Wednesday, July 29, 2015

If this is Wednesday it must be Nostrum

Or, those who cannot remember Nostrum are condemned to repeat it. You have no one to blame but yourself. 

We left the Nostrumite working at Mr. Ma 'N' Pa's Video Bazaar. To follow up, I thumbed through the next episode, where he went into a permanent depression because a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie had lost traction in the AFI's top 100 films. I won't repeat that here because, well, you wouldn't know Fred and Ginger from gin and tonic, you spalpeen! (Then again, I remember a later slugfest, non-Nostrumian, with Bro Ryan—who is not a spalpeen—when Vertigo knocked Kane from the top spot, as he and I kicked around the strictures of educated criticism, so maybe there are more film fans out there than I think.) This was followed by the possibility of the Mite working at Pet-a-Porter, Mr. MNP's next enterprise, which led to a lot of incomprehensible French and fashion puns, and a line about exchanging Scream 2 for a Shih Tzu. Then there was a predictable rant when Tina Brown left the New Yorker. Then in the next epistle it turns out that the Mite ended up at the pet shop after all. Here's that one in its entirety, including its rather prescient preview of the incomparable Max's return to popularity.

We almost didn’t make it this week. The Nostrumite is in a state of permanent depression over Random House’s announcement of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. “Ulysses?” he asks, narrowing his eyes. “Yeah, right. There’s a bit of beach reading for you. Like any of these people on that committee ever read the damned thing from start to finish. They’re only trying to sell their overstock from the last twenty years. They should be feeling the agenbite of inwit this very minute.” He bears down on me. “Have you ever read it?” he asks. Well of course I haven’t but his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. But I probably won’t. I was more intrigued by number 59, a little number called Zuleika Dobson. The Mite’s eyebrow arched. “Now you’re talking,” says he. “Although I’ll bet that book’s had fewer takers than Jimmy Joyce. The incomparable Max!” What’s a zuleika, I ask. “Last seen heading for Cambridge, my boy.” He sighs. “The poor devils don’t know what they’re in for.” Of course, I have no idea when the Mite gets to read all these books, but I think he actually does; there aren’t any Cliff Notes for Max Beerbohm. Lately he’s been spending sixteen hours a day getting the Ma ‘N’ Pa Pet-a-Porter shop ready for business. The parakeets, geckos and tetras have all arrived, plus a couple of Siamese cats and a three-foot long boa constrictor that keeps getting out of his display and giving the gerbil cage a run for its money. The Mite calls the boa Cassius because, he says, he has a lean and hungry look. Mr. Ma ‘N’ Pa, whose love of pets ends, I think, with renting the movie of Lady and the Tramp, has been bitten at least three times in places he doesn’t want to talk about, and seems to be showing second thoughts about the whole enterprise. The dogs, the last new arrivals, will be showing up Wednesday morning, opening day. Drop by; pick up a balloon. Or a Corgi. Whatever turns you on...

By the way, the Mite saw his first episode of “Dawson’s Creek” last week, which is my fault, I guess, because they were rerunning the premiere installment and I thought, what the hell. I was wrong; much the hell. The lad promises not to let the show influence his judgment, however (he makes no promises, though, about having it influence his hormones; “Isn’t there anyone on that show,” he asks, “who isn’t in estrus or musth or whatever it is that turns everyday empty­headed characters into sex-crazed empty-headed characters?”). He has managed to program the cable box so that there is no way we will be able to watch any future episodes, so I don’t think it will have a lasting impact.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In which we contemplate human sacrifice

Registration opens Saturday for Big Bronx, Regular Sized Yale, and Newly Sized Byram Hills. The Pups will be what it always is, I’m sure, unless people are still pissed over the system failure that cost us all that time last year. If so, this year we’ll have Marty Page in LD tab with us for the first time, and I’m going to be throwing him to the angry mob at the first sign of trouble (although I think he thinks he’s there to help out). If you see him, mum’s the word. Human sacrifices have been sadly missing from debate tournaments in recent years, which is a shame. When people talk about how LD has changed, that never gets mentioned. I can’t imagine why.

I’m trusting that by now the word has gone out and that people realize that Big Bronx is going to be pretty much what it has been in recent years, and there’s no reason to expect a lesser tournament in any way. I’m figuring that we’ll fill up, so to speak, right away, although it’s all waitlist to be a little more fair, I think, than in the past. (So is the Pups, for that matter. And even BH. I’m a strong urger of starting with waitlists. If nothing else, it helps you manage the riffraff, if your tournament is putting in riffraff filters.)

The interesting one will be Byram Hills. Benkoh is seeing it at a warm-up tournament and expects that will enhance its popularity for a good varsity division. My guess is that this will certainly hold true for the Academy division, and I’m hopeful that he’s right about the older folk. We’ll find out soon enough. Benk is one of the most popular judges around here; let’s see if that popularity will extend to his tournament hosting. Come to think of it, Page will also be there, running their new Congress division. We can practice sacrificing techniques. MP is really gung-ho on Congress, and is always posting on Facebook about it. Not long ago he posted about Congress people learning to breathe. I didn’t know that was a problem with competitors. Judges, on the other hand, have been known to give up the ghost gladly, depending on the length of the session.

I don’t know why I make snide comments about Congress. I traditionally love all of forensics, and I’ve never sat for more than 10 minutes in a Congress session, so my snideness is entirely unwarranted. Then again, I have sat for about thirty years in a NYCFL moderators meeting talking about Congress and all its intricacies, and I know I stopped breathing for at least half that time. I went out and got a bagel and came back and they were still talking about Congress, and then I made a Starbucks run, and when I got back they were still talking about Congress, and then I ran a couple of marathons and invented the wheel and watched a few seasons of CSI: Podunk, and every time I came back to check up on things they were still talking about Congress, so maybe my beef is not with Congress per se, but talking about Congress. Or the NYCFL. Hard to tell.

And yes, I know that those involved with it prefer to call it Legislative Debate. That should probably make the participants Legi-Debbers, much like participants in IEs are Speecho-Americans. We here at Coachean HQ are nothing if not politically correct.

Monday, July 27, 2015

In which we bask in the glow

I did very little productive work over the weekend. Having acquired a new Civilization game on my desktop machine, I had no choice but to play it. And as any Civ player can tell you, the best way for the clock to get out of your control is to be deciding whether to build frigates or monuments, and whether to agree to a treaty with George Washington.

Playing Civ was why I showed up late for my own retirement party. Actually, it was my second R.P., having already had one with the present Sailors. They were both great events, but different. Few if any of the kids still in high school brought their babies with them, for instance. A unifying factor was crappy prizes, not surprisingly. You gotta get a gimmick… Given that the rule is that you can’t dispose of crappy prizes, ever, I wonder what I’m going to do with this stuff. Proudly display it, I guess. Behind something else, in a couple of cases.

For some reason the Hud seems to have spawned more than its share of doctor types. Plenty of lawyers too. Financial wizards. A professor or two. Lots of folk still in school, depending on age. Sports commentating. Our ex-pornographer couldn’t make it, unfortunately. Two library science people (one in training, one in the NYPL system) were there. Journalism, film-making, politicking. Some of what I would call good works (probably to balance the pornography). One or two between jobs, which is to be expected in this day and age, where the likelihood of having one career over one’s lifetime, much less working for one company, is practically nil.

On the other hand, at least half of them are living in or moving to Brooklyn. There is one in Astoria, which is the New Brooklyn, and I think that also counts.

Oh, well. I will be savoring this weekend for a long time. And meanwhile, the old Coachean mailbox is beginning to fill with debate mail of one type or another, and the opening gun is this Saturday. We’ll be getting down to business again soon.

It’s about time.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


There are a number of possible captions for this picture.

“Oh my God, they’re headed for the tab room!” is one. “On, no, I accidentally voted for Donald Trump!” is another possibility. You might be able to come up with better ones. Give it a shot.

In reality, this is me looking down off the deck of CLG’s house, and discovering a thundering herd of my ex-debaters shouting, “Surprise!”

I think I look surprised.

Claire pulled it off perfectly. She put together a private group on Facebook and got the invites out, while telling me she and Erin were in town for the briefest moment, and they wanted to take me out to a local restaurant I’ve been wanting to go to. By throwing the party, this means I still haven’t gotten to that local restaurant, but I’m not holding that against them. I had no idea what was really going on.

The VCA knows that I’ve retired from coaching; this party was in honor of that retirement. In a word, I retired because I felt the time had come. I have not yet retired from debate, however, as it now seems that I am tabbing virtually every tournament in the coming season that I tabbed in the previous season. But tabbing and running a team are entirely different animals. But that’s beside the point.

I have never doubted that being a debate coach was a good thing for me. I learned things I would never have dreamt of. I studied books that would otherwise never have come into my house, and argued ideas that are among the most important possible, about how to live in a moral and just fashion, and how to describe a society that is moral and just. Most people don’t do that sort of thing. I should point out that I also have a pretty interesting day job editing books, which also feeds my imagination, and perhaps my intellect, but never as ferociously as debate has. This would not have happened if I had merely done my stint as a parent judge, but the fates allowed me to become a coach, and to take on the responsibility of imparting what knowledge I could to a serendipitous group of high school students for a span of twenty years. It changed my life completely.

The attendees at the party were alums going back to the very beginning of that twenty years. They had come from seriously wide and seriously far; a few sent messages from either wider or further (or, in Noah’s case, from a bus broken down somewhere unknown on the Eastern corridor).  They’re all out of college now, and many are established in their adult careers and lives. Some of them have kids. Most of them seemed pretty happy, and I hope all of them are or soon will be. All of them claimed to have gotten something  life-changing out of debate. For some, it was direction. For others, it was much more.

If you are an educator, this is probably not new to you. For me, I certainly thought I had made a difference in people’s lives, but to actually have those people all together in one place telling me about that difference? It was one of the most emotionally profound days of my life, as simple as that.
I love these people. They are as much a part of my life as can be imagined. I love following their continuing stories on Facebook. I love seeing them in person when the opportunity arises. And I want to thank them, not just for tossing a party for me (although I do thank them for that too), but for letting me into their lives. When all is said and done, I am the biggest winner here.

Thank you.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In which we consider much needed updating

The time has come for me to start updating my website as I go into that brave new non-coaching world. I’ve been holding back because I think it will be a lot of work sorting through things, and more to the point, throwing things away. Anyone can hoard. Saving only the good stuff, especially if the stuff you’re tossing is something you created? Not so simple. I’ll try to start working on it this weekend, as I don’t have much else planned. What a wonderful way to spend a summer day!

Speaking of not tossing stuff I’ve created, I have been plodding through Nostrum 2, although not at a particularly rousing rate of speed. Other things are taking precedence, but I certainly haven’t given up. I guess I’m about halfway through. What I’m really curious about at this point is the N3 material. They were only a handful, and I just sort of knocked them out quickly. What I’ll do with them I’m not sure, beside a quick polish. Mostly it will depend on how much energy I bring to the task. Stretching this whole thing out endlessly has the virtue of not getting me bored with it. I do know one thing, that when I'm revising my website it will be especially hard to figure out how to design the Nostrum stuff, given that there’s online and ebooks and audio and all manner of things overlapping like some really overlappy kind of thing. Oh, well. I’ll figure it out.

Updating sites also probably means updating this page. It’s been a while. Not that I’ve ever changed it too dramatically, but I have made some choices over the years. Whatever. I’ve been at it for ages. The readership fluctuates, but there still remains a loyal VCA. If I write something especially juicy, we get a lot of lookee-looks who want to see what limb I’ve climbed out on this time. And usually the burlesques pull well, beyond the faithful. I’ll be digging into all of this over the next few months.

Registrations open on 8/1. Topics released on 8/15. Griping about topics on 8/15 (later that same day). The final list of potential LD rezzes is up on NSDA, by the way, which is a little different from what we saw earlier, with some of the looser language tidied up. People are going to have to vote for them, and PF (which is offering reparations as its opening possibility, presumably because it won’t be coming up in Sept for LD, although I wish it would, both for the resonance and because I think it’s a great subject).

Drink plenty of water and get a good night’s sleep.