Sunday, June 04, 2000

Moderator enters into the spirit of no-holds-barred Great Debates

        Both debate teams looked horrified.

        Judge Thomas Crush was waving a sword, threatening to cut them off and not look back.

        Two nights earlier, he pulled a gun on them while explaining time limits for the Mercantile Library's Great Debates, four nights the library promised would raise debating to a blood sport. Or at least the lofty level of heavyweight wrestling.

(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Judge Crush is moderator of all sessions and quick to point out: “It was a toy gun. A broken cigarette lighter. The sword's a souvenir my wife brought from Spain, but it looks impressive. You need discipline with these shameless people.”

        The Great Debates (May 23, 25 and 31, finals Friday) have pitted prominent Cincinnatians such as Mayor Charlie Luken, ad exec Jerry Galvin and attorney Eric Kearney against each other in teams of two, arguing positions that go against their convictions because “it's more fun,” Mercantile librarian Albert Pyle says.

        Volunteer judges, also prominent locals, declared nightly winners who advanced to future rounds, all building to Friday's finals, when Mr. Galvin and Mr. Kearney meet theologians Hal Porter and Art Dewey to debate:

        “The right to good wine and cheese being inalienable, and the cozy relationship between legislatures and liquor distributors being unwholesome if not repulsive, the states must cease to impede their selection or purchase by individuals through the Internet.”

        Judge Crush, 66, on the bench since 1973, a lifelong Sayler Park resident, Gilbert and Sullivan fanatic and, uh, ham, moderates that one. too. No doubt he will be armed and hamming it up from his perch on the windowsill, where he waves a mother of pearl stop watch (cracked), a gavel the size of your father's Oldsmobile (defective; the head flies off) and his weapon du jour.

        Hmmm. We need to give him the third degree.

        Here's how I prepared for this job ...

        Freed my mind of all thoughts. I've debated for the bar association on capital punishment. Once, my opponent didn't show and I argued both sides. Left the audience far more confused.

        Another time, in high school at St. X, we debated a girls' school. They came so well prepared, we were winging it. Then I started quoting Einstein and Aristotle, all made up, and the girls went wild, ripping up notes, wondering how they missed this. It was chaos.

        The only difference between these debaters and the criminals I see every day ...

        The debaters get to go free after their crimes.

        If I were sentencing the debaters, it would be for ...

        Being public nuisances. Making loud noises. Inciting people in a venerable old building such as this.

        One thing I won't let these debaters get away with ...

        Telling the truth, but I haven't heard much of it anyway. Truth is a problem because everyone argues against their own convictions, so they can't very well be honest, can they?

        The best move I've seen here so far ...

        Watching (Peter) Bronson (Enquirer editorial page editor) squirm. I thought he was going to decompress, standing there arguing against his deepest convictions. The world's a better place for that kind of discomfort.

        The other great move was Charlie Luken. He stood up, said “I've heard it all, I'm not going to say any more.” His team lost, but it got the biggest hand.

        The biggest surprise so far ...

        Has been how clever they are and how well they think on their feet. Some have even made sense. I think we've brought out some exceptional talent. I often have a deep Shakespearean thought, but then I open my mouth and it comes out like Mickey Spillane.

        I'd like to debate ...

        There's a lot ... but I think the topic would be “Should Skyline chili be on the Maisonette menu?”

        I don't do heavyweight wrestling because ...

        I'm big enough, and heavy enough, but I'm too sweet a guy. And these robes get in the way, though they're handy to throw them over an opponent's face, kick him and run.

        My father was a wrestling commissioner here years ago, and I remember one night a fan going wild, stabbing a wrestler with a knitting needle. That's why I don't wrestle. I hate needles.

        I plan to break in to a Gilbert and Sullivan song when ...

Oh, any time I think it's inappropriate. Or when there's a great demand for it which, fortunately, won't happen here.

        I'm going to tell the debaters this once and once only ...

        Don't show up in my courtroom, because I'll remember what you've done. The lies. The abuses.

        Great Debates finals are 8 p.m. Friday at the Mercantile, 414 Walnut St. $5, includes refreshments and embarrassed laughs; call 621-0717.


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