Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In which we wish for a new Flying Dutchman

The Pups are soliciting photographs of their tab staffs this year. I guess they’re trying to scare people away. I think it’s a good thing, though. I’m working with Catholic Charlie and Marty Page (who sadly lacks a coachean nickname, but if you ask me, he’s ripe for one), and having pictures of them will help me identify them when they try to break into the tab room. The only picture I could come up with of myself is about a million years old, but it was the best I could do. It’s the same one that’s in my passport; if it can get me into the European Union, it ought to be able to get me into New Haven. I probably should get a new picture that I like. Maybe I’ll take a selfie. I have so far managed to resist that particular untempting temptation. Maybe I'll give it a shot before Scalia says something else too nutty to resist and distracts me from it. I'm unclear on the mechanics of it, though. I’ll have to ask the nearest hippy how to do it. (Which, by the way, to my mind meant that he was going to ask Justice Ginsburg. What do I know?)

I’m also thinking of running for President as a Republican. Everyone else is doing it, and I feel as if I’m missing out. I’d run as a Democrat, which is more fitting to my politics, but honestly, I think Biden has that nomination locked. So the GOP it is. (What? I’m not Hillarian? Jeesh. I want a boat on which to put all Clintons and Bushes, every generation of them from top to bottom, including their pets, that I can push off into the deepest waters and have done with it. Imagine a world where you never again heard the name Clinton or Bush. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?)

There’s nothing like quiet summer days for the mind to wander.

Monday, June 29, 2015

In which we get all artsy fartsy

Not much going on in Debateland, this being the summer and all. I’m giving myself another week before I go into the Yale setup on tabroom. The Pups put it up themselves, no doubt based on last year, so it should be mostly okay, but given that CP secretly updates it every 27 hours, one never knows, does one? Over the weekend I posted a whole bunch of coach jobs for Bronx Science on NDCA; looks like a complete turnover. That’s a tough one, replacing everyone under the sun. It’s hard enough to replace one person, going by the other local postings. Oh, well. It is what it is.

We went up north this weekend, ostensibly to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Clark, but also just to see what they’ve done to the Clark overall. Nice job: the galleries really flow well. The pix weren’t bad either. A few revelations, but mostly just an interesting and focused display on V and the natural world. We also went to Edith Wharton’s house about an hour south of Williamstown, in Lenox. She lived there with her husband, and got to design things according to her own lights (she was big on that sort of thing), but honestly, while the house was nice and pleasant, I was more taken by the various thematic displays. While a pretty big Wharton fan, I can’t say I knew too much about her war work, which was fascinating. She lived in France during WWI. In fact, she only lived at this house, the Mount, for a relatively short period of time. She’s more interesting than the place, in other words. I got a bit of an itch to do some rereading. I read all the big novels before getting to Ethan Frome, which is burned into my brain. That’s another one of those books that they should never assign to teenagers to read. They’re too young for it. Of course, I have plenty of complaints about what is assigned to teenagers from the so-called canon. Chief among this is ATOTC, which as far as I’m concerned is the least fun of all the Dickens novels. Perhaps the most entertaining author in the English language, so let’s make everybody read his least entertaining book. Of course, maybe that’s just me, and the world at large thinks it’s his best. Not that it doesn’t have its moments, but compared to BH or OMF, or even DC? Pull-eeze. Maybe, aside from a nodding acquaintance with Scrooge and company, CD is another author educators shouldn’t teach teenagers. Can’t say I’ve met many teenagers who don’t think CD is death on two wheels. The joy of his work has been beaten out of them.

Along these lines, there’s Wharton's buddy Henry James. I tried to read James in college, and aside from getting through the short stuff like Daisy and Turn (which were packaged together in my paperback), I just didn’t get it. I said to myself then that I’d wait until I was older, and I had Portrait on my reading table for about 30 years. When I finally got to it I devoured it. To everything there is a season… Novels where not a lot happens openly are probably not the best things for young people. There will be time enough for those books after first getting through the more lively ones. I read Trollope’s He Knew He Was Right during my most recent vacation. There’s a lively one for you. With all the hoopla for his bicentennial, there’s been plenty of articles, but the one that struck me as most relevant was a comparison of him and CD, where the latter was described as the more poetic author. True, I think, but the article's point was that where Trollope has him beat is in his female characters. Say what you will about CD, his women are dreadful. Trollope’s are alive and remarkably memorable (I have yet to get over falling in love with Lady Glencora).

Oh, well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

If this is Wednesday, it must be Nostrum

Ah, la nostalgie, as the Frenchies say. (Maybe that's what the Frenchies say. I don't know. My French has always been execrable. Votre francais est execrable, people kept telling me as we recently toured Belgium. 50000 Belgians can't be wrong.) Thumbing through the epistles brought me to this one:

The Nostrumite is in a state of permanent depression over the fact that the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts has accepted a few francs under the table to fund a Disney chair for cultural exchange. This from the same country that refused to visit EuroDisney because they didn’t sell wine in Cinderella’s castle? The same country where every intellectual worth his Derrida spent every waking hour bellyaching over the Americanization of the glories of French culture? The same country where eventually some Arab sheiks had to come in and bail out Mikey Eisner and change the name to Disneyland Paris (a city which, we hasten to point out, has a booming Disney Store on the Champs Elysees, patronized mostly by American tourists)? What are these people coming to? And to think, without them, we never would have bottled up the British at Yorktown, and George Washington would have been hanged at dawn...
Anyhow, as a tribute to our Gallic cousins, we offer a unique episode this week. The episode itself—which even we admit is pretty boring—discusses modernism; that’s rather French right there. But what we’ve done is used Babelfish, an on-line, automated translation service, to translate the episode into French, and then used it again to translate the French version back into English. The results are, well, interesting. We are especially pleased by the rendering of the name of Bill O’Connor, our heroic albeit partnerless polician.
And yes, we did steal the idea from MT. He’s our other hero, right after Dickens. Except on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when it’s the other way around.
The vast Nostrumian army will recall the episode: #55 Hand Me De Construction Paper / Papier De Hand Me De Construction / Paper De Hand Me Of Construction. Stolen directly from Twain, who printed a version of Jumping Frog as written, as translated into French, then as translated back from the French into English. Very drole. Tres drole. Very funny. 
Ah, the good old days. 
Meanwhile, editing continues apace. Last night I reintroduced myself to Quack the Forensic Duck in Series 2. I can see the proverbial light at the proverbial end of the proverbial tunnel. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

In which we wish we were asleep

Curiously, given that I follow a bunch of debate websites, I have no idea who won LD at NSDA. Then again, maybe not so curiously. The $ircuit really doesn’t have much interest beyond its own parochial confines, and events like NatNats and CatNats don’t resonate much in that little universe. The judging is random, the competition is random, yadda yadda yadda. You’ve heard it all, and maybe contributed to it. I know I could go to the NSDA site and get all the info, but you’d think that all these places who do things like promote summer institutes would have at least a marginal interest in something beyond the tips of their noses.


Of course, I’m not completely awash in debate sites. I mean, there’s more to life than RSS. It probably flew by on my Twitter feed at some point, as do most things on my Twitter feed. Actually, a couple of feeds, one for me and one for NDCA. For a while I was posting a bit to the latter, interesting items I might come across of general debate interest, but I don’t have much time for that anymore. Oh, well.

When I wasn’t catching up on sleep this weekend—my insomnia has taken a turn for the worse lately—I did do some work on Volume 2 of the Nostrum saga. TWHS is now completely edited and annotated, and I started in on N2, the Next Generation. I’m imagining that this section will go pretty quickly, as the episodes and epistles are all readily available online, and all I have to do is reformat them, reread them and add a few footnotes. I won’t predict a pub date for the second book, since there’s no way I’ll ever actually meet it, but it is coming. I also have a lot of work to do on my website, accounting for post-coaching reality. I’ll get to it. Eventually.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

In which we provide our annual analysis of the potential LD topics, from the perspective of having nothing whatsoever to do with LD or its topics

It really doesn’t matter what I think. I’m so out of LD that if they dangled the Holy Grail of Resolutions in front of me, I’d ask for a better mug. To be honest, I think this is a great batch of subjects, and that once again the committee has done an excellent job in a short time. Of course, since no one will actually argue the resolutions when they come around, you’ve also got to commend them on their ability to address the futile with the grimmest of determination.

Resolved: States ought to prohibit the production of nuclear energy.
This will be read by many as meaning states in general as compared to states United in America, thus rendering it impossible.

Resolved: The United States ought to promote democracy in the Middle East.
Sure. I saw someone comment that Middle East is too fluid a term, but, well, even arguing that is fairly interesting. 

Resolved: Jurors ought to nullify in the face of perceived injustice.
This is vagueness served on a Ritz cracker. I can appreciate the attempt to clarify a reason for nullification, but injustice and perceived are, well, perceived by me as justly too wide open for any specificity.

Resolved: In the United States, campaigns that support candidates for public office ought to be financed exclusively by public funds.
While I would be happy if the bazillions of dollars wasted on political campaigns were spent on something more useful (and what isn't more useful than a political campaign in 2015?), I can't see this one working out well in action.

Resolved: Immigration ought to be recognized as a human right.
This is quite interesting. And only nine words. And a hot topic.

Resolved: Democracies ought to incorporate provisions for legal secession into their national constitutions.
I can’t imagine much of interest to be said on this, but maybe that’s just me and my American prejudices: I’ve read too much history.

Resolved: The United States ought to set a price on carbon emissions.
A policy topic when argued, probably, but interesting. 

Resolved: Corporations ought to value their responsibility to shareholders over the public interest.
I like this, even though it’s terribly Aff biased. Still, everyone always complains about a native Neg bias, so maybe that evens things out. 

Resolved: The privatization of civil services undermines democracy.
Way too vague. It will take a couple of months of debate just for people to figure out what it is they’re supposed to be debating.

Resolved: In the United States, private ownership of handguns ought to be banned.
My only problem with this is that there are so many people who have such strong beliefs (on both sides). You start to drift into that dark area where you’re not convincing a judge that you’re right, but you’re trying to convince a judge to change his or her mind. Beats there a heart that tabula rasa?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

If this is Wednesday, it must be Nostrum

I just finished the first run-through of the long lost Tennessee Williams High School material. It's not the greatest thing ever, except for Behind Moby Dick, which just broke me up. I do entertain myself...

Meanwhile, it's been a while, so we'll skip ahead in the epistles of St. Jules to the Forensicians to this one:

Oscar Wilde once said that no man can live with a woman without falling in love with her. Oscar Wilde never lived with the Nostrumate. [Yeah, somewhere along the line the Nostrumite got a girlfriend, in epistles that are apparently completely lost.]

Like I said, we went to Disney World. One would expect that this would be a happy occasion, even given my feelings or lack thereof for the Mite’s new girlfriend, but one would be wrong. First of all, we all shared a single motel room together; ‘nuff said there. Second, the motel was not just off the grounds, it was practically off the planet. We had nearly an hour’s drive every morning, and given the philosophy that you should be at the gates before the joint opens, this makes for some pretty early alarm calls (and just try to get the Nostrumate out of the shower—just try!). Then it turns out that a certain person has a predilection against what she calls vomit rides, which means no Space Mountain, no Twilight Zone, no Star Tours, and even no Carousel of Progress, for God’s sake, because somebody once got killed between the walls and what if it happened again? Good grief! Which doesn’t leave much, let me tell you, and since the Mite was too goo-goo eyes to leave Kathie Lee outside with a Mickey doll for company while he and I actually went and had some fun, well, the fun quotient was low indeed. And then we hit rock bottom: on the third ride through It’s a Small World (yes, you read correctly, that was “third ride”), the thing broke down. Our boat was dead in the water for over half an hour, during which the song continued its endless saccharine loop, and all the little multicultural Stephen King dolls kept bouncing up and down and up and down—and a certain person, rather than screaming for mercy, actually claimed that this was the most fun she had ever had at Disney World.

Enough is enough, even for the Nostrumite. Thus were planted the seeds of discontent, and on our last night, when he and I were sort of feeling like a blow-out at Pleasure Island, when it was suggested that one last ride on It’s a Small World would be the perfect ending to the vacation, it all fell apart. The Mite ripped off his Mickey Mouse ears, threw them to the ground and stamped on them, all the while ranting about camaraderie and joie de vivre and it isn’t all that small a world no matter how you slice it, as is his wont, and the winner of the K.L. Gifford Look-alike Contest was appalled that the boy had it in him, and that was, pretty much, that. I mean, it had to play out for the rest of the night and the flight back home the next day, but by the time we landed at JFK, we were back to male bonding again, and the Nostrumate was history.

For now, of course. 1. know that sooner or later the real thing will come along for one of us. But, please God, don’t make it a K.L. Gifford type. Me, I think I’d rather marry Frank Gifford, given my druthers, except for his lousy taste in women.

Anyhow, we didn’t get to Emory after all, which was sort of disappointing, because we always like to watch those big-time policy coaches judge a few rounds of declamation, but which was also why we got to write an extra episode or two (we did get ahead a couple of installments, which is nice to know, so that if the Mite and I are, say, sent by our Commander-In-Chief to bomb Iraq, or Kenneth Starr’s house, we’ll have a few weeks’ work available on the back burner). We will be at Harvard, however, and we look forward to looking up some of those who have written us fan mail, to find out if they’re as mentally unstable as they seem. 

Keep the faith.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

In which we, among other things, kiss the summer goodbye

I’ve gotten back to working on Volume Two of the Complete Nostrum. So far I’ve done the epistles and good/bad guys, and now I’m in the middle of Tennessee Williams High School. I have very mixed feelings on that one. In most regards, it’s a piece of Nostrum that should have been in Nostrum and wasn’t. My expectations for it were higher, though. Maybe if I had gotten it off the ground it might have turned into something, but as it stands now, it has some interesting characters, and some really funny bits that I’ll share here separately, but mostly it’s just evidence that I wanted to write something at the time that wasn’t Nostrum, but I couldn’t do it. Which, I guess, is why I eventually went back to Nostrum whole hog (which ought to be either whole whog or hole hog, as Sean Bean might say). If you’re going to right Nostrumesque material, let it be Nostrum. (I think the Chicago Manual of Style says that...somewhere.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been in communication with all the college tournaments I'm involved with, and everything looks peachy for the upcoming season. None of them seem to want to put me out to pasture quite yet, although some of them are a little less diligent in their hospitality support than others. I don’t ask for much, but I do have something of a built-in meter that goes off every time you make another $10,000 and I don’t even get a box of warm noodles. Let’s face it. I start working tournaments months at the invitation stage. Every year there’s something new, some language that needs refining, a better way of doing things, whatever. The adults working with the colleges (i.e., what CP calls the Traveling Tabroom) keep things honest from year to year and provide a sort of seal-of-approval. If we’re in the tabroom and setting up registrations and the like, it’s probably not going to be terribly screwed up. Or if it is screwed up, we have enough experience to mitigate the screwing, as a general rule. The internet outage at last year’s Yale was a one-off, and I don’t think anyone could have done much about that. We certainly never had that problem again. The result was a bunch of stinker judge panels in the run-off, but that was what started me remembering that far distant time (a couple of years ago) before MJP and you got whatever judges we gave you. As I said back then, most debaters just gird their loins when they see the panel and go forth and debate. It’s the coaches who get their knickers in a twist. Maybe they underestimate what their debaters can do, or overestimate the value of MJP. MJP, at its best, only insures that the judges are equally satisfactory or unsatisfactory to both sides, not that you’re going to win because you got a judge you rated a 1, or going to lose because you got a judge rated a 3. Your opponent also rated the judge a 1 or a 3. MJP can shake the unknowns out of the trees, but it can’t hand you a guaranteed win. My favorite (not from Yale) was the coach who, facing balanced panels that were not 1-1-1 but were certainly set evenly, refused to accept a certain judge because he had rated him low. What? You rated him, didn’t you? Yeah, but I don’t know anything about him. And this is my fault? Jeesh!

Oh well, no point thinking about that now. Water under the dam and over the bridge, as they say. And just think, by the end of this week, forensics will be over for the season.

And the week after that, the camps open and next year’s season begins. Enjoy you hiatus!

Monday, June 15, 2015

In which we turn our eyes to Texas

Practically everybody I’m connected to on Facebook is in Dallas. Over the weekend there was a NY Times crossword puzzle clue, "80s TV soap opera." Starting with D. 

The answer was Dynasty. Oh, well.

NatNats is apparently the biggest ever, if for no other reason than they seem to be adding or at least hosting events with which I am unfamiliar, like this whole World Debating thing, or whatever it’s called. Meanwhile Jonathan P was going on in righteous anger about some new speaking events being added, and there was various discussion on Fb about that. Having fought tooth and nail for years with the organization in the old Red Light District days because we didn’t have enough schools to warrant entries, a battle Catholic Charlie and JV carried on and apparently marginally won because they’re nicer people than I am (well, maybe CC is nicer than I am, maybe even nicer enough to outweigh JV, who I am quite sure isn’t) or something like that, and also having never actually gone to a NatNats, I am hardly the person to comment on the thing in general. All I’ll say is that any tournament that takes a week of one’s life had better be a very good tournament. My understanding is that, as a general rule, NatNats actually is a very good tournament, although it’s usually located in some godforsaken wilderness and even its heartiest fans don’t pretend that it isn’t endless.

One of the great joys of not traveling to distant tournaments is watching everyone on Facebook traveling to distant tournaments. Magellan was more sanguine about his chances than these people. It is a fact universally acknowledged that [fill in the blank] Airline is run by demons bent on circumventing your travel plans. They will always bump you from your flight, and never tell you about it until it’s too late and your luggage has gone on to Siberia via dog sled. The basic process is, announce your arrival at your departure airport, loaded for bear at the upcoming tournament, then an hour later in the comments start delineating how the demons are working their black magic, which draws further comments from other lost souls who have had the same thing happen to them, or else people simply click on the schadenfreude button. Then, when they finally arrive three days later, battered and bruised and the [fill in the blank] hotel chain has, as always, lost their reservations and when you say you’ll take the presidential suite because you smugly assume it is available, you are told that the Obamas are using it tonight and then you are offered cardboard refrigerator boxes as your team’s accommodations for the evening, if you can find the nearest bridge to sleep under. And, oh yeah, it’s 110 in the shade, there’s a torrential downpour, a blizzard warning, a tidal wave, a volcano alert, and orcs have been spotted rising up from the underground.

Have fun in Dallas, everyone.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

In which we conclude Belgium

Brussels is an attractive city, with an old core that spreads out and about, and there’s plenty to do and see.

Old England was an art nouveau department store, now given over to a music museum. You name it, they’ve got it, along with an audio guide that allows you to hear it all. Every now and then as you roam through it you find yourself bopping away in front of, say, the accordions, or staring at some stringed cylinder making a completely unrecognizable sound and wondering, how do they get that music out of that thing, although mostly it’s shown how the music goes round and round and comes out here. From the top of the building you can photograph all the way out to the Atomium, the surviving symbol of the ’58 World’s Fair.

There’s plenty of other art nouveau stuff. Victor Horta was from Brussels, and there’s plenty of him all over the place, including his own house, which you can tour. Then, around that neighborhood, there’s a walking tour of other places he designed. Fast forward, and you can go to the outskirts of town to an art deco house once owned by the wealthy (and arty) van Buurens. You could move in there tomorrow, if it wasn’t a museum and you had a bazillion dollars.

The main art museum breaks down into various sections. We chose Magritte (“Ceci n’est pas une blog”) and Fin de Siecle on two different days. The former was interesting enough biographically, although you can see plenty of old Rene just by toodling over the MOMA. The latter was phenomenal for fans of Nouveau and Deco and Orientalism and Impressionism and all that good turn-of-the-century-or-so stuff. Seldom have I been so close to stuffing things under my shirt and attempting to bring them home. I want to go back tomorrow.

Cinquantenaire is another Expo site, from the 19th century and now home to a phenomenal military museum, including aircraft, starting with balloons. I mean, that thing (whatever it is) does not look as if it could get off the ground. Obviously lots of stuff was military, but not all. Still, I got to show off my relatively decent knowledge of fighting planes, thanks to early work I did at my first DJ on the subject. Get out of my way, you Fokker!

Chocolate everywhere, of course, and Leon’s mussels down behind the arcade (go for an early dinner or be prepared to wait) and Marx’s old apartment and, well, a splendid time was had by all.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

In which we talk Belgium, part two

Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels form a fairly equal-sided triangle, with Ghent closest to the water. We stayed the longest in Ghent, using it as a launching area for day trips.

Once upon a time, Ghent was a really big city, bigger than early Paris, but over time it fell into the background. It is one of the nicest places we’ve ever stayed. You can walk it easily, although it seems as if most people bike it: Belgium is generally flat, of course, and Ghent is perfect for a two-wheeler. You probably don’t even need gears on the bike. And there’s plenty of real dedicated bike lanes, as compared to afterthought divisions, and car drivers, and pedestrians, honor them. Not that there’s that many cars, for a city this big. For the people who commute (Brussels is about an hour away by train), there’s a parking lot for bicycles that easily numbered bikes in the thousands. Amazing.

Ghent is a city of smaller attractions, and while there were certainly tourists there, you don’t feel as if the place is simply tourism fodder. But there are nice attractions to visit, including a design museum Gravensteen ( an old castle, promoting its exceptionally large collection of torture devices), a local art museum that in addition to Belgian artists happened to be featuring Julia Margaret Cameron (provided by the V&A), a carillon tower where you can watch what is essentially a ginormous music box, lace and beer and chocolate shops (of course), etc., etc., etc. We were loath to leave for our day trips, charmed as we were, and ended up losing one of them. On the others we went first to Bruges, a revisit. Bruges is like an Epcot pavilion: it’s really crowded and looks just like the real thing. It’s one of the most tourist-plagued places I’ve even been, and I’ve been to a lot of tourist-plagued places. When we first went, we appreciated its charms, but now we realized that there was about as much charm, and a lot fewer people, back at Ghent. The other day trip was to the coast. We caught a train to Ostende then traveled down practically into France by tram. We walked some interesting parkland and on the water and whatnot. Apparently the area is quite popular during swimming season, although I gather the North Sea never heats up much.

I would recommend Ghent to anyone for a few days stay off the beaten path.

By the way, all of Belgium remains, at least in my eyes, one of the smokingest countries around. They seem to even outpuff the Parisians. Maybe it has something to do with them being ground zero of the European Union and they're all worried about whether Greece or someone like them will default. Take that, Euro! I have to say, along those lines, that it was nice traveling when the Euro was pretty close to dollar parity. That probably won't happen again real soon.

Monday, June 08, 2015

In which we talk Belgium, Part 1

Belgium probably doesn’t strike most people as a likely place for a vacation, or at least not most Americans. It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of tourists there, but not of the Etats-Unis persuasion. If one travels a bit to Europe from the States, it takes a while before one hits the lowlands. The first time we were there was our second family trip to Europe, which included Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Brussels, back when Kate was around high school age. Since then we’ve been a lot of different places, but always held a fondness for Brussels and Bruges, to which we had made a side trip. We considered various other trips this year, including northern Italy, southern France and southern Spain, and eventually lit on what we did. One nice attraction was the ease of getting about, compared to the other possibilities. If we did a triangle of Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels, we’d never be on a train for more than an hour—very easy coming and going. And so the decision was made.

We started out in Antwerp. I think it’s the second biggest city in the country, and there was plenty to see and do. Our trips always include a lot (lot!) of walking around, exploring. There’s food, of course, and various arty things to see. We’re interested in architecture, so we can throw in cathedrals and houses from various periods and just general ambience. Antwerp’s name possibly comes from a legend about a giant having his hand tossed into the river, although there are other theories, but the city celebrates this one with a central statue of a young hero tossing the hand, plus random hand statues, and hand cookies and hand chocolates and the like. Of course, Belgians will make into chocolate anything they can shake a stick at, including naughty bits (which I did not photograph, this being a family-oriented blog, kinda). I just put up a bunch of shop window pictures on Facebook, most of them chocolate dealers. There’s an almost endless supply of them. I’ve always favored Belgian chocolate above all others, so this was sort of like being in Wonderland. Not that we had every chocolate we saw, but we did have plenty.


Other things edible of note are the white asparagus a la flamande (one of the chocolate dishes I photographed is a chocolate version of white asparagus), carbonade flamande (a beef stew), waterzooi (a light chicken or fish stew), and, most famously, moules frites. We ate all of these over the course of the trip. Belgium is also famous for its beers, which deserve said fame. They are unique, and there’s quite an array of light and dark, many of which are way more alcoholic than our norm. You get spoiled by them. They’re also remarkably cheap, selling in restaurants for about three bucks. You can’t get a bartender to piss in a glass for you in the US for three bucks. (Although I’m just guessing on that, having never actually ordered a glass of piss at a bar, at least now knowingly.)

Anyhow, the take on Antwerp was, a very pleasant city but I wouldn’t put it on anyone’s must-do list. If you like Rubens, though, there is his house, plus a great unexpected collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts at a wonderfully designed (from the inside) museum called the Stroom that looks like a brick monstrosity from the outside, and a truly enchanting little zoo. For us, it was the starting point, the place to detox from jet lag for a few days. It was easy to get to from the Brussels airport by train, our hotel was right out the door of the train station, and then a couple of days later we were on our way to bring the good news to Ghent.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

In which we contemplate the end of a league

Updating my tournament schedule has been way more time-consuming than I expected. First of all, I had to desailorize it, and I kept missing stuff. Then I had to decide whether to include the unlikelies, like any MHLs. Then there was the random links listing in the left-hand column. Again, the MHL loomed large.

Whither the MHL?

It’s a great story. The Mid-Hudson League was established back in the dark ages by, among others, Malcolm Bump. Sodikow was either there at the start or close thereto. I’m fuzzy on the participation of some of the other early folks but there were a few others. The point of the organization was to provide a training league, a place where first- and second-years could debate one another and learn and grow. That’s a perennial issue, rounds for newbies. Nowadays we seem to have plenty of novice LD opportunities at invitationals, but novice PF is rare, although the rationale for offering it is exactly the same as LD. JV has virtually disappeared from invitationals, aside from Yale and those valiant few persisting with Academy. (Come to think of it, Academy knocked Monticello’s numbers back up a bit, so maybe it will continue. Back in the day, Monti had a full JV division in addition to it’s Varsity division.) In any case, the idea of regular rounds for younger students remains a good one. As the geographic center of the MHL shifted, it was renamed the Metro-Hudson League, thus acknowledging, at least subtly, the active participation of the Newark folks.

And then it got the vapors.

It wasn’t hard over the last few years to see that MHLs weren’t pulling them in as they once had. And last year, we reached the point of canceling most of them for lack of interest.

I have no idea what happened. Debate per se is bigger than ever, it seems. Policy may not be robust, but PF more than makes up for it. And we continue to have strong LD schools, albeit with a native circuit bent, although, still, people have to start somewhere. I’ve heard various theories about the falling off, but given that the league is virtually free, it can’t be economic, and it can’t be the content of the rounds because it’s the same folks that go to the invitationals, and it can’t be the travel time (although that’s perhaps one of the best explanations) because around here people go to, say, Texas at the drop of a hat, so going to the next county over can’t be that much of a hardship. Granted, the NYC Debate league offers a full buffet of events during the year that satisfies their needs, but they didn’t exist except for a few policy folks back in the day so you can’t say that the focus has simply shifted from the suburbs to the urbs. People just stopped coming. Go figure.

I probably haven’t made it specifically clear to too many people that I intend to have nothing to do with organizing the MHL next year. That’s another reason for wanting to retire: I just didn’t want to face the frustration of trying to rebuild the organization, or find a different way to satisfy what I see as a need for educational rounds. If I don’t do it, I don’t know who will. The “board,” so to speak, was myself, Cruz, Kaz and Militza from NJUDL. I don’t expect M to do it herself; Jersey is already full up with NJUDLs. And Kaz is in Massachusetts and Cruz is gone and I’m bowing out.

Mother of mercy, is this the end of the MHL? 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

In which we go offroad way too often to discuss typesetting

Last night, my Mac was still sending my pix to Flickr. I think it would be faster if I just went back in time and flew to wherever I was vacating over the last decade since I went digital and take all the pictures again. The Eiffel Tower probably looks about the same, etc., etc., etc. When this is all done, I’ll repeat the process with Google’s new service, just for comparison’s sake. At which point I will probably be ready for a peaceable death from generic old age.

I realize that this is Wednesday and that this isn’t Nostrum, but I can’t help that. Maybe I’ll be back on it by next week. There was a comment posted just a few days ago on the Nostrum Nation blog from someone who claimed they were literally dying to get their hands on the elusive Series 3. I attempted to post a reply comment defining the word literally, but my computer decided that it wasn’t going to save anything so vituperative aimed at a fan, and instead of trying again I let it go. BTW, at the DJ, in a sentence like that one, where we say “defining the word literally,” we would not put the word literally in quotes, (i.e., the word “literally”) since the words the word already provide the demarcation, hence I won’t do it here. One learns one’s skills and acts accordingly. Of course, if something is unclear, like the phrase “since the words the word already provide,” it would be okay to say “since the words ‘the word’ already provide,” because the point of writing something is to be understood by the reader. Get it? Got it. Good.

I probably should mention that BenK has thrown Congress into the Byram Hills Earlybird mix. That was something of a void last night when I went into tabroom to fill in the remaining tournament blanks. What I don’t know about Congress is, well, pretty much everything there is to know about Congress. I’m not even sure what to call it: I gather there are some folks who think the term Congress (there we go again with word demarcation; it would be okay, btw, to say “some folks who think ‘Congress’” because in that case the quotes do the marking) is somehow pejorative, or at least carries unwanted second-tier activity connotations. I personally don’t believe that any activity is prioritizable higher than any other in a vacuum: they’re all hard work and you learn a lot if you get good at them. For specific reasons, of course, then it’s a different story. The great Declamation performer is not necessarily the research dog that informs the great Extemp performer. Anyhow, Marty P is going to handle the Congress side of things, and he can sort all of it out, including, if he wishes, what to call it. As soon as that is determined and written into the invite, we’ll start promoting.

It was kind of fun filling out a tabroom tournament again. Haven’t done it in a while. One forgets how many ways there are of doing it wrong, and one is always astonished at all the new stuff that has popped up unannounced since the last time. CP has indicated that he might be around for the Pups, which means we can grab him early on in the season if anything really unexpected pops up. I have to say, though, that after the rocky start at last year’s Pups, which was a result of bad hosting and not bad programming, there were no terrible problems that were not of our own making. And even those weren’t all that bad.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

In which things start to solidify, or not, as the case may be

I've been spending a bunch of time talking to Kaz about next year, up through Columbia, which apparently won’t conflict with Emory for a change. And since Newark has already retreated from that weekend at the end of January (I’m assuming they’ll hold firm on their early Jan date), and Byram has moved to the Earlybird slot, it’s all squirrels to the nuts, or something like that. Of course, that means even more tinkering with my new agnostic tournament calendar, but so it goes. Who doesn’t like changing their good old html files on a regular basis?

I do have to admit that I’m constantly meditating about redoing the website completely in something a little less 1995, but I just can’t see investing the time in it at the moment. I’ll wait until I no longer have anything that anyone wants to look at, but plenty of time to create it for them not to look at it, and I’ll go on from there.

The old Sailors have asked for some info on how to Bump, which I’ve happily passed along to them. Of course, not having to do Bump ever again was high on the Menick Retire-O-Meter. Members of the Vast Coachean Army are well aware of how little I enjoyed the stress of being a tournament director. I spent twenty years living in terror of something going horribly wrong, leaving a trail of death and destruction worthy of a Michael Bay movie, and I feel like I got out in the nick of time, like Indiana Jones grabbing his hat just as the gate came down. I mean, look at the list: trophies and staff and food and judges and rooms and custodians and assistant principals and tax forms and concessions and housing and making sure the apostrophe was correct on the signs for the judges’ lounges and God knows what else. Jeesh.

And, oh yeah, I started uploading my pix to Flickr Sunday afternoon. Last night it was about half done. Jeesh and jeesh again.