Monday, June 18, 2012

Calvinball in Cairo

Sooner or later all revolutions turn into Calvinball too.

For those who didn't have the good fortune of reading the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes in your youth, it includes a crazy game called Calvinball, made up by (and named after) the protagonist, who simultaneously plays by the rules and make up them up as he goes.  Here is a synopsis of the rules, (in bold, as compiled on followed by a discussion of how these apply in Egypt, where the game is call various "SCAF-ball" "Tantawi-ball" or "Mubarek-ball," depending on what zone you're in, or whether it's a Tuesday or Friday, election day, or time for Hosni to take a nap.  This is politics when the rules break down and everything becomes a game of maneuvering to make up the new rules.  It will be a long time before there is one agreed-upon set of rules, and the interesting question now is how Egypt as a whole will come to an agreement on those rules.  This will involve a mix of processes--elections, protests, police crack-downs, constitutional conventions, court rulings, and foreign meddling--out of which will eventually emerge some new regime.

Permanent Rule: You may not play Calvinball the same way twice.  This is evident in reading through the news from Egypt, as the game changes on a daily basis:  first the military oppression version, then the bread and circuses version, then the "kill the rebels" version, then the "take to the streets" version, and so on--through a series of revolutionary and reactionary moves that have brought us to the latest election results.  With Morsy's victory at the polls, look for the rules to change once again (rapidly) with the SCAF and MB take turns every two hours to declare the parliament and/or the courts either in session or illegal.  One corollary is that the more desperate a player becomes, the more rapidly they change the rules.  Exhibit A: SCAF's press conference on June 17, in which they failed to make any reference to the election that had just occurred.  Election?  what election?   Apparently, according to their rules, the only elections that count are the one's that they win.

Primary Rule: The following rules are subject to be changed, amended, or deleted by any player(s) involved. These rules are not required, nor necessary to play Calvinball.

The SCAF and the Courts have been the best at following the Primary rule, but the Muslim Brotherhood have joined in, and the Tahriris have learned quickly that you have to make up your own rules as you go.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  If they shut down the internet, start making signs, if they stop enforcing the laws, set up your own police force; and so on.  The latest rule changes were the "Lazarus Rule" that said that if Mubarek is in jail, then he is 'dead" and must be released.  Once out of jail, he is then miraculously alive again. The other rule change is that if you vote for Morsy you are either a) crazy, and therefore your vote is disqualified or b) you actually voted for Shafiq.  That is why they are having to recount the votes now, since some of the election officials didn't get that memo.

1.0. As George Orwell pointed out in 1984 and his Essay on Politics and the English Language, in politics and Calvinball, the following words are freely interchangeable:

·       Can

·       May

·       Must

·       Yes (this can mean maybe)

·       Shall
·       Should
·       Will (same as won't)
·       Would
·       Freedom (can mean "order")
·       Peace (can mean "the silence of the grave")
·       Security (can mean "lots of guys with guns running after you")
·       Democracy (can mean "Calvinball")

1.1. All players must wear a Calvinball mask (See Calvinball Equipment - 2.1). No one may question the masks.  Mubarek has the best mask (the sun glasses are a nice touch).  Here are some other examples:

This is where you can buy your masks in Tahrir.

1.2 Any player may declare a new rule at any point in the game. The player may do this audibly or silently depending on what zone (Refer to Rule 1.5) the player is in.

This can include new Constitutions, new Constituent assemblies, new elections, outlawing parliaments, outlawing the courts, changing the eligibility rules for running for office, changing how independent candidates are elected to parliament, overruling rulings outlawing the courts, or saying that you're sick and therefore the rules don't apply to you (cough, cough).  You can also ignore rule changes you just made, if they don't turn out the way you thought they would.

1.3. A player may use the Calvinball (See Calvinball Equipment - 2.2) in any way the player see fits, whether it be to incur injury upon other players or to gain benefits for himself.  This is what we call a "political football" and can include a foreign-funded NGO, Israel, Copts, tourists, bin Laden, soccer riots, gas prices, jobs, or bread.

1.4. Any penalty legislation may be in the form of pain, embarassment, or any degradation the rulee wishes to execute upon the other player.  This has been tragically the case in Tahrir, including for almost all the women there, who suffer from harassment and degradation on a daily basis.  One of the most insidious aspects of the "game."  The current SCAF is particularly worried about how this might go for them, should they have to face penalties for the actions they have taken.  They should be worried.

1.5 The Calvinball Field (See Calvinball Equipment - 2.3) should consist of areas, or zones, which are governed by a set of rules declared by players. Zones may be appear and disappear as often and wherever the player decides. For example, a corollary zone would enable a player to make a corollary (sub-rule) to any rule already made. Or a pernicious poem place would require the intruder to do what the name implies. Or an opposite zone would enable a player to declare reverse playibility on the others. Different zones established so far include the Parliament, the SCAF headquarters, the High Court, the Low Court, the Shura Council, the Tahrir Kushari restaurants, the Sadat Metro Station, any cafe that sells apple sheisha, the U.S. Embassy, Al-Karnak Temple, the Steigenberger al Dau Club, and the land surrounding the Pyramids (buskers rule!).  Completely different rules apply in all these places.

1.6 Flags (Calvinball Equipment 2.3) shall be named by players whom shall also assign the power and rules which shall govern that flag.  Here are some of the flags:

1.7 Songs are an integral part of Calvinball and verses must be sung spontaneously through the game when randomly assigned events occur.  This is where the Tahriris have been most successful.  SCAF can't sing to save their lives.  Neither can Shafiq (this was a problem for U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch as well, although he didn't know this);  Obama struggles with this, but has not completely bombed in the singing department.  Artwork has been an added dimension to the game in Tahrir, with the youth winning that battle without a contest.  Music exhibit A by Ramy Essam:  

1.8 Score may be kept or disregarded. In the event that score is kept, it shall have no bearing on the game nor shall it have any logical consistency to it. (Legal scores include 'Q to 12', 'BW-109 to YU-34, and 'Nosebleed to Pelvic Fracture'.)  See: election results, opinion polls, state-run media stories, all SCAF public statements regarding the political situation in Egypt, and government statistics, none of which have anything to do with reality.


2.1. Mask - All participants are required to wear a mask.  Here are some of the most popular masks for the stars:

Is it Mubarek, Tantawi, Shafiq, or Mousa???

2.2. Calvinball - A Calvinball may be a soccerball, volleyball, or any other reasonable ball. Bowling balls are accepted.  Sometimes it is also the bodies of protestors (see the video footage, above). 

2.3 Calvinball Field - The Calvinball Field should be any well-sized field, preferably with trees, rocks, grass, creeks, and other natural obstacles.  This is why Tahrir has been so popular, as it is an ideal setting for Calvinball--lots of natural obstacles, lots of concrete barricades erected by the military, lamp posts to climb, party headquarters to set on fire, and plenty of room for tents for those playing for long periods of time.  But any large, open urban space will work.  The Bedouin like playing this game on their own turf in the Sinai, using ignorant tourists as a "calvinball."

2.4 Miscellaneous - Other optional equipment include flags, wickets (especially of the time-fracture variety), and anything else the players wish to include, such as rubber bullets, rocks, tear gas, campaign posters, camels, batons, barbed wire, cell phones, camcorders, signs, graffiti, flash mobs, tweets, Facebook pages, and blog posts.

Were this not all so serious and deadly, it would be funny;  but sometimes you just have to laugh.  Egyptians know this all too well and have used humor and satire as one of their greatest weapons in the struggle against the old regime.  

2.5 Duration.  The game lasts until the players get either tired or bored.  Mubarek is there already, and the SCAF is getting there, but the youth of Egypt are just getting started.  For them, the game will be over once there is some minimal amount of justice.  That is one rule that won't change.

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