Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Back to School

There’s a lot to write about, but I’m too tired. The Packers beating the Chargers alone would be worth a few paragraphs. But I feel rather melancholy this evening. I’m really happy to go back to teaching. I’m TAing for Steve Hanson’s comparative class, which is really his POL S 101 class, the first class and professor I taught for here at the U. Marx and Weber. Plus, Steve says that my proposal is basically ready to be shipped off. He said he’s proud of me, which really means the world to me. I feel like I’m coming home in a way, for the last time before I leave. I’m grateful to get one last shot at this.

But this wonderful news has come along with some very sad news. One of my colleagues is leaving the program. When he told me today, I was quite distressed, as I don’t think he should go. I don’t know the whole story, but it’s terrible news. It’s a hard thing. Graduate school is hard hazing. It isn’t without purpose. It does allow one to arrive at the discipline needed to tame the imagination and make it genuinely productive. But they don’t tell you why they do what they do to you. Indeed, too often it has become savagery for the sake of savagery. Our faculty does not strive to give graduate students a reason to keep their faith. And there is too much personal savagery involved, too much vanity. There is no sense of the sacred in what too many of us are doing. Without recollection of the values of a liberal education, we are losing sight of our work. When good young men and women are leaving the field because of these stupid games, one can plainly see that we are losing our bearings.

All too often in my life I have been caught by unaware by the depth of my emotional commitments, by how deeply I am moved by the values I hold. I went to USAID to work in the Democracy Center, I thought that the worst that would happen was that my career would waste money. If I didn’t end up screwing people over the way I might have to at State, if the worst that happened was that I was a party to wasting money, I could be okay with that. And I was wrong. I never really got over the fact that we were wasting sums of money twenty times larger than my annual salary, that people had worked hard for this money. It may be that the average citizen could give a flying fuck about whether the world was democratic or not, but if Congress had elected to spend $4 million on democratization in the Middle East, the least that we could do was send the money somewhere it might have a prayer of having a positive impact. We owed it to those who had worked to create this wealth to do the best we could with it. When we flushed it down the toilet, I was bitter. My skin isn’t thick enough for politics.

I realize that if my professional life has any meaning at all, I would like it to be to keep the spirit of liberal education alive—to not have it die on my watch. I can’t change the academy, but I can give my students and colleagues the best that I have. I don’t know if it can be enough, if it’s anything other than sticking my thumb in the dike. But I know that in the face of the suffering of life, my education has been the only defense I have had to carve out a little island of sanity. The greatest mercies God has given me have been Craig and my education. I cannot pass on the spirit of romantic love to them. I am not a poet. But I can give help them find the spirit of a liberal education, to build their safe haven in the storm. It would mean a great deal to me if I could help others do that. Those who taught me how to do think have given me all that I have had to carry me through my darkest hours. I might be able to help a few others. That seems to me to be a good life.

And hey, today, four years ago, I met Craig Rock. Day after tomorrow, two years ago, we got married. A good life indeed.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Week in Review

Dave’s Been Awarded a Purple Heart

The latest breaking news is that my friend Dave Huntoon has been injured in combat and has been awarded a Purple Heart. Here’s his report:

My injuries are as follows: Two shrapnel wounds to my right rear flank. One piece of shrapnel is deep near my hip, and too small and deep for remove. One piece of shrapnel removed from my back tricep, straight through the arm. One piece of shrapnel that went in my back right shoulder and next to my lung, also too deep and small to remove. I guess I wasn't a pansy, and my doubts were wrong...every medical professional was absolutely right to get me out quickly, and knew something might be bad. My lung was bruised as well.

My body armor had saved my life (I still want to see what it looks like), and the shrapnel had only managed to penetrate me in the gap where my arm came out of the armor.

I’m deeply grateful that he’s alive and that the wounds are not serious. I’m very deeply aware that this happy result is by no means guaranteed. George Bush, meanwhile, is meditating on his post-presidency. Here’s a blurb right out of the Guardian:

“I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch,” he says. He also has big plans for making money. “I’ll give some speeches, to replenish the ol’ coffers,” says Mr Bush, who is already estimated to be worth $20m. “I don’t know what my dad gets - it’s more than 50-75 [thousand dollars a speech], and “Clinton’s making a lot of money”.

Swell guy, ain’t he? Bush, “feet up on his desk, munching on low-fat hotdogs, tells Draper of the loneliness of the US commander-in-chief.” What noble sacrifices our president makes on our behalf. How can I emulate such a worthy role-model? I know! I'll play more Civ!

Back in Civ World

My 1956 victory over China has left me in quite a bind. That bind goes by the name of Babylon. No, I’m not talking about the gay nightclub in Queer as Folk or the Texas town of phantom miners in Carnivale. I’m talking about the Babylonians, ruled by Hammurabi, depicted above in his striking post-modern attire. Usually, the Babylonians are no problem at all. They tend toward perfectionistic development and, as a result, lack a powerful military and can easily be annexed. But, if they are far enough away that I can’t deal with them early on and if they don’t have many hostile neighbors, then they can grow to be an economic and technological powerhouse with the military to match. They went nuclear in the mid-‘70s. It’s 1992, now and I’m just learning the secrets of fission. I’ve spent most of my time since the China war retooling my military to keep me from being vulnerable and trying to drag my new Chinese provinces out of the medieval age.

My situation is further complicated by Babylon’s recent completion of the United Nations. Whenever Hammurabi feels like it, he can call an election for Secretary General. Now, I’ve never broken a treaty and have sold lots of luxuries to the little AI nations. Knowing this, the minute the UN was completed, I started making gifts to everyone, including the remnants of China. So far, Hammurabi hasn’t called an election. My guess is the AI’s strategy is to go for a space race victory.

My northern ex-Zulu provinces are nearly industrialized now. The completion of my Forbidden Palace at Jugular Thrust Big Bear has guaranteed a highly productive north. I am fortunate that both the Chinese mainland—

—and the oilfields of New Beijing—

—are relatively near both of these capital cities, making possible, eventually, a moderate decline in their corruption. I don’t know how much that can really pay off in real terms, however. In fact, at the present, in an empire of 72 provinces, I am losing only 537 gold pieces a turn to corruption, out of a total income of 2,629 gold pieces a turn. Shockingly, a corruption rate of some twenty percent is actually negligible by Civ standards. In contrast, some 47 percent of all revenues are being funneled into research. I divert some 70 percent of actual tax revenues to research, paying for things like my military “off-budget” by selling luxuries to the decadent AI players. My little luxury tax on the AI pays out nearly 70% of the cost of my military, which is the second most powerful on the planet. I routinely deny such pricey exports to my own whiny people. Such pampering just makes them weak. Work and war are the only true salvation. Pass the low-fat hot dogs, please.

So, bearing all this in mind, do I annex Egypt? It’s a small, but choice territory and that bitch Cleopatra can get on my nerves with her laughable invasion attempts. It’s like dealing with pesky mosquitoes. Perhaps it’s time to demonstrate how to really invade someone else’s empire to her. It would be great fun to tutor her in war. On the other hand, the may make me unpopular enough to swing a UN vote to Hammurabi’s side. The Chinese already despise me and still, laughably, get to have a vote. I can’t be sure of the Vikings, but the Americans rather like me. Moreover, Hammurabi may be building spaceships while I fight. Egypt is too small to get me up to the 70% of the world I’d need to gain a domination victory. I don’t think I’d have time to conquer more in time for the end of the game.

On the other hand, I can make a last minute push for technology. The mainland has several fully industrialized cities. I can begin to divert their productive power to generating new revenues, which could allow me to increase my research prowess significantly. Perhaps I’m not too far behind Babylon to win the space race. That solution sounds to have a better chance of victory, but has none of the panache of annexing Egypt. If I’ve already lost the game to Babylon, shouldn’t I at least have the satisfaction of this brilliant new war? If I must lose, shouldn’t I lose with classic neo-conservative panache? Think of all the artificial men and women who can die at my whim. I need to get some low-fat hot dogs, damn it. How better to relish the loneliness of being emperor?

Football’s Back!

The Pack won yesterday, although it was a really ugly win that highlighted the fact that we have no offense. Our leading scorer this season is Mason Crosby, our new kicker. Ted Thompson, the Packers general manager did absolutely nothing to bolster the offense this season. Nothing, nada, the big zero. All evidence suggests that we’re going to suck this year. It’s kind of hard to make do without a running back.

So why doesn’t Ted Thompson give a shit about the offense? My theory is that he wants Brett Favre to go away. Some of you may recall Kirk’s analysis back in February of the Packers’ rebuilding situation. To quickly summarize his point: The Packers offense has much potential but needs about three years, after which it might well be a contender. Favre, in contrast, is declining and is going to continue to decline. Favre can’t run that show, because he’ll have delined too far when the team has peaked. But how much less will it be worthwhile to have a rookie Aaron Rodgers calling the shots three years from now? QB is among the hardest positions to learn. Rodgers needs experience now to be ready then. From Thompson’s viewpoint, Favre needs to get out and Rodgers needs to go in, or the Packers will have to acquire a QB via free agency. That will be pricey and Thompson isn’t really in the mood to shell out for talent. He seems pretty committed to growing it at home.

So Thompson wants Favre to retire. Problem: he can’t say so. Why? Because Thompson plans to keep on living in the state of Wisconsin. Everyone loves Favre in Wisconsin. So far, precious few love Ted Thompson. So Thompson can’t fire Favre. Indeed, firing Favre before Favre wiped Dan Marino’s name off the record books would be monstrously unjust in anyone’s eyes. So what does he do? He ignores the offense until Favre gets the picture and gets out of the picture on his own. We’ve all seen how well that’s been going. But I bet Favre retires at the end of this year. This year, maybe when Vernand Morency comes back, things might pick up a little. Maybe we don’t suck as badly as last season. I mean, we didn’t lose to the Bears 26-0 as our season opener this year. But the Packers will not trade for a running back, at least not until Favre retires.

See, Dinur? Ted Thompson is your hero. And George Bush the Younger is mine.

Not that I’m bitter about any of this, mind you. 'Cause we all know that I'm the paradigmatic example of detachment. I wonder if we have any low-fat hot dogs in the fridge?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Luckiest Guy in the World

Craig sent this to me on Friday. I'm the luckiest guy in the whole world!

Small Things With Great Love

Life on a daily basis, day in and day out, may seem trivial and unimportant. However, when I consider that I live each day with a great and profound love, then I'm reassured. Even the smallest portions of my existence are meaningful when founded in a great love.

I love you, you make my life great with love.


Hattar '56

There’s a classic Arabic movie called Nasser ’56, about Gamal `Abd an-Nasir’s miraculous triumph at the end of the 1956 British, French and Israeli invasion of Egypt. He really didn’t do that much. Basically, President Eisenhower got pissed at the Brits and the French and told them to haul ass back to Europe. The Israelis got UNEF installed at Sharm al-Shaykh to keep the sea route to Eilat open, so they lost the least of the three adventurers. Nasir of course, became a god, until he blew it all in 1967.

Brian McGrath and Nasser ‘56

I’ve never seen the movie. Brian McGrath, my buddy in the State Department (well, my other buddy in the State Department—I have two now, but Sean is only civil service. I don’t know if that really counts—does it, Sean? What do your fun co-workers say?) and I have a funny story about that. Neither of us had seen this epic, and as students of the Arab world, this was disgraceful. Opportunities would come up and for one reason or another, we never got around to it, yadda, yadda, you know the drill…. So, one spring day, the Sackler, one of the many very cool museums in the Smithsonian (and one of my very favorite ones, to boot), was playing it for free. So we line up early, get our tickets, and we sit down. As we’re waiting for the show to begin, we’re shooting the shit. I was actually looking forward to the movie. Then suddenly and inexplicably, I shoot Brian a look and I say, “Hey, Brian? Wanna dump this and go get shitfaced at the 4Ps?”

Brian, my buddy the Irish Eagle Scout, smiled cheerfully and said, “Sure!” God bless all Irish Eagle Scouts. I’ve always been proud to be a good bad influence on Brian. And so we returned our tickets to see Nasser ’56 to the wizened old lady at the door and went to drink pints and quarts of whiskey and beer at our favorite pub, up on Connecticut Avenue. We used to pack it away, back then. God, I loved that pub! Brian and I had some swell times there. I can’t believe that they renamed the 4Ps. It just ain’t right. I also hear that it’s become a sorority girl hangout on the weekends now. Our Irish pub! The wand is broken, friends. Truly all our revels have ended.

I don’t know if Brian’s ever gotten around to seeing Nasser ‘56, but nearly a decade later, I still haven’t. I oughta rent it someday. Brian’s in Yemen, now. Unlike Nasir, he isn’t trying to get out. I think the political experience of conducting U.S. policy in Jerusalem would have made Yemen alluring to Brian, even without the marvels of San`a architecture. I wonder if he’s met `Ali `Abdullah Saleh, yet. It’s a small country, after all.

My Nasser ’56 Moment Playing Civ

In the spirit of the story, I have had my Nasir ’56 moment. It’s 1956 in Civ time and I have conquered mighty China, adding its cultural and genetic distinctness to my own. I’d already wiped out the Zulu by the late medieval period, uniting my continent beneath the banner of the Big Bear Empire. Shaka has had bad luck against me lately. But the continent is not particularly largish. Indeed, like Yertle the Turtle, I’ve realized that the continent I ruled was too small.

As a result, loathe as I always am to become a seafaring nation (boats are so pathetic in Civ), by the late 19th century, it became apparent that I needed to float a grand army overseas if I was to build a respectable empire. In that first Chinese war, I had already taken China’s rich southern coast for my own. The choice was irresistible: Adam Smith’s Trading Company was in Xinjian, and I wanted it—free marketplaces, banks, stock exchanges, courthouses and harbors, i.e. free capitalism. I had to have it. So I took it. That was the 19th century war.

But, the trouble is that you can’t just conquer limitlessly in these overseas adventures. Resupply is so much slower. You typically can get a good wave off and, then, you need time to digest, resupply and get ready for a new round. Having to ship everything by boat is a real bummer. By 1916, I was ready to go back to China and finish the job. But out of the blue, the fucking Vikings decide that they want to take me on. This frequently happens when you are prepping for a war. The machine forces you to fight a stupid war that you don’t want just before you can launch a brilliant assault on your prey. Well, Scandinavia is way further away than China. Not prime real estate. I’d hit that uppity bitch Cleopatra before I tried conquering the Vikings anyway. I like my empires to be as contiguous as possible. Moreover, China had something that I wanted: oil. Black gold. Texas tea. I didn’t have any. I was close to developing the technology for building tanks and would need the stuff when the time came. The Chinese have a colony with an oil well that’s on an island adjacent to my capital. The prize was too irresistible. Being near my capital, the conquered territory would be low-corruption with oil. I had to have it.

So how did I deal? Well, a few well-placed bribes allowed me the luxury of an alliance with the Babylonians and Americans against the Vikings. I had already buttered them up by allowing them to buy luxuries from me at outrageously high prices. The AI players, particularly the ones who are good at capitalism, will pay huge amounts for luxuries, far more than they’re actually worth (even up to forty gold a turn, and that’s an average price!). And they’re grateful, too, because they think you’re giving them a deal. This strategy allows me to pursue a “guns and butter” strategy, churning out cavalry unit after cavalry unit while still investing in new technologies (up to 70-80% of my budget, which is impressive any time after capitalism, as capitalism requires extensive infrastructural outlays). After I’ve emptied their coffers into my general revenue, the Babylonians and Vikings were so happy that for a few hundred gold pieces, they were more than happy to go to war for me.

So while the U.S. and Babylon went picknicking on the Vikings, I focused my attention on the Chinese. The lovely thing is the AI has very low standards for what constitutes an alliance. So long as I didn’t make a peace treaty with the Vikings before the Americans and Babylonians, I would still count as an ally in good standing. So I ignored the Viking war and found myself completely free to conquer the Chinese. The Vikings were quite busy dealing with the Americans and Babylonians, so busy that they really weren’t able to make any more of their petty raids into my territory. Pretty slick, eh? Fuckin’ stupid AI. I don’t know what those programmers were thinking.

My first priority was to secure the oil. I had built up a sizable fleet and deployed roughly twenty-four cavalry units to secure the island. This part of the war was short and sweet. The Chinese colonists gave way and, fortunately, they had already built a port at Yangchow. Perfect! A few minor popular uprisings suppressed and a few railway tracks added and I was pumping oil into the network within five turns. See? I’m so much better at this than Bush the Younger. And I reserve my gear for purely sexual purposes. I wouldn’t go traipsing around an aircraft carrier in fighter gear declaring, “Mission accomplished!” I have some dignity.

Because, of course, I knew better. The mainland war looked to be and, in fact, was far harsher. Canton fell fairly quickly, but I had serious supply problems. Navies are a pain in the fucking ass and not in that oh-so-sweet sort of way. You can’t put a boat on railroad tracks. Modern warfare in Civ rests on the railway, a mode of transport that allows instantaneous travel between any two points connected by your railway network. It’s like a transporter on Star Trek. You beam the units in, fight, and then whisk the damaged units back to recover and return in the next round. The perfect solution? Well not really.

This instantaneous transport and communication does nothing to reduce corruption in your empire. Remote cities are hopelessly corrupt and develop slowly, despite the fact that it takes no longer to get there than it does to the outer suburbs of your capital. My capital is in the south. So my north has few working factories that are equipped with ports. I make veteran boats in the south and the boats move a few squares at a time. I had plenty of caravels up north, but I couldn’t deploy them without ironclads to guard them. So I had to wait while the ironclads worked their way up from my military industrial complex in the south to be deployed in the mainland China invasion. One would like to be more impetuous in the style of Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón, but I don’t like watching my troops sink to the bottom of the ocean. The process took a while, despite the fact that the troops to be loaded onto the damned boats could be moved up from the south instantaneously. It was irksome indeed.

Sadly, the Babylonians beat me by a turn in building Universal Suffrage, that fabulous popularizer of long, drawn-out wars. The people were really bitchy during the Second China War and required a great deal of placating. I conquered all of the Chinese mainland, however. Beijing fell in 1956—sort of a latter-day Budapest. All of mainland China was mine. With the declaration of peace, the people are rejoicing and I have put all those errant entertainers back to work. All that was left of their once mighty Chinese Empire are these loser little colonies. Imagine, going from fabulous empire to being a suburb of Dallas. The cultural humiliation must be unreal. I mean Chairman Mao Does Dallas? Ouch. What was he thinking?

The Dissertation

“So, Hattar,” I can hear you saying, “Do you ever fucking work? I mean at something meaningful. Not that bullshit at Group Health where you whore your mind out for money. Something like, say, your dissertation. What’s the fucking title this week?

Yeah, I do fucking work, thank you. Look, all great intellectual breakthroughs are preceded by playing lots of Civ. It’s a fact. You could look it up. My dear friend Nelly Samoukova at the University of Chicago will back me up on this. We even trade techniques. She was the one who alerted me to the fact that you can often coax the AI into paying outrageous amounts for luxuries.

At any rate, the title this week is Pathologies of Identity and Violence: Palestinian Insurgency and Civil War in the Twentieth Century Levant, and my official rivals have been selected. The political science dissertation genre requires you to trash at least two other theories and show why the existing literature has got it wrong and why you are right. I’m going head to head with three rival theories. The first is Arend Lijphart’s theory of consociational democracy. He’s the easiest to pick on, as he really doesn’t have a theory. Here, read this review of his work. It’s a hoot. It also details the strategy by which he’s built his career. The marketing has been formidable, which, as Steve Hanson reminds me, is the reason I should keep working on my proposal skills. The second is Stuart Kaufman’s theory of “ethnic war.” He’s just won a $750k grant for the book, but it’s weak. He has an imagination and he’s into a lot of the same theory that I’m into, which makes him a rhetorical challenge. I have to fend him off without shooting myself in the foot. That will be tricky. His weakness is that he is not really good at disciplining his imagination and that’s where the knife goes in. The last theory is Fearon’s and Laitin’s theory of civil war. They, of course, are the scary ones. They’re kind of big in the IR world. They’re from Stanford. They publish a lot. And they aren’t sloppy.

We’re not dealing with AI knock-offs of Shaka and Mao anymore, brothers and sisters. These guys are the real thing. I’m scared shitless, so let’s hope I can pull the damned proposal together. Once more unto the breach…

The House

Pictures are coming, I swear. It’s looking pretty decent. My office is as the “usable” stage and I’m working on the garage tomorrow. Slowly but surely, it’s going to become my gym. I’ve been pricing weight benches and dumbbells on craigslist.com. The second-hand sports store sells hex dumbbells for 59¢/lb. So if I can’t beat that price, I’ll buy there. I also need an ellipsis machine. I’ll need to burn a few calories, too, and I do really well on those things. They burn the most calories for the least fatigue. For an MS patient, that’s a must.

Craig’s gotten the rest of the house quite charming. I like this place. I can’t recall the last time I liked where I lived. It’s kinda cool.

The only thing that’s undesirable is the large underground nest of yellowjackets I discovered while moving the lawn. I was stung ten times and let out what Craig calls “a war hoop” and had to hide under the shower to escape from the damned creatures. As the damned things followed me into the house, I later used a spray bottle to douse their wings with water and crush them one by one in vengeance. I’m Yertle the Turtle, damn it. No insect fucks with me!

The landlord sprayed the nest with some stuff, and sure enough, there don’t seem to be yellowjackets at the entrance of the nest anymore. But multiple sources confirm that those nests can be huge. I’m worried that all the stuff did is force them to close a door and now, they’ll open a window elsewhere. I need to spend some time watching that damned thing. We wanted to hire the boy scout next door to do the mowing, but the kid’s twelve. I don’t want him attacked.

And that’s sort of what’s going on. Hopefully I write a little more in the fall.