Marathon Approaches

So the January Sprint is upon us in just one more weekend.   I have, in a row, our own Newton South tournament, the big Lexington Winter Invitational, Columbia, then Silver Lake & the NFL Congress together, then CFL qualifiers, and then Harvard.

And then a weekend off.

I have to get started on some things for Columbia.  That one always sneaks up on me, due to the schedule.  I always have plenty of time to obsess and nitpick the registration for Yale, but Columbia just coasts on its own.  Judges are easier to find in New York than New Haven, people don’t have the summer’s worth of staleness remembering how to work the registration system, and well, I also tend to punt and procrastinate this time of year.  But the tournament usually comes off just fine.  Maybe I should try less with the others; of course, if they ran equally well, then I’d be horribly exposed as the fraud I am.
I’m also really bad at vacation.  I spent most of the current one coding, or putting off coding.  And doing a really bad job of it too: wildly varying what I’m working on, not getting into the flow of anything, playing a video game here and there just to break up whatever is left of my concentration.

the LD post

The world of Public Forum is confronted this month by a particularly Lincoln-Douglas style resolution. The rez declares that civil disobedience in a democracy is a good “weapon in the fight for justice” or some such bombast. I rolled my eyes and realized there was major work ahead of us. Nobody around Massachusetts seemed to understand the November topic except for us, given that it was aimed at extemp-like squads. Civil disobedience, however, is the type of thing any PF team that’s an appendage of an LD team will have reams of background on.

So I trotted out the standard “Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau and oh I guess Rawls” social contract lecture, to give the kids background on approaches the LD types will have down pat. However, PF is not just theory debate. We need facts, and examples, and to prove feasibility to make our case here. Despite that, PF bans plans and counterplans. And the topic is limited to democracy, so we lose the Burma and Tiananmen Square examples. In democracies historically, civil disobedience and expansion of rights usually coincide. Nobody knows if the civil disobedience caused the expansion of rights, but nobody knows that it didn’t either. So that’s not very debatable; we don’t have evidence or even a way of getting evidence.

So harumpf. So aff writes itself, but what do you argue on con? You can argue that other means are better but oops, that’s a counter plan, and verboten by the gods of Public Forum. You can stick to LD style moral justification arguments on why citizens ought not break the social contract, but then if the other side comes up with one good concrete example, most honest judges are going to go for that first. You can start swinging around wildly and say the tyranny of the majority is a good thing, but good luck convincing an average mom of that.

The problem is Public Forum was designed in reaction to problems in other events.  The founders of the event took a list of things they didn’t like about LD and Policy, and built an event that doesn’t permit those exact things from happening.  Therefore, most of its rules forestall negative trends, instead of encouraging positive ones.  But these rules and restrictions prevent more than critical, off-topic arguments; they also hamstring legitimate avenues of on-topic discussion.  That’s not a good way to create a coherent event. PF shouldn’t be the way it is because of negative trends in LD or CX; it should be what it is because it’s good for PF.

We’ll muddle through somehow.  Maybe we’ll come up with a clever way of imagining negative policy consequences to civil disobedience. But at the basic level I think the event as a whole could use some fine tuning, with the security needed to allow the students leeway to debate the issues fully.

I don’t like the coinflip either.  But that’s another post.


So I intended grand things in home improvement this weekend.  Saturday I had to go to work, because when you have to shut down major computer clusters, you do it on the weekend in order to not disturb folks.  So I went in, and started to copy a terabyte of data from a storage array I was reconfiguring; this takes a couple of hours so I went to lunch.  And then on the steps in the lobby, I slipped and fell, spraining my right ankle and badly bruising my left calf.

Way to go, swifto.

I hobbled my way to the foodcourt for lunch anyway, and went back to finish the downtime work.  That was fine, but then I realized that my swelling ankle meant that I was not going to drive myself home.  I thought cab at first but then realized my car would be towed by the time I managed to retrieve it, so I started calling around for a driver volunteer.  Pete was around, but had a lot of work.  So I called around more, and it turns out my friends actually have plans on Saturday nights, so Pete it was.

One of the stranger aspects of Pete is that he really likes country music.  The only other country music fan I know is my mother.  But anyway, he was close to saying I was SOL at one point since he had a pressing deadline, but right about then he was listening to a song that was all about how you know who your friends are when you’re in need and so forth.

Long story short, he came, and drafted Bergman, who I’d met once before, to follow us in his car.  So he’s my hero of the weekend, and I owe the both of them dinner.  And it enforce immobility for the weekend, which is funny.  I finished two books: American Trade Politics, and the Golden Compass, which I’ve read about in theological contexts enough to interest me.  The next two books are on their way now.

The ankle is swelling is down now, and I spent a lazy day away from the keyboard.  That’s all very healthy.  Then i responded to league email.  Less healthy, but necessary sometimes.  Tomorrow, Monday.  We’ll see how that works.

George Mason

So we had a great time, our happy band of Screaming Jews (L’CHAIM!!!) at the George Mason tournament this weekend. The tournament ran behind and confusedly, in the way of tournaments that have outgrown their host site and a reasonable schedule. The judging was a bit…interesting, and the breaks were difficult, but our kids did OK anyway. I was exhausted by the schedule — three straight days of waking up at 6:30, going to bed at 11 or so, on top of that vaguely tired sense one always gets at tournaments, that comes of ten straight hours of uncomfortable furniture and too much ambient noise. But at the same time, we had fun, laughed a lot, won a lot. It’s a good campus for a tournament, and there were a lot of people there, and the food spreads were enough to make a Yalie weep.

We also managed to completely smash three trophies; we de-winged a pair of eagles and one smiling George Mason head is now in several pieces due to some grand klutzitude. We’re speechies, not athletes; who expects us to be coordinated? I told the kids that it’s simply a demonstration that at Newton South, it’s about the education not the trophies.

Who gives porcelain speech trophies anyway? At a travel tournament, even? Crazy.

So, we also cleaned house; everyone finaled, we won both round robins, and 1st in HI, 6th in Prose, 3rd in Extemp, and three semifinalist spots. People were looking at us like I should be in coaching nirvana. Really I was much happier that evening laughing and carousing at a stupid PF Chang’s with the kids.

And now as I recover another MFL controversy flairs up over details. Already I can tell that people care too much about the particular point afoot to have a calm rational discussion about it, and we’ll end up watering down the original intent through a series of late compromises. So far, that’s one of my flaws in leading this league; I am generally apathetic to the nuts and bolts of tournaments and rules and leagues, and so I expect others to be as well; and when someone works themselves into tears as to whether we should offer radio, I never see it coming. When we have a virtual shouting match that includes willful misunderstandings and whisper campaigns and agendas, well, it’s enough to again make me question what good, if any, I’m doing this league. Or doing myself, for that matter.

It’s one of the reasons I find myself ever more comfortable in my original home of debate, not speech; debaters don’t mess with rules and procedures nearly as much, and at least the controversies about kritiks and such are within the context of the activity. Sure, the process of handing out TOC bids is probably one of the most corrupt and backhanded imaginable, but for a local shlub like me, that’s easily ignored.

I need to find a hobby that is not full of adults obsessed with the competitive success of children. I care if my kids come out smarter, and am happy if they win. Most others in this line care if their kids win, and are happy if they come out smarter. That’s human nature, I suppose, when placed in a competition: you want foremost to win it. I have the advantage that this isn’t my job, my life, or my primary focus; external sources of ego help out a lot. But that doesn’t make it any more excusable for those wrapped up in it.