Friday, April 29, 2016

Advice from a life coach: For adults only

It would be an error on your part to assume that the wisdom in these posts is always derived from first-hand experience. A life coach does not have to have empirical, personal evidence for every piece of advice. Often it is the careful observation of others that results in a conclusion worth sharing, while other times simple common sense is all that is needed. The following is an example of the latter:

A wink and a nudge at the concierge desk at your Walt Disney World hotel will not result in a professional "escort" appearing at the door of your room any time soon.

I included the preface at the top of this post because, as I have just been to Walt Disney World, I do not wish to give the impression that I spent any of my time there patiently waiting in my room for company to appear. Nor did I see hordes of winking, nudging conventioneers wearing fezzes and blowing noisemakers while slipping the concierges the odd Benjamin to set up a little hankus pankus. Come to think of it, I never even saw any concierges, because I was staying at a value hotel. Maybe that was the problem. If I had been staying at a luxury hotel...

Anyhow, when you see the words common sense, you no doubt immediately wonder about the expression horse sense, which means much the same thing. I offer the following definition, from W. C. Fields: "Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people." As for the etymology of the phrase, you can google that yourself. I'm not here to do your work for you.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In which we gaily sing. "California Here I Don't Go"

I can’t imagine that I’m the first person to notice that the CatNats LD and PF topics were accidentally switched at birth. I’m not attending, of course, so it was just out of morbid curiosity that I took a look. And lo and behold, someone must have been dipping into the altar wine on selection day, because, well…

Resolved: Human genetic engineering should be banned.

Resolved:  In a just democracy, elections for public office should be solely financed through public funding.

I mean, let’s face it. How much evidence is there about human genetic engineering outside of science fiction? “Are we not Men?” It’s not like, I don’t know, they’ve been tinkering a lot with the embryos in Harrison which is why they’re all good debaters, and Chetan has the cytosine data to prove it. This is a purely moral question. PF is the perfect place for that?

On the other hand, while one might make an ethical argument for or against public funding of elections, it seems to me that it would make more sense to look at actual situations. (And note that it doesn’t specify which elections, so we’re starting at dog catcher here.) We’ve seen public and private funding of campaigns of all sorts, so we can look to plenty of actual evidence of results, not to mention the whole corporate spending issue (thank you, Nino). Sounds perfect for LD!

Is it any wonder that Henry VIII wanted to start his own church?



Monday, April 25, 2016

In which we slouch

Everything seems to be going batty. I would quote the first stanza of Yeats’s “The Second Coming,” but you know it by heart so I won’t bother, or, if you don’t know it, you at least know how to Google it, and if you don’t know how to Google it, you’re not reading this, so there we are.

(The worst are full of passionate intensity? Was Yeats contemplating the 2016 presidential election?)

First of all, the fields of the TOC are stretched beyond recognition. Sorry, people, but it isn’t the TOC if it’s open enrollment. I know that I’ve often said that if the TOC didn’t exist, I wouldn’t invent it. Maybe it’s gotten the idea and it’s starting to self-destruct. I’ve even heard that they might change the date to March in the future. There’s a splendid idea for you.

Everyone seems to want to change their dates. We went through the whole thing with Emory, which apparently has never heard of the idea that there are high schools out there, and that they already have a calendar, and if Emory sneezes, they all don’t catch cold. Now there’s rumblings that our friends at Penn are thinking of moving. Again. Their tournament filled up every available space this year, and a few unavailable spaces, and people came from all across the country. I guess they want to fix that by changing weekends. Go figure. Even venues like Poor Little Byram Hills thinks it needs to be on a Saturday/Sunday rather than Friday/Saturday. My money is on this being a bust for them, but maybe they’re right. But whenever it is discussed that tournaments not start on Fridays, if they can, the same arguments prevail that, uh, some people, like debate coaches, like to have the odd day off on a weekend. Just sayin’.

And of course the Pups tossed me to the winds because I eat too much. Whatever. I see a Pups without Menick as being similar to, well, every other tournament I do without Menick. I’ll be home eating chips and dips and watching reruns on the Golf Channel, so I’ll manage to pull through one way or the other. And any venue without me will have someone else perfectly capable, I’m sure. Time marches on, in other words.

The good news is that Rather Large Bronx will hold in its usual place at the usual time. Kirby has already talked to Kaz about it. We missed them in Orlando at NDCA; I hope they get it back together to rebuild their usual schedule. There’s too many of them to subtract any of them from the event equation.

I think most everyone else will be where and when they belong, and probably I’ll be back for most of them. There may be one or two changes forthcoming, though. Of course, any tournament I don’t do is a break for CP, because it means one less person complaining to him that none of it works the way it’s supposed to (or at least some of it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to). He’s out in Colorado climbing mountains with JV, while Kaz just got back from climbing the rigging of all the schooners in South Carolina, while all I did all weekend was nap and eat chips and dips.

I need a vacation. A real one, without a tournament at the end of it. And I’ll be getting one soon. Whew!



Friday, April 22, 2016

Advice from a life coach: Regarding bromides and intestines

You should never post aphorisms or motivational posters or other bromidic materials in your house or place of business or, for that matter, anywhere else you are, ever. This includes social media and the walls of bathroom stalls, which are identical except that one is digital and the other is not, and I'll leave it to you to figure out which is which. Posting inspirational texts intended to get people to improve their behavior or to look on the bright side of life or to generally cheer up, get over it and try to be marginally productive, will change nothing. Worse, people will start feeling even more guilty about their flaws, and they will quickly learn to dislike you for your passive-aggressive opprobrium because, let's face it, you are not the happy pixie that you think you are. No one is. Thank God. So move along, and keep your rose-colored glasses to yourself. In fact, why don't you go choke on them?

And speaking of choking, it is a fact that haggis tastes good and you will like it. This may be hard to believe, but you can trust me on this, although you probably won't.



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

In which we are not totally set adrift in September

As if to relieve me of the burden of nothing to do in September, the lovely people at Byram Hills have asked me to take them on again. Once more they're running the first full weekend of the school year, the weekend prior to the Pups. And they also hope to have a round robin. Why not? I'm heading to New Orleans earlier that week, but I'll be back in plenty of time to handle their shindig. I think they've also invited Sheryl back, as she and I have been attached to Byram off and on for years. Now that they finally have decent wifi (although the still have indecent battery-sucking cell service) it's pretty straightforward. The only thing is, this year they're running on Saturday and Sunday. Why, I have no idea. It doesn't matter much to me, especially coming off a little vacation, but I know that some people don't like to fill up whole weekends like this, especially twice in a row (i.e., right before Yale). I'll trust they can pull it off. I hope so. We need more regional tournaments doing regional tournament stuff.

I can't remember the Byram Hills mascot. It was either the Buzzkills or the Beer Nuts, I think, but neither sounds exactly right. Oh, well. I'll find out when I'm there.



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In which one of our usual gigs bites the dust

I am now writing a presentation for the DJ, in addition to the one for NDCA. The important thing is not to confuse the two. I don’t think my colleagues at the DJ are the slightest bit interested in whether it’s MJP or MPJ, shocking as that may sound.

I guess I can now report that I won’t be working at Yale this year. As the VCA knows, my work for the big tournaments begins with straightening out their tabroom setup, and then running the waitlists while handling queries from disgruntlesphere. This begins about two months before a tournament starts, and it’s a daily business. Then, of course, there’s running the events. All of us in tab know a couple of things, that our days are longer than anyone else’s at the tournament, and that a lot of times it’s no big deal and other times it draws on the oddest combination possible of insight, drudgery and experience that few people seem to possess. Most people, i.e., coaches, would rather pluck their eyeballs out with a runcible spoon than work a tab room (although I have noticed that some of these same coaches blame the lure of tabbing for depleting the back of the room of adult judges, yet if this were true I’d be up to my plucked eyeballs in people wanting to tab, and trust me, it isn’t so). For me, it is one of my highest priorities that when I finally retire from tabbing (if ever), I leave behind good people in my stead. Somebody's got to run these damned things.

Anyhow, humble as I am (and yes, I ooze humility from every pore), I don’t ask for much in return for my services. I mean, hell, I actually enjoy doing it. And mostly I do it pretty well, if you’ll allow for the occasional bollix. I can do it by hand, on TRPC, on tabroom, big field or small field. Any high school that wants me to tab them, all I ask is that they get me a hotel room, if it’s not near enough to the chez to commute. Dangle the odd Best Western in front of me and I’m yours.

Colleges are different, though. For one thing, they may be running a high school tournament but the money they make doesn’t go to the high school community, with the exception of Penn. And the colleges I work make boatloads of money, make no mistake about that. Still, I do not ask them to pay me for the simple reason that they couldn’t afford me. I value my services too highly to even consider selling them. On the other hand, I expect a measure of hospitality in proportion to the value the tournament itself puts on my services. In addition to paying my hotel bill, that translates as footing the bill for a dinner or two with the other tab staff. We’ve been on-site since 7 a.m., and by 10 p.m. we’re looking to relax (before getting back on-site tomorrow at 7 a.m. again).

I do not ask for nor expect this from high school tournaments. Their profits, if any, should go to sending their students to other tournaments. But colleges grossing in the 6 figures? Well, it may be greedy of me, and a demonstration of my humility refusing to ooze all of a sudden, but that’s just the way it is. I make this clear to them, and they can take it or leave it. Yale has decided to leave it.

Well, I would have had to move on anyhow, sooner or later. I hold no animus against them; it’s their tournament and they can do what they want with it, and I’m sure they’ll find a perfectly good replacement for me. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I’ve already come to realize that this will now free up September on my personal calendar, the single best month of the year for vacations since everyone else is back in school and the weather everywhere in the northern hemisphere is at its peak. So, adios, young Pups. Have a nice tournament.



Monday, April 18, 2016

In which we promise never to pop in when the Paginator is cooking dinner

I’ve begun digging in on my presentation for the NDCA conference. I’m covering tournament best practices, something I think I am especially knowledgeable about. (You may think otherwise, you tattie howker, but who asked you?) Some of what I’ll be saying is simply my opinion, but most of it is certifiably the right thing to do. I’m even putting the presentation into PowerPoint, so you know I mean business. In conjunction with the presentation I’m also intending to finish up a whole bunch of documents for the Tournament Director’s Toolkit on the NDCA website. A lot of people think they know better, and often when I’ve sent someone a how-to doc they’ve ignored it. Tsk-tsk. They were always wrong to do so, and paid the price, and I got to chortle to myself in a celebration of my wisdom. Of course, it’s not really my wisdom. It’s my experience drawing on other people’s wisdom. Everybody does some really good things at their tournament that no one else does. And there’s some dumb stuff that people do that should be avoided. The wealth of accumulated knowledge should be shared. And of course I’ll put it all here as it comes together. I wouldn’t want you not to share the joy.

Sheryl and the Paginator were up at the chez this weekend, the latter following the Harrison RR. He’s looking to acquire useful things for setting up housekeeping after he graduates, while Kaz is looking to find a home for a lot of stuff still at her Newburgh digs, now that she’s a Massachusetts resident. So they toddled up in that direction after our visit before she headed off to her Carolina trip, so that he could carry off the odd cooking pot. I gather that at the moment when it comes to household supplies he owns exactly own carcinogen-clad frying pan that, he says, is peeling. The good news is that he doesn’t cook, so it won’t kill him any time soon. On the other hand, cold cuts for dinner? Really? The bind moggles.

According to Sheryl, a lot of people are traveling around the next couple of weeks before TOC (if they’re unfortunate enough to be going). Speaking of which, I just happened to need to check out something about the entrants there, and discovered that they no longer hold the line at 70/72. They’re well into the 90s in both PF and LD. I recall distinctly that the tournament was originally designed to break to a neat “Sweet 16,” as JW used to put it. Now it breaks to, well, a serious run-off round. Is this because so many people are qual’d up, which would mean it’s time for some serious bid housekeeping, or because they’ve gotten (even) greedier, looking at all that at-large activity and translating it into entries. Of course, it used to be that an at-large cost and arm and a leg even if you didn’t get in; they’ve lowered the cost, but if they’re then letting everyone in, they’re ahead of the game.

I know. You thought TOC was for the love of the game. Let me see. It’s run by a college, and the money goes to the college’s team, and college debate requires lots of travel… Oh, yeah. They’re doing it because they love high school debate and all it stands for. Right. And please visit me at when you get a chance.



Friday, April 15, 2016

Advice from a Life Coach: Towels

If you travel at all, you will have seen the notices in your hotel room proclaiming that the hotel is the platonic ideal of eco-friendliness. They ask you to join them in their green heaven by reusing your towels. They tell you that, if you are the scum of the earth, you can toss your towels on the floor and they will be replaced, but if you are on the path to sainthood, you will dry yourself off as necessary and then hang the towels up and reuse them the next time you need them. And you, feeling environmentally sound, do your best to conform. You take your morning shower, pat yourself dry, and hang your towel up on the hook behind the bathroom door. Green heaven, here you come! And then when you get back to your room at night, your conservatively hanged towel is gone, and there are all new towels in your bathroom.

There is nothing you can do about this. The minute you leave your room, cleaners dash in and replace all your towels. If you come back in the afternoon, wash your face and use one of the tiny towels they put by the sink that are only good for patting your nose, they will replace those tiny towels as soon as you are out of sight, no matter how high up you hang them.

You can, if you wish, make it a challenge for the cleaning staff. You can take your shower in the morning, dry yourself off, and then take your damp towel and hang it in your closet instead of behind the bathroom door. They will find it, and you will have all new towels. You can put that damp towel in your suitcase and zip it closed, and they will find it and replace all your towels. You can lift the mattress on one of the beds, either the one you slept in or the one you tossed all your clothes on because you're too lazy to use the drawers, and hide your damp towel under there, and they will find it and replace all your towels. You can take your damp towel with you sightseeing during the day, and they will find it and replace all your towels.

The point is, hotels are not green, no matter how much they protest to the contrary. It is easier for them to wash all the towels in the room at the first opportunity than for them to try to figure out the used towels from the fresh towels. If you attach a sign to your used towel saying, "I used this one," and other signs to the unused towels saying, "I didn't even look at this one," it will make no difference. You can continue to play their silly game, or you can resign yourself to the inevitable, and spend your time more in your hotel room more profitably by trying to figure out what's in all those other bottles that don't say shampoo on them. What exactly is body wash, for instance? Since the size of the soap they provide wouldn't clean a dormouse, you might be tempted to find out. But you won't have the energy to pursue this potentially interesting line of research if you are exhausted from playing towel hide-and-seek.

The bottom line: enjoy the fresh towels that the hotel is going to give you whether you want them or not. At home, you know you use the same towels for weeks without a second thought. Damp, mildewy towels are your way of life. Use the diligence of the hotel cleaning staffs as a welcome relief from your normal personal habits. After all, you are on vacation. You might as well enjoy it.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

If this is Thursday, it isn't Wednesday, but wait! There's more!

I'm sending this one over to Jules and the Mite at Nostrum Nation. It may be a day late and a dollar short, but who isn't?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

In which we find ourselves flowing like a house afire

After stuffing myself full of theme parkiness last week, I headed over on the weekend to debate parkiness (whatever that is).

I’ve talked about the NDCA often. I ran for the board at CP’s suggestion, but I admit to not accomplishing much as my three-year term comes to an end. Not that the organization needs a lot of change, but there is no question that we are light on the LD and PF sides. If I had some great solution I’d propose it, but I really don’t, aside from a couple of small points, like running the Feb PF rez rather than April, and even that is controversial. The board runs a very tight ship procedure-wise, probably a necessity when we’re all over the map. But email discussions can only go so far. But more to the point, I simply don’t know where the catalyst is for the necessary change. I don’t think anyone does.

In any case, they do run a great tournament, and I’ve always enjoyed it, both when I had entrants and now when I don’t. I judged a bunch of rounds, and most of them were very entertaining, while all of them were fun insofar as I got to sit in the back of the room again for the first time in a while. I used to live in the back of the room when John Stuart Mill was not only popular in cases, but if there was any disagreement about what he was saying you could call him up and ask him. PF allows me to do it again (i.e., judge, not ring Mill up on the Ameche), with no fear of not understanding what’s going on. LD, on the other hand, becomes progressively more out of my ken. I listened to a critique of a break round and had no idea what was being talked about. The descriptive language is one I do not speak, which presumably indicates they are talking about things I do not know. Which is fine by me. One of the reasons I opted out of LD is exactly that, the increased specialization of the business. I am a low-level debate-for-everyone-regardless-of-skill kind of person, as compared to a high-level debate-maximization-for-the-top-debaters kind of person. And PF seems to serve my desires for that mass-market approach.

I can’t say much favorably about the topic, though. Most of my rounds were clash free. It was obvious who was winning, but it wasn’t easy to lay out an RFD. “You beat them with a stick” isn’t all that great a criticism, even if it’s true. “You lost because this trumps that on the flow” is much better. But on the one hand, the two ideas, infrastructure and means-based welfare, aren’t particularly in opposition in the real world, and on the other hand, this being a new topic, people were running some stuff that they probably wouldn’t have been running next week, given the opportunity. It is ever thus with a new topic, and in PF, where you can’t swing a cat without getting a new topic, life is nasty, brutish and short. So it goes. (Give Hobbes a call if you don't believe me. Or Vonnegut.)

One nice thing about NDCA, as Chetan posted on FB, is that so many top coaches are in the back of the room. The people who are there are there because they’re serious, and they’re more than willing to adjudicate rounds. I don’t think there’s a better way to learn about debate than watching it, and in the case of these judges, directing and educating after watching it. That’s a good thing.

Next year the tournament will be back at Weber, in Ogden, Utah, which was a spectacular venue with superb hospitality. And it was a nice little town with all the great western landscape one loves about Utah, short of going into a national park. It’s about a half hour north of SLC. You should think about going. You will not have a bad time. I promise you.