steadily for 15 years now, and I tab 20 tournaments a year. (I’ll save you the agony of my doing the math, since no doubt CP would claim I was doing it wrong, in any case.) That’s a lot of tabbing, and with the possible exception of Kaz, probably more than just about anyone else I can think of. Week after week after week, with nary a break. If you were to seriously ask why, I would seriously answer that I enjoy it, and better still, I think it’s the place where I’ve been able to make the biggest contribution to the activity. Considering that most people don’t enjoy it, I’ve been able to fill a vacuum. This is, to some extent, to the detriment of my team, in that I’m not in the trenches week after week, learning the ins and outs of topics and the ebb and blow of tactics, but now that we’re doing mostly PF I think the harm is minimalized. In any case, that’s a lot of experience to share, and now is as good a time as any. Considering that a number of those tournaments I not just tab but direct, either out front or behind the scenes, I do have a lot to say that may be helpful for others. I’ll create the material I wish I had had when I was first starting out, but I will try to keep in mind the epigram that CP inevitably directs at me during any of our work together: “Are you sure you’ve done this before?”

The brouhaha seems to be simmering down over the ombudsman/abuse suggestion. I think I have pulled out a general sense of what is needed, which honestly is the commitment to provide a good environment for all without necessarily a solid idea of how to do it. Keeping people’s feet to the fire is a good start. I will, of course, bloviate on this in great detail shortly.

I really have all of a sudden overwhelmed myself with writing obligations. Last night a little musical keyboard I ordered arrived at the chez, and I connected it to my Mac and flipped on Garageband… What I should really be writing is a guide to self-distraction. You think my writing here is full of parentheses and digressions? You should see my life.

(But I digress.)

On the positive side, vis-a-vis getting anything done, the newly released Theme Park Studio is a PC program, and I do not intend to allow my new Mac to soil itself with a Windows ability. Then again, I could just by a dedicated Steam/TPS machine.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In which we reveal some future writing plans

We’re sort of scrambling around for judges for Lakeland, but we can borrow a few from policy, and a couple of people are saying they can find some extras, so we should be all right. It’s VLD that’s the problem; the others are tight, but not too tight. Oh, well. I’m just in the tab room. Kaz and I will do what we have to do.

With all the stuff doing on with ombudsmen and conflicts, et cetera, and all the materials I’ve written or collected about tabbing and tournaments, I really to need to organize this stuff better. After all, when you look at it, I’ve got what is virtually a complete albeit scattered guide to tournament management, almost from top to bottom. It’s all written, it’s just not terribly accessible. And this doesn’t even cover things I’ve written here over the years, although at the moment I have no intention of trying to mine this space for more material. It’s easier to write it from scratch.

The problem is, where to put it. I’ve been sort of eyeing the NYSDCA site. I can get a nicely designed page just for the doing of it. It’s not as if the material wouldn’t be neutral as compared to Menickean, or maybe more to the point, its Menickness is acceptable within its context. And hell, I am paying to host the site (mostly because I’m too lazy to submit a bill to NYSDCA).

What I’m thinking of is a Tournament Management Toolkit. Arrange everything in there in some logical way. How to host. How to tab. Conflicts and strikes. MJP. Guide to Tabroom software. Ombudsman issues. Et cetera. I can always port it out if I decide that's the wrong spot for it. We’ll see. In any case, it’s one of my latest projects. I’m sort of getting into the flow of working on the tabroom guide, while I’ve finished up the MJP guide for NDCA and I’m just waiting to give it one last polish. I haven’t incorporated too much of the discussion with CP here because, in the end, he has convinced me that he likes what he’s doing, and he’s explained why, but he hasn’t changed my mind about handling MJP in general. Besides, best practices are not definitive laws, and people who have different approaches can freely work those into their own tournaments. If a tournament is transparent about what it’s doing, let the marketplace of registrants decide whether or not to embrace it.

On the fictional side, when all this how-to starts getting me cross-eyed, I continue the final ultimate Nostrum editing. I’ve pretty much concluded that I’ll publish it in two volumes. Volume 1 will be all the original episodes. Volume 2 will be the Epistles of St. Jules to the Forencians, the Tennessee Williams High School material, the published Series 2 episodes and the unpublished/unfinished Series 3 episodes. The thing is, Volume 1 is going to clock in at somewhere near 2000 pages! And it is complete in and of itself, insofar as series 2 didn’t really answer many of the unanswered questions from the first series.

So, as the season cools off, the keyboard keys will remain warm and toasty.

Commentary on abuse/ombudsman

I've been following and collecting commentary on my original post from the NDCA listserv, the NDCA Facebook page and my own blog. I'm happy to see a lot of good discussion, and I encourage people to continue. My lack of responses to individual posts is because I want to collect everyone's thoughts across the various platforms in order to synthesize everything in one fell swoop. I appreciate the general support for what I'm trying to do.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In which we return to our normal, quiet, uncontroversial self

Well, that caused a bit of a stir. I don’t think the conflict/strike document will catch much flak, as there isn’t anything about it that’s really controversial. But the suggestion that judges (and competitors) need to be reined in has raised some dust. I’m still working my way through the aftermath, and I’ll report on it here. What I’d like to have is some sort of code of behavior that won’t restrict open discussion from the judges, but will set at least some general boundaries of what is and isn’t expected of them. Between that and MJP, which I’m getting back to in order to sum it up and have done with it, I should end up with a little packet of my own for tournaments, on preffing and conflicts and the like. And, heaven forbid, also a rather genuine vade mecum for tabroom. (I’ll wait while you look up vade mecum.) I’m quickly moving away from the original website to a printable document; maybe I’ll have something ready by the end of next week. Going beyond just that little packet, if you add the tabroom guide and maybe one or two other things I’ve written in the past, you do end up with a tidy little guide to tournament management. I’ll probably end up publishing it at some point, just to have it all in one place. Much like the Ultimate version of Nostrum. If one has legacies, one should make them accessible.

So much bile, so little time.

Last Saturday was the MHL Blowout, the final event of the MHL season, which started back in September with our opening one-day workshop (another one of my legacies—no, I’m not going anywhere, but I’m in the mood to take credit for some stuff today, probably because I'm tired of winter, which may be a non sequitor but at least it’s my non sequitor, so you can deal with it or go read someone else’s blog). We do some fun things at the Blowout, tinkering with the rounds with so-called superpowers drawn from a hat (or in this case at Bronx Science, drawn from leftover Harvard tournament trophies), and for round 3, introducing new topics. We announced them, then gave everyone 30 minutes to research them. They were: LD: Throwing Justin Bieber off a bridge is morally justified; PF: The Disney Corporation should eliminate its Princess promotions for the sake of gender equality; and Policy: Given a machine that perfectly diagnoses mental illness, the US should require all citizens to be tested with it. I got that last one from a parli tournament motion. The second was an obvious (to me) twist on the March PF rez, and as for the first one, well, I realize that there may not be a valid neg position, but so it goes. We also give out awards to all the novices as a reward for sticking with it all year. Each award is named by their own team, related to some quirk or another of the individual, and I read them off with whatever drama I am able to sum up extemporaneously. I’m happy to report that this year none of them were negative (“Ass-hat of the year,” for instance), nor so pornographic that I am in fear as I announce it of being arrested for child abuse.

And so off we go into Lakeland this weekend, the last invitational. Then there’s the CFL qualifier and then State and NDCA. I would like CatNats to come after that, but that depends on the Sailors. Of course, at the moment, with or without March looming, it still feels like the middle of winter. It’s not even Mardi Gras yet.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Student Abuse in Debate

My evaluation of conflict and strikes practices has led me to a problem that is real, and that we are not handling well. Every high school debate tournament is by definition an academic event conducted for the educational benefit of secondary school students. Tournaments comprise hordes of adolescent high school students, dozens of judges—many of them independent—not much older than high school students, assorted parents and chaperones who are not a part of the community on a regular basis, and a handful of adults acting either as coaches or tournament staff. For the most part, this group works together well, but there are exceptions, and some of these are unacceptable.

From my private discussions, and my own observations (these texts are edited by me):

A judge used curse words on a ballot to one of our second-year debaters this year, ballots which were publicly scanned. This judge publicly bashed my student at the tournament where she wrote this hideous ballot. The head coach of this judge's program never followed up on my request for an apology from the judge to the student and that judge has never apologized, despite direct contact from me. This was beyond "alleged" behavior and was more than just "nasty" but outright unprofessional and publicly humiliating to a student…

A judge directed inappropriate sexual remarks to not one, but two, of my freshman female novice teams. I reported him to the coach who brought him and was assured he would never be hired again, but he has been, both by that coach and a number of others. Honestly, no students, or at least no female students, should be judged by this person…

[Minority students] are being told, by judges, racism has no impact, racism doesn't matter, slavery was bad, but worth it. I'm tired of having my students racially assaulted. I don't want people around my students who helped create this hostile atmosphere. My students have just as much right to play as anyone else…

These are egregious examples of behaviors to which our adolescent students should not be exposed at a debate tournament. Add to this issues such as: judges who are apparently stoned on drugs, judges who pay no attention to a round whatsoever, judges who demand that students partake of actions in rounds that are not debate-related (e.g., extra points for juggling or telling jokes), judges who fall asleep, etc.

If there are people who are so unacceptable that they need to be struck for cause or conflicted from whole schools because we think they are bad for children, shouldn't we really be doing more than making sure they don't judge our own kids? Is talking to the person who brought them really enough? Perhaps we should be doing more than conflicting or striking them. If a judge is not fit to be around anyone's students, that person be excluded from judging anyone, at least once the judge has been spoken to and told what the community expects of its judges, and then given a chance to be different and better. Judges sometimes need to be educated to be good educators, but if that fails, judges need to find a different source of weekend job income.

When issues arise, as often as not they are brought to the tab room. But tab’s job is tabbing the tournament, not solving problems unrelated to setting up the events correctly, and we often can’t give those problems a fair shake because our attention is elsewhere. Besides, we’re not really in charge of the tournament, we’re staff with a specific, limited responsibility. When there are questions of ethical violations, we turn to the tournament directors. It’s their show. But often they are students themselves, at least at many college events, or tied up solving the myriad issues that arise during a tournament, like locked rooms and lost concessions and the like.

Let me go further. Many of the problems we’re ascribing to the judge pool, many of whom are immature college students with no particular affiliation, are also problems that apply to the rest of the debate community. My own personal experience has mostly but not exclusively been with inappropriate behavior bordering on assault of high school girls by high school boys, not judges, immediately before and after rounds.

One big problem with handling any of this is the nature of the evidence at hand. One must be careful about making serious accusations about anyone, and we are not really equipped to handle any of this at debate tournaments. We’re all busy doing something else. But, if situations are as serious as they appear to be, we can’t just ignore them. If we, the people who are running tournaments, don’t do something about these problems, we are shirking our responsibility to the students in our care.

A year or two ago, on my The View from Tab podcast, we were discussing some similar issues, and agreed that one way to begin to handle them was to appoint an ombudsman at every tournament, a trusted, neutral individual (or two) who would be the person students, coaches, judges or anyone with an issue not debate-related but personal/physical could go to get a hearing and, if necessary, help. This did not assume that the ombudsman could solve every problem, but the problems could be evaluated. Let’s say that a judge makes inappropriate sexual overtures in a round. If the accusation is brought to the ombudsman, that person will interview the judge and the students who were in the room. Perhaps the judge simply needs a little education; this will do the job. It will also put the judge on alert not to do this again, that there are repercussions. I have no idea how we officially handle the problem of that judge showing up again next week somewhere else and doing the same thing again, but judges do tend to show up again and again as do schools and coaches, at all the same tournaments, and we’d probably have the same little pool of ombudsmen. I doubt if it would take long to spot and handle repeat offenders with serious issues. I’m not saying that an ombudsman system is perfect, but I guarantee that having no system is intolerable. Child abuse, be it racial, sexual, bullying or any other variety, can’t be something we don’t care about.

So, I say that we simply insist that every invitational has an ombudsman or two for handling non-debate issues. That we make it very public who those people are, and very private when they are handling any issues. That we publish in our invitations who the ombudsmen will be, and how to reach them. That we empower the ombudsmen to go to coaches and tell them never to hire this person again, and that we listen and do it.

The alternative to this, or some other solution (I doubt if this solution is the only one possible, and it certainly may not be the best, but it is a start), is the continuation of abuses that we are supposed to be preventing. Let’s start with the first tournament of the 2014-15 season, and go from there. If you’re attending a tournament and there is no ombudsman publicized, demand of the TD that this is unacceptable. If you’re running a tournament, find people you know are trusted by the community as a whole. They can still judge lightly or run a table or whatever at the tournament, but I wouldn’t put them in tab, and I wouldn’t just say that tab or the TD will also act as ombudsman, because running a tournament is already too much to do over the weekend, much less adding this to the mix.

If we don’t do this, or something, we only have ourselves to blame for the results.

Judge Conflicts

The issue of conflicts has concerned me for a while, and recent experiences have demonstrated that it is an area of, at the very least, confusion. Simply going by the dictionary definition of the word conflict, it is obvious that where conflicts exist between students and judges, there is the potential for biased adjudication. Since it is inarguable that tournaments must be run fairly, it is important that conflicts are clearly defined, understood and implemented. I polled a few of my local coaches, who offered opinions on the subject, and have followed some discussions taking place online. I’ll be incorporating some of that here in aid of suggesting a set of best practices, as well as raising some questions that go beyond the scope of implementing clearly defined conflicts at our tournaments. (Since some of this material is sensitive and acquired through private discussions, I will presume that those I communicated with would prefer I maintain their privacy.)

First of all, I offer this overarching definition of a judge conflict: Conflicts are situations where debaters are given an unfair advantage by their judge.

Here are two examples of conflict statements from tournaments this season, aimed at coaches:
Judges with whom you or your student have a close personal relationship, judges whose students regularly share in the cost of travel with your team or individual debaters, judges who are a significant other or a relative, and judges whose students share prep with your students.
• Former students who are judging for another school; B) Former coaches, if there are still team members they coached present on the squad; C) College directors/coaches who are recruiting a student from your program: D) Coaches or College Students you've hired to do work for your school or collaborated with to do work, even if it’s been at only one tournament (Work includes direct coaching or argument/card cutting); E) Most importantly the judges/coaches who are currently working with your program.

The NDCA goes at it from the other direction, telling the judges rather than the coaches whom to conflict, listing the following exhaustive set of examples:
You should mark as a conflict any student:
whose high school you attended in recent years;
• to whom you are related;
• who attends a school with whom you have had a coaching or judging relationship, paid or unpaid, during the past two school years (does not apply if your only relationship to a school was as a hired judged at that school’s tournament);
• who attends a school that has offered to hire you to coach or judge in the future;
• for whom you have ever had primary instructional responsibility as, e.g., a school coach or a personal coach
• with whom you have or have in the past had personal friendships or romantic relationships, or with whom you socialize in non-debate settings;
• who personally has provided your transportation or housing at this tournament, or who attends a school that has provided your transportation or housing at this tournament;
• who has been hired by, or who has an outstanding explicit or implicit offer from, a debate business (e.g., workshop or brief company) to which you have financial ties.
• if your current, or in the past two years, coach of record is currently coaching the student.
• If you coach or debate for a college/university, any student that is debating for your program next year or whom your school is still actively recruiting.
• with whose coach(es) you have or have in the past had romantic relationships.
• to whom you bear any other relationship that might reasonably be thought to compromise your impartiality as a judge. To determine whether a relationship meets this test, you might ask yourself, “If I were a competing student and knew nothing about my judge except that he or she bore the relationship in question to my competitor or my competitors coach, would I have any doubts about his or her impartiality?” If the answer is “yes,” you should mark students to whom you bear that relationship as conflicts.

From these three examples, we can easily draw the conclusion that the potential conflicts that are being avoided are those where a judge would possibly be seen as being prejudiced in favor of a debater. This is not to necessarily assume that they will always be so prejudiced, but even the appearance of favoritism should be avoided in a fair competition. This supports our definition, Conflicts are situations where debaters are given an unfair advantage by their judge.

Second, tournaments need to publish statements explaining the nature of conflicts. Given the fact that people can interpret even a straightforward definition a variety of ways, the statement about the nature of conflicts should be as clear as possible. I would suggest the overarching definition above, followed by the descriptive list from the NDCA, edited as below to be read from either the competitors’ or the judges’ perspective.

A judge conflict exists with a student:
whose high school the judge attended in recent years;
• to whom the judge is related;
• who attends a school with whom the judge has had a coaching or judging relationship, paid or unpaid, during the past two school years (does not apply if the only relationship to a school was as a hired judged at that school’s tournament);
• who attends a school that has offered to hire the judge to coach or judge for the team in the future;
• for whom the judge has ever had primary instructional responsibility as, e.g., a school coach or a personal coach
• with whom the judge has or has had in the past personal friendships or romantic relationships, or with whom the judges socializes in non-debate settings;
• who personally has provided a judge’s transportation or housing at this tournament, or who attends a school that has provided the judge’s transportation or housing at this tournament;
• who has been hired by, or who has an outstanding explicit or implicit offer from, a debate business (e.g., workshop or brief company) to which the judge has financial ties.
• if the judge’s current, or in the past two years, coach of record is currently coaching the student.
• If the judge coaches or debates for a college/university, any student that is debating for the judge’s program next year or whom the judge’s school is still actively recruiting.
• with whose coach(es) the judge has or had in the past had romantic relationships.
• to whom the judge bears any other relationship that might reasonably be thought to compromise the judge’s impartiality as a judge. To determine whether a relationship meets this test, the judge might ask, “If I were a competing student and knew nothing about my judge except that he or she bore the relationship in question to my competitor or my competitors coach, would I have any doubts about his or her impartiality?” If the answer is “yes,” that is a conflict.

Third, tournaments need to provide a mechanism for both the teams and the judges to declare their conflicts.

On the team registration side, this is done online easily enough in advance, at least on, and I don’t think we need anything further (aside from clearer explanations of conflicts). But on the judge side, this is not easy, and it is not done as well as it should be, if it is done at all. On-site tournament registrations tend to be confused affairs even under the best of circumstances. There may or may not be a separate judge check-in, and there may or may not be an attempt to get conflicts from judges on-site. Polling judges for their conflicts beforehand doesn’t necessarily work because there are no accepted mechanisms in place to do so. I have requested that add a feature where judges attending a tournament can, in advance, see the debater list and mark themselves as conflicts. Meanwhile, I would suggest that all tournaments have a separate check-in for all judges, independent or accompanying a team, at which is obtained their phone numbers and email addresses (for the tab room to locate them if they wander off), and at which they mark a sheet with all of their conflicts.

Fourth, strict penalties need to be applied to abuses.

Most unfortunately, on the team registration side, a separate system for noting conflicts does not prevent students from either not conflicting obvious conflicts—examples have been cited of teams not only not marking clear-cut conflicts, but actually putting in those conflicts as their top prefs—or from adding to their legitimate strikes and/or preferences as many “conflicts” as they wish that are actually not conflicts at all, as defined above, but simply judges they do not wish to be judged by. The first of these is clearly an ethical violation, and can be addressed as such with a punishment depending on the decision of the tournament director and the severity of the violation, ranging from at the minimum the removal of all the offending team’s prefs up to disqualification from the competition for that team or that team’s entire school. Judges found guilty of such ethical violations on their end should be summarily removed from the tournament; if they are tournament hires they should forfeit any payment they would have received.

The second example in the paragraph above was, in fact, what led me to my belief that a clear and universal definition of conflict is sorely needed, insofar as at one tournament recently two schools were discovered to be independently conflating their (unlimited) conflicts with their (limited) strikes, something we only learned about by happenstance and for all we know may not have been restricted to only those schools. Neither school was attempting to break the rules; both were honestly addressing real areas of concern, blocking judges they felt could not objectively judge their students. But the lack of judge objectivity was not because of favoritism, which is now our definition of debate conflict establish above, but because of potential prejudice against their students.

Before diving into this, remember that some tournaments offer simple strikes, some offer preferencing that includes strikes, and some offer nothing at all to bar judges from seeing students. And the same tournament can offer well-structured MJP in some divisions and no strikes at all in another (usually PF). Tournament directors need to think about how they’re running their events, and if they’re best serving the teams that attend their competitions. An event with absolutely no strikes and no way to bar a judge is open to more problematic situations than an event that offers full-fledged MJP. I have already strongly come out in favor of MJP in varsity LD at the high school level (and by extension, high school varsity policy); I am similarly in favor of a reasonable number of strikes (but not MJP) in varsity PF. At least some of what I’m about to discuss can be avoided by a reasonable set of preventatives. Some of it, however, requires stronger solutions outside of the subject of strikes and conflicts.

Fifth: There needs to be a clear delineation between conflicts and strikes. I offer the following overarching statement: Situations where you feel a judge is prejudiced against any of your students, for any reason, should be handled by strikes, and not by conflicts.

Because I knew about the strike/conflict situation before I polled that handful of my colleagues I mentioned earlier, I proposed the following example of what would, to my mind, be a strike: A tournament that allows both strikes and conflicts is offering PF and announces that it is using prominent community judges. One of these judges is an elected official on the record as vigorously opposed to gay marriage; this same official has, also on the record, claimed that “the Bible is definitive against homosexuality, which is wrong in the eyes of God.” A PF team attending the tournament comprises two acknowledged gay males, activists in their school’s GLBT organization, running a case that is gay-rights based. They do not want this elected official to judge them. There is nothing in any of our descriptions of conflict that makes this official a conflict. Therefore they must use one of their strikes.

One could easily claim that this should be a conflict, since the judge in question would be undoubtedly prejudiced against those debaters, but as we’ve said, conflicts are for when a judge is prejudiced in favor of your debaters. Further, while it is easy to provide a list of concrete situations where a conflict as we’ve defined it can be determined objectively, prejudices against debaters do not so easy fit limited, objective criteria. “This judge is a racist and my students are African-American,” or “This judge is a sexist and my students are young women,” or “This judge is a homophobe and my students are gay,” require that we make a subjective value judgment about a judge’s character, whereas, “This judge is paid to coach my student,” is a statement of fact. Strike the one, conflict the other. If we allow schools to mark as conflicts people they perceive of as prejudiced against their students, it is impossible for us to draw any line limiting that definition of prejudice, and there is nothing to stop a school from conflicting virtually every judge that might potentially drop them.

(And it is beside the point—my interest here is practical tournament management—to go into some of the ramifications of the political currents running through debate today, on which I am not particularly knowledgeable, but I will point out that these statements of potential judge bias are not only provocative, but potentially slanderous. Is the judge a sexist because he didn’t pick up a feminist kritik, or because he assaulted a girl on the stairway? There’s a big difference between a ballot and real life.)

I’m publishing a condensed version of the above, with the recommendations but not the explanations, for tournament directors to take under advisement as they see fit. The version for teams is; the version for judges is These can, of course, be adjusted for specific tournaments.


But I see more to it than that. I am also publishing a separate document discussing a different aspect of this issue.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

In which we move on to this, that, and the other thing

Having been left in the lurch by the bus people last Friday, and there being no school this week and no bus people around to offer non-lurch assurances, I am keeping my fingers crossed that there will be a bus Saturday to the MHL Blowout. I could always drive down, of course, but there’s not enough room in my car for all the Sailors attending, and I’m not looking forward to picking out which ones ride and which ones run behind the car.

The Blowout, for members of the VCA who are unaware of it, is the last MHL of the season. Lately we’ve been plussing it up, to apply a Disney term to it. We give students and/or judges “superpowers,” which they draw from a hat. Maybe they get an extra speech, or a lifeline to a coach, or whatever. We’re also going to have something very special this year for round 3, where we’re going to—

Na’ah. We’ll get to that when we get to it.

My Unofficial Guide to continues apace. I’ve set myself a goal of adding at least one section a day. I sent it off to the powers that be at Lakeland; having looked at their setup, such as it is, it seemed like a good idea. Eventually I’ll put all the pages into one document, but for the time being I’m keeping it online. It will probably stay online, but I will want to keep it from getting unwieldy. I’m not explaining the obvious, just the things CP thinks are obvious. No doubt many people will learn the system by knocking about in it, but a little hand-holding never hurt anybody.

I’m also winding up a very big piece on conflicts. It started in my mind back at the beginning of the season, and some recent events have underlined the need for some standards. That actually isn’t so hard, but some other issues also arose while preparing this piece that go beyond simply marking a judge as a strike or a conflict. I think the VCA will find it interesting. I hope to get a lot of people onboard with it overall, the conflict part that is. The going-beyond isn’t so easy. What bothers me a lot about the high school debate community is that issues come up, but more often than not, after everyone says their piece about those issues, usually in agreement, nothing much comes of it. Sometimes talk isn’t enough, and sometimes it is. The issues I’m thinking about are way beyond a talking solution. I’m not trying to be coy here by not being specific, but this is important stuff and needs a full explanation. I’ll let it go until it’s ready.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In which we finish up reporting on the Quakers

UPenn has a really nice campus feel to it, but honestly, we didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked. At least not in the daylight. We were staying at the tournament hotel, which is right there by the campus, with not one but two Starbucks between it and the central tournament hub a couple of blocks away. For that matter, there’s also a Starbucks in the building where tab is. No one has ever complained at the Quakers about not getting enough coffee. The tournament hub building also has a fine crepe restaurant open early in the morning, not to mention a full-blooded food court later in the day, including a great ice cream shop. If the weather outside is frightful, at least one is warm and cozy and well-seen-to inside.

The prelims of any tournament are about the same. If you’re running double flights, things go off at roughly the same time, and you’ve got a bit of a break before the next round. Elims, on the other hand, are one damned thing after the other as you move the rooms closer to the hub and eliminate judges no longer obligated and enter results and chase judges and whatnot. So Saturday was fairly easy and Sunday was fairly non-stop. We juggled the schedule a bit, primarily because, first, we were able to single-flight some of the PF rounds and, second, because the PF rounds, as at every tournament, take forever. We theorize about this a lot, because as far as the clock is concerned, the rounds are significantly shorter than LD, but inevitably take longer. It’s not just the coin flip, although that’s a part of it. Noob judges being the rule factors into it, and we suspect that there are teams out there who take advantage of the noobs to grab more time than the clock normally allows. Mostly I think it’s because, when it comes time to make a decision and write a ballot, the average new judge, while probably making a very good decision, does not have much confidence in that decision, however clear it might be. Frankly, that self-questioning is probably the sign of a good, concerned judge, but it is also a slowing-down factor. The only solution to this is to allow plenty of time for PF on the schedule, and don’t expect it all of a sudden to take wing and fly. It won’t.

As I said yesterday, though, the e-balloting for VLD worked like a charm, and I’m seriously thinking that e-VLD can work just about anywhere, provided there’s wifi available. Certainly at colleges. Of course, there is no substitute for tournament workers beating the bushes to get decisions in, either by e- or paper ballot, and no excuse for not employing enough workers to do so. Runners, in other words, make a tournament move. Lack of runners turns a tournament inert. It will ever be so.

For some reason the Penn tab room, which is a lot of people all crammed together running all the divisions at once, is absolutely the most pleasant around. I can’t figure this out, because usually I prefer a more quiet and calm tab room, where I can actually hear my music. Maybe it’s the good company? Maybe it’s also because we don’t read ballots anymore, so I don’t have to listen to any of the noise if I don’t want to. (And about my music in the tabroom? Well, as I said to the guy running Parli, “I don’t have to defend my exquisite musical taste to the likes of you!”)

Kaz and I had a perfectly nice ride home Sunday night, after thanking the gods of PF for closing out finals, and after I changed the nom-de-tournament of Montwegia from The Dump Formerly Known as Monticello to Monti-Cello, in honor of local favorite son taking the whole thing for his second TOC bid.

And now it’s on to the Blowout. And to DisAd14, where we already have most of our reservations set. We have tripped the 180-day mark. Let the excitement mount!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In which we begin to debrief the Quakers

“There will be no sympathetic vomiting in the tab room.”

“Some day that woman will be judged by God! Until then, she’s judging PF.”

Those were two of my favorite quotes from this weekend’s Quaker tab room which, for a while, I doubted I would be sitting in.

Friday morning we awoke to roughly a million feet of new snow. I was certainly snowed in, school was closed for the second day in a row right before their winter break, and there was no internet service. Yikes. The phone was okay, though. I spent the morning trying unsuccessfully to scare up the bus people and the Sailors, succeeding not at all with the former and only partially with the latter. Not that I thought there was a snowball’s chance in hell that the bus would run, but with a second bus scheduled for pickup on Sunday, one wanted confirmation. I never did get it, but not seeing a bus on Sunday was, I guess, confirmation enough. I entertained the idea for a while that we might just drive down to Philadelphia in a couple of cars, but without getting any communications from a third of the Speecho-Americans, including the judge, that wasn’t happening. Meanwhile I was in communication with Kaz who was going through roughly the same confusion, with a similar amount of new snow. For all practical purposes it was clear that everyone had cancelled everything, so she and I made the call together at noon that our trips were off. Of course, we didn’t want to leave the Quakers in the lurch, and the two of us not being there would have been one hell of a lurch if I do say so myself, so we braved the elements and drove down together. To tell you the truth, aside from the thirteen hours of trying to find one another in my local train station parking lot, the trip wasn’t bad at all. I’ve got a new route in that avoids the downtown traffic, plus when we did almost arrive but couldn’t get off 76, Kaz just pulled out her phone and GPSed us in the right direction. Rule Number One for Driving: Always have a navigator with GPS capability. Rule Number Two for Driving: Try to avoid Philadelphia at all costs because the way the roads there are designed, there is no question that it is trying to avoid you.

The hit to the tournament from the weather could have been worse. It was the New Yorkers that mostly couldn’t make it; locals and long-distancers were either ahead of or behind the storm. PF, for instance, went off virtually at the cap of 100. We also had every other event under the sun, with Kaz and I doing PF, Policy, and Novice and Varsity LD. The latter of these was with both MJP and e-balloting. It was a rather small pool that I broke into 4 tiers of 7 plus a few strikes, and it worked fine, by my definition of fine. I was pleasantly surprised that the e-balloting also worked, because I’ve been wary of doing it at college tournaments with their far-flung venues, but probably an event like LD, judged almost completely by experienced judges, is the best one to do it with. In other words, CP was right. I tried to extend it to Novice LD, but few of these judges understood the concept or were plugged in, and those who were plugged in claimed ignorance, lack of computing ability, or general malaise, and we eventually had to unplug them. I didn’t even think to try it in PF, with all those goobers in the pool.

Best PF story: A team debates for a little bit of the round, gets sick and says they’re going to forfeit. They abandon the field of battle. The judge, claiming that there is no way the other side of this resolution could ever win a round, period, refuses to accept their forfeit and gives them the win. Needless to say, this resulted in two double byes. The first double bye went to the teams upon whom this judge was inflicted, and the second double bye went to that judge, to whom we said bye-bye as we marked him as inactive. Good grief.

We had a few tabroom glitches, but nothing major as we get more used to the program. The only real hassle was that, since it was running three ginormous tournaments at once, occasionally we would wait for minutes at a time for access. Inevitably this was when we would be wanting faster than instantaneous connections, but that’s most of the time anyhow. The system didn’t break, but there’s no question that it was pretty damned stretched. My guess is that this can be fixed on the back end by distributing the processing even further across the servers CP is using; this is the sort of thing of which he is a master, and since he was in one of those tab rooms, he no doubt felt our pain along with us. (And it wasn’t a local server issue, since some of us were on the Quaker network and some of us were on the Kaz network, and both hung together, so to speak.)

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In which we worry about the coming weekend

Somehow a godly presence in the clouds planted in the minds of the Quakers that they were running VLD with e-ballots. That was news to me, given my stance on judges at college tournaments, who are about as reliable as some really unreliable thing [insert your own metaphor here; I’m fresh out], not to mention that they’re usually flung to the far corners of the campus du jour, making it unlikely to impossible to know if they’re where they’re supposed to be if they haven’t checked in. Then again, the VLD pool at the Quakers isn’t terribly large and it looks pretty responsible, so I admitted to the godly presence in the clouds that maybe it wasn’t the world’s worst idea, and there we are. We’ll see how it goes. (Keep in mind that the GPITC has regularly lambasted me for launching headfirst into tabroom—his program—at the first opportunity, damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead, rather than applauding me for launching headfirst into tabroom et cetera, et cetera, but when I show the slightest hint of reluctance to use any of the features, he questions my intelligence, my heritage, my masculinity and my fondness for Walt Disney World. Shouldn’t he be out in California running one of their tournaments where the sun is always shining and surf’s up or whatever and leaving me and the Quakers to our own devices? But I know the real problem. When all is said and done, I’m the default poster boy for his program, warts and all—the program’s warts, not mine—and he was sort of hoping to get Edward Snowden but then the whole NSA thing broke…There’s nothing programmers hate more than users.)

Meanwhile, everyone thinking about attending a tournament anywhere from Philadelphia to Cambridge this weekend is no doubt feverishly studying the weather reports. This time of year, we should think about holding our tournaments down south, someplace where it’s warm and they don’t get crippling storms. I’ll betcha people are wearing their baggies and their huarache sandals too down there in Georgia! Kaz has already suggested that her school may ground the team, and the Sailors’ fate is probably similarly up in the air. That’s all we need, another aborted tournament.

I put out a call today to the MHL troops to think about getting their acts together for the blowout next Saturday. Given that there’s certainly no school tomorrow, anyone planning on having late signups may end up with no signups. Then again, maybe it’ll just snow again and put us out of our misery. Talk about your winters of discontent!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In which we debrief on the Scarswegian event

And then there was Scarsdale. Last year there wasn’t Scarsdale, because of the storm of the century, or something closely resembling it. There’s nothing worse than cancelling a tournament, after all the preparation and fretting and whatnot. This year, it only snowed twice the week of the tournament, with a prediction of the next storm of the century for the following Sunday, so they managed to squeeze it in. Just.

JV was very particular about warning us not to arrive at a certain time, or we’d be inexorably stuck in pre-dismissal traffic. Hence it warmed my heart as I walked toward the door and saw Matt Dunay in his car, inexorably stuck in pre-dismissal traffic, loudly bemoaning his (predicted) plight. It’s the kind of sight that just starts a tournament off on the right note.

Unfortunately, the wrong note soon followed. After JV had diligently organized 1000 slots of wifi coverage, we had barely gotten halfway through registration when the wifi went all dicky on us. (That’s a Britishism; I haven’t gotten vulgar all of a sudden.) So much for e-ballots, which we tossed about halfway through round 1 after having suffered more than enough complaints about unconnectability, including our own. This of course has been my plaint since day one, that e-ballots are only as good as the delivery system, and an awful lot of schools have delivery systems somewhere between death eating a fig newton to Attica in lockdown. Where we usually have impeccable delivery systems, at colleges, I remain afraid that e-balloting will allow judges who are hard to find already turn completely invisible. Oh, well.

After a momentary panic about points not showing up on ballots thanks to a rogue rules set, the tournament itself went fine, if fine includes the usual inept judges who go out of their way to make their ballots incomprehensible the instant before they disappear for the next twelve hours. (And they’re always from the same schools, although I have to admit that lately, some of our worst offenders are cleaning up their act just in time to make room for new worst offenders.) One very interesting item to come up was the distinction between strikes and conflicts, and we’ll talk about that here in detail at a not too much later date.

If the hero of the Gem of Harlem was Some Columbia Kid, the hero of at Scarswegia (or as JV calls it, the Scarvite) was a kid we’re calling Curly. The first we saw him was when he was given some random running assignment and didn't have a clue what we were talking about. When asked, Charlie B, who was at the ballot table, claimed to have never seen him before in her life. Subsequently throughout the tournament I couldn’t swing a cat without hititing old Curly, who mostly seemed to spend his time at the various help desks in the cavernous building, jollying up the Scarswegian students of the female persuasion. By the time elims came out, he was chairing panels in the novice rounds. It was around this point that Curly was voted the tournament MVP by the Associated Press. The last time I saw him, he was proudly announcing that he was going to Disney World.

And thus another debate legend is born.

In which we promise never to discuss MJP again, at least for a couple of days

Here's CP:

I think we actually agree that ordinals are fine, if a tournament wants to do it that way. They're obviously more natural than any arbitrary tiering. I also vigorously agree that 25% 1s and 25% 2s is anything but MJP, especially in a large pool. That's why I've been recommending tiers of 8 or 9 judges, and not the rigid 6 tiers vs 9 tiers. I agree that distinctions need to be real between the tiers. Our only disagreement is the nature of that reality. I also believe that anything called mutual needs to be mutual. Call it mutual, and that's what people expect it to be. Changing people's expectations is not the solution to non-mutuality. The solution to non-mutuality is some other process with a different name.

From my perspective, running MJP now for a couple of years and watching most schools embrace it, I think we're nearing a point where the marketplace at large is getting ready for some ordinals. But I strongly believe that the marketplace needs to be taken into consideration. As I've been proselytizing for MJP, I've been working with all kinds of helpful nudges and explanations to explain why it's good for the users. Let's face it; starting out, and still in some quarters, MJP was the tool of the (circuit) devil. My pitch was that MJP beat back that particular devil. My putting in the Ci and Tr classifications was in aid of making that point, and making preffing that much easier (although honestly, most judges do consider themselves Ci, and, indeed, most of them are, but for people taking their first bicycle ride, training wheels are in order, even though it means they're not going to get very far). I would say that now, in the northeast, people pretty much expect MJP. I've been the one actively, publicly, pushing it. Lord knows, back when we were doing it in TRPC, it wasn't because it was easy for the tab staff. The goal remains the same: putting the determination of which judges should adjudicate which rounds equally into the hands of the competing debaters rather than the tab room staff. Ordinals no doubt does that better than tiers. The only thing is, it needs to be sold to the marketplace. Honestly, I don't think the market is ready for it yet. We'll need to do what we did with MJP in general, start with a carefully chosen venue and move from there.

This season is pretty much over, which means some time next year. Yale is too general, Bronx is too big, Monti is Academy. Hmmm. What's the first medium sized tournament that we might be able to try it at sometime in November...

Monday, February 10, 2014

In which we mostly look back at the HMMHL

I’ve been wrapped up so much in thinking about MJP and all the ramifications of the thing that I haven’t talked much lately about the tournaments that have been taking place.

A couple of weeks ago O’C and I ran the penultimate MHL at Horace Mann in the Bronx. Actually, it’s in the private section of the Bronx. When you turn off the main drag onto the side street you are greeted by signs that say you are now on private property and watch your step you spalpeen because this is where the real money is and you’re never going to have any so get used to it. Even the streets around the school say that parking is for nabobs only. It made me wish I had brought a big bed sheet to cover my crappy CRV. Even the servants have better cars than that around there.

We had good wireless, so we did e-ballots, and that worked fine. As a rule, Policy and LD judges go electronic, while PF judges of the parental persuasion tend to stick to paper. Mostly this is because those PF judges aren’t confident of their judging yet, rather than their being too old to be able to operate a computer. Given the eternal turnaround in parental judging, this will probably remain the case for some time, if not all time, if PF manages to keep the wolves from the door. What was bothersome was not the new judges, although one school had way more than its shares of the same breaking down our door to tell us that everything we were doing was wrong and to explain to us how we could do it better in the future. What was bothersome was the policy judges who disappeared with their round 4 ballots, never to return. Three judges went totally AWOL. By me, that is unheard of. They left behind, in addition to no ballots, no email addresses or phone numbers. Obviously we’ll have to do better in the future getting data on everyone. Which unfortunately, at least off the top, contradicts an apparently new feature in tabroom that allows schools to check themselves in, which is a very useful thing at an MHL. Oh, well. We’ll sort it out. No pick-up of ballots if we don’t have your info, I guess. Not a great way to start a tournament, but what else is there? Ballots that go home with the judges? That's even worse.

The next and final MHL is next week, the Blowout. More on that as the time nears.

This last weekend was Scarsdale, which is worth an entry all its own. I will point out, though, in marginal conclusion to the MJP discussion, that the idea of ordinals went over with a resounding thud. No one wants to figure out the difference between #82 and #83 at Jake, or for that matter, #38 and #39 most other places. The only voice I hear begging for more categories in LD is CP himself. We discussed it at great length last weekend, as a matter of fact. Of course, this is a group of tabbers, but they all run LDers and are happy not to have to spend their lives preffing. I’ll go back to my summing up in a few days. I still need to present what I’m calling best practices on the NDCA site. Another thing we discussed is conflicts per se, as well as conflicts vs. strikes, another interesting subject. More on that as an email conversation continues: the VCA knows that there are no private conversations where I come from, unless we’re just sitting around randomly insulting people. And sometimes, not even then.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

In which a compromise is proposed and then immediately discarded in favor of a nuclear option

I think it’s pretty clear what the main difference is between CP’s and my view of MJP. It’s a matter of perspective. He’s looking at rankings as reflective of certain qualities, while I’m looking at them only as a proportion of the pool. Quantitative versus qualitative analysis. He looks at a 1 and sees a certain kind of judge, distinct from what he sees when he looks at a 2 or a 3, all the way up and down the line, however long that line may be. On my side of it, I look at a 1 and say, this is the 20% of the field that will judge your most important rounds, while a 2 is the 20% of the field that will judge you if we can’t find a 1, a 3 is the next 20% and so forth. I apply no characteristics to 1s or 2s or 11s or 352s. He’s looking at it from the judges in, I’m looking at it from the tournament out.

Assigning judges my way forces him to muddle up his thinking about judges, and reclassify them from the 1s he truly considers 1s and the 2s he truly considers 2s and so forth into broader forced (and according to him arbitrary) ratings. His 1s now include some of what he perceives of as 2s, etc. Assigning judges his way respects his classifications, but forces me to deviate from mutuality, because when I do give him mutuality, it is way more mutual, and even when it isn’t mutual, his non-mutuality is mathematically predicted to be closer than my non-mutuality. He’s willing to accept that deviation. The question is, am I?

I think we start getting into a discussion of religion at this point, as I alluded to last time. Should a tournament be built to support his way of doing things, which we can probably grant as comparable to most circuit folks, or my way of doing things, which forces everyone to redefine the categories? My way would seem to insist that there should only be so many categories, supported by a belief that enough is enough, and that while we’re handing the decision of the judge to the teams, we’re handing it over only so far. I seem to be supporting an orthodoxy of having to pick up a wider variety of judges. Of course, in reality, our numbers aren’t all that different, and in any given tournament probably wouldn’t play out all that differently. But the energy spent in preffing, especially for teams new to it and perhaps confounded by it, cannot be ignored. For non-circuit teams, fewer tiers make way more sense than more tiers.

I think what I suggested yesterday has merit, that we apply standards to MJP depending not on our religion but on our tournaments. After all, there are some tournaments I tab, bid tournaments, that don’t use (and in at least one case, refuses to use) MJP. So if we can accept that tournaments are that different already, why not have a couple of ways of doing MJP? The high-ticket circuit tournament vs the regional or college tournament would be the general distinction, and the tournament itself decides how it’s going to go.

Honestly, though, if that is the best way to go, then maybe MJP at the circuit end should be tossed completely in favor of ordinals. The way CP’s analysis works, ordinals make more sense to him than any preset tier, right? I’m not being facetious. The question becomes, where would we do those ordinals?

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

In which we can't get enough of arguing with CP, but if debate people can't argue, then what's the point?

One of the things that CP brings to the judge preference table that I don’t is that he actually goes about preffing judges. I’m not exactly ignorant of the concept, obviously, but I don’t have to do it every week. And as he repeatedly points out, my view is tab-oriented, and, I will grant, perhaps too much so. But if we’re going to present best practices, they have to include every aspect of the situation. It has to work in tab, and it has to work for the participants. It has to work for the circuit teams and it has to work for the local teams at their first college tournament. And it has to make sense across this broad spectrum.

So far we’ve mostly been kicking around the math. I understand completely the idea that a smaller tier means that a match is a better match; what I don’t accept is that a system that doesn’t maximize mutuality should be called mutual. I’m theoretically fine with not doing a system that’s mutual (e.g., ordinals, which I’ve never tried), but while trying to find the best system for the mechanical operation of running rounds, as CP says, we also have to look at a bunch of other stuff. His article about this is at

The first thing we need to look at is the act of preffing itself. I suggested that many posted paradigms are useless, and CP agrees. “The meat of the pref sheet…is based on first hand experience with judges.”

Absolutely. CP says he usually only looks at paradigms, at the lower fringes of his preffing, pointing out that often the mere existence of a paradigm is marker enough, demonstrating that at least the judge is in the game. That makes sense.

The problem is for my theoretical team attending its first college tournament. They are unlikely to have much personal experience of the pool at a national event. And, as CP and I agree, the paradigms are pretty useless, aside from their mere existence. That’s why when I tab I offer registrants classifications for their judges, and pretty broad ones at that: Circuit, Traditional and (trained) Newcomer. There’s probably a better set of classifications, but at least this one has the virtue of simplicity. Newbies, when they pref, can put the traditional judges toward the top (which is presumably what the newbs want to do) and the circuit folk below them. At the very least, this means that when a newb hits a circuiter, they’re not automatically at the mercy of the circuiter’s style in front of the circuiter’s judge. That is the message I send in my traditional note to registrants about preffing if they’re thinking of not doing it; you and I have been there before so I won’t go over that again.

My point is that different people will pref from different starting points, and I think we need to keep things accessible to all. Even if I grant all of CP’s math, I don’t think even he would think that 9 tiers are better for the newbs than 4 or 5. Argument against? The newbs are playing a tougher game here by tougher rules, and competition doesn’t presume an even playing field. Rebuttal: I’m looking for the fairest possible starting point; the competition itself ought to separate out the better players, not the setup of the competition.

Next up, he replies that I am in error about the predictability of the sheets: “Assumption #2: Good pref sheets can win all the rounds!!!” Actually, I agree completely. That’s why I call the pref sheets themselves, no matter how many tiers there are, voodoo math. The numbers assigned to the judges don’t win, the debaters win. The numbers are not necessarily predictive even at the furthest spread. Preffing is a blunt tool at best.

But if preffing is a blunt tool at best, don’t broader tiers make sense? CP says that his pref sheets are anything but imprecise, but he also admits that the pref sheet simply sets the stage and is not predictive. How much stage setting is really possible?

Says CP: Assumption #3: The W/L is the only concern of the pref sheet

Absolutely, and I think the points CP makes here are important for teams who might not know much about preffing. I’m going to quote the whole thing.

This assumption is the most important of the set. The number I hang on a judge isn’t entirely about the likelihood they’ll vote for us. It’s just as much informed by the type of debate that judge would like to hear. If you don’t like debating theory, then you de-pref the theoriest of the theory judges, even if one or two of them is likely to vote for you anyway. The aim here is not to win rounds you would have lost otherwise, but to have debates you find enjoyable and are prepared for.

NStar was a mighty LARPer, and was most at home with DAs and CPs and such. If some framework-happy sophomore in her first varsity tournament came along, and hit him round 2 in front of a 1-2 judge in her favor, a judge who positively loves philosophical framework debate, she’d still be toast. But she could argue the kind of debate she wanted, and he could not, despite being better at it. So even with the W, a harm is caused. It’s sometimes an unavoidable harm, but it’s one the pref system is designed to minimize; and it’s one that blunt, imprecise tiers minimize less well.

Note that it is not a harm that NStar had to debate framework; it’s simply relatively unfair that one debater got to steer the debate into her own home turf and the other didn’t. A better outcome is a judge who likes yet a third style of debate, and so both debaters have to adapt equally. That is, after all, the idea behind mutuality, and an argument for the maximal mutuality possible.

At a wider level, too, I’ll pref differently for younger debaters. Some judges are not as good for us stylistically, but they’re great educators and can give excellent feedback. I won’t stake a junior or senior’s last bid round on being able to adapt to them in front of their favoritest debaters; but I might take the chance to get a good post-round for a student who is going to lose those rounds anyway.

All true.

So I think what I’m saying here is that, of course, CP makes sense and I agree with him. But then he says this: "Why is a tournament better for having 4 categories instead of 8 or 12 or 16? … There’s no argument on my flow of anything being harmed by having smaller, more numerous categories.”

1. At the point where non-mutuality is preferred over mutuality, it is no longer mutual judge preference. Call me small-minded and literal on this, but I am not Humpty-Dumpty and words do not mean what I choose them to mean. Change the name, and I’d be fine, if that were all there was to it.
2. More tiers favors teams already familiar with the pool. Teams already familiar with the pool are already favored by their experience. They should not be able to improve on this by the structure of the tournament.
3. Fewer tiers may indeed lead to less mutuality according to CP’s not incorrect math, when the pairing is indeed mutual, but fewer tiers also force a certain discipline on the field, and make a certain statement about what’s going on. If you want to do ordinals, ranking the pool from top to bottom, fine. But I sort of think that a handful of tiers is not simply “good enough” but is more than enough. Let’s face it, in my approach, you’ll mostly get your 1s and 2s matched evenly; only when you and your opponent are way off will it go down to 3s or 4s, and that’s true also of CP’s approach. If you can’t appeal to a band of judges 16 in number versus a band of judges 12 in number (2 of his 6s), I don’t think you’re that good of a debater. There are plenty of people in the debate universe that maintain that all debaters ought to be able to pick up any judge, and while I disagree with that, at heart I have some sympathy for it. The MJP tiers are, among other things, a tab tool for adjudicating the most important rounds, and I’m happy with the most one-ish 1s in those bubble positions, because I’m recognizing the goal of the tournament as rewarding its best competitors, but most of the tournament isn’t those people in those rounds.

All of this raises the question, should we be looking at ordinals instead of tiers? I’d probably be against it on face because of the difficulty for my theoretical newbs, but no doubt we can give them some assistance similar to my preset judge categories. Than again, maybe not. Or maybe, and this makes more sense, the more “circuit” a tournament is, the more that more tiers makes sense. So maybe a quarters bid like Lex drawing a relatively circuity field absolutely needs a different system than a more general quarters bid like Yale drawing a more diverse field. Maybe that’s really the point here.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

I bow to CP's higher knowledge of numbers. I'm sure these numbers, which he provides, are correct:

Percentage of 1-off judges at Lexington: 8.46%
Percentage of 1-offs at Columbia: 8.33%

Hoewever, I'm also sure these numbers, which I provide, are correct:

13 of round 5 Lex in-competition pairings are not mutual.
1 of round 5 Col in-competition pairings is not mutual.

Hmmm. Given that his non-mutuals can have a span of 12, versus my mutuals with a span of 9, and no reason not to believe a standard distribution, well, I'm not convinced in any direction. It's not that I fail to see his point, but I think he's grabbing all his benefits and ignoring all his harms.

Anyhow, this points to a bigger issue, that I just don't have time to get into yet, which he introduced in his discussion of preffing, and to which he alluded in his reference on his site to the numbers of people who preffed at these two tournaments. I don't think he'll disagree that there is a big difference in the way various teams approach (or don't approach) MJP, aside from the predictable differences of the various circuit teams with their own idiosyncracies. A tournament needs to serve everyone who shows up, while still tilting toward the best possible competition rewarding the best debating at the tournament. If we're going to develop best practices, they actually do need to be the best. And if best practices are actually a set of possibilities rather than one specific practice, the differences need to be articulated clearly. Frankly, I feel that this back-and-forth is helping articulate the issues, at least to me (and since I'm the one harping on the idea of best practices, that's a good thing). CP makes very good, instructive points. One that he hasn't made yet that needs to be remembered is that a tournament is what the tournament director says it is. Lex is strikingly popular (including with me), so I'm not arguing right or wrong here, I'm just comparing scenarios. Until I understand them completely, CP's work is not finished.

Monday, February 03, 2014

In which we consider some of CP's rebuttals on MJP practices

Let’s go back to the original intent of MJP, which is to move the selection of judges out of the hands of the tabroom and into the hands of the teams. Assuming that we agree that the teams’ hands are the better determiners, our issue is how those team hands will work.

My sole presumptions with MJP are that
1. We will create tiers for the judges
2. Debaters will organize their judges according to those tiers
3. Tab will assign mutually ranked judges according to those tiers using a fixed set of priorities (first preference to bubble rounds, second preference to in-competition rounds, third, or no, preference to out-of competition rounds).

There are no systemic limits to #1 above, and I think this is where we need to be clearer. (Here’s where Palmer discusses things at length: Lexington had 9 tiers, including strikes, and 66 judges. Each tier was 11% of the field, or 6 judges. Columbia, with 6 tiers, including strikes, had 51 judges. Each tier was 18%, or 9 judges (and 5 strikes). At Lexington, there were numerous 1-offs in in-competition rounds, because a match could not be found. At Columbia, there were almost no 1-offs in in-competition rounds because a match could not be found.

Here’s what Palmer says: Suppose one tournament has 4 categories and another 8; and the first delivers 100% mutual matchups, and the second has a number of one-offs on the pairing. The second tournament will have delivered the more mutual judging. The 4-category tournament will have many more matchups that are just as non-mutual as those 8 category one-offs. They will only nominally be mutual to the eye of the tabber. There will be more of them, too, as the tab system no longer knows which matchups would have been 1-2s in a 8 category system, and so it can do nothing to minimize them.

When you place a 1-2 judge in an 8 category tournament, you know what you’re doing and you know there’s no better choice. If that same tournament used 4 tiers, then you might place that same judge into the same debate, despite there being a more mutual option which is concealed by the broader, less precise categories. The pairing looks prettier, but at the expense of the missing data which might make it fairer.

If he has 6 in a category, with 1-offs, and I have 9, with no 1-offs, the span of judges according to his math is 12 (my top 1 against your bottom 2) whereas the span of judges for me is 9 (the unvarying mutuality). He’s only addressing the math for no 1-offs. Unless the number of 1-offs is inconsequential, a larger tier makes more mathematical sense. He’s absolutely right in that he may have more precise categories, but the precision is meaningless if he doesn’t have them all the time. Palmer’s numbers only work when there are no 1-offs.

I don’t really think Palmer’s argument is so much to support his math, though—and his math skills are no doubt better than mine—as for getting the most mutuality no matter how it’s done. While I hesitate to call something mutual if it is not mutual, we’re looking for the same goal, agreeable, unbiased judging assignments. I’m not trying to make it easier to tab, I’m just trying to make it work. If I wanted easy tabbing, I’d—I have no idea how to end this sentence. The oxymoron of “easy tabbing” is simply too profound.

I would say that we need to come up with the most precise categories we can, congruent with the various ideas of mutuality and choice overload and the like. If some places use ordinal assignments to solve the same problems we’re trying to solve with MJP, obviously there are other ways of approaching this. I would expect that rather than coming up with an arbitrary number of tiers, we would be better off trying to establish an arbitrary number of judges that make sense regardless of the number of tiers.

I want to throw something else in to this mix, though, before throwing out a number. At some point, we need to have rules in debate that force the activity along lines of certain expectations. Personally, I still believe that picking up a variety of judges ought to be a skill in the debater’s toolkit. The reason sonnets and haiku have limits is to obviate questions about form and concentrate the mind on substance. That may not be the best metaphor for somewhat restricted MJP tiers, but you get my drift. In LD I also believe in things like advocacies on both sides and the debating of resolutions, and while these may not be cutting edge ideas, I am not alone in holding them dear, and at some point putting the selection of the judges into the hands of the teams has to conform to some sort of standard, as does the activity as a whole. If you can’t go to a tournament with 50 judges and find 10 or so you want to be judged by, either change your ways or go to a different tournament. Maybe the problem here is the idea that a “1” in judge preferencing is comparable to, say, giving 5 stars in a movie review. All 1 judges are not 5 star judges. The 1 is not equivalent to inherent goodness; the 1 is a comparative against the field as a whole. If I tell you to watch 50 movies and rate them however you like, it is not the same as watching 50 movies and giving 10 of them 5 stars, 10 of them 4 stars, 10 of them 3 stars, and so forth. But that’s what MJP is. (Suggestions that MJP should be as many 1s as you want, as many 2s, etc., don’t work because then you do get into tab room management.)

I think, as I said above, maybe we’re better off with the idea of a floating number of tiers including a set number of judges. 6 seems to me too small, and the results, limited as they are to Lexington and therefore hardly definitive, show me too many instances of non-mutuality which may or may not balance the probability of more mutuality with the tier that Palmer supports. I offer 8 as a counterproposal. (I’d prefer 10, to tell you the truth, but that’s hardly compromising on my part, and I want to reach a deal here, and I don’t want to haggle. So I’ve pre-haggled: I offer 9, you offer 7, we compromise at 8.) With strikes accounted for, of course. So if you have 62 judges, we give you six strikes and 7 tiers. 96 judges? 12 tiers. 40 judges? 5 tiers + 4 strikes. At the point where you remove the number of judges in the pool from the equation, you’re eliminating the sonnet/haiku discipline I think a lot of coaches want in the activity.

Meanwhile, I’ll go into it next, but mostly what CP said about how he prefs was instructive to me. I wonder not so much how the pros do it, but how the amateurs can do it, going up against the pros. It’s an interesting subject.