Debate #1: Robert Mercer

Last updated: 12/24/01


These negotiations were far longer and more tedious than I expected them to be, but they can be summarized as follows:

  1. I wanted the debate to be the Empire versus the Federation.

  2. He admitted that the Empire would crush the Federation like a bug because of its sheer numerical advantage, so he wanted the debate to be one ISD versus one GCS at a million kilometres in deep space, with no strategic target at stake.

  3. I thought that was hopelessly unrealistic (not to mention having been done to death years ago), so I proposed a more meaningful scenario: a miniature 50-planet Empire versus a miniature 50-planet Federation. 50 ISDs versus 50 GCSs. Still even odds, but now there's room for realistic strategy.

  4. He backed down and admitted that the Empire would easily win that scenario too, abruptly conceding that the Empire's superiority is not limited to its numerical superiority. He conceded that a miniaturized Empire could still crush the Federation like a bug (hence his desire to take hyperdrive, fleet tactics, planetary defenses, and ground warfare out of the equation with his unrealistic scenario).

  5. We agreed to talk about the general philosophy of sci-fi analysis instead, rather than Star Wars vs Star Trek. He thinks that we should use literary methods to analyze sci-fi, I think we should use scientific methods to analyze sci-fi.

That sounds simple enough, but the negotiations themselves were very long-winded and boring. I include them only because I know his little friends would accuse me of misrepresenting them with my little summary above. If you want to skip them and go to the debate itself, click here. Otherwise, continue (but I warn you, it's not pretty).


Negotiations started with the subject of the debate:

The topic is simple: given a wormhole connecting the two universes with random end-points somewhere in either galaxy, I think that all but the most lunatic Trekkies (eg- Graham Kennedy) would agree that the Federation could not possibly DEFEAT the Empire. However, most Trekkies feel that the Federation could put up a MUCH tougher fight than I give them credit for, thus turning what I view as a cakewalk into a long, hard-fought struggle. Therefore, the topic is simple: would the Empire steamroll over the Federation in short order, or would the Federation make it a tough, long fight or perhaps even a toss-up, in which they might conceivably drive the Empire from their galaxy?

His reply:

Hmmmmm. Well, I am not sure that the Empire wouldn't just steam-roll them (depending upon your definition of steamrolling). The logistical and strategic maneuverability edges are just too great, IMO, for the UFP (or even a UFP/Klingon/Romulan Alliance) to put up a significant fight against the full might of the Empire. Its just too much of a mismatch at that level (a galaxy-spanning political entity versus a confederation of a few thousand (at best) worlds). The central question in regard to this issue is the amount of resources that the Empire could invest in such an operation.

It is my impression that, other than on the part of a few fanatics, the major issue of debate is the relative strength of the Empire and the UFP on what might be called a per unit basis (i.e. per comparable ship class or between squadrons/fleets of comparable composition). This addresses your topic to a degree, in a sense that it would determine the resources required by the Empire to overcome the UFP in a short period (basically, it is stipulated that the Empire will win, if they devote sufficient resources. What will vary is the time period involved--which addresses the question of whether or not the UFP could be said to be "steam-rolled").

Either some sort of reasonable limitation has to be set as to the Empire's resource availability (based upon military and socio-political considerations), some sort of definition of what constitutes "steam-rolling" has to be determined as the decision point for determining the point, or the issue has to be approached from the bottom-up (so to speak)--and even then, you run into the potential problem of arguing more about tactics and possible operational/strategic maneuvers than about more objective issues (well, as objective as issues get in SF vs. debating). I believe the topic can be done, it just needs to be refined a bit, IMO.

My reply:

Ah, so you wish to ask the question: "could the Empire still defeat the Federation even with a very small chunk of its forces", correct?

An exchange began at this point:

Gothmog: Something more on the order of a single ship match-up--GCS versus ISD, for example... its a more specific topic, and the points should not be as wide-ranging and time consuming. The result of such a comparison would, by implication, indicate the force ratio necessary for the Empire to overcome the UFP.

Ah, but there's the rub. The result of an overly artificial scenario would not necessarily indicate the force ratio necessary for the Empire to overcome the UFP. That would be a leap in logic which presumes that a war would simply be a scaled-up version of a ship to ship showdown in deep space. In fact, a battle between an ISD and a GCS in deep space, with no strategic target at stake, is absolutely meaningless and has no relation whatsoever to what might happen in a war, even at the unit to unit level.

If the justification for the subject is that it can be applied to the question of how much force the Empire would need, then why not simply debate that question directly instead of reaching the conclusion through a roundabout route starting at an irrelevant scenario? How much force would the Empire need?

Gothmog: Proposal: Topic: ISD vs. GCS. The battle occurs in deep space, no nearby solar system, nebulas, etc. Combatants start 1 million km apart.

That's frankly ridiculous. Even in Star Trek, this kind of wholly artificial battle never took place: battles took place for a reason (eg- stop the Defiant before it can mine the wormhole, seize control of Chin'toka, destroy a shipyard, invade Vulcan, etc) Battles take place over objectives, not for their own sake. Why on Earth would an ISD decide to drop out of hyperspace at a pre-arranged meeting with a GCS in deep space, with no strategic target at stake?

This would be like "F-16 Falcon versus M1 Abrams. Both vehicles are parked on the ground in the middle of a flat desert with no bases, other forces, or cities in sight, at a range of 500 metres". It's an absolutely ludicrous scenario because it completely eliminates the Falcon's biggest advantage: the power of flight. The M1 would win in the scenario, but it's utterly meaningless because it would never happen. Are you proposing that we debate a similarly meaningless scenario for the Empire versus the Federation?

I say again: let's debate a useful issue, rather than a meaningless scenario which has been carefully constructed in order to remove key Imperial advantages. You accept that the Empire could easily overwhelm the Federation for various reasons, but you seem to be arguing that it could not do so without its huge numerical and industrial advantages. Why not debate that?

I think that an ISD could kill a GCS in that scenario anyway, but I just don't see the need to deliberately remove some of its options. It's understandable why he would want to handicap the match, but how much am I supposed to grant him here? He's already taking the TM even though it's purely speculative according to Paramount, he's eliminating the Empire's numerical advantage, he's eliminating the Empire's industrial advantage, does he really need to eliminate hyperdrive too? Why start outside effective gunnery range for either ship? So that the first salvoes will be exchanged entirely with missiles, knowing that an ISD doesn't use any because they traditionally use hyperdrive to jump right into engagement range, just as the Rebel fleet did in ROTJ? Anyway, there was also some discussion of acceptable sources:

Gothmog: Accepted Sources: SW: Movies and novels.

And technical books (there's lots of them, and they have the same official status as the novels).

Gothmog: ST: Episodes and official printed material (i.e. TMs, Encyclopedia, DS9 Companion, ST: The Magazine)

And the films, I assume. What on Earth is the DS9 companion? And why the ST Magazine? It's not as if Star Wars Insider is used as a SW source, and quite frankly, any source which freely mixes quasi-technical articles with showbiz "behind the scenes" articles and interviews with actors does not even remotely qualify for suspension of disbelief. Could I use an issue of ST Magazine to show that Captain Janeway is actually a fraud and that her real name is Kate Mulgrew, thus proving that Starfleet's security measures are a joke and that any ignorant actress can sneak onto a Federation ship's bridge and take over?

As you can see, we are not at each other's throats, but it's clear there's a fairly wide gap to cover. He wants to stick to minutae or unrealistic scenarios, while I want to look at the "big picture". He also wants to include a lot of non-canon material, while I had expected that our deviation from official Paramount and Lucasfilm policy would only extend to the TM. It feels to me like he's trying to imbalance the debate in his favour already, by proposing an unrealistic scenario and then going on to include a whole raft of speculative material including not just the TM, but even more questionable sources such as the Encyclopedia, something called the DS9 companion, and even the official fan magazine! He probably knows that I don't have copies of all that stuff, so their inclusion would give him some advantages. In general, I had hoped to minimize the dependence on text-based sources in general, because text-based sources are entirely too much like religious theology; debate often focuses on ridiculous issues of semantics, author's intent, "proper" interpretations, etc. Hopefully, we can iron these disagreements out. Negotiations will continue ...

He didn't get back to me for a couple of days for some reason, but I got a return message on December 11, 2001.

Gothmog: The difficulty is that I really don't want to deal with the operational/strategic level, because it becomes an exercise in speculation and of the specifics of the particular scenario set up.

And your scenario wouldn't be? Any scenario is an exercise in speculation, and any scenario's specifics will influence the outcome. Therefore, the best scenario is the most realistic scenario. It's not a matter of isolating ships; even if you reduced the entire Empire and entire Federation to one starship apiece somehow, they would not meet in battle the way you imagine it (for one thing, it's common practice to hyperjump right on top of your opponent, coming out of hyperspace with guns blazing at point blank range, yet you want the ISD to cough up the advantage of this brutal attack by politely dropping out of hyperspace a million kilometres away).

Gothmog: It takes a degree of skill and experience to set up a truely neutral situation that has the patina of reality.

We're not trying to set up a truly neutral situation. We're trying to set up a realistic situation. You seem to think that this is about proving who is the better debater, hence the importance of a "neutral situation". This is about Star Wars and Star Trek, not who is the better debater. I am interested in debunking the common Trekkie belief that they militarily outclass a civilization with tens of thousands of years of space-faring experience on them, whether it's on an overall level or a "pound for pound" level.

Gothmog: Added to that is the fact that we don't really know what, if any defenses major UFP planetary systems have, etc. Its essentially impossible to simulate a war between two non-existent entities (unless we are the creators of those entities) whose full capabilities and infrastructures we know next to nothing about.

Religious mentality. Our knowledge is incomplete, therefore we can't even attempt to form useful theories? I've lost track of the number of times I've heard this from creationists. If it's a bad mentality in real life, it's a bad mentality in sci-fi.

Gothmog: My aim is to keep it simple and to focus on the area in which I am interested in, the potential interaction of the various technologies and systems, at the single ship level.

The problem with the single-ship debate is that you are liable to employ "tricks", arguing that even if we haven't seen them before, they are theoretically possible through technobabble. Such arguments are annoying because they are not credible but they are not necessarily falsifiable either (again, like religious beliefs). On a larger scale, they wouldn't matter. Any observer of real-life history will know that even if a fancy trick does work once, it won't work again, and this holds true even in Star Trek (for example, the Picard Maneuver worked only once in history, and the next time it was attempted, a countermeasure was developed on the spot).

Barring stubborn incompetence on one side, larger victories tend to come about through inherent strength (both tactical, eg- superior firepower and armour, and strategic, eg- superior scouting and movement) rather than clever one-shot tricks. One-shot tricks are a silly diversion, and a one on one battle invites you to invent some. Worse yet, I would then be tempted to retaliate with one-shot tricks of my own, thus turning the debate into a contest of increasingly implausible, barely unfalsifiable technobabble ideas.

Gothmog: Actually, its illustrative of a point, which you appear to have missed (granted, I could have been more explicit)--mainly that, given sufficient ammunition (in the basic content of the evidence and the extreme to which the creator wishes to press the setting of the fictional reality), you don't really need to be a good debater or particularly intelligent to come out the winner.

So? Who cares who's the better debater, or who's more intelligent? Debates are about showing which argument is stronger, not which debater is stronger! On my other site, I debate creationists constantly. Creationists have thought up some truly brilliant debating tricks and tactics over the decades, but the evidence is overwhelmingly in my favour. It is, in every sense of the word, not a fair fight, and I can easily thrash them to the satisfaction of any rational observer. Perhaps that offends some bizarre sense of debating chivalry that you possess, but I don't debate for chivalry; I debate for whichever side I think is right. The fact that the correct side has superior "ammunition" is neither surprising or coincidental.

Gothmog: Actually, it is my impression that your desire to debate the big topic is essentially facetious and is primarily a PR exercise more than anything else. One that you will undoubtably milk for every last drop on your website, afterwards. I may be wrong, but that's currently how I see it--but then again, I am a extremely cynical person as a result of my training, education and life experience.

Ah, so now you're going to talk about my hidden motives? What about your obvious desire to run away from the big topic? What might I say about that? This is not productive; if you want to debate something very specific such as your obvious fondness for technobabble over the application of science (an ideological divide), then fine. We'll debate that, and forget about all this tactical and strategic stuff. But if you want to debate about war, then we should debate using a scenario more realistic than this silly "mano a mano in deep space" thing.

Gothmog: As it currently stands, I am not seeing any upside for me in this exercise. I didn't really expect to find one in the first place, but I figured you never know if you don't at least look into it. I have outlined the level at which I have particular issues with your material. That's what I wish to address.. and that's about it.

Great. He seems to think he's in the position of dictating terms. If he doesn't see any personal upside, then he'll apparently back out. If he doesn't get to unilaterally decide what's addressed and what isn't, then he'll apparently back out. Why did he accept the challenge in the first place?

You think the debate should be limited to your issues with my material? What kind of debate would that be? Sounds like it would be a shower of nitpicks. A debate should be about some kind of free-standing issue which transcends either debater, not "I don't like the way you argued this point when you put this page up 18 months ago".

The only exception would be if you wish to debate about the general philosophy of science versus technobabble in sci-fi, which would be a free-standing issue. It wouldn't satisfy the peanut gallery because they want to see Star Wars fighting Star Trek, but it wouldn't be a nitpick-fest either.

Gothmog: If you were actually concerned about the tenor or the quality of the debate, the "grandiosity" of it or the "reality" of it would be immaterial, and I find that the details ARE relevent, especially when its already been stipulated that at the grand scale, its not actually much of a contest.

You draw a false dilemma between the microscopic and the all-encompassing, but there are points in between. You want to simplify the debate? OK, but let's not simplify it so much that it is mutilated beyond recognition. Let's say that some godlike being (say, Q) is bored one day and decides to play an amusing game with these humans (since he seems to enjoy doing that). So he grabs 50 Federation planets (each with one capital ship) and 50 Imperial planets (each with one capital ship), teleports them into some far-off place, and tells them that whoever can seize control of (not depopulate with BDZ or bioweapons) the other side's planets will get to go home and take the vanquished planets with him. How's that?

It's a bizarre scenario in its own way, but it has room for a much more realistic mixture of tactics and strategies than this silly "mano a mano in deep space" thing. But remember: you can only stick to what we know exists; no farcical invention of huge orbital defense grids that were never seen anywhere in the show with the flimsy excuse that we can't absolutely disprove their existence.

Gothmog: If you have problems with those that think that it would be, then perhaps you need to debate one of those who holds that position, if they are foolish enough to agree to do so (and given some of their positions and arguments, there may be some willing to do it).

You're not thinking of backing out, are you? We agreed to debate, and we should make an honest effort to find a common ground to do so.

Gothmog: I am quite familiar with military considerations, having spent a substantial period of time in the military and having studied military history and theory faily extensively over the last 25+ years. Why would the Empire ever invade the UFP in the first place? The whole premise is artificial to begin with, and my purpose is best served by not introducing extraneous elements into the situation--hence the artificial boundaries.

There are lots of scenarios under which the Empire might want to invade the UFP. Don't try to evade, and don't start on one of these "I'm so knowledgeable, so don't question me" tangents either. Your artificial boundaries don't keep "extraneous elements" out of the situation; they keep virtually all semblance of realism out of the situation.

Gothmog: False analogy. Both of the vehicles involved are spaceships, unlike the dissimilar vehicles used in your example--they operate in the same environment and serve essentially the same purposes. Are you telling me that an ISD can't take a GCS in a neutral situation? That seems to be your argument here.

Wonderful. He's starting already, trying to twist my statements to make it seem as if I mean the exact opposite of what everyone knows I mean.

Don't be ridiculous. I am of the opinion that an ISD can obliterate a GCS in a straight-up gunfight, and I have always been of that opinion. My problem is with the sheer unrealism of your scenario, and the opportunities it allows for sophistry. A one-on-one battle is often used as an excuse for silly one-shot tricks, and it often degenerates into unfalsifiable technobabble versus unfalsifiable technobabble. I've seen this before.

Gothmog: I don't care about the "war," I already know the answer to that question. I don't even care about the battles, the outcome of those will be determined by the correlation of forces and the specifics of the tactical/operational situation, to a large degree--what I do care about is how a GCS would fare against an ISD in a neutral situation, ship to ship, no operational or strategic concerns.

Then it's either going to be technobabble versus technobabble, or a simple shields/guns comparison. Boring stuff, if you ask me. And I reiterate my concern about the debate degenerating into battling one-shot tricks.

Gothmog: And such a scenario still requires the removal of the key Imperial advantages, still representing an "unrealistic" situation, which you argue will not resolve anything (or, at least, what you wish to resolve), anyway. Give me a potential scenario to consider.

How about the one with Q from a few paragraphs ago? Is that more to your liking?

SW: novels, technical books (I assume you are talking about such things as the Cross-Section books and the Guides), films

ST: Movies, episodes, TMs, Encyclopedia, since there is a question of the ability to discern between applicable material (technical commentary) and background production material.

OK, we're starting to make a little headway. I think we're agreed on the sources and some of the other rules. It's just the scenario we have to work out. Right?

December 12, 2001:

Gothmog: Since I haven't shied away from it, you can't actually say much that has any validity. I have already stipulated that the Empire wins any war that they actually decide to fight with sufficient resources.

Yet you refuse to consider any scenario that remotely smacks of realism, even if I deliberately take the numerical advantage away! What does that say? What's wrong with the Q scenario?

Gothmog: And your motives aren't particularly well-hidden, since you can't even refrain from editorial commentary during the negotiation process.  But then, I didn't really expect any different.

Interesting. He acts as though I'm trying to hide the fact that I post debates on my Hate Mail page in order to show how stupid my opponents' arguments are. We agreed that I would not editorialize the debate itself (although I'm free to add a postscript, as are they), but I don't see what his beef is with the comments on this page. I'm told that virtually all Trekkie criticisms of my site centre on claims of bias, rudeness, etc., as if the validity of an argument is dictated by the vigour with which its author maintains the pretense of impartiality. Apparently, none of them realize that I'm not out to win the Nobel peace prize, nor do they recognize the difference between an insulting rebuttal and an ad hominem fallacy (they aren't the same thing, kiddies; look it up).

Perhaps you expected me to quietly acquiesce to your unreasonable demands? I want to debate a war. Maybe a big war, maybe a small war, maybe even a handicapped war, but some kind of war. You, on the other hand, want to make sure that none of the tactics and strategies of a real war can be allowed to pollute your scenario. Never mind the sheer numerical imbalance; you can't even stomach 50 ISDs versus 50 GCSs!

You are trying to remove as many tactical and strategic factors as possible. What's the matter; are you afraid to debate tactics and strategies despite your claims of superior knowledge in that area?

[Quoted] "if you want to debate something very specific such as your obvious fondness for technobabble over the application of science (an ideological divide), then fine."

Gothmog: Now we are getting somewhere. That's almost what I want to do, but not quite. Since our debate is primarily philosophical, I feel that is what needs to be addressed. I have a blinding headache at the moment, so I am trying to keep this short--I will formulate a position statement and get it off to you tomorrow.

I still feel that this would best be addressed as part of a larger issue of winning a war. Even if we decide to handicap the Empire by taking away their numerical superiority, I'm game for that.

Gothmog: Well, if you are that confident of your position, you sure seem to be very unwilling to defend it.

I'm willing to defend it, but I don't see why I should grant you every damned thing under the sun in the name of helping you minimize the scope of a Federation defeat. Not only did you ask for (and get) technically inadmissible evidence such as the TMs included, not only did you ask for (and get) the Empire's vast numerical superiority removed from the equation, but you want to CONTINUE eliminating variables until we've got nothing left but "my shields are stronger than your shields" or worse yet, "blah blah blah warp bubble blah blah blah frequency blah blah blah subspace blah blah blah quantum, so I win".

I've said it before and I'll say it again: an ISD can obliterate a GCS in a stand-up gunfight, and even a miniaturized Empire could easily conquer the Federation in a war. I am of the opinion, however, that you will do everything in your power to make sure that your little scenario is NOT a stand-up gunfight. As I said, there are lots of tricks that Trekkies are fond of inventing for one-on-one combat. They won't work more than once so they're irrelevant when dealing with fleet actions, but if I let you narrow this down to some ridiculous one on one matchup, I'm sure I'll be hearing marginally unfalsifiable technobabble tricks until the cows come home.

As for the war, it is clear that you are terrified of letting me use any of the tactics and strategies available to me, hence your refusal to agree to even the miniaturized war that I had proposed, in which the numerical advantage was completely eliminated.

Bitching and moaning about the unrealism that exists in what is an unreal situation in the first place as being the reason why you won't do it strikes me as rather facetious

Notice how he's trying to turn the tables; I proposed a subject of debate as part of my challenge, long before anyone thought to reply. He refuses to even consider that subject, or even a handicapped version of it. But instead of admitting that he is running away from my challenge, he wants to make it seem as if I am running away from his deliberately stunted scenario! It's becoming clear to me that he realizes the Empire would crush the Federation even without its numerical advantage, hence his refusal to budge on this particular point. I was willing to drop all the way from "full scale war" to "miniature war with equalized numbers" (no small concession), yet he hasn't budged one iota. Hmmm ....

Ah, so if it's a little bit unrealistic, we might as well go all the way? By that token, we might as well forget all semblance of realism entirely, and just emulate WWWF Grudge Match. Why not debate about whether dark-coloured ships can beat light-coloured ships because they look cooler? It is absolutely ludicrous of you to pretend that it's somehow "facetious" to try to make the scenario as realistic as possible.

[Quoted] "Then it's either going to be technobabble versus technobabble, or a simple shields/guns comparison. Boring stuff, if you ask me. And I reiterate my concern about the debate degenerating into battling one-shot tricks."

I am not really concerned about the entertainment value, either.

Of course not. Heaven forbid you give anyone their money's worth. As far as I can tell, your principal objective seems to be to dull down what started as an incendiary confrontation until nobody wants to see it any more.

You insist that it's unacceptable to include the Empire's vast numerical advantage. I am willing to take away that advantage, with the Q scenario I described, yet you still refuse to consider it. Could it be that you recognize the fact that even a tiny mini-Empire could still crush the Federation?

I suddenly had an idea at this point, so I sent him another message:

OK, I've got an idea. It's pretty clear that while you wish to pretend that the Empire's only real advantage is its numerical superiority, you recognize deep down that it goes much further than that, hence your refusal to accept even the miniaturized 50-planet Empire scenario.

I think that tacit admission is becoming more obvious all the time. After all, I noticed that after I proposed the 50 ISD vs 50 GCS scenario, you quietly ignored it and pretended that you had already conceded an Imperial victory if it's willing to commit the "resources", which was not what the 50 vs 50 scenario was about.

This attempt to change the subject is the sort of thing that any observant person will notice; you want (no, you need) much more than the Empire's numerical superiority taken away; you need their tactical and strategic flexibility taken away as well, if you're to have a hope in Hell of eking out a stalemate or a win, even with the vast array of technobabble Wesley Crusher tricks that you're liable to pull from your hat.

Not that this is anything to be ashamed of. If I am correct, it would mean that you are smarter than I gave you credit for, because you recognize that I would thrash you in any debate where I was allowed to use the full range of Imperial tactics, technologies, and strategies, even without its huge resources.

Therefore, I would be willing to debate a single ship showdown with you as long as you are willing to publicly preface the debate with the public admission that you insisted upon such a meaningless conflict because you recognize the Empire's inherent military superiority even without its numerical advantage.

He responded very rapidly this time, which was good because I'm going away for the weekend and we need to resolve some things very quickly.

Gothmog: In an even numbers scenario, the strategic maneuverability alone is sufficent to enable a victory for the Empire, simply because it enables them to effectively concentrate their forces, given hyperdrive speeds vice warp speeds.

In other words, you don't want to debate the 50-planet Empire versus 50-planet Federation because you admit that the Empire would win easily, despite what other Trekkies might say. Fair enough.

Gothmog: Actually, as the challenged party, I should, by tradition, set the terms and topic without going through such a process as we are going through. As I see it, I am bending over backwards to allow you some input here.

If I had specifically addressed the challenge to you personally, that would be the case. As it is, I made an open challenge and I also laid out some desired conditions with the stipulation that some negotiation would occur. You chose to answer that open challenge while ignore the conditions, and now you refuse to negotiate. But that's OK, because your admission of the Empire's superiority in an even-strength situation is enough to placate me.

Gothmog: No, my superior tactical and strategic knowledge tells me what the answer is without going through the farce of a debate, which allows you to score points winning a argument which I do not (and have not) disputed.

Wrong. Earlier in this very exchange, you claimed that the result of a one on one ISD vs GCS battle could be applied to the larger question of how much force the Empire would need in order to conquer the Federation. Now you admit that it can not be applied thusly, because the larger question of a war calls various strategic factors into play in which the Empire has yet another decisive advantage (over and above its sheer numerical advantage). If you knew that from the beginning, why did you claim that the one on one matchip was applicable to a larger war? If you didn't, then why won't you admit that you were just forced into a concession? You can't have it both ways.

I suspect that you knew it all along, and that it was a deliberate attempt at sophistry on your part to pretend that the non-strategic one-on-one matchup would be indicative of the results of a larger campaign (it's akin to the difference between one US soldier versus one Iraqi soldier at 50 paces, and a US army unit against an Iraqi army unit in open combat; the clash of soldiers in groups calls many elements into play which are not present in the oversimplistic mano a mano showdown). In any case, now that it's clear you accept that the Empire can defeat the Federation even without superior numbers, we can continue.

Gothmog: I find it somewhat strange and basically dishonest on you part (or you just aren't reading what I have been saying) to find myself painted a coward for refusing to defend a stance that I do not hold.

Again I'm being accused of dishonesty by you (something which has apparently been happening for months). Since you have already doubled back on your own statements once in this short exchange, who are you to talk? First somebody E-mails me some old posts of yours in which you claim that the UFP could trash the Empire by using uber-sonic weapons (in the vacuum of space, no less!) based on an old Spock quote about some ridiculous number of decibels (something deliberately stupid that you said for the benefit of the peanut gallery, perhaps?), then you say that you've never disputed the Imperial victory but it's a question of how much of their vast resources they would need to get the job done, and then you turn around again and say that you've never even disputed an even odds Imperial victory!

I don't mind debating other issues as long as you're willing to make these concessions (I wasn't about to let you get away without them), and now you have. Whether they are correctly termed "concessions" is somewhat irrelevant to me; if you wish, I can restate it as "Gothmog publicly agrees with me that the Empire can easily defeat the Federation even without its numerical superiority, so he wishes to debate other issues". Is that better?

Gothmog: Now we get close to my point. You assume that the TMs are somehow "technically inadmissable".. by whose standards? Yours?

Paramount. The last time I checked, they owned Star Trek.

Gothmog: Why am I required to conform to your (or ASVS's) evidentiary standards? This debate isn't taking place at ASVS so, you know what, I don't give a rat's ass about what they (or you) define as being admissable evidence unless you can provide some convincing warrant as to why your particular evidentiary criteria should apply.

See Mr. Ordover at Paramount. Technical Manuals are purely speculative.

Gothmog: THIS is the issue that I want to address. Your game isn't the only game in town, nor is it particularly more valid than the others out there, within the range of existing contexts.

I didn't invent Paramount's rules. Most of my site was actually built using the TM as evidence, and I had no problem with that. In fact, I found the TMs quite useful!

But unlike you, I'm not going to bury my head in the sand when the people who run a sci-fi franchise say something that I don't like. They wanted it out, and I'm going along (if and when I ever get around to updating all of the now-obsolete TM-based pages on my site, that is). If you want the TM for this particular debate, I'm perfectly willing to go along with that too. I just want you to recognize that this is a willful concession on my part.

Gothmog: If you don't like my standards or think they are unfair, you are certainly free to go your own way, without me. You are certainly doing more whining about stuff than my students at school do.... and I get enough of that at work to want to listen to it here.

It's "whining" to make concessions and then describe them as such? How is that worse than imperiously refusing to make concessions during a negotiation? Since when did I even ask for the TM's to be excluded? You are making every conceivable effort to make it seem as if I need to play with evidence in order to win, even though I've stated explicitly that I'm willing to debate with or without the TM. I just wanted you to acknowledge how far I've compromised in your direction already, even though you're trying your damndest to make it seem as if I'm being unreasonable.

Gothmog: I am not really interested in an incendiary confrontation.. although that seems to be one of your primary goals. If you want to create entertainment, go quit your engineering job and go into the field. I don't even care if people want to see it or not, because I have issues that I wish to address. Its the reason I took this challenge up--not to please some audience or entertain them for a few nights. I am in this for me, and that's about it.

Well, I wanted to entertain an audience, and I've never claimed otherwise. But since it's obvious that you don't want to go that way, and since we've already cleared up one big issues even before starting our debate (that the Empire could defeat the Federation in an even strength situation), I agree that our publicly stated differences are not large enough for an incendiary debate.

In other words, I guess I'm willing to forget about the whole "incendiary debate" thing (maybe I'll try for that with Chris O'Farrell, who I challenged to debate me after we're finished, or Mike Griffiths, who's next in line; I feel like Bruce Lee in one of those old kung-fu movies where he fights a whole bunch of guys in a row). It's too bad; I was planning to take screenshots and maybe even sound-bites from "Mortal Kombat" and use them as decoration on the page, just for fun. But it appears you want to be serious, and I suppose I can calm down and be serious if you insist (pout).

Gothmog: All your pissing and moaning and shouting about it isn't going to change my mind, so the only people you are posturing for is your audience. They might be entertained, but I find your behavior childish. I was hoping that you were somewhat more mature than your public persona and reputation suggested.. and find myself sadly disappointed.

Ah yes, this is the "I'm SOOOO superior to you" part. I was told you would do this.

Funny how you accuse me of posturing and then go on to do the same. At least my posturing is only about Star Wars; I want to be able to score a victory on some silly issue about the Empire beating up on the Federation, and I want to be able to do an end-zone dance afterwards (yes, it's immature, but unlike you, I'm doing this for fun). Your posturing, on the other hand, is personal. You want to make yourself seem like a better person than me. Why?

Gothmog: I am offering a philosophical discussion on some interesting (at least, to me) questions.. and you want to argue the same old crap all over again.. and you want me to take a position that I do not support and have never supported.

Now that we've cleared up some issues that I wanted resolved, I think we can proceed. So let's drop all of this personal baiting bullshit and discuss this whole issue you have with methods of analyzing evidence then, OK? It's becoming clear that you would rather debate the issue of evidence, technobabble, and science than "my guns are bigger than your guns" anyway, and I'm perfectly willing to go along with that (although I don't know if this somewhat smaller-scale debate would still be enough for five full posts from either side).

Gothmog: At this point, because of some of the things that have been said, I want to step beyond SW v ST and address such things as evidentiary standards, fictional realities and approaches to interpretation of those realities within the context of the VS debate, etc... this is what I have wanted to address since the beginning.


Gothmog: As I have said, I am not here to entertain the crowd (who would undoubtably be bored by such a discussion), but to seriously examine these issues.. if this won't garner you the acclaim or the "ratings" or noteriety you seem to be looking for, oh well.

I already have more than enough acclaim, ratings, and notoriety. I issued my challenge not out of a desire for more, but because Chris O'Farrell was running around loudly crowing on both ASVS and that I didn't have the "courage" to debate him or you. I made time for this challenge even though I normally update my site only once every few months, because I don't take kindly to being accused of cowardice (especially by someone who's essentially a heckler, having never written anything apart from swipes at other peoples' work). If you have a gripe with the aggressive way I came at this thing, talk to him.

But now that we've cleared up some things, I suppose we can proceed in a more civilized manner.

Let it Begin!

At this point, I am actually quite pleased with the way things have gone. Right off the bat, he denied ever saying that the Federation had a hope in hell of defeating the Empire (thus putting him in an uncomfortable situation if he has ever suggested otherwise, or if he should suggest otherwise in future). He then tried a cute little trick (pretending that you could predict the outcome of a scaled-down Fed vs Empire war by eliminating "extraneous" factors such as strategy and fleet tactics, ie- tying one of the Empire's hands behind its back), got caught in the act, and was forced to publicly acknowledge that the Empire would crush the Federation even without its numerical advantage (thus conceding that the main points of my site are correct, and that his criticisms are nitpicks by definition, since nitpicks are rebuttals which fail to address the main thrust of an opponent's argument).

Now, he has made it clear that he wishes to restrict our upcoming debate to our differing methods of analyzing sci-fi. He is obviously confident that he has a strong position on this issue, and of course, I am quite confident in my own position as well. I have publicly derided his method as "theological", and it will be interesting to see how he defends it. My only disappointment is that the debate might be a bit dry for onlookers (particularly in light of his stated desire to make it so!), but I hope others will find some value in it.

Please note the following rules that were negotiated:

The following is my last correspondence with him before the start of the debate, sent on Thursday the 13th:

OK Robert, I'm signing off for the weekend because I'm going on a trip, so I can't really afford to wait until you send your next message because I won't see it until Monday night.

Let's cut to the chase: it is clear to me that you disagree with my methods of analyzing sci-fi. Your own method is obviously different, and I'm told that you have made numerous statements to the effect that you believe my method to be wrong. Therefore, here is what I suggest as our debate subject:

My methods have already been outlined on my site, so I would ask that you open the debate by sending me a description of how you think it should be done. After a clear and explicit declaration of the basic elements of your alternate method, you would compare and contrast it to my method in an attempt to show that your method is better.

Naturally, my rebuttal would be a defense of my method, and we would continue from there. What do you say?

He responded quickly, but I was already gone. I just got back from my trip, and so here's his response:

Agreed. Have a safe trip, if its for family/pleasure, have a good time... if it's for work, well, maybe you can still have a good time. Sorry about the delay, but its been a little busy here and I just got home after a 12 hour day :P

I assume we are still starting on the 18th, so I will work with that date in mind, and we will utilize the 2 evening time limit as previously agreed.

December 18, 2001:

Gothmog: It was my intent to be sending my first post to you at this time. Due to a system crash in mid-save, I am now in the process of re-creating my first post. Depending upon how much time I can get free this evening, it will either be posted late this evening or tomorrow afternoon at this time. My apologies for the delay.

No problem. I will check for it tomorrow evening (good thing we both agreed not to be too anal-retentive about exact times!).

Suppose I was the one who couldn't make the agreed-upon start date. How would those babies have reacted? You would have heard the crowing and hooting in Antarctica! Yet according to their world-view, I'm the unreasonable one, and they're paragons of virtue.

I don't think they realize how one-sided this debate has always been. For years, the Trekkies have ruthlessly nitpicked at every turn, demanded every conceivable rule of evidence be twisted in their favour no matter what the copyright holders might say, based entire treatises wholly upon semantics, employed science only when and where it pleased them and casually discarded it when it did not, and engaged wholeheartedly in unrelenting ad hominem attacks on anyone who disagreed. Why? For the same reason Creationists do; they know they're holding an inferior position, so they're forced to use every dirty trick in the book. As Gothmog acknowledges, all of the evidence is on my side, so it's easy for me. It's not easy for them, and if I made excuses for an inability to start on time, you can bet your ass that I'd be hearing about it forever.

December 19, 2001:

Robert? Are you still there? Do you have your computer back up yet?

Gothmog: I have it back up, but I still haven't got the post rebuilt. I have to work tonight, right now, I am looking at Friday for getting it to you. Things are a little crazy here at the moment and I have a couple of work-related deadlines that are sucking the life out of me at the moment. I am sorry about the delay--and I will get it to you at the first possible moment.

December 21, 2001:

It's nearly midnight on Friday, and still no word from Gothmog. Curiously enough, I just received notification from numerous ASVS participants that he has been able to find the time to post repeatedly at the board (technically, it's now 3d frontiers) on the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st despite his workload and computer problems. Read into that what you will. Some have already suggested that he's being dishonest (it certainly doesn't sound like he's making every effort to get it to me at the "first possible moment"; how long should it take to make a simple declaratory post to kick off a debate?). However, for the time being, I prefer a slightly more charitable interpretation: I suspect he's writing some kind of mammoth dissertation despite my admonition that he should try to keep it brief, and that's why it's taking so damned long (it would also explain why he's taking breaks to do other things).

December 23, 2001:

I E-mailed him again to ask when he'd be getting around to his post.

Robert, I don't mean to sound overly impatient, but what's the holdup? It shouldn't take more than an hour or two to whip up your opening shot. All you're being asked to do is describe your method of analysis and then explain why it's better than mine.

Unless you're poring through my site looking for countless nitpicks (which would go against your stated intent of making the debate philosophical in nature), I can't see why this should take all that long.

On one hand, it's somewhat vexing to me because I'm expecting something to happen. On the other hand, it's actually been good in a way, because I've been checking E-mail every single day lately, and when your opening shot isn't there, I start tinkering with my site. This means that I've gotten a bunch of little things done that had been sitting on my plate for a long time, such as add-ons to my E-mail page, and a PDF version of my fanfic, and some other house-cleaning.

Nevertheless, I would still prefer this thing to start sometime soon. If you're making some enormous first post (hence the delay), I would simply ask that you please reconsider and try to keep it brief.

He responded a few hours later:

Again, my apologies for the delay. I have spent the last three days taking care of some RL problems, which meant I had to work yesterday and didn't have much energy to work on this much. At this point I am not particularly concenred with time limits (meaning that if you wish to take your time to examine this material, please feel free). Before i get into the actual discussion, I thought it best if you had a chance to examine this material to see if you had any particular questions about what I am doing or specific uses of terminology or definitions.

I finally have everything caught up for the moment, so unless something unforeseen occurs, I can concentrate on this particular issue until New Years.

I have created numbered sections and numbered paragraphs within them for ease of reference, should it be required/desired.

[1.0] Versus Debate is concerned with the interaction of fictional realities. A fictional reality is defined, for our purposes, as:

[1.1] A text with dramatic narrative structure, describing/based in a purported reality manifestly different from our contemporary reality which is intended primarily for entertainment. These manifest differences may be due to a number of factors, including (but not necesssarily) limited to: differences in history; technology; physics; metaphysics; and/or temporal location. Examples include: Babylon 5; Star Wars; Star trek; LOTR; Midkemia; Starship Troopers, etc. [in plain English, a dramatic text describing an imaginary universe which is different from our own. I will add plain English translations in square brackets for reader convenience as we continue]

[1.2] The text may take a number of forms: film/video; printed text; illustrations (singular or serial); computer software; gaming materials; physical objects (sets, toys and props); and/or audio. The larger represenation may encompass one or more textual modes (you might have a movie, a series of books, audio recordings, etc.)-- a primary example of this being Star Wars, which has movies, novels, comics, CD-ROMs, reference books with illustrations, etc. [a somewhat overzealous list of possible sources; it even includes toys!]

[1.3] Each of these textual modes has its particular limitations, style and rhetoric. Each mode (and, indeed, particular texts within each mode) is considered (by various warrants) or stated to possess a particular authority with regard to its role and scope in defining the larger text (referred to, in some contexts, as "canonicity"). [not all sources are equal]

[2.0] In order to draw cross-contextual comparisons for the purposes of versus discourse--or even for simple comparison purposes outside of a strict versus context--it is necessary to interpret the texts to derive information regarding the capabilities and nature of the fictional reality for comparison with those of other fictional realities. [all sources require interpretation before they can be useful]

[3.0] Given the nature (a representation of fictional phenomena and events which are dramatic in nature) and inherent constraints and particular rhetorics of the texts, there are particular concerns with regard to interpreting these texts and utilizing the data derived via those interpretations within a cross-contextual comparitive discourse. These concerns (or at least some of them) can be summarized in a few questions: [we must ask a few questions about how to treat these differing sources]

[3.1] What is the basis and warrant of textual authority and the inter/intra-textual hierarchical relationships; [what is the hierarchy of sources?]

[3.2] What do the particular constraints and misrepresentations due to the rhetorical, stylistic and production constraints inherent in the textual modes do to shape and inform the evidence that can be gathered via interpretation of the text; and what, if anything should be done to account for them; [what are the limits of each type of source?]

[3.3] What methodology is best suited or most appropriate for interpretation of the texts? [how should we interpret different types of sources?]

[4.0] In order to clarify my position in regards to these questions, I make the following assertions: [he intends to argue that:]

[4.1] Beyond the sometimes loose or ambiguous boundaries set by the creators/owners of the texts, the hierachical organization of the various textual components of the larger text (fictional reality) is essentially arbitrary; [no type of source is inherently better than any other]

[4.2a] Most textual representations, particularly visually-based representations, distort their content to a such a large degree to comform to the expected forms and constraints of dramatic representation, that they are essentially worthless from a rigorous scientific perspective if used as a direct source of evidence with regard to phenomena; [all sources are scientifically useless, and visual sources are the worst of all]

[4.2b] The distortions that result from dramatic and formalistic aspects of the text can, to a large degree be identified and corrected for; [we can identify "distortions" in canon sources and "correct" them]

[4.2c] That, in order to provide a good-faith and accurate cross-contextual comparison between fictional realities, it is necessary to to carefully analyze both the authority of the representations, the relation of evidence presented in those representations; and the "logic" of that representation as it applies to the fictional reality so as to arrive at a synthesis that represents a reasonable and probable representation of that fictional reality; [a good analysis accounts for hierarchies and relationships of evidence as well as logic]

[4.3] That the methodology best suited for the interpretation of these texts for the purposes of cross-contextual comparison is a combination of a variety of rhetorical/literary methodologies, rather than a limited analysis based upon contemporary understandings of physics and physical laws. [we should use literary and rhetorical methods in order to analyze sci-fi, not the scientific method]

[5.0] My assertions will be supported through the examination of specific examples of texts, in order to make both the object and exercise of the methodology clear. [he will support his claims with examples]

I was afraid he would write in legalese (note that this is still preamble, not debate; he's trying to set up the definitions to be used in the debate). Hopefully, my plain English translations will be helpful to the audience. In any case, I responded soon after:

[quoted] I severely edited the first post, basically setting it up as an introduction. Let me know if you prefer to have it sent another way (I am sending this as an attached text (Wordpad) file to preserve some of the structure.. I can send it regular e-mail or html e-mail if you so desire.

It's OK in its present form. Now, one serious disagreement that I can see right away comes from your definition of "fictional reality", which is crucial if we are to have any kind of discussion. You define it thusly:

"A text with dramatic narrative structure, describing/based in a purported reality manifestly different from our contemporary reality which is intended primarily for entertainment ... Examples include: Babylon 5; Star Wars; Star trek; LOTR; Midkemia; Starship Troopers, etc."

I have several issues with this definition:

1) The use of the word "text". I recognize that you define it to include film and video as well as printed sources, but the word "text" already has a definition, and that's not it. An insistence upon this incorrect terminology would create a great deal of confusion, as a crucial point of our dispute is the DIFFERENCE between text-based and visual sources of information. Any discussion of that difference is going to be hopelessly obfuscated if you keep referring to BOTH as "text". I would prefer the term "sources" or "depictions".

2) The term "manifestly different from our contemporary reality" is far too open-ended. Why assume that any portion of a fictional reality is different from our reality unless we have no choice but to do so? The common thread running through almost all sci-fi series is the presence of human beings, which puts a lot of limits on any deviations from reality.

3) You lump two kinds of fictional universes together. Star Wars, Star Trek, and Babylon 5 were films/TV shows first, books second. LOTR and Starship Troopers were books first, films second. That is no small distinction, and it is certainly not one which can be ignored.

In general, I would prefer the term "fictional universe" over "fictional reality", since comparisons with reality are key to the discussion, and the over-use of the term "reality" would obfuscate the matter (this is similar to my concern with your use of the word "text").

I would define a "fictional universe" as one which is "created by an author, filmmaker, producer, etc., and for which numerous descriptions and depictions are available in film or book form (the reliability of which are naturally correlated to the strength of their connection with the aforementioned author, filmmaker, producer, etc). It may contain particular elements which differ from our universe, although that does not entail wholesale dismissal of any connection with reality, since it was created for an audience whose context is reality. For example, all other things being equal, a more powerful weapon will do more damage than a less powerful weapon in a fictional universe, unless we are given incontrovertible evidence to the contrary."

I also have a problem with the following:

"Each of these textual modes has its particular limitations, style and rhetoric. Each mode (and, indeed, particular texts within each mode) is considered (by various warrants) or stated to possess a particular authority with regard to its role and scope in defining the larger text"

Before we even begin our debate, you are including one of our crucial differences of opinion as one of the defining conditions. I apply the scientific method in which various sources have differing levels of ACCURACY, while you apply a literary/theological method in which various sources have differing levels of AUTHORITY. This condition is best saved for the debate, not included as a defining condition. I have the same issue with your list of sources, in which you explicitly define numerous types of sources that I would consider worthless. Again, an issue which is best saved for the debate, not defined away at the very beginning.

PS. I know you're going to bristle at this request, but to put it bluntly, could you try to express your ideas in plain English instead of legalese? I know legalese is still readable, but quite frankly, it's unpleasant and in my opinion, it serves no purpose apart from helping the author try to make himself look smart.

December 24, 2001:

I know I've said this before, but this time, I think we are finally about to start.

How's this:
Fictional Universe: A depiction of a universe created primarily for entertainment purposes, which may consist of a number of related depictions (i.e. books, movies, films, audio, physical objects). Some hierarchical relationship may exist in the sources (as designated by the creator) in regards to the authority of the depiction. Said depiction may or may not necessarily represent a reality related to our own (either a parallel universe, or some variation of our universe, which differs in temporal locus or a different physical location), but  it will share features of our reality because of the constraints of creation/interpretation (in other words, because it is created by human beings of a particular time, for human beings of a particular time).

I like it. In general, my quibble with your first version was that many of our points of disagreement were defined away rather than being left for the debate, and your use of legalese. This definition leaves room for debate on those issues, and if plain English is used, then we should be on the same page now.

Now that this has been sorted out, I will await your first post.

PS. Assuming that I don't hear from you until Boxing day, have a merry Christmas (or winter solstice, or Hanukhah, or whatever it is you celebrate).

It's been like pulling teeth to deal with this guy so far. First, he accepted a challenge which was issued with some simple terms but he refused to accept those terms (especially the one about how we would negotiate a subject of debate rather than letting him dictate it to me), and then he admitted that he could not refute the main points of my website (even though the challenge was issued to make detractors of my website "put up or shut up"; I guess he chose the latter). And this time, he generated another delay by forcing me to wrangle over definitions with him (by building some of his conclusions into those definitions). I don't know whether this was deliberate or simply a result of his mindset, but either way, it has been rather tedious. Hopefully, the debate itself will be better.

I am reluctant to make predictions before the debate begins (I thought it would have begun a long time ago), but based on his hopelessly pseudoscientific approach and the way he writes, I strongly suspect that he has a law or literature background rather than a science background, hence his desire to turn the "vs" debate, currently scientific in nature, into a literary debate. Think about it: if he can't turn it into a literary debate, then he has no basis for participation! However, the soap opera is finally over, and the debate begins.

Click here to see his first post.

Return to main Hate Mail page

Valid HTML 4.01!Valid CSS!This website is owned and maintained by Michael Wong
This site is not affiliated with Lucasfilm or Paramount
All associated materials are used under "Fair Use" provisions of copyright law.
All original content by Michael Wong is copyrighted © 1998,2004.
Click here to go to the main page