dinner party

100% grass fed beef really does taste a lot better than the ordinary, unhealthy cornfed variety.  Props to Ian and King Corn for that revelation.

Holidays are nice and restful usually, which is the point after all.  But then I went and threw a seven person dinner party today with no corn in the meal.  As the movie will teach you, that’s very difficult to do; almost everything we eat has corn in it, from the beef and the dairy they produce, to artificial sweeteners derived from corn, to the eggs and butter in baked goods, and so on.  So I managed it, with difficulty, but it all tasted good in the end.  And sometimes arbitrary restrictions like that encourage greater creativity.

Most of the folks didn’t know each other, or that well, but that was part of the point; to try to forge links among the people I know and like.  There was a paper reason for everyone there, and I could have invited a few more folks, but I wanted there to be a link between everyone there so we had at least some built in excuses for conversation.  And that worked out all right; it wasn’t raucous like old friends would have been, but new friends?  Perhaps.

And we didn’t talk except for maybe ten minutes about forensics.


The eves are better than the days themselves. The holidays are full of mandatory things, and mandatory things are only sometimes pleasant. They often boil down to a meal and a conversation and an ending, and that’s about it. It’s grown even more stilted now, as the family has grown unstable and we’re pulled in many different directions. We’ll never again have a real Thanksgiving, with everyone there. Perhaps we never did, but it feels less complete, now that the house is sold, and that little private world is gone.

But the night before a holiday is a lovely time; a quiet anticipation. I let myself not worry about the things I have to do, and just relax into the ritual of a day off; not just a day off, though, but a day set aside, a day that cannot be productive. On an ordinary day off I might be writing new things, or doing laundry, or tabbing a tournament. But a holiday is set aside for boredom, yes, but also for rest.

And the night before; it’s a good night to curl up and watch a movie (which I did. Troy. it was bad. I didn’t care). or read a book. or just sit on the sunporch and watch the fog roll in again. Last year I went to the Marconi club and drank my aunt under the table. These things all work all right, and we’re better for them.

Michael Bacon

 Michael Bacon died over the weekend, apparently of suicide.  I didn’t know him superbly well, but he always struck me as one of the good guys.  We talked a bit at the TOC last year; he was a sharp, insightful guy; one of the unsung heroes that skirts around the edges of the activity, and probably does the most to keep it going.

Debate is made the lesser for this loss.

Not Traveling

Thankfully I’m not traveling this weekend. I’m not going to either Glenbrooks or Villiger; I have more than my fill of overgrown national tournaments (the former) or quaint traditional tournaments that never seem to improve (the latter).

I’m also failing to show the one last gasp and fizzle of school spirit remaining in my alma mater, as I will not be attending The Game. One weekend in New Haven a semester is enough for anyone, and the event I run there is displays far more quality and competitiveness than two football teams that haven’t mattered much or even tried that much since the Roosevelt administration. The first one.

Instead, I’m going to Little Lex, a fun little debate scrimmage, and this year I’m even bringing a team. I tend to enjoy tabbing debate tournaments more than speech tournaments these days. They’re all pretty much the same, and they’re all pretty easy; the system has settled more than speech tournaments. Part of it is that the software is more established, I think. Part of it is that debaters don’t mess around with their activity nearly as much as speechies do; the debate world settled on the basics of how we run tournaments about two decades ago, modulo some window dressing which always seems to be aimed at dealing with judges: strikes, mutual preference, and so on.

Speech tournaments have far more confusion, because of the wide array of events that keeps trying to grow, and I also think a somewhat different ethic. We run every MFL speech tournament like it’s nationals; the stakes are who wins, who gets up on stage, and the first priority is a fair even result. MFL debates, however, are sometimes run for what they are; chances to practice, debate and go home a better and more educated competitor. I think it’s important to have both; the speech kids raised a huge hue and cry when we experimented with running 4 prelims and no finals, because of all sorts of competitive reasons. The debaters have been doing this for years, and don’t blink, because at the end of the day they don’t dance around the stage hooting when they win Little Lex. They’re there to hopefully improve, and thus do better at Big Lex, Columbia, Emory and the Harvard Crapshoot, where TOC bids are at stake.

That doesn’t make Little Lex less worthy a tournament; it enhances it, in my opinion. A tournament should be about improving the activity and the experience first, and competitional aspects take a back seat. Now, some tournaments simply cannot be run that way, because no one will be pleased if we award TOC bids at Yale, for instance, in a haphazard way in order to fit in naptime.  But it’s a continuum, and I’m glad that debaters at least have a better sense of where things fall on it.

Of course, my preference for Little Lex also has something to do with sleeping in my own bed, having a 10 minute drive to the school, and being able to go out to dinner with actual adult friends who know nothing of forensics tonight. Life matters.

A mixed advantage

So this public forum topic, which is the first one we’ve really sunk our teeth into, is ideally suited to an extemp squad turned public forum team. It’s a good topic for us, because we’re likely one of the few squads that’s capable of understanding it. We’ve gone over macroeconomics numerous times, discussed deficits, inflationary spending, full employment, and the works.

So we’re poised to recognize what the topic is about. It asks if the US should prioritize eliminating the deficit or further domestic spending. Basically the first order consequence is arguing whether running a deficit is good for an economy. That seems tilted, but you’d be surprised; the consensus is by no means there. If you run a deficit, you expand employment, reduce wealth gaps, and spur more jobs and growth by stimulating demand. This is the playbook of John Maynard Keynes, who inspired the New Deal. The New Deal didn’t end the Depression, but then World War 2 took his ideas much further, and that sure worked economically, for all it’s other vast ills.

However, you also encourage inflation, unstable investment climates, and other negative consequences when you gun for full employment. Run deficits too long, and soon the government is borrowing all the money; there won’t be any left for mortgages and loans for new business. Because of these things, our economy is no longer run with full employment as the goal. Surprised?

And that startling little tidbit reveals that this topic encourages a fascinating debate on the nature of economic society. If you run deficits and aim for full employment, you strengthen the lower reaches of society, encourage equality, and the like. But you also disfavor investment, which if done too much, mean that allocation decisions are being made ineffectively. Make inflation the sole obsession of fiscal policy (as has been done since 1980, not coincidentally the same year that American real wages ceased to grow) and you encourage investment, but also wealth gaps and stagnant growth at the bottom. Wall Street becomes more dynamic, but Main Street suffers for it.

But we’re running deficits now you say? Ah, but those deficits are going into defense and Iraq, not domestic spending; whatever the merits of defense and foreign spending, it has lessened impact on the domestic economy; infrastructure, schools, R&D spending, and the like all create far more domestic economic benefits since, well, they’re here.

It’s the tension between the political left and the right in a nutshell, a vast sweeping statement about how a simple economic policy can affect society and equality and everything else. Liberals, roughly speaking, operate on the principle of compassion and concern for those at the bottom; recognizing that many people are there despite hard work and effort, simply due to luck. Human dignity demands that the lowest standard of living be a good one.

Right wingers think without the fear of the low standard of living, people won’t strive to improve, pushing themselves, society and human knowledge forward. Without that spur, we’re less well off; even the lowest rungs of society do benefit from social advances, and we need that energy to achieve those social advances.

So that’s the debate. Too bad that 95% of the debaters don’t realize it. If you start talking about specific economic programs that you like on negative, you’ve already missed the point: those can be funded by taxes just as much as by deficit spending, and therefore it’s non-resolutional and non-unique. If you talk about government waste and other bugaboos on aff, you’ve also missed the point. The point is how we finance our spending, and what kind of society that makes us. Prime debate stuff there. I wonder if the topic writers had any idea.