Yep. When the US conquered Iraq, it turned out that there were gangs just waiting for the guards to disappear. You may have heard about how the National Museum in Baghdad was immediately looted, but that happened in sites all over the country. There are now holes all over the site of Babylon dug by people looking… » 9/19/14 12:17pm Today 12:17pm

Whenever this day comes around, I have to call out the late and much-lamented John M. Ford (1957-2006), author of my favorite Trek novel "The Final Reflection" (told entirely from a Klingon POV) and of the brilliant "The Dragon Waiting". In a thread on Making Light here, he has Dr Stephen Maturin (of Patrick… » 9/19/14 12:07pm Today 12:07pm

Again, not a movie, but Joe Haldeman's "Forever Peace" is highly worth reading, and a likely direction for war. It won the Nebula and Hugo in 1997. As many here have noted, it's not going to be reasonable to have human soldiers when remotely-operated drones are tougher and meaner. They have to be human-sized or… » 9/18/14 5:58am Yesterday 5:58am

Oh, it's worse than that. Not only are these futures stale, they're stupid. FTL violates causality - we're never traveling to the stars in anything like our current bodies. Sentient robots are the last thing you would want on your assembly line or cleaning your house - we want our machines to do what we tell them,… » 9/17/14 1:17pm Wednesday 1:17pm

I'm not actually worried about these, because they're either difficult-to-impossible like self-replicating nanotech, mind uploading, and time travel, or so stupid no one would do them, like weaponized pathogens. Besides, you can find a dozen SF novels about any of these, so the dangers are well known. » 9/16/14 10:49am Tuesday 10:49am

It's odd, but Frank Oppenheimer's influence on science education might have more long-term value than his brother Robert's work on fission bombs. The bombs are pretty much obsolete after all, and it's hard to think of any positive consequences of that work. The best one could say is that the Bomb prevented some… » 9/15/14 11:18am Monday 11:18am

This is why Ben Franklin is the #2 Founding Father after Big George himself. It was largely his charm that brought the French in on the colonials' side. Lots of other American envoys, including John Adams, tried to persuade the French to intervene, but it was such an obviously bad idea that none succeeded. It… » 9/15/14 11:08am Monday 11:08am

It's striking to realize that there have now been so many TV shows that we can start doing statistics on their tropes. You need a database of maybe a thousand cases of something in order to do stats, and there are 2150 shows listed on this Wiki page List of American Television Series . I'm sure that someone in… » 9/12/14 12:04pm 9/12/14 12:04pm

I once heard Charles Bigelow, designer of Lucida Sans above, give a lecture. He said (quoting from memory) "We have almost nothing in common with the Romans. We don't dress as they did, don't eat the same food, and don't live in the same kind of houses. Yet we can read their inscriptions, if not their language. … » 9/09/14 5:05pm 9/09/14 5:05pm

Those are fairly put arguments, but the costs of mitigating climate change have been grossly exaggerated by those made rich by the status quo. Wind power is now at parity with coal, and will only get better. PV is close to parity in the Southwest. Germany is already at 40% renewables. Cars are rising steadily in… » 9/09/14 10:45am 9/09/14 10:45am

According to this article "The Most Senseless Environmental Crime of the Century", the Soviets did the worst of the damage in the 1960s. They sent out factory ships that just swept the sea clean. They weren't even doing much with the whale meat; they only used 30% of the carcass, often for fertilizer, and left the… » 9/06/14 3:44pm 9/06/14 3:44pm

Here's the problem - Clarke's whole attitude is "Change Is Good", and the attitude of most SF movies and TV is "Change Is Horrific". Clarke is all about people getting over themselves and growing up into a bigger, wilder world, whereas shows are all about the perils of the future. The robots and the aliens and the… » 9/06/14 12:26pm 9/06/14 12:26pm

Jack Vance's "The Languages of Pao" (1958) also played with these ideas. A backwards planet is taken over by linguists, who create warrior, merchant and technical castes each with their own specialized language. Each caste does very well, but soon realize that their language is limiting them. All on their own they… » 9/05/14 1:05pm 9/05/14 1:05pm

In 2003 I heard a talk by two archaeologists who had just come back from Iraq. The news about the looting of the National Museum was everywhere, and they talked about the heroic efforts the curators had made to save what they could. The US Marines took too long to respond to the initial attacks, but eventually did… » 9/03/14 8:29pm 9/03/14 8:29pm

Cool pix! This is what happens when switching is much more expensive than wires. It those days, the switching between wires had to be done by hand at a central switchboard. From that board there had to be a separate line to each subscriber. Once everybody has a phone or telegraph line, you can bundle them up into… » 9/03/14 4:33pm 9/03/14 4:33pm

Superhero movies better than comics? Could that be because movie people are vastly better paid? Actually, almost anyone is better paid. Neil Gaiman abandoned comics for literary fiction, and is now married to a hot rock star and chortling in his vault full of money. » 9/03/14 9:22am 9/03/14 9:22am

Using rank on the axis is always suspicious. The groups could actually have very similar views, but the rank order will show a lot of spread. Everybody could be +- 1% on "should gov't enforce morality", but that would still deliberately spread them all the way from left to right. This emphasizes differences… » 9/02/14 11:23am 9/02/14 11:23am