The Last Harvard: Extempers 5 & 6

The final round check continues.  NB, I’m getting emails about this series of posts, surprisingly to me — I wasn’t aware I had readers.  I haven’t read them yet, explicitly because I want to finish this and my comments on it first.  The emails may well explain and correct some omissions, but I’m building evidence for a broader point here, which isn’t the one I bet you think it is, and then I’ll respond to the thoughts contained in the emails.

Speaker 5

Q.    Is Mexico in danger of becoming a failed state?

Answer:  Nope.


Harvard International Review 5.20.08     Characteristics of failed states is lack of civil, econ, social structures

I wasn’t able to find this reference.  This claim is a broad enough that it might have been definition in the bottom of an article about something else; it’s a straightforward definition of a failed state.  In fact, it’s rather self-evident, not really requiring a citation.  I’m also curious about the citation; Harvard International Review is a seasonal publication, so 5/20/2008 is awfully precise.  Perhaps this was the wrong publication name.  It’s possible the speaker’s pulling one here to get a Harvard name into the Harvard final round, which would get a big glare from me, but not a DQ if I were tournament director.

1.    Reform in Mexico is occurring, and the government wants it.

CSM 1.19.09  Calderon held a contest to identify the most useless bureaucractic procedure in the Mex gov’t.  points to reform minded.


Got the date wrong by a couple of days, but the facts and story are substantiated by the article.

Economist 1.24.09  Calderon authorized a 3% of gdp stimulus into the mex economist.  That large of a stim represents a nonfailed state.


Again, off by a pair of days, but the facts clear out.

2.    Attitude to democracy is not failed

Economist 11.15.08 50% of Mexicans feel democracy is better than any other form of gov’t.  higher than Latin American avg view towards democracy.


The speech seems to have a standard 2-3 day margin of error going on here, but it’s doing just fine when it comes to the truth of the claims.

M. Delal Baer; some book — Mexico is a nascent weak democracy but among mexicans there’s a strong attitude in favor of democracy.

M Delal Baer — it took me a little while to find the correct spelling — is a fellow of the Mexico Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  It’s hard to source check a book remotely, since I’m not going to go out and buy every book he’s written, since they all seem to be about Mexico.  But it’s a non controversial claim attributed to someone who’d probably have an opinion on this subject.  However, I wonder a little why the speaker felt the need to include it, given that the Economist reference said much the same thing.

3.  US power will not allow Mexico to fail.

John Raskin book The New World of Intl Relations — since the advent of NAFTA the US/Mex economy are intertwined.  the US/Mexico relationsip means Mexican chaos means US losses.  US auto makers would be screwed.

Book (I think):

That’s Michael Roskin (and Nicholas Berry).  Again, it’s a book, but again it’s a noncontroversial claim; I might have preferred that the speech instead give some numbers and prove this point on its own, but the ethics of the source are probably sound.  Hell, the speaker may even have gotten the author right; the book looks like the type that might contain a bunch of sub-essays or something.

FT 1.4.09    The US auto industry retains vast political power within the US.

Today I discovered that even the website of the Financial Times is pink.  I did not, however, discover this article; I looked a couple days backwards and forwards.  They did have a bunch of articles on the car industry around early January; it was when the automakers were asking for a bailout, so I’m guessing that it was some line about how despite the car maker CEOs being embarrassed and made to kneel in obeisance before Congress, they still maintain lobbying power etc.

This line of reasoning wasn’t really necessary to this speech; I mean, it’s good to make a link and all, but asserting that the main reason that the US would not let the Mexican government collapse is that US Auto would suffer is a bit like saying we only like a stable Canada for the hockey; kind of misses the overall significance.  But ah well.

Current History:  2.08 Mexico has a long way to go; econ growth is stagnant, etc etc.


Current History doesn’t make its archival articles freely available, but despite that the title of the article makes it clear that this claim is warranted.

Comments:  This speaker passed also with flying colors; that surprised me a little bit, honestly, because I didn’t like this speech very much; it would have been the clear 6 on my ballot.  I’d have to confirm that the book cites were legitimate, but really, it seems very clear to me that they would.  I didn’t think it spun a convincing analytic story, but instead plugged together sources and ideas in a way that was a little implausible, and didn’t show much knowledge of the deeper workings of these issues.  The speaker was, however, very comfortable and fluent, even if the humor fell a little flat.  But then, most of the audience was extempers, and extempers are a humorless bunch.

I tend to mentally associate dodgy sourcing with speakers I don’t like, particularly the kind of speaker who seems to get there on speaking without much underlying analytic ability.  I’m not one of those people who thinks extempers should sound and speak horribly to prove their analytic bona fides, but I do dislike pretty words with no substance more than anything.  So honestly I was most disposed to think this speaker would be bad at citations, and despite me being a complete cynic, the speech actually demonstrated excellent ethics.  The speaker would probably be a good analyst with just a little more focus on it; I hope it happens.

Speaker 6

Q.    Can Barack and Raul thaw the icy relations that existed between George and Fidel?Answer:  Yes We Can.

Intro:  A limerick.  It didn’t scan (big whoop) but it did rhyme and got applause.

1. Ending bitterness makes sense for Raul Castro

1.4.09    NYT low/no economic growth in Cuba, food troubles:


Yes.  Date was wrong; looks like the speech switched dates with the below article.

1.2.09    Fidel used to handle this by blaming the US.


Yep, the article supports the claim.

1.30.09 Independent Obama is more popular in Cuba while Raul gets some resentment (so the charge may not stick this time).

This is the closest I could find:

This one is a little dicey and difficult, though it might not be the right source.  It’d be hard data to acquire.  After all, it’s not like Cuba conducts opinion polls, so data on how popular the Cuban regime is or isn’t, or how Obama is seen, is going to by necessity always be the sum of anecdotes.  I think I would have, at the very least, phrased this assertion differently.  There’s plenty of reason to analyze on one’s own how Raul will have to tread carefully; among other things, the biggie being that he’s not Fidel.   So I’m giving a guarded C- on this use of a citation, but I don’t think it’s actually treading into DQ grounds.

2.    Obama victory sets up someone who wants to do it.

2.7.08    Econ’st Many Obama proposals fly in the face of what Intl Comm wants.

I think this is the one:

The date is off, and it’s a little weak of a reference, and it cites a conclusion, but it’s there in a reasonably defensible manner, and I know it to be true enough otherwise.

NYT sometime — UN condemns trade embargo

Ok, I didn’t find the exact source (“sometime” is a bit hard to track, but that’s my omission, not the speaker’s) but this definitely happened in the time frame of most files:

Lexington Inst Anya Landau French -> cuba is low hanging fruit, an easy fopo victory.


The article supports that, yes.

3.    US domestics open to the idea

12.15.08    CSM    Cuban americans, esp the young, no longer see the Castros as vicious enemies.  open to negations


Yes, that checks out fine.

Florida Int’l U polling outfit some poll    55% want better relations with Cuba.

Poll document is here:

Yes, this is supportive.  I’m pretty certain the speaker’s referring to the 55% majority who oppose continuing the embargo.

“The Nation that Dared” Maria Sanchez Cubans are more open to capitalism; potentially beneficial force.  Raul has to introduce reforms to appease his people.

That’s “The Island that Dared” by Dervla Murphy.  I have no idea where either the speaker or I got “Maria Sanchez”.  But whatever, the book is a travelogue of Cuba that I’ve actually read, and it’s supportive of that assertions.

Comments:  This speech wasn’t letter-perfect the way that Speaker 4 was, but it passed easily as well.  The speech sort of pulled a style point fail on one of them, and the other was possibly the wrong article or a big stretch, but it still passes.

The Last Harvard: Extempers 3 & 4

All right, so apparently Food was the semis and Energy was the quarter finals topic, as A HALF DOZEN ANAL RETENTIVE EXTEMPERS felt the need to share with me last evening.  Mea culpa!

Carrying on with the increasingly disappointing source check, however:

Speaker 3

Q.  Is drug legalization in the US a viable strategy for reducing drug-related violence in Latin America?

Answer: Nope!


Missed the first citation in the intro; speaker rushed by it.  However, the claim was that legalization, by making drugs readily available, would lower the demand?  Did I hear this right?  NB seems the rest of the speech says the opposite, so I bet I did hear it right, or it was one of those cases when debaters arguing aff conclude by saying “I urge a neg ballot…I MEAN AFF!”

1st subpoint: Legalization would increase cartel revenue, leading to more violence.

1.  NYT 2.2.09    Revenue providing for weapons for cartels come from US consumers.


The article does not provide evidence for the claim that most of the drug cartel money comes from US consumers.  Now, this claim is true, and honestly doesn’t really need a citation to back it up; it’s common knowledge.  So this fudging of a source might really be about racking up more totals in source counts, not really fabrication.  Still, that’s shady if that’s what’s going on here.

Reuters 2.10.09 use this money to buy weapons.

OK, I had a hard time tracking this down exactly.  There was a 2.10.09 Reuters article that didn’t mention guns.  There’s a 2.26.09 article that talks extensively about this problem, but also came out after the tournament.  However, finally I did track down:

So I’ll give a pass on this one; the claim again is not a hard one to support.

This doesn’t mention, however, the fact that this point is broken and doesn’t help the case; the assumption that illegal cartels would benefit from legalization is a stretch.

Point 2: Would harm US/Mexico relations

Council on Foreign Relations 11.20.08: Attempts to limit drug violence between US and Mexico means closing off the border.


OK, it’s possible that I got the claim down wrong; honestly this speaker wasn’t very clear; I think probably due to nerves, which I totally understand and sympathize with.  It’s a common problem among finalists, and one of the reasons why semis are often better rounds than finals.  However, the article does not support the claim that the border is closing tighter because of the drug war; it simply mentions the not-very-revelatory fact that drug operations are cross-border in nature.

Economist 1.22.08  US government doesn’t give Mexico much respect; policy change would confirm that.

This one is old.  Also, it was under the Bush administration, which changes everything.  He may have gotten the date wrong; in fact I hope the speaker did because I can’t find it.  I did find this:

It was June 19th, 2008, which is much more in range than Jan 22nd, which puts it far into the realm of “honest slip”, especially since citing the earlier date hurts the case; it’s not like the speaker was trying to conceal the age of the source.

However, that kind of citation is exactly the sort of loose, citing conclusions that I find ineffective.  “The US respects Mexico” is not a fact, it is a thesis, and if you’re going to present that in a speech, even from a respected publication, it cannot be as a fait accompli.  The Economist has been wrong in its conclusions before, as has every other major publication; and it’ll be wrong again.  You can cite a fact, and I’ll trust that the paper has fact checked it as much as is reasonable (not always safe, but we have to draw the line somewhere.)  But an argument or a position doesn’t work like that; no matter who said it, it has to be defended, and proven, not simply cited.

However, that criticism is more in the realm of “what I’d write on my ballot, were I judging.”  It’s style points, not rule violations.

May/June Foreign Affairs Kauffman  — Legalization would be disaster; can’t control cartels or terrorist groups without int’l controls and cooperation

OK now my sympathy has flown out the window.  There is no article in Foreign Affairs in all of 2008 about drug legalization.  There is an article in May/June Foreign Affairs by a guy named Hoffman, whose thesis is that Al Qaeda remains a threat to US security; Hoffman doesn’t even talk about international cooperation being a way to combat terror groups.  He doesn’t talk about drugs, Mexico, Latin America, or anything related.

I can’t prove a negative.  I can’t say that the speaker didn’t have an article in some other journal that had a similar name that did talk about this issue in the way that he says.  But, given how specific the citation was — how many other journals publish on a bimonthly basis? — I strongly suspect the speaker didn’t.

And you know, I’ve been giving speakers a pass for muddling the date and the publication a little, but that makes me wonder — why have them give dates and titles at all, if they’re all going to flub it up?  The root problem here isn’t that it’s impossible to memorize 7 sources perfectly, it’s that we shouldn’t be expecting 7 sources in the first place.

Point 3.  Would increase cross border violence between USA and Latin America

WaPo 1.4.09  Drug culture in the US is hidden but no less violent elsewhere.  Doesn’t depend on ready availability but effects on the human psyche.  Violent drug culture would increase and has nothing to do with illegality

I was not able to find this article despite searching through a lot of results in the Washington Post for both January and February.  I find this a little disturbing, since these claims are central to the argument; this citation should have been clear above all others.  Without this citation, which should be very easy to find, a lot of his logic falls directly apart.  If the speaker didn’t have this cite on source check, it would be a clear DQ.

NYT 2.2.09 Loosening drug policy would mean more people crossing borders and thus under no one’s control.

Same article as listed above.  This statement is not supported by the article either; it refers to things like “borders” and such but does not support this claim directly.


This speaker didn’t seem to actually understand the question, and I feel that might have contributed to a lot of the questionable use of sources in this speech; so the lapses may not be ethical in nature, but simply the combination of nerves and an unfortunate draw. In some cases I can pass that by, but honestly, if the Foreign Affairs article cited was the Hoffman article I found, that would be no defense against my wrath if I were the tournament director presented with this evidence.

He also didn’t answer the question.  As a result, I feel that the speaker may have done a lot of bending his sources to fit a flawed view of the question itself; which is still a severe ethical lapse, but one borne from ignorance, not shenanigans.  Or maybe ignorance with a side of shenanigans.

However, the bottom line is, unless the speaker produced some true miracles from the files, this speech would not have survived a source check.

NB: The note about Michael applies here too; I coached Matt very briefly at that same UTNIF a few years ago, and have chatted with him a few times since, and have a general impression of “good kid, likable guy.”

Speaker 4

Q.  Should the US Government restore suspended trade benefits to Bolivia?

Answer: Nope.


1.25.09 NYT  Bolivia approved a new constitution with 60% vote.  Strips rights from some of the population, very big and complex


Yep that’s fine.  Though the bit about stripping rights is implicit, not explicit.

1. Bolivia has failed to guarantee basic economic rights

2.4.09 CSM Bolivia has world’s largest reserves of lithium.  They’re not being accessed by int’l community b/c Evo says no.  Bolivia tried to harvest it themselves with big investment but held up by bureaucracy.


This is a textbook example of a good cite.  The speaker cited the exact facts and built original conclusions off of them.

1.22.09 Economist Bolivia limiting land holdings to 12,400 acres.  the large landholdings are efficient and experienced.  bad for the nation since limiting them means less food.


So far, perfect.  This article makes exactly those claims.

2.  Bolivia is not making political progress

1.22.09    Economist (again) indigenous communities in the north vote by community not by individual.  Gov’t looks the other way.  boosts Evo’s numbers.

Article (repeat):

Yes, the article listed above also supports this statement.

12.8.08 CSM    Bolivia is divided.  North indigenous at odds with capitalistic industrialized south.

Oh man, we were on such a roll; I can’t find this article.  I think it’s probably a cite flub, or a recording flub on my part, since this division is well known and well documented; in fact a different CSM article refers to it:

3.  Bolivia is failing USA on the war on drugs

3.08 Council on Foreign Relations.  60k acres of coca in Bolivia to become exports of cocaine in the US.  Bolivia makes eradication voluntary.  The growers are Evo’s support base, so he won’t move against them.

I wasn’t able to find this report either.  However, the facts are abundantly confirmed by the Internet at large, though most of them are a little old.  So there’s a chance here that’s the speaker’s postdating a source to make it seem more recent, but new reports on foreign affairs often have to rely on older data, since new data on many countries is sometimes untrustworthy or nonexistent.

For example, most of the facts are listed here in a Reuters article:

12.8.08 Washington Post Bolivia evicted drug agents of the US.

I noted in my margins that I screwed up the date on this one; so I wasn’t able to find the article exactly; at any rate the expulsion of the DEA by Morales is well documented; the only Post article I could find was this one, but it’s fair enough, and the speaker may have had a better one:


I wasn’t hugely impressed by this speech at the time.  The speaker didn’t explain the instrument by which trade policy is the best mechanism, or even a good mechanism, to right the wrongs that listed above, and that holding back open trade would convince Morales to toe the line instead of just retrenching further.  The speech didn’t talk about trade much at all.

However, the citations were nearly perfect.  It flubbed very few dates, and it’s perfectly possible that the mistakes are mine in transcriptions, not the speaker’s own.  None of the claims were based around loose conclusions or thoughts; every one of them described facts or events that he then used for his own analysis.  Pass, with flying colors.

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”.


So I’m at EXL these two weeks, which is a symphony in three parts, though one played by an Eastern European radio symphony orchestra which is still being paid in Soviet era expired rubles, and unafraid to take it out on the music.

Running a camp is fraught with dangers and fears, especially one that’s small and focused and intense.  “Will we get kids who can handle what we teach?” is first and foremost a worry; we explicitly teach a unique, advanced style; but rank idiots won’t do well with it, and so if we end up with a batch of them, we’re in trouble.  There’s also the ever present chance that some unforeseen event will take out a day or two, and throw everything in disarray; normal life moves in a leisurely pace, but with only 11 instructional days, you don’t have much margin for curveballs at camp.

Then there are the wider pitfalls.  Jonathan and I started this camp largely in reaction to a lot of the other things other camps do.  We don’t teach down to kids; the stuff we teach is difficult material in a short period of time.  I’ve seen most extemp camps teach current affairs, and present things like The Africa Lecture.  We teach economics, nationalism, political parties, government structures, religions, etc.  The kids have to make the links to current affairs on their own; and they do so, for the most part.  It involves them having to think for themselves, but well, that’s the point.

We also don’t teach a cookie cutter style.  Not every question is created equal, so not every answer format is equal to every question.  It’s easy and cheap to try and get away with teaching students a single format and structure and measuring their success against the mastery of that formula.  That usually has the kids sounding better and shinier at the end of their two weeks.  However, at the end of the day, the wide variety of topics extemp teaches routinely demands a fresh approach.  I find the better students break out of these formulas on their own eventually, but it’s better to start from a fresh perspective that structure and formulas are simply tools, and you use the hammer on the nails and the screwdriver on the screws, and not vice-versa.

That raises the bar somewhat. It’s not easy to teach approach, and it’s not easy to teach thinking; you can really only teach examples of other people thinking, and hope the idea catches on.  But the kids this year are a very strong group, and they’re achieving in spades.  I’m a little upset it’s almost over already, but that too is the nature of camps.

The nature of any walk of life, however, when you do as I do, is that inevitably people have computers, and equally inevitably they call me when this happens.  It’s a dangerous skill, fluency in computers, since it is needed more than it is present.  It’s very difficult to run a camp and teach and lecture and all that; but when my little free time is being impinged to fix printers and connect to Emerson College’s military-grade security on their wireless network, it leaves me with little time for introspection and consideration of things.  That’s the danger of my field; it’s not like I can leave my skills at home and let it go; they come up everywhere and anywhere, and I’m not entirely allowed to be Just an Extemp Coach even on these two weeks, where ostensibly I’m taking vacation to do just that.

So I’m stealing a few moments this evening to recollect myself, and think, and reflect.  We had a very good 17 kids at this camp, up from 10 the year before.  They’ll have success and make us look very good, but ultimately I hope they end up making themselves look good most of all, thinking and challenging and speaking and doing exactly what our activity does best.  It won’t be easy for any of them, even though they’re uniformly terribly bright students, but the difficult is worthwhile, even when it’s often short of the goal.

And you won’t hear a canned introduction among any of them.

NFL Finals

So I was thinking a little about the experience of NFL Finals.  I saw three main finals (US Extemp, HI, and LD) and two supplemental finals (Storytelling and Editorial Commentary).  I was officially present for the Oratory final, but Oratory tends to bore me to tears, so I opened up the laptop and discreetly caught up with my email during that one.  I won’t apologize for this; until the event becomes something other than 70 minutes of pop philosophy, moral exhortations and poignant stories from a bunch of 17 year olds, I have little reason to listen if I’m not judging.

Anyhoo, the supplemental events are more or less usual final rounds that you could find at any regional tournament: they feature an appropriate but not overwhelming amount of ceremony, with a fair but not huge number of spectators, who are likely mostly drawn from the local leagues who have a student in the round.  The students performed well, together with the vague sense of disjoint oddness that comes from supplemental events — no one does these things full time, and so no one really knows what they’re doing, or even what they’re supposed to be doing.   But that’s fine, and they entertain, so we survive.

However, main event finals are an entirely different kettle of fish.  The main final hall can hold around 3,000-5,000 people typically, and it’ll go from completely packed for the interp finals, to nearly a third full for the early morning Extemp finals.  It becomes clear from the start that the NFL treats them as a Big Friggin’ Deal; they opened the day with an Elvis, they pack the judging panels with all sorts of people they want to impress and suck up to, and so on.

The effect, however, is distinctly harmful to the competition itself.  In the US extemp final, the first three kids were able to handle it decently well; Becca, who was second speaker, was there last year, so she certainly didn’t have nearly the same epic tower of nerves going; this was familiar turf.  The last three speakers, however, all looked like they were being led to their own executions, and they had to pull the trigger.  Poor kids; nothing really sets you up for the experience of NFL finals except for making NFL finals, and since I imagine that most NFL finalists are first-timers in their senior year, there’s not much opportunity to gain experience.  The last three kids basically forced their way through their final speeches, which were not very good.  I imagine that for them to qualify for the final in the first place, each of them was a far better speaker than they demonstrated in the round; I bet their semifinal speeches were a great deal better.

The main event semis all happen at roughly the same time as one another, and they’re in normal classrooms with about 50 spectators at the most.   Going from 50 spectators in a classroom to 1,000 in an auditorium in the course of one jump, and add to that the pressure of it being The National Final, and one grows surprised that more kids don’t wet themselves as soon as they set foot on stage.  In some events, like Dramatic Interp, the effect is catastrophic; these pieces are designed to be performed in small, intimate settings and lose much of their punch when flung onto the stage.    In Extemp, the kids don’t have their script and their memorized moves to cling to; they still have to make it up.   The semis I’ve watched were better rounds by far than the finals I’ve watched, for exactly that reason.

It’s a shame in a way.  The NFL is set up to be this big culminating event, and I understand their impulse to make the finals a Big Deal.  They want to reward and congratulate the students with a huge experience, and they certainly do that.  Their stage manager, too, is a wonderful guy, who very carefully guides the students through the process and tells them over and over, using different phrasing, to neither panic nor worry; he’s set up the process so the students don’t have to concentrate or remember any logistics or schedules, since they always have someone right next to them telling them what to do next.  But, the spectacle itself degrades the quality of the round; it doesn’t permit each student to give it their best shot.  I could wish the ramp up to a final wouldn’t be so suddenly vast, or that we could tone it down a little bit, so that I could have seen the best shot from the final three speakers, and not simply the best they could do when the stakes were at the absolute highest.