07 February 2017

A much less dangerous imagination

[A]fter the 80s, the new American right saw things differently. Newt Gingrich, then speaker of the House, now close supporter of Trump, took time out from impeaching Bill Clinton to co-author three excruciatingly dire alt-history novels about the civil war. In Never Call Retreat, the final in the trilogy, written by Gingrich with William Forstchen and Albert Hanser, the Union side wins the war but, by implication, the south wins the peace. With Sherman’s Union army poised to destroy Atlanta, the Confederate commander, Robert E Lee, persuades the south to surrender. “The patience of our opponents is at an end,” this fictional Lee tells the Confederate government. “We shall reap a terrible whirlwind that will scar our nation for generations to come.” Lincoln then delivers the Gettysburg address to a nation that has, by implication, made peace with the slaveowners and the ideology of white supremacy they lived by.

While you ponder the parallels with today, consider this statement from [Steve] Bannon, made on his radio show in December 2015 to explain the worldview of his Breitbart website: “It’s war. It’s war. Every day, we put up: America’s at war, America’s at war. We’re at war.

For Bannon, the No 1 enemy in this “war” is Islam, with China No 2. But there is also a fifth column in America to be dealt with as part of a “global existential war”. For Bannon, this fits into a generational theory of American power whereby the nation fulfils its destiny through a cycle of catastrophic crises: first, the revolution of 1776, then the civil war, then the intervention into the second world war and finally the crisis Bannon intends to provoke through Trump.

In Bannon and Gingrich, then, you have two men influencing the most powerful office in the world whose beliefs about the dynamics of US history could be best described as dangerous bullshit. Bannon fantasises about turning the culture war into a real one; Gingrich about the survival of an undestroyed south. Compared with them, Trump, whose fantasies appear to revolve around women, gold and tall buildings, has a much less dangerous imagination.

- Paul Mason, 'Trump’s advisers want a new civil war – we must not let them have it', Guardian, 6 February 2017

05 February 2017

Intrigue in Bastanien

Potential plague? Don't worry, I'm on it!

This week I've been experimenting with the background simulation in Elite Dangerous. The intricate underlying machinations map the effects of the myriad interactions of both the major factions (Federation, Imperial and Alliance) and the countless minor factions that contest for control in every inhabited system in human space. While systems with large populations are hard to influence, in the smaller systems - ones with around a million population or less - a single player can influence the balance of power between minor factions by completing missions for them. Seeing as I was already intending to get back to ranking up in the Imperial Navy so I can one day purchase an Imperial Cutter, I selected Imperial space for my experiment.

It wasn't hard to find a system led by a dictatorship, because that's common across the Empire. In the end I selected the backwater mining system of Bastanien, located 104 light years from the Imperial capital on Achenar and 191 light years from the Federal capital on Mars. Orbiting a G-class star a little smaller than Sol, Bastanien boasts a string of eight high metal content worlds, an ammonia-wreathed water world, two unassuming gas giants and a far-flung ice world. Only two of Bastanien's worlds have attracted Imperial attention. The first is the tidally locked and airless world of Bastanien 4, with its surface mining activities centred on the southern territories near the domed city of Bering Settlement, and ships docking above in orbit at the industrial outpost of Sweet Port. The second is Bastanien 8, a high metal content world being terraformed from orbit and served by the outpost known as Shaw Colony. With Bastanien 8 currently far from habitable, it looks like the terraforming initiative is at its early stages: a long-term proposition, then.

With a population of 243,000, Bastanien is a comparatively small system. Most of its people will likely be living in or around Bering Settlement. The minor faction controlling the system when I arrived, a dictatorship known as the Imperial Inquisition, had a firm grip when I arrived, with 73 percent of the total influence in the system. While I targeted this dictatorship largely due to its name, I also discovered that it's actually a player minor faction (i.e. rather than one run by AI) with interests in eight systems, headquartered at the nearby Brestla system:

The Imperial Inquisition is a group of Imperial fanatics based in this [Brestla] system. They are dedicated to defending the Empire from threats, both internal and external. Led by their inspiring leader, Mavia Kain, they are determined to become a major player on the galactic stage. 

Fortunately I enjoy a challenge!

I selected an opposition faction to support in Bastanien, to usurp the control of the invading Inquisition. Ruling out the second-most-powerful faction, the Bureau of Yeng Front, because it too was a dictatorship faction, I settled on the third-biggest faction, the Social Bastanien Unionists. A communist faction, the SBU only had 7 percent support when I began running missions for them. The ship I'm using is Cmdr Totinges' Asp Explorer, Hirokazu 824, rigged out for speedy cargo transport with a capacity of either 80 tonnes, or 112 tonnes without a fuel scoop.

The key is to run as many missions as possible for the SBU, to increase its influence in the system sufficiently to challenge the Inquisition for control. Most of the missions on offer are commodity or data delivery runs to nearby systems within about 15 light years such as Sawait, Brestla, Vasukili and Heilelang. A few others request hard-to-find resources, such as agricultural produce, the nearest producer of which is Dumnites 3, a water world 31 light years away with a population of over a billion. Once the mission board at Sweet Port is exhausted of jobs, Totinges flies over to Shaw Colony for a brief stop to see if there are a few extra SBU missions to pick up there. Then the key is to run the missions as quickly as possible to get back to Sweet Port for another round. If the surrounding systems offer decent missions, either to stations the Hirokazu is already scheduled to visit or back to Bastanien's outposts, they are accepted, but not those to any other destinations. There might be lucrative jobs on offer that are ignored, because they're a distraction from the main objective, and because the Inquisition is strong in most of the nearby systems, it's important to avoid boosting its fortunes.

In the first five days of running SBU missions, Totinges has made a sizeable dent in the Inquisition's hold on Bastanien. Its influence has declined from 73 to 51 percent, while the Social Bastanien Union has ballooned in influence from 7 to 24 percent. If the campaign continues successfully, at some point  both factions will draw level in influence and a fully-fledged local war will kick off in the system. Then it will be time to fetch my hot-modded Fer-de-Lance Accipitral and take its Class 4 multicannon into the Conflict Zones that will spring up around the system. Destroying Inquisition ships and running SBU combat missions will help their cause, and if it goes particularly well, the SBU might even seize control of one of the system's outposts. This would be ideal, because then even simple trading will boost its control of the system.

Onwards for communism!
   
See also:
Games: Fine-tuning the Robigo run, 2 March 2016
Games: Pathfinder 60, 12 July 2015
Games: Realising childhood dreams, 27 April 2015