Thursday, June 30, 2016

In which we have gone fishing

We're taking a break for a little while. Enjoy the nice weather, unless it's not nice where you are, in which case feel free to post endlessly on Facebook about the existential vacuum of your life so that everybody you think of as a quote friend can ignore share your so-called pain.

Monday, June 20, 2016

In which we mean YOU, buster

One of the great joys of the end of school (although school is still in session around here, but it’s close enough) is the end of the encomia. First off, there’s the students happy to be hitting the road to dreamland, AKA graduating and going off to college. Surprisingly, and happily, there aren’t too many of these. (I’m going by Facebook, of course. That seems to be the place where people are at their sappiest, unless I’m just not plugged into where the real sap flows.) Most students are just happy to cast off from the port of high school and disappear without a wave to the next adventure. Nothing wrong with that.

Next up are the speech and debate students. Here we get the endless thank-yous to their stream of coaches and mentors and advisers and the like, and we begin to realize that behind every successful forensician, there is an army of myrmidons. We see this occasionally when there’s the announcement that so-and-so won something, and then it lists their coaches, always in the plural, and often running over to the next page. When our little LD hero finally hangs up the gloves, every one of them must be noted at length. Parents also come in for a little pat on the back, despite the fact that most parents are happy to get rid of their little forensicians for the weekend so that they can dedicate themselves to reading online articles about how to pay for college on their miserable middle class salary. (Come to think of it, you can have a miserable upper class salary and still not be able to pay for college nowadays. In fact, the more money you make, the less likely you are to get financial assistance: while you know that you’re barely getting by, the powers that throw money off the top of the administration building think you’re rolling in it.) I do believe that these little essays are heartfelt. However, they are, shall we say, a little less than compelling. They never reveal any deep dark secrets about you-know-who, they never really dish the dirt, they just thank you from the bottom of their hearts. Bleech!

Finally there are the coaches. This is the time of year when they all start weeping like seven-year-olds at a Bambi screening (or sixty-year-olds at an Up screening) and pulling up sighs from the bottoms of their intestines and— I’m sorry. I can’t talk about it. These are grownups, for God’s sake. 99% of them are starting the next day at some debate camp or other to wrest muchos dineros from the sweaty hands of the parents of the next generation, the ones who should be salting away funds in the college savings program, and are instead assuming that forensics will get their little scamps into even better (and more expensive) colleges. (Word: after you turn about thirty no one on earth will care where you went to college, except the college itself, who will never let up asking you for money as a happy alum, money you probably don’t have because you’re still either paying off your loans because your parents never did save enough although they probably would have if they hadn’t thrown away all that money on speech and debate camps, or else you’re already starting to save for your own spawn’s college expenses, which—I hate to tell you this—will be at least twice what you paid in twenty years or so.)

So, I’m swearing off Facebook for a couple of weeks, until everyone settles down again. I want to see pictures of glorious vacations in far-off places. I do not want to read accounts of planes not getting back from Salt Lake City until the 4th of July. I do not want to see pictures of people arriving at camp, leaving camp or teaching camp. I don’t want to know that there are now 4,328,127 students pre-registered for Middle School TOC.

I just want to enjoy the summer.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

In which we look at the list of LD topics

I do like seeing that the Nats now actively solicit advice on their LD resolutions. They used to arrive in one’s debate stocking like so many pieces of coal on Christmas morning, igniting immediate responses of this being the worst rez ever and I’m quitting LD to do Declamation, eventually settling down to the usual you-take-what-you-get-and-there-you-are. For a while committee members would “leak” the rezzes under consideration, which was a step in the right direction, but now they just publish them in various venues and ask coaches to have at them.

I will admit that I do not feel it terribly appropriate that I offer too much commentary, not having been in an LD round for maybe 5 years now. But it doesn’t take much insider knowledge to detect a less than LDish smell to most of them. A couple mention such things as morality and rights and justice, but seemingly only as afterthoughts. Take away those, and you have a splendid list of PF topics, or as many have pointed out, Policy topics (and, apparently in some cases, actual old Policy topics). I mean that seriously: the monthly PF topics (and I have been in rounds or coached people on these in recent memory) have tended to be fair dinkum dreadful. Virtually all of these would be better. Anyhow, it’s interesting how few commentators I’ve seen have said word one about PF. It’s as if it doesn’t exist. It’s not that it’s not foremost in people’s minds; it’s just not there. The idea seems to hold that debate is either LD or Policy, despite the fact that, from what I’ve seen, there are more PFers out there than those two combined.

Anyhow, this is not to suggest that the LD topics aren’t good, as LD apparently exists nowadays, as one-person policy argumentation. I mean, they mostly all are about instituting/changing a policy, and I guess that’s what people want. There are no handholds for people to weigh on the basis of any particular inherent values, so one can simply say that, for instance, limited immunity for police officers will lead to this or that real-life consequence, rather than that it’s a good thing or a bad thing on some transcendent level. That this means that we now have three debate styles (LD, Policy and PF) that argue virtually the same stuff, with little apparent distinction to the casual (and maybe not-so-casual) observer, doesn't seem to matter to too many people. I know nothing about Worlds Debate, which I am told is the coming thing. Are they arguing the same topics? I hope not, otherwise it’s four debate styles with little or no distinction.

As I say, I do not intend to offer any particular commentary back to the committee. What I have to say is for your eyes only. We’re just sitting here, chewing the fat. Bloviating, in other words. Which is what we do best.



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In which Nietzsche was right

God is dead. Or, more to the point, godlike powers in tabroom are dead. Kaz asked me something about missing her deity-fueled existence and I went to check and saw that I no longer walked on water either. Oh, well. It made sense when the program was getting started and CP needed more bodies on the ground. But now that it’s the official program of the NSDA—much like Snickers is the official snack bar and Cialis is the official erectile dysfunction medication—it makes sense that it operate under the auspices of the mother ship. In other words, it's gone pro.

Godlike powers were nice, but not essential. If it’s a tournament I’m working, whoever owns the tabroom account can add me to it. The thing is, we used it once or twice to help other people remotely, and we could just access their tournaments badda bing badda boom, but they too can just grant access, so one way or another, we can get in. Mostly, it was the joy of seeing the words Godlike Powers on my home page that was the best part. Now that I’m back to Schmucklike Powers, it says nothing. Of course, it could say Schmucklike Powers, but I can live without that.

It’s rather amazing how quickly tabroom caught on. First of all, of course, it’s free, but that was almost beside the point. TRPC was free, and we stopped using that at the first opportunity. The idea that tabroom was going to be a living entity rather than a legacy program was part of it. Just the way it handles prefs, speeding things up enormously, was worth the agony of switching to a new program that still had a few bugs in it. Then again, TRPC had a few bugs in it too, so there you are. As for the other competition, I never thought much of Joy, although it still has its holdouts. Speechwire, which I've never used, also has its advocates, but it costs money. Tabroom, free, would have to be a hell of a lot worse than Speechwire, not free, to warrant not defaulting to it.

Anyhow, it doesn’t exaggerate things to say that tabroom is now the de facto tournament-running program across the country. And it only took a couple of years.

Now if we could only get it to make a decent pisco sour…


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

In which we offer a document defining expectations of judges

It's taken me a while to get around to this. Sorry about that.

I wrote this myself, for myself, after the NDCA conference. I say that because I do not offer this as as a guide from that organization, nor do I expect that organization to adapt it. There has been a lot of discussion on this, and roles assigned for further analysis and the like, and I have no desire to get involved in that. What I've tried to do is extract the relatively objective aspects of what we want from judges, and formalize that in such a way that a document can be distributed to judges in advance of a tournament so that everyone at the event is on the same page.


Judge Expectations

A judge’s primary responsibility is education. While all judges are not literally teachers/educators, in the context of a debate round they do take on this role. While they are obviously in the room to make a competitive assessment of the debate, they are also in place to provide education to the students who are debating or auditing the round; the competitive aspect of the round is simply in aid of this education. As educators, judges have an obligation to insure that the rounds remain within the boundaries of an acceptable educational experience, and that they, as the responsible individuals, conduct the proceedings in a professional manner.

New judges should familiarize themselves with training materials before the tournament. Many of these materials are available here:

It is the judge’s responsibility for rounds proceeding in a timely fashion, beginning with rounds starting at the posted time. In order for this to happen, judges themselves need to be in the rooms at that time. This means, in cases of paper ballots, that they have their ballots in hand before they arrive. When a tournament is using e-ballots, this means clicking start when all the competitors are in place in the room. The following is recommended as a best practice: If the competitors aren’t in the room at the start time, the tab room should be notified. If the debaters do not start debating within five minutes of the posted start time, timing of the rounds should begin, as there is no excuse for long lead times after the posted start time.

At the end of the round we do expect meaningful, educational critiques. But to keep the tournament moving, all critiques should take place after ballots have been entered/sent to tab, and should take no longer than 10 minutes. If a judge has more to say than can fit into this time period, it can be added to the ballot later.

While debate is at its core a free speech activity, it is the judge’s obligation as the educator in the room to check certain activities (physical assault, use of pornographic materials or actions, etc.) that clearly go beyond the boundaries of acceptability in a high school environment. These are usually clearly delineated in (and easily inferred from) the students’ own high school rules handbook. Judges uncertain about a situation should seek the counsel of the tournament directors.

Judges have an implicit contract with the tournament to act according to the sense of this document. Judges whose behavior is unacceptable (missed rounds, late rounds, inappropriate behavior) will be fined and/or removed from the tournament. Hired judges will not be paid, and school judges will be charged the full cost of a judge replacement or, in extreme cases, asked to leave the tournament.


Monday, June 13, 2016


I was going to write something well-thought-out and wise about the events in Orlando Sunday morning. But I can't. I'm tapped out. We move from one incomprehensible event to another and we just get deflated. We have no control, or so it would seem, and we just get more and more dispirited.

That we have an obvious and perhaps incurable gun problem in America is clear. Surprisingly, it is a divisive issue. People on one side can't understand the people on the other side, and events do nothing to change minds. Problems would be solved, one side says, if there were no guns; problems would be solved, the other side says, if there were more guns. There's little or no common ground. Even though the majority of Americans favor strict controls, the minority that doesn't favor them is very large. I personally simply can't understand the opposition. Meanwhile, they think I'm totally wrong. Where do we go with this?

Given that impasse, no wonder we're tapped out. We know we're stuck. What makes it worse is the sour negativity that always seems to come in response to these events. Blame is dispensed haphazardly and to ruinous effect. Our friends and neighbors are dead or in pain, and hateful, spiteful words offer no solace, and no future solutions. A bad situation is made worse. With each event that rises from fear and hate and insanity and results in violence, enabled by our culture's inability to control the tools of violence, we lose a little more of the good. Modern life begins to require constant vigilance—an idea that was once in aid of liberty but is now reassigned to safety—and a progressive insensitivity to passing events. We are all diminished by it.

I only offer one hope. I have spent many years in a community that values knowledge and education and inclusion and diversity. It is often a chaotic, confusing community, but I strongly believe in it, and I strongly believe that its values are of absolute importance in our modern world. Young people motivated to fight for good is a great strength, and anyone involved in continuing that motivation, that is, the enlightened educators who persist against all odds, are making it happen. Please continue to learn and to teach and to reach out to everyone. That's the only chance we have.



Wednesday, June 08, 2016

In which we whine gratuitously

I must have been especially bothered by people taking off their shoes in bathroom stalls, as I mentioned it twice in my life coaching. I corrected that for the new site. I realize that a lot of people are worried about other things going on in bathrooms, and I know some folks who, in protest, won’t go to the bathroom in North Carolina, simply holding their legs tightly together as they drive between Virginia and South Carolina, but the Life Coach has less lofty designs on the subject than the maintenance of civil rights. All those years debate coaching instilled in me the idea of universal rights as a given, no matter how much evidence time and history might offer that rights are instead a battle royal. Call me Nellie Forbush.

(Then again, what kind of name is Nellie Forbush? What was Michener thinking?)

This is the week where everyone on Facebook girds the old loins and heads out to NatNats. As the VCA knows well, I have never NatNatted, always having been short on available weeks in June, and for that matter never terribly long on the idea of any tournament lasting a week. And of course, the Sailors were all still thinking about things like exams and graduating and other silly stuff like that, so there were plenty of times when people would qualify at the district tournament and, about five minutes later, they would be struck by reality, and the First Runner Up would be taking over Miss America’s duties before the bus even came to take everyone home. Not that I had anything against the organization—no, strike that. I had a lot against the organization, including not that it did not accommodate the northeast school schedule, but that it punished students because of that schedule, limiting their opportunities for participation for reasons beyond their control. Ah, the old Red Light District. I gather that the org has since come around to some extent, which is as it ought to be. But my years as chair were not happy ones. Oh, well, water under the bridge, as they say. Now my complaint is the walled garden. Yeah, I know they need money, but paid members not being fully on the other side of the wall? Feh. No wonder I prefer organizations like NDCA. That one may skew toward policy, but at least it’s open and transparent, with a goal of spreading information. As we always say, knowledge is that one thing you can both keep and give away at the same time. Unless you have to pay extra for the premium package.