The Last Harvard: The Extemp Final, Speakers 1 & 2.

So because I’m contrary, and because I know there are many more shenanigans in the art of extemp citations than people suspect or would like to believe, I decided to take extensive notes on the sources used in the Harvard extemp final, and the claims based therein.   I’ve now attempted to check up on those claims, and see if the sources were indeed used in a responsible manner.

To enter extemp at Harvard is already a bit of a bold move; the questions, while not routinely awful like some tournaments are notorious for, are usually just a little…off.   The choices made in the questions leave one scratching one’s head, not out of sheer incompetence, but rather just the wondering “how did they decide THAT?” Harvard had a pop culture round for years that everyone dreaded, though Sherry thankfully killed that one off after I send a begging email to that effect.   One year they had an entire round on NASA, which was a thrill for a program that doesn’t even have a NASA file.   And they’re famous for the seventy-word question; apparently the question writer is oblivious about the fact that the students ought memorize the question verbatim.

This year, thankfully, they avoided all the above pitfalls.   The wrinkle for the tournaments were somewhat lesser.   First, the final round was the first round dedicated to foreign affairs; it was a DXer’s tournament, with topic areas in the prelims being The GOP, The Obama Administration, Domestic Concerns, and Domestic Econ (I think…).   The wonky round of the year was the quarterfinal, whose topic area was Food.   Yes, Food. Energy was the semis, which is usually an OK area to ask a few questions in, but a whole round on energy is bound to screw some people up, and lo, it did indeed.   The final, somewhat jarringly, was all about Latin America.   If you’re going to have only one foreign topic area, to dedicate it to Latin America seems doubly strange.   Ah well.   There were no blind people hunting with lasers, however, so I won’t complain.

So here we go, the speakers.   I’m going to do only the first two today since the results were long, involved and … disturbing for the second speaker, so I need a break.   Many thanks to Josh Bone, who did the Lexis searches mentioned below to confirm the absence of some of these articles.

Speaker 1

Q.   Can Hugo survive another year of cheap oil?

Answer: Yep!


– NYtimes today:   Hugo spending $70 billion in social spending on assumption of price $90/bbl.   yesterday ppl voted for unlimited terms. yay 4 chavez.


The article indeed talks about the victory of Chavez.   It doesn’t mention the $90/bbl dependency, or the $70 billion in social spending, but both figures are correct in other sources.   Either the speaker mis-cited that part, or I didn’t hear it clearly.

– Sept/Oct Foreign Affairs:   Chavez building massive spheres of influence in LA


Yep, it says that.

1st point: H.C. has control over the democratic institutions

– Book cite : Transition and Consolidation of Democracy:   free media indep institutions -> lib dem.

OK, I was able to find a book called Transitions and Consolidation of Democracy in Africa.   I wish I’d written down the author’s name too, not just the title.   However, the claim that free media institutions are necessary for a liberal democracy is hardly a controversial one; it’s probably one of those things even Chomsky and Dershowitz agree on.

– Transparency International Jan 2009: Chavez controls all media outlets

Haven’t been able to find a TI report on Latin America in Jan 2009. I have a feeling this was a mis-cite on the date, or maybe an article written in January that references an earlier report, since once again this is hardly a difficult claim to defend; I’ve found it supported in other sources.

However, I would say one thing about this style of citation; it cites a conclusion of the report, rather than the evidence and thinking that went into that conclusion.   I tend to look down on that kind of citation; it’s better to pull out the facts and explain the conclusions, than just state the conclusions as a given.

2nd point:     The poor love H.C.

– Economist Jan 11 -> many of the social programs haven’t worked, but the people ultimately appreciate it.   Story of normal voter Desiree Pereira who’d never vote against Hugo.

Hmm.   Well there was this article in the Feb 5th Economist:

This seems to cover the bit about social programs that people like even though they’re not working out.   So it’s a possible date flub.   The articles from the Economist in January were a much worse fit than this one.

However, one can Google Desiree Pereira and find a often-picked up newswire story about a middle-class Desiree Pereira in Caracas talking very clearly about how it’s time to elect somebody other than Hugo:

This I’d chalk up to not reading the sources carefully, since this story was both mis-attributed to the Economist, and the opposite of what was intended.   Bad speaker!   No biscuit.   It wasn’t essential to the points being made, but I’d definitely look at this askance.

– Pew research this Jan -> 70% of Venezuelans generally support Hugo

I haven’t found a January Pew report about Venezuela; and it probably wouldn’t be hard to find if there was one.   So this is at best a date flub up.   However, I did find this one, dated 2/11:

And here I’m into “I’d be questioning this one very intently” territory, unfortunately; the claims from the article do not in any way support the contention that 70% of Venezuelans still like Chavez.     The only number that comes close is that 68% of the bottom half of income earners think that Chavez’s influence over the country has been positive.   The brunt of the article suggests that Chavez’s support among the poor is more like 60%.

3rd point:   Opposition is too fractured

– Today’s NYTimes again – mayor of caracas is critical of chavez, but ppl of caracas voted to remove chavez term limits.

Yes, this supported by the article.

–   Maria Cardona of opposition — clean elections admitted, indisputable result.   yesterday.

The name cited was actually Maria Corina Machado, who said in that NY times article:

“‘This was a victory imposed by the abuse of state power.   This should not be seen as a defeat but as a national challenge,’ she said, citing elections next year for the National Assembly. Nevertheless, she did not significantly dispute the results.”

I’d call that one bending the spirit of the source, no doubt, but ah well.

Ironically Maria Corina Machado then later said the voting process was riddled with failures, but that was after the tournament:

I will note that neither of these sources actually support the contention of the point, which is that the opposition is fractured and therefore ineffective; they only speak towards the inefficacy itself.

Comments:   Sourcing was a little shady here and there, though for the most part fine.   However, if the speaker did not in fact have sources to back up the popularity point and the other shady areas, I expect a panel of coaches would vote to DQ the speaker, but it wouldn’t be unanimous and wouldn’t pass; but it’s dangerous ground all the same.   In subject terms, the speaker didn’t directly address the price of oil, and whether all this wonderful social spending that supports Chavez’ popularity can withstand it; or whether social spending declining will remove those props on the poor’s support.   The speech was presented well & clearly.   But without that link in the middle of the question, the speech missed the point.

This article would have helped a lot actually:

Speaker 2

Q. Is it time to lift the travel ban to Cuba?


– IHT 1.28.09   Castro released a letter complimenting Obama -> Lincoln/etc


So it was actually 1.23.09, but close enough.

– Majority of Cubans open for dialog with the USA

This isn’t in the article.   Did I miss another citation?   Possibly.   Probably in fact; I was just getting warmed up.

EDIT:   The article is here:

Yes this works, though I’ll point out that it’s just a blanket assertion on the part of the article’s author.   So I’d question the author’s integrity, but not the speaker’s for using it.   Polling in a repressive dictatorship being impossible, that’s the best that anyone can do; speaker 6 ran up against the exact same problem, in fact.

1st point:   Isolating Cuba has done no good, and prevents change

-LA times 1.3.09       50 years after revolution, Cuba has an opportunity for change.


Date wrong again, but only by a day. Easy mistake   it was 1/2/09.

However, there’s a style problem here, on two levels.   First, the speaker cites that Cuba has an “opportunity for change” as if that’s a citable fact.   How?   By what mechanism can this opportunity present itself   What exactly is this opportunity for change?   I’d want something a little more specific than that, since it’s not really a cite.   However, in the sourcing arena, the article doesn’t really talk about an opportunity for change; the article is purely descriptive, saying that there are hopes for the embargo to end, but at the same time, affection for Fidel and a commitment by Raul to keep the revolution going another 50 years.   Hopes imply people want a change; opportunity implies evidence that change is possible; two different things.   This would not trip her up in a source check, but as a judge I’d question it.

– CSM 1.2.09 Embargo has already done the US no good.   harmed us policy towards Cuba rather than helping


Again, the speaker cites a broad conclusion, not just a statement of fact.   However, here the problems are much deeper than above.   Nowhere does this article talk about the embargo’s effect on the US, or about US policy towards Cuba.   It merely mentions the embargo towards the end; but the article is entirely about Fidel’s sickness and the pallor it casts over Cuba, together with talking a little about how hurricanes and the collapse of the Soviet Union harmed the Cuban economy.

If I were source checking this speech as a tournament official, I’d be thinking of a DQ at this point.

– 12.31.08 Council of Foreign Relations:   exports/imports still active between US and Cuba despite ban


Yes, the article says that.   Nailed it.

2nd point: Lifting embargo bolsters Cuban economy, helps people

– WP 1.13.09 Economic inequality is still major issue w/in Cuba

There were no Washington Post articles on 1.13 about Cuba.   There’s one on 1.11.09 about the 50th anniversary that nowhere talks about economic inequality.   In addition, according to Super Lexis, there hasn’t been a Washington Post article with the words “Cuba” and “inequality” since last July.

A full media search on the fullest version of Lexis available revealed only an Economist article on 1.3.09 that said “Inequalities have risen,” after a list of other problems, which is not the claim:

And…the claim is arguably false.   Unfortunately, the CIA World Factbook doesn’t calculate the Gini coefficient of Cuba.   A Gini coefficient, which is expressed on a scale of 0 to 1, is the measure of income inequality; a 0 means everyone is perfectly equal, while a 1 means 1 person in a society controls all the wealth and everyone else has no wealth at all.

Under the Batista regime 1958, Cuba’s Gini coefficient was a very high .59. Within four years that had plunged to .22 and remained among the lowest in the world until the collapse of the Soviet regime.   That collapse raised the coefficient to a high of .41 in the late 90s, but since then it has fallen to .30, according to the Global Peace Initiative.   The US’s current Gini coefficient, by comparison, is .45; Cuba’s .30 is actually the most equal in the Western Hemisphere, next to Canada’s .32.

EDIT: So basically, this is a gray murky area.   The speaker admitted to me in later email that this citation’s weakness was due to ignorance of these facts, which is totally fair, and points to what I’m saying about the pressures of citation arms wars.   I still don’t like trying to turn a throwaway sentence into an entire conclusion — it’s dangerous, since this conclusion was wrong, and it strikes me as something that is possibly intellectually dishonest, on the “thought” level.   But I also am starting to feel it’s not dishonest on the “citation” level, but is instead a result of the pressure to include a whole lot of sources causing the speaker to scan articles quickly, and not stop and think about the truth of what’s in them.   That, as the concluding post says, is far beyond the speaker.

– Economist 12.20.08 Castro’s lifting of tourism restrictions brought 2.4 million and growth in Havana tourism.

There are no Economist articles from December that talk about tourism in Cuba.   The 2.4 million figure is a long standing one from years past, and is in no way recent:

There has been no article in a major paper, very broadly defined, in the past three months that references the 2.4 million figure.   There’s this article, from Feb 2009, that talks about the issue:

But it was published after the tournament.

Nowhere is there mention of Castro lifting a restriction that allowed this tourism growth.   The claim is not too inaccurate and I’d accept it, but I’m rapidly losing any benefit of the doubt with this speaker; that loss leads me to at least suspect this may have been a deliberate mis-cite to conceal either the old date or the poor reputation of the source.

EDIT:   There was a source, in fact the same IHT article as before that I didn’t find the first time.

I don’t like this source, since it contains a lot of assertions without any tell of where these facts are coming from; it’s actually possible the article drew from those older figures above.     However, that’s the article’s problem, not the speaker’s.   I’d like to see better citations, and that’s a critique of the skill of the speech; the ethics are fine.

3rd point: Increasing American influence decreases opponents’ influence

– Christian Science Monitor 1.8.09     Major problems between US and Cuba; US faces competition from Venezuela.   Venez gives Cuba tons of oil and help in refineries. Venezuela dislikes us.

This article supports the claim that Cuba gets oil from Venezuela, hardly controversial.   The major thrust of the article, however, is that Venezuelan influence is waning on its own with lowering oil prices.   This point is fair enough, though;

– WashTimes 1.8.09 Russia is also a threat to US in Cuba; increasing influence locks out the US.

First, the Washington Times is an extremely disreputable source run by right wing followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon from South Korea, who are attempting to unify world Christianity under the new Messiah, who just happens to conveniently be the Reverend Moon.   So I’m not a huge fan of this off the bat.   But the speaker told me it was the Washington Times, and didn’t try to pass it off as the Post or something.   So citation-wise, this is OK.

Second, I can’t find an article that really supports this claim. I can find something on 2.6.09:

That article is an opinion piece, not a news piece.   Secondly, it’s about Russia’s rising influence primarily.   Lastly, its sole mention of Cuba is the single line “Naval forays to America’s antagonists: Russian ship visits to Cuba and Venezuela, to the exclusion of all others.”

EDIT:   Here’s an article

Sheesh. Lexis failed me big time on this one.

Comments: I have to say, I didn’t like this speech very much.   I’ve seen the speaker do much better.   During the speech I noticed that it mostly cited conclusions and broad conditions, not facts.   The speaker’s own thoughts and conclusions weren’t coming through; the speech wove this tapestry of other people’s thoughts in ways I couldn’t follow easily.   The links and impacts were not at all clear.   I would not have rated this speech highly in the round.

Even more so, given the source citation evidence above, I have to say that I would without hesitation disqualify the speaker if I were a tournament director.   It gives a strong impression of flinging up enough material to make the speech seem smart, without demonstrating (the known fact) that the speaker *is* smart.   The speech fails to play to the speaker’s strengths.

EDITS:   The edits (sources provided by the speaker to me in email) cleared up the possible ethics problems with this speech to my complete satisfaction.   I do think some of the sourcing was shallow and hurt the analysis of the speech, however, and that that is a possible red flag; at the very least it seriously hurts the ethos of the speech.   The claims are broad enough that it’s really hard to find the sources that correspond to them.   That’s a problem for the ballot, however, not the tournament director.   Upgrade this one to a “strong pass”.