Call Me Mumbles

Over at, there is for sale at this very moment the greatest short story ever written.

It has profanity, gore, dinosaurs, Nazis, comedy, tragedy, dinosaur Nazis, ‘splodey, shooting, and the Landkreuzer P.1000. Name one other story that has all of those elements! Name one!

Go buy “Call Me Mumbles” – the first episode of the Saga of Subcommandante Mumbles vs. The Dinosaur Nazis. BUY IT RIGHT NOW, BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE. Okay, it will never really be too late. But buy it now anyway.

Good question


Had to delete or fix a few posts thanks to the spammer douchebags. As it happens, they were all links to the Veil War, so I can just tell you again to go there and read.

The current chapter is Chapter 28, or you can start from the beginning here.

Back in gear

The Veil War is running again. Chapters 23, 24 and 25 are up – go read.

Once on the ground, the knights became a blur. Moving so fast that Lewis could barely follow their movements, the crusader knights spun, twisting through goblins who appeared almost frozen in place by the inhuman speed of their attackers.

Swords reached out, blurred fans of silvered metal to Lewis’ eyes. The power behind the strikes made them seem effortless, yet every time blade intersected with goblin, blood and limbs flew. Lewis had once watched a bird sucked in to a jet engine with less violence.

Tell your friends.

USSR in 3rd

If the Soviet Union still existed, it would likely be in third place in the 2012 Summer Games:

cheap viagra sales


SSR Gold Silver Bronze Total
3 9 8 20
Kazakhstan 4 0 0 4
Ukraine 2 0 4 6
Belarus 1 1 2 4
Lithuania 1 0 0 1
Georgia 1 0 0 1
Uzbekistan 0 0 1 1
Moldova 0 0 1 1
Azerbaijan 0 0 1 1
Totals 12 10 17 39

Or, depending on how you look at it, second place. They’d be significantly behind the US in gold, but slightly ahead in overall medal count.

Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
China 20 12 9 41
United States 18 9 10 37
USSR 12 10 17 39
Korea 8 2 5 15

Obamacare Considered Harmful

I’ve been thinking about this a bit, and while I can see certain tactical advantages for those who oppose Obama – this strikes me as on the whole entirely bad. Despite the decline in trust in our public institutions, the Supreme Court remains prestigious, and it has leant its imprimatur to a staggeringly bad policy.

I can imagine the Republicans using this as a whipping horse, and it may help them retake the presidency, and possibly even the Senate (though almost certainly not a filibuster-proof majority…) Once again in power – how does this go away? If it had been struck down in its entirety, which we were apparently one vote away from doing, we could have a) done something sensible for once – unlikely in the extreme, b) done something marginally less stupid – moderately likely, or c) done nothing at all – also moderately likely. Option C would likely be best – we could have edged stepwise to better solutions like what Singapore has, or toward a more purely market solution, or even just reforming the most egregious abuses around the edges.

But with Obamacare still in place, we have to hope that 535 self-involved, semi- to completely corrupt psychopaths will see it in their own best interest to remove something that is already a fait accompli.

The badness is really intense. Consider:

  1. We are already throwing money onto the fire at a ridiculous rate. This one program alone will add a minimum of a trillion dollars to the burn rate.
  2. We are now for all intents and purposes going to be paying taxes to private entities. Remember how tax collectors were regarded in the New Testament?
  3. It establishes a precedent for even greater government tentacle – your ass interface. The IRS will be watching whether you are paying the insurance company, and come down on you with all it’s famed respect and care for the individual. Given their regard for due process, this is going to be fun.
  4. The effect on jobs – are you going to start a new company when you might – in addition to all the normal risks – be subject to tax evasion if you let your insurance lapse?
  5. The general fuckedupedness of the whole thing. The problem with our health care system is that patients are not the customers. You are spending (psychologically) someone else’s money for your health care. More tests? Why the fuck not? Insurance covers it. Doctors and patients are marginalized. Try and find out how much something medical costs before they do it. I dare you. Obamacare not only does nothing to address this or other problems, it adds to them. The only ‘positive’ thing is that more people have coverage. Everything else is nightmarish.
  6. The Supreme Court ruling basically gives the gubmint all the justification it needs to construe any behavior-modification scheme as a ‘tax’ and know that it will fly. The commerce clause is dead, long live the tax power! Granted that the constitution is mostly dead, this gives them a fig leaf the size of Rush Limbaugh’s gut. Which is altogether too big.

I could go on.

But this is bad, and it will all end in fire.


alsø wik:

Hey, look over there!

Over at the Veil War, the battle continues. Lots of new fun stuff going on, and lots of explosions. So give Chapter 21 a read.

If by some supremely odd chance you are a read

er of this blog and yet still are unaware of the Veil War, imagine that some alien scooped out some of JRR Tolkien’s brains, and mixed them with a shot of Tom Clancy’s brains. Continue to imagine that the alien then shook the brains together, added ice, and hooked the result up to a word processor and told it to write a novel. Finally, imagine that the brain set a up a webpage to publish the novel. The result would be the Veil War.

Read it, love it, tell your neighbors and friends. Link it on your blog, friend it on facebook, tweet about it, and hire a herald to declaim its victories. And really, let’s be honest. It’s been too long since you linked the Veil War.

The Great Murthering Battle

… has begun.

Chapter 19 is up over at the Veil War – read, and tell your friends.

Meta Politics at Aretae

Interesting discussion on stuff going on over here. A little bit more here.

Discussions of political taxonomy are always fraught with danger. Danger in that you are starting out from a counting angels on pinheads sort of place, and then heading into the deep from there. Still and all, Aretae and the other commenters have had some interesting thoughts.

One contribution I made was to suggest this:

That’s why I am somewhat dubious about Leonard’s distinctions between traditionalists and conservatives. I mean sure, we see differences between self-labeled advocates of those positions on the internets – but conceptually I don’t think you can suss out meaningful categorical boundaries between them. An intuitive understanding of the law of unintended circumstances is a powerful starting point. It isn’t fear of change, per se. It’s something closer to humility, as opposed to the radical/progressive’s hubris.

The difference between this position:

France being ours, we’ll bend it to our awe,
Or break it all to pieces: or there we’ll sit,
Ruling in large and ample empery
O’er France and all her almost kingly dukedoms,

and this one:

conspire To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire, Would not we shatter it to bits – and then Re-mold it nearer to the heart’s desire!

are real. However both are active, meddling, arrogant. But, both are different in the same way from conservatism and libertarianism. The latter two passive in that they want either their world or themselves to be left alone.

You could plant a flag and say:

Individual Corporate
Dirigiste Fascist Progressive
Atomistic Libertarian Conservative

For more on what that might mean, go over to Aretae’s.

Homer the Rhetorician

Homer apparently has some mad skills in the rhetoric:

Homer’s Figures of Speech

Though sometimes misjudged as a complete moron, Homer is actually a deft manipulator of the oxymoron: “Oh Bart, don’t worry, people die all the time. In fact, you could wake up dead tomorrow.” And our favorite figure of ridicule is actually quite handy with figures of speech. To explain human behavior, for instance, he relies on personification:

The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it’s time to snatch your mother from his neon claws!

Chiasmus guides Homer to new levels of self-understanding:

All right, brain, I don’t like you and you don’t like me–so let’s just do this, and I’ll get back to killing you with beer.

And here, in just five words, he manages to combine apostrophe and tricolon in a heartfelt encomium: “Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover.”


Veil War Thursday, Friday Edition

It’s Friday the 13th, sort of. Chapter 13 is up over at the Veil War.

“Is it the habit of officers of the SANG to insult officers of the United States Marine Corps?” Lewis asked in a quiet voice.

Surprise crept across his face. “E

xcuse me?”

“The United States is allied to your Kingdom. You hold prisoner over a hundred of my countrymen. You lie to me about a farcical customs inspection. You intend to deprive me of my weapons and imprison me with the others.”

“That, my friend, is an insult.”

Chapter 12 was updated yesterday, too, so if you didn’t reread that, you’ll want to.



Some science-flavored links for your enjoyment:

So, we’re all going to become gay cat ladies, then freeze to death in the new ice age because all the power was knocked out by a stupendous solar storm. Then, the ice weasels come.

Linkage, shminkage

HBD stuff:



Speaking of Newt…

… this post by Borepatch is pretty good. It points out the one good thing about Newt.

Well one of two things. Obviously the best thing about Newt Gingrich is the fact that he’s named Newt Fucking Gingrich.

Sharks got there first

I alluded to Newt Gingrich’s moonbase plans earlier. I am not totally convinced of the shark’s claims to have colonized space – I admit I have my doubts – but even absent a selachimorphic space empire the Newt’s plan is problematic.

First and foremost, in the speech Newt hisownself used the term grandiose to describe the adventure. Not a good sign, really. A second relaunch of the JFK? A monolithic governmental exercise that pursues a politically chosen goal at all costs, consuming and destroying all other options as it progresses; a program that might (only if successful) result in something kind of amazing but which will leave a sterile policy wasteland where even cockroaches and lobbyists have trouble surviving? More, please.

We are just now recovering from the original sin of Apollo. NASA’s finally shed itself of the ridiculous abomination that was the space shuttle, though I imagine most of the tens of thousands of people who worked on that program are still on the payroll. The 21st century re-imagining of the Apollo program – known collectively or in its parts as Orion, Constellation, Ares, EDS (sounds like a disease you’d be embarrassed to have), Altair and for all I know, “Oh shit we better think of something or we’re fucked” – is on the ropes as well. NASA, through massive effort, the dedication of thousands of brilliant engineers and managers, and the application of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars has managed to achieve the impossible: get to the moon six times forty years ago, and make space travel seem as exciting as a local zoning planning board meeting.

There are now several enterprises looking to change that, mostly funded by tech-industry billionaires. Of these, Space-X has the most hardware in actual use. They’ve successfully flown a rocket large enough to put a capsule in orbit. That capsule is about this close to being man-rated, and could carry as many as six people into orbit. They’ve got plans for a heavy lift vehicle that builds off the success of existing rockets and there’s no reason to imagine it wouldn’t work. Elon Musk could be on the moon a decade before Newt, and for far less money. Significantly, far less of our money, since Senor Elon will be spending his own money to do it. And even if Space-X fails because a rocket falls on Musk’s head, there are others – Paul Allen working with Scaled Composites, Bezos with Blue Origin, and more besides.

Please, please, please don’t start another government space program. Because if you do, it will kill a private space industry that is just about off the ground. I want to go into space, and I trust Elon Musk more than I do Newt Gingrich. I said that so I can say this:

I think the most interesting thing about Newt’s speech is that he thought that the moon could become the 51st state. A “Northwest Ordinance for Space” has been ridiculed by some, but I think that making fun of one of the great achievements of the Confederacy is mean-hearted and unwise. The Northwest Ordinance was probably one of the most successful government enterprises ever. By setting things up such that the colonists pushing back the frontier would come into the union on the same terms as the original colonies, now states – that more than anything assured the success of the American experiment.

If we are to avoid a repeat of the whole belters vs. flatlanders wars that we read about in science fiction, we’d need a Northwest Ordinance. Having a framework for communities in space to join on equal terms with their compatriots back home on Earth would be a good thing. And if people heading out knew that they would, in time, be on an equal political footing with those who stayed behind and that the rule of law would extend into space with them, we’d do more for space settlement than spending any amount of actual tax dollar money could ever do.

Stay classy, Pluto, stay classy


A couple more, and then I’ll stop. Really.

I can stop any time I want.

They did, and that’s why Newt’s moonbase idea is batshit crazy:


Occupy this, and see what happens



There’s rewriting going on over at Veil War.

Chapter Nine has been reposted, with significant changes. Chapters ten and eleven will follow shortly.

Some random links

Some random stuff:

  • Borepatch on switching to Bing from Google. Because Google is so evil. Makes you wonder when Microsoft becomes a safe haven from evil. I wish someone would come up with something like google mail that was not, you know, Google. Other mail systems just aren’t as useful to me as gmail.
  • iO9 on what weapons could be used in a real-life space war. Not as involved as I might have done.
  • Cool story from when sf magazines cost 20 cents. Via David Drake writing for TOR – the story was written by (likely) a WWII combat vet.

Planck lengths & the SR-71

Interesting discourse on guns and gun games between Tactical Death Ninja and his interlocutor.

Tactical Death Ninja: “They can’t adapt.  Only I can adapt.  This shit is proprietary and requires very special training that only I can provide, but it is also instinctive and anyone can learn it in 5 minutes.  That sounds like a contradiction until you realize just what kind of f-n’ badass instructor I am.  The bad guys don’t get it and as a result they must remain still in every way, and suffer a -4 to initiative and other modifications to both armor class and hit points.”

Read it all here.

h/t K. Hungus

A Space Battle

Like the previous post, this was originally written back in 2004. I realize, eight years later, that I never finished it. Oops. Anyway, here it is, and maybe I’ll finish it this week.

The primary tactical function of a battleship is to engage and destroy the enemy naval forces, which obviously supports the naval mission of protecting friendly shipping and ensuring control over the space.  The essence of space power will (like sea power) rest in the ability to dominate space.  You do that by denying use of it to the enemy.  And you do that by destroying his navy if it comes out of port.  But how will this happen, and what will future battles look like?

A lot depends on the political nature of the war in which the battle takes place, and the geography of the solar system.  (Interestingly, this will be constantly changing – as the planets, moons and asteroids orbit the sun, each at their own pace, the distances and relationships between them will change.  There will not be, as on earth, constant or permanent sea-lanes, straights, or territorial waters.  From month to month, minimum energy orbits between the planets will be in constantly different arrangements.  It will become easier to get to one place, and harder to get to others.  This will affect naval strategy.) Further, what will each power be trying to achieve or trying to protect?  Is the goal invasion and conquest, or merely to frustrate the goals of the enemy?

The greatest naval battles involving battleships were Trafalgar and Jutland.  In each case, the British were trying to frustrate the enemy.  That is to say, the British had no desire to follow up a naval victory with large-scale invasion.  However, the French in 1804 and the Germans in 1916 needed to defeat the British in order to achieve other desirable goals.  All the British need to do is to defeat the enemy fleet, and everything else follows.  Let’s assume that the Europans, long the dominant power in the outer solar system, are content with their control over trade routes in the Jovian system, and between Jupiter and the outer planets.  They are growing fat and rich on the trade that passes through their ports.  However, the Titanians, upstarts and growing powers in the Saturnine system, are deeply unhappy that the arrogant Europans get all the money and all the glory.  They want their own share of the trade with the populous inner system, and further want a piece of the growing pie that is comet harvesting in the Kuiper belt at the outer edge of the solar system.  (Which the sneaky Europans are poaching on.)

The Titanians have built a respectable space navy, with a core of Orion drive battleships, and a larger number of smaller conventional nuclear thermal drive commerce raiding corvettes and frigates.  As diplomacy falters, an unfortunate incident involving a Europan revenue cutter and a Titanian-flagged merchant solar sailship inbound to circum Mars provides the pretext for war.  Europan merchant vessels are spread throughout the system, carrying almost a third of all shipping.  Most of these are slow, automated solar sail freighters, but others span the spectrum of commercial ship design.  The Titanian navy deploys many of its commerce raiders downsystem to strangle the Europan economy.

The Europan main battle fleet is not currently circum-Jove, as it recently moved forward to the Trojan belt to overawe the piratical kingdoms located amongst the asteroids clustered 60 degrees ahead of Jupiter in its orbit.  What remains in Jupiter space is the smaller home fleet and a gaggle of small warships.

Due to the alignment of the planets (something that the Titanian high command was certainly paying attention to) there is a favorable transit from Saturn to Jupiter, as Jove is overtaking Saturn, being located in an inward and thus faster orbit.  The Titanian fleet is in an excellent position to quickly drop down on Jupiter, while the Europan fleet is nearly a quarter of the way around the sun and ahead of both Jupiter and Saturn.  It will be difficult for them to make it into battle in time.

The Europan home fleet can not refuse battle, because that would leave their moon open to attack.  But though the quality of their crews is unparalleled, the Titanian fleet slightly outnumbers the Europans.  Europan planners feel that it is a nearly even match.  But tactical considerations favor the Titanians.  As they will be decelerating into the Jupiter space, their heavy pusher plates will be facing toward the Europans.  This provides maximum protection to the Titanian battleships, and allows uninterrupted X-ray laser fire as the battle is joined.  Contrariwise, the Europans must perforce be accelerating towards the incoming fleet, and their pusher plates will generally be facing away.  Smart maneuvering will mitigate this somewhat, but the front of the ship remains the front of the ship.

The Europan Navy dispatches its corvettes and cutters outsystem, using a gravity whip maneuver that will disguise their eventual position.  They will coast up, powered down, and lie in wait for the enemy fleet.  Hopefully, they will inflict significant damage as the Titanians pass – but losses will be high as the ships reveal their positions by opening fire.  The Europans can be confident in the placement of these lurkers, because the location of the Titanian fleet is well known, and can only follow a narrow set of courses and still arrive at Jupiter.

The Titanian fleet powers on, occasionally launching a spread of sensor drones ahead in hopes of detecting enemy corvettes.  These drones are soon overtaken by the fleet as it accelerates towards battle.  The first combat occurs fifteen million miles out from Jupiter.  The furthest of the screen of corvettes avoids detection until within a quarter million miles of the fleet – less than the distance from the Earth to the Moon.  All of its X-ray laser missiles have been deployed, as have all of its sensors drones.  The resulting sensor net gives the ship a much better picture than the fast moving Titanian battlefleet.  All at once, the laser submunitions fire – each a small nuclear explosion pumping ten multi-gigawatt X-ray lasers.  Sixty lasers hit twelve targets, a spread determined by the sophisticated targeting computers on board the ESNS Gomer Pyle (the Europans have an odd sense of humor) and the instincts of her veteran gunners.  As much as possible, the gunners on the Pyle try to hit from the side, and avoid the thick refractory material of the pusher plate.  In this, they succeed somewhat – the more alert among the Titanian targets detected the Pyle in time to turn tail toward the enemy.  Nevertheless, the HRE Vindictiveness is completely disabled, and two others severely damaged.  Light damage on the remaining ships is soon made good.

For its trouble, the Pyle is quickly destroyed in a hail of laser and particle beam fire.  But the Europan command is pleased.

Over the next several hours, as the Titanian fleet slows as it backs into Jovian space, it endures several more attacks by lurking Europan cutters, corvettes and frigates.  One more battleship is destroyed, but the Titanians are now alert and wary, and destroy thirty Europan warships with long range massed laser fire.  Before the Europan home fleet can reach the Titanians, one more Titanian warship is hulled by a lucky long-range shot by a massdriver on the outer moon of Erinome.

Now the home fleet has completed its swing around Jupiter, adding his gravity to their already impressive acceleration.  The fleet is moving toward the enemy.  But now, the admiral of the fleet faces the most crucial question in a space battle – what speed and course?  His decision now will likely determine the course of the battle; because as good as his gunners and drone controllers are, if he does not put them in the right place, their skills will be useless.  His options are limited.  He must prevent the Titanians from bombarding Europa and her orbital factories, shipyards and habitats.  If the Titanians maintain their present course, they will do just that.  So he must either destroy or deflect them…

War in Space

This was originally posted back in 2004. We’ve since moved to a new hosting engine, and this has been kind of buried for a while. Thought I’d repost it in one convenient lump for your edification and enjoyment:

Steven den Beste has written a two part (so far) article on the possible outlines of combat in space. As is typical for the master of the USS Clueless, it is long and examines the topic in a thorough and logical manner. However, I find that his thinking diverges significantly from my own thoughts on the matter.

The first essay is a compressed history of naval combat here on Earth. The second part begins the discussion of what might happen in space. Clueless makes two central assumptions: 1) Stealth will be difficult if not impossible to achieve; and 2) that nuclear weapons will not be used. I’ll talk about the second one first.

[wik] and here is a description of a possible battle in space. You can read the comments – and many of them are quite interesting – here.

Fire Control Solution

Most of the interaction between technology and tactics centers on what might be termed a fire control solution. Another way to look at it is this: You want to kill one guy on a hill, in plain sight, three miles away. Shooting at him with a rifle will only bring him down by chance – rifles are not accurate at those ranges. You have three choices.

  1. Get more guys with rifles, and deluge that hilltop with bullets. Each bullet, considered individually, is inaccurate. But one of them will hit. An example of this is the Napoleonic era and earlier: firearms then were inaccurate in the extreme. Therefore, troops were massed in lines, to increase the volume of fire and achieve a satisfactory number of hits. The trade-off was that to get the volume of fire you wanted; you bunched your troops up and exposed them to the return fire of the enemy. So long as your enemy had the same type of weapons, this was acceptable.
  2. Run back to the lab, and invent a more accurate rifle, and drop him with a head shot. This happened in land warfare by the time of the American Civil War. Rifle accuracy increased, increasing the danger in exposing all your troops to enemy fire. Most generals were very slow to realize this, and some didn’t even into the First World War.
  3. Run back to the lab, and invent a more effective bullet. This has two potential paths: self-guiding, but otherwise more or less conventional bullets; or explosive bullets that lessen the need for accurate placement. An analogy for this is the ICBMs of the opposing superpowers in the Cold War. American missiles were equipped with ever more accurate guidance systems, allowing them to be placed directly on target. Soviet missiles never achieved that level of accuracy, but carried large warheads that made misses into hits.

How does this apply to space warfare? In space, there is no cover to hide behind and no foxholes to dig. If you are in plain sight (more on that later) you can, theoretically, be hit. However, space is very, very big. How do you hit and disable or destroy an enemy who is a quarter million miles away, and moving an order of magnitude faster than a bullet? You will have to use one of the methods outlined above, and that will shape battle tactics more than any other factor, save one: stealth.

Nuclear Weapons in Space

To go back to our earlier discussion of the death of the man on the hilltop, one way to ensure his demise was to use a bullet that rendered accuracy less important. What weapon that we now possess is better at this than a nuke? In the end, I don’t think nuclear weapons will be avoided in space warfare – there. utility will be too tempting to military planners. Considering the general hugeness of space, and the possibility that combat will take place over light seconds of distance, targeting becomes a real problem. When you look at the sun (well, glance. Didn’t your mother tell you not to stare at the sun?) you are seeing where it was over eight minutes ago. When you look at the moon, you are seeing where it was, one and a half seconds ago. The moon is a big target, and not moving very fast in relation to the earth. But a small spaceship, actively trying to jink and maneuver to avoid your righteous anger, is going to be a tough shot when even information conveyed at the speed of light is seconds out of date.

Nukes will surmount this problem to a large extent, by the stupendous explosions they create. It reduces the targeting problem by increasing the size of the kill zone. In the end, and because of the lack of bunnies and whales in space, nukes will definitely be used. (Use near the atmosphere of Earth might still be avoided, though.)

Stand-Off Weapons

A further use of nukes is in disposable X-Ray lasers. Imagine a small nuke. Put a cylinder of carefully designed rods around the nuke. Light off the nuke. What happens – hopefully – is that the nuclear explosion bombards the rods with highly energetic gamma rays. In the instant before being destroyed by the explosion, the gamma rays cause the spontaneous emission of X-ray photons in the lasing rods, creating several X-ray laser beams. Instead of an expanding sphere of radioactive death, you get a several lances of highly focused X-ray death. Initial research for these weapons was done back in the eighties for SDI. While those tests were inconclusive, something like this should be possible. A weapon of this nature would be rather amazingly powerful, and could be fired without giving away the precise location of the launching warship. (And, of course, it would function as a sensor drone until detonated.) Even if the X-ray lasers turn out to be impossible – stand-off weapons will likely form a large part of space tactics. There will be a spectrum of autonomous weapon systems, starting with pure missiles, shading into sensor drone/missiles, and into autonomous weapons platforms analogous to the X-45 we described here. The boundaries between the different types will be vague, and many types will be developed. But I don’t think that any crewed warship in a deep space battle will be without robotic surrogates. (Actually, I don’t think it will be long before that is true here on Earth.)

Other Weapons

Clueless’ other comments on possible space weapons are well founded and sensible. I especially liked his thoughts on the use of cannon in space, especially in light of the need to avoid heat – no large power plant would be necessary to fire a cannon. These are the weapons, along with nukes, that we will use to beat on each other as we take our squabbles into space.

Utility of Stealth Technology Reconsidered

Steven dismisses stealth technology, and invokes the Second Law of Thermodynamics to defend his assumption. However, there are several factors that I think he is missing. First, all space ships will need to radiate heat, making it possible for enemy sensors to detect them. However, the Second Law does not require my spaceship to radiate heat toward the enemy. If I am not mistaken, it should be possible to direct the radiation of heat toward a sector of the sky not infested by enemy sensors, thus reducing your IR signature. Also, much ingenuity could be invested in coatings, surfaces, insulators, heat exchangers and the like to pull heat from the surface of the ship, and place it elsewhere, out of the direct view of the enemy. And again, space is very, very big. To detect a ship that is trying to be cool, from tens, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of miles away, would require very sensitive IR gear indeed. I imagine that in some respects, fleet movements will be like modern submarine deployments, with heat replacing sound as the deadly giveaway. Non-essential power systems will be turned off until needed. And ships will be cold. They will coast like derelicts until battle is met.

Likewise, active sensor systems like radar will be used only sparingly. Lighting up a radar system powerful enough to detect stealthed objects at thousands of mile distances (remember the inverse-square law) will be like lighting up an enormous “shoot me” beacon. Conventional stealth technology does not render the airplanes invisible to radar. In effect, it makes them smaller and thus harder to detect. The same technologies (and their descendents) will still be used to render ships harder to detect.

Despite the troubling limitations of active sensors, there is hope. One possible work-around is the use of sensor drones. These would be deployed well in advance of battle, to allow maximum drift from the mother ship. The take from a sensor drone would be piped to the warship by tight beam laser communications to minimize the chance of detection. These could use active sensors without endangering a crewed warship. Also, data from passive sensors on a number of drones could be combined with that of the mother ship to form a much more powerful virtual sensor. Interferometry has been used for decades here on earth by astronomers, and there is no reason to suppose it won’t be used in space combat. (I would imagine that each sensor drone will also be a missile. There is no reason not to combine them. Not all missile/drones will have the complete sensor suite, but if you’re going to be talking to your missiles to guide them to target, you might as well benefit, intelligence-wise, while it’s still around.)

All ships will have their passive sensors working nonstop, trying to detect a warm blob, or a whisper of radio, or the occultation of a star. A warship’s powerful radar systems will only be engaged rarely, and only after the commander is certain that his location is already known. It is always possible to achieve strategic surprise � even when the enemy knows where you are. Tactical surprise requires more, or at least different, levels of cunning. With almost dormant, heavily stealthed ships, you could get fairly close to the enemy without detection. Of course, fairly close in space combat will likely end up being the distance from the earth to the moon.

In a little bit, I’ll continue with some thoughts on how the stuff I just talked about relates to space strategery and tactics.

Gravity Gauge

When we think about battles in space, it is useful to draw some parallels to earthly naval warfare. Just as there is a distinction between blue water and brown water navies, there will be a similar divide between warships designed to fight within the gravity well of a planet, and those intended to fight in the depths of interplanetary space. Warships designed to operate in close proximity to bases, and to deal with the rigors of maneuver in a steep gravity well will be very different from those required to make long journeys in flat space between the planets. We can think of the former as river gunboats, the latter as battleships.

Gunboats operating in orbital space around, say, Earth will have powerful, high thrust engines and limited facilities for life support. They will be based in orbital forts, or perhaps launched atop disposable launch vehicles like the Gemini or Apollo rockets of the sixties. The life of the crews of these warships will be more like that of an Air Force fighter pilot than that of a submariner – which I think will be the closest analog for long duration deep space warships.

Gunboats, operating in the constrained space around a planet, will engage at shorter distances than their deep space cousins. In most respects, their armament and sensors will be very like that of a modern jet fighter. In fact, they will probably look something like a modern fighter – as being able to enter the atmosphere (at least the upper reaches of it) will be a very useful thing. Aero-braking, skip-jumping along the top of the atmosphere, and similar tactics will all save fuel while increasing the range and maneuverability of the ship. And being able to land on Earth will be a happy alternative to dying in space in the event of damage to the ship.

Looking beyond the descendents of a marriage between the space shuttle and an F-15, other types of orbital gunboat can be imagined. Light sail ships, boosted by ground or space based lasers might also be developed. Heavier warships, analogous to coast guard cutters might linger in orbit for weeks at a time, before returning to base. If scramjets are ever perfected, then warships operating at the interface between space and the atmosphere might become common. All of these types would have some capacity to attack targets on the ground, and in fact some might be designed around that mission. Erwin Sanger, an Austrian designer in the forties, imagined a rocket-powered bomber that would skip along the top of the atmosphere.

In combat within the gravity well of a large planet, altitude will be the most important tactical consideration. Like the wind gauge for sail-powered warships, gravity gauge will be the dominant factor. Having the advantage of position will be crucial, in that a position higher up the gravity well translates to more options for maneuver. Also, shooting up the gravity well is inherently harder than shooting down. The first pilots of these warships will have to learn the somewhat paradoxical logic of orbital mechanics – slowing down speeds you up, and vice versa. For pilots used to the straightforward maneuvers within an atmosphere will have to adapt quickly.

Deep Space Design Tradeoffs

Deep space will offer vastly different challenges to warship designers. All of the propulsion systems that might be available in the near future have serious limitations. Two tradeoffs will determine the design of all warships. The first is mass/acceleration; the second is power/stealth. I noted in the first part the tradeoffs required by stealth. Most of the tradeoffs for mass and acceleration will push ship design in the same direction.

The major propulsion systems that could be constructed with current or very near future technology are chemical rockets, nuclear fission rockets, nuclear pulse drives, ion drives and solar sails. The first three are high thrust, short duration drives; while the last two are low thrust, long duration. With the exception of nuclear pulse, which I will discuss separately, all of these systems impose the same limitation on warship design: every ounce of mass will reduce the total acceleration the warship is capable of. Space types refer to this as delta-v, or change in velocity. It is a measure of the total change in velocity (speed plus direction) that the ship is capable of with a given drive and fuel supply. It doesn’t matter whether your ship accelerates really fast and then coasts, or if it makes a long slow burn, since delta-v measures the total change. This makes it a useful comparison between ships even of vastly different design.

(While solar sails will have effectively infinite delta-v, because they use the solar wind for propulsion, solar sails will not be well suited for combat since the sails are so visible and so fragile. Warships will largely be confined to the other drives.)

Ship designers will always be striving to make the ship lighter. This will allow engines of a given capacity to achieve a higher delta-v. However, there are things that a warship must have in order to be effective. Weapons, armor, sensors and stealthing; crew, and food, water and life support for voyages lasting months or more; a storm cellar to protect the crew from solar flares; fuel or reaction mass; these are all things you will need to bring along. Rockets and ion drives are low energy, and this balance will place a premium on low mass weapons, small crews (and thus lessened life support requirements) and little or no armor.

Weapons that require vast power plants will be right out. (Both for mass and heat/stealth loss reasons.) Weapons that are themselves heavy will be right out. Missiles will not be very useful in long-range engagements, due to the fact that a rocket capable of propelling a warhead to a target tens of thousands of miles away in time to affect a battle will be almost as large as a small space ship. This would seem to put a premium on beam weapons. However, as we discussed in the previous part, and as Clueless mentioned, power plants capable of powering lasers, masers, and particle beam weapons will be heavy and produce lots of heat.

So, it may very well be that early spaceships will be armed with rapid-fire cannon and machineguns. With some effort, a high velocity, rapid-fire cannon could be developed for use in spaceships. Rate of fire would be important, as I discussed in the first part. The more rounds put in the general vicinity of the target will increase the chance of a hit. One of the most promising technologies is the Metalstorm system invented by the Australian O’Dwyer. This system stacks bullets in the barrel, and fires them electronically. By bundling several barrels together, it can achieve rates of fire approaching millions of rounds per minute. Gunners on warships would fire hundreds of rounds at a time, laying patterns that would (hopefully) intersect the course of the target. Variations might include sub-munitions, target seeking or sensor rounds, and explosive rounds. After firing all its rounds, individual Metalstorm units could be discarded, increasing available delta-v. Rapid-fire, self-contained, requiring effectively no external power, and disposable after use – Metalstorm cannon seem an ideal fit for spaceships.

As technology advances, smaller and more efficient power plants will allow warships to move toward beam weapons that will be more accurate than the cannon described above. Unless radically better drives are developed, missiles will remain the weapons of orbital gunboats, and not deep space navies. The mass penalty for missiles with adequate range will simply be too great. Warships of these types will be armed with cannon; and, if they can be developed, standoff x-ray lasers.

Deep space warships built around rockets or ion drives will tend toward small. Small is better for mass and stealth both. In all likelihood, they will be narrow, to provide a smaller radar and IR signature for enemies to detect. (That is, as long as the ship is pointing in the right direction.) They will be covered with stealth materials, and the rear of the ship will have complicated and fragile fractal heat radiators as well as the drive exhaust. Weapons will be concealed beneath the stealth covering. Life for the crew will be hard, living in cramped spaces for months at a time. I imagine it will be rather like a submarine.

Orion Drive

The exception to much of the mass considerations discussed above is the nuclear pulse, or Orion drive. This concept involves building a very large ship with a heavy base plate attached to the back of the ship by some very serious shock absorbers. Then, you light off a small nuke behind the ship. Repeat as necessary. This is an over-the-top propulsion scheme. With this, you could accelerate very large masses very quickly. Ships using an Orion drive would simply have to be big just to make the acceleration survivable. Since you need a big ship; adding armor, huge power plants, or anything else you want is not such a big deal. An Orion powered warship would be a huge hulking brute. It would not be subtle, and stealth would be a lost cause.

No other type of spaceship (based on current technology) could match the Orion for speed and payload. It will be in a class by itself until and unless someone invents fusion or antimatter drives. Meanwhile, the inherent limitations of the other propulsion types will limit the kinds of warships that can be built around them. (As will the existence of Orion powered warships.) And given the requirement for (large numbers of) nuclear devices for propulsion in an Orion, and the stupendous expense of putting that much mass in orbit will probably mean that only governments will ever have them.

Life for a crewman on an Orion warship will be easy, by comparison. The generous payloads of an Orion will make for more comfortable quarters, and better life support. Large amounts of armor will likely contribute to the peace of mind of the crew as well. Rotating crew quarters providing artificial gravity might even be possible. The speed of Orion will also mean shorter journeys – weeks instead of months between planets.

In the next part, we’ll look at strategic considerations, and how these ships might be employed.

Strategery and Spaceship design

All of this brings us finally to considerations of strategy. What would these warships be used for? Warships are often thought of in terms of how they kill other warships. This is not completely unreasonable. However, in strategic terms, warships exist to exert control over the sea. Historically, this has taken two forms here on Earth: to either protect your own shipping (preserving your use of the seas) or denying the use of the seas for your enemy. More recently, sea power has been used to project military power inland. US carrier battle groups are able to inflict significant amounts of damage to inland targets, and are also able to provide cover for amphibious assaults. To achieve these missions, warships and navies must often defeat other navies, which is why we so often think solely of warships� abilities to kill other warships. But the underlying purposes of navies and warships will drive the development of ship design.

In a solar system that is inhabited by competing powers, these missions will have close analogs. Protect your own interplanetary shipping. Deny it to the enemy. Project military force onto enemy targets on planets, asteroids or moons. Provide cover for space-borne assault on enemy targets. Each of these missions will require different types of warships. We have discussed the different types of warships that could be built with the technology that we have now, or could reasonably develop in the near future. We have seen that they fall into two major categories. How will they be used?

The Orion drive will provide a (very expensive) platform for moving large amounts of men and materials quickly across interplanetary distances. Ships built around less effective drives will be cheaper but much less capable than the Orions. It seems unlikely that any private concern would, in the near future, have the resources or need to build Orion drive commercial ships. Most private, and non-military government transport will use rockets, ion drives or solar sails. Sails will be especially favored by private concerns because of the cheapness of operation – absolutely no fuel costs. Faster transportation for VIPs or urgent cargos will be provided by souped up, stripped down nuclear thermal rocket powered craft.

If a power wishes to impede the shipping of a rival, non-Orion warships will be the most cost-effective commerce raiders. These ships would operate like earthly submarines, and it would be well within their power to effectively attack enemy shipping, or engage in ‘anti-submarine’ warfare. Reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, lurking, stealthily inserting commandos – these are other missions that they might conduct. They could even serve as a sort of destroyer screen for a force of more capable ships. As escorts for friendly shipping, they would be useful in warding off the predations of enemy commerce raiders. But these light warships would be less well suited to the other missions that a space navy would be called upon to fight.

[wik] Side note: in talking about the relative usefulness of Orions and other warships, I am imagining a time when the solar system is somewhat well settled, and rival powers have emerged, and space warfare has had time to evolve. Initially, combat between the smaller classes of warships would be the leading edge – until the first Orion warship is built. I think that the first Orion would be like the British Dreadnought, taking naval warfare to an entirely different level, and possible igniting an arms race. The first interplanetary warships will be commercial or government ships originally designed for other purposes and retrofitted with weaponry. Indeed, ships like that will still be part of navies for a long time after the first purpose-built warships are laid down. But eventually, someone will become sufficiently frustrated with the limitations of conventional ships, and build that first Orion.

Battleship or Carrier?

Since we’ve been so free with analogies to naval warfare, let’s throw out a few more. If the smaller class of warships, using conventional drives, are to be likened to submarines, what is the proper analogy for the Orion drive warships? The obvious choices are Aircraft Carriers and Battleships. Which one it ends up being depends a lot on weapons technology.

On earth, the battleship was surpassed by the carrier because of the advantages of aircraft. The best carrier without its dive-bombers, fighters, and torpedo planes would be a sitting duck for even an awkward, adolescent battleship. Why did aircraft have such advantages? Speed and range. Battleships were not only the largest of warships, they were the fastest and longest ranging. Aircraft trumped that by being able to fly above the water at speeds ten times or more faster than the fastest ship, and then drop bombs on the battleship with impunity from thousands of feet up.

Can we imagine an analogous vehicle in space? We have already seen that an Orion powered ship will be faster and have longer range than any smaller ship. While an Orion-powered ship could indeed carry fighter-equivalent spacecraft, dispersing your firepower into a bevy of smaller and slower ships does not seem to be as great an advantage as it was for wet navies. The same logic that drove the development of ever larger, ever more heavily armed battleships seems to apply to spaceships as well.

However, another consideration might yet result in Orion carriers rather than Orion battleships. The development of autonomous reconnaissance and (very soon) combat drones is well under way. There is no reason to believe that these developments will not be carried into space – in fact, all of our robotic space probes could be considered non-combat autonomous drones. The advantages of a non-crewed warship would be many: greater tolerance for acceleration, no need to waste mass on life support and a vulnerable but clever meatsack, and less concern if the drone is lost as opposed to a piloted warship. I don’t think that the big warships will ever be unmanned, as the limitations placed on communications by the speed of light will require that humans be present at the battlefield. But that does not mean that drones will not be present on the battlefield. As I mentioned earlier, the line between weapon, sensor, and drone will grow vague. Each ship will be attended by a network of drones, feeding sensor data back to the mother ship; and if opportunity presents – deploying itself as a weapon. A big part of battle management will be the handling of these networks of drones. (I think that will be true here on earth in a very short time as well.) But these drones – be they weapons platforms akin to fighters, sensor drones, or x-ray lasers, will not make the Orion warship into a carrier. The primary focus will I think remain on the primary weaponry of the warship; if only because the autonomous drones of various types could never keep up with the mother ship. It does not pay to deploy millions of dollars of equipment that could be rapidly left behind by a fast-moving battle, and play absolutely no part in the battle itself.

So the Orions will be battleships, queens of space. The generous payloads of Orions will likely see them armed with powerful generators, lasers and masers, particle beam weapons, railguns and metalstorm cannon. Bundles of lasing rods like those used in the standoff X-ray lasers could be dropped overboard with propulsion nukes, literally gaining more bang for the buck. The powerful weaponry of an Orion battleship, powered by an onboard fission reactor, would likely out-range as well as out-power any smaller ship. (Just like with traditional battleships, which could shoot farther than any other.) Armor will be possible, making the battleship resistant to many of the weapons capable of being carried by smaller warships, and even to those mounted on orbital bases. (An Orion battleship is in effect a mobile base, considering its size.) Crew complement for an Orion Battleship might number in the hundreds – mostly for damage control, but also to manage all the weapons, sensors, drones and communications that would be required by such a vessel.

Next bit will cover what might happen in an actual space battle.

[also wik] Side note: The only reasonable variant on the basic battleship that seems likely is an assault version. It would perform the traditional naval missions of projection of force and covering assaults. This vessel would be used to rapidly transport space marines and the means to get them into whatever they’re attacking: winged landing craft, zero-gravity assault boats, or whatever is required. This type of ship would also favor the types of weapons that could be used to bombard planetary surfaces. In time, as space navies build more Orions, variations in size and relative power might eventually be grouped into traditional categories such as frigates, cruisers and battleships. Or we might come up with altogether new names.

[also also wik] I think that in the long run, the traditions of the Navy will be more suited to space warfare than those of the Air Force. But since the Air Force is closer to space – they will likely get there first. And we’ll have generals in command of our space fleets. And that will suck.


Nihilist Anarchist Horde

Over at Veil War I mentioned the Robert Wilson tribute ongoing at Boing Boing. Found a copy of Schrodinger’s Cat, not sure if it is the original unexpurgated version. Anyway, if you’re interested you can read it here. Another fun excerpt from the first couple pages:

As early as 1976, a group of Chicago paranoids known as the Nihilist Anarchist Horde (NAH) printed up a single-page broadside on how to manufacture an atomic weapon. They sent this, in envelopes with no return address, to all the most hostile and embittered individuals and groups in the United States. NAH regarded this mailing as both a joke and a warning, and refused to face the fact that it was also an incitement.

NAH had already put out bumper stickers saying things like:






And they even had a rubber stamp which they used to decorate subway advertisements with the Nihilistic message: ARM THE UNEMPLOYED: RIOT IN THE LOOP ON NEW YEAR’S EVE.

But they really outdid themselves with the build-your-own atomic weapon sheet, which was titled “Hobbysheet #4″ and looked like this:

HOBBYSHEET #4 in a series of 30. Collect ‘em all!



There is nothing complex about an Atomic (or Fission) Bomb. If enough fission material (Uranium 235 or Plutonium 237) is brought together to form a critical mass, it will explode. The trick is to put the pieces together fast enough to get a decent blast before the bomb blows itself apart. This can be done quite simply by means of ordinary explosive as shown below.

It was later estimated that the Nihilist Anarchist Horde, most of whom were living on Welfare, were able to mail out only 200,000 of these over the four-year period (1976-80) before they grew bored with the project.

Nonetheless, many of the equally paranoid and hostile persons who received this mailing had access to Xerox machines and were as desperate as the members of NAH itself. It was later determined that by 1981 there were over 10,000,000 copies of “Hobbysheet #4″ in circulation. Eventually one of them reached the POE group, who were ready for an idea like that.

The planet as a whole continued to drowse.


From Charlton:

Maybe fairness is like energy – it is conserved, it cannot be destroyed, but when fairness is deployed it is dissipated into slightly raising the background heat.


Perhaps when fairness is moved around it is dissipated into useless low level rhetoric, which can do no work.


A society addicted to moving fairness around is perhaps depleting the system of its ability to achieve anything by means of justice.  The fairness death of the universe…

Whole post here.

From the Spam Files

Lint Lizard sounds vaguely obscene. But it gets lint from hard to reach places.

I feel sad and lonely, as it has been four days since I’ve gotten any indecipherable messages from Mr. Difficult (at

It is interesting that debt relief spam is concealed as “get the power chair advantage” ads.


Hi, man. I’m in your house. I’m smart and beatiful.  My photos available here.

I’ll check my closets.


Part Ten is…

Well, it’s part ten, for starters.

You can read it here.

For those in the know, you may begin to detect some themes here. The beginnings of some HBD. Monarchy, christianity. I’m not prepared to go all Moldbug yet, though.


The Really Big Idea

Over at Veil War, there is now in existence at this very moment the fourth installment of the Really Big Idea series. Allison Dickson explains the ideas behind her

novel, Scarlet Letters: The Tale of the Vampire Mailman. Worth a read, as are all three earlier installments by George O’Har, Steve Umstead and once and future perfidious minister Ian Healy.

Joe-Bob says check it out. Two thumbs up.

Number Nine

Chapter Nine is up over at The Veil War. Read and enjoy.

“Captain Lewis,” the Prince said through the interpreters, “Yes. Tend to your wounded. Send a dozen men wit

h beasts of burden down to the valley, that we may share the spoils of battle. You and your officers may join us at sundown. Then, we will eat; and we will plan. Our presence here in this world can not have gone undetected, and we will have to move quickly.”

Chapter Nine is the first installment of what, in my head, is part two of Captain Lewis’ story. The tone is a bit different; and there are new characters and new challenges for our Marines.

Don’t forget to sign up to be an email subscriber at, or friend the Veil War Facebook page. There’s still time before the Bonus story ships today.


Bathrooms of the world, unite

I don’t know how significant this is, but in my recent travels through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohi0 – and then back – over the Christmas holiday I saw “Ron Paul 2012″ etched, inked or carved next to five urinals in mens’ restrooms. Given the number of stops I made thanks to the infinitesimal bladders of my children, that was a Ron Paul Pisser ratio of about one out of two.

I saw no exhortations for Mitt Romney, Obama, Gingrich or any other announced candidate.