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The Poison Ivy League Part 27-Frustration at Amherst

May 3, 2011

In January, Kimel made arrangements to debate with Sulla B at the Amherst tournament. Since the advent of Harvard B, opportunities to partner together had become sparse, as had their once frequent late-night conversations at Pinocchio’s. Kimel wondered if they would be able to recapture the magic of the previous year’s Middlebury competition. In fact, he found that Sulla B had improved tremendously as a speaker. Extensive practice with Sulla A had ironed out any stumbling blocks to fluency, and he now brought a wonderful flair to rounds, a sort of sarcastic self-assurance even more sharp and sparkling than Marcus’s had been.

The pair won three out of four initial rounds. They needed to win the fifth and final one if they hoped to break. They ran Kimel’s case about the Elgin Marbles, Opp choice, asking whether the British Museum should return the artifacts to Greece. This was a balanced issue with plenty to say on both sides. Sulla B did well, as he usually did, but Kimel was apprehensive during the round and not at his most compelling.

Sulla B and Kimel were consequently unsure about what had happened when the round was over. They looked expectantly off in the direction of their judge in the assembly room. Could a frown, a smile, a wrinkled brow betray what had happened? The auspices were ambiguous. In the meantime, Kimel complimented Sulla B on a job well done, whether or not they were about to progress. Kimel was shocked that English wasn’t Sulla B’s mother tongue. There wasn’t even a trace of a Russian accent in his voice. His fluid eloquence could be absolutely riveting when he was especially inspired. Kimel was glad when it was announced that they had indeed broken. He was eager to see how Sulla would do in an out-round and still smarting from the frustrating decision at Fordham a few weeks earlier.

They now found themselves pitted against Princeton B. Princeton ran the case that doctors should have the right to commit euthanasia in a liberal democracy. Hadrian spoke at length about a person’s right to end immense, unbearable suffering. He also mentioned that this could be a cost saving mechanism for hospitals. Kimel had a case on hand he’d recently written that suicide was not ethically permissible. Excited to have a whole arsenal of points at his disposal, Kimel launched into his first speech as Leader of Opposition by enumerating every pre-written argument. He said that individuals had philosophical obligations to their future selves, and metaphorically, life itself was like a terminal disease, since everyone was fated to die and subject to potentially cruel twists of fortune. He spent so long going over his new points that he scarcely had time to oppose anything that Hadrian had said. Antonina then gave a powerful speech, pointing out quite rightly that individuals at the end of painful illnesses do not exactly have future selves. She especially emphasized the pragmatic arguments on her side of the case that Kimel had under-addressed. Sulla B then spoke, losing his former luster and scarcely defending Kimel’s points. Then there was a desperate speech by Kimel, and a strong rebuttal by Hadrian. Harvard quite rightly lost the round. Kimel and Sulla B didn’t even mention the implications of the Hippocratic oath to do no harm. In retrospect, perhaps the case was tight.

Kimel was disappointed in himself. Scipio had once said that debate was an addictive activity because every loss inspired a fresh urge to succeed, and every success a sense of accomplishment. By this time, however, an inability to progress through outrounds for such a long time and the increasing dominance of Harvard B were becoming increasingly frustrating. He sat through a semi-final round in the back of the room, distracted by his thoughts. Fabius and Cato were debating together as the Harvard/Cornell hybrid. Like Kimel, Cato had also not yet qualified for Nationals or quite actualized his potential. The fact that he was partnered with the picky Fabius at Messalina’s tournament, though, shows in what esteem he was popularly held.

During the round, Kimel noticed the close attention Arianna paid to Fabius during his speech. He thought that he recognized the hint of some feeling, but hoped not. Fabius and Messalina were busy as ever being handfuls to each other. Melissa, whom Sulla B had cruelly but hilariously lampooned after her bad luck at the Wellesley tournament the previous year, served as a worried go-between between them weekend after weekend, more than once waking Scipio in the middle of the night to come and serve as moderator.

Fabius and Cato lost their round. But appearing in finals, to what was doubtless his great satisfaction, was Trimalchio, fresh from his second place finish at MIT, and Josephus, thrilled to succeed after a long dry spell. They went on to beat Princeton B on an overwhelming decision. Hadrian and Antonina could console themselves that they were now squarely toward the head of the TOTY pack.

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