So I had an utterly useless vacation between Christmas and New Year’s.   It was useful in the sense that I avoided the psychic despair that comes upon everyone sitting around faking it in a non-retail job that week.   Retail folks, of course, are in the middle of hell on earth, but that brand of hell is at least engaging, the way a tournament about to come off its rails is; that mix of fear together with the lack of time to contemplate it sure gets the blood pumping.

My company knows better.   That, or the management team all wanted to take the week off themselves, and were insufficiently pointy-haired to make us grunts come in anyway.   I work for good people, actually, which is a refreshing change from Harvard; I come up with an idea, instinctively try to remember the ways landmines might be placed in the way of that idea, shake myself, and then just go talk to Bruce.   I haven’t yet not returned ten minutes later with a “yeah, do it.”     Of course, it’s always good when your boss comes in and says things like “Uh, could you spend about $15,000 on a pair of new servers sometime today?”

Anyhoo, I digress.   My winter vacation, such as it was, was spent on various couches, reading, futzing around with the computer, buying presents for people I knew I wasn’t going to see before Christmas, cleaning the house, and whatnot.   It sounds nice, but honestly it wasn’t.   Being around the house means being around all the things I had to do, and that list is too epic for anyone’s good.   However, I also managed not to get very many of them done; I emphasizing the “futzing” part of “futzing around on the computer.”   “Futzing” does include “playing Civ4 until the Russians bled!” but does not include “starting in on the big list of changes I need to make to before NCFL Nationals. ”

There was also this general malaise thing going on; lots of folks were out of town and busy and I wasn’t particularly able to relax the whole time.   I’m happy to be back to the day job now (and back working full time actually; my schedule weeps, though my checkbook rejoices.)   That at least has a nice sense of balance and order, and gets me out of the cavernous house.

I also think that I need to learn how to go away for vacations.   I went to Florida for two weeks two years ago, missed a couple of tournaments, and nothing tragic happened at all.   Sitting around the house just isn’t the same.   I’ve always been bad at travel; I love New England, dislike uncertainty, don’t mind the winter cold that much, and have no one to go with by default.   Plus I travel so damn much for forensics that the few times I do find myself in an airport alone I get nervous because there’s no one to count or herd through security except myself.

Ah well.   I guess I should just plan a random trip.   I have a free round trip domestic flight coming my way because I took a bump on flight to Philly last August.   I wonder where I should go….

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.

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.

No, I don’t have the day off

I’m not bitching about it, though, given that I was ready to come in and put in a day’s effort anyway.   I like getting things done while no one else is around, since it actually happens when no one else is around.

This weekend was the Gracia Burkill Memorial, a nice tournament at Natick that happens once a year in memory of the coach at David Prouty, who coached herself Dick Gaudette among others.   So it goes way back, in other words.   Sarah was very pleased that the tournament is now a “real” tournament, when before it was just a small unserious afterschool affair.   The MFL doesn’t have afterschool tournaments anymore; the overhead is perhaps too great, and our weekends are all full up, so it’s not like we lack for opportunities to spend far too much time in high school cafeterias.

Sarah also foolishly volunteered to take part in efforts in judge training, which is something of a tilting at windmills task, but at least we can standardize our ineffective efforts.   Judge training is a game of trying to prevent the least common denominator.   We react to funny stories of judges screwing up elementary aspects of tournaments, such as the judge who thinks extemp time signals mean she should start signaling with 5 seconds left in the speech.   We hear the horror stories of the day, and tut tut about the unfairness of it all, and try to legislate away the story.

That’s really no way to run a league; chasing down the corner cases and random moments of appalling idiocy is really not productive, as our efforts are finite and the potential domain of stupidity vastly unlimited.   And the bulk of our judges are good, honest, thoughtful and intelligent souls who dedicate themselves to doing what’s best for the students.   So I wonder if we shouldn’t just standardize our judge training process, make sure the major bases are covered, and then inspire an attitude among the coaches and students that when a random judge does do random things, it’s part of what we roll with, not a tragic end of the world.

Kids care about trophies and the competition aspect of things far too much, and most of the coaches do too.   Most coaches think that the worst possible outcome of a tournament day is one where results are screwed up and rules are applied incorrectly and the wrong person wins.   Personally I have a hard time with that, since it’s such an unsatisfying standard; it cannot get me up in the morning at 5 AM to go to a high school, knowing full well I’m not getting home until 7 at the earliest.   I care about running fair and accurate tournaments, but it’s not the highest value for me; I’d sacrifice both those things for the educational value and overall health of the activity.   I think that attitude of mine pisses people off in the MFL sometimes.

Ah well.   Screw them all, I’m president and none of them ran.