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The Poison Ivy League Part 47-Machiavellian Maneuvers

May 3, 2011

Kimel did not attend Dartmouth, which was 2005’s inaugural tournament. Jason and Hilaria placed second behind Hirtius. They made it so far because the Sullas deliberately lost their semi-final round to them to allow Hilaria to qualify for Nationals. Johns Hopkins failed to even break, and William and Mary stumbled somehow in quarter-finals after winning all five of their in-rounds.

This bizarre habit of throwing rounds would prove to be an ominous highlight of the season, and ultimately a destructive one. It was relatively widespread by now and long since virtually codified in Harvard tradition (though many say that the root of the contagion could be traced to prior practices at Yale). In his mind, Kimel justified the practice in this way. Many activities, including sumo wrestling, in fact possess a secret culture which involves throwing important rounds to ensure that junior members meet certain qualifications, and lesser ranked players likewise sometimes defer to more dominant competitors in the ring, either to bring glory to a specific dojo or to inspire the memory of a service owed. Every sport falls short of the ideal—the all American pastime itself is bathed in steroids. Ultimately, Kimel considered the art of throwing rounds a complex piece of theatre that should in no way be applied as a general rule. In this, his opinion differed from the majority’s on the Harvard team, which believed that rounds should always be thrown no matter what in order to qualify as many people as possible for Nationals. To Kimel, this was nonsensical, as if attendance at Nationals, a single competition subject to all the randomness of every other individual contest, was the be-all and end-all of APDA, even if it was a prestigious event. Readers will recall that Yale A had failed to even break at Nationals in 2002, and Princeton B, TOTY in 2004, similarly faltered at the year’s final tournament.

To be sure, Kimel was fond enough of his teammates enough to deliberately lose unimportant rounds to them, at least in theory. For example, he would have happily done so for Arianna and Attila during Brandeis semi-finals, though they little needed his help. However, by the same token, if TOTY came down to success at a single round or tournament, he would equally expect close friends to play soft-ball with him, realizing that a year’s worth of work was on the line and individual decisions at rival competitions were often highly politicized to the point of bias, with the South by no means favoring Northern interests, or vice versa. It soon became no secret that Harvard A was the darling of the North, with several teams offering to punt rounds to them if only to ensure that a pair of upstanding seniors would beat out a pack of precocious Southern juniors. After all, people still whispered about the conclusion of the 2001-2002 debate season, though the geographical designation was now reversed. All of this made the TOTY race a tortuous political mire. At the end of the day, however, only one round was ever legitimately punted to Kimel, though he was often disgusted at the hypocrisy of his peers on HSPDS when they did their level best to prevent him from winning the TOTY award while simultaneously throwing unimportant rounds to participants who hardly debated. The only excuse for this, in Kimel’s mind, was if the rival Harvard teammates were in competition for the TOTY award themselves, when punting would be absurd.

It was before this complex backdrop that Harvard A, B, and C played out the Amherst tournament. A terrible snowstorm drove off several participants before out-rounds, including Crassus, who happened to be debating with Vespasian that weekend. Vespasian was thus left to compete in quarter-finals alone, and when he heard that he was hitting Harvard A, he overtly agreed to throw the round to them. In preference to this, however, Kimel suggested that he would run a humorous case rather than choose a more lethal arrow from his quiver, and all participants agreed to the arrangement, with the understanding that Vespasian in no way hoped to win. At first, Kimel and Jason considered running the case that the Seven Dwarfs should turn Snow White out into the cold. In the end, however, Kimel selected a jewel which, in retrospect, he perhaps should have shown off more often.

On a trip to Constantinople as a teenager along with his Israeli grandmother, Kimel once acquired a mock-erudite book in a bazaar about the sex lives of the Ottoman Turks. The most fascinating story was that of Sikevar. Evidently, the mad Sultan Ibrahim II desired the most obese woman in the capital as an ornament for his Harem. The singular progress of the tale can only be related by the book’s author, one “Sema Nilgun Erdogan”:

“One day, this crazy Sultan told his men to search for to (sic) the fattest woman of Istanbul. They looked everywhere and found a chubby Armenian who weighed 130 kilos. The Sultan who was very pleased with this woman called her Sikevar and never favored the others. Her caresses became a shelter for his slight and feeble body. Perhaps he was cured of his psychosis when he got the feeling of being in her (sic) mother’s womb.” (Sexual Life in Ottoman Society, pp. 18)

Inspired by the anecdote, Kimel asked Vespasian, Opp choice, whether Sikevar should have accepted the Sultan’s offer to live in his Harem or refuse it, with the caveat that she wouldn’t lose her head should she choose not to join him. There were actually several layers of interesting, substantial arguments in this case. The Armenians were an oppressed community, for example, and Sikevar might use her influence with the Sultan to improve her nation’s lot. At the same time, the charms of being a princess were obvious. Then again, the Sultan was known to be mad and might at any moment turn on her, and the Harem was, in all reality, a euphemism for a gilded prison. All of these issues were discussed in the round, but the main debate centered on the feasibility of using cranes or a series of interconnected logs over which the woman could be rolled to transport her to the palace. Harvard A won quarter-finals on an uncontested decision, and to the round’s credit, Kimel never saw a more witty or biting sequence of speeches, insensitive though they were to the overweight. In retrospect, Crassus must have been furious when he found out about what happened—though no more irritated than Kimel was when William and Mary or, for that matter, Johns Hopkins racked up TOTY points at competitions that were often admittedly less competitive than their Northern counterparts.

Semi-finals were against Harvard C, and it proved to be a tough battle, for this was Josephus and Petronius’s last chance to have a realistic chance of finishing among the very top TOTY teams that year. Kimel and Jason ran a difficult case against them about the injustice of Presidential pardons. The panel of judges was extremely ill-disposed to the case, and Harvard C might have seized victory, had not Josephus and Petronius complained erroneously that the case was tight, to which Kimel had a whole battalion of pre-written responses. He delivered each of them with a growing sense of aggressive indignation, as if he were furious at his friends for questioning the purity of his motives.

The final round, against Harvard B, was perhaps the most balanced of the tournament. Cursed with a position on Government again, Kimel ran a case that all four debaters knew well, Opp-choice; should the British Museum return the Elgin Marbles to Greece? Kimel and Jason gave strong speeches in support of restoring a major national landmark on par with the torch on the Statue of Liberty. Sulla A faltered before the onslaught, but Sulla B, who knew the case well, gave what was undoubtedly the best speech of the round, pointing out that the Classical tradition belonged to the entire world, and that the return of great artworks was a slippery slope. Would the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo be next? Kimel and Jason lost the tournament by a single vote, with Sulla B being given a special award for his final oration. Kimel won fourth place speaker, and Arianna second, an exciting distinction. Irritatingly, the 5-4 verdict against Harvard A was evidently only reached when a junior member of the Amherst team learned that his was the deciding ballot, and changed his decision in favor of the Sullas, whom he idolized. Still, a ten point second-place finish at Amherst would certainly do no harm in the TOTY race, and Kimel and Jason remained securely at the top of the slippery pole.

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