"That's all that's left - butter and grime - as the Shattuck Safeway in North Berkeley closes for remodeling." photo by Joe Parks, via Wikimedia Commons.

“That’s all that’s left – butter and grime – as the Shattuck Safeway in North Berkeley closes for remodeling.”
photo by Joe Parks, via Wikimedia Commons.

Seth Ariel Green is in his second year of a Political Science Ph.D at Columbia.

I’m loathe to admit it, but The Walking Dead is often not a very good show. The dialogue is at times wooden, the characters irrational or inconsistent in ways that only make sense in terms of advancing the plot, the philosophical discussions pretty empty. And yet some 10-17 million of us continue to watch. Recently the show has made it easy with Carol’s freaking sweet evolution into an action move star, but cold-blooded: Anton Chigurh style. And the setting moves now, unmoored; we are watching a group of highly competent people navigate an apocalypse. Seeing Carol get rolled into the evil-hospital a few weeks ago, a million possibilities open up, but the one I was banking on is her murdering everyone within to rescue Beth. What can I say? The part of my mind that responds to fiction is savage.1 The show appeals because it is as well.

But there’s something else there, that I think appeals more subliminally. The show works as a very dark fairy-tale – not that the original fairy tales were anything but – with a feel-good, political message at its core. A Straussian reading of The Walking Dead suggests that it is about a group of well-meaning people in a brutal world attempting to establish a safe, just society that stands as a bulwark against the ever-present threats of anarchy and tyranny. It is, in other words, a retelling of the story of America.

The show starts out just like 28 Days Later2: main character, likable straight white age-indeterminate masculine man (Rick Grimes) wakes up from a coma and discovers that society has collapsed amidst a mysterious, zombifying epidemic. Rick meets up with his wife and son and some survivors and some soap-opera nonsense ensues. The season culminates with the group seeking shelter in the CDC, and discovering there that the last remaining employee plans to kill himself and blow up the building. He does so, and the characters move back into the fog of anarchy.

Here, the key concerns are Hobbesian. This is what life is like without the government; as Christian Thorne writes, “If you reflect on the earliest stages of human history, you’ll see that it must have been hard to stay alive. Anybody could have done to you anything they wanted. The only thing standing between you and every passing rapist was your own fist.” The zombies, and Merle Haggard, are this: the passing rapists, the unthinking men and women who will eat you alive. Again, Thorne: “Zombie movies are always going to be about crowds. People-in-groups are the genre’s single motivating concern.”

As the series progresses, the problems change. After some pointless in-group fighting in season 2, the group settles down in a prison in season 3, and by season 4, is growing vegetables, largely safe from zombies. But a new threat emerges: The Governor, a violent man with an army3. His motives, as befitting a not-very-good show, are unclear and often poorly spelled out, but in the end, what he really wants is the safe haven the main group has established, and to kick the group out because he hates them. “I’ve got a tank,” he says, brandishing one. “What else is there to talk about?” He is a tyrant, looking to exercise right by might. Michonne kills him, in a moment resplendent with melodrama. The group moves on, looking for the next sanctuary.

Running through all of this is a group-internal discussion about how they should organize themselves. After some carelessness leads to deaths, Rick declares: “This isn’t a democracy anymore,” and the group marches to his drum. A season later, he recants in a (what do you know!) moving paen to democracy: “What we do, what we’re willing to do, who we are, it’s not my call. It can’t be. I couldn’t sacrifice one of us for the greater good because we are the greater good. We’re the reason we’re still here, not me. This is life and death. How you live how you die– it isn’t up to me. I’m not your Governor. We choose to go. We choose to stay. We stick together. We vote.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? The group is America, 1789 to present, trying to establish a safe, democratic space – multicultural to boot, with a slew of ex-Wire characters accumulating over time4 – against the threat of tyranny on one hand (The Governor/George III/Hitler) and anarchy on the other (zombies/the wilderness/the elemental fears of intergroup contact that lead America to split increasingly into “Belmont and Fishtown”). We root for Rick’s group because we want to root for ourselves, for the project of America. The myths the show weaves are fundamentally our myths.

A strong anti-libertarian bent runs through the story. Libertarians see even well-functioning states as often behaving like “organized gangs of criminals;” TWD starts from the premise that the state is what keeps us safe from each other. When groups of characters encounter one another, they almost always seek to dominate each other or to keep their distance; it seems to never occur to them to trade. To my memory, the only time when characters from different groups even propose anything resembling a contract is when Rick’s group negotiates a strategy for removing Walkers from the prison with the men holed up there, which the leader of the other group promptly betrays the first chance he gets. It’s a repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma in which everyone except Rick’s group always defects. What’s the deal? As best as I can tell, the show’s perspective is that man is by nature evil, and only a society formed by the just few can hold that at bay.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Consider two alternative pieces of apocalyptic fiction. 28 Days Later sets you up to follow protagonists in a zombie apocalypse who seek shelter with the military (“Of course there’s a government! There’s always a government! They’re in a… a bunker, or a plane!”), only to find that their saviors are marauding rapists. Thorne writes: “the underlying scenario is straight out of Heart of Darkness: The last outpost of civilization turns out to be a whirring freak show.” The characters break free, and then recover somewhere in the country, safe both from the zombies (re: the mass public) and from the government that betrayed them.

More to the point, I think, is the YA novel The Girl Who Owned a City5. A virus kills everyone over 14, and a group of children reconstruct civilization by occupying and defending a school, and securing a food supply. They have to fend off other gangs of children, but end the book well on their way towards building a new society based on voluntary cooperation, justice and interpersonal respect. It is the anti-Lord of the Flies.

Such an outcome is next to unimaginable for TWD, and not just because the source comics are unrelentingly bleak. It just doesn’t fit with the show’s vision of human nature. These people aren’t going to find peace with each other unless they’re forced to. The only possible endpoint is that Rick and his group will become so overwhelmingly strong, like America, that no one can take what is theirs.

This is the emptiness of the show’s vision, as appealing as it is superficially. It’s not just that we find the story of a powerful, democratic group of do-gooders establishing peace against the forces of darkness alluring. It’s that they can only get there through force, never through cooperation. And that makes me sad. I’d like to believe better of people.

1.As I reread Harry Potter in adulthood, all I could think of was how inefficient, how non-lethal, their magic was. If you can enchant a car to fly you can probably enchant a gun to never miss! Fire it at Voldermort!

2. It’s the best zombie movie of all time, and by a long-shot; the proponents of Romero’s movies are caught in nostalgia.

3. He is a familiar archetype in apocalyptic fiction.

4. How’s that for an idealized retelling!

5. People on the internet claim that O.T. Nelson wrote the book to spread Ayn Rand’s ideas to children. I don’t remember any Jon Galt type speeches in it but they could be there.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

War. War never changes.
The Old Republic waged war to preserve order and commerce. The Separatists built a counter-empire from their lust for wealth and territory. Palpatine shaped a battered Republic into a Galactic superpower.

But war never changes.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

In the last century, war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: force users and conscript-able populations that could control them. For these resources, the Empire would destroy Alderaan, the Rebel Alliance would annex Hoth, and the far fringes of the Old Republic would dissolve into quarreling, bickering feudal states, bent on controlling the last remaining resources in the galaxy.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

After the Battle of Yavin, the storm of world war had come again. In four brief years, most of the galaxy was left unmoored, adrfit from a broken Empire, not yet part of the New Republic. And from the ashes of total galactic devastation, civilization would struggle to return as it once was.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

In this chaos, a few were able to cling to power. The Sith been declared dead and ranks of the Jedi reduced to one. That, alone, was change, and it would not last. Power abhors a vacuum, and from among the scattered remnants of the reeling Empire and the growing edge of the Republican frontier, a new chapter in Galactic history would be written, echoing that of its forefathers.

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

Screenshot, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1

For a select few, life in the Galaxy is about to change.

Watch the new Star Wars trailer below:

Text adapted from the Fallout: New Vegas intro and best read in a Ron Perlman voice.

In Klendathu Fields

Posted: June 27, 2014 by kdatherton in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

In Klendathu Fields
 (Apologies to John McCrae, no apologies to Robert Heinlein)

In Klendathu fields the dust mites teem
Between the scorch marks, beam by beam
That mark our fight, and down below
Their corpses writhe from blow after blow
Drowned out by our victors screams

We mourn our dead, mere moments past
Who covered us well, with laser blasts
Dutiful and duty done, now they rest
In Klendathu fields

Continue on our citizen’s quest
Taking up their fallen tools
The task, be ours to do it best
To honor those unlucky fools
If we fall short of those who passed
Other citizens will complete the task
In Klendathu fields

The badlands of Hell's Half-Acre in Natrona County, Wyoming. In The Starship Troopers film, this is where they filmed the Klendathu scenes. Photo by Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster)

The badlands of Hell’s Half-Acre in Natrona County, Wyoming. In The Starship Troopers film, this is where they filmed the Klendathu scenes. Photo by Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster)

John McCrae’s original is below, and far worthier for this occasion than my riff above. 

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

“'If Ye Break Faith — We Shall Not Sleep'. Buy Victory Bonds.” Poster depicts lone soldier standing in a field of poppies at a grave. By the Department of National Defence, Ottawa

“’If Ye Break Faith — We Shall Not Sleep’. Buy Victory Bonds.” Poster depicts lone soldier standing in a field of poppies at a grave.
By the Department of National Defence, Ottawa

Today’s guest post come from Angry Staff Officer, and was originally published at Points of Decision on Medium. It is republished here with permission.

An abstracted Death Star by Eu mesmo

An abstracted Death Star by Eu mesmo

Army doctrine writers, when composing Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency (COIN), sought to draw on a large number of vignettes from diverse conflicts to make their argument for a comprehensive U.S. COIN strategy. In reality, those ineffable doctrine writers could have merely looked to the world of Star Wars and found therein multiple classic examples of successful and failed COIN (As an aside, they could have also found their mission statement in the single phrase, “I have a bad feeling about this.” “It’s a trap” would also have worked). Now, one could get into the geopolitical semantics of whether the Galactic Empire itself was a legitimate government, with the overthrow of the Republic and the dissolution of the Senate. This would of course mean that the Rebel Alliance was in itself an insurgency, as defined by FM 3-24:

Insurgency: The organized use of subversion and violence by a group or movement that seeks to overthrow or force change of a governing authority. Insurgency can also refer to the group itself.

Let us then presuppose that the Rebel Alliance was an insurgency, and examine the Empire’s multi-level approach to defeating the “Rebel scum.” First, they engaged through means of overwhelming military force. One could earn a PhD, I suppose, by trying to figure out the force outlay of the Imperial Fleet during the wars, and seeing how their forces were allocated. Regardless, the Empire was used to using massive force on an unprecedented scale. Fleets aligned around Star Destroyers (Much like a carrier battlegroup) could be deployed throughout the galaxy to visit shock and awe upon the locals. Imperial bases tended to be population-centric, with varying results. Mos Eisley, for example, afforded the Imperial forces a Forward Operating Base for operations on Tatooine. In fact, this stands as a successful example of Imperial COIN, as they leveraged the local population for aid against the Rebels. It also brings me to the first of two vignettes I would like to focus on.

An image taken on a street in Ajim, Tunisia. The building in the photograph was the site of a STAR WARS film location in 1976. Photographed by Colin Kenworthy in October 2011.

An image taken on a street in Ajim, Tunisia. The building in the photograph was the site of a STAR WARS film location in 1976. Photographed by Colin Kenworthy in October 2011.

On Tatooine, the Imperials established a working relationship with the Jawa community. Jawas were well emplaced in the thriving black market and offered a conduit to any off-world activity entering the planet. They were generally left to their own devices, with the Imperials allowing them to continue their black market activities. Of course, this was not always the case, as sometimes Jawas were considered expendable in the search for Rebel activity, i.e., destroying an entire community in the search for Rebel droids. We can infer from the Imperial stormtroopers forensic efforts to place the blame for the destruction of the Jawa vehicle on the Sand People (essentially the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin of Tatooine) that they did not routinely massacre the small, hooded beings. Even with incidents like this, the Jawas did not attempt guerrilla activity or aggression versus the Imperials, possibly for fear of being outgunned, but definitely from the fear of the loss of their fiscal empire. By building their base of support in an urban area, with the availability of Quick Reaction Forces (QRF) and tying in with an unethical economy, the Imperial forces scored a COIN “win.”

The next example stands in strong juxtaposition to the last. Endor is the exact opposite of Tatooine: remote, lightly populated, and largely rural, it did not offer the same types of benefits as an urban center would. The Imperial decision to place the Shield Generator for the second Death Star on Endor was folly at best, criminal negligence at worst. While Imperial tactics had developed for both desert and arctic combat conditions, their jungle warfare tactics were woefully inadequate. Relying on speeder bikes for rapid movement and All Terrain Scout Transports (AT-ST), Imperial troops limited their adaptive reaction to a kinetic battlefield. AT-STs in particular were not suited for the dense and constrictive terrain of Endor due to their top heavy nature and design flaws in the legs.

An ewok, with thousand-mile stare.

Ewoks get a lot of bad press but doesn’t this one look like a 30 year veteran of imperial resistance?

In addition to their ignorance of physical terrain (the Imperials often showed their ignorance of METT-TC; probably because they didn’t have doctrine writers), the Imperials ignored their successes on Tatooine and failed to engage the local populace, the Ewoks. One reason could be that perhaps they underestimated the Ewoks, due to their rural society and non-threatening outward appearance. If this is the case, then the Imperial forces made the same mistakes the British did in the 18th century when encountering the Ghurkas of Nepal. Like the Ewoks, the Ghurkas appeared to be a minor foe: short of stature, non-imposing features, a rural city-state society. The British soon discovered this to be incredibly false when they first encountered the Ghurkas in the field of battle. The British learned from this mistake and developed an alliance with the Ghurkas that continues to this day with the Royal Regiment of Ghurka Rifles (note: don’t piss off a Ghurka). The Galactic Empire understood no such nuances, and treated the Ewoks with disdain. This translated into a hostile populace which developed grievances over land use and the reckless use of force by Imperial stormtroopers. When the advance party of the Rebel Alliance landed on Endor, they found a dissatisfied and disenfranchised group with a strong desire for revenge.

The Imperial oversight of the military capabilities of the Ewoks proved to be a disaster when the fighting began, as Imperial patrols were wiped out and fighting positions overrun. Of particular note is the way in which the main combat platform of the AT-ST, a force multiplier for the base-bound stormtroopers, was negated through use of terrain and light infantry tactics. Much like the Finnish tactics in the Winter War of 1939-1940, the Ewoks utilized the restrictive terrain to canalize their enemy and defeat them in detail. The disaster was multiplied by the seizure of the Shield Generator and the subsequent destruction of the second Death Star. Had the Empire engaged the Ewoks or at least ignored their activities, much like they did the Jawas, the end result may have been much different.

The failure of the Empire to recognize the importance of non-human actors on the battlefield dealt a death blow to their endeavors. Their ignorance of the human terrain (Ok, non-human, but you get the point) led them to overreach and commit their forces in an entirely illogical manner. Much like the British Army of 1763 during Pontiac’s Rebellion, the Imperial forces trusted to technology and an over-inflated sense of tactical superiority which led them to build undermanned outposts in hostile terrain. One could also point to their intelligence failures in underestimating the size of the surviving Rebel Fleet after the Battle of Hoth and their ignorance of basic supply lines when developing forward bases, but their failure in the realm of COIN is what particularly stands out in this case. While U.S. Army doctrine writers often come under scathing criticism by bitter and jaded staff officers such as myself, the reality is that the Galactic Empire could have done with a bit of doctrine on their own. It is evident that no one was codifying lessons learned or developing tactics, techniques, and procedures to aid the stormtroopers on the battlefield. This failure should stand out to all military leaders and serve as a warning against ignoring doctrine outright.

That being said, I still hate ATTP 5-0.1 and want to kick Frederick the Great in the family jewels for developing the general staff.

The Kingdom Beneath The Yellow Sea

Posted: March 10, 2014 by kdatherton in Uncategorized

What follows is a series of diary entries, found on a voice recorder in an envelope delivered to BlogTarkin headquarters early Monday morning. In addition to the recorder was a file. The author is unknown.

I found the file in the stacks between the dusty atlases of forgotten continents. It was devoid of dust, a rarity among books in the Miskatonic extension school. The only people generally back here were library assistants, dutifully storing duplicates of soon to be forgotten theses.

Inside the file was only news-clippings, a few pictures, and hastily scribbled notes.

The Hollow Eyes

The Hollow Eyes

It was titled the Pyongyang Report. From the fragments inside was an entire alternate history of the hermit kingdom. It hinted at the aftermath of an existential war, not against the rest of the world, but at something lurking deep within it.

By all appearances, this war ended in 1972.


Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake
The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa


The victory was unheralded. It took decades, but official policy went skyward. It looked like an arms race. The rockets went upward. Satellites cruised the borders of space.

Yet space was never the destination. By all other accounts the collapse of North Korean rockets was an engineering failure. The file suggested differently. This was a concerted supply strategy. The goal was to get the parts under water. The last clipping from the file:

Pyongyang has admitted the controversial launch ended in failure and is investigating what caused it to fall into the sea. – ABC


Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa


I kept the file. It’s newness intrigued, and it fell into the longer pattern of wars on the peninsular.  Somewhere in Kim Il Sung’s past, a deal was made. Nothing like the regular deals of a politician, arms and alliances for ideology. This involved something else. An emissary emerged, in the dark days of Japanese occupation. There are no details of the meeting except that it happened. Before the emissary Il-Sung’s forces existed only in a stage of fear, armed and hiding. Afterwards, they won the battle that built Il Sung’s career. History only records a strange caravan of fishing boats out to sea, all single file, all one way.


The Azure Gateway


Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in

Dim Carcosa.


Whatever bargain was struck that day, it was paid in full in 1972.  Whatever chance the Democratic Republic had at a normal existence extinguished that year. With the victory came a new cult, born from the nether gods. Founders became gods. The hermit kingdom became a workshop for hidden masters. Hands worked to the bone and bark stripped from trees. The materials of the land and the people worked raw to prepare the world for an underwater overlord

It was a compelling theory. Stuck in my research position, there was no way to get closer to the truth.

And then this happened:

On Thursday, four Scud missiles with a shorter range were fired into the sea off North Korea’s eastern coast –CNN


Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die though, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in

Lost Carcosa


I’m sending this from the post office in Kuala Lumpur. I have no idea if my investigations will yield anything. My last additions to the file indicate that the King Below is hungry. Hungry for new people.

Erdi Erdem tweets at @milleniacinder and works as a Systems Analyst. Hit him up for more about EVE or Bill Paxton. He is happy to discuss both.

The Titanomachy Monument

“In Greek mythology, the Titanomachy  or War of the Titans (Greek: Τιτανομαχία), was the ten-year series of battles which were fought in Thessaly between the two camps of deities long before the existence of mankind”

There is a good chance that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve heard this word quite a few times since last week.   Either you heard this obscure Greek mythology buzzword for the first time or you heard it from people who have no business knowing about the war between Cronus and Zeus.  There is, of course, a very good reason for this and it has to do with the great excel-spreadsheet-second-life space simulator of our time, EVE Online.

In the wee hours of January 27th, EVE’s resident police force, CONCORD, came to collect on rent and protection money for the space station owned by the corporation H A V O C in the B-R5RB system.  The bill hadn’t been paid because someone somewhere forgot to check off a box to auto-pay for the station.  For want of a nail and all that.  War never changes and neither does human error, even virtually.

On January 31st, CCP Games erected a vast memorial at the site of the Battle of B-R5RB.  Titled Titanomachy, the derelict, non-salvageable remains of the 75 Titan ships lost will remain a permanent fixture in dedication to the historic battle.  Over the course of 12 hours, nearly 8,000 unique characters (people) fought with every kind of ship in the EVE arsenal in various systems (locations) in the EVE universe.  The particular system in question held 2,670 players at peak vying for control over the base.  The numbers are staggering.

Totals Destroyed:

  • Titans – 75 (74 in system, one on its way to the fight.) The losing alliance, N3/PL, lost 59 titans and the winner, CFC/DTF, lost 16.  Just for the record, the most titans lost in one battle in the entire history of EVE Online prior to this point numbered at 12.  The winning side lost 25% more Titans in victory than any group had ever lost before.
  • Supercarriers – 13
  • Dreadnaughts – 370
  • Carriers – 123
  • Thousands of frigates, fighters and drones.

The impact to EVE’s player-driven, free market, laissez faire, capitalist economy was 11 TRILLION ISK lost in ships and resources.  In real money that is estimated at about $300,000.  You read that correctly.  $300k.  It was also, with its 8,000 participants, the largest single battle in video gaming history.
“Fire Everything!”

But I hear you.

“What is this guy talking about?  It’s all Greek to me.” (Hah!)

Let me explain.  There are four major factors that make EVE Online unique in the world of gaming:

The first is that EVE Online is potentially gaming’s greatest sandbox.   EVE is a massively multiplayer online role playing game where characters are pilots with the ability to fly various spaceships throughout the EVE universe.  There is no goal or endgame.  There is no pervasive storyline forcing a player in any particular direction.  There is just a pilot working towards whatever role, aim or design he or she may imagine.  The EVE world is full of clans called “corporations” which work very similarly to corporations in our world.  People join in various roles and each corporation has its own aims.  Some corporations are involved with mining while others provide mercenaries to carry out hits and collect money using EVE’s bounty system, et cetera.  Everything is completely open.

The second biggest factor that makes EVE so unique is the way it handles its servers and player base.  There is only one server in EVE and everyone plays on it.  All 500,000+ players are on the same instance at all times.  The world is, therefore, large and varied.  Players can join various Alliances via their corporations.  Everything is happening at the same time because there are so many places to go.  There are over 7,500 systems in the EVE world, each with something to explore.  The processing marvel here is significant.  CCP runs EVE on server nodes using complicated balancing and a factor called “time dilation” where the action is slowed down across the board to prevent lag.  For example, during the climactic battle at B-R5RB with 2,700 players, the game slowed down to about 5 FPS for everyone within that system.  For three to five hours.

Third, EVE’s sandbox quality comes with very few rules (and those only regarding common MMO rules like sharing passwords or selling accounts.)  The EVE universe has two types of territories.  “Highsec” or high security is the first, where new players can safely move about and learn the game or explore what little PvE exists in EVE.  The second area is called “nullsec” where everything is game.  There are no warnings for PvP, no do-overs and no security.  Players and their ships can be killed at any time and unlike other MMOs, if your ship is blown, that’s it.  If you didn’t get insurance then that’s just too bad.  You have to start over and build everything from scratch.  Worse yet, if you haven’t prepared a clone for yourself, that’s it.  Game over man.  These concepts have opened the door for some of the most incredible storylines in multiplayer gaming.

“Hey, I think this guy’s a couple cans short of a six-pack.”

Examples include impressive in-game feats such as “Ricdic’s” heist of 250 billion ISK from the coffers of the corporation he infiltrated or Goonswarm Alliance’s taking advantage of a bug to swindle 5 trillion ISK, for which they were lauded… by CCP.  Other examples highlight the deep and friendly community ties in EVE and the spill out into the real world such as with the death of player Vile Rat, aka  Sean Smith, one of the four U.S. diplomats killed during the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.  There are, of course, certain unsavory stories as well such as when a player was banned for a month after he mocked a potentially suicidal player during a forum event.

EVE Online provides players with opportunities to play the game in any way they want.  Usually, players aim for two things.  One is to have fun in whatever way suits them and the other is to aim for PLEX, which is the fourth reason why EVE is unique in the MMO landscape.

PLEX, or Player License Extensions, are cards that can be bought to extend your EVE subscription.  They can either be bought for real money, or they can be bought for the in-game currency, ISK.  This key game mechanic is the reason behind every real life dollar figure given to an EVE battle, heist or exploit.  True, CCP Games does ban players for selling ISK for real money; however, it is still easy, engaging and convenient to use the fixed price of PLEX to put a real-world figure on these engagements.

In reference to the breakdown of numbers earlier, please refer to this chart containing conversation rates from 2010. The cost of one Titan (remember that 75 were lost in this battle) was about 120B ISK which translated to $7,600 and 3,400 hours of construction time.  Today, these numbers are a bit different as Titans have become easier to produce.  Each one costs about $3,000.  I know.  Chump change.  This kind of thing is why EVE is called “Excel Spreadsheet Online.”

True, it may not be the most engaging game to play.  However, one would be hard pressed to see another game make the news as often as EVE for things most often found in the Wall Street Journal.  In the wake of this conflict, the Titanomachy monument will serve to commemorate this achievement, joining other monuments and milestones in EVE such as the New Jita memorial or the memorial to Steve, the first Titan destroyed in battle.  Travelers can even find a memorial to the aforementioned Sean Smith of the U.S. State Department who was killed in Benghazi.

The Strategic Illogic Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Posted: February 3, 2014 by kdatherton in Uncategorized


Sam Ratner tweets at @SamRatner and works as the project coordinator for Iran Matters.

Does SHIELD Have A Strategy?

Friend 1: “The part with Hulk throwing Loki around!”

Friend 2: “The part with Downey sassing Captain America!”

Friend 3: “The part with Galaga.”

Chorus of friends: “THE PART WITH GALAGA!”

Me: “But guys, what kind of SHIELD governing council made up of presumably rich and powerful English speakers thought nuking New York was a defensible strategic decision?!”

Chorus of friends: “…”

The above is a play in one act entitled “Why My Friends Don’t Take Me To See Summer Blockbusters Anymore.” It’s more of a memoir than a play, really. That scene took place after I went to see Marvel’s The Avengers in the theater last summer.* I enjoyed it a great deal, but my question continued to bother me. What were the SHIELD Council thinking? The Avengers had the alien invasion confined to a 3 block square in Manhattan.** Even if the fight expanded to the whole island, the damage inflicted by the battle would be cosmetic compared to the destruction of a nuclear blast. Don’t believe me? Take it up with the editor. What’s more, no one knew if the aliens were vulnerable to conventional arms. The military never got a chance to show up. Even if it turned out a nuclear bomb was necessary to close the portal, surely you have to give the Avengers and the military a chance to hold the aliens off for long enough to evacuate the civilian population.

The only justification the Council gives for the “stupid-ass decision” (Nick Fury’s words, not mine) to go nuclear that early comes when Fury decides to make a mockery of SHIELD’s command and control system by flat out refusing to follow the direct order to launch the nuke. The Council leader, doing his best Walt-Rostow-as-domino-theory-proponent impression, responds  “If we don’t hold [the aliens] in the air, we lose everything.” Fury displays some Clausewitzian wisdom in telling the Councilor that the act of nuking New York will itself lead to SHIELD losing everything, since how are they going to retain their legitimacy as defenders of Earth if they go around irradiating the Hudson? The Council never gets a chance to reply, and their thought process remains a mystery.

Maybe the SHIELD Council really are strategic morons on the scale of The Best And The Brightest, but that’s a pretty unsatisfying answer for a Marvel universe that will dominate our summers for years to come. There should be a better explanation for SHIELD’s strategic choices, and I’ve become a little obsessed with finding it. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve made some unfortunate, even embarrassing, personal decisions in service to the search. That’s right, I’ve watched Agents of SHIELD. Multiple times even.

Two U.S. Navy Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bombers in flight, circa 1942

Two Avenger torpedo bombers. Not “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” not “The Avengers,” but still pretty cool.

I’ve found more questions than answers. Under whose authority does SHIELD operate? Is it a wing of the American government? Where does it get its funding? What is its bureaucratic structure? How does it do its procurement? Is it bound by international law? Is it completely secret, and if not, who are its PAOs and how the hell do they do their jobs? Basically these questions boil down to two fundamental strategic questions: what is SHIELD and what are its goals?***

I have found a couple answers though. We got a small window into the international law question through an (unintentionally, I think) hilarious discussion of how an organization that tried to nuke New York could work around the fact that they were barred by treaty from operating in Malta.

Most of what we see in the show involves SHIELD defending Earth against alien threats, whether in the form of viruses or Asgaardian weapons. Yet we also learn that SHIELD is a great deal older than our knowledge of the existence of aliens, and therefore has terrestrial reason to exist. Last week we got our first confusing hint of what that reason might be.

“The Hub” took us to SHIELD headquarters on a mission with no extra-terrestrial or supernatural components whatsoever. It seems that a separatist group in South Ossetia built an “overkill” device that could trigger any weapon in a substantial radius. At first we were led to believe that SHIELD was only sending in a small team to deactivate and recover the device, thereby maintaining the delicate balance of power. It seemed like an exercise in a Star Trek-esque preference for stability. As the episode continued, however, we learned that SHIELD had a rather more activist mission in South Ossetia. As soon as the overkill device was disabled, a large SHIELD force swept in to destroy the separatist army that was set to assault Georgian forces behind the power of the device.

Assuming that SHIELD isn’t an agent of the Georgian government, who might want to protect the world from alien attack, even at the cost of New York, and would take strong action to limit South Ossetia separatism and, by extension, the expansion of the Russian sphere of influence? Is it possible that the SHIELD council take their orders from… China?

Guys, I’m totally trolling you with that last sentence. I actually have no idea who would want to do that. But don’t you kind of like the idea that SHIELD is actually the agent of a repressive and self-interested government and that Fury, Agent Coulson, and the Avengers will eventually realize this and craziness will ensue? Doesn’t that make more sense with the pro-individualist, anti-censorship values of the show that are constantly running into the realities of being cogs in a giant machine? That’s my best guess, but I’ll probably keep watching to learn more. I want SHIELD to think strategically, and the nice part about watching a world created by an auteur rather than a bureaucratic/legislative mess is that I may just get my wish.

"The Avengers" by Samuel Thomas Gill. Not the Avengers we're talking about, but too great not to share.

“The Avengers” by Samuel Thomas Gill. Not the Avengers we’re talking about, but too great not to share.


*Since you are a living human, I assume that you saw the Avengers and retain some memory of the relevant plot points. If, however, you are a zombie with exceptional intellectual curiosity, here is a quick plot summary. Loki (the bad guy) has opened a portal in the skies above Lower Manhattan through which his army of evil aliens are flying to begin their campaign for world domination. The Avengers (the good guys) are fighting those aliens as they come through the portal, and have confined their battle to a three block square. Nick Fury, The Avengers’ titular boss and head of an organization called SHIELD, explains all this to his bosses, a council of four headed by a guy who looks eerily like Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose, for reasons unknown, orders Fury to detonate a nuclear weapon over Manhattan in an attempt to close the portal.

**If Captain America had stayed true to his enlisted roots, this would be a great place for a “3 block war/strategic Corporal America” joke. Alas.

***I’m aware that SHIELD has a long history in Marvel comic books. For our purposes, I’m only interested in the SHIELD of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Partially that’s because I’m just not interested in going back and reading all the comics, but mostly it’s because the Whedonverse SHIELD is distinct from the SHIELD of the comics. For example, in the comics SHIELD stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, but in the Whedonverse it stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. If that’s not a dog whistle that Whedon’s SHIELD is meant to be a commentary on modern security issues, I don’t know what is.