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The Poison Ivy League Part 22-Spectacles at Harvard

May 3, 2011

It was now time for the annual Harvard tournament, the largest of the year by orders of magnitude: 147 two-person teams to the traditional 90-100 of Princeton and Yale. Competitors were coming from as far away as western Canada and California. Jason managed things well enough, but made a mistake when he let the team’s seniors in on the planning and organization of the contest. They were much too bossy.

Porus and Kimel were both especially curious about judging rankings because they were still angry that some of their own classmates had been ranked higher than they were the previous year. Fabius and Scipio did a good job being secretive behind closed doors. In fact, even Sulla C and Scott interacted with them more than Kimel did. Sulla A had appointed Sulla C the Room Manager, and Scott was “Tabulation Observer,” seemingly preordaining them for the roles of President and Tournament Director next year, respectively.

Kimel’s most vivid memory of the tournament was when Messalina lost her second round. He was just returning a ballot to the tabulation room and saw the ruckus going on first hand. Fabius was running here and there, peaking again and again at the offending ballot and wringing his arms, arguing with Scipio. The trouble was this. The previous year, Trimalchio had had the bright idea of sponsoring a computerized program to randomly pair rounds and assign judges. But Fabius evidently believed that the Tournament Director should be able to adjust these results to ensure that deserving teams didn’t receive bad judging just because they lost a round. Scipio thought that this was cheating. Jason said nothing. Fabius got progressively louder as he pleaded with Scipio: give Messalina a second-tier judge, he suggested, but not a random one; make it someone like David Kimel. Imagine, saying that with Kimel right there! In the event, the computer program randomly assigned Messalina’s round to Kimel, which Fabius found hilarious enough to repeat more than once. Messalina and her partner Alexander performed admirably against a terrible team and Kimel was happy to pick them up. But he was insulted by Fabius.

Because the tournament broke to octo-finals, out-rounds took up the greater part of Saturday. Eventually, the last two teams standing were Messalina and Alexander against Cyrus and Vespasian. Cyrus had already finished his last year of eligibility but was back for another tournament. He must have liked the attention. His partner was a junior and the only active competitor left from MIT. The previous year, Cassius had often complained about him when they were forced to partner together because Marcus usually chose Gallus over him. But Vespasian had since improved tremendously and was already starting to take his place as one of the best wry speakers on the circuit. He was adept at mixing sarcasm and confidence in his speeches in equal measure, delivering his words in a knowing voice through the side of his mouth. He was evenly matched with Alexander from Amherst, who was more purely analytical in style.

The “MIT/BU Hybrid” ran an interesting case, Opp choice. They asked whether an army would be justified in killing 100,000 civilians to conclude a war, or should instead suffer 50,000 dead with an additional 50,000 enemy dead to end it. Messalina and Alexander chose to defend the latter scenario. Cyrus delivered the first speech. He was very loud and very dramatic, as he always was. Whenever he heard the audience banging on their tables in agreement with him, his voice rose to an excited squeak. He emphasized that a general’s duties were to his own soldiers. If he could save 50,000 of their lives by any means possible, he should do so. But try as he might, Cyrus couldn’t conceal the fact that everything he said was basically just a regurgitation of the case statement. Messalina rallied expertly against this initial parry. First, she explained that soldiers and civilians belonged to distinct philosophical categories: danger is inherent in enlistment, but shouldn’t be in the mere act of living under a wartime Government. She also talked about potential foreign backlash against the murder of innocent people, and explained that pragmatically speaking, the murder of 100,000 non-combatants would mean bombing cities and slaughtering women, children, the sick, and the aged, who likely make up the majority of an urban population in wartime. Vespasian gave what was easily the most entertaining speech of the round, but he didn’t convince Kimel when he said that just because 100,000 civilians were killed it didn’t mean that the majority of them would the sort of victims to tug at the heartstrings of the global community. Alexander’s dry analysis in support of Messalina proved less memorable than Cyrus’ subsequent theatrics in his final speech. However, Kimel had no doubt that Amherst had done enough to beat the case, and he was disappointed for Messalina when she lost the round on a 12-11 judges’ decision.

That night, Porus and Kimel became absolutely furious when they looked over the printed tournament reports and learned that not only were both of them ranked lower than Jason and Sulla A, they were also a peg below Aemilia, who, while a wonderful person, did not debate as much as either of them did and was no better an arbiter of rounds. All five members of the Board should have been given the same ranks. The fault was Scipio’s, who was then her boyfriend. He was usually a very just-minded person, but predisposed to favoritism. Porus and Kimel sent him an angry email, but there was little else that they could do.

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