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The Poison Ivy League Part 29-A Chance at a Championship

May 3, 2011

After a restless night, Kimel entered an empty auditorium with Fabius, the venue for their octo-final round. A handful of spectators shuffled into the room after eating the tasteless bagels the tournament had provided. Among them was a pair from McGill assigned to face the winners of Kimel’s round in quarter-finals. One of them was the President of CUSID, the Canadian debate league. Arianna and Sulla A were not in the audience; they had also broken and were debating in another room. This was Arianna’s first major accomplishment on APDA.

Three judges presided over Kimel’s round. Their head announced its topic: a liberal democracy should implement free healthcare. William and Mary were on Government, and Harvard on Opposition. Kimel and Fabius were immediately apprehensive, since the judges were mostly Canadians and had likely been indoctrinated since youth with the justice of universal healthcare. The case essentially pit American and Canadian values against each other.

Crassus presently stepped forward and announced the Government’s case. He explained that Pompey and he were deeply troubled by the plight of innocent children in hard circumstances. With a sigh, he affirmed that liberal democracies should provide free vaccinations to “poor little tiny babies.” “Poor little tiny babies?” cried Kimel, to the sound of some laughter. Crassus assured Kimel that he hadn’t misheard, and then launched into his case. The unvaccinated children of the poor could bring contagious diseases to whole schoolrooms of classmates, he cautioned. And besides, was it really morally just for the Government to allow the babies of impoverished parents to die from turn-of-the-century ailments like polio or consumption? Then he sat down with a great grin on his face. Fabius, the Leader of Opposition, could do nothing but say that in the form in which the case was run, it was essentially tight. It was simply unreasonable for the Opposition to defend withholding vaccinations from dying children on principal. Pompey then rose, and emphasized that it was the Opposition’s burden to oppose the case it was given. Then he moaned about the plight of uninsured children in the US and how much better off their Canadian counterparts were. To Kimel’s horror, he saw one of the judges nod enthusiastically with him.

Now it was Kimel’s turn to speak. Though he had largely been in Fabius’s shadow during in-rounds, in out-rounds, he was determined to excel and make a difference to the outcome. With Marcus and Sulla B in mind, the first thing that he did was to mock Crassus a second time for the preposterous phrase “poor little tiny babies.” He declared that Crassus’ speech was nothing but a hyperbolic attempt to tug at the heartstrings of the Canadian judges. Then he began to read through Crassus’ points and to laugh at them one by one, as Cyrus or Petronius from his own team might have done. What did Crassus expect the Opposition to say against his point that “the wheel of fortune” eked out unequal portions to children? It was a cold fact of life that people were born with unequal funds.

Then, knowing exactly what Livia and Tiberius would have done if faced with such a case, Kimel looked straight into the eyes of Pompey and asked, if the American system of insurance was so terrible, why did he and his esteemed partner choose to limit their case to “poor little tiny babies.” Why not run the case that universal healthcare is a basic right? It was a tacit admission that in large countries like the United States, truly universal healthcare would be an enormous economic burden. Kimel assured the judges that William and Mary’s case was narrowly tailored to try to trick the Opposition into accepting a ridiculous burden. Private healthcare could be used for inoculations; the Government could step in in only the most extreme cases. Then Kimel sat down. Fabius insistently affirmed Kimel’s points before Crassus launched into his final speech, a string of rhetorically embellished descriptions of poor infants stricken with measles and rubella spreading their germs to hordes of their hapless friends. Then everyone left the room.

Kimel sat alone in the assembly hall staring at the chair in front of him. Fabius came to join him. To pass the time, they began to talk about their personal histories. Reviewing the details of their pasts, they noted that they both came from divorced households. Kimel’s parents had separated in his infancy. Fabius faced the problem later. He explained how devastating it could be when a couple’s rich tapestry of memories was torn asunder, and casually mentioned that he understood the urge to struggle to save collapsing relationships beyond the limits of reason. Kimel had never been in love before, and didn’t understand the full impact of what Fabius said to him. In the midst of their musings, the announcement was made. Harvard had defeated William and Mary on a 2-1 decision. Kimel embraced Fabius, and even Sulla A and Arianna, who’d lost their round, cheered graciously for them. They were now moving on to quarter-finals. Crassus and Pompey shook their hands and proceeded to sulk. Kimel had qualified for Nationals.

Now facing McGill, Harvard was made to run the case that all citizens should be required to become organ donors. Fabius explained the salient issues as Prime Minister: the policy could save lives, and it was a utilitarian waste to let valuable organs decay. The first speaker for the Opposition immediately said that individuals’ religious feelings were more important than any pragmatic argument in the round because the right to unrestricted faith preceded all others in a liberal democracy. Kimel had learned from close observation of Germanicus that it was worthwhile to watch for judges’ reactions during opponents’ speeches. When Kimel saw Hadrian, who was judging at Northams rather than competing, wrinkle his brow in confusion, he knew just what point to emphasize in his upcoming speech. Kimel explained that religious freedom was not a primary, untouchable right. There were restrictions to religious freedoms all the time for the sake of secular public standards—female circumcision was banned, for example, and arranged marriages couldn’t be forced. Mandatory inoculations in schools were usually required even of the faithful. If corpses could be used to help the living, why literally burn or bury them? The Member of Opposition stood on a point of information and asked Kimel if he could name a single use for the organs of a corpse, as opposed to a victim of brain-death. Speaking as confidently as Livia ever did on a topic she knew nothing about, Kimel responded “corneal grafts and skin transfusions,” to applause. He then concluded by mocking the idea that in countries that require organ transfusions, doctors would be pressured to pull the plug on patients, the weakest argument of the Opposition and so the perfect raw spot to deliver a final punch. Kimel sat down. Again, Harvard was victorious.

Now, Kimel and Fabius found themselves in semi-finals, thrilling Kimel. But he became altogether more somber when he learned that their opponents were Cassius and Marcus. All his self-assurance dissipated, and he began to clench his teeth.

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