Thursday, January 29, 2015

In which we marvel over technology a little heading into a quiet weekend

I worked on the Brotherly Lovers judge hires last night. Absolutely amazing. Teams with over 20 entries, from almost literally down the street, requesting 100% hired judge coverage. Say what? I do have a solution for them. In PF, at least, most debaters have adults of one sort or another with whom they live and dine and go on annual trips to Wal-Mart’s to buy new school togs. (“Hey, Mom, these bowties look swell!”)  I’ll bet anything that you can put a pencil into the hands of some of these adults and, lo and behold, make judges out of them. Jeesh. The thing is, I think a lot of schools imagine that college tournaments have endless judge hires just waiting to be taken out of the freezer and thawed and tossed straight into the rounds as needed. As I said yesterday, judges tend to go to the people who travel the furthest, for the obvious reason of the prohibitive expense of carrying extra baggage, or more to the point, carrying extra people with normal baggage. Plane tickets and hotel rooms are expensive, so we try to service those folks. You’re coming in on a bus from half an hour away? Not so expensive. Since we don’t have that freezerful of judges just waiting to go, we’ve got to make the best of what we have. Plus there’s the need to keep a few spares on hand for the sake of a higher quality pool and tabbing needs and covering the dodos who show up without a judge who, even though you say you will, you really don’t want to turn away. I find it to be almost mental comfort food that people keep demanding all these judges every time. It’s always exactly what I expect, and that’s what I get.

I’ve been around the block a few too many times, I guess.

On the bright side, I went out to Whole Foods at lunchtime today and got to use Apple Pay for the first time. Okay, I’m done. I never want to have to go through the agony of having to reach into my wallet for a credit card again. Yes, the idea of saving all that time (a good second or so per purchase) may not be so impressive, but the coolness factor is what it’s all about. Here! Let me pay for that!

For those wondering why I haven’t been talking about it, I will not be attending the Bobcat, so there’s nothing to talk about. So it goes. I only talk about tournaments I don’t attend when there’s illustrative shenanigans worth analyzing. Otherwise all tournaments are more or less alike. People come, people go, nothing ever happens. The fact that I’ve managed to wrangle over 3000 posts on such nothingness does make one wonder.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

In which blog you we will

I had to write copy for some Star Wars books today at the DJ. Who says getting a regular paycheck isn’t fun?

Looking at the possibilities for the next PF topic, I think I prefer tuition. It has relatively balanced sides and, I would suspect, a reasonable amount of empirical evidence for everyone to play with. Greeks, on the other hand, seem to go more into right and wrong, a data-free business for which PFers seem woefully unprepared. I hearken back to my LD days in the 90s, when that would be exactly what we’d want to talk about. Boy, have things changed. Around here we will have this topic for our CatNats qualifier and for our State championship, so it’s important to pick the more debatable one.

With the Gem under the old belt, the next biggie for me is Penn. This year it is way bigger than ever before, but it is looking to be under control. Tonight I’ll start hiring out the available judges, which is always fun. Your best guarantee of getting hired support is, needless to say, to live far away. If you can walk to the tournament, you can walk with judges to cover your entry. If you’re flying in, though, the additional costs of flying in and housing judges is understandably burdensome. In that situation you will always get priority. It looks as if the Brotherly Lovers have done a good job so far of enlisting adjudicators, so I don’t think I’ll be causing too much harm when I start clicking the buttons.

Before Penn there is, of course, Scarsdale, and all the fun of judges debating (or, if you prefer, debaters judging). I think we’ve got this one knocked, but it’s still a bit of a juggling act. Catholic Charlie will probably be dropping by to help out. He’s taken to debate tabbing in a big way. It wasn’t until after I dumped the pairing of a PF round on him while I was down in Battery Saturday that he commented that he had never actually done that before, i.e., clicked the buttons to make it happen. He looked to me like an old pro. He claims that all of us have trained him well, while I claim that he’s just a natural. He has all the right skills for tabbing: a sense of humor, patience, clever math skills, well-aimed biliousness when the moment calls for it, and the ability to listen to more than the usual amount of ukulele music. If you’re interested in tabbing yourself, you might want to start by working on those talents.

Of course, the Gem was almost completely hassle free as far as dispensing bile was concerned. There was the usual judge complaining about having to judge too much. This call inspired me, so I stormed into my boss’s office on Monday and demanded that she stop making me work all day because my frail constitution wasn’t up to it. Fortunately, she wasn’t there at the time, and I still have a place at the old DJ. Where I’m writing Star Wars copy. It’s for a cookbook. May the forks be with you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In which we throw water on troubled oils and watch the MHL tentatively rise from its death bed

If you followed the comments to my last post, you will have seen O’C questioning my assertions about break rounds. He is right to do so. The issue of break rounds is more complicated than it might appear offhand, insofar as most tournaments are settled into a routine and people are used to those routines and don’t really question them, even though the routines vary wildly. We’re going to do a podcast on it in the very near future. Also on that agenda will be the management of wait lists, since when I was talking about that a while ago himself also took O’Cean umbrage at the way I was handling that issue. That seems to be another good subject for discussion. Those of us in our traveling tab room have long ago committed to transparency. We’ve also committed to learning as we go along, and improving if we can. Exploring the issues openly is the name of the game. Stay posted.

(On the other hand, I will point out that, as always, I am right and he is wrong, but the VCA knows that from the getgo, so it’s hardly worth mentioning it. Then again, if I were stuck in the middle of Georgia with nothing but a tarnished Emory Key for solace in the deep, dark nights while planes continue to not fly overhead, I’d be taking umbrage at everything that wasn’t nailed too. The plane home from Columbia to Hudville was right on time and didn’t even lose my baggage.)

In the middle of all the hoo-ha of the Gem, there was also an MHL down at Stuyvesant. (The Gem is up and the Battery's down, to put it into a song.) Since I’ve been sitting at the MHL’s deathbed for a while now, holding its little hand and giving it ice cubes to suck on while the doctors and nurses ignore us as they share ribald stories in the break room, I was on tenterhooks for the success of this one. It has been put forth that holding these events out of the city was part of the problem, and that does seem to be true. Even though the day was hit with a storm that cost us a few northern teams (including the Sailor novices), the event was a success. I zipped down there after I got the opening VLD round of the day organized at the Gem, and working with James Bathurst, we got everything set up and everybody going on Chambers Street, and then James took it from there. So I guess the MHL isn’t quite dead yet. But we need to rethink a few things. The Workshop is good, the First-Timers is good, the Blowout is good. The so-called normal MHLs are what we need to work on. We’ll have plenty of time to figure out a plan, probably during the NYSDCA championship.

By the way, if you’re not from around here, the storm missed us last night, and we only got a not terrible few inches. Boston, on the other hand, looks as if it was hammered. Thank God for the timing, vis-à-vis forensicians. After last year’s pounding weekend after weekend, the storms this year seem to be shifting to the work week, where they belong. In any case, I stayed home today and did DJ work, reading a really good book. Yes, they pay me for that. It’s not as good as it sounds, though. They mostly pay me to read really bad books in order to find that small handful of really good books among them. Usually my brain is in pain from it. But you probably knew that already.

Monday, January 26, 2015

In which Columbia is a Gem

So, sez you, how was the Gem? Splendid, sez I, exaggerating only slightly.

First of all, we had new digs over at Barnard for tab and GA and judges. Those of us who have made it through the years at Lerner Hall on the Columbia campus looked back on those days of freezing our butts off in tab (they apparently only turn on the heat for one day a month, and never the day we’re there), listening to some yabbo banging on the lounge piano nearby, standing on tiptoes to see out the window if there was any sun, and walking up and down that ramp that, if it had existed at the time, would have been Hitchcock’s first choice for most of the scenes in Vertigo, were as pleased as punch. JV was able to radiate all the speech rounds out from this hub, and things went fine for them. We did not have that luxury in debate. For LD, we had the The School, which I think is named after some guy named The. It did fit all the LDers, and we had a good major domo there, and wifi, so after a round or two we switched to e-ballots, and it worked great. I have to admit I was wary of judges wandering off, but the pool was almost entirely the usual suspects, the ones who go and do their job and everyone is happy. It was a joy. Thank you, CP, for e-Bs.

Unfortunately, we had PF in a couple of different places, and given the usual state of the PF pool, we didn’t go for e-Bs, although I think I will give it a shot next time. PF is getting better at it in general, although as always the PF pool is way less likely to know what electricity is and to be too worried about the whole debate process in the first place to want to take a stab at e-Bs. But I think in a year we’ll have evolved enough. We’ll see. The thing is, walking ballots back and forth fifteen minutes away adds half an hour to each round. Sigh.

We were hit with a small snow storm Friday night, but it had surprisingly little effect on things Saturday morning. Pretty much everybody showed up. A note for the future though: if you are planning on complaining about things on Sunday, it’s a good idea to call in your drops on Saturday rather than making us go to the rooms to see that you’re not there. Just sayin’.

There were the usual shenanigans. Speech judge call on Sunday had the folks handing Mary’s ballot to someone who looked suspiciously like Ralph more than a few times. When you assign your judges based on their abilities and they throw in a ringer, so much for all your careful planning. The LD judges were fantastic, on the other hand, and I don’t recall pushing a single ballot except on Saturday morning as we were shuffling things because of team no-shows. I don’t think there were any judge no-shows. Wow! On Sunday there were various complaints about this and that, my favorite being the coach who complained that the PF outrounds should have been earlier. My recommendation was that said coach go back in time and carry every judge to his or her rounds to speed things up. Granted it was slow, but people, tab turned the PF ballots around, from last in to next posting, in under 5 minutes every time. (Thanks again, CP.) It wasn’t us, in other words, it was just the beast that is PF. We’ve seen this pretty much at every tournament, that PF is slower than [your metaphor here]. Unless this is the first tournament you’ve ever attended, you should know that by now. Deal with it. Don’t call up the tournament director to whine.

Then there was the complaint that not enough people broke. No, we didn’t break all the down-2s in PF. Doing so would have meant breaking more than a third of the field. We talked a lot about this in tab, and of course it was Columbia’s decision in the end. A reasonable varsity tournament breaks about 25% of the field. Breaking a third of the field (in anything other than a novice event) is reminiscent of every kid in kindergarten getting a medal, even if they come in last. Varsity debate isn’t kindergarten, people. (I won’t bother to point out that if we had decided to break all the 4-2s we didn’t have the rooms to do it, because we never got to the practicality of the business. The decision was spiritual.) There is a solution to the 4-2 screw (which is obviously common enough to have a nickname): debate better. Or, if you’re the coach, coach better. Jeesh! That’s the thing about college tournaments versus high school venues. A lot of the teams seem to have just come out of the cabbage patch. Give me grizzled veterans any day.

Somewhere in all of this we managed to pull off an MHL. More about that later. Meanwhile, I've put up a new post about MJP panels in the Tabroom Adventures blog, if you're interested.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In which we wonder, wander and moan

[There's a new short post over at Adventures, if you're into that whole inside-baseball thing.]

As we creep into the dawn of the Gem of Harlem, I’m sort of surprised by the numbers. Given the demand for slots this whole season, Gem has been surprisingly light. It’s not small by any means, 100 or so each of LD and PF, but it’s not got door-busting waitlists like everyone else has had. Even O’C seems satisfied with the number of slots he’s gotten, which in ’ertford, ’ereford or ’ampshire ’ardly ever ’appens. We talked about this a bit at Bigle. One of the things is probably that it’s so damned expensive for schools to travel to NYC. There’s no hotel bargains, so you can really end up depleting the old annual budget. Then again, we’ve had a history of people who have flown in primarily because they want to go sightseeing, and who have tickets for Wicked Saturday night and thus blow off the tournament altogether, but these miscreants seem to have evaporated. I can’t say that I miss them. A lot of them seemed to come from Utah. I think they really came to see The Book of Mormon, and only pretended to see Wicked. Whatever.

Meanwhile, back at the battleship, the Sailors will soon be bidding a fond farewell to one of our novices, who is being shipped to California for some reason or other, apparently because they don’t have enough people in California already and they have to take ours. This leaves us with half a very good PF team, although the survivor claims she has a substitute waiting in the wings, who will appear at next week’s meeting. We’re going to be doing a practice round, which may be the best introduction to the event, as compared to me doing the orientation that historically has scared of 125% of all the potential plebes at the first meeting. I do hope this works out. That’s a big problem with a small team in the PF business. It doesn’t take much to rock the boat.

Last night we began to look at the Feb PF resolution. It’s very straightforward. The pro is empirically proven to be true on face in literally every piece of research known to man or beast, so once again you sit around wondering if anyone at the NSDA ever actually looks at these things before sending them out. The alternative one had ships passing in the night, and a virtual certainty of not generating any clash. Here is what I would do if I ran the circus. Do whatever it is you do now to pick topics, but when you’re at the final point, write them on a board and stare at them. Then do 10 minutes of research. Then write down pro arguments and con arguments. If, for any reason, you can’t find arguments for one side, start over. This rez is in amazingly clumsy English: On balance, economic globalization benefits worldwide poverty reduction. Benefits poverty reduction? As compared to harms poverty reduction? Would it kill them to use phrases that have at some point in the history of humanity actually been used before? My guess is that they wanted a topic along the lines of globalization benefiting developing nations, but couldn’t actually come out and say that because, well, it doesn’t sound debatey enough. Me, I’m just trying to figure out pleonastic use of globalization and worldwide. They missed that? Or they’re envisioning a scenario where globalization must benefit all poverty reduction worldwide? Or what? It can’t just be the DJ that makes me so word conscious. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it, well, more than once: The NSDA needs to hire an editor. Even though we often know what they’re trying to say, they don’t consistently actually say it. In a debate round, where the handful of words of a resolution ought to determine everything that follows, that handful of words better be precise. No wonder LD doesn’t bother with rezzes anymore and prefers the EILDR: it’s easier to ignore some of these resolutions as compared to actually trying to figure them out, or worse, debate them. Anyhow, we did come up with a couple of good strategies for February, to wit, either flip pro or take the month off.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

In which we ponder change

Members of the VCA will recall—if they have memories like iron vises—a discussion between CP and me about the number of MJP categories. I’ve gotten pretty used to 6 categories, with 6 being a strike and conflicts being separate. Tabroom allows you to set as many categories as you want. I’ve experimented with 5 for small pools, but found that unnecessary when I’ve compared similar pools with 6.

Palmer’s argument in favor of more categories is simple, that more categories allow for closer mutuality. Imagine 60 judges broken down into 6 categories of 10. My 1 can be 9 away from your 1, and in a 1-2, it can be up to 19 away. With 60 and 9 categories, my 1 is 6 or so away from your 1, and in a 1-2, it can be up to 13. And keep in mind that the scale slides, as if you’re looking at the numbers with a literal slide rule, which is the entire basis of ordinal MJP, another thing entirely. (We’ll get there shortly.) These numbers are clearly mathematically better, and CP’s argument is based on the undeniable math. In practice though, it may or may not work out that way. If you have fewer 1s you have less likelihood of mutual 1s, so you’re more often doing 1-2s (and 2-3s and 3-4s). At this point, you may or may not be getting the benefit of the math anymore. I don’t know. You’d have to look at it knowing not only the ranks in the 1-9 tournament but what the coaches would have ranked in a 1-6 scenario. Impossible.

So is it worth going against the norm? I mean, I wouldn’t do ordinals which, following the math of the slide rule, probably gives you the closest mutuality, because the field is not really familiar with the idea. After all, we’ve only been doing MJP regularly for a couple of years, and there is still a significant percentage of schools who simply don’t pref, for whatever reason. I used to do a whole campaign trying to get them to do it, on the assumption (a good one) that these were more conservative schools who believed (wrongly) that MJP favored circuit styles, which it only did if the more conservative schools didn't pref, a perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I worked with a number of people to come up with elementary categorization of judges as traditional, circuit or newly trained. We did everything we could, but at some point, something becomes standard practice and it’s no longer our responsibility to insure that everyone understands what we’re doing. Let’s face it: schools that don’t pref now certainly wouldn’t do it if only we went to ordinals. We’d probably have about the same buy-in eventually that we have now. Lord knows, I’ve really wanted to experiment with ordinals because I do believe that it probably renders better mutuality. But here’s the thing. In practice, if the difference between 6 and 9 isn’t all that much and not really demonstrable (even though we know it has to be true that 9 is better), is the difference between ordinals and 9 and/or 6 any more demonstrable or, in fact, all that much? I ask this because you’ve got to take into consideration the users. If I can prove in theory that ordinals is better, does that really matter when I can’t prove it in practice? Users don’t like change, unless they get a direct, measurable benefit. It doesn’t matter what product the users are evaluating. If they don’t see something in it for themselves, they won’t do whatever is necessary to take up the product. That’s why those conservative schools remain resistant to MJP. They don’t see the benefit to themselves of trying to figure out all these judges they’ve never heard of, even with our little crib sheet of Trad/Circ/New. As for everyone else, we’ve got them on board with MJP now, except for the ones who regularly query why they got a 4 and why didn’t their opponent. Is the benefit of a different system—and ordinals is a radically different system while 9 vs. 6 is only a slightly different system—worth the hassle? Do we think users, i.e., debate coaches, are clamoring for it?

Mutuality only promises one thing: that you and your opponent think similarly about a judge. Ordinals probably gives you the closest possible mutuality, but in the end is it all that much different from what we’re already doing to warrant the havoc of change (and all change is havoc)? So many coaches now seem to be convinced that better MJP numbers equates with better results, as if their debaters aren’t good enough to just look at the judge they’ve got and pick up that ballot, period. Everything else is just playing with the data because we can. Should we nurture coaches’ worst competitive instincts? Maybe this would happen. As we move into any newer, deeper system, we lose the older, not-so-deep people. LD has already lost the buy-in of a lot of folks because of its arcane, non-resolutional styles. Should we add to that the most complicated ranking system possible, the one that requires encyclopedic understanding of every pool every week (unless it’s the same old deadbeat college judges traveling from circuit tournament to circuit tournament, the familiarity with which is also in the $ircuit coach’s favor)? You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

I say, for the time being, we draw the line where we are now. There may be theoretical ways of doing it better, but are they practical? Aren’t we better off locking in, at least for a while, best practices that stay put, rather than always throwing new stuff at people?

This is not a plea from a hyper-conservative for hyper-conservatism. It’s just the ramblings of a realist suggesting that every change made has repercussions, and we need to study and understand the repercussions before we make the next change. 6-step MJP is settling in. How has that affected the activity, if it has at all? I want to know the answer to that before moving to something else.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

In which nothing goes wrong, consarn it!

The VCA will appreciate my disappointment over last weekend’s Bigle X. JV and I were tabbing VLD, under the very nose of CP, if his nose is considered big enough to extend from the other building a mile away to where we were. He set everything up in taboom. If anything went wrong, it was his fault. I touched nothing. My hands were clean. And when the whole thing blew up, I was ready to sit there innocently, twiddling my thumbs and whistling a melancholy tune, wondering how anything like that could possibly happen, with my finger meanwhile surreptitiously poised on the “I told you so” key of computer to let the world know that I was right and he was wrong, bru ha ha ha ha.

No such luck. Everything went fine. Or, curses, foiled again.

This year Bigle X went off on a completely new schedule that had most people arriving for housing on Friday night, with the first round at a luxurious 9:00 the following morning. For debaters, this is like being on vacation. Then we followed with three more rounds, getting done for the day at the ungodly hour of 7:00 p.m. or so. Very elegant. Very $ircuit, for that matter. Sunday started at 8 and went on for quite a while after that, and was a little more brutal. As there was no run-off round, there was a 4-2 screw built into the proceedings. Then again, breaking all the 4-2s means that around a third of the field gets moved up. This is very nice and very generous, but it also seems a bit much. If you’re such a great debater, and you can’t make it into the top 25% of the field, well, No, you’re not. It is not inconceivable that, by stretching out Saturday they could find time for a run-off, but I think they’re right doing it the way they’re doing it. After all, I do something similar at Bump. And anyhow, although there are occasionally exceptions to this, the very top debaters remain the same whether you have 6 rounds or 5 rounds, much less a run-off, and if run-off round is big enough, the much higher seeds mostly always beat the lower seeds anyhow. Those exceptions don’t warrant making a well thought out tournament with extravagant meals and lots of student housing into a painful marathon. CP and Kaz have really put together a good one, and this is determined by the person who, one year, stormed in and unceremoniously cancelled the final Bigle X round that was about to begin at midnight because, well, I had had enough, and I had to wake up the judges and tell them to go home. I have always maintained that when debate rounds and child labor laws are in conflict, we take the children off the assembly line like the responsible adults that some of us are. I stand by that. So, apparently, do CP and Kaz.

In the middle of all of this, the attending members of DisAd14, joined by CP, had a lovely dinner Saturday night. (Contrary to expectations, CP and I actually do put up with each other, as long as I’m not writing bug reports that he claims are features for which everyone else in the known universes kisses the ground he walks on in grateful thanks.) Ruining the weekend was the ridiculously bad ice storms back home. The Sailors would have held on a lot longer and had our traditional end of Lex dinner at Rein’s Deli, but NY was in a state of siege, from the looks of things on the interwebs. Going our normal Rein’s route was an ice-covered chess game with death at 31 degrees fahrenheit, compared to i95, which was 45 degrees all the way. Longer, yes, but easily survivable. The irretrievable downside to this, aside from the extra hour of travel time, was that dinner was at a Subway. A Subway!!!! Just typing the word gives me the willies. Our own Mary Poppins was behind me on the line, and had to give me instructions on how to order. She seemed surprised when I told her that the last time I went to a Subway was when I was in college. I hadn’t liked it much, so I hadn’t gone back. She did the math on that, her head spun a bit, and she spent the rest of the trip asking, Exactly how old are you, Grandpa?

Friday, January 16, 2015

In which we refer you elsewhere

I've run a couple of tournaments over the years, so I found Dave McGinnis's article quite interesting: He nails it, i.e., the reasons why independent debaters are increasingly persona non grata, and what to do about it. I might be the strictest constructionist on independence in the universe, but I've also let in plenty of indies when I've had direct and honest contact with them, as Dave suggests. You might not like what he's saying, especially if you're a firm believer in the inherent Right to Debate (which I've discussed elsewhere), but what he's saying about the opinions and feelings of tournament directors is absolutely true. (So, I think, is just about everything else he's saying.)

And in a btw, I just put a new shortie into the tabroom blog, about using multiple devices.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Meanwhile, over in Adventures is a short piece on the setting of MJP deadlines, if you're interested in that sort of thing. Seems sort of odd to talk about, after that rant on PF. I contradict myself? Phooey.

In which we continue discussing the future, if any, of PF

Kellams  is not the first person to warn that PF will probably go the way of Policy and LD, losing its accessibility in favor of arcana. CP claims that this is a law of nature, that anything that people can make more complicated they will make more complicated, or words to that effect. So the question is, Is PF doomed?

In Policy, whoever has more evidence wins (I know, oversimplification, but you know what I mean), hence we get speed and computers and teams that are evidence-producing machines and summer camps that process evidence and assistant coaches with no job other than to cut evidence, reaching to a point where if you don’t have all of those things, you can’t compete with the people who do. In PF, whoever has more evidence also wins (again, obvious oversimplification), but in Policy a topic is announced months in advance and lasts an entire season, whereas in PF a topic is announced every month, right before you’ve started debating the last topic. It is not inconceivable that you can create some sort of evidence-collecting machine, but there’s really no time for a team to process that evidence. Comparing the evidence in a PF round to the evidence in a Policy round is ludicrous. You have months and months to explore your evidence and go wherever it takes you in Policy; you’ve got about three hours to do that in PF. So I think we can safely say that, at least in this one area, PF will remain roughly where it is. I think PFers will start getting a little more sophisticated (or more accurately, a little less sloppy) with evidence in the future, especially with the new NSDA rules, but they are inherently limited by time from becoming truly like Policy in that area. If you don’t have a tub slash flashdrive slash cloud drive (pick your generation) of evidence to work with, speed doesn’t help you all that much, so you don’t get the ever-increasing pressure to get more said in the round. If the evidence collection pushed the need for speed, and I think it did, and if evidence collection in PF is limited, hence the need for speed itself is limited.

Of course, LD also got fast, and certainly some PF rounds I’ve heard have not exactly been pokey. A case will expand, probably, of its own nature. As you learn more about debate and get better at it, you have more you want to say. LD’s move to speed has been in line with its move to professional adjudicators, a trait it shared in its development with Policy. Speed, in a way, only works with professional adjudicators, i.e., people able, and willing, to deal with it. When I started in LD, there were a lot of parent judges out there. Today, the only parent judges are ringers teams bring in because they’re too cheap to hire professional adjudicators. You know as well as I do that in an MJP universe, parent judges spend the first three rounds reading War and Peace, and then get some 0-4 or 0-5 rounds after that. I think this is one of the saddest things that has happened because of LD’s complification (wow—a coinage that demonstrates itself), that it is no longer really open to parents.

These are just technical issues, though, and only part of the story. Yes, obviously speed drives out the slow, but there’s also content. I’ve talked about this a lot in the past. When your professional adjudicators are mostly college students, in their own academic universe, there is a tendency for them to believe that they know more than high school students (which is true) and that they can make the high school students better debaters by marginally instructing them in what they know (which is probably not true). College students are instructed by college professors, then the college students turn around and instruct their own high school students. Presumably the college professors are, as a general rule, knowledgeable educational professionals. Probably the college students aren’t. If they were re-teaching something objective, like, say, how to tie a knot, it wouldn’t matter, because the end result is either a knot or it isn’t. But they’re re-teaching things like Nietzsche (for a random example), which is about as objective as [fill in your own metaphor here for something way subjective, using your most relativistic Nietzschean-type aphorism]. In a world where most Nietzsche scholarship is contradictory explanations of what the man might have been saying, the last thing the world needs is some college kid who just read Zarathustra explaining to a high school student how to use it to write a kritik of socio-economics in 21st Century America. The bind moggles.

Which brings me to what I’ve always claimed is the not-so-secret weapon that will keep PF PFish. There is nothing intrinsically keeping PF from falling prey to a modernist or structuralist or postmodern or post-postmodern agenda due to the content of the event. The EILDR has demonstrated that the content of the round is meaningless if judges are perfectly content to let debaters debate whatever they choose. It’s the judges themselves that control the agenda of an event, and it is the use of professional adjudicators in high school debate—i.e., college students who should have something better to do with their weekends than to hang around high schools 40 weekends out of the year—that has made Policy and LD what they are today. It is the use of non-professional adjudicators, i.e., lay judges, i.e., parents and random community members, who are our great hope for keeping PF from going the same route.

This, then, becomes something of a challenge. Can lay judging can insure the continued accessibility of debate via Public Forum? At the moment, the starting investment for a school doing PF is minimal. Any reasonable teacher can figure out the resolutions. There's no arcana in the performances any more complicated than having a point or theme to underly the arguments (which most PFers don't bother with anyhow, and most likely that's the next generation of PF—"Now featuring frameworks," i.e., a reason to vote for a side other than evidence avoirdupois). Most tournaments offer PF, often at multiple levels (although not enough—what's the rationale for Novice LD and no Novice PF at the same tournament?). So starting friction for a new coach is minimal, as are the costs, in that you can probably find local contests. Starting friction is similarly minimal for the students, who only have to read up on the rez and find out the parts of an argument. The thing is, those things can change. PF could get arcane. It could get really hard to get into and understand. Rounds could be unintelligible to anyone without years of prior experience. But as long as the person in the back of the room was born yesterday, a parent helping the team, pitching in to help, a smart adult who knows the world in general and can understand the arguing of a resolution if it is indeed argued in an accessible oratorical style, all the arcana is self-destructive for the team trying to pick up a ballot. As I said above, it’s the judges themselves that control the agenda of an event. Given that virtually entire pools of judges of PF were born yesterday, that they wouldn't understand an RVI if it bit them on the butt, that their familiarity with the latest trendy pseudophilosophy is literally nil, and that they have no need whatsoever to prove themselves smarter than the 17-year-olds in the building, at least one of which they feed on a daily basis and have taught practically everything that kid knows, the not-so-secret weapon of parent judging is an irresistible force.

Parent judging was once common in LD. It got tossed aside. It can, presumably, get tossed aside in PF. But I don't see any signs of that happening. Every tournament I go to, there's a whole new bunch of faces in the pool who look at me like I'm nuts when I explain that speaker points are on a scale of 20 to 30. (It's not me that's nuts, it's the nut who came up with the pre-truncated 1 to 30 in the first place). People who feel as I do, that PF is the only accessible debate event, the one that the most kids can be brought into in a high school, and given that it can be the most popular academic forensic event, it is simple arithmetic that it will provide the most educational forensics benefit to the greatest number, that we are, in effect, obligated to keep it open and free. Those of us who run teams and tournaments need to keep an eye on it. We need to keep it light. Is there some horror in having debate lite when debate heavy is also available? No. Is there some horror in having a debate activity that you don't have to fly to every weekend, that isn't so heavily invested in competitive aggression that the same schools win over and over and over and over at $ircuit events, not because they're somehow bloody wonderful, but because they're the only ones who are really doing it? Do the supporters of elite debate, who no doubt bristle at being accused of elitism in any other aspect of their lives, not listen to themselves?

I don't ask much, only that those of us in a position to do so keep the faith. Debate for the greatest number. At the moment, that's PF. It's too late for LD. If PF does eventually go the path of LD and Policy, as many people predict, then we'll just have to come up with something else. Well, actually, you'll have to come up with something else. I'll be long gone from the activity by then. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

In which we start talking about PF, but don't

When I wrote that piece recently on the history of LD, James Kellams commented: I can confirm LD is still pretty traditional in the NSDA districts in which we compete...or at least the evolution is occurring at a much slower pace. But, don't be surprised when PF Debate takes the same path to specialization and exclusionary tactics. I learned a long time ago, for students and many competitive coaches it is not about education, it is all about winning and its associated "glory.” Kellams writes the invaluable Everyday Debate blog,  If you have any interest at all in actually debating the resolutions, it’s highly recommended. If you prefer the EILDR approach, he’s probably not your man.

There has always been a major distinction between local and $ircuit debate. Once upon a time that distinction hung on that supercilious first character I’ve loaded the word with: some teams had a lot of money, and a travel circuit of moneyed teams developed where those teams could spend that money. Others have described the circuit (no supercilious character) somewhat differently, as the place where high-level teams could debate other high-level teams. They got to be high-level teams by having a lot of resources (including going to debate camps). In the natural course of events, their style of debating did indeed become different from the styles of teams with lesser resources, for reasons too complicated to go into at the moment. Sometimes non-circuit teams might emulate styles and practices from the $ircuit, and sometimes not. The $ircuit did, of necessity, start to regard its styles and practices as better. You can hardly put your team on a plane every weekend or spend a couple of thousand bucks for a week or two of summer camp if it wasn’t better. The reality of its “betterness” is debatable, but the reality of premium products being set aside from and costing more than non-premium products is a cultural/economic reality. If we assign a high value to something, however arbitrary, and enough people agree that the thing has a high value, it has a high value. You need walk no further than from the nearest diner to the nearest Starbucks, buying a cup of coffee in each, for an object lesson in this.

So the justification of $ircuit debate is the $ircuit’s self-justification as better debate. There are any number of people that will tell you that debate at the TOC is better than debate at NSDA, or that debate at bid tournaments is better than debate at non-bid tournaments, or whatever variations on this theme you want to entertain. We all know, of course, that this judgment is subjective, entirely based on who is defining what is good/better/best in debate. (If you don’t know this at an “of course” level, you need to catch up on the major thinkers of the 20th century.) For that matter, at a purely LD level, we can throw different values up as what we are attempting to achieve. If we’re attempting to educate the most people and bring the greatest number into the forensics tent, present-day $ircuit styles fail completely. If our value is getting the most number of elite trophies, well, that’s what $ircuit is all about in the first place. If we value the most education, again I think $ircuit fails. If one believes that arguing a lot of different contentions teaches one about a lot of different things, whereas arguing the EILDR teaches one a lot about one thing, then it’s simply a matter of valuing either foxes or hedgehogs.

Because I live in a region dominated by $ircuit LD teams, my vision is not necessarily all that clear. I see what’s in front me. Kellams, in Ohio, sees what’s in front of him. Honestly, I like the LD he sees better than the LD I see. But what I really wanted to talk about here was PF.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In which we refrain from gearing up for Bigle X, among other thingummies

I just posted some commentary on about how we handled the Blue Ribbon judges at Newark. Curiously, no one seems to have said a word about this publicly, I mean about the idea of BR judges in the first place. As I say in that other post, which is otherwise very much inside-baseball, I haven’t thought about it much myself. I guess in a way it’s not unlike the pre-MJP days, when tab put who tab thought were the best judges into the toughest rounds, so it’s not as revolutionary as one might think. It just happens to do the same thing with total transparency.

I would imagine things are heating up for Bigle X. I have yet to muddy CP’s waters (although I do hope at some point they let us have some rooms) with my own (what he would call) mucking about in the system. JV and I will be doing VLD and O’C and Bro John are doing NLD in the same middle school venue. Mostly what I’ve been thinking about is that, after dropping the Sailors off at the high school Friday night to be housed, the only one I might see again before dinner at Rein’s Sunday night is my lone, lorn LD creetur’. You can’t wait around for your teams to get housed if you're a couple of miles away. Those of you who never did any of this before the cellphone era have no idea of what we used to go through. You’re not missing a thing.

In terms of heating up, the Gem of Harlem has gone from 0 to 60 (mixed metaphor noted and ignored) with a snap of the fingers. TBAs will be executed tomorrow night, judges will be allocated Saturday morning, and there you are. There’s still a lot of logistical issues to be discussed, but JV and I can hash that out when we’re together at Lex. I did do a big clearing of the waitlist Sunday and told people that if they weren’t cleared, it was probably because of their history of shenanigans or because I didn’t believe they were real teams, given that they had entered themselves or passed the job off to their mothers. I expected this to draw some heated replies, but the only response I got to my message, which also said that I’d be releasing more slots in a couple of days, was a query whether I’d be releasing more slots in a couple of days. [Sigh.]

Anyhow, if you’re nuts-and-boltish, pop on over to the other blog and check out that post. And if you have opinions on Blue Ribboners, let me know. I’m curious about what people think.

Monday, January 12, 2015

In which we break out and get down

I’ve decided to break out material about from Coachean Life into a separate site when that material can be useful from a how-to perspective. That is, the legendary (or perhaps mythical) Traveling Tab Room (primarily myself, Kaz, O’C and JV) have adventures every weekend that might help someone else work their way through this big and complicated system. In addition to describing our problems and how we solved them, I’ll post hints and tips people might find useful. The first post is on Bracketing Issues.

CP thinks we always have problems because we’re just lousy at tabbing; we all think otherwise. I’ll let you be the judge of who’s right and who is simply taller than everyone else.

Meanwhile, the non-tabbing high point of tabbing Newark was the revelation that I no longer am able to communicate to anyone under the age of thirty. When I told a Newark kid that a certain judge was guaranteed to “turn up,” the entire tournament broke down in wild hysterics. O’C immediately felt compelled to report this verbal blunder on Facebook (which maybe I shouldn’t take too seriously, because he feels compelled to report everything that ever happens to him on Facebook). I wasn’t terribly taken aback that, A) a perfectly common English language idiom had been coopted for other idiomatic uses, or B) that I haven’t kept up with the way these damned kids talk nowadays, no doubt because I spend too much time shooing them off my lawn rather than listening to them talk “hip” to one another. We solved the problem by having O’C go with me for the rest of the tournament whenever I needed to talk to a young person, to translate on the fly. Who knew that the phrase “Do you have the ballot yet?” translates as “Can I take your grandmother to the Virgin Islands for a weekend of wild and wooly shenanigans that you’re not old enough to know about,” or that “Where’s the judges’ lounge?” translates as “There’s a toilet on your head, you yabbo?” 

There is still so much to learn.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

In which we point ourselves at New Jersey

The last few days have been mostly spent working on the Newark tournament. It’s unique in many ways, not the least of which is single-flighted VLD. That requires an awful lot of judges, and I don’t know what hat Jonathan pulls them out of, but there they are. With 11 judges in each pref band, this should be a joy. There will also be a handful of Blue Ribbon judges, automatic 1s for everyone. JA has mixed feelings about MJP, so this way he gets to keep the teeming masses content while satisfying his own desire for unique judging experiences beyond one’s own wheelhouse, so to speak. It should be interesting to see how this plays out in tab. It’s like having wildcards to deal out. Where should they go? I’m sure there will be much discussion of this over the next couple of days.

There’s also the Round Robin. Say what you will about tabroom (all right, let’s rephrase that: say what I will about tabroom), it does an awful lot of stuff really well, RRs among that number. Click the odd button, and bang, all the pairings for all the rounds. I did the judges round-by-round because I wanted to make sure that we were using everybody the way JA wanted them used (some to death, some just as they came up). I did it first with repeat judging, then went back and did it even better without repeats. Kowabunga! There is nothing so nice in tournament management as having more judges than you know what to do with.

Somehow in all of this I managed to forget to create the Stuyvesant MHL. Maybe it’s because I’m not particularly sanguine about its chances for breathing life into the league. I’ll have it ready tomorrow. I will make it clear to the teeming millions that if they don’t support this one, well, three strikes and it might be out.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

In which we might soon be bidding a fond farewell to a treasured institution

We’ve now managed to eliminate or almost eliminate two MHL tournaments. To put it mildly, we are in a quandary about this.

First of all, why have two of these events in a row tanked? I’ve heard various reasons given, the venues were too far away being the most popular. But these same events have been doorbusters at those venues in the past, or at least viable. Yeah, Monticello is far away, but not having any debate that weekend is even further away, if you know what I mean. Newark is far away? From whom? Certainly not New Yorkers, who can pop on a train in be there in the proverbial blink. Come to think of it, aside from people in Monticello, for most schools getting to Newark is a piece of cake.

I think it goes deeper than that. For one thing, policy, once a mainstay of the league, has all but fled completely into discrete city leagues both in NY and Jersey. Few non-urban schools have policy teams around here, and those that do haven’t been terribly religious about MHL attendance. They’ve concentrated on invitationals wherever they might be, and I’ve always wondered how they developed varsity to get on those planes in the first place if they never had any rounds for novices. Am I saying that policy is dead around here? Not at all, because those urban leagues seem to be doing a fine job. But they’re not venturing much out of their neighborhoods, for whatever reason (presumably, and reasonably, financial—even though MHLs are virtually free, you still have to get there and back, and no one gives away transportation). Critical policy mass is long gone aside from UDLs: hell, when I started the Sailors even had policians, and there seemed to be plenty of rounds for them. I’m pretty sure that Montwegia has fielded its last CXers, while policy holdout NFA seems to be DOA altogether (sigh). Staunch members of the VCA know how I have been tracking this for many years now. The obituary for policy may be a long way off, but when it is finally written, a lot of people will shake their heads and say, Gee, I thought it died years ago. Without belaboring the issue, it’s not hard to suggest that the very same things that put policy on life support are now working their way over to the LD ward, but that’s another issue altogether. Assuming that there is some sort of mathematical constant for the conservation of debate energy (the total number of debaters remains the same or maybe even grows, but not in the same events—i.e., PF is through the roof), it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it…

Anyhow, even the PFers aren’t coming to MHLs, so it’s not the dying of the debate light altogether that's the problem. My personal opinion is that, in a word, coaches don’t care enough about debate as a whole. Everyone fusses and fights over things at the varsity level, but no one is fussing and fighting enough over the incoming flow of noobies. Somehow, I guess, they’ll just sort themselves out while we’re all arguing about obscure rules or how our judge preferences aren’t adding up to our satisfaction. I always take the opposite point of view. Varsity folk are more than capable of sorting themselves out, finding rounds, getting signed up and organized; it’s the young ’uns that need coachean concentration. I invented Academy debate to buffer the middle ground, to hold people between the hysteria of their novice year and the sophistication of their varsity years; there hasn’t been much traction there, either. Some lip service, but that’s about it. If coaches really cared about anyone other than the top, winning debaters, they’d be jumping all over MHLs and Academy events. I hate losing debaters to other school activities, because I think debate is good for people. I especially think debate is good for people who aren’t exactly good debaters. I’ve had my share of naturals who can’t help but win from day one, but while I’m happy for their successes, my greater pride has been in the troopers who don’t have the knack but learn a whole lot of stuff that makes up for not having that knack. Turn just about any coach inside out and he or she will give you that same line. You want to know how the coaches really feel? Take a look at where they are every weekend, and where they sign up their students.

We’ll probably get together at the MHL Blowout and decide exactly what we’re going to do about the future. I have to admit that I am almost completely convinced to kill the league. We could run an early season event like the first-timers and a workshop without any underlying league. After that, why continue to delude ourselves? Good old Malcolm Bump started the MHL; it seems almost destined that one of his successors end it.