Monday, July 31, 2017

In which we regionalize

(This is cross-posted to Tournament Toolkit on FB.)

In something of a throwback, Kaz and I engaged in a conversation over the weekend with a tournament director who wanted very much to set up regions at his tournament. It’s a big event, and people travel to it, and he didn’t want people to travel hither and yon and then, in a preset, hit a team they could have walked across the street to debate.

We demurred on two counts. First of all, when we tried regions once in the past, it was problematic insofar as the tabroom software is concerned. Palmer had to step in and fix it on the fly, and if I remember correctly he told us never to do it again under threat of excommunication, but I could be remembering incorrectly (as if that ever happens) and maybe he fixed it and I just want to remember it wrong.

Secondly, and more importantly, there is the issue of whether regions is a good idea per se. It’s easy to see the underlying logic of not wanting to travel to hit a neighbor—or be judged by a neighbor, which is also part of the regional concept—but is that logic sound? First of all, it’s only in the presets as far as the opponent is concerned, so what are the odds? And Kaz suggested that, as often as not, teams are happy to hit someone familiar early in a travel tournament. And honestly, at the point where the presets are random, eliminating some of the teams from the potential draw is, well, not random. Given that the only warrant for using regions is relative proximity, is that a good enough warrant? Maybe you know the local teams well and feel confident of a win against them. Maybe you’re nervous at the beginning of a tournament and would appreciate the comfort-food of a familiar opponent. I can think of other reasons, all sort of wishy-washy, that can counter the wishy-washy desire not to debate a neighbor. In any case, it’s just not a big issue, and certainly not one I've heard any demand for on the circuit.

One does have to add to that the fact that MJP overrules any regional judge issues (although I gather that, in the software, it just fights it to the death). I might be dying to be judged by Johannus Blowannus, who lives down the road, because I know his paradigm well. At the point where he can’t judge me, what’s the point of MJP? And if he can judge me, what’s the point of regions?

The only time I’ve thought much about regions in recent memory was at the NY State Finals, where there is a very real style bias that breaks into roughly upstate, NYC and environs, and Long Island. The NYC folk are pretty much all over the map, but in a contest between and Upstater and an Islander, if the judge were one of the two, that judge would be more than likely to be prejudiced in favor of their own region’s style, even if they were judging blind (i.e., undisclosed) entries. There, of course, I didn’t use regions, but just eyeballing, which did the job. Of course, there was no MJP, which would have rendered the point moot.

I can imagine that big Finals events, like CatNats or NatNats, might be inclined to use a regional approach for the sake of (perceived) neutrality, but other than that, it’s much of a muchness, especially in a world of MJP. Or, for that matter, a world of MPJ, if that’s your preference.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

In which we yet again point you elsewhere

I've put up two new posts on the Tournament Toolkit on Facebook. They're both on MJP, a chestnut if there ever was one.

BTW, please follow, like and take The Tournament Toolkit page out to dinner and a movie. It helps me know that the effort is worth it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In which we cross-post from Tournament Toolkit on Facebook


The question just arose, should a bid-level high school invitational allow middle school entrants?

My answer was a categorical no.

I have nothing against middle school debaters. In fact, I love the idea of introducing middle schoolers to the educational benefits of debate. They’re more than capable of absorbing the basic concepts, and using debate as a stepping stone to both learning about the resolutions and learning about argumentation per se. (Of course, I always prefer the former.) I see it as an island of wonderment in a sea of sort of dull middle school malarkey. These kids are ready to go on great intellectual explorations that they probably won’t find in most of their other classes. So, for educational purposes, debate in middle school is a good thing.

Debate being competitive, and competition being a means toward the end of educating through debate, it stands to reason that some sort of competition has to exist as a necessary evil. There’s a couple of possibilities. First, MS kids can debate other MS kids at small events, maybe after school or on weekends. Keep in mind that these are kids 11-13 years old. They don’t stay up late. They don’t drink a lot of lattes. It is not legal in many cases, nor desirable, to leave them home alone. They are, in a word, children. Young children. Yes, there may be greatly matured specimens among them, but as a breed, they haven’t even learned to sweat yet. So the idea of giving them a round or two in a very controlled albeit reasonably competitive environment is fine. The point is, their competition should be age-appropriate.

Is it age appropriate for 12-year-olds to compete with 17-year-olds? Do you have any idea of how great that difference in age is? Do you have any idea how different the culture of 17-year-olds is compared to 12-year-olds? If the second possibility for MS debate is to simply let them into high school competitions (for which, btw, they get no credit from the NSDA, nor do their coaches), it just doesn’t make intuitive sense. Even if the MSer is twice the debater as the HSer and can wipe the proverbial floor with the old-timer, it puts the MSer inappropriately into the culture of the HSer. If you think that is a good idea, I can’t convince you otherwise, but I will bet the proverbial dollars to donuts that, in that case, you are too young to rent a car.

Another possibility is for high schools to simply open their doors to MS divisions, much like colleges open their doors to HS divisions. This is reasonable enough, provided the hosts understand the nature of the children they’re letting into their building. They will have many more hovering parents, the students will not understand much of the nature of a debate tournament, they will not be able to go round after round with nary a break. Feel free to do it, but adjust accordingly. I recommend that, if you do it, you put management of the divisions into the hands of responsible MS admin or teaching staff. They’re used to these tweens in business suits; you’re not. They know what to expect and how to handle it. You provide the tabbing and the rooms and maybe a tray of debate ziti, but be prepared for endless complaints about the children being allergic to tabbing, rooms and debate ziti.

Lastly, there is, of course, the so-called MS TOC. My impression of this event is about as negative as it gets. Qualification is at the presentation of a checkbook rather than any particular merit, which means that for all practical purposes it’s a lot of rich kids in afterschool programs whose parents are pointing them to the Ivy League and will do anything to get them there, including sending their impressionable little kids to a university to pretend to be real debaters. Maybe they give all the entrants a trophy, one of those self-esteem awards that used to be popular for people who couldn’t win a real award. There's just nothing about MS TOC that strikes me as positive, other than the fact that it's probably a good money-maker. Of all the reasons why, if the TOC hadn’t been invented, I wouldn’t invent it, MS TOC is Number One.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

In which you can stop talking behind my back

I mean, you can try talking behind my back, but it won't do you any good. For that matter, talking in front of my front will be a lot different too, going forward. I got myself some hearing aids.

First of all, they work. They don't necessarily work for all people in all situations, but for me, I've been missing a lot for a while, and all of a sudden, I'm not. I don't have to ask people to repeat themselves. Also, I now know that people on TV aren't mumbling incomprehensible gibberish most of the time; they're actually speaking quite clearly. Who knew? Walking through Manhattan? Hit the old mute button. Streaming podcasts and music through them? Okay in a pinch, but they are far from acoustically pleasant compared to even Apple earbuds. Normal everyday conversation? Vastly improved, especially with certain people whose voices are higher pitched (and not necessarily a male/female thing, btw).

I originally lost some hearing decades ago, as a result of a bout of flu. 20% in one swell foop. Since then, it's just been the steady deterioration of getting old and decrepit. Then again, I remember for the last twenty years of her life, my grandmother's number one response to anything said to her was, "What?" Pronounced waaaaaat, with a long series of short As.

Hearing loss sucks, and the sad part of it is, hearing aids cost a fortune, uncovered by most insurance plans, and therefore often out of reach of people who can use them. Fortunately our government is on top of this, doing everything they can to aid people when it comes to difficult medical expenses— Oh. Wait a minute. Wrong government.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

I share this with my friends who read this blog

This is personal.

I just learned that a friend of mine died over the weekend. This is somebody I’ve known for almost 40 years. We started at the DJ within a week of one another, in the same position as editors. It turned out that we were sort of cut from the same cloth. He was one of the smartest people I have ever met, and also one of the funniest. He’s the guy who came up with the line, “If you were smarter, I’d be funnier.” Actually, he came up with a lot of lines, but that was probably the best. We ate lunch together all the time, played poker every month, golfed for a while every week. After about 20 years I realized that he was a neocon, and was rather shocked, because other than that he had seemed so normal.

Losing anyone leaves a hole in one’s life. We’ve all lost family or friends, and as we age, the number of losses grows. My friend died of a heart attack; he had just celebrated his 66th birthday. He and his wife had just moved to Rhode Island for their retirement.

I have no message to relay. At the moment I’m sort of stunned. I was just talking to him about some freelance work a couple of weeks ago. I simply want to say here that having him as a friend was an important part of my life, and his passing is a sad milestone.


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

In which we mostly talk about work

So summer is over, I guess. I mean, Byram Hills has opened registration for its early September event. If that doesn’t mark the end of summer, I don’t know what does.

I had hoped to get some more material into the toolkit over the long weekend, but I ended up doing other things, all non-debate. For one thing, I did a bunch of reading for the DJ. The good news on that is that I found one I like. That’s a rarity.

The problem with books nowadays is that there are too many of them. Because there are so many, they all seem to be alike. The latest trend is some unreliable female narrator comes across some sort of shenanigans, in which she may or may not have a previous connection, and the reader, not given all the necessary information, has to figure it all out, usually at about the same time as the female narrator. A little of this goes a long way. It’s called psychological suspense, and if you ask me, when a writer can’t really come up with much of a plot, they resort to having some complicated backstory the heroine has to unravel. To me, a plot, including a mystery plot (unless it’s a detective story), moves forward. Things happen, and characters’ reactions define their characters. In the present glut of Girl on a Train wannabes, something happened, and the characters are defined by the way the authors describe the characters. On top of that, a lot of these books, one way or another, are overloaded with violence against women. I’m not against violence in books. I love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher stories, for instance, which are clinically mechanical in their extreme violence, and the clinical mechanics make it not violence per se but a fun approach to violence in books. Child knows what he is doing, and how to get around the potential negativity of a character really good at beating people up. Battered women, on the other hand, don’t offer much creativity. Not my cuppa.

The underlying goal of the DJ is books as entertainment. I do not personally limit books to being merely entertaining, but that is the requirement of the books I choose for the DJ. I’ve discussed before, in the context of movies, what might be the necessities of a medium, or an art form. The classic necessity of a novel is story-telling. There are novels that do not, or only obliquely, tell a story, and some of these are regarded as classic and works of art. But I would maintain that a book that does not tell a story, at some level, fails to fulfill one of the basic requirements of novelness. The genius of writing is when an author provides both a narrative and whatever we might call art in a book, probably insight into humanity, or perhaps a magical way with language. Maybe all of the above.

So, yes, a great writer has something to say. But a good writer may set out only to entertain. There is nothing wrong with that. Popular entertainment is what most of us go to the movies for, for instance. You have to go a long way down the list of the most popular movies of all time to find a message. Or, as Samuel Goldwyn put it, if you want to send a message, use Western Union. An entertaining book, like an entertaining movie, tells an enjoyable story with characters we enjoy being around. Most books, and most movies, try, but don’t deliver on either. Most writers write books because they want to make money as writers, not because they are artists with words. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. But of course, few of them succeed, either the ones trying to make money or the ones trying to make magic.

Anyhow, I get paid to separate the wheat from the chaff, or as some might put it, the good chaff from the bad chaff. Whatever. Later this week I have to make a presentation to this season’s interns on my side of the business. I wonder what I’m going to say to them.