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The Poison Ivy League Part 21-A Fateful Partnership

May 3, 2011

The graduating class of 2003 had scattered, some, like Livia, to graduate school, and others, like Marcus, to New York’s business world. A betting pool, however, still united their interests. The league learned that they’d staged an auction at the end of the summer, bidding on competitors still on the circuit, paying a little for some and a lot for others. Every star of the previous season had his or her own private roster. The “team” with the most TOTY and SOTY (Speaker of the Year) points at the end of the year would win the pool for its captain. Thanks to this stunt, all of the circuit’s major players were numerically ranked against each other before the season even began in earnest. Kimel was bought by Cassius from MIT for 25 dollars. Sulla A didn’t fetch a much higher price, valued at 30 (though Kimel felt every cent). Fabius turned out to be worth more money than Messalina, which Kimel imagined both of them noticed and marked well.

Staging this slave auction wasn’t exactly nice of the graduates, but it’s doubtful that they cared if they hurt anyone’s feelings. They were a small clique of very successful, very competitive people united by their dominance at argumentation. Kimel’s impression of them was chiefly formed by their behavior in debate rounds. For the most part, he’d walk past them when they returned to APDA to judge, exchange a few words, overhear them talking about money and status, pray that they’d give him high speaker points, and then move on. Only conversations with Germanicus, now a graduate student in philosophy, went a little bit deeper. Kimel and he laughed sometimes at their memories of APDA’s ups and downs, and Germanicus fleshed out the characters of his classmates in his stories.

Other dinos presided over smaller tournaments. Tiresias, blind but always good-humored, comes to mind. He never found much success on APDA, but he must have loved the activity, God help him, for its social ambience. He persevered for a long time as a judge, carefully watching round after round and offering unwanted advice on their ambiguities. Top competitors began to complain that someone who couldn’t see and couldn’t take notes should rethink participation. Given a low judging ranking at a large tournament, he eventually made his exit with a pointed letter addressed to the online APDA forum. Kimel felt sorry for him.

On the heels of the announcement of the APDA-auction, Kimel debated with Porus at Wesleyan. Sulla A’s lapdog and he broke to quarter-finals and lost to the wholesome Tertius from Yale, Josephus’s friend. Kimel thought the round could have gone either way; luck just wasn’t on their side. The Sullas eventually won the tournament over a team from Bates. This was their first final round together and their first victory. Porus stared at Sulla during his speeches like a spurned lover who is still fascinated by his former idol. They must have been close to each other once, Kimel thought to himself, before Porus became known as a second-rate debater compared to the more dominant people in his class and participated less and less when he was denied the partners of his choice. Rufus, round-faced and stout, was on his way out too.

Sulla A and B were beginning to cement themselves into a permanent alliance now. The other sophomores still debated promiscuously with each other. Now, it was inevitable that the Sullas would have an edge over them when their notoriety as a combined force spread on the circuit. They still had a long way to go, however. Some of Sulla A’s cases were better than others. There was one that said dog meat should be legalized and another that necrophilia should be put on the books! In celebration of their achievement at Wesleyan, the Sullas are hereby christened as Harvard B. Harvard A was, for now, Fabius and Scipio.

Now that Sulla A was Kimel’s roommate, Kimel began to see just how hard a worker he was at debate. He’d spend several nights a week planning out his strategy with Sulla B, writing up new cases and matching them to the weaknesses of different teams, anticipating arguments against each independent point, and generally rehearsing their voices. He put meticulous care into the activity, restlessly driven to improve himself. The only other thing to which he showed as much passion and loyalty was the college newspaper, at least after Metella began dating with Lucan from Princeton.

Sulla A was always a driven person, but he sometimes bit off more than he could chew. He once took an upper-level Latin class with Kimel for which he was in no way prepared. But he suffered through the course to the bitter end for the sport of it. For many nights, Kimel tutored him in Livy and Tacitus by lamplight.


The Poison Ivy League Part 22-Spectacles at Harvard

May 3, 2011

It was now time for the annual Harvard tournament, the largest of the year by orders of magnitude: 147 two-person teams to the traditional 90-100 of Princeton and Yale. Competitors were coming from as far away as western Canada and California. Jason managed things well enough, but made a mistake when he let the team’s seniors in on the planning and organization of the contest. They were much too bossy.

Porus and Kimel were both especially curious about judging rankings because they were still angry that some of their own classmates had been ranked higher than they were the previous year. Fabius and Scipio did a good job being secretive behind closed doors. In fact, even Sulla C and Scott interacted with them more than Kimel did. Sulla A had appointed Sulla C the Room Manager, and Scott was “Tabulation Observer,” seemingly preordaining them for the roles of President and Tournament Director next year, respectively.

Kimel’s most vivid memory of the tournament was when Messalina lost her second round. He was just returning a ballot to the tabulation room and saw the ruckus going on first hand. Fabius was running here and there, peaking again and again at the offending ballot and wringing his arms, arguing with Scipio. The trouble was this. The previous year, Trimalchio had had the bright idea of sponsoring a computerized program to randomly pair rounds and assign judges. But Fabius evidently believed that the Tournament Director should be able to adjust these results to ensure that deserving teams didn’t receive bad judging just because they lost a round. Scipio thought that this was cheating. Jason said nothing. Fabius got progressively louder as he pleaded with Scipio: give Messalina a second-tier judge, he suggested, but not a random one; make it someone like David Kimel. Imagine, saying that with Kimel right there! In the event, the computer program randomly assigned Messalina’s round to Kimel, which Fabius found hilarious enough to repeat more than once. Messalina and her partner Alexander performed admirably against a terrible team and Kimel was happy to pick them up. But he was insulted by Fabius.

Because the tournament broke to octo-finals, out-rounds took up the greater part of Saturday. Eventually, the last two teams standing were Messalina and Alexander against Cyrus and Vespasian. Cyrus had already finished his last year of eligibility but was back for another tournament. He must have liked the attention. His partner was a junior and the only active competitor left from MIT. The previous year, Cassius had often complained about him when they were forced to partner together because Marcus usually chose Gallus over him. But Vespasian had since improved tremendously and was already starting to take his place as one of the best wry speakers on the circuit. He was adept at mixing sarcasm and confidence in his speeches in equal measure, delivering his words in a knowing voice through the side of his mouth. He was evenly matched with Alexander from Amherst, who was more purely analytical in style.

The “MIT/BU Hybrid” ran an interesting case, Opp choice. They asked whether an army would be justified in killing 100,000 civilians to conclude a war, or should instead suffer 50,000 dead with an additional 50,000 enemy dead to end it. Messalina and Alexander chose to defend the latter scenario. Cyrus delivered the first speech. He was very loud and very dramatic, as he always was. Whenever he heard the audience banging on their tables in agreement with him, his voice rose to an excited squeak. He emphasized that a general’s duties were to his own soldiers. If he could save 50,000 of their lives by any means possible, he should do so. But try as he might, Cyrus couldn’t conceal the fact that everything he said was basically just a regurgitation of the case statement. Messalina rallied expertly against this initial parry. First, she explained that soldiers and civilians belonged to distinct philosophical categories: danger is inherent in enlistment, but shouldn’t be in the mere act of living under a wartime Government. She also talked about potential foreign backlash against the murder of innocent people, and explained that pragmatically speaking, the murder of 100,000 non-combatants would mean bombing cities and slaughtering women, children, the sick, and the aged, who likely make up the majority of an urban population in wartime. Vespasian gave what was easily the most entertaining speech of the round, but he didn’t convince Kimel when he said that just because 100,000 civilians were killed it didn’t mean that the majority of them would the sort of victims to tug at the heartstrings of the global community. Alexander’s dry analysis in support of Messalina proved less memorable than Cyrus’ subsequent theatrics in his final speech. However, Kimel had no doubt that Amherst had done enough to beat the case, and he was disappointed for Messalina when she lost the round on a 12-11 judges’ decision.

That night, Porus and Kimel became absolutely furious when they looked over the printed tournament reports and learned that not only were both of them ranked lower than Jason and Sulla A, they were also a peg below Aemilia, who, while a wonderful person, did not debate as much as either of them did and was no better an arbiter of rounds. All five members of the Board should have been given the same ranks. The fault was Scipio’s, who was then her boyfriend. He was usually a very just-minded person, but predisposed to favoritism. Porus and Kimel sent him an angry email, but there was little else that they could do.

The Poison Ivy League Part 23-Princeton in the Spotlight

May 3, 2011

Irritated by his judging rank and busy with theatre—he was just cast as Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors”—Kimel did not attend the Vassar or Columbia tournaments. The former was won by Sulla A and Petronius over Gracchus, Sempronia’s colorful partner. A team from Princeton won Columbia. With his victory, Sulla established himself as Harvard’s star competitor, the winner of two tournaments at that point. His hard work was beginning to pay off as he joined the roster of the circuit’s dominant speakers. At the same time, Princeton’s victory at Columbia propelled one of their teams to the front of the TOTY board. Its members now warrant an introduction.

In fact, Princeton fielded three strong teams that year. Princeton A was composed of Nerva and Trajan, both seniors. Nerva was a smart person with a speaking voice somewhat reminiscent of Germanicus’s; a capable debater, he was nonetheless not an especially memorable one. Trajan was one of the only African Americans on APDA. It’s to his credit that he stuck with the activity and eventually joined its aristocracy. Kimel never thought that he was especially gifted, however. His only strong memory of Trajan was in a round at some anonymous tournament where Trajan ran the case that Martin Luther King shouldn’t have given an interview to Playboy magazine. What could have been more unexpected or effective, Kimel argued in response, than to take white, middle-class America by surprise with its pants down? Kimel should have won that round.

With Nerva and Trajan partnered together, their fellow senior, Lucan, passed over his classmate Hadrian and began debating with a sophomore, Seneca, instead. A bushy-haired, black-eyed philosophy student, Seneca was already winning praise from older debaters for his friendliness and great intelligence. Together, he and Lucan formed Princeton C. These arrangements left Antonina, a junior, and Hadrian, the last remaining senior, to partner with each other—Princeton B.

The teams from Princeton were all very different in temperaments and behavior. Princeton A was competent but dull, and as people, its members were rather aloof. Princeton B wielded a nice mixture of analytical excellence and cocky confidence; Antonina was a gregarious treasure, and Hadrian a self-important but jovial person. As for Princeton C, Lucan was undoubtedly a strong contender, 2001’s Novice of the Year, but he was so arrogant and whiny that he detracted from his own gravitas. Seneca’s ability to deliver calm, measured speeches was an effective balance for him.

The six teammates did not get along with each other and seem to have taken their in-round rivalries very personally. Looking at matters from a third party perspective, however, it’s not obvious why there should have been so much resentment. After all, Hadrian and Antonina were best friends and natural allies. Nerva and Trajan were both seniors and had been debating together since at least the previous year. In fact, they were the team Sulla B and Kimel had defeated in the fifth round of Middlebury as sophomores. But ultimately, for whatever reason, bad blood became more putrid over time, and Princeton’s members kept jealous tabs on each other’s progress at tournaments. Princeton B was the first of the three to make a name for itself, winning Johns Hopkins, held on the same weekend as Vassar.

Columbia is traditionally one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year. As a centrally located Ivy League school, it invariably attracts the best teams from the North and South. In 2003, however, it had only two strong participants, both seniors: Furius, short-statured and long-winded, and Vipsania, Tiberius’s girlfriend. In Kimel’s opinion, it was difficult to tell who was worse-tempered. Furius was a nightmare to face in rounds, since his style seems to have usually involved belittling other teams, and Vipsania strove to emulate Livia in haughtiness. No one knew how they managed to mismanage things so grandly, but their tournament did not have enough judges to accommodate the number of teams in attendance. Soon, there were double-flighted rounds that lasted multiple hours each. The scene was said to be like a refugee camp, with debaters camped out in cavernous rooms howling at each other until the early hours of the morning. The tournament had only four in-rounds but still concluded long after midnight on Sunday. Losing participants were recruited as judges in outrounds.

The eventual winners were Princeton B, which probably made Antonina and Hadrian feel smugly vindicated. Princeton A had the advantage of a long partnership over them and Princeton C more buzz, so for best-friends to defy the odds and emerge as such winners must have been thrilling. Kimel always thought that Antonina had a bit of a crush on Hadrian, but he seemed uninterested in romance.

The Poison Ivy League Part 24-Victory and Defeat at Brown

May 3, 2011

The debate season hadn’t been going very well for Kimel. He was still partnering with a different person every week and didn’t have a chance to develop an effective two-person dynamic. Still, he enjoyed the experience of getting to know a number of different teammates. But his reputation as a debater was somewhat ambiguous among them. No one could deny his past achievements, such as they were, yet since sophomore year, he was perceived as a greater oratorical than analytical success. This reputation was honestly not deserved; in order to be successful, debaters who typically played the roles of Prime Minister and Leader of Opposition, as he did, needed to excel both logically and rhetorically. The perception was mostly based on Kimel’s less than conventional case-book and the jealousy of the people who perpetuated the stereotype in their conversations. It was certainly the reason he’d been given a demoted judging ranking at the tournament and why Fabius had preferred Jason to him as his partner at Nationals the previous year. It was a problem that could only be remedied with competitive success and time. More than anything, he hoped to begin winning outrounds.

Kimel was excited to be partnering with Jason at Brown, since they’d had such a good time at the Bryn Mawr tournament the previous year. The competition was held over Halloween, and Kimel dressed up as the nation of Turkey, wearing the enormous, phallic fez of a whirling dervish and a sign around his neck that said, “Please let me into the EU.” They were disappointed to be hitting Cato and Titus from Cornell the first round, a difficult draw. In his speech, Titus explained to the campus judge, “Our opponents were very good and definitely deserve 26s, but we deserve 27s.” Imagine his surprise when the judge followed his advice but reversed it, giving Harvard the win and the recommended speaker points, which were in fact much higher than anyone in fact deserved that round.

Jason and Kimel made an exceptional partnership. Kimel tied up opponents with multiple rapid-fire responses to their points. Then, in his speeches, Jason patiently fleshed out Kimel’s generalizations with a healthy mixture of logical extensions and new analysis. His calmness was the perfect complement to Kimel’s high energy. This dynamic worked splendidly, and the team broke to out-rounds as the most successful contestants (the top seed). Unfortunately, they lost on a close decision to a pair from Fordham on an Opp choice case that Harvard ran about whether the use of sweatshops was justified in developing countries. Scipio and Fabius ultimately made it to finals, hitting this same team. Harvard ran the case: do you love someone because they’re special, or is somebody special because you love them? Fordham chose to defend the latter possibility.

When the audience was asked for floor speeches, Kimel spoke on behalf of his teammates. Hobbling to the front of the room and speaking in a heavy Greek accent, he declared that he was Socrates resuscitated from the Elysian Fields to allow the room to “succor from the supple teat of Logos.” Then he explained that something which is portable is portable because it is able to be carried, not because it is being carried. In the same way, that which is lovable is lovable because it is able to be loved, not because it is being loved. Hence, that which is lovable is intrinsically so because there is something special about it which makes it worthy of love, not because someone happens to be in love with it. Kimel presented these analogies very eloquently and won strong applause for his efforts. This was matched when he was later named the tournament’s top speaker, an unexpected honor. Jason was third, just behind Cato.

Scipio and Fabius beat Fordham in finals and caught up to the Sullas on the TOTY board a week later when they also made it to the final round of Brandeis, losing to Sempronia and Gracchus from Brown. When Scipio went on to make it to finals of Middlebury the following week, Sulla A was clearly no longer the only dominant player from Harvard on APDA. It was then that the team’s current and former Presidents suddenly began to have an awkward rivalry between them. Scipio latched onto the Triangulars controversy as a lightning rod for his objections to Sulla. Making things even more awkward were Sulla’s inept interactions with Aemilia, Scipio’s girlfriend, at board meetings. “Did you get that, Aemilia?” he would ask her as she took notes, speaking with mock aggressiveness that accidentally didn’t come across as mocking. “Yes Sulla, I did,” she would say mournfully, and then the room would descend into silence for a while. There always seemed to be trouble between them, and with every new anecdote and subsequent tear, Scipio became all the more jaded.

The Poison Ivy League Part 25-Fabius at Fordham

May 3, 2011

Kimel admired Fabius, appreciating his wit and sassy energy in rounds. Thinking about the former Tournament Director’s chronic talkativeness and the weight of his opinions on the team, to say nothing of the chance of success in outrounds, Kimel realized what a good idea it would be to partner with him. If he showed himself to be skilled to Fabius and made a splash with a good performance, it might lead to positive buzz among people who mattered and greater success on the circuit. Fabius was immensely popular and knew more people on APDA than anyone else on the team. He had just narrowly lost the election for the APDA Presidency the previous year, largely due to lack of support from Livia and Tiberius, or so rumor had it. Now, he was not so serious about his TOTY race with Scipio that he denied Kimel the chance to be his partner at least once. At the very least, Fabius knew that he would be given new ammunition for his mimicry.

Kimel agreed that Fabius could be Prime Minister and Leader of Opposition, even though these were his usual positions. The exception was when they ran Kimel’s cases; then, Fabius allowed his younger partner to be Prime Minister. Kimel learned a great deal by paying close attention to Fabius’s rapport with judges. It became clear that the best speeches, those that won rounds, were sensitive to subtle reactions from the audience that were easy to ignore if a speaker was too focused on himself. Points that the judges seemed to find interesting needed be dwelled upon without exhausting the issue. Fabius was very good at doing this and simultaneoussly bringing a sense of charming irreverence into his speeches. At the same time, while Kimel learned from him, Fabius was impressed that his partner was in fact a strong, logical thinker with a unique ability to summarize important issues intuitively. Fabius gossiped to others about his surprise on this front, as Kimel had foreseen and hoped.

As confident as Fabius seemed in rounds, this did not carry over into downtime between them, which was always occupied by Messalina. She would often get angry with him when she wasn’t successful, and he patiently endured her tears, complaints, and even fists and teeth, all before the eyes of entire rooms of debaters. Perhaps Messalina was annoyed by the fact that try as Fabius might, it was clear he thought himself a better debater than she was, and at the very least, cared much more about his success than her insecurities. He probably denied this many times to her, but his smugness when he won debates just couldn’t be concealed. By the time of the third round, they were having one of their fights again. Messalina pushed him away and stormed out of the general assembly room. Fabius was slouched over with what might have been sorrow, boredom, or a combination of the two. He promptly lit up, however, when he began imitating a diminutive girl on the Fordham team. The poor thing pronounced her Rs as Ws, so there was wide scope for his humor.

Fabius and Kimel just squeezed into out-rounds and were pitted against Princeton C. Seneca and Lucan ran the case against them that records obtained from Nazi doctors and scientists should have been published in conventional medical journals. While Fabius had outperformed Kimel in many of the in-rounds, here the younger competitor excelled on Opposition. He said that the results of the experiments could be published elsewhere in special volumes devoted to their content. Being intrinsically offensive, they by no means belonged alongside legitimate research that adhered to ethical standards. Would a journal publish an article known to be plagiarized, Kimel asked, even if its contents were interesting and important? Of course not. Ethical standards exist in the world of medical journals due to the very nature of scientific research.

Kimel and Fabius outperformed their opponents in every way that round. Lucan completely ignored the plagiarism argument, and Seneca’s speech was uncharacteristically unfocused and repetitious. When Kimel and Fabius learned that they’d lost the round on a 2-1 decision, they were both very dejected, particularly Kimel, seemingly condemned to losing early outrounds. For the record, Princeton C later lost the tournament to Vergil from NYU, who was debating with his friend, Maria, by no means as effective a speaker as he was. Princeton B had fallen in semi-finals and might have been even more pleased than Vergil with the result of the final round.

The Poison Ivy League Part 26-Trimalchio and Jason

May 3, 2011

With Harvard A and B increasingly in the spotlight, Trimalchio and Cynthia were kept lurking in shadows on APDA. Cynthia never attended enough tournaments to become really dominant in rounds. Debate was a leisure-activity for her, and she was ultimately more interested in gossip and friendship than plastic awards. But Trimalchio was a creature of a different sort. He didn’t begin with much success at debate, but by sheer practice gradually became more and more eloquent and sure of himself. As his hurt feelings when Kimel had partnered with him the previous year showed, however, he was still touchy about his reputation. He wanted so much to excel, and it was so difficult for him.

Unsuccessful in rounds, Trimalchio had devoted considerable energy toward being a dedicated Treasurer the previous year, and was likely one of the best ever on the Harvard team. The computer tabulation program that he sponsored meant the difference between financial solvency and bankruptcy in many of the lean days ahead, and is to this day used by schools across the country. Trimalchio even initiated a T-shirt sale which, while unsuccessful in its first year due to an ultra-violent design chosen by Jason, became quite lucrative when the team made use of the Harvard logo instead, probably breaking copyright law. There was little wonder Trimalchio knew so much about money. His teammates were taken off-guard when he showed off an original Andy Warhol painting in one of his parents’ houses in New York.

At December’s MIT tournament, the team was out in full force, as usual for that occasion. Two pairings from Harvard broke to quarterfinals: Scipio and Fabius were one, and Trimalchio and Jason the other, to Trimalchio’s delight. Messalina and Alexander also broke to quarter-finals, as did Sulla A’s former girlfriend, Metella. She and Lucan were the South’s “it couple,” for the moment. Metella was partnered with Sappho, another junior from Swarthmore and the single most intelligent person Kimel ever saw to speak on APDA. Were debate a completely analytical activity divorced from tricks, strategy, and emotion, Sappho would likely have become even more famous than the legendary Brian Fletcher. Her speeches were like long lists of insightful points elegantly but off-handedly presented. Charming and erudite in and out of rounds, she never spoke badly of anyone. She was seldom quite aggressive or cocky enough to advance far into out-rounds, though.

Amherst and Swarthmore fell in quarter-finals, and Harvard A in semis. Jason and Trimalchio made it all the way to finals and lost to a team from Yale led by Tertius’s frequent partner, Hirtius. This was the second year in a row that Harvard lost to Yale in the finals of MIT. Of course, Yale’s roster had seen itself sadly depleted since the days of Germanicus and Livia and Tiberius. At the Brown tournament, which again included a musical written by Gracchus, one of the lyrics had tellingly been “Put Hirtius on a plane and Tertius on a bus.” Yale’s victory at MIT doubtless meant a lot to the team, which fielded not one pairing in the top ten TOTY that year. As for Trimalchio, he was so carried away by his success that he hardly minded losing the final round. He began to partner with Jason more frequently in hopes of more good things. Sadly, MIT finals would be both the beginning and the beginning of the end of his career at the top. He eventually became more notorious for his unreciprocrated crush on Arianna than for winning rounds. Jason, however, was on a roll, and would go on to win so many speaker awards at upcoming tournaments that he would end the year as Harvard’s only speaker in the top ten SOTY race at tenth place, just ahead of Trajan at eleventh.

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.

The Poison Ivy League Part 28-Northams with Fabius

May 3, 2011

Kimel didn’t originally plan to debate at the North American Championship, which was going to be held at Queen’s University in Ontario during the dead of winter. Meeting each other by chance soon before Christmas break, however, Fabius and Kimel began to gossip about the upcoming tournament. Fabius was already promised to another partner, but it was a person whom he could fathom letting down for a second opportunity to debate with Kimel. He reiterated how impressed he was by Kimel’s talent and said that he was sure they’d make a dangerous matchup. Since the North American Championship was one of the circuit’s two title tournaments, the other being Nationals, the temptation to agree was great for Kimel, though it would mean returning to school early from the holidays. At the same time, he had some misgivings about stealing someone else’s partner. These scruples were promptly overcome by the promise of success, however. After all, even advancing to quarter-finals after winning an octo-final round would be enough to qualify for Nationals; those were the rules of Northams. Soon, everything was arranged.

The ride to Canada took hours winding through thick pine forests. Eventually, amid increasingly blinding quantities of ice and snow, the van reached Queen’s University in the town of Kingston. Kimel was a nervous wreck after the journey. The driver had been guzzling alcohol all along the way, gulping straight from the bottle, and Kimel could scarcely conceal his terror as they slipped and slid alongside Lake Ontario. He began to relax, however, when he left the car and reunited with a group of old friends, a contingent of Canadians he’d housed in his room at that year’s Harvard tournament. They soon fell to reminiscing about the nights they’d spent camped out on the floor of his dorm room and the conversations that had kept them awake into the early hours of the morning.

Unlike at regular tournaments, the staff of Northams dicates what the topic of each round will be. For the first round, Kimel and Fabius were forced to defend that manned space programs should be banned. They were pitted against a team from a Canadian law school. In fact, they were considered two of that year’s best speakers from Canada. But Kimel was totally unaware of their reputation and, being oblivious, was at his most sharp and confident in the round. Although neither he nor Fabius could quite answer the argument that manned space flights were analogous to Columbus’ early voyages, victory was Harvard’s thanks to Kimel’s pragmatic point that technology should improve before manned missions were more widely implemented.

Fabius and Kimel went on to bring down one capable team after the next, including a future Top Speaker at Worlds. In large part, Kimel took a back seat to Fabius, a man with more than four years’ experience under his belt at the top of his game. But Kimel was by no means dead weight. Squaring off against largely unknown opponents was a great psychological boost for him, since he showed no fear or hesitation in his speeches. But he proved equally effective in a round against old friends: Sulla A and Arianna. Thanks greatly to Fabius, who made Kimel feel that he could do no wrong at the tournament, he won his first victory over his most consummate rival. After the round, Kimel was nevertheless impressed by how far Arianna had come as a speaker in a little over a year. APDA certainly rewards those willing to endure trials by fire.

Winning more than enough rounds to break, it was announced during Saturday night’s banquet that he and Fabius were to be hitting a team from William and Mary in the morning’s octo-finals. Kimel had never heard of the pair, but quickly learned that they were tremendously dominant in the South. He observed the two sophomores sitting across the room as the hosts of the tournament proposed a toast to the Queen.

Crassus was a round-faced, round-bodied fellow, talkative, vain, and clearly delighted by his own facetiousness, even from that distant angle. Pompey was more non-descript looking with beady eyes, large cheeks, and a Roman nose. He seemed more taciturn and business-like than Crassus, at least at first glance. Neither was especially tall. What they lacked in height they compensated for in notoriety; they were extremely well-connected among the leading debaters of a whole constellation of Southern universities. In fact, the self assured pair had fetched two of the highest prices in the debate-auction at the beginning of the year because, as expected, they dominated regional tournaments without much serious opposition.

Crassus and Pompey were both extremely ambitious, and in particular Crassus, who was already racking up so many awards in the South that there were rumors he would one day break all-time records. Perhaps no one on the circuit thought about debate as much as he did. Statistics about rival debaters, opponents’ in-round and out-round records, and past judging decisions all raced through his mind even in his leisure hours. When not cracking jokes in the assembly room, he could be seen hunched over makeshift charts trying to infer who was winning and losing rounds based on intelligent guesses and any information that was leaked to him by his spies in the tabulation room. Yet for all of this intensity, there was at the time something undeniably ridiculous about the young Crassus that made it difficult for his elders to take him entirely seriously, particularly in the North. Perhaps it was the quadruple onslaught of his size, narcissism, extreme competitiveness, and paradoxical light-heartedness that was responsible for this. Only in the South did those who saw Pompey and Crassus perform regularly understand what a truly formidable combination they could be—like MIT A at their best, but more practiced and with greater affability.

Because Kimel had never seen Crassus and Pompey debate, knew them only as the objects of jokes, and realized that they were a year younger than he was besides, he was in fact not very intimidated by the prospect of facing them in the morning. Crassus was wearing an ungainly jacket all through the tournament that reminded Kimel of a trenchcoat, and he and Lawrence began to call him “Detective Crassus” behind his back. Kimel wasn’t usually so mocking, but he’d promised himself that he would qualify for Nationals and, encouraged by Fabius, was goading himself on psychologically to prepare for combat. In the meantime, however, Crassus and Pompey caught wind of these jokes and resolved not to fall so easily, no matter what they needed to do.

Toward the end of the banquet, Cassius and Marcus came to sit with Fabius and Kimel. Although they’d graduated, they were debating together as the ghosts of MIT and had also broken to out-rounds. Kimel thought to himself that this was probably a way for Marcus to make up the TOTY race to Cassius, which had left him out in favor of Gallus. For his part, Cassius was confident of victory the next day and broke out into song, having memorized “Hey Ya,” popular in those days, and twitching his head along to the rhythm. Fabius almost died laughing. Kimel too found it funny, but his mind was elsewhere. He’d already beaten Cassius twice in his career, at Wellesley and Middlebury, and wondered if he would have a chance to reach the magic third.

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.

The Poison Ivy League Part 30-Far and No Cigar

May 3, 2011

Marcus and Cassius annihilated Fabius and Kimel in semi-finals. Facing off against two of the best debaters from the previous season, Kimel was bashful when he should have been insistent, unsure of defending his points when he should have been confident, and generally hesitant and disorganized in his sequence of arguments. Fabius was stronger in his speech, but was no match for Marcus out for revenge for the previous year’s Nationals. As Marcus delivered his opinions with increasing loudness and pushy flair, Kimel began to draw concentric circles and googly eyeballs on his sheet of notes, realizing that all was lost. Marcus’s intimidating presence recalled a night a year earlier when, in a misguided effort to be rambunctious, the MIT debater had heaved a glass ashtray at a friend’s head and accidentally drawn blood. As Kimel’s eyes rose to meet Marcus, red-faced and inflamed with eloquence, he contemplated the menacing, crazed intensity behind the sarcastic façade, an intensity that had once even managed to disarm Yale A at their best.

Having lost on a 5-0 decision, Kimel was exposed to the indignity of the final round in which all of the participants were dressed in long, ceremonial robes, which he would have loved to have donned. In fact, the lost opportunity to dress in such interesting costumes was a more bitter pill for Kimel to swallow than losing semi-finals deservedly to his elders. In the meantime, Arianna consoled him in their seats in the audience by emphasizing his strong showing at the tournament—third place at a title championship was nothing to sneeze at. Kimel attempted to return the favor and congratulate her in turn for her success at breaking, but she was so self-effacing that she would have none of it. They both agreed that Fabius had been at his best at the competition and were sorry to have lost the opportunity to see him debate in finals.

As Kimel watched MIT lose the Championship to a significantly more incompetent team from Canada, he found comfort in the fact that he’d at least qualified for Nationals and would now be a half-seed at future tournaments, which would protect him from difficult first round draws. Before everyone headed home, he took Fabius aside and thanked him again for everything that he’d done for him. Unfortunately, this would be the last time that they would debate together.

In the meantime, notwithstanding the results of Northams, the TOTY race was becoming increasingly heated with a host of Princeton teams all battling against each other, to say nothing of Alexander and Messalina and Vergil and his various teammates who had also won a large number of competitions. NYU, Cornell, Princeton, Mt. Holyoke, and Yale were the last major competitions of the year that were expected to decide the outcome.

At the NYU tournament, Sulla A debated with Lucius, a senior from Fordham and the APDA President. This was done in hopes of obtaining his support for APDA Treasurer the next year. Although Sulla had a vendetta against Lucius that extended back to a corrupt decision in a high school debate round, he set his problems aside for the sake of political expediency and broke all the way to semi-finals, where he lost unfairly, having run an excellent case about whether the devil’s advocate, who argues against the canonization of saints, had a place in the modern Catholic hierarchy. Still, even with this loss, he’d obtained Lucius’s support for Treasurer, which is what he was really after, and would later win the title, with Hirtius from Yale as President.

Princeton B and C both fell in quarter-finals. Eventually, Princeton A emerged victorious over Tertius and Hirtius in finals. NYU was a 20 point victory for Nerva and Trajan, since the tournament was so large, but it didn’t make much of a difference to the TOTY race. Princeton B and C were too far ahead of them, and this was the only competition they would ever win. But at the smaller Cornell tournament, when Princeton C defeated Princeton B in finals on a 9-8 decision, it seemed that the TOTY race definitively belonged to Lucan and Seneca. It was at this time that relationships on the Princeton team likely reached a nadir, with Princeton B’s victories shaded in the past, and Princeton A and C in the contemporary limelight. Fame on APDA, as Hadrian and Antonina discovered, could be fickle.

It is to their credit that the three teams from Princeton got along well enough with each other to organize a first rate tournament named, as tradition demanded, for Adlai Stevenson. Still lacking consistent partners with substantial competitive success behind them, the Princeton tournament did not go well for Kimel or, for that matter, the majority of Harvard teams. Neither Sulla C and Porus nor Fabius and Scipio managed to break. Trimalchio and Jason, increasingly inseparable, fell in octo-finals. But Sulla A and B persevered all the way to semi-finals, impressing Kimel more and more every round with how effortlessly powerful and self-assured they’d become as a combined force. In semi-finals, however, the illusion was broken when they dropped spectacularly to a pair from Britain. Sulla A had selected a poor case from his repertoire to face them and, sensing his error, delivered his first speech as Prime Minister in half the time allotted to him in an attempt to take his opponents off guard. The case involved roll-call voting in political assemblies, and Sulla’s points, even if they were often convincing, were successfully brushed aside and mocked by his English counterparts, who knew nothing about American political procedures. Even a humorous speech from Sulla B, perhaps the funniest that he ever delivered, couldn’t save the day. But this would be the last time that the Sullas would fail so dramatically in an out-round.

Messalina and Cato, the Amherst-Cornell hybrid, competed in Princeton finals against this same team from England and lost on a 5-4 decision. Thus, victory eluded Messalina by a single vote, just as it had at Harvard. Having fought her way valiantly to the final rounds of two of the largest tournaments of the year, she would never win a single competition on APDA.