Monday, September 03, 2007

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 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.


Watsonne said...

Wow, you've been busy! I wish I could say I've been as productive (and yes, I'm serious - Civ is a great way to exercise your brain and practice "strategery"). I've spent the weekend horsing around with Alice, cleaning the apartment a little, and bitching a lot about my ouchie back. I'm waiting for someone to invent an easy way to replace one's entire spine. That's what I want from the 21st century. That, and I want my damned flying car already!

Cuphound said...

Raising children is not only productive, Fiona, it's reprodctive! I am in awe of your energy.

Have you tried a chiropractor? Craig's does wonder for him!

As for the world of "strategery," I'd settle for the hydrogen car that the addle-brained bastard promised us. It doesn't need to fly, just be cheap. Gas is expensive at $2.80 a gallon out here in Seattle. How are prices in Texas?

Watsonne said...

Energy? HA! You confuse me with the half-pint, who seems to have limitless energy stores. I think she may actually suck energy from Chris and me, to use for her own nefarious purposes. Maybe I should try running everywhere instead of walking. That seems to do it for her.

I have indeed tried a chiropractor. I have one I used to go to regularly, but I need to find another one (long story). Chiropractic adjustments and massage therapy do help a lot, but my spine's so jacked up that the best I can do is find temporary relief. I still rely on painkillers for those really cold/wet winter days. Those are the worst.

Gas prices aren't much better out here, honestly. I think they're somewhere around $2.60-$2.70 most places, but it bounces up and down so frequently that it's hard to keep track. I remember when it was $.60 in California. Ah, those were the days...