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Friday, Sep 23, 2022 - 01:21 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

The Rules Start Getting Broken

You got your rules and your religion
All designed to keep you safe
But when rules start getting broken
You start questioning your faith

- Voices, Jim Johnston

Oh, it's on, isn't it?
(Source: gvsu.edu)

There are only too many perspectives from which the abruptly-accelerating march of history can be dissected, but for this Action Round, our keyword will be: "rules".

As the first batch of Russian protestors eager volunteers gets shipped to the Ukrainian front, their annexation referendums look set to be completed by the middle of next week; despite threats from the Ukrainian government that voting could bring jail terms of up to twelve years, I gather that there should be little doubt as to what the results will be. As popularly misattributed to a famous Georgian, it's not who votes that counts, but who counts the votes. Wouldn't put it past the Ruskies to purposely show up with bags of "mail-in ballots" at 4 a.m., which would be some power troll move.

Biden has again just repeated the official refrain that the U.S. is "not seeking a Cold War", but with even his main propaganda outlets going "This Might Not Be a Cold War, but It Feels Like One" (in the NYT) and "Welcome to the Cold War without the communism" (CNN) - and the European Council on Foreign Relations getting down to business already - this appears pure bandying semantics (without going into all the White House moonwalking of POTUS statements nowadays anyway), Well, as explained in March, one likely won't ever get an official proclamation of Cold War II - if there were a requirement, Cold War I would never have existed, but who denies that now?

In his denial of a New Cold War, the Team Blue captain is joined by Team Red leaders China, who have also consistently rejected the term - while accusing the U.S. of doublespeak (major irony alert), according to their Foreign Minister in his meeting with "old China hand" Henry Kissinger*, a few days ago. A shared motivation for not being seen as the one to (re)start the Cold War is, of course, to not be seen as the instigator (or: 先撩者賤,打死無怨); Russia were not skilled enough to avoid that trap in the Ukraine war, but as Pelosi's blunder in Taiwan demonstrates, Team Blue are hardly immune to such perceptions.

China does have another very good reason to avoid open Cold War if possible, however - their window of strength is opening, which means that in an "above-board" and mostly-peaceful contest for Influence, they have a certain confidence of prevailing. It should be noted that the endgame in Twilight Struggle: New Moon is asymmetrical for the teams: while Team Blue has to defend de-facto U.S. unipolarity and global world order, Team Red merely has to dissolve said order into multipolarity (and carve out suitable recognized spheres of influence, for their big players), to account it a win.

Look at us, we New World Order now!
(Source: nikkei.com)

As predicted in May, the undermining of Old World Order institutions such as the United Nations is being expedited under (barely) plausible deniability, with the SCO, BRICS+ and GSI/GDI all busily expanding. If it continues at this rate, it's hardly unthinkable that Team Blue-dominated currently-preminent institutions of the current "rules-based international order" such as the U.N., World Bank, IMF etc. get hollowed out and rendered impotent, as states silently migrate to equivalent Team Red outfits that offer better deals. Or, 反客为主.

Frankly, the common Team Blue accusation of China being against a rules-based order was never well-founded, to those with any acquaintance of the history of Chinese civilization. If anything, China has feared chaos - and loved order - over almost any other threat (唯恐天下[大]乱), and one can't plausibly accuse them of not having enough rules either (re: Chinese legalism/Confucianism). No, China's issue with the current rules-based order was always and only this: who's the boss? Or, in greater detail:

  • Who writes the rules? Control of the relevant international organizations (e.g. the U.N.) affords great latitude to Influence what rules get entered into the rulebook. Despite surface appearances of "democracy of nations", there's no real hiding that being able to pack committees, install your people in the right places etc. can sway the wording of a lot of rules, including if they even get put up for consideration in the first place

  • Who interprets the rules? Most rules are only written once, and as such Control of their interpretation is perhaps even more important than their initial drafting. An example from local politics that I never get tired of recounting, is from a 1997 election that had prominent persons from the incumbent party park themselves inside polling stations, despite laws against loitering within 200 metres of said station. Extend this to the Nine-Dash Line and Iraq etc., and there we have it

  • Who enforces the rules? And, at the top of the pyramid, it returns to sheer blunt force, and the ability/willingness to wield it. We are currently witnessing it with Russia as Team Red's enforcer, but Team America's unashamed support of the Hague Invasion Act if the International Criminal Court (wait, aren't they part of the rules-based order??) dares indict any of their guys, remains the greatest illustration of the point

Well, many countries look set to be confronted by different - and possibly contradictory - sets of "rules" and "orders" in the near future; better double-check the colour of those rulebooks, then.

[*Kissinger having recently admitted that to the best of his knowledge, the U.S. administration has no concept of how their bust-up with Russia and China is going to end or what it is leading to - unlike the last admin's solid boxing-in stance and masterful diplomacy in the Middle East - which should rightly scare the hell of anyone with any knowledge of realgeopolitik. Whatever one thinks of his manipulations, Kissinger has repeatedly proven his effectiveness and insight on foreign policy (as acknowledged by LKY himself), and if QEII's passing didn't end the previous era, Kissinger's surely will.]

Turn 12, Action Round 1 (Team Blue)

(Original sources: twilightstrategy.com, scmp.com)

Team Blue returns to the fray, but it's not immediately clear if they appreciate the enormity of the challenge that faces them. Team Red's sending of Kremlin Flu to space in the previous Action Phase has given them the rare opportunity to set the pace at least, and they play De-Stalinization for 3 Ops, resolving the Event after Ops. The concrete U.S. response to Russia's doubling-down may well set the tone for the new era, but a big problem is that the populace really doesn't care that much about Cold War II just yet, especially when it comes to foreign deployments. Heck, barely a third can even find Ukraine on a map as it stands, though it could be worse. One imagines a Texan patriot yee-hawing to enlist with his six-shooters upon learning that Georgia had been invaded ("let's get those Commies!"), only to learn that it was the European Georgia ("sounds like not my problem, g'day sir.")

1 Ops: +1 Influence in the Philippines (3/2). The Pacific is where the action is nowadays, and the U.S. has gotten new President Marcos Jr. to ring the bell at the NYSE, alongside a reaffirmation of their mutual alliance. Probably as good as Team Blue is going to get for now.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in Jordan (2/0). With their general withdrawal from the Middle East leaving a vacuum that Team Red is already salivating over - from how Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar have already applied to join the Shanghai Pact - it's imperative for Team Blue to try and hold some airbases friends in the region. An outsized US$10 billion commitment to Jordan might just do the trick, as they assert Control.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in Taiwan (3/1). Team Blue looks like they're done hiding their intentions with a US$1.1 billion arms deal announced at the beginning of the month, with yet another vow from POTUS to defend the island militarily if need be. Blockade/"quarantine" scenarios are surely being closely studied by both the U.S. and China, as the clock ticks down...

Event resolves for Team Red, who get to move up to four Influence, as Putin/Xi look set to adopt the mantle of the Khrushchev/Mao tag-team, in this retro return to The Greatest Game. While this does not add any net Influence to the board, let's just say that "war is won by positioning".

1 Ops: +1 Influence in France (3/2) from Germany (now 6/0). France-Germany remains the main play axis of the European polity, and it's simply true that the Gauls have never been that huge fans of the Yanks, who they (not entirely wrongly) regard as having usurped their place as the kingpins of Europe, deep down. China has obtained French opposition to a New Cold War, as Team Red shuffles their priorities on the continent.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in South Korea (3/2) from Japan (now 5/1). Likewise, there's generally room to exploit historical grudges on the eastern front, and getting both these squabblers on the same Team is no easy task. With the U.S. remaining largely intransigent on trade, it's difficult to blame the Koreans from looking the other way, once in a while.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in India (3/3) from Syria (now 3/2). While much has been made in the Team Blue propaganda of India holding military drills with the U.S. on their Chinese border, somewhat less has been made of their joining Russia and China in the Vostok-2022 exercises. It's not looking like Team Blue are going to get India on their side here, as India get to act as they have consistently declared: nonalignment.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in Hungary (1/3) from Turkey (now 3/2). Team Red lays further claim to Hungary as their foothold in the E.U., with Orban praising Russia amidst a funding cut from the Union. Meanwhile, Erdogan continues doing what he does best, in demanding Putin return Crimea to the Ukraine. That should be worth an aid package or two, right?

All you judges you are guilty/All the bosses I will fire/
All you bankers will have losses/Politicians are all liars

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Wednesday, Sep 21, 2022 - 20:31 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Before The Cold Comes In

QEII's funeral - supposedly one of the most-watched television events ever - had barely been done with, when a Team Red boss hurried off to set the next card in action. Putin had inexplicably been the first world leader to offer his sincere congratulations to the new King despite not being on the guest list, and possibly also offered a few tips on acquiring tables of adequate size. In contrast, the representative of the U.K.'s closest ally didn't even manage to be on time, but one supposes this an irrelevant hiccup, with the faceless referees - and oft-hapless participants - barely managing to hide their impatience at returning to The Greatest Game.

Ukraine had of course just cobbled together a counterattack about Kherson, but while trumpeted as a huge success in Team Blue media, a cursory glance at the map suggests this statement to be somewhat exaggerated, with Team Red still in possession of the Donbass, Crimea, and perhaps most significantly the bulk of Ukraine's former southern seafront. Still, this progress was enough for Ukraine to turn down a Mexican proposal for peace, with the reasoning that a ceasefire would merely buy Russia time to regroup, more on which soon.

Star antagonist Putin would be jetting about notwithstanding his military setbacks, and would follow up a virtual huddle (as reported in August), with an in-person one with Xi - at the latest Shanghai Pact (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The duo's discussion on Ukraine and Taiwan would come alongside membership applications from Iran and Turkey (the latter also a NATO member, recall) among others, with much of South-East Asia seemingly tilting towards Team Red, excepting Singapore as the lone holdout actually sanctioning Russia. While this is probably the right thing to do, it's really not very clear as to whether it's "worth it"...

Certainly, despite hopeful narratives from the Team Blue media, there's next to no sign of the developing China-Russia alliance weakening, even as Beijing continues to play their broken record on "forming small cliques" ironically concurrent with their Shanghai Pact recruitment (though, in fairness, it's been total jiao wei from both Teams). It's difficult to interpret the developments as anything other than the formation of an explicit anti-West Cold War II bloc, from how they're openly declaring a more-just New World Order, that will break U.S. encirclement (also covered back in May) and financial Dominance - a credible threat from their Control of significant swathes of various global manufacturing ecosystems.

Turn 12, Action Round 1 (Team Red)

(Original sources: Twilight Struggle Card Generator,
tsgreek.wordpress.com, cnbc.com)

Some four months after it was called here, POTUS has also declared the end of the Pandemic Game; while he's taking some flak for the pronouncement even within his own circles, all the more with Science itself retiring in December, I'd like to think that the word of a U.S. President means something - in this case, a full transition to Round Four of The Greatest Game.

And rightly so, given an actual Russian mobilization just being declared by Putin. The address, originally scheduled for Tuesday evening, had been delayed overnight, raising speculation about whether he had come down with the actual not-Wuhan flu, amongst other possibilities. While the Team Blue response has been to uniformly brand this development as an admission of Russian failure and ultimately doomed, it remains that raising 300,000 reservists would about triple their known ground deployment. There remains heavy fog of war over factors such as equipment and morale, but it has to be recognized that this has always been how the Ruskies have prosecuted their wars: by clambering over their own fallen.

Indeed, as analyzed in our first post on the war from the first of March, Russia had always been "in for a penny, in for a pound" (both depreciating steeply, by the way) on this matter. With this, the Cold War II Rubicon (lit. [Team] Red River) appears to have been conclusively crossed, what with the increased troop commitment likely upping the stakes on acceptable Ukrainian territorial concessions for hostilities to end, already coupled with an implicit warning that they're not bluffing on a nuclear response, in defence of Russian territory. Given that the imminent referendums in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson seem designed to annex these regions, the message becomes: we're keeping everything we take - or everybody gets some.

Kremlin Flu goes to the Space Race, as Team Red sacrifices some tempo, to draw on their tactical reserves. The roll is a six, but a 1 to 4 is needed, and the roll fails. Tech's probably not Russia's strong suit in this edition of Twilight Struggle, but when you've got four thousand nukes, who needs microchips?

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Saturday, Sep 10, 2022 - 02:34 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Echoes Of The Twentieth, Start Of The Twelfth

What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming/
Red on blue stripes and white, stars through the perilous fight?

Ladies and gentlemen, we return to Twilight Struggle: New Moon, Turn 12 of Team Red on Team Blue! It's been about a month of fervent plotting from our present-and-wannabe superpower contestants since the end of the last Turn, but the gears of history turn when they must; those who make it are not immune to its final call, and it is perhaps thus fitting that the new Turn begins in memoriam of two icons of an era past. It's Team Red to the table first, then, to play their Headline!

Turn 12, Headline Phase (Team Red)

You got 'bout thirty years before the counter-reformation, bud!
[N.B. Also, if the aliens come, I've got ya back.]
(Original sources: twilightstrategy.com, timesofisrael.com)

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1931 — 30 August 2022), Last Leader of the U.S.S.R., (and the face of Turn 10 in the board game, if you've forgotten), final full General Secretary of the Communist Party and President of the Soviet Union and part-time Pizza Hut promoter, passed away in Moscow at the age of 91, towards the end of August. What more appropriate than the demise of the man who ended the old Cold War, then, to herald the new? Whatever else, the world probably owes him a debt for overseeing a relatively graceful dissolution of Team Red v1.0; it could have gone far more badly for all involved.

All this does not hide the fact that, to the current Team Red players, he was simply a loser.

There will be no state funeral for the one who destroyed Russian pride and dismantled Russian empire, to the lasting disdain of many of his countrymen. To those in charge of the People's Republic of China, Gorbachev is remembered as an object lesson in what not to do; the CCP knew him as a "gravedigger" for the Red cause, Deng saw him as a "traitor" amongst other, less savoury, names, and while Xi's Foreign Ministry has sent the (unconvincing) form condolences, it isn't very difficult to guess at his verdict on Gorbie: F, for Failure.

Tienanmen, about concurrent with the tame Soviet collapse, was the proof - the CCCP might yield; the CCP would not. If Deng had blinked then, Team Blue might well have swept the board, for awhile at least. But, in a secret bunker beneath the White House, George H. W. Bush rolled a one after succeeding to the position of Team Blue head honcho, and the Coup failed. Oh well, can't win 'em all.

Feels slightly desperate, but at least shows some awareness
[N.B. According to the neighbourhood uncles at the funeral, it's "Covid is a bioweapon" lah; and do these fine chaps look like Nazis to you?]
(Source: bloomberg.com)

But before continuing with Team Red's assignment of their Influence bounty (that last-round Space Race lead was for a reason, after all), some Hard Truths about The Greatest Game might be cleared up. By and large, America and Team Blue didn't win Cold War I (and the World Wars before that) because of democracy or liberty or inalienable rights or any deity's will or any of that piffle, really. And if you're talking about courage or resolve or those sorts of human intangibles, there was plenty of those to spare on all sides, to be fair.

No, your rank-and-file recruit ain't sustained on abstract ideals, or if so, not for long, anyway. Now, loyalty to his buddies in the trenches beside him, his Ancient Motherland, the ashes of his fathers, his flesh-and-blood family, food in his belly, gold, treasures, good iron tools, the G.I. Bill with VA healthcare and dental - all these are what men actually fight for - and more fool any cockanaden administration that pretends elsewise. Reduced to the lowest denominator, WW2 and Cold War I were won more in the factories of Detroit and the wheat fields of Kansas, than in any single grim, blood-soaked battlefield at Kursk or Vietnam. Oh, don't get me wrong, I quite like democracy too, but it was at best an indirect causal factor at work.

If we accept the above realpolitik on logistics and the providence of resources and staple goods (see: the Marshall Plan) being the primary determinant of winning friends and allies in both hot and Cold Wars, the geopolitical calculus suddenly looks a lot less clear. The G7 and European Union are currently putting up a brave front in imposing a price cap on Russian oil (to which one might realize that this implies continued imports), only for Team Red to call their bluff in announcing a halt in exports if that goes through (alongside OPEC sniggering while cutting production in tandem, after fistbumperino with POTATUS).

While The Reformer forestalls future Team Red Coups in Europe, it was pretty remarkable that they managed to pull Bulgaria off in the first place, given Europe's especially-stringent DEFCON requirements. In return, they have 6 Influence to spread here, as General Winter tightens the screws for Russia, as usual.

2 Ops: +2 Influence in Czechoslovakia (3/2). It can be amazing how quickly Control can be lost in a country, and when you have some seventy thousand enraged citizens protesting for a neutral stance in the Ukraine conflict (and against the European Union and NATO) in Prague, it's fair to say that the Czech nation is contested, at least.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in Italy (1/2). Being brutally honest here, "Italy" and "not switching sides" don't really belong in the same sentence (technicalities notwithstanding), from past conflicts. A former - and quite likely soon-to-be - minister has already come out against sanctions against Russia, with China having already quietly partnered up with their domestic media. Having mostly-monolingual strategists might suck in some ways.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in Turkey (sorry, Türkiye; 3/3). The Turks are considered part of the Western European polity in Twilight Struggle, but with President Erdogan loudly accusing the West of provoking Russia, it's quite clear that they're not considering themselves part of Team Blue, not without a really special offer. Russia for their part will probably be happy enough to send some goodies down the Black Sea route.

2 Ops: +1 Influence in [West] Germany (5/1), +1 Influence in Sweden (3/1). NATO may be picking up Finland and Sweden (with the Finnish PM recently in hot water for partying - though really, that's par for the course once basically puppeted into The Greatest Game), but there's many ways to skin a beaver. Sweden and Germany are already feeling the (lack of) heat from the energy and I-thought-it-was-transitory inflation woes, and have announced relief packages to quell social unrest - for the time being and while the Treasuries hold up, at least. Sweden also seems to be belatedly realizing that diversity ain't all it's cracked up to be, against the Team Blue globohomo narrative.

Some good news for Team Blue here, maybe - if they want some of that sweet, sweet gas, China and India have joined the Saudis as resellers of stuff that they just happened to find by the roadside, with Modi stating that he's keen to boost ties with Russia, including on energy. It's incredible how half a million canisters of LNG just falls off the back of a truck, these days.

Turn 12, Headline Phase (Team Blue)

Elvis the First, of course.
(By: Twilight Struggle Card Generator)

Elizabeth II (1926 — 8 September 2022), by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, died peacefully at her estate of Balmoral Castle, Scotland, about a week after Gorbachev. This came as quite the shock, from how she had been standing to receive the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss*, a few days ago, and was moreover apparently more than alert. The Queen Mother had made it past 100, mind, so one figures that she might have had a good few years yet - but on such matters at least, Mann tracht, un Gott lacht.

[*Once a supporter of ending the monarchy, but for once there's probably nothing in the conspiracy theories of Truss being very efficient in putting her ideas into practice.]

Even more than Gorbachev, Elizabeth II's passing has been recognized as marking the end of the twentieth century era, which should be fair given how immersed she had been in history's tides for that long period. To put this in some perspective, the to-be-Queen's photo was on the wall of Anne Frank's Secrete Annexe when the latter was in hiding (about concurrent with some peppy broadcasts on the BBC), and her reign encompassed some 30% of U.S.A. history, including 14 of the 46 Presidents thus far (some greater than others)

Said U.S. of A had, of course, seceded from Great Britain in the (totally-illegal) Insurrection of 1776 (with some help from Team Red:France, in Twilight Struggle: Napoleon Edition), which they're still rubbing in to this day by celebrating Insurrection Day every July 4. But as the old saying goes: success requires no explanations, failure permits none; it was all so long ago, like nearly a century before Elizabeth II's grandfather George V was born, and they're all getting along swell nowadays, as part of the Anglo/Five Eyes Team Blue core.

Home sweet home
(Original source: wikipedia.org)

In the Singaporean context, for locals above the age of about sixty, it might be noted that Elizabeth II was, for a time, indeed their Queen, as British subjects (a legacy that lives on to the present day with Commonwealth citizenship); Singapore had been a British colony from its 1819 founding till 1963 (barring a few years of Syonan-to-ing), which means that she had been monarch here from 1952 till our (completely non-insurrectiony) independence. Given this, it's only to be expected that a bunch of places have been named after her, most prominently the Queenstown region (formerly Wuweigang), but also assorted promenades, schools, and the obligatory orchid (everybody gets one, it seems). The government has ordered our state flags at half-mast for the funeral, which seems a nice gesture given the longstanding association with the U.K. and Commonwealth.

The sun might not have quite set on the British Empire, but it's honestly getting mighty dark, as twilight falls and a new moon rises (with five stars, in our case). The Prince of Wales has finally become gainfully employed as King Charles III the Patient (third time's the charm, hopefully) through instantaneous succession, beginning his career proper at 73 years of age, after an extremely long apprenticeship. The problem, however, is that he doesn't seem nearly as popular as his mother (or his sons, for that matter), in large part a consequence of the Princess Di saga**. This has revived the periodic calls to abolish the monarchy*** - or at least for Charles to abdicate (which was never realistic) - but the passage of time might yet endear him to his subjects, who have some new lyrics to get used to.

[**While Diana aced the media, the story of Charles III and Camilla (now Queen Consort) might be somewhat more sympathetic in that she was always Charles' first choice, but their pairing was blocked because Camilla was considered "too experienced" (i.e. possibly unwilling to play the role of simpering figurehead ornament), and she was moreover not nearly aristocratic enough, as her grandpa was merely a Baron ("why can't you marry that nice Spencer girl instead, her dad's an Earl, now that's passably respectable". Prince Harry might count his blessings in being the spare, then.)]

[***Look, you can't buy a better tourist attraction than the Royal Family. And frankly, the kingdom needs the income.]

Well, not like he's really in charge anyhow...
(Source: r/conspiracy)

Elizabeth II's reign in Singapore had seen Cold War I propaganda run its course here, and as our Prime Minister in waiting has again emphasized in a chat with his Malaysian counterpart, "the golden age of globalization we have enjoyed for the last three decades is probably over, and we are entering a new order, one marked by increasing geopolitical conflicts and a potential fragmentation of the global economy". DEFCON falls back to 2 with the loss of the stabilizing force that was Her Majesty - shouldn't be any more obvious Coups in the near future, then - and four precious Influence for Team Blue.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in Syria (3/3). Team Blue suddenly remembers why they were in on the old proxy war in Syria in the first place, as they expand their presence in the al-Omar oil fields to liberate the petrochemicals - which is only logical, we have got to say. Fell off the back of the other truck there.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in Israel (5/2). Wait, the Iran nuclear deal is off the table again? Wasn't it Bad Orange Man who scuppered the agreement? How can this be so difficult to conclude?

1 Ops: +1 Influence in Pakistan (2/1). No matter how much the likes of the NYT and related Team Blue FAKE NEWS blares it, it remains that India was never a U.S. ally - and let's get real, as and when India actually gets their act together, Uncle Sam will create trouble for them to keep them down... eh, they already have. That leaves leveraging Pakistan with a US$450 million F-16 deal, to try and pressure the Indians. Let's just hope the goods don't end up with the Taliban or Kashmiri terrorists, then.

1 Ops: +1 Influence in Germany (6/1). Team Blue absolutely cannot lose the Germans in this Game, without going into what happened the last couple of times they felt they were getting a raw deal. It's been going okay so far on this end, as the Germans join in on the... what was the acronym... yes, the PBP in entering Pacific waters. The Kriegsmarine is back, baby!

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Friday, Sep 02, 2022 - 02:53 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

State Of The Contemporary Computer Art

Just to whet the appetite, I've fed the five prompts from April 2021's Tech And A Little Art to the Midjourney bot, for a quick demo of how far the field's come in about sixteen months. For each example, the Midjourney output is first shown, followed by a side-by-side presentation against DeepDaze's product. Clicking gives the Midjourney image in maximum 16642 resolution:

Prompt Text: a fat hamster eating while sleeping

Prompt Text: all the people living life in peace

Prompt Text: bismarck in motion king of the ocean

Prompt Text: apes together stronk and stonks only go up

Prompt Text: the golden glorious god emperor of mankind

Note that next to no experimentation was done for all these Midjourney outputs; from the four initial suggestions generated by the prompt, the one I felt was best was selected to produce four additional variations, and the best of those was then upsized to give the final output (alright, the golden glorious GOD-EMPEROR got two tries because the nose wasn't quite right the first time around, but two scoops two terms yadda yadda). Anyway, for those who want to give it a whirl, the first 25 uses are free, and it may be worth it just to lurk in the Discord channel and watch what wonders others are producing...

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Saturday, Aug 27, 2022 - 00:04 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Much Going On

To begin with, some apologies may be due for the paucity of blog updates, but especially with the home renovation (finally) kicking into higher gear, there's much to stay on top of. There's also been the BPL restarting for Manchester Team Red (i.e. "Man Red", for game franchises unfortunate enough not to obtain the proper naming rights)... which has seen them lose 1-2 to my second club Brighton & Hove Albion (who ain't bad nowadays, actually) in the opener... before getting pummelled 0-4 by Brentford in a match I was unfortunate enough to stay up for. Worse, they mostly deserved it.

That has had the supporters even more up in arms against United's unloved Yank owners, whose habit of siphoning profits out of the club (on top of loading it with debt for the takeover) had long annoyed the fanbase. It wasn't as bad when United were still winning titles, but with Russian oligarchs and Abu Dhabi oil sheikhs bankrolling the Team Blues, United have never quite been in the mix since Ferguson retired nine years ago. And, to really rub it in, the Other Team Red From Merseyside have also had a renaissance of sorts... but eh, 2-1 out of nowhere after a threatened fan uprising. The Brentford disgrace also seems to have precipitated the club signing possibly the best defensive mid in the world too, so maybe the players had it planned all along?

Another reno sneak peek - that's some tight coupling between the political and manufacturing industries there!

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Sunday, Aug 14, 2022 - 00:45 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Picture Break

There's a piece on the quite breathless progress in computer art/illustration from text due, but for today, it's just the intermission between Turns 11 and 12, in The Greatest Game.

A word to the wise, for the Nation
(Original source: belloflostsouls.net)

It's critical to know the true history, instead of what gets shilled in revisionist textbooks and the FAKE NEWS, to properly understand the development of current affairs; for today, we have the etymology of perhaps the most-storied reference to a U.S. Presidential administration ever (for now, at least), from the Society for Very Creative and More Recent Anachronism:

And why stop at the Second?
[N.B. History has arguably been kind to JFK (two carriers so far), since personal charisma and a tragic, premature death goes a long way.]
(Source: thesun.co.uk)

The torch may finally have been passed, however, to one of quite similar personal characteristics:

10% off with purchase of five or more burgers, condiments gratis
[N.B. Gearing up for Remember The A-Lago]
(Source: newyorker.com)

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Tuesday, Aug 09, 2022 - 22:24 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Turning In A Widening Gyre

The first Turn of Twilight Struggle: New Moon is about to come to a conclusion - but first, a public service announcement from the game organizers their United Nations lackeys:

And ignore all the past theories that actually came true
(Original sources: unesco.org, mangakakalot.com)

That settled, it's not been a great month for the Globohomo Old World Order establishment, with yet rising recognition that the Cold War Game is back in town - and possibly just entered into the oceanic arena, and the Indo-Pacific region in particular. With the opening innings close to over, armchair generals are questioning the wisdom of Pelosi's blatantly intentional (and entirely avoidable) provocation over Taiwan, which has had the Chinese Foreign Ministry fuming at Team Blue (literally) "playing the Taiwan card" (i.e. Formosan Resolution, as covered last week), and their state media calling it their Cuban Missile Crisis (a hint that DEFCON is now at 2?)

The immediate response from China has been a near-total suspension of dialogue with Team Blue leaders the U.S.A., with the Pentagon unable to put calls through to their PLA counterparts, which is probably understating the desired level of escalation from domestic nationalists - and with a population of some 1.4 billion, there's a lot of them to placate. This play has in turn surely driven China only closer to Russia, with a gas pipeline from Siberia to Shanghai - that will mitigate their energy vulnerabilities by sea - well under way. Not that Russia's having too many issues selling their oil, it seems - they just have to launder it through the Saudis first.

The collision course between Team Red and Team Blue has been nervously acknowledged by our leaders for our latest National Day, but to be honest one figures their hands are tied to a large extent. The dim prospects for Globohomo have only been underscored by how its greatest proponent - America - has been unable to get their own house in order, with the FBI raiding fair and fabled Hamalot on what's looking like trumped-up charges, as opposed to investigating associates of those actually in office, despite actual photographic evidence (but, that may be changing). As it is, despite some pretty flagrant banning/manipulation of betting odds (N.B. compare medians/averages to outliers in rankings), DeDonald remains far and away the GOP's frontrunner for 2024 - and the obvious ticket with DeSantis as V.P. is looking a locked-on winner.

That D&D tag-team victory will certainly spark a ton of anguished screeching in the hallowed halls of D.C., but first, they've to get through this Turn, in The Greatest Game!

Turn 11, Action Round 6 (Team Red)

(Original sources: twilightstrategy.com, voanews.com)

The U.S. Secretary of State has belatedly made a foray into Africa - with BRICS mainstay South Africa a particular target - in what the Voice of America* and CNBC amongst other Team Blue media outlets have described as "echoes of the Cold War", and "vying with Russia for Influence" (2 to 4 Ops, in this case). The mask seems to be slipping, folks. Oh wait, this is Team Red's Action Round, and they certainly aren't about to let this pass, if they are able to. That's The Voice of America diverted to the Space Race, then, as China rolls a 2. Remember, low rolls are desirable for this track, and this gives Team Red 2 VP for Earth Satellite success (with their commercial CERES-1 vehicle just placing three into orbit), for a -1 VP lead overall.

PRC mouthpiece Global Times has taunted that the U.S. has poor chances of turning Africa against them and Russia, and on this statement, I would have to largely concur with their analysis. It is broadly true that Africa has been grossly neglected by the colonizing slavers self-styled "enlightened defenders of democracy", and whatever one thinks of the local dictators, most of them have to be canny enough to distinguish between actual, concrete roads and bridges on the ground - if with strings attached - as opposed to righteous lectures delivered from on high (also with strings attached anyway). No additional Influence gained by Blinken here, as the Africans (correctly) await actual goodies instead of yet more speeches - and payment on delivery only.

[*A bit of history on the VOA; it is the oldest U.S.A.-funded international broadcaster (since 1942), and was responsible for good ol' radio propaganda to Soviet client states, through Cold War I. The infusion of woke messaging and general decline in credibility of the American mainstream media is seriously affecting their effectiveness in the new edition, however, and it remains to be seen if Team Blue will correct course.]

Turn 11, Action Round 6 (Team Blue)

Ohnonono, who could have imagined this would happen?
(Original sources: twilightstrategy.com, scmp.com)

Pelosi's scooted from Taiwan after declaring that China's real reason for being mad at her is because she's a woman (and no, I suppose they can't date her), leaving behind a conflagration the likes of which have not been seen across the Straits for decades. The cessation of dialogue and other cooperation aside, China has deployed what has been widely recognized as a full-on Blockade of their rebel island province (so they say), with their massive military drills now extended past the original Sunday deadline. Taiwan's complaining that the drills appear to simulate an attack on their main island, which is the point.

Here, it might be noted that Blockade takes place during Team Blue's Action Round, which is thematically sound, given that one would be hard-pressed to deny that it was their action that provided the catalyst for the development. Team Blue's play of Blockade for Ops was their go-to move, given that the alternative was Quagmire extending into the next Turn, and they duly (happily) discard Quagmire to the Event (with the befuddled West German delegation wondering what this has to do with them). Best hope they not draw it back next, eh.

As it stands, some have cast this play as yet another milestone for the New Cold War, and given how the U.S.A. is having their carrier strike group stick around - and perhaps even make a transit - it almost feels like Team Blue are trying to instigate a full-blown war (as forecast by the Wall Street Journal), to which it should be noted that nukes were very much on the table, during a similar situation in 1958. The strategic calculus isn't all that complicated: China likely has the wherewithal to enforce a de-facto Blockade of Taiwan indefinitely - if perhaps not an amphibious assault - barring external interference. The U.S. of A likewise certainly can try to bust such a Blockade if it comes to that (the Formosan Sealift?), but then aircraft carriers do make very large targets for hypersonic missiles. Can enough Dongfeng-17s sink a Nimitz-class carrier? Personally, I'd rather not find out, but the U.S.A. seems to be cranking up the temperature to thaw out the frozen Cold War...

On the bright side, China does have quite a lot of less-destructive means of engagement, the most accessible probably being simple trade sanctions, with specific measures such as sand export bans able to directly target their construction and semiconductor industries. Keeping up the (technically legal) military exercises would also make shipping insurance for voyages to Taiwan a lot more expensive - or even unavailable - and make it somewhat trickier for outside parties to get themselves involved. Let's see.

1 Ops: Team Blue attempts Realignment in South Africa (1/2), probably since 1 Influence isn't much to play with anyhow. They are at a slight disadvantage, with Team Red having a +1 modifier from their initial Influence lead, with Angola (0/1) and Botswana (3/1) split between the Teams - but one senses that Team Blue is happy enough to just shake things up here. Team Blue rolls a 5, but Team Red rolls a 4, and it's a wash. The Influence situation in South Africa remains unchanged, Blinken gets their Foreign Minister to make some vague motherhood statements on resolving the Ukraine conflict through diplomacy, and a photoshoot with a jeans designer.

End of Turn 11, Cleanup Phase

With that, Turn 11 comes to a close, with Team Red in the lead by 1 VP thanks to their Tech/Space Race headstart, with the Required Military Operations satisfied for both due to Bulgaria (3 Ops) for Team Red, and Pakistan (4 Ops, grandfathered in) for Team Blue. Formosan Resolution is however deemed to have dropped DEFCON to 2, which means that it should be raised back to 3 only at the beginning of the next Turn. The Russia Card, a new feature of the New Moon expansion, remains unrevealed. This may be a good time to catch a breather, before the Teams put down their Headlines for Turn 12...

It's all about The Game and how you play it/
All about Control and if you can take it!

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