Monday, March 31, 2014

In which we no longer wonder how many divisions is too many

I know what you’re thinking, that it is no big deal to run 11.5 divisions simultaneously on a given weekend.

To which I reply, in a soft, gentle voice, Can we get a bigger tab staff next year?

JV, Kaz and I performed relatively admirably, as did tabroom for the most part. The only times we got into serious trouble is when the .5 we weren’t running put together a parli round that didn’t have pre-assigned rooms, and similarly when one of our LD rounds didn’t have its pre-assigned rooms. Part of this may be because one has to designate, for 12 divisions with at least 7 rounds each, a minimum of 84 individual room uses. Miss one, and all hell breaks loose, in a room it’s not supposed to be breaking loose in, multiplied by the number of rounds that hell can fit on a rainy day when the sun don’t shine. Unfortunately you can’t print out a list that shows room usage, so the more you have going on, the less likely you’ll avoid at least one crush of middle schoolers when you least want it, i.e., in your lifetime.

Middle schoolers, you say. Yes, middle schoolers. They look like debaters, only wee sma. They are surrounded by a cloud of parents, who occasionally crawl into tab on their hands and needs telling us that they can’t judge another round, having done two already that day over the course of 6 hours. JV, who missed Saturday morning because he was taking a course on Civility in the Tab Room, was assigned to running these parents over with a cement mixer. “Flights!” they would say in their best Lady Bracknell voices ( “And what, pray tell, are flights!”

Imagine JV revving up the cement mixer engine.

11.5 divisions (plus cleanup from the other .5) pretty much takes up every breathing moment, aside from the five minutes we used to get an ice cream from Mr. Softee (always a highlight of Bronx Science—I think Mr. Softee is a Brx Sci alum from ’73). Some other highlights: the People’s Champion slept late, showed up, got pushed a ballot, then left to do AV for a play; once an AV Clubber, always and AV Clubber. I paired at least two elim rounds and forgot to release them until someone showed up wondering whatever happened to such-and-such division. Needless to say, my response was, We’re working on that now. (Oy.) Then there’s, we waited outside the room for an hour and the judge never showed up, about fifteen minutes after the judge who was waiting in the room walked up to tab to ask if she should forfeit them. We told her to go back and wait another five minutes. There was the kid who claimed his judge was incompetent and that all the good policy judges were doing LD instead of novice PF, where they belonged. Have you heard the one about the judge who’s critique of the PF rounds was that, having worked at a single-gender school, you’d really have to work double hard to change his mind on the subject? Oh, yeah, and I’ve polished my response to questions about my novice LD judge’s ability to do her job because of her accent: “She’s been speaking English longer than you have, kid.” (Of course, I can’t match a mufti’d Father Michael’s response to some kid who accused him of knowing nothing about philosophy with a casual mention of having majored in it at the seminary.)

On the other hand, our Novice LDer made it to Quarters, and our Novice PFers are now State champions, so I guess it was all in aid of something in the end.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In which we allude to big doings behind the scenes

So many issues are being tossed around these days behind the scenes. Why behind the scenes? Well, that’s not my first choice, but one of the issues being discussed is online flaming, so some folks are a little gun shy, so to speak. And there is no question that a private discussion can be more direct than a public one. Allow me another metaphor: the gloves can be taken off.

This all arises, to some extent, from my call to arms about an ombudsman/student advocate. (I prefer the latter designation because too many people think, erroneously, that ombudsman is linguistically similar to chairman, and want to change it to something neutral, which is like changing mandible to persondible.) I think the questions were already being asked one way or the other, but no one was taking much action. Now we’re having meetings at all the major national events to figure things out. That’s pretty good, a start in the right direction, if not necessarily action per se. A lot of people kept asking, why now, as if there were some hidden agenda (presumably against the why-now askers). I think the answer is simply that things have been simmering for a while, and a lot of people are not happy about the present state of debate. Each unhappy group is unhappy in its own way, and some of the unhappiness may not be meaningful, but some of it definitely is, and why shouldn’t people take charge of their issues and try to solve them? Anyhow, I don’t take a lot of credit/blame for any of this, but I’m happy to have acted even marginally as a catalyst. If we can improve the atmosphere of tournaments and provide a safer environment for students, which was my goal, I’ll be very satisfied.

Meanwhile, last night the Sailors heading to State this weekend threw a little practice round. Useful, of course, as are most practice rounds. I experimented with flowing on my iPad; I need to fix up Numbers a little, but I liked it. I need to set up a good template, but I’ll do this from now on. I used a portable keyboard, of course; I never could type very quickly on the tablet’s virtual keyboard. I also managed to blow my top when I looked over and saw that two of our attendees weren’t flowing. Watching a round and not flowing? What is that all about? At this point in the year, no less. Goobers. I threw them out of the room. Anyone who claims they can do a good job following a round without flowing is [fill in the blank yourself, depending on who you envision when you imagine not flowing]. Feh!

I’m more and more looking forward to this weekend. We have all kinds of divisions, each with its own unique issues. It makes tabbing fun. Who was it that said it’s all just hitting a button or two and the system takes care of itself? Spoken like someone who does a couple of invitationals a year, where you mostly do hit a button or two and the system takes care of itself. Our tab team is more like guerilla warriors when it comes to tabroom. We climb the program’s trees and snipe from the highest branches, living on nuts and berries and cutting out our eyeballs Terminator style whenever there’s any personal damage. Or something like that.

I also finished listening to Book 1 of Harry Potter this morning, in preparation for Universal Studios as part of the DisAd. I’m practically packed and ready to go. Only 142 days!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In which we stick to our guns

Having not attended the meeting at Woodward, and only going by the reports of some of the attendees, after I wrote up yesterday’s post I was charged with misunderstanding the tenor of the discussion. Yeah, well. I stand by my assertion that most coaches want 1-2s way before anything 3-3 or worse, because that’s why they keep coming into the tab room, and it’s the way a lot of so-called MJP tournaments are run. At the same time, if MJP is working according to my best practices suggestions, mostly everything is already 1-1 and 2-2, so all the harms of MJP that I declaim are a part of not accepting it are also a part of accepting it. Which is why I think we need to look at everything we do and evaluate it with a cool eye. I do stand behind the idea that MJP makes competitive sense in the light of the way we’ve defined LD and policy, and if you’re running a competition, competitive sense has a certain… je ne sais quoi. There may be other ideas afloat, but the one I’ve merely heard about, a Gaul is divided into three parts solution (acceptable, neutral, unacceptable), is nothing more than MJP with only 3 divisions. That may not be a bad idea, but it still will have all the negatives of MJP with 6 divisions, or for that matter ordinals with no divisions. Imagine the judge pool as a pizza with pepperoni on one area, anchovies on another area, and mushrooms on another area. Any pref system is still cutting up the finite pizza into slices with preferences for certain areas. If everyone prefers pepperoni, mushroom slices are going to bring complaints to the tab room. Needless to say, I admire the simplicity of the Gallic system, as it seems easier for the preffers and certainly it would be easier to tab. But Palmer has already explained that preffing is no big deal for circuit teams no matter how it’s done, and I believe him. Anyhow, the problem with proposing any big changes in running a tournament is getting a tournament to run with those changes. Who’s going to suggest no prefs, or 3 tiers, and take it on? I was sort of thinking of ordinals for Bump, but my going over some recent tournaments that were using this system demonstrated nothing to me in the way of improving over an appropriate number of tiers because the matches were more often than not 20 to 30 spots apart. If that’s mutual, I’m a monkey’s father’s brother.

As the VCA knows, I recommend that we look at the pools of judges and find something useful for the folks who are lower preffed. That at least solves the immediate frustration of going to a tournament and doing nothing for a couple of days. At a more core level, I recommend that people get out of LD and into PF, where there’s random judging and a tendency to argue the resolutions, but that’s another thing altogether. We’re assembling a list of issues facing the community as an aid to organizing our thoughts for NDCA, and a lot of the problems—but not all—hinge on the acceptability of not so much that anything goes in a debate round, but that anything goes up to and including doing nothing even remotely resembling a debate round. Tabula rasa has a lot to answer for. As I always maintain, the constant need to win the ballots from a floating pool of parent judges who have brains in their heads but little interest in the orthodoxies or styles of rhetoric aside from the intuitive is what will keep PF popular for the long term. If the event ever does get taken over by college judges and tricky argumentation and off-case analysis and prima facie arguments that take out the resolutions, it will as far as I’m concerned become another fatality of our worst tendencies. Anyhow, the proverbial train has already left the station with policy and LD, and the problem there is to at least keep things civil.

Interesting times.

We’re in the throes of the final setups for the State finals at Bronx Sci this weekend. We’ve got good diverse fields in just about every event, and it looks a lot bigger than previous tournaments, a very good thing. In fact, there’s only one division that we need to sort out somehow because of the dominance of one school. The rest will run fine. There’s also a bunch of middle school divisions, where we’re bringing in some new folks to work This should all be fun, and I gather it’s my last time behind the computer this season unless I get pulled in to help Kaz at NDCA. I wouldn’t mind that, but I also wouldn’t mind a serious program of PF judging either, which is what I’m there to do. And working a panel on the night before the rounds (hence putting together that list of issues). I just hope it’s warm. Hell, I’d let everyone have 1-2 pairings if I could put away my winter coat.

Monday, March 24, 2014

MJP Addendum: 1s and 2s and Nothing But 1s and 2s!!! (Cross-post from NDCA website)

First of all, let’s not overblow direness of the situation. In my experience, people do get nothing but 1-1 and 2-2 matches through the entire prelims at most tournaments, using the best practices I’ve outlined for categorization ( We shouldn’t get too worried about getting a lot of 5-5s; I see maybe one every seventh tournament. Maybe two or three out of 50 pairings might be 3-3s per round at the average tournament, if that many, and occasionally there’s the odd 4-4. The software is very good at finding the best overall prefs. And this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that we’ve set up the system to give the lesser mutualities to teams out of contention, and the higher mutalities to the bubbles. So for the most part MJP works exactly the way people want it to work.

Be that as it may, a large number of people insist that they should only get either 1 or 2 judges, period. They want 1-1s and 2-2s in that order, but they’ll take a 1-2 weighted against them over anything else. As I say, this doesn’t come up often, but it does come up. It can usually be addressed in the tab room, and all 3-3s or lower could probably be made to go away in favor of 1-2s in in-contention rounds, except in the most extreme of situations.

But the fact that it can be done is not a reason to do it.

What are the reasons behind wanting a 1-2 rather than a lower mutuality? Basically, it boils down to one thing: the perception that you’re getting a “better” judge. Certainly you’re getting one you ranked more highly than any alternative. And although no advance ranking is a guarantee of a win, the answer to this is, yes, you would be getting what you and your opponent both think is a better judge.

But that’s not all there is to it. Let’s look at the ramifications of not using anything but your 1s and 2s.

First of all, there is no question that the field evaluates the pool pretty much the same. Some judges are favored by almost everybody and some judges are favored by almost nobody, up and down the line. Same people, tournament after tournament. With exceptions, everybody’s 1s and 2s are everybody else’s 1s and 2s.

Going by my math in the previous articles, in a field of 60 with 6 tiers, 10% are strikes, and the other 5 tiers are 18% each. If you only use 1s and 2s, you get to strike roughly 65% of the field, probably more once you throw in your conflicts. Striking over 65% of the field!!!??? The guiding principle in setting up competition is to make the competition meaningfully competitive. Striking about two thirds of the field sounds suspiciously uncompetitive to me. Given the general uniformity of preferences (i.e., most teams pref pretty much like every other team), limiting the nature of the pool seems to indicate that our most competitive teams are only capable of picking up ballots from a minority of the judges. If that’s true, that’s a pretty weak sort of competition, and not much of a scale for weighing competitiveness at an event.

It’s hard to come up with a meaningful analogy to this. The closest I can think of is that we provide 9 Olympics judges for an event but each contestant gets to pick 3 judges that the contestant wants to judge the match, and only those 3 scores will count. Would we call that competitive?

I would point out that, at least in LD, it was not that long ago when the strength of a debater was measured by the debater’s ability to pick up ballots across a broad spectrum of judges. Judge adaptation was considered an important skill. In a real-world sense, this remains true, because the first rule of all public speaking is to know and adjust to your audience. We’ve put it the other way around: go get an audience that knows and adjusts to you. That’s wrong-headed in terms of long-term benefits from the activity. And wrong-headed in terms of actually demonstrating competitive strength. It demonstrates strength only across a narrow spectrum. So it is both not competitive and not educational.

The narrowing of the acceptable pool has further, more objective issues. As we continue to focus on the smallest number of adjudicators as the primary judges, and those judges represent a single approach to the activity—which they do—those judges get to be the ones who determine what wins and loses. Of course judges decide who wins and loses, but if it’s the same judges week in and week out, and if agendas are abroad among those judges, i.e., any sort of measurable preferences for particular styles or materials, debate will be molded to those styles and those materials. Given that these judges tend to be college students with short-term commitments to the activity and not much more educational wisdom than the people they are judging, this has inherent problems that seem absolutely manifest to me. This is a value judgment on my part, but I simply don’t believe that the nature of high school debate should be determined by college students.

Further, and more dangerously, relying on a small percentage of the pool has the affect of alienating the rest of the pool to the point of ghettoization. Ignoring this threatens the very viability of an event. Keep in mind that the well-run tournament already uses mostly 1s and 2s, and this is a problem I’ve addressed by suggesting that tournament directors allow people to opt into judging other divisions where they will be used well, as compared to sitting around all weekend wondering why they bothered to come in the first place, maybe getting a round or two near the end of the weekend adjudicating among the down-4s. I have nothing against down-4s—they deserve educational, well-adjudicated rounds just like everyone else—but from a judge’s point of view, a little of that goes a long way. If we wish to keep programs committed to debate, we need to keep their coaches committed to debate, and that will not happen if we allow their coaches to stew doing nothing all weekend. This of course doesn’t take into consideration the potential isolation of specific cultural groups, an important and real issue that goes beyond the scope of what I’m discussing here, but which cannot be ignored.

So the way I see it, the only argument for going non-mutual if mutuality exists at a less favorable match than a 2-2 pairing, is that a team is prepared only to win a specific sort of round in front of a specific sort of judge, and the competition should favor that. Which is, in fact, the argument against it: only being able to win a specific sort of round in front of a specific sort of judge limits the debaters. It limits the nature of the activity by favoring only some judges, and on top of that it has negative overall effects on the judge pool in general.

There might easily be a better system than MJP for assigning judges. But MJP that only goes as far as 2-2s is not it.
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Some very uncharacteristically negative thoughts, and a manifesto of sorts

I’ve always felt that debate is something like another dimension, a fantasy world coexisting with life in the real world. For one thing, we move unseen into empty spaces when everyone else has gone away. When the final school bell rings on Friday afternoon, most people—both students and teachers—disappear quickly and never look back until Monday morning. If they did look back, it would be as if they were watching a haunted house. The place is supposed to be empty, but there’s a ghostly face in the window of a classroom on the second floor, there’s unexplained noises from an open window over on the left, there’s cars in the parking lot with out-of-state license plates. Yet there’s no game on the football field. The lights are out in the gymnasium. There’s no drama production tonight.

Most people who work all week take the weekend off. Debaters work all week, and then they go on to work all weekend. Given the average adolescent’s need for sleep and inability to wake up in the morning (even if they’ve been moving for hours from classroom to classroom), voluntarily giving up a Saturday to get up even earlier than usual and start performing at eight o’clock defies logic.

The adult presences are elusive. While a debate tournament might take over an entire school building, few of the adults are from that school, and little of the normal infrastructure of the school is in place while tournaments are happening. The adults present have responsibility only for their own small groups of students, and some of those adults are barely so, students themselves only slightly older than their charges.

We, the debate community, are like squatters, taking over abandoned spaces on the weekends and then disappearing when the proper inhabitants return. And as squatters, we have created a whole independent infrastructure of our own, replete with official organizations and unofficial organizations, expensive elite events and inexpensive open events, politics and politicians among the adults, stars and wannabes among the students. We bestow fame easily, fueled by the mechanisms of the internet. We do things we are proud of and wish that there was more light shining on us, and we do things we are not so proud of and we’re thankful for our shadow existence.

Because, in practical reality, we answer to no one, we create our own norms. We determine, as a community, the things you can and can’t do. Because we also live in the real world most of the time, or at least most of us do, our norms aren’t terribly different from acceptable real world norms. But when our norms are challenged, for whatever reason, because we don’t have the infrastructural underpinnings of the real world we start to see how shadowy our universe really is. How borderline anarchic. How tentative. When our community norms actually conflict with accepted norms in our broader outside community, our ad hoc squatters’ infrastructure faces its greatest threats.

Change in this sort of community is difficult. I don’t mean natural change, that is, the evolution over time of events and practices; that happens all on its own. I’m talking about enforced change, against the tide of evolution. If things evolve in such a way that the direction seems bad, trying to change direction is very difficult because no structures are in place to do so. All our structures are ad hoc; our infrastructure is ephemeral. Add to that the essential nature of the people involved: argumentative, libertarian, vocal, political, philosophical, independent, competitive, fiercely dedicated. Conflicting structuralist perceptions can make determining whether or not it’s Thursday a major discussion.

I want to make big changes in our activity. I already have made a bunch of changes, for better or worse. What I'm looking at now is not changing what we do, necessarily, but changing how we go about doing it. I want to normalize communications. I want a central, open broadcast network for opinions, viewpoints, case evaluation, tabulation, confrontation, disputes, conversation, acclamation, declamation, judge training, standards, best practices, education, analysis. I want to use that broadcast network to take this shadow organization and unify it in a meaningful way, not organizationally (we already have plenty of organizations) but spiritually. I want to bring it out into the light.

I’m a firm believer in engagement of issues. I’m a firm believer in openness. I’m a firm believer that free speech opens a pathway to truth.

I have serious doubts about how successful I’ll be at this. In fact, at the moment I’m already exhausted, having spent little more than a month at it—and a million emails—and gotten almost nowhere. Still, I’m going to hold to an immediate goal of having something to present for NDCA in a couple of weeks. I will, if nothing else, have a meaningful Tournament Director’s Toolkit published by the beginning of next season, with or without a real sponsor.

I’m not going out yet, but I will be going out eventually. The question is, with a bang or with a whimper?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Student abuse

I put this out today on the NDCA listserv and Facebook page.

I feel a need to publish an update on what I brought up here a few weeks ago about the need to address personal abuses of students in high school debate.

There was a lot of discussion in the open forums, mostly supportive, much of which I took in to help guide wherever this was going. My original proposal ended in suggesting regular use of an ombudsman approach, and I have been working on documentation ever since I brought this up.

The discussion has not ended—far from it—but it has moved over to a less public area with a handful of coaches. We’re not trying to be secretive, just manageable, although the privacy of the discussion does allow us to speak more freely than we might in a totally open forum. I’m reluctant to comment too much on these discussions at this point, as we’re still in the middle of things. My goal, of course, was to address problems that I had encountered, problems I knew that others had encountered as well. As it turns out, this opened the door to still more problems, and more problems after that… Needless to say, I don’t think we can solve every problem that arises. But we can face every problem that arises and do our best to deal with it.

No proposal will be worth much if it isn’t given enough solid support to make it happen, and that’s where we are now, trying to work out something that people will agree has a chance of making a difference, something positive that will not generate its own new problems. Something will come of this, and I hope it’s something good.

I will report progress as soon as I can. I would like to go into the 2014 season with solutions in place.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

In which we debrief on our CFL weekend

Last weekend we did the CFL qualifier. Which means we got to beat up tabroom on pure card ability. The reason not to use tabroom directly is a belief, perhaps wrong, that the program might have algorithms in place for handling very small divisions (14 and 12) that are not the way we want to handle it. I know that tossing cards is random; on the other hand, the software might place schools with multiple entries against other schools with multiple entries, or something like that. It’s hardly a big deal to flip cards instead.

Things went fine, for the most part. The cards that tabroom prints (buried so deep that I had to show JV a couple of times where they are) aren’t perfect: no seeding, for one thing, and it shows you points that a judge gives (we were using 2, and bracketing by ballot count) but not whether it was a win. Not a big problem (and one that, presumably, can be easily fixed in the program’s next upgrade). What was more troublesome was the disappearing assignments of hand-paired judges. I don’t do this much, because pulling judges from the list in a given pairing is a better way of handling judges, so I only vaguely remembered way late in the game advice from CP to reload the screen to make set what I’d done. The hand-pairing screen is clever, but not exactly stable. Like many debate coaches I know.

The only disaster was unpredictable. We paired the last round and assigned all the judges we could, and ran out of judges. Or more to the point, judges who could judge those teams on those sides. So I went and clicked on the ability to judge the same team on different sides; I didn’t want this on earlier because it’s a last-ditch sort of thing. What happened is that about half the pairings flipped sides (I think, the ones already fully paired with two judges). Since one wouldn’t ever look for such a thing, we ended up releasing the pairing, and pandemonium ensued. It took about three seconds to fix things, but it was one of those magical moments that make people at a debate tournament decide that the tab room is either totally insane or totally incompetent, or both, and it’s hard for us to disagree with them.

In the end, we had our 6 qualifiers. The LD teams-in-order report didn’t tally hi/lo ballot dropping correctly but the speakers in order did. Go figure. PF made more sense in not tallying either correctly, but maybe that’s because of the two speakers instead of one. In any case, I put in a string of bugs and requests during the day, but let’s face it: this is pretty unexplored territory. It will matter for Round Robins, though, where two ballots per round is the order of the day.

Since I didn’t qualify anyone for Chicago, I have only one more event coming up, the State tournament a week after this one. And I will be skying out to Utah for NDCA, camouflaged as a Bronxian. And that’s it.

But not really. As I’ll let you know soon enough.

Monday, March 17, 2014

In which we reveal how the mind dumps

The descriptive notes here are roughly 15 years old...

James Gatz — Mr Jay Gatsby's original name; cited first on this list as a hommage to the wonderful list of names at The Great Gatsby party scene, which — well-known literary fact — Fitzgerald pulled at random from a telephone book. Gatsby, by the way, is number 2 on the legendary top 100 of the 20th century as chosen by DWEMites. Atlas Shrugged is number 1 as chosen by you, the general public. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Anna Livia — Heroine of Finnegans Wake

Theophilus North — Eponymous hero of a wonderful Thornton Wilder novel. Oh, to be in Newport!

Bernard Baruch — the capitalist extraordinaire

Jeremiah Johnson — the Indian killer played by R Redford

Deanna Durbin — operatic rival to Judy Garland

Lois Flagstaff — the mother in the comic strip, Hi and Lois

Bertie Wooster — The employer of the incredible Jeeves, courtesy P.G.Wodehouse (whose nickname was "Plum")

Nick Chopper — The Tin Man of Oz's real name. There's a piece of obscure balogna, if there ever was one. It's in the books, not the movie(s) (and not the original Oz book, either, but in one of the sequels). And yes, there is more than one Oz movie, as well as more than one Oz book

Stuart Little — Too easy

Eric Blore — Wonderful screwball character actor of the 30s

Toshiro Mifune — Star of many a Japanese film, sort of the samurai John Wayne. Fans of the late Kurosawa know him well.

Benjamin Barker — Sweeney Todd's real name, a la Sondheim

Vlad the Impaler — Source of the Dracula legend

J. Fred Muggs — Chimpanzee star of the Today show in the 1950s

Uriah Heep — oily villain of David Copperfield (the book, not the magician)

Joel Cairo — He seeks the stuff that dreams are made of, in The Maltese Falcon

Clare Quilty — Quilty is guilty. From Lolita, another top-of-the-list 20th century book

Becky Sharp — Heroine of Vanity Fair (the book, not the magazine; that heroine was Tina Brown, and she is long gone)

Phoebe Caulfield — Holden's sister, Catcher in the Rye. We will be happy to join in a letter writing campaign to ban Joyce Maynard in all media

Dick Grayson — AKA Boy Wonder, AKA Robin

Harry Lime — The Third Man, and the most wonderful entrance by a character ever in a film, made by Orson Welles (the entrance, not the film)

Tony Buddenbrooks — Favorite feisty character from the Mann novel. Why draw the line at Hans Castorp?

Norman Bates — Motherly motelier 

Pete Best — The drummer before Ringo

Butterfly McQueen — the actress playing Prissie who knew nothin' 'bout birthin' babies in GWTW

Sebastian Flyte — Pronounce that first name with four syllables; courtesy of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited

Theron Ware — From the novel containing the damnation of same. Sounds like some sort of plastic storage container

Kaiser Soze — The villain of The Usual Suspects

Peter Quint — "Peter Quint, you devil" — but then again, who really is the devil in The Turn of the Screw?

Zuleika Dobson — The entire male student body of Oxford self-destroyed over Ms. Dobson, who was last seen heading for Cambridge. #59 on the Modern Library list!

Theodore Cleaver — AKA "The Beaver"

Andrew Loog Oldham — Original producer of the Rolling Stones

Hieronymous Bosch — painter of the bizarre
 (and hero of Micheal Connelly novels)

Mahatma Kane Jeeves — Writing pseudonym of W. C. Fields (in every movie, he said, there's always somebody turning to the butler and saying, "My hat, my cane, Jeeves")

Luca Brasi — sleeps with the fishes in The Godfather

Jud Fry — Poor Jud is daid, a candle lights his haid, in Oklahoma

Nathan Detroit — Good old reliable Nathan, of Guys and Dolls. Which should be pronounced ghees, like Guy de Maupassant, from the Riviera (i.e., a Nice Guy — this stuff only works if you read with your lips moving).

Egbert Souse — W.C. again, this time a character in The Bank Dick. The correct pronunciation is sue-say

Lemmy Caution — Alphaville private eye 

Rufus T. Firefly — Hail, Freedonia! Hail Groucho! Hail Duck Soup!

Rick Blaine — Everybody comes to Rick's. In Casablanca

aRupert Pupkin — The King of Comedy, a close runner-up in denironyms to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver

Molly Bloom — Leo's wife, Yes I Will Yes, etc — from Ulysses, if you find Finnegans Wake too difficult (see Anna Livia, above), and still want to stick to that top 100

Pierre Bezukhov — He gets the girl in the end (of War and Peace)

Tristram Shandy — Sterne should have lived in the age of the Internet; we'd love to see his web page

N-X 211 — The Ryan airplane that flew from NY to Paris in 1927, piloted by one Charles Augustus Lindbergh

John Galt — Who is John Galt? Why is Atlas shrugging? Why is Les Phillips shrugging?

Perry White — Clark Kent's old boss

Ringo Kid — John Wayne's breakthrough part in Stagecoach

Paspartout — The manservant who went around the world in 80 days. It's also a French pun (so go learn French, since we're not going to explain it to you, since you didn't think much of Nice Guy, above)

Ub Iwerks — early animation pioneer, off-again, on-again with W. E. Disney

Grover Whelan — the man behind the 1939 N.Y. World's Fair, among other things

Antoine Doinel — the French nouveau vague again, this time a la Francois Truffaut

Charles L. Dodgson — the Reverend, AKA Lewis Carroll

Blanche Morton — neighbor of George Burns and Gracie Allen

Molly Brown — Unsinkable

Putney Swope — Who would vote for this man? Robert Downey, Sr.directed the eponymous film. Yes, Virginia, for every wayward Jr. there is a Sr.

Merkin Muffley — President of the United States, in Dr. Strangelove

Marion Davies — Inamorata of Wm. Randolph Hearst

C. K. Dexter Haven — first husband of the heroine of The Philadelphia Story

THX 1138 — Hero of the G. Lucas film, played by Robt Duvall; now reduced to a tradename for a sound system, also from G. Lucas

Sally Hemings — Possible Thomas Jefferson slave mistress, although it's hard to imagine Mr. Jefferson's televised Grand Jury testimony, him being such a mumbler and all

Jean Valjean — Un mis (Whoa — three French refs now. This is getting serious)

Polly Peachum — She'll marry anybody, including Macheath! In Three Penny Opera

Carmen Miranda — the woman in the tutti-fruitti hat — a hotsy-totsy Brazilian actress

Umberto Eco — Sign, sign, everywhere a sign — Italian semiologist

Emma Bovary — I am Emma, said Flaubert. Which I guess makes us Buglaroni.

Fala — FDR's dog

Leonard McCoy — Bones, Original Star Trek

Archie Goodwin — Nero Wolfe's amanuensis

Tex Ritter — "Blood on the Saddle" singer, John's father, "Please Don't Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin'"

King Oliver — New Orleans blues man who gave Pops (L. Armstrong) one of his first gigs

Bennett Cerf — Random House publisher, creator of the Modern Library, home of, yep, the 100

Ed Norton — Ralph Kramden's foil on The Honeymooners. Or young actor who should have changed his name after watching The Honeymooners.

Stella Kowalski — Stanley's wife at the end of the desire streetcar line

Billie Burke — Wife of Flo Ziegfeld, Good Witch of the North (and, apparently, the South), Mrs. Cosmo Topper

Nora Charles — Mrs. Nick, in pursuit of The Thin Man

Beau Geste — Another epohym, given a Viking's funeral

Marilyn Manson — Celine Dion's alterego. Have you ever seen the two of them together?

Gaylord Ravenal — Riverboat gambler, Magnolia's husband (Showboat's comin'!)

John Worthing — A man who knows the importance of being earnest

Roy Cohn — Lawyer for Tailgunner Joe McCarthy

Mabel Mercer — Legendary cabaret singer

Maynard G. Krebs — Dobie Gillis beatnik (the G. stands for Walter)

Lara Croft — Nostrumite's cyber-pinup girl

Isaak Walton — The Compleat Angler author

Edward Everett Horton — cf. Eric Blore, but throw in Rocky and Bullwinkle voicing

Amanda Wingfield — Hi, Mom. How's the glass menagerie?

HAL 9000 — I know that you and Frank are planning to disconnect me. Or, open the pod door, Hal. Subtract 6999 if you still don't get it. 

Glencora Palliser — Lady Glen. What's not to love? How could Trollope kill her off between novels?

Merrill Stubing — Captain of the original Love Boat

Esther Smith — The girl next door, who we'll be meeting in St. Louis

Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B. — The monarch of the sea, the ruler of the queen's navy, in that infernal nonsense Pinafore

Fred C. Dobbs — Badges? We don't have to show you any stinkin' badges! Bogart's role in Treasure of Sierra Madre

Peachy Carnehan — Friend of the man who would be king

Julius Marx — AKA Groucho, suspected Communist according to recently released FBI files

George C. & Thurgood & John & Penny & Garry — The Marshall family: One general, two judges, two director/actor types

Charles Sherwood Stratton — AKA General Tom Thumb

Harry von Zell — George and Gracie again, this time their TV announcer

Rocket J. Squirrel — AKA Rocky the Squirrel

Basil Fawlty — A towering presence, at least on PBS

Sancho Panza — Don Quixote's amanuensis

Melanie Wilkes — She got Ashley, Scarlett got everyone else, in GWTW

Mortimer Snerd — Country cousin to Charles McCarthy (and, presumably, Candace Bergen) 

Edward Fairfax Vere — God bless 'im, he hanged Billy Budd

Truman Burbank — Another gimme. Cue the sun!

Marcia Brady — Still the cutest of the bunch

Sylvia Poggioli — The NPR reporter you always switch the dial from

Natty Bumppo — Go read your Leatherstocking Tales (if you can abide the literary sins of James Fennimore Cooper)

Kunta Kinte — The root ancestor of Alex Haley 

Eustace Tilley — Monocled mascot of the New Yorker

Jules O'Shaughnessy — The one person in America who is definitely not the Nostrumite

Friday, March 14, 2014

In which we satisfy your craving for beans, and plug the Ultimate Nostrum

At the end of the Manhattan Lodestone OriginalVaganza (all other Vaganzas are extra), Mr. Lo Pat thanks the following. There's 113 altogether. Don't bother googling them; I'll publish a guide Monday.

Which ones can you identify?

James Gatz

Anna Livia

Theophilus North

Bernard Baruch

Jeremiah Johnson

Deanna Durbin

Lois Flagstaff

Bertie Wooster

Nick Chopper

Stuart Little

Eric Blore

Toshiro Mifune

Benjamin Barker

Vlad the Impaler

J. Fred Muggs

Uriah Heep

Joel Cairo

Clare Quilty

Becky Sharp

Phoebe Caulfield

Dick Grayson

Harry Lime

Tony Buddenbrooks

Norman Bates

Pete Best

Butterfly McQueen

Sebastian Flyte

Theron Ware

Kaiser Soze

Peter Quint

Zuleika Dobson

Theodore Cleaver

Andrew Loog Oldham

Hieronymous Bosch

Mahatma Kane Jeeves

Luca Brasi

Jud Fry

Nathan Detroit

Egbert Souse

Lemmy Caution

Rufus T. Firefly

Rick Blaine

Rupert Pupkin

Molly Bloom

Pierre Bezukhov

Tristram Shandy

N-X 211

John Galt

Perry White

Ringo Kid


Ub Iwerks

Grover Whelan

Antoine Doinel

Charles L. Dodgson

Blanche Morton

Molly Brown

Putney Swope

Merkin Muffley

Marion Davies

C. K. Dexter Haven

THX 1138

Sally Hemings

Jean Valjean

Polly Peachum

Carmen Miranda

Umberto Eco
Emma Bovary


Leonard McCoy 

Archie Goodwin

Tex Ritter

King Oliver

Bennett Cerf

Ed Norton

Stella Kowalski

Billie Burke

Nora Charles

Beau Geste

Marilyn Manson

Gaylord Ravenal

John Worthing

Roy Cohn

Mabel Mercer

Maynard G. Krebs

Lara Croft

Isaak Walton

Edward Everett Horton

Amanda Wingfield

HAL 9000

Glencora Palliser

Merrill Stubing

Esther Smith
Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B.

Fred C. Dobbs

Peachy Carnehan

Julius Marx

George C. & Thurgood & John & Penny & Garry

Charles Sherwood Stratton

Harry von Zell

Rocket J. Squirrel

Basil Fawlty

Sancho Panza

Melanie Wilkes

Mortimer Snerd

Edward Fairfax Vere
Truman Burbank

Marcia Brady

Sylvia Poggioli

Natty Bumppo

Kunta Kinte

Eustace Tilley

Jules O'Shaughnessy.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

In which we demonstrate unspeakable skill at Photoshop

Catholic Charlie thinks that my guide to tabroom is about as user-friendly as the IRS tax code. Philistine! There’s no accounting for taste. And he’ll live to regret his flip attitude when all his rooms come crumbling down around him.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out why I’d ever buy another piece of music if Spotify is just going to give it to me for free. I mean, I seem to want to listen to “Happy” every five minutes, so I thought, what the hey, I’d listen to the album and maybe buy it. But if I can listen to it on demand, why exactly would I be buying it? Unless I want to put it on my home system, in which case I would get the disk, but I’ll admit that my disk buying is minimal these days, in that I can always just put the mp3s on a disk and play that on my stereo if I really want it in the living room. Anyhow, shouldn’t Williams get something from me for my accessing his intellectual property? Presumably he is getting something from Spotify in a basic radio-ASCAP/BMI kind of arrangement, and he’s probably not starving on the street or anything, but creators need recompense for their creations. Some things I might want to give away (like Nostrum), but others, not so much. Members of the VCA might recall how years ago I fought the fight against illegal downloads. That fight doesn’t even matter anymore. My, how the world has changed. Are those kids I see out there on my lawn?????

And in honor of the 154th day until DisAd14, here’s a photo I worked on for weeks days hours about 3 minutes to satisfy O’C’s craving for a photo of all of us in front of Cinderella’s Castle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In which we show why we haven't been here for a little while

Well, I haven’t been posting, but it’s not as if I’ve been doing absolutely nothing:

I’ve figured out how to upload files to the NDCA website, and as I’ve said, I think the best thing to do with this and all my other how-to tournament material is to put it in one accessible place for the duration, and NDCA seems like the right place. And specifically with the vade mecum, I’ve also tucked it into the help on, for anyone who wanders over to that previously unpopulated area. (And according to the rule, use it once, use it twice, use it three times and it’s yours, I’ve now used “vade mecum” in 3 recent postings, and it is therefore now officially a part of my vocabulary.) It will be nice to have a document for people when they get lost (or in advance of their getting lost), but I’ll probably also keep an online version going at, for those who want to browse it more by topic than to dive in to the whole shooting match.

This coming weekend is the NYCFL Grands qualifier for CatNats. Kaz, JV and I do this one mostly by hand, with the computer to back us up, primarily by pointing out whether the judges we’ve put in can actually judge those rounds, the hardest thing to keep straight when you’re working with cards. When I was helping out some folks in Virginia last weekend, they had trouble printing the exact cards we’re going to want to print this weekend, and CP fixed that, so we’re all set, meaning that it is a good thing to help others because you might end up even helping yourself. For us the good news is that we’re under 20 in both the LD and PF fields, which means only 2 judges. Having to use 3 judges is a real bear, but doing 2 is just maybe a little cub.

Last weekend a bunch of the DisAd14 group got together in NYC to celebrate the gorgeous weather and, for most of us, a weekend off. I’ve already spent some time working on the plan for MK day on, the Unofficial Guide website. Because we don’t have fastpasses yet, the times were a little off, and we did encounter a 10,000 hour wait for the Jungle Cruise, but I have assured everyone that the line for that attraction is seldom that long at the time of year we’re going.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

In which we tell you how busy we are but not much else

I have not fallen into the pits of hell.

First of all, I’ve been working on what I’m now calling the Student Advocate (formerly the ombudsman). I’ve got initial documents ready to go, which I’ve put into the hands of an ad hoc committee of consultants. As it turns out, they may be opening other avenues of exploration as compared to helping me with the draft of this material. It shocks me that debate coaches are so…argumentative.

I’ve begun formally working on the Tournament Toolkit. Members of the VCA will recognize most of it, but for the world at large, much of it will be new. Also, it will be permanently archived and accessible, as compared to seeded all over the interwebs. The goal is presentation by the beginning of next season.

Curiously enough, I might be doing something on Modest Novice with the NFL, or whatever they call themselves nowadays. They seem to have finally realized the source of this idea, lo these many years ago. Unless I am arrested for crimes against debate humanity and shamed in a public trial that takes over the tabloids, with Nancy Grace attacking me daily on the Fox Network and the Parisians eventually tumbreling me to over to the guillotine so that my blood can run in the streets, ModNov is probably what I’m mostly be remembered for in this activity. So it’s nice that the memory might actually be valid.

I’m trying to do a chapter a day of the ultimate Nostrum edit. And a section a day of the tabroom vade mecum. On the latter, I’ve now updated all the extant material with illustrations, and now it’s on to the niceties of pairing MJP. I’ve also been helping out that tournament in Virginia with their events this coming weekend, and a small local event that the Quakers will be puting on later in the month, both long distance. Forget all the other changes wrought by tabroom: long-distance tabbing beats them all hands down! On the local front, we have our CFL Grands the weekend after this one, and I’ve been keeping a marginal eye on the registration. The key is that the field not exceed 20, which would mean three judges instead of two. My own team impresses me with their research to date on the same-gender classrooms. Of all the topics this year, this one has brought out the most discussion from everyone on the team. It’s a nice way to end the season, way preferable to the April topic: “Cannibalizing LD resolutions so that the PFers don’t have to do any new research should take priority over Indian food.” Is there a person on the planet who, A) didn’t think this would be the winning topic, and B) isn't really happy if they don’t have to debate it—again?

Monday, March 03, 2014

In which we put another pre-season to bed

The last invitational of the season is over. Lakeland is now history.

Kaz and I ran 6 divisions plus 1, although I have to admit that the MS Parli activity wasn’t exactly demanding. Occasionally hearing a passel of high-pitched voices in a room off the library was about the extent of my involvement. The door would open and the room would spit out an adult who would talk to Sheryl, and then the adult would disappear back into that particular universe, and that was that. MS PF was a little more noticeable, but petite and more of a round robin than anything else. We kept throwing lots of Lakeland kids at the judging slots. The HS PF and LD were pretty normal, although small enough that judging was an issue. We kept borrowing the traditional anyone-who-can-breathe warm bodies from the policy pool to solve our emergencies when they arose. I mean, we had to double-flight a Quarters round! Yikes.

The plus 1 was the most fun. At roughly the crack of dawn a help request came over on tabroom. Virginia was mired in its inability to enter results (an easy one, as they didn’t understand the process for tenths), and couldn’t pair the manifestly unpairable rounds for a CFL qualifier, a not-so-easy one. Usually I let Sheryl pair the unpairable but I had my shot at it this time, with quite pleasing results. A few rounds required brute force hand-pairing, but the 6th or 7th round, I forget which (these people were nothing if not intense) was paired by tabroom in a trice. I have a feeling that if they had had tabroom doing it the right way from the start (they already had a couple of rounds done when I got involved), all would have been fine. The take-away, though, is that when there’s trouble afoot, it can be solved long distance. That’s probably the best thing about tabroom. You are not alone. But honestly, hand-pairing is not its forte. Since you hardly ever have to hand-pair, that’s not the worst thing in the world.

In other Lakeland news, I got to introduce Sheryl and Sara S to the good restaurant not quite across the street (they were shocked and awed that such a place existed), we got to look at the menus for the DisAd to plan our appetizer attack six months from now, I made the last pending DisAd dinner reservation at Universal, we were not at Districts, and I was a mere 15 minutes’ drive from the chez. And next weekend I have off. Off? Could that be? Really? It’s hard to imagine. How will I pass the time? (I’ll come up with something…)