Wednesday March 29, 2006
The recent spate of flawed articles claiming Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University has the best debate team in the country has drawn me back into the world of college debate. So I was wondering: If Liberty doesn’t have the best college debate team, who does?
The question is more difficult to answer than you would think because there isn’t just one style of college debate—and each style is governed by more than one organization. Considering only team debate—where two-person teams compete head to head—there are two formats currently being used: policy debate and parliamentary debate.
Policy debate is an increasingly fast-paced, evidence-driven activity in which teams spend the school year debating a single policy resolution. This year, it’s “Resolved: The United States Federal government should substantially increase diplomatic and economic pressure on the People’s Republic of China in one or more of the following areas: trade, human rights, weapons nonproliferation, Taiwan.”
Policy debate is governed by both the National Debate Tournament (NDT) and the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA). While the history of national debate topics goes back to 1921, the first NDT was held in 1946. CEDA was founded as a competing organization in 1971—originally debating value propositions rather than policy proposals—but reunified with NDT in the late ’90s. Today, NDT and CEDA tournaments debate the same topic and each organization holds a national tournament. (The American Debate Association (ADA), which has been mentioned in some of the articles about Liberty, was founded in 1985 with an emphasis on sanctioning junior varsity and novice tournaments. It also uses the NDT/CEDA topic.)
Then there is parliamentary debate. In this British style of debate (which probably most closely resembles the public’s idea of college debate) competitors argue extemporaneously based on a resolution provided fifteen minutes prior to each round. No outside documents, other than the debaters’ own notes, are allowed.
The oldest organization governing this style of debate in the U.S. is the student-run American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA), which was established in 1981, primarily to provide structure and scheduling for existing competitions at elite colleges in the northeastern and western U.S. The National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA), which is faculty-sponsored and more topic-centered than APDA-style debate, held its first national championship in 1994.
So, which college has the best debate team? Several recent stories have claimed that Liberty University has the best team in the country, based on its position in the overall NDT and CEDA rankings. These rankings, however, include points for junior varsity and novice squads, which might be a good measure of a school’s participation, but not necessarily of its competitiveness.
The fundamental unit in debate is the two-person team, rather than the “squad,” which includes all of a school’s debate teams. The closest you can come, then, to naming a top team in the country is by looking at the reigning champions from the major national tournaments.
At the 2006 NDT—which was held this weekend at Northwestern—Michigan State’s Ryan Burke and Casey Harrigan defeated Jamie Carroll and Brad Hall of Wake Forest to win MSU’s second title in three years. Since 2002, the tournament has been won by teams from either Northwestern or MSU.
Meanwhile, at last year’s CEDA Nationals—this year’s tournament begins Friday—Stacey Nathan and Craig Wickersham of UC Berkeley defeated Dartmouth’s Kathryn Clark and Brian Smith in the finals. Nathan and Wickersham also made it to the finals of the 2005 NDT, where they were defeated by the Northwestern team of Josh Branson and Tristan Morales.
On the parliamentary side, the 2006 NPDA tournament (which was held last weekend) was won by Josh Anderson and Rachel Safran of the University of Puget Sound, who defeated Mike Dorsi and Darryl Stein of UC Berkeley in the finals. Anderson and Safran were the dominent team in so-called “Parli” this year. They had the best overall record and the pair also won the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence.
Meanwhile, the 2005 APDA Nationals were won by Alex Potapov and Alex Blenkinsopp of Harvard. The Alexes can enjoy their title for a few more weeks until this year’s tournament begins on April 7.
Of course, which of these titles is the most important is still a matter for debate.
Tuesday March 28, 2006
Michigan State’s Ryan Burke and Casey Harrigan defeated Jamie Carroll and Brad Hall of Wake Forest to win the 60th Annual National Debate Tournament last night in Chicago. Michigan State has now won the tournament twice in the last three years. Since 2002, the tournament has been won by teams from either Northwestern or MSU. How about Liberty University, which has the best team in the country, according to the New York Times Magazine? They failed to qualify for the modified double octos (this year, that included the top 30 teams), just as they have for the last eight years. … I used to live and die (mostly die) with the Memphis Tigers when I lived in Memphis and the school was still called Memphis State. Now why did I think a #1 seed would change that? Yuck. What a game. 45 points?!? In the tournament? I’ve been in bed since Saturday.
Tuesday March 21, 2006
When I read the story in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine about the debate team at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University being the best in the country, I was skeptical. I figured either the landscape of college debate had changed radically since I inhabited it almost two decades ago, or the story was bunk. It turns out it’s bunk.
While it’s true that Liberty will have the most points in the overall rankings compiled by both the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) and the National Debate Tournament (NDT)—policy debate’s two overlapping authorities—those points don’t mean much. When I debated for Miami University in the late ’80s, CEDA and NDT were separate, and NDT didn’t have such rankings. (At least as far as I remember. If they existed, we ignored them.) It had a tournament, and winning it was all that mattered. Northwestern, a power in my day, also won it last year.
Liberty, however, only qualified one two-person team (top programs routinely qualify two or three), and they went 3 and 5 and didn’t make it to the “out rounds,” the bracket of 28 from which the ultimate winner is determined. As Ed Brayton, who must be a former debater, details here and here, Liberty hasn’t made it to the elimination rounds of the National Debate Tournament since 1997. (For comparison, Northwestern has won the tournament five times since then.) In fact, Liberty’s best varsity duo only ranks 81st in the country by winning percentage. (Note: Actually, now that I look at it, those appear to be old numbers. According to the most recent data, which you can dice any way you want to here, Liberty’s top team is more like 65th. My apologies.) Almost two months ago, this post led to a long discussion on Brayton’s blog—including a response from one of Liberty’s coaches, who defends the points system as a measure of educational worth—that the Times Magazine might have benefited from.
So where does that number one ranking that has so impressed the Times, Newsweek, and CBS News come from? The rankings cited by all three count results from all tournaments, even second-tier affairs, and at all levels—including novice and JV, which are (as they always have been) irrelevant when you want to talk about top debate schools. Many debate powerhouses don’t even have novice or JV teams. Essentially Liberty is doing what debaters call “spreading,” where you try to put out so many arguments your competitor can’t respond to them all. They’re flooding weak tournaments with junior squads and raking in the points. And even with a featherweight schedule, Liberty’s varsity debaters only made it as far as the semifinals twice in fourteen tournaments this season. That’s right. The team to which CBS News attributes “a national title” hasn’t won a single varsity tournament. Hasn’t even placed.
Is it it fair, then, to say that Liberty “consistently produces one of the nation’s great collegiate debate programs,” as the Times Magazine asserts? Hardly. That’s like calling the best Division III basketball team the NCAA champion, unless of course you’re Liberty’s PR department—or a reporter in search of an angle.
New Yorkers are busy people, so I’m putting this out there early. At the invitation of the Land-Grant College Review, I will be reading some of my fiction at the New York Public Library on April 11, three weeks from today, as part of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses’ “Periodically Speaking” reading series. Here are the details:
Tuesday, April 11th, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
DeWitt Wallace Periodicals Room, The New York Public Library
Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd St.
(Please use Fifth Avenue entrance.)
The program will include myself and Land-Grant editor Josh Melrod, A Public Space editor Brigid Hughes introducing nonfiction writer Ian Chillag, and LIT Magazine editor Justin Marks introducing poet Katie Degentesh. And while the series might be called “Periodically Speaking,” I intend to speak continuously for about 20 minutes.
Monday March 20, 2006
When director Bennett Miller was nominated for an Oscar for Capote, no one could have been more surprised than me. While I’d seen and enjoyed his documentary debut The Cruise, I knew Miller primarily as a commercials director. As the editor of AdCritic, I knew that if you wanted some jokey, male-seeking comedy, you went to New York production company Hungry Man, which has done comedic campaigns for SportsCenter and Careerbuilder.com, just to name a few. You tried to get Bryan Buckley. If you couldn’t get him, you got Jim Jenkins. And if you couldn’t get him, you got Bennett Miller.
Needless to say, Miller’s commercials are nothing like Capote. They are often over the top, slapstick affairs, which made his big-screen splash—already an accomplishment for a commercials director—all the more surprising. I pitched that angle around and got an assignment in the weeks leading up to the Oscars. Unfortunately, the piece didn’t make it to press and promptly expired.
Ah, but that’s the beauty of blogs. Nothing’s ever really over. Capote comes out on DVD Tuesday, so I’ve posted the piece here. It includes an interview with Miller and some notes on just how rare it is for a commercials director to successfully cross over into features. And to be nominated for an Oscar? That hasn’t happened since Spike Jonze was nominated in 1999.
I’m hoping the forthcoming Pixies documentary loudQUIETloud (flash) is better than the reunion tour, which was just loudUNLISTENABLEloud. … Why does MySpace look like crap? Because it’s run by teenagers. Duh. … A cliché is born, ya’ll.
Thursday March 16, 2006
Wednesday March 15, 2006
The FCC handed down more than $3 million in new fines for televised indecency today, citing “the public’s growing concern about the content of television programming.” As I’ve noted before, this growing concern curiously expressed itself as an 83 percent drop in indecency complaints last year. The steady decline in such concern over the last two years is illustrated by this chart.
Nevertheless, the new fines put the commission well on the road to topping the $7.9 million in fines levied in 2004. And it looks like new commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate will be along for the ride. The Republican appointee joined with chairman Kevin Martin and Democratic decency zealot Michael Copps in all of today’s decisions, and even questioned some cases in which the commission did not issue fines. You can read her full statement here (pdf).
Creativity, where I used to be on staff, celebrates its 20th anniversary this month with a redesign by Pentagram and a foldout cover featuring fourteen titans of the ad industry. Inside, I contributed to a roundup of the 20 best advertising campaigns of the last two decades.
I talked to some of the people behind the top campaigns, including documentary auteur Errol Morris. In addition to making brilliant films like The Thin Blue Line, Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, and Oscar winner The Fog of War, Morris has had a very successful career directing commercials for clients like Apple, United, and Miller High Life. His work for Miller—a long-running campaign featuring Morris’ trademark camera work and crusty, no-nonsense voiceovers—earned a place among the top campaigns. Here’s what he had to say about how the two sides of his career will figure into posterity:
It was March in L.A. I had just won an Oscar for The Fog of War. Someone came up to me and said, “Mr. Morris, I really, really admire your work.” I said, “Thank you. Thank you, so much.” And then they went on to say, “Those Miller High Life commercials are fantastic.”
Let’s face it. My film work is destined for obscurity. If I’m remembered for anything, I will be remembered for High Life.
Tuesday March 14, 2006
Brooke Thompson, aka “Pumkin” from VH1’s over the top Bachelor clone The Flavor of Love, tells The Bakersfield Californian that her projectile spittle—which she expectorated on villainess “New York” in the penultimate episode—was prompted by producers and digitally enhanced. She also says she didn’t really have sex on any of the half dozen reality shows she has previously appeared on. Liar! She sets a bad example for substitute teachers and cheerleading coaches everywhere.
[Via Media Orchard.]
Monday March 13, 2006
Tom Waits, who has long resisted lending his music and voice to commercials—and has successfully sued marketers for using soundalikes—once said, “They always want me to do ads for underwear and cigarettes, but I never did them. I did one and I’ll never do it again.” Andrew points to the one Waits did do, a noirish number for Purina dog food from 1981.
No wonder he never did one again.
Friday March 10, 2006
Blogging will be casual next week because A. and I are headed to Fort Lauderdale for some R and R.
Woohoo! Spring break! Par-ty!
Actually, we’ll be staying far from the beer-soaked Strip. Still, if somebody offers me a cheap, branded t-shirt to take off my pants, I’m totally going to do it. You’re only young once.
Reuters finally admits it was taken in by the 2004 toothing hoax— which fell apart in our hands a year ago—by saying that toothing is now actually happening. It isn’t in England, it isn’t anonymous, and it doesn’t necessarily lead to sex, but—other than that—it’s the same thing. Not only that, but an Italian bar manager cited in the piece says the trendlet has “cooled off from the early days.” And become what? A freak accident? You can relive the unraveling of the original hoax here and here.
[Via the folks at Techdirt, who agree that what Reuters describes sounds like something less than a phenomenon.]
I figured The Lit List would be completely worthwhile even if it only turned up a thing or two that I found interesting enough to blog about. It already has. Ten years ago, AdPulp editor David Burn tried to get a job at Wieden + Kennedy, then wrote a short story about it. (And it is fiction—it does not claim to be fact.) It’s called “Fort Wieden”, although it could easily be subtitled “The Man in the Gray Flannel Shirt.” In the story, the agency’s gatekeeper tells him:
“If you’re truly serious, I suggest you sell your car. Disconnect your cable. Do whatever, because all your time and money has got to go into your book. When I look at a book, I know how much time was spent on it, and by the looks of yours, I’d guess you spent, what, a month? Try a couple of years, then come back and see us.”
Sound familiar to any adgrunts out there?
Thursday March 09, 2006
75 percent of people don’t want to watch TV on a cellphone. Oh, wait. Yes they do. … Two Tennessee legislators want to ban dildos. [via] … The Interstate Highway System turns 50. Ditto suburban sprawl.
Fortune has a fascinating article on the history—and economics—of the office cubicle. The lede:
Robert Oppenheimer agonized over building the A-bomb. Alfred Nobel got queasy about creating dynamite. Robert Propst invented nothing so destructive. Yet before he died in 2000, he lamented his unwitting contribution to what he called “monolithic insanity.”
Propst is the father of the cubicle.
[Via Synaptic Junction Daily.]
Wednesday March 08, 2006
Slate has announced the launch of a new fiction section, anchored by an online serial by Walter Kirn (Thumbsucker) titled The Unbinding. Yet another sign that online fiction is making a comeback? There’s even serious discussion about eBooks again, now that everyone has learned to pack media into an iPod. As with online advertising in the late ’90s, it might turn out that previous hopes for eBooks and online narrative weren’t wrong, just early.
According to Slate’s description, The Unbinding—which debuts on Monday—will take the form of “found documents.” Like early ARGs, it will be an example of what novelist Sean Stewart describes as “storytelling as archeology.” I’m anxious to see how it turns out.
In the first six days, 85 registered users have submitted 48 stories, 10 of which have been promoted to the front page. The site has logged about 4,300 page views on 2,300 visits. That’s not going to rival Digg, but it does rival the circulation of some literary journals. I think the site is a viable place for writers and publishers to gain exposure for their work—and for readers to find good writing.
I did notice that a few stories got stuck in the queue and weren’t posted. The messaging isn’t quite clear, and it’s easy to forget to click “Submit” on the final submission page. If something like that happens, don’t write the site off. Email me and I’ll take care of it.
Tuesday March 07, 2006
Not to be outdone by nearby Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio—which boast buildings designed by Zaha Hadid and Peter Eisenman, respectively—Louisville has unveiled plans for the towering Museum Plaza, designed by Rem Koolhaas associate Joshua Prince-Ramus. … Not to be outdone by Cotton Mather and the Taliban, a church group is asking all of Kentucky’s legislators and legislative candidates to answer one question: “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
Monday March 06, 2006
Talk about a low barrier to entry. From Craigslist:
We’re a startup group blog on entertainment and if you think you can measure up to our expectations, then send us TWO sample posts on entertainment, with one specifically on the subject of Crash winning over Brokeback Mountain.
Thank goodness somebody is planning to blog about that.
Almost nine years ago, I saw Three 6 Mafia play the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis. (That’s a picture from that show on the left.) They rolled in at least a half an hour late with a posse of a dozen, all loaded down with twelve packs and bottles of tequila that they carefully poured into their long-neck beers. The notoriously hot-headed owner stormed the cinder-block dressing room, demanded the DAT and screamed himself red until the show started. The whole party rolled onstage—like last night, but without the interpretive dance and with Juicy J about fifty pounds lighter—and shouted and stomped for thirty minutes, whipping the suburban kids who knew something I didn’t into a frenzy, then disappeared out the club’s fire exit.
Three days later, the group held a press conference to announce that they had signed with Relativity, although they’d been doing pretty well for themselves without the backing of a major label. Three 6 had built a grassroots following that took indie-rock squares like myself almost completely by surprise, having sold tens of thousands of cassettes—cassettes!—at neighborhood stores and out of the trunks of cars.
An Oscar? For D.J. Paul and Juicy J and Crunchy Black and Lord Infamous (whom I ran into one morning at the Circle K while he was on his way to court for something or other)? I don’t think I would have believed it, just like I would have never believed that the Nirvana of Bleach would hit #1. At that press conference in the summer of ‘97, D.J. Paul said he wanted Triple 6 to become a “second Elvis in this town.” But, hell, even Elvis never won an Oscar. Good for them.
Friday March 03, 2006
Earlier this year, Toby told me about The Plimpton Project’s song contest, which invites all comers to write a song about George Plimpton. I passed it along to some clever songwriting friends, and now Jonathan Coulton has taken up the challenge. Go listen to his entry, “A Talk with George.”
Remember Amanda Spielman? She was the designer who created the exquisite New Ephemera travel pamphlet that Rose found on the train? Well, according to Metropolis, she got an A. (And she got covered by Metropolis.) … CMO magazine is gone, but blogger Constantine von Hoffman is back, rockin’ Collateral Damage from a brand new domain.
Digg.com has been making a lot of noise lately, and spawning a lot of imitators. Not only has the site’s method of allowing users to promote stories to the front page given Slashdot a run for its money, the idea can easily be extended to topics beyond technology news.
I thought using a community approach to sharing—and rating—links to online fiction would be interesting and useful (to readers, to writers, and to sites that publish fiction), so I put together The Lit List. Built on the free Pligg platform, the site allows users to submit links to fiction (websites, eBooks, or podcasts) in all genres and vote on the ones they like the best. When a link garners enough votes, it is promoted to the front page.
The site is off to a good start—thanks to kind linkage from Michael, Maud, and The Morning News. New stories are being submitted at a good clip. The Lit List will only be as good as its community, however. The more people participate—by submitting and voting on stories—the better the front page will be. Ideally, the cream really will rise to the top. So, I encourage everyone to visit the site, register (the registration is no more involved than when commenting on a blog), and participate. If you have comments or suggestions, you can email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Many more features are on the way.
Wednesday March 01, 2006
The mayor of Lawrence, Kansas, has declared International Dadaism Month. What makes it especially Dada is that the month is spread throughout the year—and there is no such place as Lawrence, Kansas. … A woman raised by philosophers lives to tell about it. (Alec Rawls is a punchline, by the way, because of theories like this.) … I had no idea Donald Trump even had a fake online university, but it is apparently hiring.
Toby and Keira are hosting The Ultimate Food Shoot Challenge over at Flickr. The objective is to pretty up an MRE—the “meals ready to eat” distributed to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the like—so that it looks like a spread in a food glossy. The examples they’ve already posted—of the Boneless Pork Chop (shown) and the Spaghetti with Meat Sauce—are quite good. The best will be rolled into a calendar, with proceeds benefiting hurricane victims. MREs are available on request (while supplies last) for those who would like to put their tabletop skills to the test.