Geopolitics from a six-year-old


I’ve been playing Civilization III again lately. Right now, I’m playing as Egypt on the easiest difficulty level, and my six-year-old is watching me play. Since it’s the easiest level, I’m light-years ahead of my opposition ― right now, it’s 1470 and I have paratroopers, jet fighters, and tanks. With that kind of firepower, it’s pretty hard to resist the temptation to go beat the snot out of one’s neighbors, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Anyway, the next big milestone in my Civ’s arsenal is nuclear weapons. Sean knows, from various trips to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, what a nuclear weapon is and what it’s capable of. The Cold War gallery even has a new display ― a giant screen showing a mushroom cloud, towering above the observer, and a ten-warhead MIRV, innocuously displayed at eye level.

But getting to nuclear weapons in Civ III is a long process. After you discover fission, you have to find some uranium. After that, you need to research the Manhattan Project (a Great Wonder of several hundred shields). Then, in order to deliver your warheads, you need Computers, Rocketry, and Space Flight. After that, you can finally build a Tactical Nuke or an ICBM. It’s a long process ― even longer if you’re six, and waiting for you dad to play turn after turn of trying to fight a war the “old-fashioned” way.

So Sean’s new strategy is this: “Hey, Chris ― why don’t we make a peace treaty with them so that they’ll leave us alone while we build our nuclear weapons? Then when we get them, we can start the war again and turn their cities into mushrooms.”

Pretty clever, I thought, for a six-year-old. He’ll be one to watch, especially since he’s started beating me in Go. I couldn’t help but notice the startling parallel to at least a couple of contemporary “civilizations,” and what many smart people assume are their own nuclear ambitions.

The really ironic part is my chief adversary in this campaign: Persia.


Coffee Rhapsody

It’s the second most traded commodity in the world after oil.

Its global industry generates over sixty billion US dollars annually.

Between ten and twelve billion pounds of it are consumed every year.

Over 25 million families in more than fifty countries rely on it as their sole source of income.

What is it? It’s coffee, and right this very minute it’s out there changing our world in ways we can’t even begin to imagine.

Ever since its semi-legendary “discovery” by dancing African goats, coffee has been the central player in a fascinating historical sidebar of thievery, intrigue, romance, and intellectual revival. Variously credited with spawning the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, the storming of the Bastille, the scientific revolution, and Western-style democracy, coffee has also been blamed for helping further to tread on the already-downtrodden people of the New World by subjecting them to the evils of colonialism, commercialism, economic exploitation, slave-labor plantations, and chain coffeehouses.

Today the romantic-yet-complicated love affair we have with coffee still inspires passionate conversations from people around the world from every walk of life. Still young and fresh even after so many years, the coffee industry is pushing its borders, exploring (and exploiting) new markets, and challenging its own historical ways of doing business.
And all the while, the goats have not stopped dancing.

What is coffee? For every answer, it seems, there is an equal-but-opposite “re-answer,” that leaves you with the idea that no one really knows what they’re talking about. But that’s part of the joy ― the complexity and diversity, the hundreds of unique faces, the paradoxes and complications ― that all end up being Coffee.

Every cup of coffee begins its life within a thousand miles of the equator. All of the coffee-growing land on earth is contained in that “belt” called the tropics. But keep your eye on that belt as you spin a globe, and you can imagine the incredible diversity you find in the coffee-growing world. From the lowlands of Vietnam where a million and a half pounds of coffea robusta were produced last year, to the mountain heights of Jamaica where specialty farmers grew only 5,800 pounds of the world’s most celebrated Arabica beans, from coffee giants like Brazil and Colombia, who together make up almost half of the world’s production, to nations like Zambia, whose coffee is just now gaining recognition in the world of specialty coffee, the origins of coffee are as diverse as the people who drink it.

But the diversity only starts there…

In Colombia, a grower carries his freshly-picked coffee fruit to the local mill, where it is washed, bagged, and shipped to a commercial roastery to be blended with millions of other beans from thousands of other farms from around the world.

In Yemen, the hot Arabian sun beats down on stone rooftops, where coffee grown on ancient trees on terraced hillsides is spread out to dry in the same way it has been for five hundred growing seasons.

In Paris, a woman sits at a table in a sidewalk café, nursing her coffee and scanning the passing crowd for the familiar face of her lover.

In Ethiopia, a guest is welcomed into a dirt-floored hut, where he sits in a circle by a fire with his host’s family while the coffee is roasted, ground, brewed and served in a hospitality ritual dating back hundreds of years.

In Guatemala, a peasant earns four cents a pound to harvest his crop.

In New York City, a businessman pays four dollars for a three-quarter-ounce espresso ristretto.

A specialty-roaster in New Zealand only sells premium organic shade-grown coffee.

A housewife in Finland scoops coffee grounds from a metal can.

A restaurant in Peru serves instant coffee with evaporated milk.

A barista in Japan earns his college tuition by pulling shots of espresso in a trendy café.

And yet, somehow, in spite of ― or perhaps because of ― all of these differences, coffee manages to unite people around the world. Coffee manages to bring together all of these paradoxes and put them into the simple cup that finds its way onto your breakfast table every morning. All of the legends and stories, all the varieties and flavors, all the people, origins, economics, habits and social issues distil out of the beans in your coffee pot into the mug that warms your heart, opens your mind, and gets you ready to face each new day.


I'm not dead yet...

Well, after taking basically a year off from my blog, I think I might be on the verge of coming back.

In case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to, the short answer is "no good." I've spent a lot of time bloviating on this website. I also wrote a thousand words a week last year on a devotional project for school (which I'm hoping turns into a real, live book). I wasted copious amounts of time, doing whatever it is people do when they're not being productive. And I also taught full time and stuff.

But I think I’m almost back…