Wednesday, December 23, 2015

In which we offer valediction to MMXV

Well, that’s about it for 2015. It’s been an interesting year.

I retired from regular coaching, but kept doing tabbing and helping out behind the scenes for those who wanted it, which was just about all the usual suspects. I showed up so often at tournaments that a lot of people forgot I wasn’t coaching anymore. Sometimes I did too, and I really wanted to sit down with a bunch of plebes and knock some sense in them and brainstorm a new topic, but mostly I was quite happy with the freedom from worry about them falling off a cliff or whatever. This really hit home when we’d go out for dinner during a tournament and someone couldn’t come because they had kids to take care of and responsibilities to attend to. This of course proved the old saw that forensics would be so much better if it didn’t have kids in it—unless they’re projectile vomiting—but then you would run into some old coach crank complaining pointlessly about some nonsense and you would remember that, no, it really is about the students, and would you please go stuff yourself in a moldy closet with the rest of the CheeZ Doodles, you old poop?

One thing we’ve been seeing over and over is the growth of PF, apparently at the expense of LD. The latter isn’t going away any time soon, but at the circuit level it’s become so parochial that it has left behind everyone but the true believers. Much like policy. Which everyone saw coming, but now it’s really here. There’s the continuing argument that PF will go down the same path, but even if that’s true, we’re nowhere near that yet. Plus I happen to doubt that it’s true. As long as you have to pick up a lot of parent ballots, you have to make clear presentations in a logical fashion without any smoke and mirrors. Viva les parents!

People have, as always, come and gone. The infamous traveling tab room is changing at a snail’s pace. CP claims that some day tabroom will obviate the need for tab rooms, but we’ve got a long way to go before that becomes a reality. And we had one moment this year when we were running a small division that simply wouldn't compute, and JV tried to sort it out in his head, Kaz tried to sort it out using the hand-pairing screens, and I printed up and tossed some cards, much to the awe of the assembled masses. Three different approaches that yielded the same solution, but only possible because of the collective experience of understanding the underlying mechanics of tabbing. At the point where “the computer” does it all we’ll be replicating the idea that students don’t have to learn to, say, spell, or add, because “the computer” will do it for them. Same arguments apply, and I won’t insult your intelligence by repeating them here. You get the picture. Anyhow, the point is that we need to find new people to man those tab rooms, as long as they exist. There’s too few of us who can do it and, more importantly, who like to do it. In today’s competitive environment, most coaches aren’t willing to forgo their literal coaching role in aid of maintaining the system overall (in more ways than this one, alas). Hell, I’ve heard people whine that the system is out of their control, and I’ve offered to bring them in to work in tab any time, and been completely ignored. Better to whine that the system is out of your control, I guess. We like bringing new people behind the scenes. We like new people knowing how things are done and why. We’ve been touting transparency since forever, and the only closed tab rooms I run are by league rule for the CFL. The rest of ‘em? Watch. Learn. Take over some day. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Coaches in general have been coming and going. This year seems to have brought more change than most, or maybe I’m just more sensitive to it, given my own situation. One person I’d like to see more of is CP, but he seems to always be running around on NSDA business, or seconding Kaz at some other venue. It’s been great fun working with the Paginator, even though we all fear that after he graduates he’ll migrate to the Midwest and bring debate to the farming community. Fr. Michael has been pulled in more often, and as the Vast Coachean Army well knows, I’ve always said that you can’t have too many monks around no matter what the situation. Meanwhile Kaz and JV have remained stalwart, and our little trio has spent more hours together than most humans could possibly tolerate, without once throwing one another out the window. I maintain it’s the ukulele music and the yodeling that keeps us together. Kaz and JV contend otherwise.

So the season is now about half over. Still to come are Bigle X, the Gem of Harlem, Baby Bump, Penn, Lakeland, CFL Grands and, apparently, the last hurrah of the NYSDCA tournament. And, of course, NDCA in Orlando, where I intend to buy a BB8 pin as a souvenir. So there’s lots more happening, and I will continue to report on all of it. Among other things. Meanwhile, we’re going on hiatus until the new year. Enjoy the holidays, and always remember, when all else fails, well, you’re screwed.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In which we get bitter over the judges

I have this spiel that I riff on at the openings of some of the local tournaments I run, most notably the CFL events. Given that the CFL has unique rules (for instance, no flip in PF), it’s not a bad idea to run through them briefly. Also, these sorts of tournaments tend to have a lot of new or fairly new judges, and it’s nice to get them on the same page with things like speaker points. I don’t address them as totally ignorant of the activities, given that our rules demand that they get training before they judge, and, in fact, we give training at these events. Mostly I just guide them through the particulars of what to do on that day.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

We have a rule that there’s no low point wins. It makes sense educationally that students in the first or second debates of their career understand why they won or lost, and turning a victory into a LPW beclouds that issue. (For that matter, it’s pretty cloudy in most cases, regardless of venue, given that speaker points are defined by the person applying them, varying from individual to individual with no objective criteria in the known world, and therefore the idea that they’re inverted vis-à-vis the win of a round is explicable only by sophistry that I, for one, would never attempt, but which seems accepted by the general population, despite its inherent subjectivism.[1]) Let’s make victories and losses clear, I say. After all, we’ve already established an objective criterion for what the points should be in my opening remarks (also reprinted on the ballots). Isn’t this better than telling newbies: “Hey, you both won and lost, and there’s no understandable explanation I can offer except the inner workings of my unique brain that is too befuddled to have listened to the opening remarks where they said no LPWs.” So the LPWs come in, not a lot, but too many, given that we want precisely none. I can’t go chasing all these people down, so we accept them. Great job, judge!

I also suggest that judges do not tie points. Again, this is in aid of a clearly understood win/loss. We will chase them down for this at Grands, but that has 20 teams in two divisions, as compared to 400 attendees climbing the proverbial walls and we’re lucky if we can get out of their before St. Swithin’s Day. I’m pretty clear about this in the opening remarks. Result? PF and Policy rounds with all 4 debaters getting the same points. If equality is justice we have finally attained it, if we’re okay with make-believe equality and false justice. How do you win/lose a round where you’re all tied? I’m sure the novices who got these ballots can explain it at length.

And then there’s 30s. Please don’t, I say. I beg your pardon, they reply, but I’ll do what I damn well please. Sigh.

The thing is, judges are a bunch of arrogant bastids. It’s as simple as that. No matter what you tell them, they’ll do what they damned well please. Or at least some of them will. My key request to student judges in my opening remarks is that they be the judges they wish they had had when they were novices. Which is the perfect paradigm for a student judge. But plenty of them don’t even bother to come to the opening meeting, or they don’t pay attention, and they already know everything they need to know so will you please get on with it? There are plenty of adult judges who similarly don’t follow instructions, but on their part it’s not arrogance so much as ignorance, I think, despite the fact that we have trained them. Or confusion, if you want to be nice about it. (I don’t.) To overcome the twin problems of arrogance and ignorance, I give a pretty damned entertaining opening assembly. I give ‘em a great performance. Half the time they applaud at the end.

And then half of them do what they damned well please, as if I had never said a word. What do they care about the rules of the league, or the education of the students?

Sometimes I wonder why I bother.


[1] By the way, I might want to offer this as the most complicated sentence I’ve ever attempted, which is only fitting, given the subject.

Monday, December 21, 2015

In which it's beginning to look a lot like a chlassich Christmas

Somebody has to be the person to crawl into the crooks and nannies and find where the light doesn’t shine. At the Christmas Chlassich I decided to take the train in, since I was going out for dinner afterwards. Since I’d be lugging whatever I brought on my back, I decided to bring my iPad rather than my computer. Certainly I’ve done all sorts of things on my iPad in the past tabroom-wise, so I didn’t give it a thought. Until it came time to enter results. Regis, having been built by the original Irish monk settlers in the New World, doesn’t have useful wireless. If the poor box had a nickel for every person who asked about it, the box wouldn’t be poor anymore. Hence, paper ballots. No surprise there, although I was surprised to see that our tab room was reorganized, with no more networked printers. Oh, well. Catholic Charlie had his printer, so were were okay. So we paired everything and printed it, but as I said, when it came time to enter results, the numbers simply wouldn’t take on the iPad. I could force results, but that’s a time-consuming business at best. I think the problem is somehow IOS-related: there’s something in the coding that you can do on a computer but not on an iPad. That doesn’t strike me as strange, but it does strike me as odd that I’m the first person to notice it. I can’t be the only iPad user in the tabbing community. I know, for instance, the Bro John has used an iPad. But that was at Bigle X, where the wifi is cheap and easy. I guess the Bro has never tried tabbing in a Catholic school. (Maybe he hates Catholic schools and refuses to have anything to do with them, but honestly, that’s pretty unlikely, given the Bro-hood and everything.) Anyhow, I dutifully reported the problem via a help ticket. I said in the subject line that I couldn’t enter results on my iPad, with a message that said that the subject line said it all. The response was that it didn’t say it all and they needed more details. So, I said it again, with more words. It doesn’t matter terribly if it gets fixed, but a system nowadays sort of needs to run on any device, and God knows we’ve used mobile devices to fix problems when we’ve been out of the room, usually carousing at a local gin mill. In any case, Catholic Charlie had the perfect solution: “Bring your computer next time.” Brilliant thinking on his part. No doubt the boys in the tabroom boiler room will ultimately provide similar advice. I’m pretty sure it will work.

The Regis KK AKA CC was bigger than usual. As often as not, it falls on a weekend when school has already let out for the holidays, meaning half the potential attendees are on their way to Bermuda, Bahamas (come on pretty mama), etc., but that was untrue for most folks this time out. And with college kids home, having gotten out of their prisons, we had a lot of good judging. Occasionally one Regi picked up another Regi’s ballot, under EdM’s guidance, but that’s fine, because they are an endless line of storm troopers perfectly capable of getting the job done with no fuss. We had policians up the wazoo as well, very nice to see, very efficiently run by the UDL leadership. In fact, they were done before we were, which was entirely due to sun spots. Still, we were done by about 5 and giving out medals like there was no tomorrow. Catholic C had told me we had virtually unlimited medals, which means I didn’t run out until near the end, at which point he and I had a discussion of the inherent meaning of the word virtually in the common usage.

When all was packed up, I strolled down Madison and enjoyed the nice brisk Manhattan evening on my way to dinner with HoraceMann, the Superhero Without Any Superpowers. Then, in order to soak up some holiday sauce, I switched over to Fifth at around 60th street, and soon managed to get caught in the crush of people watching the Saks light show. There were times when I practically couldn’t move. More than once people using strollers as battering rams managed to cut a thin swath through the assembled multitudes, and I managed to follow in their wake once or twice when I wasn’t in fact one of their victims. I breathed a sigh of relief when the EMTs picked up my bruised and battered body and tossed me onto a stretcher the rest of the way to 46th Street to the Brazilian restaurant.

All in all, it was a good tournament. And the last one of the year. Meanwhile I got a couple of buzzes from Blake, where apparently all was so swell that JV was settling in for a nice big sushi dinner, just before his trip to the emergency room to treat his anaphylactic shock. Blake, of course, is the last $ircuit tournament of the calendar year, although it jumps the gun and does the Jan-Feb topic, to add yet another event using what is really the Jan-April topic. Whatever. I’m not in the game, so what’s it to me? Then again, if I see something, I say something. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

In which we mostly gripe about the long line

I’ve got a feeling that the Regis KK AKA CC is going to be a job of work. Almost every division has an overabundance of one school. The problem is to have that one school debate itself with neutral judges while other schools don’t debate themselves. It takes a cool head and a keen eye… Plus I have to remember not to delete any scheduled rounds, which I am wont to do, just because I’m an idiot. Come to think of it, I may need to schedule some rounds in the first place. Oh, well. I’ll be taking the train into the city at the c of d on Saturday, wifi in hand. Anything left undone will be seen to at that point, unless I fall asleep. So it goes.

Tomorrow my entire DJ department is going to see SWTFA. We have been warned that there is an hour wait on the popcorn line. Sigh. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a SW pic without popcorn. That’s like going to a baseball game without beer. Or, for that matter, going to a lot of other places without beer. Most places, come to think about it, unless they have wine as a consolation prize. But I digress. This means that I will be seeing it without the wife, who only realized what was happening the second time I mentioned it. I told her that if it’s good I’ll go with her and see it again next week, and if it sucks, I’ll have saved her the bother. Turns out that it’s getting good reviews though. Not hearing about the big spoiler—Kaiser Soze turns out to be Norman Bates’s mother, or whatever—becomes progressively more difficult as more and more people see it, and as my daughter is doing, if I can keep myself away from social media for another day, I should be okay.

Maybe I’ll bring a peanut butter sandwich. Or some jujubes or tootsie rolls. Or maybe I’ll stop at a street vendor on the way and get some rat-on-a-stick. Or maybe I'll hard-boil up some eggs tonight and stuff my pockets with them in the morning. And there is that can of haggis we use as a souvenir from our trip to Scotland. Maybe that and a can opener and a couple of forks to share it around.

Tough call.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

In which we look ahead

The Regis KK AKA CC has some scarily large divisions. 62 NPF? From a tabbing perspective, of course, the more there are the easier it is, provided they’re not all from the same school, but from a logistical perspective, it’s something else. Regis, like all Catholic institutions, has some mysterious underground spaces only hinted at by Dante that are used to give people a foretaste of what will happen if they do not stick to the straight and narrow, and we’ll be using all of those spaces on Saturday. I once went into one of them (I think it was labeled Sub-Cafeteria Basement Annex 8th Circle), and students were lined up at tables one next to the other, debating at the top of their little lungs, while judges’ heads moved back and forth as if at a tennis match, trying to figure out if their student were talking, or if it was the students at one of the tables to the left or to the right. Flows presumably were amalgams of all the rounds within the adjudicator’s range of hearing. The good news was that that range of hearing would be permanently lessened by the event, so that the next time they judged, they’d be lucky if they could hear the kids standing right in front of them, much less the ones standing a foot away. That’s one way of handling things.

Meanwhile, the NDCA is contemplating a Spring conference for coaches on important issues like legality and the like, acceptable material in debates, mandated reporting, etc., etc., all that stuff that little retired coaches like me don’t have to give much thought to. I’ve offered to cover the one thing I can cover, which is how to run tournaments, since I probably do more of it that most anyone else other than my immediate cohorts. Simply put, for years I did it every weekend, or helped someone else do it. Now it’s only most every weekend. is only a part of it. I have some materials I’ve written up over the years. If this proves of interest, I’ll update them all to have a practical handbook. I’ll probably do that anyhow, but it would be nice to know that it was of interest to someone and not just a way to keep me off the streets.

While said cohorts are mostly in Byzantium for the holidays, I’ll be in places like New Hampshire and New York City, variously doing non-Byzantine things. My biggest hope is to light a fire under myself to get cracking with N3, the COC edition. Lately my get up and go has, as they say, gotten up and gone. But having a break should stir up my inertia (which doesn’t sound right, but then again, I’m not the physicist in the group). Great headway has been made, but more is required. Until there’s at least 10 episodes on deck, proving to me that I have momentum, nothing will happen. And, of course, there’s still N2 to publish. Soon. I promise.