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February 4, 2011

Babylon 5: This Wooden O
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:40 PM * 114 comments

…can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
Henry V, Act I, Prologue

You know, the problem Shakespeare’s referring to doesn’t go away when you move onto multiple sets and break out the CGI. At a certain point, you still end up with a bunch of actors hanging around on a sound-stage, twiddling the scenery and trying to sell the idea they’re standing inside two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. There is no magic by Shakespeare or Straczynski that can turn the map into the territory.

But the problem of setting is deeper than mere staging. Even if you could film the show on a real, life-sized Babylon 5, the way Firefly did with the Serenity set, you still have to show your audience that you’re on a space station. It’s not merely some weirdly-shaped office building with insufficient windows and a bunch of very funny-looking tenants. Setting has to influence plot, affect characters, and create tension and interest, or it’s just backdrop.

Babylon 5 does pretty well at creating and using realistic setting. There are certainly areas that feel like office space, or a rather bland convention center: Blue and Green sectors, which are where the nice quarters are; Medlab; the Zocalo. But the station also has a darker side, which tugs at the plot from very early on. Soul Hunter includes two sequences in Brown sector, where the dregs and hull rats hang out. It’s clearly underheated; most of the people down there are shown wearing hats and gloves. It’s also underlit, complicated, and full of niches where murder can be done before help will arrive.

There’s an entire criminal underworld on the station, too, controlled by what appears to be a large preying mantis in the non-oxygen breathers’ area. Shady characters run strip clubs (Born to the Purple), own slaves (ibid), sell access to better areas (Soul Hunter), and hire out toughs (The Parliament of Dreams). Sinclair is aware of this underworld, and knows the names of some of the principal players (Born to the Purple), but he doesn’t have any illusions that he controls it, or could put an end to it. That tells us a lot about the size and complexity of the station population. (Can you picture Kirk allowing an underworld among the 400-odd people on the Enterprise?*)

I note in passing that this knowledge is the product of good exposition and incluing. No one asyouknowbobbed it into us. When characters buy access to the better levels from the underworld, we learn that levels are access-controlled as well as that the underworld exists. We see the vast green of the hydroponics section when Sinclair and Talia trade unrealistic dialog as they go through it in Mind War, but neither of them feels compelled to say, “Look! Hydroponics! Those plants give us food and oxygen.”

All of this musing is brought on by the next two episodes, whose plots are both shaped by various aspects of the setting of the show.


The episode starts with an interesting slice of setting and a wry piece of exposition. Garibaldi and Ivanova, along with a mixed crowd of civilians, file through a low-gravity area (a voice in the background reminds them to grab the handholds at all times) and discuss the upcoming visit of the newly-elected President Santiago. It’s classic As You Know, Bob plot setup, all about how the President is giving the space station a new fighter wing, which should have been theirs some time before; how the fighter bay was mothballed and now needs urgent refurbishment; and how the people doing it are inexperienced and overworked. Then we get a good Ivanova quote, which at least waves in the direction of explaining why they’re talking:

Ivanova: What, does something about this surprise you, Mr Garibaldi?
Garibaldi: Nothing the government does surprises me.
Ivanova: That’s a very Russian attitude. I commend you.

Then there’s an explosion in the new fighter bay, and the plot starts rolling.

Only one person survives the explosion, a tech named Nolan. He’s unconscious in Medlab as the investigation gets underway, starting with the umpteenth turf battle of the season so far. Major Liana Kemmer, of the President’s security staff, wants to be in charge. She clearly doesn’t trust Garibaldi, and he is clearly hurt and angry. It turns out that they knew each other 17 years ago, when he worked security in an ice mining installation on Europa. She was a child at the time, and he was a friend of the family. When her father died after sabotage intended to take him out, she blamed him. He blamed himself as well, and turned to drink, which (as it so often does) made everything much worse.

While Garibaldi has been explaining this to Sinclair, Major Kemmer has been interrogating the dying Nolan. He says the explosion was caused by a bomb planted by Garibaldi. Kemmer insists that Garibaldi be suspended. Then a search of his quarters yields a plan of the bay and a large quantity of Centauri ducats, and Garibaldi flees to avoid arrest.

So now we’re into a classic “the Fugitive” plot; Garibaldi has to investigate while on the lam. He goes to Londo, who denies any involvement, accuses G’Kar, and lends him some money. G’Kar also protests his innocence, but offers Garibaldi the chance to defect to the Narn regime. The underworld is equally unhelpful; even with Londo’s funds he can’t buy the access he needs to check things out further. Then he’s cornered and beaten up by some of the station’s less reputable inhabitants, who have a grudge against him. Only Sinclair’s timely arrival prevents real injury. But Sinclair wants him to hand himself in, and he flees again rather than do so. He ends up hiding in a truly regrettable dive, the Happy Daze Bar, and starts drinking. He gets into the “happy fun drunk” phase of falling off the wagon, then falls over at Major Kemmer’s feet when he leaves.

During the subsequent interrogation, Garibaldi manages to extract enough information from Kemmer to piece together the plot against him: Nolan was a member of the Homeguard, and set the bomb himself. He died because it went off early. Kemmer’s first officer, Cutter, was one of the few who knows Nolan had named Garibaldi, and is the person who “found” the evidence in his quarters. When it turns out that Cutter is also the one inspecting the hangar before wing leaves for its ceremonial fly-by, Garibaldi persuades Kemmer to take him along on a final personal check.

Cutter is, of course, the bad guy. He disables Kemmer, then has a nicely dramatic fight with Garibaldi during the countdown for launch. At the very last second, Garibaldi manages to get Ivanova to call off the flyby. It then turns out that all the bay doors were rigged to explode, and everyone is quite pleased with this outcome. There is subsequent unravelling and reconciling. One can tell that Major Kemmer is more comfortable with her emotions at the end because she’s got her hair loose, but no one staying on the station is shown to have changed much.

So why do I call this a setting-intensive episode? Well, first off, it has a lot of interesting places in it. I particularly like that it shows more than one kind of faintly disreputable dive. Garibaldi finds Londo in a tacky nightclub, complete with holographic tabletop dueling knights. He then ends up in a thoroughly unpleasant place while on the run. It’s one of those realistic touches that there are gradations of grubby drinking establishment on-station, rather than Ye Solitarye Dysreputable Cantina (with band).

But more importantly, it’s an episode that could not have happened just anywhere. Both Santiago’s visit and the Homeguard sabotage are the product of Babylon 5’s unique position in the show’s universe. Just as we see Garibaldi’s character in many aspects, from his poor temper control, impulsiveness and tendency to alcoholism to his determination, passion for justice, and fierce loyalty to his friends, so we see multiple facets of the station. The action ranges from the most to the least official spaces, from the controlled to the uncontrolled, and all of them, among them, create an understanding of the essential whole of the place. It’s nuanced characterization of a location.

Mind you, all this fun with the setting still leaves time for some good quotes:

You’re a very suspicious man, Garibaldi. But yes, there is a reason. We are alike, you and I. We’re both—as you say—the odd man out. I have been in your place. I can feel how you are pinned. And it would give me some small pleasure to know that things can work out, even for us.
—Londo Mollari to Garibaldi
The universe is governed by the complex interweaving of three elements: energy, matter, and enlightened self-interest.
—G’Kar to Garibaldi
Kemmer: I demand you open a channel to Earth at once.
Ivanova: I am a lieutenant commander in Earthforce, Major. I do not take demands. If you have a request, I’ll consider it.
Kemmer: Very well then, I request that you open a channel to EarthDome.
Ivanova: Request denied. Have a nice day.

By Any Means Necessary

This episode centers around another aspect of Babylon 5 as a physical place: its function as a freight port. It’s logical that if the station is both a trade destination and home to many people, it’s going to need a lot of material shipped to it. And all of that material needs loading, unloading, and managing.

Unfortunately, the (space) dockworkers have been the victims of tightening budgets. They’re working long shifts with substandard, badly-maintained equipment. The episode opens with one consequence of that: a Narn freighter crashes and its cargo is destroyed. One of the dockworkers is killed in the explosion. This is the last straw for the rest of the crew. Contractually barred from going on strike, they start calling in sick, and pretty much all freight shipment to the station stops. Earth sends a negotiator, Orin Zento, with authority to invoke the “Rush Act”† if the dockworkers cannot be persuaded to back down. This would grant Sinclair all but unlimited powers to break the union; the workers themselves expect to go to jail if it’s invoked.

The crash of the Narn freighter has another effect as well. Among its cargo was a G’Quan Eth plant, whose seeds G’Kar needs for a particular ritual on a particular day. It turns out that the only replacement obtainable before the ceremony is in Londo’s possession. He vacillates between offering to sell it at an obscene price and simply using it to infuriate G’Kar. Despite its deeply-felt undercurrents, this squabbling of the two ambassadors is the lightweight foil to the more serious antagonism between labor and management.

The labor negotiations fail, of course. Zento is not portrayed as an honest broker, and there is no serious attempt to address the strikers’ grievances. Nor is the union disposed to trust him; the previous year’s contract negotiations had been concluded with a verbal promise of a pay increase, which was never written down or enforced. Inevitably, a riot breaks out, the Rush Act is invoked, and Sinclair is ordered to end the strike “by any means necessary”. The means he chooses are unexpected: he reallocates funds from the military budget to meet the strikers’ pay and equipment demands and declares an amnesty for participants in the illegal strike.

In the meantime, the escalating quarrel between Londo and G’Kar has taken a comical turn: G’Kar has caused the statue of one of the Centauri gods to be stolen. Sinclair sits the two ambassadors down like minor characters from The Breakfast Club and forces a compromise: G’Kar will return the statue, and Londo will sell the plant to him. Londo agrees, partly because it’s now too late for G’Kar to do his ritual. It’s supposed to be performed in the light of the sunrise of a particular day on Narn, and Londo has managed to delay the matter beyond the appointed hour.

Sinclair, clearly infected with a case of intellectual over-cuteness, points out that the light of the correct sunrise ten years ago will shortly be reaching Babylon 5, and that G’Kar can do the ritual when it hits the station. (Again, Babylon 5’s physical location is relevant to the plot.)

I found this episode really interesting in the ways that it illustrates a particular point in G’Kar’s growing faith. Londo accuses him of caring about the ritual less for religious reasons than out of a desire to maintain his status in the Narn community, and I suspect that that’s a reasonable reading of G’Kar at the start of the series. But I also think we can already see a change in his relationship with his religion. There’s a point in the episode where he is throwing his possessions around the room in frustration at being unable to get a G’Quan Eth plant. He is about to hurl his Book of G’Quan, but then chooses not to. That’s the act of someone in transition: an unbeliever would have thrown it; a faithful follower of G’Quan would never have considered doing so.

I’ve been in that place myself, when the tentative desire for deepening has not yet become channelled into the rules of the faith one is headed into. People do strange things in that time: they’ll take the advice of the most astonishingly inexpert people, reinterpret the rules in the oddest ways, and (if they’re lucky) reach through the thicket of regulations to the heart of the matter. Watching the ritual that closes the episode, as G’Kar recites a litany of the gifts of his life, I tend to think he was that kind of lucky.

(While we’re on the subject of religion—this episode contains evidence that the Narn have more than one:

G’Kar: You’re not a follower of G’Quan, are you, Na’Toth?
Na’Toth: My father was a disciple of G’Lan. My mother didn’t believe in much of anything.
G’Kar: What do you believe in?
Na’Toth: Myself, Ambassador.
G’Kar: Too easy an answer. We all believe in something greater than ourselves. Even if it’s just the blind forces of chance.
Na’Toth: Chance favors the warrior.

So there are at least two religious traditions, plus a strain of atheism in Narn society, and the aide of its ambassador to Babylon 5 is not at threat for not being religious.)

Of all the episodes in the series, this is the one I’d least expect to be made in the present day. It’s a sympathetic portrait of a striking union, which I gather is Axiomatically Bad in current American discourse. Not only that, but many of the characters in it, from Garibaldi to Sinclair to Senator Hidoshi, take pride in being descendants of union members. But though I think it’s currently impolitic, I don’t think it’s unrealistic. These things ebb and flow; unions will be back in the future.

I do wish I could reproduce the best Ivanova quote of the show, but it’s simply her counting down from ten in an extremely firm voice.

* Another way that Babylon 5 is not like Star Trek: In the next episode, Signs and Portents, Sinclair and Garibaldi will have a conversation in the men’s room.
† Named, apparently, after one R Limbaugh.

The next entry will look at Signs and Portents.

Index of Babylon 5 posts

Comments on Babylon 5: This Wooden O:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 08:11 PM:

One line of Garibaldi's that brought a wry smile to the face of this one-time shop steward was his mentioning of the 'blue flu'.

#2 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 08:38 PM:

That tells us a lot about the size and complexity of the station population. (Can you picture Kirk allowing an underworld among the 400-odd people on the Enterprise?

I've seen active underworlds on ships with crews way below 400.

#3 ::: Jeff R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 08:43 PM:

I can't honestly bring to mind a single _un_sympathetic portrayal of a striking union in fiction, any medium. What am I missing, here? (Obviously, fiction is not the whole of discourse. But it's a huge chunk of it...)

#4 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 09:53 PM:

I had forgotten how much I love the production design. All those saturated colors and high contrast...blues, greens, purples, black.... :::::sigh::::::

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 10:14 PM:

I can't imagine Roddenberry allowing an underworld on the Enterprise. That was one of the changes made to Ellison's script for "The City on the Edge of Forever": Instead of McCoy accidentally injecting himself and freaking out, in the original the crewman who went back in time was someone of a lower rank using illegal drugs, bought from another crewman.

#6 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 11:11 PM:

"By Any Means Necessary" was the episode that convinced me I would never like Babylon 5. Midway through, I turned to my bored and complaining roommate and said "You don't like Babble on and on and on 5?"

#7 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 11:16 PM:

One thing that my wife and I loved about the show was the setting, which reminded of CJ Cherryh Nouveau Space Opera(*) novels like "Mechanter's Luck". Grungy, dirty, and you have to spend energy - and money - to move things from Point A to Point B.

(*) She's been given way too little credit for being one of its progenitors. But I digress.

#8 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 11:27 PM:

Earth sends a negotiator, Orin Zento, with authority to invoke the "Rush Act" if the dockworkers cannot be persuaded to back down. This would grant Sinclair all but unlimited powers to break the union; the workers themselves expect to go to jail if it’s invoked.

Thus illustrating one of the differences between progressive and conservative thought. The union members expect that there will be consequences for what they're doing, and have decided that the need justifies accepting those consequences. As opposed to the sort of people who would try to get the law amended so that they can do what they like with no consequences whatsoever.

#9 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 12:03 AM:

Jeff R @3

I think a lot of the time an unsympathetic portrayal of a union is as a parasite or an organ of corruption, and thus not striking.

When a union is portrayed as striking, it is fulfilling its purpose. If you really want to demonize unions, don't show them doing their job.

Similarly, you'd be hard-pressed to find a lot of really unsympathetic portrayals of armies defending their homelands, even though there are certainly lots of unsympathetic portrayals of armies: it's just easier to show a military sitting on its hands or invading some other country, if you want to make it look bad.

And in both cases, if you show a union striking or an army on the defensive, there's a decent chunk of your audience whose sympathies just took a jump whether you wanted that or not.

To really be unsympathetic to a striking union, you kinda have to avoid showing the strikers at all: just show that the docks are closed and man, doesn't that suck?

Here in Seattle, we recently almost had a grocery strike (a heavy majority on the strike vote brought the companies back to the table). On at least three occasions I had people try to enlist me in commiserating with them about how inconvenient that was gonna be. Now, I'm fairly outspoken about my union membership and pride therein, and that was actually MY UNION going out on strike (though not me personally, I don't work in a grocery store so it's a different bargaining unit). I can't help but think that there are even more people out there who have no idea what a union's for or why, but who had just enough sense not to say anything to me.

#10 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 01:48 AM:

Jeff R @3: Strikes portrayed badly, rare. Though unions portrayed badly is pretty much a TV/movie cliche. The lazy union man, the mobbed up union. On the Waterfront is the prototypical union movie in that vein.

Once it occurs to you, what you notice is the *absence* of treatment of unions or strikes. If you think about it, they are near perfect movie/TV material: emotion, conflict, life and death issues all in a neat package. Yet where are the movies of the union and strike history in the US? They don't get made. TV/movies love historical dramas--but ignore the union fights.

Not to digress too far, but the other thing that doesn't get covered is democracy. In our living history, incredible stories have unfolded--but not on TV, not in US movies.

What instead we have is endless stories of the idle rich. Soap operas, movies, sitcoms, fantasy, SF--idle rich vampires, werewolves, stock brokers, New York socialites, etc and ad infinitum.

#11 ::: JM ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 01:50 AM:

How convenient that Babylon 5 is almost exactly 10 light-years from the Narn homeworld! Suggesting that G'Kar could have his ceremony in another 6 months (or that he should have had it a week ago, say) wouldn't have quite the same dramatic impact.

#12 ::: Brennen Bearnes ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 02:11 AM:

I can't honestly bring to mind a single _un_sympathetic portrayal of a striking union in fiction, any medium. What am I missing, here? (Obviously, fiction is not the whole of discourse. But it's a huge chunk of it...)

Heinlein, "The Roads Must Roll". Incidentally one of the first portrayals of organized labor I personally ever encountered in fiction, though I was young enough at the time that the politics of the thing flew completely over my head. I just thought the giant conveyor belts (well, close enough) were cool.

I'm sure examples multiply, though they're not nearly as common as sympathetic portrayals.

#13 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 03:04 AM:

Jim, #10: Well, there was Norma Rae, based on a true story. It was nominated for Best Picture -- didn't win, but Sally Fields did win Best Actress for her portrayal of a poor woman who becomes a union organizer.

Would never be made today, of course; pro-union AND a poor female protagonist? Not a chance. Ditto Silkwood (not about unions, but anti-corporate).

#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 03:35 AM:

Is the Narn year the same length?

It puts me in mind of the definition of the end of Ramadan, which depends on the Moon been seen, not on some astronomical formula. There's a story that in one of the Arab states, if there's heavy cloud a 'plane is laid on to allow a team of clerics to get above the cloud and see the moon. Maybe Oman...

#15 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 03:44 AM:

Lee @13, since when do anti-corporate movies not get made? Corporations are constantly used as handy all-purpose bad guys by lazy film writers.

#16 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 04:34 AM:

When you say "The means [Sinclair] chooses are unexpected" it's not clear whether you mean unexpected by you, or unexpected by the rest of Earthforce: I clearly remember reading a blurb in the newspaper mentioning a labor union strike, and guessing the ultimate resolution right then.

#17 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 05:03 AM:

David Goldfarb @16:

I can't recall my first reaction on seeing the episode. I suspect I thought Sinclair was going to reluctantly go along with what was clearly the historic use of the act: to break the strike, jail the strikers, and bring in scabs—and then pay the internal price of violating his own principles. If I did think so, it only lasted until he asks for the full text of the Act, which is JMS telling us he's going to get cute.

Sinclair certainly upsets the expectations of EarthForce, the Senate, Zento, Garibaldi, and the strikers. Remember that in their context, the Rush Act was a war act, designed to prevent labor disruptions from derailing the effort to fight the Minbari. It has been used frequently to penalize strikers and never to reward them over the objections of the government.

#18 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 06:15 AM:

Brennan Bearnes @ 13: Beat me to it. Yes, I remember being deeply puzzled by "The Roads Must Roll" when I first read it since this was in that old SF Hall of Fame collection of the best SF stories ever. I thought it was garbage, not only for the neanderthal politics but also for the ludicrous central concept which made no sense at all from an engineering point of view. No one in their right mind would ever construct the rolling road network described in the story.

#19 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 06:19 AM:

Dave Bell @14:

Narn year-length doesn't matter in this case. The light from that particular sunrise takes a certain number of seconds to get to Babylon 5, however you chop it into years. That number of seconds has almost passed.

Narn years are clearly a close, but not precise, multiple or factor of Earth years, so that the tenth Earth anniversary of one such sunrise occurs shortly after the actual occurrence of another. But we don't know how many sunrises have sent their photons out between the one in whose light G'Kar celebrates and the one whose actual time he missed.

#20 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 06:43 AM:

Devin@9, if the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union appears in UK fiction in the next fifty years, it will be as a villainous organization. It's a classic example of an over-militant union, calling strikes to critical-to-major-city services multiple times a year, often on the flimsiest of pretexts, forcing its members into makework jobs because a makework job is better than no job at all... (you know what the job of the 'driver' on Jubilee Line trains will be after the upgrade? Closing the doors. But they still get paid more than many City workers for that.)

If the RMT ceased to exist and its leader was eaten by a crocodile, most of the residents of London would celebrate.

If a union strikes all the time and repeatedly paralyzes major cities, I'd say that if it *is* diong its job, that job does not need doing.

(I say this, and I'm a fairly hard left-winger who loved the ending of _By Any Means Necessary_. When they veer into repeatedly harming the many for the sake of the rights of the few who happen to be their members, they have forgotten their purpose.)

#21 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 07:09 AM:

I misread the title of this thread. Looks like This Wooden are heading for relegation.

(I'll get me Sheffield United scarf. Or then again, not.)

#22 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 10:37 AM:


Oh, sure. I didn't mean it couldn't be done, any more than there's nothing bad could ever be said about any army on the defensive. It's just easier the other way.

But if you're anti-militarist, you probably pick the US in Vietnam as your basis, rather than the Poles in 1939. And if you're anti-labor, mobbed-up dockside unions trump strike-happy railway workers (Nasty? Sure. But also proof that organized labor works.)

The context is also different here in the US versus the UK, so I can't really speak to public perception in the UK.

#23 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 11:58 AM:

Jim Lund #10:

Where are the movies about the labour history of the US? For one thing there's this classic film. Then, of course, there's this historic documentary. That's two off the top of my head.

#24 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 12:15 PM:

Lee #13, I'd never heard of it, it never shows on TV. I'll have to check it out.

BTW, anyone have a sense of how big Babylon 5 is? It looks like the author linearly scaled an aircraft carrier size/tonnage to get 5 miles long, 2.5 million-tons (size/volume doesn't scale that way, but ignore...). Which suggests the author was aiming at a population of 75,000, which feels about right.

#25 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 01:21 PM:

The discussion here of setting reminds me that TV (at least, in the US) tends to lag significantly behind movies in terms of the latitude of reality that they portray (mostly due to how heavily TV is regulated). Star Wars (the original film) was widely hailed in 1979 for moving sf from the shiny, clean tropes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and its ilk to the dirty, dingy -- "realistic" -- world of starships with dents and dive bars. It really took B5 another 15 or so years to get to the same place on TV. The rise of cable TV also made hyperrealism (e.g., Battlestar Galactica) possible, but since B5 was on the public airwaves, it was even more exceptional for that.

#26 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 01:33 PM:

Bruce Adelsohn (25): Nitpick: The original Star Wars was released in 1977, not 1979. (Doesn't change your point any, of course; makes it stronger, if anything.)

#27 ::: eyelessgame ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 06:31 PM:

@Bruce (25): the original BSG tried to ape Star Wars, didn't it? I recall some "dive" settings, cheesy and bad-quality though they were - and that would have been late 70s too. But then OBSG was pretty bad overall, and perhaps it's why nothing continued in that vein on TV for a while.

#28 ::: eyelessgame ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 07:06 PM:

Have to agree in principle with Nix@20. We shouldn't over-romanticize: even well-run unions, if they actually go on strike, tend to become severely unpopular.

This might, in the US, be a symptom of the lack of union membership in the population overall - but for most existing unions in the US, if they go on strike, ordinary people feel it immediately, and the populace tends to resent the union for it (nurses and teachers come to mind; Reagan's popularity after firing the air traffic controllers does too).

Strikes are, well, economic warfare. People get hurt. Bystanders don't like war, with good reason.

That's true regardless of the rightness of the cause. Like Nix, I say this from the left of center, proud former member of a union (musicians), and strong sympathizer with unions.

I think we don't often see portrayals of unions in the media because:

a) if you show their actual grievances, you will wind up being sympathetic to them, but the audience will go "unions? ick, they throw my kids out of school and interfere with me getting medical care" and won't go see your movie;

b) if you want to portray a strike unsympathetically, you have to make the union leaders corrupt and union members dupes, otherwise you'd risk showing why they were actually striking, which would make them sympathetic, see (a), or else turn your movie into a Randian diatribe of heroic corporatists beating up evil workers, which also isn't terribly potent box-office magic;

c) there just aren't that many unions anymore.

#29 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 07:09 PM:

Jim Lund @24 - Rather than an aircraft carrier, I think the idea behind the B5 design is the O'Neill cylinder. As for population, IIRC, there are supposed to be about a quarter of a million beings present on the station at any given time.

#30 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 07:29 PM:

Mary Aileen @26: You're correct. 1977.

eyelessgame @27: IIRC, they did. However, there are two reasons I'd discount it. First, their sets and scenery was still pretty much clean-looking (as I remember it). Their settings may have been dives, but, dirt? What's that?

More importantly, original BSG was never a serious show. As much as they might have wanted to be a Big Drama, it always came across as Drama Queens (when not outright comedy). I would say that the show had no serious effects on the landscape of sf TV after it, at least not in the area of visual realism.

#31 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 07:49 PM:

Eyelessgame @27, Don't you think the cost of visual effects had more to do with it? I'm sure a typical hour of Babylon 5 probably cost less than half as much as an hour of the original Battlestar Galactica.

#32 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 09:07 PM:


Your point B is pretty much what I was trying to say, with one further addendum: not that a striking union is always cool (it's not, obviously) but that showing a striking union clearly establishes that unions are functional organisms, that they do something.

There's a strain of American thought that says "unions were really important like back in the Triangle Shirtwaist/Battle of Blair Mountain days, but now they're anachronistic, corrupt, or both." This is dangled out as a red herring to the working class to try and convince us that we should not join or support unions, but should instead vote Republican. Showing a union striking for its members undermines that, even in a nasty case like the London transit example Nix gave: It's easy to go from looking at that to looking at your own work and thinking "Well, if they can organize and strike for shitty reasons like that, maybe we could organize for good reasons..."

And there are still a lot of unions around, they're just different. A lot of the traditional manufacturing unions are on the decline, those industries being less prevalent in the US these days. But the service-industry unions are pretty strong: The UFCW and SEIU between them represent about 4% of Washington's workforce, which is not inconsiderable.

#33 ::: Jim Lund ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2011, 11:57 PM:

MacAllister #29, I noticed that B5 is 25X the length and tonnage of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier (Wikipedia), so that's likely how the author came up with those figures. My pop estimate is 25X a Nimitz crew, perhaps the writers bumped it up afterwards. :)

Fragano #23, I think the films you mention build on my observation. The documentary in '76, Norma Rae in '79, and a small budget indie in '87. Thin for 35 years of film.

#34 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 12:38 AM:

Dave Bell @ #14, abi @ #19:

"This station is 12.2 light years from Narn. That's just a little over 10 of your light years. The sunlight that touched the G'Quan mountain 10 of your years ago will reach this station in 12 hours."

#35 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 12:44 AM:

Lee @ #13: Would never be made today, of course; pro-union AND a poor female protagonist? Not a chance.

Made in Dagenham was only last year. (It's a British film about a British strike, though, so I suppose it doesn't count if the context is restricted to the US.)

#36 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 04:06 AM:

I remember some friends hating that episode when it first aired. I was confused about that, as they were good liberals as much as I was, and I thought it was pretty good and nothing in it worth really getting worked up over.

Then again, said friends include some I met in a fairly expensive private school and another who is the son of a publishing executive. Meanwhile, my mother is a longtime member of the NEA. I never considered class might have had something to do with it until now.

There should be a mention that "By Any Means..." is written by Kathleen Drennan, wife of series creator JMS. She also wrote the best of the tie-in novels IMO.

On a tangent, the first season is pretty much the only time there are a lot of different writers on the show. I'm surprised at how JMS got DC Fontana, David Gerrold, Kristy Marx, and the like to write episodes and then decided to do it all himself! While it allowed a more unified whole, we did lose out on little details that could have been contributed by others -- the gradiated low-life bars being one example.

#37 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 09:54 AM:

Abi made a comment before about how in marriages and societies, one side winning and the other losing is a sister for both. I think the same is true for unions/workers, management, investors, suppliers, customers, etc. When any one side gets too much power, it can and usually will ignore all inconvenient feedback from the other sides, often to *everyone*'s detriment. Arrangements that let the management dictate terms to the union, or that let the union dictate terms to the managemrnt, probable come out worse for everyone than arrangements that make both sides pay some attention to the others' demands.

#38 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 09:55 AM:

sister -> disaster.

Thanks iPhone autocorrekt

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 10:09 AM:

MacAllister @ 29... One thing that always bugged me about B5 is that the docking sector counter-rotates against the rest of B5. That sounds like something designed to spring leaks, and I'd hate to see the size of the ball bearings and what would happen if the cold of space got them to jam.

#40 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 11:44 AM:

Albatross at #38

Rumours to the contrary notwithstanding, I can categorically state that this moose has never bitten anyone[1].

No disasters please, It's been one of those weeks.

[1] That's what the Beast of Caer Bannog is retained for.

#41 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 03:16 PM:

Fragano @ 23:

And also Salt of the Earth the only Hollywood movie I'm aware of that was blacklisted after it was made. Its copyright was not renewed, so it's in the public domain and accessible on youtube.

#42 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 03:29 PM:

Serge @39, yeah, now that you mention it, it'd be a lot easier to just have docking ships match rotation. It's as if the station was designed under the assumption that there's a Real Up And Down in space, and it'd be inconsiderate to ask incoming ships to deviate from it.

I don't think I've yet seen a TV or movie space encounter that didn't have all (or at least most) of the ships oriented to the same vertical.

#43 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 03:43 PM:

One thing that always bugged me about B5 is that the docking sector counter-rotates against the rest of B5. That sounds like something designed to spring leaks, and I'd hate to see the size of the ball bearings and what would happen if the cold of space got them to jam.

Maybe they use magnetic "bearings".

In any case, space isn't so cold if you bring your own heat source. Yes, the equilibrium temperature (in perpetual shade or far from a star, which B5 is not; only half of it is in the shadow of the other half) is only a few Kelvin, but it takes (IIRC) years to reach that temperature because space is such a good insulator. Whatever their bearing system, keeping it warm is not a problem.

Also, bearings can't freeze up without water. If you're designing something to work in Earth's atmosphere you have to assume Earth's atmosphere may provide water whether you want it or not, but in space that's not true.

#44 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 03:56 PM:

chris @ 43... I stand corrected. Still, the design kind of looks like an accident waiting to happen. Also, how stable would something as B5 be, with one fourth of it counterrotating, and being at one end of the whole structure and not in the middle of its length?

Avram @ 42... Mind you, most movies and TV shows get around this by assuming artificial gravity. It certainly makes it easier to build the sets. "2001" and Pal's "Conquest of Space" had ships usually docking at the torus, same as B5, so why did the latter come up with that? Cherryh has ships docking in the rings, which would involve serious acrobatics, true.

#45 ::: Shane ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 12:45 AM:

I understand B5's stationary (counter-rotating) section is to provide zero G docking. Heavy cargo and trans-shipping stuff that won't need to stay on station.

Matching rotation is well and good when you can match axes, but then only one ship could dock at a time. To allow for more than one you get mired in pesky angular velocities. Which iirc B5 prefers to dodge by having ships "land" at the axis and then using mechanical lifts.

#46 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 02:38 AM:

Shane @45: Matching rotation is well and good when you can match axes, but then only one ship could dock at a time.

Hmm. I think proper station design, if you're thinking about docking lots of craft (which you ought to be, given the Babylon Project's purpose) would call for something cylindrical, with a hollow core, closed at both ends with airlocks.

Ships come in through the Entrance airlock, straight down the center line, matching rotation. An arm comes out of the wall, grabs the ship, and pulls it to the wall, thus making room for a new ship. The arm system needs to be strong enough to hold the ship as it gets yanked along to match the wall's greater rotational velocity, but that should be an easier engineering problem than mating a rotating station to a non-rotating dock. (The ship can help by using its maneuvering thrusters, but I can't imagine a dockmaster being happy with that solution.)

Tracks drag the ship down to the other end of the cylinder for exiting.

I can come up with something even simpler if we can do away with the need for a big enclosed volume around the ship.

#47 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 09:27 AM:

I suspect Babylon 5's choice of docking strategies would be informed as much by historical contingency and details of tech advancements, as by any arguments about the Best Way To Do It.

#48 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 09:39 AM:

Speaking of various docks...

"Yellow Alert! Yellow Alert!"
"Bridge, this is the captain, how can you have a yellow alert in spacedock?"
"Sir, someone is stealing the Enterprise!"
"I'm on my way."

#49 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 10:12 AM:

I have to admit I was never really convinced by Brown sector. Partially because of the name (how is it that the place outside administrative control has its perfectly-fitting color name on the official nomenclature chart) and partially because it somehow seemed pretty much planned and instantiated along with the rest of the station. I could see how it could come into being, but having it just be there was always a little bit of a suspension of disbelief for me.

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 10:23 AM:

paul @49:

I don't think brown sector is residential. It's the equivalent of warehouse or light industrial space. Thus the boxes and bins of this and that everywhere.

I have to use a bit of suspension of disbelief as well, simply because anyplace you heat and pressurize in a space station is going to have an assigned purpose and someone in charge of it.

I'd be interested in more of Jim's perspectives on this matter. How do underworlds and off-the-map places come about in controlled environments like space stations and ships at sea? I can see slipping a still into some warm cranny behind an engine, but deeper usurping of larger spaces requires an inattention that I haven't a good handle on.

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 10:30 AM:

Abi @ 50... By the beginning of the series, how long had B5 been in operation? Probably not long enough for us not to invoke the WSoDB (aka Willing Suspension of Disbelief) on this matter.

#52 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 11:51 AM:

When I put my mind to it, it's actually fairly easy to imagine how something like Brown could come about, either over time or fairly rapidly. Old structures get dead spaces because they're modified for new uses, new spaces get them because no one ever builds quite the way the plans say. (There's a hint of this done nicely in some passages of Elizabeth Moon's Once a Hero iirc.)

You would think it might be harder for a place like B5, out in the middle of damn-all nowhere with completely constrained transport, but actually the transport constraint could work the other way around. Once any person or piece of equipment gets to B5, it's very expensive to get them/it back home again, so even as construction proceeds the place is going to be full of scrap wastage and employees who just didn't work out (and some of the scrap is going to be deliberate wastage, ditto with the employees who might have seen a good opportunity to get into a new gig on the, erm, ground floor). The usual accounting difficulties would get exacerbated by the multi-species multijurisdictional nature of the project and its turf wars, so someone smart could make sure that enough stuff left official channels.

But in my view of things Brown would interpenetrate with all the other sectors, sort of like the security corridors in malls, rather than being a specific area. As it is, it's more like the part of the shell that didn't get sheetrocked and painted because of budget cuts, and then squatters moved in. Which doesn't even really work on earth.

If I were king there would have been a few lines dropped about how many people and things stayed over from the construction phase and how hard it was to verify cargoes.

#53 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 01:03 PM:

paul (52): I'm remembering a line or two about how hard it is to verify cargoes. When they were dealing with raider attacks, I seem to remember someone (Garibaldi? Ivanova?) saying something about checking cargo manifests to see what upcoming ships are carrying valuables, but that a lot of stuff gets left off the manifests. That may not apply once the ship actually arrives, of course.

#54 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 02:54 PM:

" Inevitably, a riot breaks out, the Rush Act is invoked, and Sinclair is ordered to end the strike “by any means necessary”. The means he chooses are unexpected: he reallocates funds from the military budget to meet the strikers’ pay and equipment demands and declares an amnesty for participants in the illegal strike"

It occurred to me that under the 'by any means necessary' rule, he could have ordered Zenko to offer an agreement authored by the union representatives, and force Zenko to sign it, under threat of summary execution....... :)

#55 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 03:39 PM:

Jim Lund @33: I noticed that B5 is 25X the length and tonnage of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier (Wikipedia), so that's likely how the author came up with those figures.

I don't think so. My suspicion is the inspiration is Gerard K O'Neill's "Island Three", which is 4 times the size and is designed to support 4 times the population of B5. I don't know what O'Neill estimated as the mass of this station, but his design was common knowledge when JMS was researching B5, so I strongly suspect JMS simply downscaled O'Neill's design to match his ideas about what size station would work for the series.

#56 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 03:58 PM:

Avram @46: The arm system needs to be strong enough to hold the ship as it gets yanked along to match the wall's greater rotational velocity, but that should be an easier engineering problem than mating a rotating station to a non-rotating dock.

I'm not sure. That means making the arms big and heavy, which means they need very powerful motors to move them, which probably means increasing the station's energy budget. All of which probably means shipping components from Earth, which is clearly expensive.

OTOH, a counter-rotating segment is relatively simple; appropriate bearings could probably be manufactured with fairly low-tech kit from materials available in the system, and building a system to transfer goods and materials between the two sections probably only requires a small number of light, high-precision components and can then likewise be completed locally.

I'm also not sure, but I suspect having a counter-rotating section helps improve the stability of the entire system. Note that your system for docking ships to a rotating station loses a little angular velocity each time a ship docks and gains it when the ship leaves. You'll need to make constant relatively-large adjustments to cope with that. While you'll also need to adjust for the losses/gains from moving cargo around in the counter-rotating design, this is a much smaller mass being moved around, so you'll have to make smaller adjustments. You'll also be in control of the movements, so you can always try to arrange to have them balance each other immediately.

#57 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 05:11 PM:

>I can't honestly bring to mind a single _un_sympathetic portrayal of a striking union in fiction, any medium

Doc Smith, Subspace Explorers, wherein a corrupt miners' union stands in the way of automated off-planet mining and Very Low Cost metals and energy for all. (To be fair, there's also a mightily corrupt corporation or two in that book...) It was interesting to discover, a few years later when I read Henry Ford's autobiography, where Doc had lifted his protagonists' key phrase "the principle of enlightened self-interest" from.

I always thought there should have been some consequences to Sinclair reducing military prep expenditures, but I don't recall any from the rest of the show. (Perhaps the government just replaced them, or perhaps the funds needed really weren't large enough to make a difference in the overall scheme of things, or maybe Sinclair was tapping the station's emergency fund instead of cutting operating expenses -- though that's a one-time solution.)

#58 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 05:40 PM:

Tony Zbaraschuk @ 57:

My impression is a combination of the funds necessary weren't all that large compared to military spending, and that by forcing the issue he got a bit of a bump of funds as well.

The actual cost was more political in nature, and will be seen in another few episodes. He's not making himself popular with some of the folks in charge back home.

#59 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 06:24 PM:

Jules @55: [O'Neill]'s design was common knowledge when JMS was researching B5.

ISTR that JMS specifically referenced the O'Neill Colony concept for B5.

#60 ::: Shane ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 08:07 PM:

Docking: In effect they do use Avram's big arms model, which centripetally looks like a giant lift (I recall some CGI shots with a ship dropping away from or rising towards camera).

Bab5 do also use ships thrusters, slaved to CnC's control. (Abi, doesn't the Narn ship talk about retaking local control and trying evasive action?).

As to mechanical difficulty / fragility - Remember that Earth Alliance are excellent at counter-rotating. They use it in every major capital ship in their battlefleet, and that's somewhere you don't mess around with iffy Tech.

Well, not if you want to be the hot young civilization on the block, which they are. Can anyone remind me if warships de-spin for combat?

#61 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 08:41 PM:

(Counter-rotating would also mean that the adjustments all happen in shipping&receiving, rather than in general quarters, in theory.)

#62 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 09:01 PM:

I seem to recall that Cherryh has ships docking around the outside of the ring, or at the poles (the 'mast', in her terminology). The ships seem to connect by flexible (or at least non-rigid) connections, for the most part.

#63 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 01:05 AM:

Barry @ #54:

Leaving aside the fact that Sinclair isn't really a summary execution kind of guy, there's such a thing as being too much of a smartass.

He only just got away with the declaration he did make, for a value of "got away with" that includes the fact that he personally now has a flock of political enemies waiting to pounce next time he trips up. If he'd tried anything like you suggest, they wouldn't have bothered to wait until next time.

Bear in mind that Sinclair's word game would have meant nothing if the Senate had decided not to go along with it. They said "any means necessary", but they weren't bound by his interpretation; it was entirely within their power to say "That wasn't what we meant and you know it". Probably followed by something along the lines of "How would you like to be commander of latrines on Io for the rest of your career?"

#64 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 01:34 AM:

PJ Evans @ 62... I'm not sure about the flexible hookups, but ships at Downbelow docked on the ring, and - I think - on the masts. That's when ships stop their own rotation, which once had a ship crewmember gripe about a kid upset at having left her doll in the area of the ship that was now its top and very uneasy to get to.

(I do wish somebody would make "Merchanter's Luck" into a movie.)

#65 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 05:17 AM:


I don't recall mast docking at Downbelow Station (every dockside scene I can remember on Pell Station is in gravity), but the asteroid miners and IIRC also the Hellburner prototypes were docked to the masts in Heavy Time and Hellburner. I think rim docking is rigid, there are references to grapples locking on and the ships are spinning along with the station, so nonrigid docking would be a recipe for disaster any time the station's rotation changed (and they apparently do make minor adjustments from time to time). I also suspect rim docking is a cultural value rather than an engineering decision. (With mast docking, the station has complete control over access to your ship, plus you don't get to show off what hot shit your Helm 1 is with a nice smooth docking)

I'm really not sure Merchanter's Luck would translate. Without doing bad Blade Runner voiceovers, it'd be hard to understand what Sandor and Allison are thinking and thus why they don't trust one another. Plus, there's some problems inherent in making a movie in which all but one of the lead characters are close relatives with similar appearances in identical jumpsuits... There's a thing Cherryh does where she takes what would in most movies be a token "The heroes are suspicious of one another until they learn to trust" scene and draws it out to novel length, and Merchanter's Luck has an awful lot of that. I'm not saying you couldn't work that as a movie, but I think to do it justice you'd have to have a very particular sense of what you were doing with the movie, independent of simply wanting to translate the book.

My picks would be Heavy Time or Finity's End (I'd say Rimrunners, but a lot of the punch there comes from the reader knowing what "ex-Africa Marine" means, and therefore not totally trusting Bet not to be evil, so without throwing in a 20-minute highlight reel of Porey showing the world his charm, it probably wouldn't work). Heavy Time has more characters, so we get to hear Ben and Bird argue about Dekker, which tells us both why Ben doesn't trust Dekker, and also (if you throw in a reaction shot of Dekker hearing Ben) why Dekker's scared of Ben. In contrast, without Sandor's internal monologue we don't know what's going on for him at all, and he's the more complex part of the equation. Just hearing the Reilly side would make him look crazy and paranoid.

#66 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 06:50 AM:

Might work better as a serial, so that some of the internal monologues can be handled as flashback and stuff.

There's a famous rimworlds place called Pell Station
That's noted for fresh air and fun
And a Merchanter kid known as Albert
Went there with his Dad and his Mum.

(That was internal monologues, Dave...)

#67 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 07:40 AM:

Devin @ 65... I stand corrected about Downbelow. I read the book so long ago that some of the people here probably weren't born yet. Now, where did I put my cane?

As fo a "Merchanter's Luck" movie... It'd have to throw away or reinvent some of the original, but it could still deal with the core idea (as my failed memory remembers it), which is Family, and creating one. Come to think of it, that's probably why I love "Firefly".

#68 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 09:54 AM:

I can't honestly bring to mind a single _un_sympathetic portrayal of a striking union in fiction, any medium. What am I missing, here?

Nicholas Monsarrat, "The Cruel Sea", has some very harsh things to say about British dockyard workers being lazy, greedy and strike-prone, to the detriment of the crews of the warships they were supposed to be building and maintaining.

63: it was entirely within their power to say "That wasn't what we meant and you know it". Probably followed by something along the lines of "How would you like to be commander of latrines on Io for the rest of your career?"

I think that by this point Sinclair and the Senate know that the Minbari regard him as the only acceptable commander of B5. (They don't know why yet, of course.) So they can't really threaten to send him to Kiril Island unless they're ready to shut down the Babylon project. Which is obviously unacceptable, given that they've been even more persistent with the stations than the King of Swamp Castle.

"Everyone said I was daft to build a space station in unclaimed space orbiting a tectonically unstable world, but I built it all the same, just to show them. It blew up. So I built a second one. That blew up. So I built a third. That blew up. So I built a fourth. That got caught in a tachyon vortex, dragged a millennium into the past, dropped into the middle of a major interstellar war, taken over by an alien race, used as a staging post for a major fleet counterattack against a hideously advanced Elder Race, and then blew up. But the fifth one stayed up. And that's what you're getting, Commander Sheridan: the strongest space station in the sector."

#69 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 10:08 AM:

ajay @ 68... "Monty Python's Babylon 5" sounds like the premise for a worldcon masquerade skit. A sure winner, in fact.

#70 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 10:22 AM:

G'Kar, of the Peoples' Front for the Liberation of Narn?

#71 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 10:36 AM:



#72 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 10:48 AM:

::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2011, 05:40 PM:

"My impression is a combination of the funds necessary weren't all that large compared to military spending, and that by forcing the issue he got a bit of a bump of funds as well."

It's amazing how often that works out - as Rumsfeld supposedly said to Rice, 'your budget is my rounding error'.

Paul A @63:

True, Sinclair probably wouldn't have put a gun to the guy's head, but the point is that 'by any means necessary' includes forcing management to make all concessions. And yes, he'd have made more and bigger enemies, and faster.

The Senate could have still charged him with misappopriation of military funds/sabotaging military readiness/behavior unbecoming an officer/any thing else in the existing scenario, if they had wanted to. And by not doing what the (Earth) Powers-That-Be wanted him to, he did piss them off.

Think of a US military officer in a similar position, who didn't crush the unions and make St Reagan smile, but instead paid them off....

#73 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 10:50 AM:

On second thought, let's not go to Babylon 5. It is a silly place.

#74 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 01:24 PM:

Serge @73: You made my mind go to Lerner-and-Loewe places, and now it doesn't want to leave me alone. I hope you're happy.

In short there's simply not a more congenial spot
For end-of-times negotiating than here on Babylon ...

#75 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 01:53 PM:

Elliott Mason @74: Lerner-and-Loewe


#76 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2011, 02:51 PM:

Barry @72
The Senate could have still charged him with misappopriation of military funds/sabotaging military readiness/behavior unbecoming an officer/any thing else in the existing scenario, if they had wanted to. And by not doing what the (Earth) Powers-That-Be wanted him to, he did piss them off.

Somewhere there's probably an Admiral telling the Senators that if you tell the officer on the ground to do a job, they do it quickly, efficently and cheaply to the letter of their orders, and then you publicly punish them, pretty soon no one is going to do anything without asking for clarification. That includes things the Senators need doing on distant stations without delay.

One or two seem to have listened and held back their revenge - for the moment.

#77 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2011, 05:56 AM:

"We seek the G'Quan Eth plant. Can you help us?"
"Well, I'll go and ask the ambassador, but I don't think he'll be very keen. He's already got one."
"What? Really?"
"Yes. It's very nice."
"Can we see it?"
"No! Now go away or I will taunt you a second time!"

#78 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2011, 05:58 AM:

And come to think of it, there's even an episode called "Grail" coming up! With David Warner in it!

#79 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2011, 08:19 AM:

ajay @77: And the thing is, all those lines read very well in Vir's voice. :->

#80 ::: Shinydan Howells ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2011, 09:45 PM:

Shane @60:

IANA scientist of any kind, but I believe the EA ships would have to stop rotating their command sections if they wanted any maneuverability at all in combat. Think gyroscope?

Of course, this is mitigated by the fact that anything big enough to have a command module in the first place is essentially an aerospace carrier.

Also, the naming of the Rush Act has bothered me since I first saw this episode. Ta. 8)

#81 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2011, 09:56 PM:

In In the Beginning (the prequel movie), Sheridan's ship is shown without gravity during combat. Of course, they were already badly damaged by then.

#82 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2011, 10:49 PM:

Mary Aileen @81 - Sheridan's ship in the prequel movie was damaged, but it was Hyperion class, and had no artificial gravity. The ships with the rotating section are Omega class destroyers, and represent the next generation of Earth military design. After that, in the fifth season, the Warlock class ships had true artificial gravity.

I don't have an answer as to whether the rotating section would screw up momentum - the gyroscope analogy is reasonable. Although I am also not an expert, it seems that the failure mode of a rotating chunk of metal that massive would not be gentle.

#83 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 04:30 AM:

IANA scientist of any kind, but I believe the EA ships would have to stop rotating their command sections if they wanted any maneuverability at all in combat.

Yes and no. They have six degrees of freedom (three planes of movement: move left/right, up/down, forwards/back; and also twisting in three different directions: yaw, pitch and roll). Of those, the gyroscope effect would only interfere with pitch and yaw. So, basically, they could manoeuvre anywhere they wanted, but they'd have to keep pointing in the same direction. And therefore they could really only accelerate in one direction.

I am willing to be corrected by (eg) Mr Macdonald, but I would guess that not being able to turn round is a bit of a handicap in naval combat. If you were fighting at very high closing speeds it wouldn't be a problem, because each battle would consist of charging very fast at the enemy, lashing out frantically as you passed him, and then zipping off into the distance and spending the next few days getting yourself stopped and turned round for another pass. Less like Trafalgar; more like King Pellinore and Sir Grummore jousting.

Unless they have _two_ spinning sections going in opposite directions; they'd cancel each other out. Do they? Can't remember offhand.

"Look, I don't care what you say; a thirty-ton Star Fury cannot move a two million five hundred thousand ton space station."
"It could grip it by the docking bay."
"It's not a question of where it grips it, it's a simple matter of power to weight ratio!"

#84 ::: Braxis ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 06:43 AM:

"Look, I don't care what you say; a thirty-ton Star Fury cannot move a two million five hundred thousand ton space station."
"It could grip it by the docking bay."
"It's not a question of where it grips it, it's a simple matter of power to weight ratio!"

Not strictly true...

Assuming the acceleration and fuel capacity data on here is correct, and that the Earth Government has finally gone metric, Newton tells us:

Star Fury Stats
Acceleration 98 m/s2
Burn Duration 1200 s
Mass 30000 Kg

Babylon 5 Stats
Mass 2500000000 Kg

Force produced by Star Fury

Mass x Acceleration = Force
30000 x 98 = 2940000 Newtons

Acceleration on B5

Force / Mass = Acceleration
2940000 / 2500000000 = 0.001176 m/s2

This force applied for the full 20 minute burn gives us a change in velocity of

Acceleration x Time = Velocity
0.001176 x 1200 = 1.4112 m/s

So, Babylon 5 won't get there quickly, but it will get there.

#85 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 06:58 AM:

ajay writes: the gyroscope effect would only interfere with pitch and yaw.

Affect changes pitch and yaw, yes. Completely prevent changes to pitch and yaw, no.

#86 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 07:32 AM:

85: true. Can someone with more maths work out how much of an interference effect there would be?

#87 ::: Braxis ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 09:58 AM:

Caveats first; It’s been a long time since university physics courses and there are a lot of assumptions in the numbers below.

This chart show the size of both the Babylon station and an Omega Class destroyer (The only one with ‘rotating gravity’).

Babylon 5 length: 8454 m
Babylon 5 mass: 2,5000,000,000 Kg
Omega Length: 1714 m
Omega rotational section radius 250 m

Omega/B5 Size Ratio 0.203

Assuming mass is cube of size this gives:

Omega/B5 Mass Ratio: 0.0083
Omega mass: 20,834,627 Kg

Assuming that 1/5 of the mass is in the rotating section:

Omega rotating section mass 4,166,925 Kg

Using the formula Centripetal Force = mass x velocity x velocity / radius and assuming we want one earth gravity (10 N per Kg) at the extremities of the rotating section, transform the equation to calculate the velocity the far edge of the rotating section (velocity = sqrt(Force*radius/mass)). Put in the numbers in to get:

Rotating section velocity 50 m/s
Revolutions per minute 3.82

Plugging these numbers into this calculator gives us:

Mass Moment of Inertia 820,884,306 kg m2

The torque on a system is equal to Mass Moment of Inertia x First Rotational Velocity x Second Rotational Velocity where the rotational velocities are measured in radians per second. If we wished to turn the ship so that it describes a complete 360 degree turn in one minute.

Rotational section velocity 0.4 radians per second
Ship velocity 0.105 radians per second

Plugging these numbers into the above formula:

Torque applied to ship 34,385,121 N/m

Therefore, if the centre of gravity of the ship is at the centre, this would require a force of 40,123 N to be applied at the nose or stern, at right angles to the direction of the turn, to counteract this effect.

Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing?

#88 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 10:34 AM:

For comparison, a Saturn 5 lifting off had a thrust of 34 MegaNewtons. One space shuttle main engine runs at about 2 MegaNewtons in vacuum.

#89 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 11:35 AM:

FungiFromYuggoth (82): Ah, okay; I'd missed that detail. Makes sense.

#90 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 11:43 AM:

Although the numbers themselves are making my eyes glaze over, I am thrilled by the calculations that have broken out in this thread. :)

#91 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 12:00 PM:

ISTM that in space battles, the ships should be engaging in constant random course and speed variations, to decrease the other guy's chances of hitting them.

If you're restricted to speed of light sensors and weapons, then at a given distance, you're shooting at where you think your enemy will be when your laser pulse gets there, given what you saw when your radar pulse came back from him. The speed of light is about 300,000 km/sec, so at 15,000 km range, you're shooting at him with a 0.1 second total delay. So you can hit him if you can guess where he will be 0.1 second in the future. In the ideal case where he randomly applies unknown-to-you acceleration a to his ship for the whole .1 second transit time, he gets to move 0.005 a t^2 km. How much unpredictable acceleration he can manage determines the effective range of your weapons, in the sense that there's a range beyond which you have very low probability of hitting him, and there's also a range below which you basically can't miss.

It seems like this requires ships that are long, thin, and narrow (built like an arrow), to minimize cross-section that the attacker can hit. If the ship's laser can only point in one direction, it should be along the long axis of the ship. (Depending on whether you think you'll be running or chasing, it should either point the same direction as the big thruster or in the opposite direction.) And there should be powerful thrusters pointing perpendicular to the long axis, so that you can keep randomly changing your acceleration, to keep the attacker's guess about where you will be as wrong as possible.

This also suggests that the passengers on board a spaceship in combat are probably going to need a lot of anti-motion-sickness medicine, absent artificial gravity. More generally, unless I'm wildly off, space battles will be uninteresting and unpleasant for human passengers--spend a long time (maybe weeks) manuvering and waiting to get into range, then the ship goes into several minutes' worth of convusions while the automatic firing systems shoot at their best guesses of the other ship's position when the pulses or bullets arrive (and there's no role whatsoever for human intervention, which is probably best, since you're bouncing around in your seat trying not to barf all over the inside of your helmet), then either you die, the other guy dies, or your relative momentum carries you too far apart to effectively shoot at each other, and it will be another several hours/days/weeks before you can do another pass.

The same basic calculation works for slower weapons--if you're shooting iron slugs from a linear accelerator, say. Or if you have faster-than-light sensors, but lasers or iron slugs as weapons.

For drives like we know how to build, I wonder if reaction mass might be the limiting factor to how long you can survive in combat, analogous to how the strength of a Star Trek ship's shields determines how long it can stay in a battle.

It seems like these considerations should make for some interesting tactics in multi-ship battles--your goal might be sort-of the opposite of the old "crossing the T on them" idea.

#92 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 12:23 PM:

91: all of which makes one think that the best sort of weapon is going to be a missile; launch it in the general direction of the enemy with a gun/railgun, and rely on terminal guidance and onboard manoeuvring to get it to hit the target. However much the target manoeuvres, a missile will be smaller (and unmanned) and so able to accelerate harder. Rather than having one big laser on board your ship as an anti-ship weapon, you probably want lots of little ones pointing in all directions as point defence against missiles.

#93 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 12:25 PM:

87: well done that man. That sounds fairly possible, actually, if you think that the ship's main engines should be able to produce many times that thrust just to break it out of orbit in less than a week.

#94 ::: Braxis ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 12:28 PM:

C J Cherryh covered this in Hellburner.

Her warships included human crew because AI control was too predictable. As soon as the enemy worked out which software you were using they had you nailed.

#95 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 12:39 PM:

I'm guessing a slow-rotating section will have similar behaviour to a much faster rotating smaller thing.

Which reminds me of the tricks with the Sopwith Camel - Because of the rotary engine, and the mass of the rotating part being a significant fraction of the fabric and skeleton aircraft, and the extreme front-heaviness of the aircraft (fuel, engine, pilot and guns all in the first 7 feet -hmm, the big, heavy rotating section of the Earth destroyers seemed to all be in the fore, too) - it was easier, more comfortable, and often faster to go 270° right than 90° left. And that was a plus in getting away (and frequently getting in) in combat, as it could outturn anything the Germans had - in a right circle, anyway.

It is possible that the Earth ships had that mixed-blessing as well as the gyroscopic effects.

#96 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 01:59 PM:

#91 ::: albatross ISTM that in space battles, the ships should be engaging in constant random course and speed variations, to decrease the other guy's chances of hitting them.

That's known tech. Anti-torpedo tactics. Zig-zags, deceptive steering, and the sinuous-course clock. See also Arleigh Burke in the Solomons.

#97 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 02:12 PM:

Mycroft, the gyroscopic effects of that rotary engine are what causes that behavior, when you try to turn the plane. And there's always a gravity force. So when you turn to the left, you're trying to turn your gyro to the left, and the force is trying to act one way. Turn to the right, and the force acts the other way.

Upwards gyro force, and the nose tends to rise, increasing the angle of attack, and risking a stall. But you can, because of that force, bank at a sharper angle, increasing the turn rate. Bank the other way, and your nose drops hard, which doesn't stall the wing, but means more wing lift needed to hold altitude, and less to turn.

You're not getting something for nothing, but a 'plane is always fighting gravity, and turning the wrong way makes your 'plane behave as if it is heavier.

In the First World War, diving on an enemy was a bit of a risky tactic—your wings could fall off—and dogfighting was called dogfighting because it was primarily a turning battle.

By the Second World War it was possible to build 'planes which could hold together at dive speeds high enough that odd things happened to your controls. It was the first signs of the sound barrier. And the specification for the Spitfire and Hurricane said eight machine guns because they knew they needed a lot of bullets in the air, quickly, to stand a chance of getting a hit.

The Sopwith Camel had two guns, and their rate of fire was reduced by the synchronizer gear needed to shoot through the propeller disk. It was roughly equal to one gun on a Spitfire. The gunsight was not as good. That turning battle, getting you slowly to the point where you could let off a long burst, was the only practical way of doing it.

The Japanese stuck with fighting a turning battle. In 1940 the standard Navy Fighter was the Mitsubishi A5M Claude, with two machine guns and a wing-loading of under 20 lb/sq.ft

The Hawker Hurricane, the contemporary design used by the RAF, had eight guns and twice the weight, with about twice the engine power. The wing-loading was about 30 lb/sq.ft so it would be out-turned, but it could fly 100mph faster.

The German Bf-109 had two machine guns, in the engine cowling and so fitted with synchronisation gear, and 2 20mm cannon in the wings, and a wing-loading even higher, at 40 lb/sq.ft

All these aircraft were in service when the Vought Corsair was being developed, which was capable of over 400mph, and in its final versions could carry the same bombload as the Heinkel 111 bombers of the Battle of Britain.

#98 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 02:25 PM:

ajay #91:

Maybe so. If it doesn't carry any payload besides itself, then I think (intuitively; I'm sure somewhere this has been worked out at great depth) there will be a cone extending from the missile which it can hit at any given point. (Except I guess it really should be a 4-dimensional shape, where the extra dimension is time, to deal with the motion of the missile and target through space; if it can't get to my current position till I'm gone, who cares?)

My intuition is that we end up in a similar problem, then. I launch the missile at you, hoping that by the time I launch it, you haven't moved out of its cone. If you're shooting stuff at it, then my missile will have to do the same dodging thing I talked about before, I guess. That will narrow its cone some, since it will have to spend some of its reaction mass dodging instead of steering toward your ship. (I'll bet reaction mass will be the limiting factor here; I launch the thing from a linear accelerator and it can thrust in four directions perpendicular to the direction of its travel.)

If the missile carries some other payload, then that changes how close it has to get (and where). For example, if it carries a big nuke and hopes to fry the crew and ship with radiation, that effect will depend on distance (and fall off with the square of the distance); so the missile just has to get within x km of you to kill you. If it carries a smaller explosive and fragments before impact (I think anti-aircraft missiles do this), it does less damage per square meter over more square meters. If it carries a laser or gun of some kind, I guess the calculation works like before. Except when we're both shooting missiles, I suspect a very common outcome of battle is that you and I launch our missiles, do whatever we can to dodge, and then both kill each other. (If I launch first, I may get to watch you die first, and then wait a few hours for my turn.) It seems like this would be even more true of defending hard-to-move space installations. The good news is, you've wrecked my invading fleet; the bad news is, your orbital power station network will be orbiting scrap metal in another couple hours, and there's nothing at all to be done about it.

An entirely different ship structure for resisting laser or bullet attack might be to build a really big ship, which is either very decentralized or mostly non-critical parts. Somewhere hidden away in the 1 km^2 shape approaching you are a few rather critical 50 m^2 components (like the crew quarters), and you have to guess where to hit next. (Imagine a solar sail with the ship's crew quarters and power systems integrated right into the sail, so that from one side they're hidden.) I guess at long range this would be hard to kill, but once you could get anything behind it, or shoot a probe into it, you might be able to find the critical bits. Or maybe you'd design it so there weren't any really critical bits, and the ship would just take a whole lot of killing, but might degrade in effectiveness as the battle progressed.)

Anyway, I'm sure there are multiple twists and turns to this reasoning, and that I'm not that far along any of it. I guess the main thing that keeps striking me is that SF space battles are more fun to watch on TV or read about in books than I imagine real ones would be. (Not surprising, given that the same thing is apparently true of a lot of real-world battle here on Earth.)

Given where things are now, I imagine warfare on Earth will be almost entirely between robots in another few years, and that will surely be even more true in space, so a more realistic picture of this is that our robot armies fight it out, with some measure of local support for making strategic decisions or negotiating surrenders, and at some point, the fight's done and we either agree to accept your victory, or wait to die when your victorious robot fleet gets here, depending on how the negotiations went.

#99 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 02:49 PM:

Me, #96:

In case I was too obscure with Admiral Burke:

#100 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 03:03 PM:

James Macdonald... I've got a question for you. Rather, it's a question I asked you here two or three years ago, but I'm trying to remember your answer.

In one of the earliest episodes of ST-TNG, Picard is looking up the History of his ship, and reads that a previous Enterprise had one James T Kirk as its captain. I thought it'd be rather amazing that a Starfleet captain would not already know about Kirk. You had replied with an equivalent example for today's Navy. I think you referred to a Captain from the early 20th Century.

#101 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 03:17 PM:

Serge @ #100:

Do you perhaps refer to this remark?

(Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I should have been in explaining how towering a figure Admiral King was; the Chief of Naval Operations during World War II.)

#102 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 03:38 PM:

Abi #50: I'd be interested in more of Jim's perspectives on this matter. How do underworlds and off-the-map places come about in controlled environments like space stations and ships at sea?

There are lots of spaces on ships that are seldom visited and little-used. Air plenum chambers, for example. Assorted workshops during off-duty hours. (There was a murder in just such a place onboard USS La Salle that wasn't solved for days.) There've been rumors of entire fully-equipped machine shops supposedly built on one or another aircraft carrier that were sealed off during construction (none of the bulkheads had doors, nor did the decks or overheads have hatches) never to be seen again, their tools and machines fully functional and -- waiting.

But the real answer is that an underworld is not a place, it is a state of mind. Like Mephisto's hell in Dr. Faustus:

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is there must we ever be:And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that is not Heaven.

You can as easily have an underworld in a well-lit boardroom as in the meanest midnight street.

#103 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 05:31 PM:

James Macdonald @ 101... Thanks. You had been quite clear. It's my memory of the remark that was at fault.

#104 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 06:15 PM:

Dave: Thanks for the explanation - I "knew" it all, but didn't know it. Yeah, my thought was that the gyro effect of the rotating section would make the destroyers easier to turn in the direction of the rotation and harder to turn in the opposite direction.

Re: the Camel, though, it seems (reading That Other Wiki, but I've read this before as well) that turning right led to nose-down attitude and lost height (but tight rotational turn); turning left led to nose-up attitude (and very show rotational turn). One thing I do know is that turning battles - understandable for reasons you mention - tended to lose height in general.

#105 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 06:25 PM:

According to Wikipedia, Downbelow (the "underworld") is located within Brown Sector, not synonymous with it. It's the part of the sector that didn't get entirely finished when the contractors ran out of money.

There are no citations for any of that in the entry, so I don't know how much of it is on-screen canon, and how much gleaned from non- or semi-canonical sources like novelizations, RPG sourcebooks, or JMS's Usenet posts.

#106 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 06:42 PM:

albatross @ 98:

ISTM that the execution of space combat is going to be carried out completely by robots; humans may set up the initial parameters, describe combat objectives and various checkpoints for action decisions, but when the plasma meets the hull the critical events are going to happen in millisecond timeframes, way too fast for humans to react. And, as someone mentioned above, purely robotic vehicles have the advantage in surviving high-g maneuvers, and can probably function better in the face of battle damage (they don't have life support systems to worry about).

The arms race on missiles is fairly straightforward:

  • add point defense weapons (kinetic or beam) to ships

  • add decoys and submunitions to missiles to fake out point defense

  • add anti-missiles to ships for active targeting of missiles

  • add anti-anti-missiles to missiles

  • and so on ...

And, of course, the offensive weapons developers will be working on ways to increase the damage possible from a distance (shaped nuclear charges come to mind), and the defensive developers will be working on detection and analysis gear that can more quickly acquire and identify potential targets.

My question is, just how realistic is all of this? In other words, are nations and imperial corporations going to be willing to spend the huge amounts of money and effort to design, build, deploy, maintain, and protect these gadgets? As far as I can tell, it took a really pathological combination of crony capitalism and imperial competition to get the US to build the military-industrial complex that resulted in the nuclear carrier battle group, and it's not at all clear that there's a mission for the thing in a multi-polar world post-Cold War. Or if you'd rather I not pick on the Navy, I could say similar things about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which would seem to have been designed to fight the USSR's MIG fleet (hint, it's not there no more).

#107 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 07:11 PM:


If people don't do much important in space further out that earth orbit, then probably very little of that will be developed. Who'd bother? Important Earth powers will make sure they can shoot down each others' satellites (the US and China did this awhile back, each announcing that they were simply responsibly destroying malfunctioning satellites while making it clear to all observers that they can knock down satellites if they need to), but it won't pay to go far beyond that.

If people eventually do live and work in space in large numbers, or even do important and valuable things mostly with robots, then I expect weapons and defenses will be developed. Whether they're developed to some high level will depend on whether there is an arms race that drives the development, or some kind of weird institutional incentive that causes one or more wealthy entities to spend lots of resources developing them to some high level.

Once you have people doing something valuable, *someone* will have an incentive to threaten to hurt them in order to shake some tribute, taxes, or other concessions out of them, *someone* will decide to accumulate power by being able to threaten vulnerable people or installations, etc. But if that never becomes profitable enough to fund development cycles of weapons for whatever reason, then the weapons might remain fairly straightforward extrapolations of what we have now.

An example of this is computer crime. The stuff being done by hobbyists was fairly straightforward, though often nasty and sometimes quite clever. The stuff done by professionals, with either a profit motive or a political/military/diplomatic motive, is far worse; there's money for multiple development cycles of attack and defense both.

#108 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2011, 07:34 PM:


Agreed, if there's significant development of resources above Earth orbit (outside of immediate reach of orbital missiles and ground-based weapons), there'll be some sort of criminal activity to siphon off some of the profit. But that's much more likely to be piratical than large-scale military in nature, and the weapons used against it will have to be designed to that scale.

Babylon 5 showed that problem: one of the reasons the station was there was to support its fighter squadrons, which were much more useful against small numbers of pirates and marauders than all the mega-firepower of Earthfleet. If you need larger ships for operations against pirates, they're liable to be something like a fast frigate or corvette: fast and maneuverable enough to run down a pirate, and heavily-armed enough to subdue or destroy a pirate in one-on-one combat.

#109 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2011, 08:05 AM:

ajay @ #68: I think that by this point Sinclair and the Senate know that the Minbari regard him as the only acceptable commander of B5. (They don't know why yet, of course.) So they can't really threaten to send him to Kiril Island unless they're ready to shut down the Babylon project.

No, Sinclair doesn't find out about that until the next episode. So his decision would still have been guided by the expectation that they could get rid of him if he pushed too hard.

#110 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2011, 02:24 PM:

Linky linky: there's further background on Downbelow in Grail

#111 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2011, 04:41 PM:

I really liked By Any Means Necessary, both the main plot -- labor unrest, and who really makes decisions for B5 -- and the subplot regarding G'kar's religious observances. The episode was, among other things, all about negotiation. I was, however, disappointed in that we didn't get to see any real negotiation, just intransigence, stupidity, and threats. Which is pretty realistic, I suppose; I shouldn't complain.

I kept waiting for Sinclair to point out to Londo how delicious it would be for Londo to have G'kar so deeply in his debt.

I couldn't figure out why it was in Earth's best interest, or in whose best interest it was, to be so hard-nosed about the workers' contract. Zento was clearly from the the beginning not interested in making anything better, and I kept wondering who was really paying him and what the object of all this bad feeling was. Why is it in someone's best interest to, for example, set up a situation to keep the dockworkers and the security forces from finding common ground?

I'm enjoying the series enough to see if I can at least catch up to abi's posts.

#112 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2011, 06:29 PM:

Lizzy L @ 111: Why is it in someone's best interest to, for example, set up a situation to keep the dockworkers and the security forces from finding common ground?

My immediate, cynical response is that it's in the best interest of anyone who wants to avoid situations where the security forces have a reason to say anything like "We have been ordered by the legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what's right from wrong. We will not be kicking anyone out, in fact, we will be sleeping here with you!"

#113 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2011, 06:40 PM:

Lexica: THAT IS AWESOME. *runs off to boost signal*

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