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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 154

Saint Misbehavin'

Venerable Bede College is a small Jesuit institution in a forgotten corner of either New York or Pennsylvania, or perhaps New Jersey. Of course, the (matriculants?) (matriculators?) (matriculists?) people who go there know exactly where it is, give or take a few stops on Route I-95, but for the rest of the world, it isn't as easy to locate on the map as, say, Princeton or Harvard (the former being in Princeton, and the latter, presumably, being in Harvard).

     In the world of forensicians of the Speech persuasion, the Venerable Bede looms large on its weekend on the event calendar. While Policians and LDers seem to have major events spanning the globe almost every week, Speech is not quite so fortunate. Most Speech is conducted at a relatively local level, which means that you get on the bus, drive half an hour, do your piece a couple of times, pick up some tin, get back on the bus, and you're home in time for Saturday night meatloaf, as compared to getting on the bus on a Friday during second period and disappearing for weeks at a time into the argument ether, a la debate. As result, the community of Speechies tends to be more local, and perhaps more intense and parochial as a result. Additionally, Speech is strongly supported by the Catholic Forensic League which, while it doesn't exactly frown on debate, nonetheless treats LD and especially Policy as venial sins for which one will spend at least some time atoning in Purgatory. If the Church ever gets back into the indulgences market, debate indulgences will be sold at a premium.

     (NOTE: There are two major debate leagues: the CFL and the NFL. These are, respectively, the Catholic Forensic League and the National Forensic League, not the Catholic Forensic League and the Non-Catholic Forensic League. There is also no LCFL (Lapsed Catholic Forensic League), although there would probably be a big market for this if they gave it a shot.)

     Despite the lack of a true national circuit for Speechies, there are a few colleges and universities that throw major Individual Event hoedowns (Individual Events, or IEs, being the two-dollar name for Speech events), usually as an adjunct to their major Debate hoedowns. But the Bede is different. At the Bede, Speech comes first and debate is an afterthought. There are a number of reasons for this, but over the years one in particular has come to the fore, namely that most of the students attending Bede are themselves former Speechies. To some people, this makes Bede something of a Shangri La. To other people, this makes Bede something of a living hell, but to each his own, as they say in France (actually they say chacun a son gout, which means each to his own taste, which is typical of the French, reducing everything to some level of food sooner or later -- but we are not here to attack the French, a vicious race though they may be).

     Venerable Bede College is nestled in the hills of whichever state it is in, a small campus where everyone lives in one of the small dormitories that ring the school and no one would think of renting something a little more relaxed and Jesuit-free. The largest building is the library, a recently built faceless glass box that does the job bookwise but doesn't exactly stir the soul architecturewise, while the most noticeable building is the chapel, high atop the highest point on campus, its spire reaching up to God in true medieval fashion. The building is a cacophony of gothic and renaissance and retro styles all jumbled together in a simulacrum of cathedralness with flying buttresses and transects and stained glass retellings of the entire Bible and vast quantities of plaster saints and apostles and in the remaining nooks and crannies a startling menagerie of demons and gargoyles (or as they are called in certain quarters, gargoyim). The chapel is the representative image of the college, planted on every notebook, cap, tee shirt, mug and pennant for sale in the campus bookstore. The chapel is on the letterhead of the piece of mail that tells you you've been accepted to this august place of learning, and is on the sheepskin that you are handed on your way out four years later. It is on the envelope of the subsequent alumni fund-raising notices that will follow you into the grave. It is to Venerable Bede College what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, Big Ben is to London, and Sigfried and Roy are to Las Vegas -- the sine qua non, the emblem, the essence, the signifier, the thing without which there is nothing and no thing.

     Venerable Bede College, with its vast saturation of former high school Speechies, has no difficulty fielding a first-rate college Parliamentary team. Parli, a unique college event, can be considered the bowtie version of high school forensics, the sort of activity that might be invented by people who really don't want to work but still want exposure to the social aspects of competition, not to mention the collection of serious collegiate tin. Theories that all Parli people are Liberal Arts majors who get three Bs and one A every semester by reading the same books over and over for four years and never taking a class before two p.m. and nonetheless dreaming of making their first fifty million in a dot-com IPO before the age of twenty-four are not to be completely believed, although no one has yet disproven these theories either. At Bede, where being a Roman Catholic must be tossed into the mix -- it is not a requirement that all students take their marching orders from the Pope, but the number of Shiite Moslems is predictably low -- the odor of Parli is a combination of fraternity, religious retreat, chowder society and folk-music fan club. But they compete well, they must travel to compete, and they need money to travel. Hence they run their annual high school tournament, where they bring in the sheep by the dozens, each sheep plunking down twenty-five dollars registration fee per event. Their own expertise as former Speechies means that they have always attracted major IE competition, which they themselves are eminently able to judge during the course of the weekend. Their greed means that they also run Policy and LD divisions, which are fairly well attended due to the union of many of their Speech entrants with debate teammates, and which the Bede Parli students are as able to judge during the course of the weekend as they are able to produce cold fusion in a glass of Diet Coke with nothing but a pack of matches, two Scottish terrier magnets and a banana peel. Most Speechies look forward to the Bede as a high point of the season; most debaters look forward to Bede as, at best, preparation for other, more rewarding tournaments. Most debaters, for that matter, take the weekend off.

     But some debaters will come, and a lot more than just some Speechies will come, and the preparations are already far along. On the Sunday afternoon before the big weekend, the entire Bede Parli team is gathered in the west wing of the college cafeteria, performing one of the last but most important rituals of the tournament, the creation of the Extemp topics. The topics cannot be too old, or they will be irrelevant, which means that the closer to the last minute, the better. Twenty-five students are scattered among the tables, in singles and small knots, while the young woman who is the captain of the team and a junior majoring in Political Science is sitting roughly in the center of the group typing suggestions into her laptop computer.

     "Is network television doomed by the onslaught of digital personal video recorders?" one of the students tosses out.

     "I can watch 'Friends' or I can watch my Aunt Tatum's video tapes?" someone replies.

     "I'm typing it in," the captain announces, doing just that.

     "What impact will the recent earthquake in Taiwan have on the world economy?" says a student who is thumbing through a Time magazine.

     "What earthquake in Taiwan?"

     "Wait a second. That's Japan."

     "Big difference. Except there hasn't been one in Japan lately either."

     "We could leave it as a trick question."

     "I'm typing in Japan," the captain says.

     "Are America's disaster policies completely disastrous?"

     "What disaster policies?"

     "My point exactly."

     "I'm typing it in."

     "What impact will the Japanese yen have on the world economy?"

     "Is there something up with the yen?"

     "I don't know. It's probably either up or down. The Extempers will know."

     "It's a good topic. The yen has to be somewhere. I'm typing it in."

     "Was the FBI raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, justified?"

     "That was like twenty years ago, dude."

     "Well, people are still arguing about it."

     "It's ancient history."

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Does the US war against drugs need rethinking?"

     "Are we winning or losing?"

     "That's the point, isn't it?"

     "I'm typing it in."

     "DNA testing: a help or hindrance to solving crimes?"

     "That's ridiculous. Of course it's a help. If you want to know who did it, that is."

     "Yeah, but the speaker will have to explain DNA and genetics, and that's a really tough way to kill ten minutes, if you know what I mean."

     "These high school kids are good with genetics. They all take biology."

     "But DNA explained in ten minutes? The O.J. jury didn't understand it after about fifty hours."

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Are tougher gun laws the answer to ending violence in our society?"

     "Should Charlton Heston be taken out and shot?"

     "Who the hell is Charlton Heston, anyhow? Has he made a movie since 1963?"

     "He's the best thing that ever happened to the anti-gun movement, the old fool."

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Suing your HMO: is it a right or a wrong?"


     "That's like a play on words."

     "How sick do you have to be to sue?"

     "Real sick."

     "Too sick to sue, probably."

     "You're taking this awfully literally."

     "I'm typing it in. But a right or just plain right right."

     "A right. A wrong."

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Should the US have a national requirement for a high school diploma?"

     "And spoil the beauty of ignorance in America?"

     "They ought to be able to tell the difference between boys and girls, and know how to use the difference."

     "They can do that whether or not they graduate. Hell, that's why some of them aren't graduating in the first place."

     "They ought to know that one plus one is two, they ought to know how to put two and two together to get four, and that five will get you ten if you play your cards right, gentlemen."

     "Shades of Mae."

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Are amusement park rides unsafe at any speed?"

     "Only when Ralph Nader is at the controls."

     "You could have, like, a Corvair roller coaster."

     "What's a Corvair?"

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Has searching the Web replaced TV watching as a national pastime?"

     "Only if you've got one hell of an Internet connection."

     "You could make it will instead of has."

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Why have fishbowl studios become so popular for morning news programs in New York?"

     "Because the studios haven't paid their wall bills?"

     "People like looking at themselves on TV."

     "Like I'm going to get up at seven a.m. to see some goober standing outside the window holding a sign saying 'Hi, Mom!'"

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Is the character of Harry Potter the Dorothy of the Twenty-First Century?"

     "Dorothy who?"

     "Do we have enough of these things yet?"

     "At least you should specify which Dorothy. Not Dandridge. Not Com."

     "Dorothy Com?"

     "You haven't got a clue, have you?"

     "Dorothy Com? I don't get it."

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Who's Dorothy Com?"

     "What's a short word for diminutive?"

     "What's another word for Thesaurus?"

     "Have we resulted to stealing jokes now?"

     "Only good ones."

     "I'm typing it in."

     "Are the Dixie Chicks the Spice Girls of country music?"

     "I'm not typing it in."

     "Why not?"

     "The Spice Girls of country music? Aaargh!"

     "I think we're running out of steam."

     "We've only got to come up with a few more," the captain says.

     "How many?"

     "About a hundred."

     A silence falls on the room.

     A long silence.

     A very long silence.

     "Is the television rating system effective?"

     She's typing it in. And typing it in. And typing it inů.



Will the teams attending the Venerable Bede go to the right state?

Will lapsed Catholics ever get their own forensic league?

Will Speech get you into heaven?

Will the Bede Parlis ever get enough extemp topics for the tournament in time?

Is Rick A. Lazio his official name, or doesn't he understand that when you use a nickname, you don't also include your middle initial?

Fry potatoes in the cast iron skillet of our next episode: "Don't Mess With My Toot Toot, or, Isn't It About Time to Send those Cajons back to Arcadia?"

Go to the next episode due Oct 18, 2000.