Tag: bsg

Friday Nerd Blogging

Alcohol (Battlestar Galactica) from Anno Superstar on Vimeo.

Though by right this post should be pure casual Friday nerd filler (as opposed to genuine literary commentary on representations of military affairs in science fiction), I feel compelled to point you to this highly academic and substantive essay by Jason T. Eberl and Erik D. Baldwin, “How to Be Happy After the End of the World” in which it is argued:

“Fans of BSG are sometimes frustrated with the characters’ actions and decisions. But would any of us do better if we were in their places? We’d like to think so, but would we really? The temptation to indulge in sex, drugs or alcohol… to cope with the unimaginable suffering that result from surviving the death of civilization would be strong indeed… Nevertheless we think that many of the characters in BSG would be happier if they made better choices and had a clearer idea about what happiness really is.”

But while the authors may be right about happiness in the philosophical sense and in the show generally, I don’t think their pessimistic view of the relationship between alcohol and happiness is generally reflected in BSG fan culture (the various alcoholic beverages of BSG are detailed here). Consider a comparative analysis of two similar “Starbuck Tribute” fan videos, both set to the same Pink song “So What?” yet each depicting different sides of Starbuck’s personality:

I don’t know how you’ll read these videos, but I briefly coded them (disclaimer: over a good glass of Müller-Thurgau and without any particular rigor) for whether Starbuck is depicted as “angry” “happy” “troubled” “kick-ass” or engaged in “flying” “fighting” “sex” or “love.” The first video shows her to be angrier, more troubled, less kick-ass, less sexual and loving, less happy and less involved in useful military activities. The second video has her primarily kick-ass, about twice as sexy/affectionate with her various males, and barely angry or troubled at all.

Which video has more drinking scenes? Obviously the second. While this is not a representative sample of the correlation between drinking scenes and affect throughout the series, it’s an interesting counterpoint to Eberl and Baldwin’s assumptions about the messages fans take from the subtext of drunkenness on the show. Rather I suspect the dominant BSG narrative as interpreted by fans stresses alcohol’s pro-social qualities as a functional coping mechanism in situations of existential stress. Of course the real picture is more complex.

Heading off now to enjoy the open bar at the UMass-Polisci Beginning-of-Year Department Party. Highly distilled Friday nerd nonsense will resume next week.

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Science Fiction and International Orders

Today at the LSE there are two fabulous (read: fabulously nerdy) events on Science Fiction and IR. Even better, it’s full of ducks! The event was organized by Chris Brown and features Dan Nexon and Prof PTJ.

The first event, chaired by Chris Brown, features three prominent Science Fiction authors: Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Paul McAuley, Ken McLeod. The second event features several prominent academics who will be discussing the implications for IR. Chaired by Barry Buzan, it features our two ducks and Iver Neumann.

My only regret is a lack of female voices. So, in an attempt to rectify this, I will (read: attempt) to live-blog these events here at the Duck which start at 1:15pm GMT (8:15am EST – you’ll have to work the rest out for yourselves).

It promises to be an entertaining (read: fabulously nerdy) day! (There may be a pod cast of both events as well. I’ll post ’em if they got ’em.)

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Battlestar Blegging

This scene from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica pilot – the first in which Commander Adama and President Roslin meet – is emblematic of three politically significant conversations underpinning the series. First, what is the appropriate role of the military with respect to the society it presumably exists to serve? Second, who decides? Third, what are the means by which that role is to be executed? All these conversations map broadly onto what Peter Feaver has called the “civil-military problematique;” and they cut across an emerging conceptual distinction in security studies between national and human security.

A graduate student and I are currently working on a paper that explores how those conversations play out over the course of BSG and examines how the show’s messaging is positioned in current debates about both civil-military relations and human security. In the paper, we elaborate on each of the three tensions exemplified by the initial conversation between Roslin and Adama in the pilot episode, and tie it to civ-mil/human security debates.

First, we examine the epistemological referent of “security” in the series. At the start of the series, Commander Adama assumes a territorialized national security frame – he sees his role as defending the Colonies themselves by pursuing and engaging ‘the enemy’ – while Roslin argues the role of the military is to protect civilians and proposes a militarized humanitarianism on behalf of a diasporic human collective. Although the distinction between military and human security is a constant tension in the show, we argue that the series progresses in the direction of a human security frame. But we also show how the series challenges the concept of human security.

Second, we examine the tension between civilian and military authority as depicted in the series. An abiding thread of analysis in civil-military relations is what level of civilian control over the military and military influence over civilian society is appropriate in a given society. The series begins with the two on somewhat equal footing in their respective spheres – similar to what Huntington referred to as “objective civilian control” – but the show progresses toward greater civilian supremacy overall, as well as fusing the distinction between the two, trends more associated with Janowitz. The civilianization of the military throughout the series is reflected in the destabilization of gender hierarchies as the show progresses, and culminates in complete debellicization in the final episode.

Finally, we examine representations of the limits placed on the role of the military in security, and the means by which it can carry out security measures. The show is unflinchingly brutal at times, forcing the viewer to confront the notion that good people can do terrible things. Nonetheless, BSG presents and defends an argument that military force can only be legitimate and therefore effective if wielded with due respect for the rule of law and human rights. This narrative has significant resonance with current policy debates over the role of the military in human security, in the US and abroad; and the show embodies an important tension between civilians and military personnel in the war on terror on the extent to which the state and/or military have the nation’s best interests at heart.

So that’s the paper in a nutshell. Here’s the bleg. We’ve been asked by the editor of the volume for which this is a contribution to ground the meta-analysis more closely in real-world political events, rather than simply academic literature. Help! There are obviously analogues with rule of law in the war on terror, and with the supposed civil-military crisis of which various commentators have been writing in recent years. But we’d also like to cast a broad net: as we develop this further, I am soliciting further thoughts from readers. How might the political debates from BSG be further mapped onto / connected to real-world civil-military relations? Reply below to earn an acknowledgement in our final version. 

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Things I Learned Doing My First Bloggingheads Diavlog

1) A small puppy, if walked real hard first, will sit quietly outside long enough for a decent taping with no unseemly background noise. (I had worried about that.)

2) It’s important to spell out your acronyms on the first use in speech just like in writing.

3) I say “um” a lot more than I ever thought.

Anyway, check it out. UN Dispatch’s Mark Leon Goldberg and I talk about pirate economics, the Somalia aid scandal, gender politics, and the coming Cylon takeover how popular culture figures in UN public relations strategies.

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More Weekend Geek Blogging

This just in from the Interwebs. According to Airlock Alpha, the film Battlestar Galactica: The Plan won’t air on Syfy until next year.

“The much anticipated movie, which is a new take on the pivotal events of “Battlestar Galactica,” will tell the story of the attack on the Twelve Colonies from the point of view of the Cylons.

Fans are eagerly anticipating the release and with much reason. The show ended in April, which left a lot of fans wanting more after only four seasons. Edward James Olmos, the director and legendary Adm. William Adama in the series that ran from 2003 to 2009, has said on numerous occasions that when “Battlestar” fans see “The Plan,” “They’re all going to have to go back and watch the entire series again.”

The DVD will still be released Oct. 27, and there’s no word from Syfy that this street date will change.

Also, no projected change in the airdate of the new Caprica series in January. Whew.

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Edward James Olmos at the United Nations

Watch the entire proceedings of the Battlestar Galactica cast’s visit to the United Nations here.

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Revenge of the Geeks

(A blog response to “The Academy Strikes Back” by Dan Drezner.)

Also, see here and here.

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The Colonial Fleet Colonizes UN Headquarters

I kid you not. The Chicago Tribune reports the following:

“On March 17, there will be a “Battlestar” retrospective at the U.N. in New York and a panel discussion of how the show examined issues such as “human rights, children and armed conflict, terrorism, human rights and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faith,” according to Sci Fi.

The “Battlestar” contingent on the panel will consist of executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, as well as stars Mary McDonnell (who plays president Laura Roslin on the show) and Edward James Olmos (Admiral William Adama).

UN representatives on the panel are Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Craig Mokhiber, deputy director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy planning, executive office of the Secretary-General.

The panel will be moderated by “Battlestar” fan Whoopi Goldberg.”

Comment away.

P.S. Hat tip to Greg Niermeyer, Polsci 121-A student and bigger geek than me.

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Some of What I Picked Up at ISA This Year

A series of short posts will follow with targeted reflections on what I learned at panels and dinners this past week, and how it ties into my take on world events. For now however, let me share a few random things I learned while attending this year’s International Studies Association Annual Meeting in Manhattan:

1) “Lead pencil shavings” is, according to some but not others, apparently a coveted flavor for modestly expensive Italian wine. Who would have thought.

2)…Edward James Olmos is licensed to perform marriages in the state of California; a triplicate chant of “so say we all” is apparently quite a good substitute for the traditional wedding march.

3) The View Restaurant on the roof of the Marriott Marquis is “the only revolving roof top restaurant in New York.” And the Marriott Marquis proudly advertises this on a big sign by the elevators.

4) I am now in the market for an IPhone. This became glaringly obvious to me when, while drinking with my former doctoral students in a wireless cold-spot (that is, pretty much the entire Marriott if you weren’t one of those independently wealthy IR scholars), I noticed on the television across the bar that two nuclear submarines had “collided”, and only by appealing to a nearby colleague’s IPhone could I determine whether or not to stay put or ditch the Dogfish Head and start immediately blogging. (My lack of posting during ISA should make it obvious what I decided. However, see Sam Leith’s sardonic take on the whole “nuclear submarine fender-bender.”)

5) I will not be acquiring many of the available IPhone applications. Any tool designed to convince me that I have a 27.9 percent chance of being killed by “wildlife” in the Harmony View pub in Times Square is… well.

6) The impact of Web 2.0 on the actual profession of IR is unmatched by the impact of Web 2.0 on our professional association’s logistical planning. For more, see Peter’s post. Perhaps I should reconsider the article I was about to start cooking up with Dan Drezner about how Blogger and Facebook are changing everything in the discipline. It starts to seem a little silly throwing that idea out at a professional conference where you can barely obtain a Powerpoint projector.

7) A number of graduate students I met this year are apparently of the view that if they critique an established scholar’s writing, they need to apologize in advance, at least as long as they expect to be able to carry on a civil conversation with that scholar (me) over a drink. Let me disillusion all of this: engagement is flattery in academia, and part of our job is to include in our work a few targets for the next generation. Besides, if we can’t knock glasses at the end of the day with our epistemological adversaries, what fun is it to be surrounded by 4,000 political scientists?

8) In case this post leads any one to think that all I did at ISA is drink alcohol and geek out over gadgets and science fiction shows, let me assure you I imbibed a fair amount of coffee as well, and just to prove it check out this quote by Po Bronson, fresh off a $6 Starbucks cup:

“Failure is hard but success is harder. If you’re successful @ the wrong thing, the combination of money, praise and opportunity can lock you in forever.”

As I looked around at grad students hob-nobbing and junior professors like myself lurching from panel to lunch to coffee to workshop peddling our modest proposals, I began to hope that we’re all trying to succeed at the right thing, and wondering how we would know.

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Frackin’ Toasters

In the mailbox today, I found my pre-ordered copy of Peter Singer‘s new book Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. NPR had an interview with Singer yesterday, which gives you a good sense of his argument and some of the fascinating and frightening changes coming down the pipeline in military affairs.

I was excited to sink my teeth into this before the semester gets started, since I’m eager to update my curriculum on battlefield robots, and since I’ll be blogging in an upcoming symposium at Complex Terrain Lab on the book next month. I’ll save most of my substantive remarks for that forum, and for such time as I’ve actually read the entire book. But based on the first two pages, I have two quick initial reactions:

1) From the very first three sentences, Singer does not disappoint:

“Because they’re frakin’ cool. That’s a short answer to why someone would spend four years researching and writing a book on new technologies and war. The long answer is a bit more complicated.”

I love it – you don’t get a better hook or prose more engaging than that.

2) However I must take issue with a certain assertion in Singer’s very first (and otherwise fascinating) endnote (p. 439), on the etymology of the word “frak”:

“Frak is a made-up expletive that originated in the computer science research world. It then made it way into video gaming, ultimately becoming the title of a game designed for the BBG Micro and Commodre 64 in the early 1980s. The main character, a caveman called Trogg, would say ‘Frak!’ in a litle speech bubble whenever he was ‘killed.’ It soon spread into science fiction, appearing in such games as Cyberpunk 2020 and the Warhammer 40,000 novels. It crossed over into the mainstream most explicitly in the new 2003 reboot of the 1970s TV series Battlestar Galactica. That the characters in the updated version of the TV show cursed, albeit with a made-up word, was part of the grimier, more serious feel of the show.”

In fact, however, the word was used (ok, maybe not quite as frequently) in the earlier show as well – albeit spelled “frack.” According to Battlestar WikiBlog:

“”Frak” is derived from the Original Series expletive, “frack,” a term used in character dialogue far less often (or “colorfully”) than its counterpart in the Re-imagined Series. The Re-imagined Series’s production team said they felt that “frack” should be a four-letter word, hence “frak”. The term “frack” was obviously used in dialogue in the Original Series to comply with FCC and other broadcast decency standards because the FCC has jurisdiction over the content of broadcast TV.”

See also here… I don’t generally encourage using Wikipedia as a primary source (take heed ye Polsci 121 students) but in this case I can’t think of a better place to get a sense of the popular understanding of a made-up word’s etymology.

That aside, I look forward to reading and commenting on the rest. Good stuff.

UPDATE (11:22pm). Having put the kids to bed, am now on p. 14 – if this isn’t a good reason to go buy this book, what is? Singer writes:

“[This] book makes many allusions to popular culture, not something you normaly find in a research work on war, politics, or science. Some references are obvious and some are not (and thus the first reader to send a complete list of them to me at www.pwsinger.com will receive a signed copy of the book and a Burger King Transformers collectible).

How frakking cool is that?

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Oh, my


Anyway, the end begins tomorrow.

I’m sure the political-science/science-fiction nerds that dominate the international-relations blogsphere will have much commentary.

The main question: will it be like the first half of Season 2, or the second half of Season 3? Ah, the difference between greatness and farce….

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