(and below, you will find some spoilers, so you are very much warned)
Over here, you have Max Max: Fury Road, a film that may not have won the box office this weekend, but did a pretty Herculean effort ($45 million) for an R-rated film based on a very fringe franchise with aesthetics that go well against what anybody would think would sell actual tickets.
In the other corner, one of the most popular television shows on at present: Game of Thrones. Pseudo-medieval epic fantasy serialized for pay cable, also very R-rated (well, TV-MA, I guess), and perhaps also a surprise that it connects so well with the popular consciousness.
Both are, in their own way, very similar worlds.
One is post-apocalypse. (Though exactly how or why, we do not know.)
One is pre-apocalypse. (“Winter is Coming,” remember.)
Both are brutal, backward worlds. All too often harsh and unforgiving. The GoT world is probably more advanced than the Mad Max one, in a lot of ways — at least socially. In GoT you’ve got pretty gardens and big cities and varied climates. Mad Max eschews all of that. It’s basically a dust-fucked hell-hole. Occasionally damp, mostly dry and abrasive. Society has dissolved. People are not so much people as they are animals and zealots only. It’s all just sand in your chastity belt.
Both are, you could argue, male-driven worlds. Grotesque, feudal places lorded over by grotesque, wretched men. You’ve got Immortan Joe and the Bullet Farmer. You’ve got Joffrey and Bolton and a gaggle of other spectacular assholes. Both in fact feature comically evil men. Like, so evil it’s just fucking ridiculous. In Mad Max, you might argue it’s less evil and more straight-up lunacy, but you don’t get the feeling these are bad dudes with good sides. They’re just monsters. And guys like Joffrey and Ramsay Bolton are so eeeeevil that the show affords us every chance to watch them plucking wings off of butterflies (metaphorically). Which, admittedly, maybe gets a little old, but what the hell do I know? It certainly works to make you hate them.
If both are male-driven worlds, you can then take a pretty good guess how women are viewed in these worlds? Spoiler warning: it ain’t good. Women ostensibly have a higher position inside Game of Thrones, where they are at least viewed as more than just “things.” In Mad Max, women are objects. They are sources of production, more or less — animals for breeding, for milk, and for all that we can guess, meat. They are post-apoc livestock.
Some folks will say — okay, there are topics and subjects you can’t write about. Which is nonsense, obviously. Everything is the domain of fiction. Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted. It must be, for fiction to maintain its teeth. Fiction only has meaning when everything is permissable. Rape and sexual assault is one such topic — some will say it’s off the table. Which again: it can’t be off the table. That’s a very good way to ensure silence around the subject, isn’t it? Saying you can’t speak about it in fiction is adjacent to saying you can’t speak about it for real, which is already a problem that doesn’t need worsening by made-up rules of fiction.
So, take that subject, and filter it through the lens of Game of Thrones and then Mad Max.
Both use sexual assault in the storyworlds.
In Mad Max, you can’t accept women as “things” or livestock without then making the leap to say, mmmyeah, it’s probably not by choice. Okay? They didn’t sign up for it. That’s frankly the whole point of the movie, isn’t it? (Again, see the art above quoting the movie: WE ARE NOT THINGS.) If you leave Fury Road and look back upon the series, you see a few powerful women here and there (Aunty Entity, and, erm, that one lady with the crossbow?), and you also would get to see an on-screen rape scene in The Road Warrior – one viewed through spyglass at a distance, but it’s very clear what’s going on. The confirmation of women as object is shown when one of the women in Fury Road is cut open so that the child inside her can be seen, even though it may not be alive.
In GoT, rape is part of the fabric of life. It’s woven right in there. It’s almost background noise — I’m pretty sure if you turn on the show and zoom in, it’s like Where’s Waldo or trying to find Carmen Sandiego. There’s maybe always a rape happening on-screen somewhere, at some point? “Did you find the rape happening in every episode?” (It’d be like a really super-gross party game.) Characters talk about rape. They do it and exposit scenes while they do it. They accept it and expect it. Folks will say this is based on medieval history, though really, it’s based more on medieval myth, and of course, once you throw dragons and active godly magic into the mix you pretty much signal that you don’t have to base your fantasy (key word: fantasy) story on anything, really. (But “it’s based on history!” is always a good crutch for lazy storytelling, so whenever an editor or critic challenges you, don’t forget to say loud and say it proud.)
So, two very popular storyworlds.
Two portrayals of a world where women hold dubious power and are seen as “things.”
One of these is roundly criticized for it.
One of them is roundly celebrated for it.
Game of Thrones catches hell for its portrayal of women and this subject.
Mad Max is wreathed in a garland of bike chains and hubcabs for it.
What, then, is the difference?
Let’s try to suss it out.
In Game of Thrones:
- rapes often happen on-screen-ish
- they happen semi-often
- they happen to POV characters (Dany, Cersei, and now, Sansa Stark — given that there are six total assumed major female POV characters in the series, that means 50% of them have undergone active sexual assault on-screen)
- twice the rapist is a character we like (Drogo, Jamie)
- often used to motivate characters or sub in as character development
- seemingly meant to shock, often male-gazey
- history of it in the show
In Mad Max: Fury Road:
- the assault is implicit, not explicit, happens way off-screen
- not a focal point, per se, of character development
- though does provide seeds in the bed for character development — meaning, the event is hidden so that we don’t see it, but what grows up out of the dirt still suggests that it happened
- not much history of it — but again, Road Warrior has an explicit instance?
- we are never on the side of the rapist
- not male gazey because not on-screen and because of female POV (Furiosa)
I don’t know that this tells us enough yet, so let’s unpack it some more.
Frequency is an issue, for one: in GoT, we see rape and sexual assault again and again. In four seasons, we have three (ugh this sounds horrible to even put it this way) “major” rape events used as plot devices and character motivational tools (and that sounds even more horrible and icky). In Mad Max, we never actually see it at all. In Got, it happens often enough that you begin to wonder if there is a well-worn, oft-punctured notecard for the GoT storyboard that has written upon it: I DUNNO, PROBABLY RAPE?
Which also suggests that another issue is point-of-view. Where do you put the camera? Where do you place the narrative? Fury Road begins well after any actual assaults have occurred (with the exception of the “cutting out a baby” thing, which is more a byproduct of sexual assault rather than an explicit sexual assault). And none of it is on-screen. The story happens after. In Game of Thrones, the rapes are — man, this will never not sound gross — “ongoing.” It’s an ever-unfolding rape carnival, a parade of sexual assaults. (Here, by the way, someone will surely say something about why are we so concerned about the rape but, say, not concerned about murder or Greyjoy’s “dick removal scenario.” To which I would respond, frequency again becomes an issue: if every season contained one major dick removal scenario, you’d probably start to say, “Hey, Game of Thrones writers, maybe cool it on the cock-chopping. It’s feeling like you have a thing against dicks. Do you hate dicks? Why do you hate dicks so bad?” And here we could ask the same about women. Do you hate women? Why do you hate women so bad? Do you have a thing against them?
Of course, they don’t hate women. That’s absurd and we can’t really assume to be true — both Mad Max and GoT posit a world that hates women, though, so again, what’s the difference? GoT gives us the pain and suffering of women as part of a larger pattern meant to motivate characters. In some cases, male characters — in the assault on Sansa Stark, I have been repeatedly told that it “explains” what Theon Greyjoy does. I have no idea what that is, but I can guess that it’s something against Ramsay Bolton, and there I’d like to suggest that Theon (the subject of the earlier “dick removal scenario”) probably needs no more motivation to do ill against the Boltons given the aforementioned fact of his man-wang being turned into dick salad. Nor does Sansa require “motivation” to hate the family who literally murdered members of her family. We don’t actually need more, there. We do not require further “character motivation,” and if rape is the only way you can motivate your characters, you may want to go back to Writer’s School because I think you skipped a few crucial 101 classes.
What it then comes down to is a question of agency. (Here: a post on agency and women characters and how “strong female characters” are really nothing without agency and the ability to push on the plot more than it pushes on them.) Where you place the narrative camera and how you choose to affect the characters leads to the question of — what does assault do for the character’s power and choice in the story? Placing the events off-screen and before the film begins, Fury Road buries it well enough to explain why the characters are doing what they’re doing. The arc of those characters — the women — in Mad Max is one of going from zero to one. From a loss of power to a gain of power. The story is about the reclamation of agency — it’s them saying with great and violent effort: we are not things.
But in Game of Thrones, the opposite occurs. We witness powerful women undercut by assault. It removes their agency. (That is, quite explicitly, what sexual assault does.) They are robbed of power to motivate them, to make men feel bad, to make the audience feel sympathetic. But they go from one to zero. They go from something to nothing — from agent and actor upon the plot to victim of the plot. You might say that Dany is motivated to become the queen by the act, but first, that’s gross, and second, it’s also not true. She’s motivated only to become a wife and a lover at that point. Cersei is changed by the act — it would seem to begin her descent. And Sansa is just at a moment when we start to believe she has agency and power. She’s tougher. Harder. She’s taking on a whiff of Littlefinger’s machinations. The show wisely made it seem like reclaiming Winterfell was at least in part her choice. Her hair is dyed black. She appears a grim, death-like specter of vengeance. And she even says the right things: she indicates her lack of fear, she impresses her power on others. It’s a turning point for a character who for so long has basically been a whipping girl. She’s been a can kicked brutally down the road. And finally, finally you think — ahh. Here it is. Here she is claiming her power. Finding her agency. Here she will at last become, like Arya, a mighty force for change and no woman and no man will ever again dominate her and –
She gets the black dye removed from her hair and it’s like Samson with his locks cut. Because along comes Ramsay Bolton — who is so eeeeevil I’m surprised he doesn’t have a sinister mustache to twist and a puppy to eat — to take that all that away as he gleefully assaults her. All as we focus on the poor weepy face of dickless Theon Greyjoy, who by the way is a child-murderer so wait why do we care about Theon Greyjoy again?
It’s not that GoT is poorly-written. That’s actually the shame — it’s often so well done. The show is really one of the best television shows around right now. It’s part of the Renaissance of hella good storytelling going on the tube at present. If it was a garbage-fire of a show, we wouldn’t even care. We wouldn’t expect better. But me? I’d like to expect better. Because its creepy fascination with hurting and marginalizing its women characters is increasingly gross and lazy.
This isn’t about being shocked.
This isn’t about being offended.
It’s about something larger and lazier and altogether nastier.
It’s really about rape culture. About how this seeps in like a septic infection. About how it’s illustrated and handled with little aplomb, how it’s a default, how it forms an overall pattern.
Rape and sexual assault are fraught topics. To say you can never use them in fiction is, as noted, a terrible thing. We must be allowed to talk about bad things. We must be allowed to explore them from nose to tail to see what it means. Fiction is best when it doesn’t turn away from pain and suffering. It must embrace trauma. But that also means treating it and the characters who suffer it with respect. Make it an organic part of the story, not a “plot device.” A plot device is crass, cheap, lazy. Sexual assault is not a lever you pull to make people feel bad. It’s a trope because it keeps showing up — that’s not a good thing. Women are constantly fridged in these stories to make male characters feel something — to make the audience feel something. The problem isn’t in individual instances, you see? It’s in the pattern. It’s in how this keeps showing up again and again, a lazy crutch, a manipulative button the writers mash with greasy mitts, a cheap trick to rob agency and push plot. Meanwhile, you have actual rape victims in the audience who are like, “Hey, thanks for turning my trauma into cheap-ass plot fodder.”
In fact, let’s dissect that a little bit — RAINN suggests that 1 in 6 women have been the subject of some kind of sexual assault. A TIME study noted that, on campus, that number is 1 in 5 women. These are consequential numbers. Huge, scary, terrible. Now, realize that Game of Thrones gets some of the highest ratings on cable television — roughly seven million people watching. And in 2013 it was roughly 42% women who made up that audience. If you go low enough to accept the 1 in 5 number, you accept that roughly 588,000 sexual assault victims are watching the show. Even if you think that number is inflated — even if you assume it’s not 20% of all women but only 5% — that number still becomes 147,000. It’s a not insignificant number. It’s a marrow-curdling number. And it’s a number where each person affected has others who have been affected in turn — family, friends, other loved ones. Trauma is not a stone thrown against hard ground. It’s a stone thrown into water. It has ripples.
Ask yourself again: Game of Thrones versus Mad Max.
Would you rather see a world where the women declare in a barbaric yawp: WE ARE NOT THINGS?
Or do you want to be subjected to one where again and again it’s proven: WE ARE ONLY THINGS…?
Do we really not see the difference?
Do you not see why one would be celebrated while the other is excoriated?
Yup, spaceships again. Between Star Citizen, the new Halo, the new Star Wars, a couple of key mods for Sins of a Solar Empire that I keep up with and have done some voice work on, and Destiny, my mind has been buzzing with them. I’m a huge nerd who thinks of things in my free time like “if I were a shinigami what kind of Zanpakutō would I have?” and “I wonder if I’d rather be a ranger or a mage” and “ff I were a Jedi in the New Jedi Order, what kind of ship would I have?” And alongside that sort of inane theorycrafting and imagination comes obvious questions, like “would I want to captain a cruiser or a carrier?” But then, what exactly is the difference?
There are lots of different ship classes in science fiction, and I’m not talking about the designated name for a particular frame (like Victory-class or Firefly-class). I’m talking about classification of ship roles. You have your cruisers, your destroyers, your frigates and corvettes, your dreadnoughts, and all sorts of other roles. But something that always confused me is exactly what the differences are between them. If you had shown me two ships and claimed one was a destroyer and one was a cruiser I wouldn’t have really understood what that actually means and what roles they employ in a battle. How is a battleship different from a battlecruiser? Is there any difference between a star cruiser and an assault cruiser, and if so what is it?
So like any good geek I did research and actually enjoyed doing it! And the knowledge I’ve gained I want to spread for anyone who is interested, whether that be due to simple curiosity or you’re developing a story or RPG setting. Because knowledge is power.
Before we get to the meat of the topic let’s look at a bit of history. When science fiction writers were exploring space they drew a natural comparison between space travel and the maritime Age of Sail; both feature long voyages on large vessels through “alien” terrain that human beings can’t freely traverse. As such, naval terminology entered the lexicon very quickly, and as a result spaceships are classified by similar naval systems. That’s also likely the reason why the branch of the military that deals with spaceships in fiction is very commonly called the Navy.
Naval warfare, particularly way-back-when in the 17th Century or so, was rather stringent and refined. The British in particular had very strict guidelines on ship classification, roles, and tactics. As time went on the definitions for particular warships and roles blurred until we hit modern day navies. Back in the day, like 17th Century back, a common tactic was the naval “Line-of-Battle,” introduced by the Portuguese in the 15th Century. The idea is that your fleet would very literally line up in a single-file row and turn their broadsides toward the enemy. This gave all ships within the line free sight to fire on the enemy fleet without fear of hitting an ally. Battles could play out with enemy fleets sailing parallel to each other and firing into one another, though the ideal situation had your line slicing perpendicularly through the enemy’s line at some point. Ships that could survive standing within the line were thus referred to as “ships of the line (of battle)” or “line-of-battle ships.” Other ships existed that were not ships of the line, and they usually had other tactics to employ and jobs to fulfill. (This is important information for later; I promise.)
Let me touch a bit on capital ships and flagships. William S. Lind explains the concept of a capital ship extremely well; “These characteristics define a capital ship: if the capital ships are beaten, the navy is beaten. But if the rest of the navy is beaten, the capital ships can still operate. Another characteristic that defines capital ships is that their main opponent is each other.” In short, a capital ship is a ship that doesn’t need the rest of the fleet to function, and can operate independently of a fleet while being the main target of other capital ships (not that they are impervious to the fire of other ships, but that generally capital ships will seek each other out for direct confrontation). Note that this definition refers strictly to independence in a large-scale engagement. Plenty of other vessels can operate independently in other scenarios, such as patrol, but in a large-scale battle they would not be able to combat the enemy fleet if the capital ships fell. Capital ships are generally some of the largest and most heavily armored ships in a fleet. However, they should not be confused with flagships. A fleet can have multiple capital ships within it; the term simply describes the capabilities of a particular vessel. But an individual fleet will only ever have one flagship at a time, the “lead” ship, which the admiral/general/fleet commander resides on and operates from. Flagships are often capital ships (as they generally want to be the biggest, most powerful ship in the fleet), but by definition whichever ship has the fleet commander on board will fly the flag and thus be considered the flagship. Usually, this is a specifically designated vessel but the title can jump around as needed between ships.
So, from here on out I’ll be explaining the various classes of ships, their histories, and how I would personally define what the role a spaceship of that kind would take. I’ll also provide specific examples of each ship type as I go. A word of warning, though; even in the real world rules are and were constantly being broken. Ships technically designed as one type of vessel may perform the operations of another type equally well, or some countries may have different rules from each other and thus classify two vessels of almost identical capability differently. Not only that, but as technology improves the various classes can become so alike that it can be very difficult to draw a line. A further problem (which comes up very often in sci-fi) is technological superiority; that is, a ship classification in one species’ navy may not be equal to the ships of the same classification in another species’ navy. For example, one navy’s corvette may be large enough and powerful enough to be more than a match for another species’ destroyer or cruiser. What’s important when we talk about ship classification is the comparison of ships within the same navy. So while that corvette may be a cruiser as far as the alien race is concerned, what’s important is that the species that built it considers it a corvette.
Just remember that this guide exists as just that; a guide. It is not a strict law, the rules of which can never be broken. Feel free to break these rules if it makes sense for you to do so.
Let’s go from the smallest ships to the relative largest. For each class I’ve bolded particular characteristics that stand out to me and help cement the ship’s role. I’m just going to be going over warships, so things like freighters or single-pilot ships will not be getting the once-over.
The word “corvette” comes from the Dutch word corf, which means “small ship,” and indeed corvettes are historically the smallest class of rated warship (a rating system used by the British Royal Navy in the sailing age, basically referring to the amount of men/guns on the vessel and its relative size; corvettes were of the sixth and smallest rate). In complete honesty I have not found much information on what role corvettes tended to employ; or at least nothing extremely concrete. By all rights, early corvettes are essentially just smaller, less effective frigates; they were more lightly armored and armed than frigates, while not being as quick or maneuverable. They were usually used for escorting convoys and patrolling waters, especially in places where larger ships would be unnecessary. Corvettes could also be used for taking out larger vessels already crippled by other ships, almost making them akin to scavengers. Later corvettes in modern navies (around WWII) started filling a niche as antisubmariners, minesweepers, and trawlers (it might be more accurate to say that those kinds of vessels started being called corvettes, but the effect is the same). In many ways, corvettes existed just to have a ship or two (or ten) available; being smaller and more lightly armed meant that they were cheaper to construct, and that is important when discussing anything in history. It takes money and resources to build things, so you can’t just build a bunch of the best thing.
In Sci-Fi – Corvettes would be the smallest warships, designed for escort and patrol, anti-mine, or anti-stealth. They would be used where larger ships with more firepower are not deemed necessary (such as backwater worlds or low-risk areas) or where a larger ship would be unsuitable for deployment. Corvettes might be outfitted to have some sort of stealth or cloaking system for reconnaissance or spec ops missions; naturally it would be easier to cloak a smaller ship than a larger one (though plenty of examples of large stealth ships exist). In some series they are likely to be diplomatic vessels due to their small size and speed, particularly seen in Star Wars, and can commonly act as blockade runners (again; their small size and speed makes them ideal for slipping through a blockade, where a larger ship presents more of a target). They would, ideally, never be used for direct combat in large scale engagements due to their extremely light armor and weapons, but may be employed in a battle to lay down or destroy minefields, uncover stealth ships, act as stealth ships on their own (for whatever purpose needed), or for dispatching already crippled vessels.
“Frigate-built” was a term used in the 17th Century describing a warship that was built to be quickand maneuverable. They were often too small to stand in the “line of battle” and usually had only one weapons deck (but sometimes two). By the 18th Century the term had been modified slightly to include ships that may be as long as a ship of the line but were still designed for speed and had lighter weaponry, making them useful for patrols and escorts. The 19th Century brought armored frigates to the world, which were actually regarded as being the most powerful warships at the time. They were still known as frigates because they were lightly armed with only one deck of guns. Modern frigates are generally used as escorts for other warships and convoys. As I mentioned earlier, frigates and corvettes really are very similar in their designs and roles; frigates just tend to be larger (and thus more expensive to build) and had more firepower, so they could engage in direct combat more effectively.
In Sci-Fi – Based on their history, space frigates would probably be best defined as smaller vessels with light armament and armor (but more powerful and larger than a corvette), suited for speed and maneuverability. They’d often act as patrol and escort vessels, whether for a merchant convoy, a single capital ship, or a fleet. Their agility and maneuverability means they can move to redeploy and protect other ships better than larger, slower moving vessels. You’d likely see a strength-in-numbers strategy with them. Frigates, unlike corvettes, would more commonly see direct battle and would probably not be found with stealth drives in most settings; they are simply getting too large by that point.
Destroyers are comparatively modern ships. Historically, they were designed after the emergence of torpedo boats (quick, frigate-like ships which employed newly invented self-propelled torpedoes as their main arms) in the late 1800s. Torpedo boats were faster and more maneuverable than larger ships, able to bear down on a battlecruiser and take it out with its torpedoes. Destroyers were originally designed as, and named, torpedo boat destroyers, but at some point became referred to simply as destroyers when their roles expanded. They went through many iterations, but were essentially smaller cruisers designed with the sole purpose of hunting down and destroying torpedo boats, and had much more powerful weaponry as well as torpedoes to fulfill this purpose. As such, they were employed as escorts for larger, slower warships (to protect those warships from torpedo boats). They were designed to have the long range and speed to keep up with their fleet, and over time this fact plus their multi-purpose capabilities meant that destroyers began seeing more use as advanced scouts for a fleet as well as direct fleet combatants, anti-submariners, and anti-submarine patrol. Destroyers operated in destroyer divisions or units composed of multiple destroyers in order to carry out these tasks. By WWII destroyers began filling in a niche as (what I’ll very simply call) anti-everything vessels, extremely powerful high-value targets due to the number of guns they would field. In fact, this pushed several countries to develop smaller corvettes and frigates as anti-submariners in order to take some of the heat off of destroyers.
In Sci-Fi – Destroyers would be much like their naval counterparts; ships smaller than cruisers (and usually larger than frigates, though not always) but armed to the teeth with a multitude of weapons. They’d mostly act as escorts for larger fleets (and likely not for single warships, but exceptions would certainly exist) but can be seen operating in destroyer-only divisions as well. You could expect to find destroyers fulfilling all sorts of roles because of how multi-purpose they are, even roles that could be fulfilled by other classes that are designed for that purpose. It would, however, be rare to find a destroyer acting on its own in most circumstances; destroyers are not capital ships and do not operate as patrol craft. They do not operate independently as a rule, though I know of at least one case in fiction where a super-destroyer acted as an independent ship. Science fiction, as I mentioned previously, breaks a lot of rules.
In the Age of Sail “cruiser” was a term used to describe ships which underwent “cruising missions;” that is independentscouting, raiding, and commerce protection missions. These “cruiser warships” were normally frigates and sloops because there simply wasn’t anything else available at the time. By the mid 1800s ships began being constructed that were specifically designed for this sort of work, and as such were called “cruisers”. They could be smaller, like a frigate, or larger, but it was not until the 20th Century that they were consistently scaled to be larger than a destroyer but smaller than a battleship.
Cruiser roles in the late 20th Century included anti-air defense, shore bombing, and commerce raiding, depending on the navy. However, the increasing firepower of aircraft made it so that individual cruisers could no longer operate safely, pushing navies to have their cruisers operate in fleets. Because of this, cruiser fleets were also specialized for particular roles (like anti-submarine or anti-air) and the generalized cruiser fell out of use.
In Sci-Fi – Cruisers are medium-sized vessels, able to operate independently but also commonly seen within a fleet. They would have the capacity to be used as anti-fighters, planetary bombers, raiders of enemy supply lines, and scouts. However, they would also be the class of ship most likely to engage in non-combat roles such as exploration or even colonization due to their ability to operate independently for extended periods. I would not expect cruisers to commonly be used in front-line assaults of an enemy fleet; that role is better left to other ships. However, they have the firepower, size, and better defensive capability to go up against other ships when needed and it’s not uncommon to see cruisers making up the bulk of fleets in some settings. It is however, in my admittedly amateur opinion, not the ideal choice; better to fill in that space with destroyers or battlecruisers and battleships. Cruisers can be considered capital ships in some settings (and in fact, some settings treat any ship over a certain size as a capital ship, regardless of role).
Battlecruiser and Battleship
Battlecruisers (or battle cruisers) are the first vessels in this article to commonly be considered capital ships. They are similar to battleships, having a similar armament and size, but were generally faster and not as heavily armoredby comparison. Originally fielded by the UK in the early 20th Century, battlecruisers were designed to combat and destroyer slower, older armored cruisers through heavy gunfire. As time went on (around WWI) they began seeing use as general-purpose ships alongside battleships by all manner of countries. Unfortunately, battlecruisers were generally inferior to battleships, and in the Battle of Jutland this was perfectly exemplified as both navies lost battlecruisers but no battleships; the light armor of the battlecruisers made them easier targets for heavy guns. As technology improved battlecruisers were designed with heavier armor. At the same time, battleships began becoming faster. These similarities would ultimately cause a blurring between the two classes, and by 1922 the Washington Naval Treaty considered battlecruisers and battleships functionally identical. The Royal Navy continued to refer to pre-treaty battlecruisers as such, and WWII saw a re-emergence of modernized “cruiser-killer” battlecruisers. However, only one such vessel actually survived the war, cementing again their general inferiority to battleships.
The term “battleship” is a contraction of phrase “line-of-battle ship” from the Age of Sails. If you remember, ships of the line were the largest and most powerful ships that a navy could field and were strong enough to stand within the line of battle. Modern battleships arose from ironclad battleships in the late 19th Century, and battleships were for decades considered the most powerful type of naval warship. They were characterized by very heavy armor and large-caliber guns, making them key capital ships. So influential were they that treaties such as the Washington Naval Treaty were designed, partially, to limit the number of battleships that a particular country could have. They represented naval might and power, and battleships were so influential in their strength that the simple existence or presence of a fleet, even without leaving port, could create psychological victories for a navy (called a fleet in being). Battleship tactics often saw other vessels, such as destroyers or cruisers, employing scouting and raiding missions in order to locate enemy fleets before the battleships came in to sweep aside the enemy. Despite these strengths, battleships were susceptible to smaller weapons such as torpedoes, mines, and aircraft missiles (and thus required the presence of smaller escort ships such as frigates and destroyers to protect them; it’s all circular). If your battleships fell the fleet would fall, as is the accepted definition of a capital ship. Presently there are no battleships currently in service anywhere in the world.
In Sci-Fi – Despite their unfortunate history, battlecruisers in space tend to operate similarly to battleships, and I would argue there is not much distinction between the two owing, partly, to the blurring of both vessels in our history. Battlecruisers and battleships, thus, often act as the heavy hitters in a fleet; they are the main combatants and are protected by other vessels such as frigates and destroyers. Being that they are capital ships, an engagement is usually won through battlecruisers and battleships. If a distinction is made between the two classes then battlecruisers would likely be quicker and less heavily armored than battleships, and in some settings are not even considered capital ships at all. But again; rules can be blurry and broken at the whim of any author. Regardless, battlecruisers and battleships are the truly massive, anti-“large vessel” ships in a fleet. They are meant to take a lot of punishment and dish out that punishment in kind. One particular term I see fairly often is “star cruiser.” In my mind, a star cruiser could either be the equivalent of a cruiser or a battlecruiser; that distinction is likely decided by whether or not star cruisers are considered capital ships, since that then determines the general capabilities of those vessels. As a general rule I would be bold enough to claim that star cruisers are equivalent to battlecruisers, and named as such because space.
Aircraft carriers, like destroyers, are very modern classifications. They are the one vessel in today’s navies that almost anyone can pick out at a glance without fear of mistaking them for something else. This is due to their extremely obvious design; a very large, flat deck suitable for landing and deploying aircraft. Put as simply as possible, carriers carry aircraft (whether plane or helicopter depends on the ship). Historically, the concept of utilizing seagoing vessels for airborne operations was considered as far back as the early 1800s (though with balloons rather than planes). It was not until the early 1900s, with the invention of seaplanes, that actual aircraft launched from a ship become prominent. Back then, an aircraft with floats was launched from a modified cruiser or capital ship with a catapult, then recovered by a crane after it would later land in the water. Semi-successful uses of ship-borne craft in 1914 showed the world how effective such assets could be in war, and heavier-than-air craft started becoming more valuable for the world’s navies. By 1922, with the Washington Naval Treaty, battleships and battlecruisers (which most navies had too many of to be legal under the new treaty) were being converted into carriers. The flat-topped design did not become prominent until the late 1920s.
No one can deny the value of single-fighter aircraft. Planes provide a new dimension from which to attack and defend, and can carry payloads ranging from missiles to bombs to supplies for ground troops. Aircraft were extremely effective compared to even the best guns as they were more accurate and had the benefit of extreme maneuverability. That said, carriers suffered from a lack of personal offensive and defensive ability, and relied on their aircraft or the rest of their fleet to protect them. Even so, their aircraft can be considered an extension of themselves and the reign of the battleship was brought to a close when U.S. ship-borne craft sunk numerous Japanese super battleships, the largest battleships ever made.
In Sci-Fi – Carriers tend to be some of the largest capital ships around due to the need to hold and transport large numbers of fighters, bombers, and other craft. Typically, though not always, their hull-mounted armaments are light; carriers usually rely on the large numbers of fighters they carry (when operating solo) or their fleet for defense and attack of other ships. The ability to carry craft does not make a ship a carrier by default; many frigates and cruisers, for example, will carry a compliment of fighters or a few ground vehicles. In order to be considered a true carrier the vessel’s main role needs to be the transport and deployment of smaller craft (or troops; as far as I’m concerned not all carriers are extremely large and I would classify troopships and assault ships as small carriers).
It’s difficult to talk about historical dreadnoughts without also talking about battleships. The first dreadnought was the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought, a large and heavily armored battleship that ran on steam turbines (and thus made her the fastest battleship at the time). Dreadnought operated on an “all-big-guns” philosophy, giving her more heavy-caliber guns than any other ship at the time instead of smaller, quicker-to-fire secondary guns. Her creation was extremely influential in her time, and she spawned a new variant of battleship called “dreadnoughts” (and battleships made before her were designated “pre-dreadnoughts”). Thus, strictly speaking, dreadnoughts are just particularly large and powerful battleships. As such they carry the same characteristics of battleships; they are capital ships, represent naval power and influence, and would need a fleet to protect them from smaller vessels and weaponry.
In Sci-Fi – Dreadnoughts are a just about always gigantic ships; massive vessels that dwarf even the largest battleships or battlecruisers. The role they fulfill is exactly like a battleship or battlecruiser; complete dominance and superiority. Intimidation, even more so than with battleships, is the name of the game when it comes to dreadnoughts. When you have a multi-mile long ship bearing down on a fleet you know the enemy’s morale is precarious at best. Due to their large size they can often carry a large number of secondary craft, like a carrier, but their extremely powerful armament would tend to exclude them from that definition. A dreadnought carries a bunch of craft because it can, and this adds to its lethality. But its true strength is its overwhelming firepower, plus its usually resilient armor.
Whew. We’re about 5000 words in and I’m starting to lose steam, but let’s go over a few other things before I end today. You may have noticed some terms floating around that I’ve used but not really elaborated on, like “heavy” and “assault.” Those terms actually mean something, and so I’m going to take the last part of this article to explain them.
Armored: This is very self-explanatory and I don’t think I have to spend many words on it. An armored vessel is one with more resilient-than-normal armor than others of its classification. They can, theoretically, take more punishment.
Assault: By definition, an “assault” in warfare is usually the first phase of any particular attack. You can have aircraft assaults, or spaceship assaults. However, sci-fi lexicon also seems to borrow the term from the concept of amphibious assaults. These are operations where ships land ground (or air) forces upon a particular location through some sort of landing site like a beach; D-Day is a prime example of this. Assault vessels, therefore, are designed for assaulting an enemy planet, installation, space station, etc. They are usually designed to carry large numbers of troops, vehicles, drop ships, supporting aircraft, and the like; they assault the planet by being the first ships to touch down and dispense their payload and then get the hell out of dodge while the ground forces do their thing. Sometimes they need the brunt force of a fleet to allow them to get to the planet in the first place, but then you have ships like the Covenant’s CAS-class assault carrier that can do that job themselves.
Light and Heavy: I described the Halcyon-class (from Halo) as a light cruiser, while thelater Autumn-class is a heavy cruiser. So what’s the difference there? Generally speaking, whether a particular vessel is light or heavy refers to the payload of its weapons. Sometimes the resilience of its armor may come into play (again; exceptions exist), but overall a vessel’s status as light or heavy is dependent on its guns. A light vessel has a lighter armament, while a heavy vessel, naturally, has a heavy armament. As such, you’d expect heavy vessels to be more useful in an engagement. Light vessels, meanwhile, would probably see more use in non-combat and support roles. At the very least they are less specialized for direct large-scale engagements. The various frigate classes in Halo are perfect examples of this; the Paris-class is a heavy frigate and very specialized for space combat. The Charon-class and Stalwart-class light frigates, meanwhile, were more jack-of-all-trades ships that saw more use as ground-support vessels and fleet support. Of course remember; sometimes you gotta make do with what you have available.
Super: I think this one is fairly self-explanatory as well. A super vessel is, for lack of a better word, just a bigger version of whatever classification of vessel it is we are talking about. Because of their increased size they almost always have much better armor and much stronger weapons than the “normal” variant.
And there you have it. Hopefully you have a better understanding of space combat and ship classification. I know I learned a lot by doing this; already I’ve starting thinking about things differently. Just the other day I finished the Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium omnibus and I had a better appreciation for some of the scenes in the last book (The Traitor’s Hand) that described a battle taking place in the planet Adumbria’s orbit.
Please don’t hesitate to use this information however you see fit. I hope it brings a sense of realism and authenticity to your games and I hope you appreciated my attempt at a comprehensive guide to ship taxonomy. With any luck it did someone somewhere some good.
I’ve written before about how much the evolution (or de-evolution) of Max’s costume is my favorite part of the original Mad Max trilogy, but seeing Fury Road this weekend had me wanting to more thoroughly document all the basic changes I’ve noticed to Max’s gear throughout the first three films, especially since the costume (and Max’s poor V8 Interceptor) is the only really consistent thread of continuity between any of the movies.
My buddy Mike Russell pointed out that with every Mad Max sequel being a story retold by someone else as a kind of “history of future past”, continuity between each these films isn’t important, but it *is* nice to see how much attention to detail George Miller’s costumers have paid to Max’s gear during his journey from MFP Headquarters, to Broken Hill, to Thunderdome and beyond….
This is one way in which having a "quieter" mind would be qualitatively different.
First off, tomorrow, like almost every other Saturday, I’ll be leading Zen at the Veteran’s Memorial Center 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome! It starts at 10:00am not 9:30 tomorrow. There will be yoga led by Nina Snow before zazen.
Oh! And commenting on the blog works again! Hooray!
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Last week a guy asked me about imaginary conversations. He said he spent a lot of energy engaging in imaginary conversations with people he knew. These often stressed him out and made him upset.
I imagine everyone does this. I clearly remember bringing a lot of these imaginary conversations up to my Zen teachers when I’d have private talks with them. But when I did, they always shifted the focus of the conversation we were actually having right then and there on to something more concrete and real. It took a while to get the message that these imaginary conversations weren’t actually very important.
Still, they went on all the time. Some of them kept me awake at night. Some of them gave me bad headaches or indigestion. Some of them made me so distracted I’d forget what I was actually doing and screw things up for myself. Even though the conversations were imaginary, they had real world consequences.
Nowadays I have very few imaginary conversations. Oh sure, they happen sometimes. But not that often and usually only when I deliberately try to have them for some specific reason. Like when I need to figure out how I’m going to explain something to someone with whom I’ll have very little time. Or I sometimes work out what I’m going to say at a public talk. But it’s very rare for me to engage in the kinds of conversations in my head that used to drive me to distraction.
I do recall what might have been the last time I had one of these completely unbidden imaginary conversations that really drove me up a wall. I don’t remember all the details. I know it was my grandfather I was going to explain whatever it was to. This imaginary conversation went on and on, taking all kinds of different twists and turns. I was living in Japan at the time and I was going to see him in a few weeks. When I actually got to Ohio and started saying whatever it was, I realized that my imaginary “grandpa” in my mind responded so differently from my real grandpa right in front of me that it was clear the whole imaginary conversation I’d been having with him had been a complete waste of time.
That realization wasn’t what made the imaginary conversations stop. Merely intellectually understanding a thing like that doesn’t do a whole lot.
What worked was my daily Zen practice.
See, when you do Zen for a long time you start to notice that the conversations you have with imaginary people in your head are a lot like a piece of gum that all the flavor has been chewed out of. There’s just no reason to keep that piece of gum in your mouth anymore, so you spit it out.
It was only on retreats that this understanding began to become really clear. Although the half-hour sittings I did every morning and evening helped a lot.
You’re working with habits and habits are hard to break. You think it’s tough to quit heroin or cigarettes? Try quitting a habit of mind that you learned before you were old enough to even go outside on your own and that is reinforced by just about every TV show or movie you see, almost every book, magazine or webpage you read, pretty much every conversation you have with just about anyone about just about any topic. That takes a lot of work.
Quitting the habit of holding loads of useless fake conversations in your mind will not make you any less able to have those kinds of fake conversations when it’s practical to do so. But it will make you sleep better, digest better and maybe even not screw up so many things you try to do.
And that’s today’s little lesson! Thanks!
Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
In this interview I say something that I’ve been saying in a lot of my talks and interviews for the past couple of years. I might have even put this in There is No God and He is Always With You. I can never remember my own books…
Anyway, the idea is this. When I was younger I thought that life was very mysterious and very brief. I wanted to know if there was a reason for all of this. I heard people talk about God and I heard people talk about atheism. But what I wanted was an answer for myself.
I wanted to know concretely if there was a God or if there was an Answer.
Or, if there was no Answer or no God, I also wanted to know that for myself.
This is where I part ways with most of the prominent atheists out there. I am in full agreement that the scientific method is a better way of learning about the history of the Earth than reading the Bible. I see the logic in accepting logic over superstition.
My problem is that both the major spokespeople for religion and the major spokespeople for atheism seem to be working from the same criteria. Most of us believe the only way to learn the truth is to receive wisdom from outside. The religious believe it will come from the words of religious figures or via a direct message from a divine source, a personal revelation from God. The non-religious think it must come in the form of sense data as interpreted through the intellect. So it becomes a fight over which interpretation of the available data is better.
If that’s what you’re arguing, then the atheists win. No question about it. When asked to choose between ancient fables and modern science, I’ll choose modern science every time. When asked to believe something someone says God told him and something someone else can show me actual data about, I’ll go with the data.
The trouble for me was, that was not the question I was asking. At first I thought it was. But even after I’d decided that science made better sense than religion, I was still left in the dark about what actually mattered most to me.
It took a long time to understand that sense data as interpreted by the intellect was not going to do it for me. Even if the interpretation of that data was as logical as it could possibly be. And even if that sense data was a divine revelation from God on High.
It took a lot of sessions of sitting without seeking for answers before I got a sense that seeking for answers wasn’t the way to go.
I’ve heard a lot of ways of trying to describe what ultimately worked. Dogen wrote about turning the light around and shining it inward. But I tend to picture it more like taking a step to one side.
It’s kind of like there’s an argument. One guy is shrieking, “Chocolate is better than peanut butter!” Another is screaming, “Peanut butter is better than chocolate!” For a while you listen to them, trying to evaluate their claims.
Then one day, you notice that there is a whole world outside that argument. There is real chocolate and there is real peanut butter. So you step to one side and try some peanut butter and some chocolate for yourself. And then you try some pad thai and some curry, then maybe a bit of bicycle riding and feeling sand between your toes…
After a while the argument those guys are having ceases to be important anymore. It rages on, but you’re no longer listening.
Or something like that.
Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
Mr. Warner remains not the most focused of bloggers, but some interesting pieces in here.
The author in Tokyo’s Harajuku district mid-1990’s.
We are still having trouble with the blog. I can post again, but when you (or I, or anyone else) try to log in to comment it doesn’t work. We’re getting that fixed. For now, I decided it’s better to start posting again than to keep waiting. If you want to comment on this, you can follow my author page on Facebook and post your comments there. You can find it at: https://www.facebook.com/BradWarnerHardcoreZen
My friend Jayce Renner and my first Zen teacher Tim McCarthy back in Ohio have signed an Open Letter Seeking Peace to the Cleveland Police Department. You can read the text yourself by following the link. The basic gist is that the cops need to stop doing bad things.
Like a lot of people, I was pretty horrified to see the rioting going on in Baltimore last week over the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. It’s a familiar story we’ve seen in Ferguson, Missouri, in Los Angeles when Rodney King was beaten by the cops and elsewhere. Cleveland cops killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in a park for playing with a toy gun. Clevelanders reacted with remarkable and surprising restraint.
And today is May 4th. On this day in 1970 at Kent State University, where I did most of my Bachelor’s Degree, four students were shot to death by the Ohio National Guard. The security forces who were supposed to defend citizens were instead turned against them.
When I was researching my forthcoming book about Dogen (to be released later this year) I came across a statement in one of the works I consulted that took me aback. The author mentioned that in the era and place Dogen lived, 13th century Japan, there was no police force. I thought about that for a while because it had never really occurred to me. There was a government in Japan in those days and something we could call a military, but there were no cops.
In those days, if somebody robbed you or raped you or broke into your house, you couldn’t call 9-1-1. You couldn’t even flag down a passing officer of the law to help. If you wanted justice you could try petitioning the local government, but you weren’t likely to get any help very soon. The best you could do was to make friends with a samurai clan who might be able to avenge you. But even that was a long shot because they might already be pals with whoever wronged you.
Nowadays there are police forces pretty much everywhere. Some are far better than others. But for the most part it’s a system that works. And by that I don’t mean it’s perfect. Not at all. But it’s a better system than roaming samurai who work for the highest bidder.
Which is not to say that the cops don’t often do that too. But the important difference is that they are not supposed to. That is significant. The samurai had no reason even to try and pretend they were working for the good of all citizens.
We have cops now because we understand their necessity. I live in Los Angeles in a neighborhood where street gangs are still active. I am glad that there are police around.
Back in the Zero Defex days we sang a song called Go Blue Go Die about the abuse of police power (the link is to the version by Agitated who also did the song). The ending refrain is “Serve and protect? Bullshit! Bullshit!” But when our band was attacked by rednecks at a gig in Dover, Ohio, we called the cops and they kept us from being killed.
When police abuse their authority, everyone suffers, including the police. Their ability to exercise authority is eroded when people begin to doubt that the cops are really on the side of justice.
But there’s no reason for me to write yet another article that says the same things you can find all over the Internet. The more interesting question for me is; What can I do?
I’m a white male in America, part of the privileged classes. That has not always been the case for me. In Japan, being white meant that you were viewed as a potential threat. As a foreigner I did not have the same rights as most people around me. I never had a run-in with the police over there. But I knew very well that if I did, it would go much harder on me than it would on a person of the dominant race and culture. I was aware of the same thing when I lived in Kenya, that I was a member of a minority and that, as such, I was not accorded the same protection of the law as most of the people around me.
Those of us in the privileged classes need to be aware that things aren’t always the way we see them.
I don’t think there is an easy answer to the question of what to do about police injustice. Some people misunderstand the Buddhist idea of acceptance as a call for complacency. It is not. At the same time, the idea I’ve encountered that Buddhists must be politically engaged in a very specific way is not an idea I can agree with either.
I think we engage with the world in many ways we don’t usually acknowledge. It’s not all about mass gatherings and protests. The way you conduct yourself on a moment-by-moment basis is a far more powerful thing. You make a difference in society when you treat the people you encounter with respect and dignity. You make a difference when you recognize your own biases and refuse to act on them. You don’t have to post any hashtags at all.
If you have something to contribute to the discussion, contribute it. Sign that letter or compose your own. But more importantly than that, be a real human being. Then do it again and again and again.
Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
I would love to have seen this live, as I don't think the entire thing translates very well into album format. But this is very true:
"Seeing Einstürzende Neubauten live is a visceral, gob-smacking reminder of the distinctive value that materiality, presence, and the history of objects have in three dimensions."
Most bands write an album, then record it, then tour to support it. Einstürzende Neubauten, needless to say, are not most bands. Their latest effort, Lament is a pre-emptive documentation of a performance that hadn't yet taken place, but which was conceived first and foremost as a live show. The band was commissioned by the Belgian region of Flanders to create a themed site-specific performance commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. As founder and lyricist Blixa Bargeld stresses in an interview that appears in the program for the concert, "The whole album is conceived as a performance…It has been written as a performance. It's a piece of theatre."
The band debut their new long-form composition in the town of Diksmuide, the site of a battle in which Belgian forces turned nature itself into an implement of war and flooded the region to prevent the advance of German forces. In an odd but oddly apt twist, the Belgians commemorated this event by inviting a German band who first made their reputation harnessing chaos out of fire and metal. And now I'm standing in front of a stage laden with strange and familiar implements, wondering how this relentlessly exploratory band would bring history to life.
Einstürzende Neubauten are known for their unusual instrumentation. Though percussionist Andrew Unruh has stated repeatedly that he sold his drum kit and replaced it with metal and bricks because he was broke and needed the money, the concrete-ness of their musique quickly became both defining characteristic and guiding ethos, with the band embarking on a relentless quest to explore the sonic potential hidden in the scraps and shrapnel of Cold War Berlin, quickly adding metal, water, concrete, fire, found recordings, sand, bamboo, meat, and plastic to their auditory repertoire. Using power tools to hammer and scrape at steel springs and gears, they were the most industrial of nominally industrial bands by virtue not of an assembly-line ethos but by the nature of their materials. In keeping with this, the set-up for a live EN show will include any number of unusual implements. The set-up varies from tour to tour and often contains tour-specific elements that are never repeated; the set-up is also intimately linked to the setlist, because the instrumentation for a particular song must be available for that song to be performed.
The band take the stage along with a string quartet and the show begins with clinking chains and metal scraping against metal in a low squeal that might be grating if it didn't feel like coming home. As the droning strings grow more frantic, Jochen Arbeit's e-bowed guitar grows louder as layer upon layer of scrapes and groans are fused into a vivid cacophony of sound, reminiscent of such peak Neubauten moments as 'Der Tod ist ein Dandy' (1985) and 'Prolog' (1989), a frenzied assault on metal of the kind for which the EN were once notorious but which they've rarely exhibit in recent years. This track is 'Kriegsmachinerie' (war machine or apparatus of war), the opening number of the performance and of the album. As the noise grows and shimmers, Unruh and bassist Alexander Hacke pull together the old implements at the front of the stage, including the tanks and the angel wings and chains, and pile, slide, and screw them together into a strange assemblage; these metallic objects, already relics repurposed into instruments, now found themselves instruments repurposed to create a sculptural performance. This is more or less the essence of the evening, both in theme and in practice: old fragments, worn with age but still potent, revived and rendered worthy of rapt attention by recontextualisation and reorganisation.
Lament is, as noted, centrally preoccupied with the First World War. The product not just of a themed commission but of extensive archival research (as many cultural productions seem to be now that the historical turn has spread beyond the humanities and into the performing arts), the materials built into it include telegrams between the German Kaiser and the Russian Tsar on the eve of the war, two war poems in Flemish by a forgotten Dutch poet, the haunted and haunting voices of Allied soldiers in POW camps recorded onto wax cylinders by German linguists, and two cover versions by the obscure proto-jazz band The Harlem Hellfighters, a group whose active performances in Europe during the war included, Bargeld gleefully informs the audience, the legendary Mr. Bojangles as a dancer. The resulting product is not quite a narrative, not quite a concept album, and not quite performance art but a theatrical mélange of the three, filtered through Neubauten's distinctive sensibility, which has always occupied a rarified sphere at the threshold of the punningly abstract and the absurdly literal (see, for example, the page-turning machine Unruh constructed for a staging of Faust by Werner Schwab). Thus the new instrumentation constructed for Lament include a "harp" of barbed wire and amplified crutches on which Alex Hacke laboriously thuds across the stage, deceptively nonchalant slapstick in perfect time. Hacke also takes over more vocal duties than he ever has before, duetting with Bargeld as the voice of the last Russian Tsar, "Nicki" (Nikolas I) on 'The Willy-Nicki Telegrams' and alternating with the rest of the band in chorus on the Hellfighters' 'On Patrol In No Man's Land', a growly turn through Americana that is unusual but not unprecedented in the German band's back catalog, which includes covers of Lee Hazelwood and Tim Rose as well as the loping Tex-motorik thump of 'What Love Does To Me' (1999).
The performance is well-paced and well-rehearsed; a few brief squeals of feedback in the encores are the only noticeable technical difficulties. The found material folds harmoniously and effortlessly into the band's own compositions and sonic twists to create an experiential trajectory that is coherent and affecting without being directly narrative, and, more importantly, without ever sinking into the kind of pathos or melodrama which a less masterful group of artists might deploy in dealing with this kind of material or with this kind of commission. The live show's setlist is largely similar to the recorded album, slightly changing the order in a couple of places and adding two older songs in the encores ('Let's Do It A Dada' and 'Ich Gehe Jetzt' as the final number). Moments of thudding intensity alternate with fragile silences and passages of haunting minimalism, as has long been Neubauten's habit, but even the most delicate moments aren't precious or naïve, mostly because the band have always leavened their intensity with a healthy dose of wry humour, even if, like Kafka and Nietzsche, Einstürzende Neubauten have frequently suffered the unfortunate fate of having their humour lost in translation to the Anglo-American sphere. So if it's hard to imagine a commemoration of European war without reference to European nationalism, Neubauten avoid the treacle-y allure of patriotism by turning the second number, 'Hymnen', into a mashup of pre-WWI national anthems, exposing in tandem the joint melodic source of English, German, and French national pride and the fundamental irony of a pride in national individuation. And when Bargeld comes out to sing Marlene Dietrich's German version of Pete Seeger's 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone', he does so wrapped in a deconstructed paper recreation of Dietrich's white feather dress.
This isn't Dietrich's first appearance in Neubauten's mythography. She also haunts the lyrics of 'Die Befindlichkeit des Landes', (2000) in which Bargeld marks the ironic fact that the shiny new plaza at the center of the Potsdamer Platz shopping area was named "Marlene-Dietrich-Platz," when native Berliners protested Dietrich's internment in Berlin after her death with cries of "Marlene go home!" due to her staunch anti-fascist stance during World War II. Bargeld's deft imagery blurs Dietrich's ghost with Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, who in a famous essay stands facing the future with the past piling up behind her. The song makes clear Bargeld's opinion of those who paper over the unpleasant details of history in the interest of producing a happy unified façade. Neubauten themselves, on the other hand, have always been keenly attuned to the vicissitudes and complications of German and European cultural history, down to their very name (Neubauten or "new buildings" is a legal term in Germany which refers to buildings constructed after the end of World War II); they have always insistently put the grim reality of this history front and center in their work, and constructed their instrumentation out of its gritty residue. The same historicizing consciousness which has been the source of their sonic palette has been the source of their resolute anti-fascism (in their chaotic individuation as band members no less than in songs like 'Die Genaue Zeit', 'Kein Bestandteil Sein', and 'Headcleaner', down to their refusal to use Neumann microphones, an industry standard which also happens to have been beloved of Third Reich propagandists).
If Einstürzende Neubauten disdain those who paper over the unpleasant details of history in the interest of producing a happy unified façade, it is because they have always done exactly the opposite. In the face of a cultural ideology which encourages us to sweep aside the broken and old in favor of the shiny and new, Neubauten have made a career out of collecting and repurposing the fragments and shards of history and constructing from them a cacophonous and absolutely distinctive bricolage. If Lament, as Bargeld suggested in a recent interview, is less a radical departure than a performative deployment of familiar strategies, this is because both thematically and technically, it represents an entirely logical next step for a band that has always been obsessed with history no less than with found materials. In their choice of material – both thematically and physically – EN have always been about diving back into the rubble of the past to discover something new and beautiful. Lament, both album and performance, is no exception.
What is less evident, perhaps, is the degree to which the past they mine for resources is not only European and German history in general but their own history as a band. This is clear in the sculptural reconstruction to which their old implements are subjected during 'Kriegsmachinerie', but also more subtly present elsewhere. As Bargeld insists, Lament is more about repurposing than about radical reinvention, and this refers not only to the band's constructed instruments but to their techniques and distinctive auditory repertoire. Over the three-and-a-half decades of their existence, Neubauten have not only accumulated an arsenal of unusual materials but also developed array of distinctive techniques for working with those materials and turning their sonic potential into music. While a casual listener might find these techniques entirely new on first exposure, an experienced eye can spot in Lament a number of what are essentially musical self-quotations.
Take the chorus of looped wordless vocals that forms the reverb-drenched sonic bed of the album's three-part title track. Bargeld has been using looping pedals for his vocals for years; they are the only implement on-stage during his solo performance series Rede/Speech. But here that looping practice is extended to the entire band, each member humming in his microphone while long-time accomplice and front-of-house engineer Boris Wilsdorf loops and meshes the sounds into a deep web of vocal drones; the technique is deployed in 'Lament' in a virtually identical manner to the way it was used in 2005's epic, 25-minute composition 'Grundstueck'. Another example are the air compressors and grey plastic pipes used at multiple points in the show. The air compressor first appeared in 1997, in the intro to the title track from Ende Neu, and in 2003, during studio sessions for what would become Supporter Album No. 1, the air compressors multiplied and were blown by hand down long grey pipes, turning them into a crude horizontal pipe organ, displayed to greatest effect on that album's opener, 'Ich Gehe Jetzt', which reappears on the Lament tour as the closing song, after nearly a decade off the Neubauten setlist. Meanwhile on Lament's 'Achterland', a row of nozzles hiss out compressed air to conjure the gas with which soldiers were sprayed to de-louse them during the war. On Lament's longest and most conceptually elaborate track, the 13-minute 'The 1st World War (Percussion Version)', Moser, Hacke, and Unruh all pound out a complex and hypnotic polyrhythm on not four but 12 grey pipes, each beat of the 4/4 meter representing a single day in the war and each one of the pipes representing one of the major players in the conflagration. It's not just that Neubauten quote themselves; it's that the band has their own special sonic vocabulary, in which individual elements, once they enter the language, become available for geometrically-expanding new iterations of form and meaning.
There are hints of this process throughout Lament and the accompanying live show, but it's not until the vibrant climax of the main set's final number that this self-referentiality bursts to the forefront. 'How Did I Die?' begins with a stately, precise march, Unruh keeping time with the pipes and the air compressors as Bargeld intones the title's question. Alternately in English, French, and German, he describes what might be a post-mortem effort at remembering by the ghost of a fallen soldier ("I fell into a ditch…How did I die? Or didn't I die at all?"). But as the tremulous strings grow in volume and the languid pace turns into an exquisitely growing tension, the lyrics shift unexpectedly from singular to plural and the subject could just as easily be Neubauten themselves: "We didn't die! We didn't die! We are back with a different song...ein anderer Wind, ein neues Lied [another wind, a new song]."
In 1996, Einstürzende Neubauten nearly broke up permanently when two founding members left, Marc Chung just prior to and F.M. Einheit during the recording of their seventh studio album. That album became 1997's Ende Neu, a change of direction and a new beginning for the band. Bargeld's lyrics have always been intensely self-reflexive, and often focused on the band's creative integrity and their relation to the world of consumer culture, but this reflection took on a new urgency and insistent vigor in the lyrics of Ende Neu's title track, in which he references the phoenix, self-immolating as the condition of its own rebirth, and sings "Close the door, we'll keep on dancing." All the albums since then have included intense meditations on the nature of the past and its relation to the present as it unfolds into the future, whether 'Die Befindlichkeit des Landes' on Silence Is Sexy, 'Dead Friends (Around the Corner)' on Perpetuum Mobile, or the haunting 'Susej' from 2008's Alles Wieder Offen, in which, over a low-fi sample of Bargeld playing the guitar in his early 20s, rescued from an EN rehearsal tape predating their first album, he imagines a dialogue between his current self and his former self ("My old self and my young self, or my old self and my new self," as he was fond of prefacing the song during live performances of it in 2008 and 2010). The phrase "ein neues Lied," meanwhile, "a new song," appears in the refrain from 2004's 'Ein Seltener Vogel', the centerpiece of Perpetuum Mobile, which imagines a flood wiping out all species of bird but one, a "rare bird" which flies to the top of the Biblical Mount Ararat and returns with "a new song" in its beak.
This particular form of inventive self-quotation has long been a hallmark of Neubauten's performance strategy and a central aspect of the band's compositional approach. The thing is, Einstürzende Neubauten have always been first and foremost a live band. This might seem an odd statement to make about a band that tours so sporadically, and whose recorded body of work consists of elaborate, meticulously crafted and often highly conceptual albums composed with densely multi-tracked vocals and such sounds as fire, sliding gravel, and the sampled hum of 40,000-volt electric cables. But it is nonetheless a true statement, as anyone will affirm who has witnessed them at any point in its now-34-year career trajectory. The albums are incredible, ground-breaking, complex; live, that meticulous complexity becomes an incendiary, transcendent experience. Seeing Einstürzende Neubauten live is a visceral, gob-smacking reminder of the distinctive value that materiality, presence, and the history of objects have in three dimensions.
Neubauten's history is not a history of discrete events and clearly marked boundaries, it's a history of continuous, endless iterative processes, ruptures, and punctuated equilibrium that alternates quiet with crisis. During Lament's opening number, as the rest of the band create a growing wall of sound and build the war-machine sculpture at the front of the stage, Bargeld doesn't speak or sing but rather walks around the stage holding a series of placards above his head. "War does not break out, it is never caught or chained" reads the first one; "building itself up slowly, in movements believed forgotten," reads another; and "it regains its old strengths from debilitating disappointments." Find/replace war with "Neubauten's music" and you effectively have not just a nutshell of the band's biography but a précis of their working methods, as well. Lament, for all its distinctive origin and thematic quirks, is on closer reflection entirely of a piece with EN's remarkable canon of relentless and relentlessly historicizing recreation, an ongoing musical saga whose reach continues to extend both further and further into the past and increasingly far into the future.
There is a fine tradition in Somali society known as casariya, a word that is loosely translated to mean afternoon tea. Wonderfully spiced tea called shaah in Somali is often served with various types of sweet or savoury treats. And you never, ever have shaah without sheeko (stories)!
If you get invited to a Somali household for casariya beware that you won’t get asked how you like your tea. You will be served tea just the way Somalis like – full of spices and sugar! Cardamom is usually the strongest scent in Somali shaah. Somalis will often ask for tea that has so much cardamom that it should make the person sneeze!
Tea with milk is called shaah cadays, however, it is customary to serve black tea called shaah bigays after a heavy meal.
This recipe is from Nadia Faragaab aka the ‘Shaah Queen of Melbourne’. Nadia makes exceptional Somali shaah and always has a good sheeko or two up her sleeve!
Nadia started making shaah when she was about 10 years. “My family decided that as the tomboy in the family I should learn to make shaah. It was a way of inducting me into housework,” she jokingly says.
“I was also taught how to make canjeero (a Somali sourdough pancake) for breakfast, but I quickly realised that waking up at the crack of dawn wasn’t quite my thing. Making shaah wasn’t dependent on an early morning wake-up call so it became my thing,” adds Nadia.
According to Nadia, the interesting thing about making shaah is that somehow each cook’s tea tastes different. “It is almost as if they’ve added a bit of themselves to the tea,” she says.
Well, without much ado, here is Nadia’s shaah recipe. Make it your own! This recipe makes four cups of tea.
• 14 green cardamom pods, ground finely
• 10 cloves whole
• 2 quills of cinnamon, broken into small pieces
• 1 teaspoon ground dry ginger
• 1 teaspoon of black tea leaves
• 4 ½ cups of water
• Sugar to taste
Step 1: Bring all the spices to boil in the water, adding sugar to taste.
Step 2: Add the tea leaves and simmer on low heat for a few minutes or until the tea turns amber in colour.
Step 3: Sieve the tea into cups and serve with your favourite snack.
I had Somali tea at a very, very authentic Somali place in Tukwila, and it was AMAZING. So, need to try to make it myself.
It is amazing to see how international the humble cup of chai tea has become. Once common only in homely kitchens, it is now increasingly a popular drink of choice for the latte-sipping trendy folk. We think they are onto a good thing, but we’ve been in the know for a longer time! Here is our recipe for making a great tasting cup of home-made chai or shaah cadeys as we call it in Somali.
You can change the spices to suit your taste. Add sugar or honey if you prefer. Or just have your chai without any sweetener. Some people like their chai without milk, so you can omit the milk if you wish, but use less tea leaves for a less stronger brew.
We love to have our chai for casariya (afternoon tea) with mahamri or samosa.
2 cups of water
1 cup of milk
2 teaspoons of tea leaves (use a strong tea like Kenyan)
6 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
½ teaspoon of ground ginger (you can use minced fresh ginger)
4 black peppercorns
Sugar to taste
1. Grind all the spices
2. Place the water and spices in a saucepan
3. Add the tea leaves and bring to boil
4. Add the milk and heat through for two to three minutes
5. Sieve the tea into a pot and serve hot.