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The Poison Ivy League Part 3-Kimel’s First 29

May 3, 2011

A few more words on the rules of APDA are in order. Opposition would seem at first glance to be the more difficult position than Government, since the latter can prepare cases beforehand and enjoys the advantage of total surprise. Actually, though, Opposition is typically easier because it’s usually simpler to poke holes in arguments than to build them up. The first speaker for the Government is the Prime Minister, who opens and closes the round. The Leader of the Opposition delivers two speeches against the Government’s proposal, separated by the speeches of the Member of Government and Member of Opposition, which help along their respective sides. Participants are awarded points from 23 (atrocious) to 27-28 (astounding), and ranked 1-4. In order to be eligible to compete at the National Championship, people needed to reach a final round at a tournament of any size; this, at least, was the rule when Kimel was on the circuit and for the vast majority of its history. Someone in a final round then became a “half-seed” at other tournaments—if he or she debated with another “half seed,” the team was ranked a “full seed.” Theoretically, this is important in the pairing of first rounds, in which seeds are not pitted against each other, but against unseeded, and hence theoretically worse, teams. The result of this is that at most tournaments, the first two rounds or so involve dominant seniors destroying novices and incompetent participants. There are other peculiarities of the style that will become apparent with time, but these are the most important details.

Once the team got to Wellesley, Agrippina and Kimel learned that they were competing against (“hitting”) a team that was half-seeded, like they were, which was theoretically an error. Their opponents included one of the best speakers from MIT, a junior named Cassius. He was a sharp if tweedy character who had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of arcane subjects. He will appear in this story again. Kimel’s first impression of him was that he spoke with a sense of dry condescension toward people whom he considered less intelligent than himself, a character trait not uncommon on the circuit; in fact, cross apply it to virtually everyone, with a few notable exceptions. Cassius had apparently begun his career as a stammering novice but had evolved into one of the North’s best up-and-coming voices. Besides, he was a junior and still had the upcoming year to improve. He complained vehemently to the tournament organizers about hitting Agrippina and Kimel, but they ultimately went forward with the round anyway. Kimel’s confidence was bolstered by the fact that he and Agrippina were considered a difficult first-round draw, at least at this tournament. Harvard was on Opposition. The case Cassius ran was that attempted murder should have the same judicial consequences as murder. It was a stock case that Agrippina and Kimel defeated handily, particularly since Cassius’s partner was not up to his caliber. Kimel brought up the example of strangulation in this round, since someone could stop choking someone in mid-throttle and should intuitively be in a distinct legal category from someone who never stopped the act, an argument for any method of murder that is not instantaneous.

Agrippina and Kimel continued to do well at the tournament. They were assigned to be Government for the third round and were up against a talented team of physically enormous fellows—a hybrid of Cyrus from BU (a raucous and good-humored speaker with an alarming knowledge of pop culture) and Marcus from MIT (highly intelligent, confident to the point of haughtiness, and an aggressive speaker with no patience for fools). Kimel wanted to run an Opp choice case, letting the Opposition select what side it wanted to defend, about whether the historical Brutus ought to have joined the conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar. Agrippina discouraged this and explained to Kimel before the round that while one could theoretically run any case in the world, the best speeches were invariably on “serious topics.” As a Classics major with an interest in history, Kimel assured her that the case was at least serious to him, and he insisted on running it. He then went on to speak a 29. This was gracious of the Wellesley judge, since the score was nominally reserved for Jesus and Gandhi by the policy of the tournament. For a while after this, some people on the Harvard team called Kimel Jesus, but the nickname didn’t stick. To Kimel’s knowledge, the history of debate has not seen many 29s, and while he doubts that he deserved it, notwithstanding a clever joke about toga parties, it increased his notoriety as a novice who had, after all, only debated at two tournaments up to that point.

Agrippina and Kimel ultimately won 4 out of 5 rounds and broke directly to semi-finals, hitting another team from MIT. After his 29, Kimel now had free rein over the case book. In Agrippina’s words, this was by now “his tournament,” and she muttered that she would support any decision he made. In the event, Kimel ran the case that Prometheus should not have given fire to mankind and gave what might have been the most memorable PMC (first Prime Minister Constructive Speech) of his career. “You are a mighty giant!” and “You forged mankind from mud!” proved to be impressive catchphrases. Unfortunately, however, Agrippina went on to drop the ball with a halting speech, and Kimel gave a confused PMR (second Prime Minister Rebuttal, or closing speech). Harvard lost. Still, he’d had a wonderful time being the center of attention for a weekend among people who seemed both very smart and very arrogant, and the thrill of competition against sharp competitors and the promise of out-speaking them inspired him to take APDA more seriously than he had up until then. Kimel regretted that he didn’t have a chance to see Yale A debate, who also lost in semi-finals. Livia and Tiberius were considered the best pairing from the North and were almost notorious for their ability to win rounds, though at that time he knew nothing about their personalities or styles.

Sulla A congratulated Kimel on his success once they returned to Harvard. After speaking with him for a while, Kimel found him to be a friendly, genuine person with a passion for the activity that then dwarfed his own. When he learned that they’d both been randomly assigned to live in the Eliot House dormitory, Kimel was sincerely pleased by the news; in the days before randomization, legend had it that the Catholic JFK was rejected from living there by his Protestant peers. Later, the man who would prove in the eyes of most observers to be Kimel’s most consummate rival at debate would eventually become his roommate, and one with whom Kimel could never recall, for all that happened next, a single domestic argument.

Sulla A had a man named Porus who followed him around at tournaments like a dutiful shadow, since, despite Kimel’s sudden appearance, Sulla had long since established himself as the most talented and dedicated member of the novice class, and Porus probably hoped to debate with him eventually; in those days, most people had different partners every weekend. But when Sulla A ditched Porus to partner with a stronger speaker for the Fairfield tournament, Kimel agreed to go with him instead. In retrospect, Kimel’s attending the tournament is somewhat unfortunate, since if he had only debated twice his freshman year, he would have technically been novice his sophomore year and likely have won the Novice of the Year Award. Besides, Fairfield would prove to be one of the worst experiences of his debate career, and Kimel’s survival on the circuit in its aftermath is a testament to how much he enjoyed his time with Agrippina at the Wellesley tournament. She promised to debate again with him some day, a fact which Kimel kept in the back of his mind as he was submitted to the worst of debate at Fairfield. In fact, the very name of the tournament would soon become a byword for corruption.

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