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The Poison Ivy League Part 42-Breakthrough at Columbia

May 3, 2011

The 2004 Columbia tournament was scheduled to overlap with Vassar’s competition. This was clearly an indignity to the honor of Columbia in revenge for the previous year’s disaster, since the school is a centrally located Ivy institution and traditionally enjoys an unopposed weekend. At 73 teams, it was decidedly less well attended than usual but still very large. The Sullas ventured north for the humbler Vassar competition, which they ultimately won over Hirtius and his partner. Kimel and Jason headed south to compete in New York. After a forgettable sequence of in-rounds, they broke to quarter-finals and faced Seneca from Princeton and Gregorius from Yale. Gregorius was a supremely confident speaker and only slightly less compelling than his brother before him, a former National Champion and a member of 2002’s TOTY.

Eager to win the round and aware of the fact that his idiosyncratic casebook was openly despised by some of the dino judges, Kimel deferred to Jason’s arsenal, which contained drier cases than his own but many that were nearly impossible to effectively oppose at first hearing. To disarm the Princeton/Yale hybrid, they ran the case that tradable pollution credits should be enacted. Every June, they proposed, auctions should be held at which companies would bid for the right to pollute. They could then trade the credits that they acquired. Kimel elaborated in his speech on why the plan was so effective; it made it an active expense to pollute and encouraged innovation in the form of cleaner technologies. Seneca and Gregorius proceeded to fold before the onslaught of the case. By the end of the round, Kimel was confident that he had won and was gratified to advance to semi-finals, particularly since this was his first official victory over Seneca. Now he and Jason were to face Alexander from Amherst.

Alexander was undoubtedly a dignified, well-respected debater. Nonetheless, after an impressive showing the previous season with Messalina, his senior year would prove to be largely disappointing for him. Ultimately, he had no partner on his team to match his strength or experience; only Marcia, Cato’s girlfriend, might have fit the bill, but for whatever reason, they seldom competed together. At Columbia, he was characteristically partnered with a smart classmate whose speeches nonetheless left one with the impression that his intelligence outshone his eloquence. Jason and Kimel ran their tightest case possible against them—that gerrymandering should be reformed. In other words, political interest groups should not be allowed to draw the lines of Congressional districts to ensure that their cronies were always elected. Instead of this, Harvard argued that impartial tribunals or, better yet, computer programs should do the job.

Kimel could think of no obvious points to oppose the case, and neither could Alexander or his partner; the only potential area of vulnerability was the unclear nature of the “impartial tribunals” (how would they be chosen, etc.) However, Kimel was confident at the end of the round that he and Jason had lost. Although he finished as seventh speaker at the tournament, matching his performance at Smith (he had, by the way, been the third place speaker at Wesleyan), he felt sloppy in general that weekend, burdened by the realization that this was likely a make it or break it competition in terms of his career with Jason. Fortunately, Jason was at his most dynamic and effective at Columbia. The dinos who judged him clearly respected the former tenth place SOTY and Nationals semi-finalist. As Kimel and he waited nervously for the results of their round, they happened to pass beside Cyrus, who whispered to them that they’d won and had better think of a better case for finals if they were on Government. Apparently, one of the judges was so furious with the decision that he stormed out of the deliberation room. Alexander must have been disappointed—the case really was unfair. Kimel, however, was dizzy with excitement and thrilled that an ambiguous out-round had finally gone his way.

In finals, Harvard again found themselves against Lepidus and Antony. Whichever team was assigned to Government usually lost in these matchups; now, it was Johns Hopkins’ turn. They ran the case Opp choice whether a 20th century Marxist should resort to violent means against bankers in order to bring about his goals. This case went on to become well established on the circuit and seems to have inspired numerous imitators, but Kimel intuitively felt that the peaceful side of the issue would more often than not win over judges. In his speech, however, he was rather inept. He argued too sweepingly that almost every communist Government preferred re-indoctrination to the death penalty, using the example of Puyi, the hapless last emperor of China whom Mao spared and re-molded rather than assassinated. But communist Governments were notorious for executions, so the point seemed over-generalizing and inelegantly presented.

Luckily, Jason saved the day. He memorably assured the judges that it would be a smear on the reputation of an infant ideology in search of new adherents to be associated with acts of terrorism. Would Hopkins want a picture of Karl Marx to be placed beside one of an explosion in the morning newspaper, he asked? The judges laughed at this, and Jason’s affability helped him and Kimel to achieve victory on a 9-2 decision. Harvard A’s adventure had officially begun.

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