Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Science Fiction Updates: Hugos, prescience, and geeks in high places!


All right, this didn't blow just me away, but also Greg Bear, who says he went slack-jawed one night recently, while watching The Late Show. It appears that host Stephen Colbert and his guest, actor Paul Giamatti, are genuine sci-fi geeks. And not just a little bit! We knew Colbert was a Tolkien scholar. But name dropping Jack Vance, Larry Niven, Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore? Okay, they are the real deal! 

(Alas, what am I, chopped liver? Hey, guys, I'll ship you some signed stuff ;-)  

Oh, and Barack Obama has kvelled on Liu Cixin and a number of other SF authors. Is this cult of exploration and Big Ideas inveigling itself into high places?  Perhaps in time to save the world? (See reference to "TASAT," below.)

== A milestone for the genre ==

Congratulations to the 2018 finalists for the Hugo Award!  Including Mur Lafferty, Anne Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, Martha Wells, Sarah Pinsker, Seanan McGuire, Sarah Gailey, Aliette de Bodard, KM Szpara, Suzanne Palmer, Vina Prasad, Fran Wilde, Linda Nagata, Ursula Vernon Caroline Yoachim, Yoon Ha Lee, Kim Stanley Robinson and John Scalzi. Notably, except for the last three mentioned gentlemen, all of the nominees in every fiction category are women or bendgender in some way. Come a long way! (Though SF was always expansive for its time, in any time.) Ursula would’ve been proud. We soar.

(Nancy Kress, Anina Bennett and I held a memorial session for Ursula K. LeGuin this last Saturday, at San Diego's Comic Fest.)

== All you geeks! Here's your chance to save the world! ==

Locus announces UCSD's new TASAT site, for nerdy sci fi aficionados who can cite old SF tales that might be pertinent to modern problems. 

You might save the world, someday, when something weird happens and the official Investigating Commission draws an obvious-but-wrong conclusion… 

...but then a dissenting member looks to TASAT and says: “y’know… There’s A Story About That…”

== A Coming Age of Transparency ==

Chasing Shadows: Visions of Our Coming Transparent World - now out in paperback - is on the Locus 2017 Recommended reading list for Best Anthology. I don't recall ever getting such a positive review from Gardner Dozois as this praise (in Locus) for the anthology.

Much is owed to the incredible quality of the authors, from Cat Rambo and Aliette de Bodard (a 2018 Hugo nominee) to Bruce Sterling, Brenda Cooper, Robert Silverberg, and Karl Schroeder... and to the unusual theme of the volume. As well as my co-editor Stephen W. Potts. You'll find good stories that tease with truly remarkable thoughts that... well... you likely never thunk before.

Here’s the review by Bill Fawcett coming in Galaxy’s Edge:

"The subtitle of this anthology is “visions of our coming transparent world.” All the stories relate to communication and human interaction as modified by technology, and privacy. There are over thirty stories by many of the top writers in SF. Each is categorized under such sections as Big BrotherSurveillanceNo Place to Hide, and Lies and Private Lies. Some of the stories and short essays are included were written from as far back as the 60’s, though more than half of the stories are new.

In a way, it was hard to review this anthology. The usual approach doesn’t apply. At the risk of frightening off readers, I have to say that this is a collection of stories that has something important to say about an issue that is vitally important to your world today, not something you can very often say about a SF anthology. Each story in each topic shows how SF authors have been concerned about the questions of privacy, control of one’s own data or even oneself, and the consequences of technology that will affect the coming decades. More importantly this rather large anthology is brimming with excellent, well-written and sometimes frightening or uncomfortable stories.

Normally you pick out a few outstanding entries that justify the collection. But whom to pick from this one is a problem. There are classics such as William Gibson’s “The Road to Oceana,” emotionally evocative classics such as Damon Knight’s “I See You,” and Robert Silverberg’s “The Invisible Man.” There are stories with an open warning such as Jack McDevitt’s “Your Lying Eyes” or David Brin’s “Insistence of Vision.” (You will never look at Apple glasses the same way again after reading David’s story.) The original stories in the volume are of equal quality and impact. There is no way to avoid one cliché phrase when describing these stories, thought-provoking. Read this just after signing off from Google, or looking up someone on Facebook."

== It wasn’t obvious? ==

How did I know? This is from THE POSTMAN

“It was called 'the Big Lie' technique, Johnny. Just sound like you know what you're talking about -- as if you're citing real facts. Talk very fast. Weave your lies into the shape of a conspiracy theory and repeat your assertions over and over again. Those who want an excuse to hate or blame -- those with big but weak egos -- will leap at a simple, neat explanation for the way the world is. Those types will never call you on the facts."

Lately I’ve been getting mail from folks like author Bruce Golden about this passage. And sure, another book was on my mind when I wrote it, in 1984. My dread of this evil method arose from a deep reading (even then) of history, which was manipulated all too often by monstrous liars.

Indeed, a small part of me frets about my own possible role: did some of today’s masters of Confederate Lie-Distraction read that paragraph above and decide “hey, what a good idea!” Because we are living amid the very crisis that I wrote about, in of The Postman.

Saith Bruce: “Funny, that thought crossed my mind briefly too. That someone connected to Trump (or his upbringing) read that passage and that YOU were the cause of all this havoc. Of course I laughed off that possibility immediately. And, as we know, Trump doesn't read.”

Alas, this havoc predates Trump, who is only the latest symptom. The master manipulator - Rupert Murdoch - does read… or did, back in 1984, when his campaign gained momentum to destroy Western Civilization.

== And more ==

A compilation of videos of some of my interviews on Russian media and speeches while in Moscow, March 2018.

The first issue of the latest reboot of AMAZING STORIES is planned for August, to be available at WorldCon in San Jose; several well-known writers have already committed to contributing to it. The magazine will be published on a quarterly basis after that. Hugo Gernsback published the premier issue of Amazing Stories back in April 1926.  It was the world’s first science fiction magazine and Amazing went on to publish works by writers now recognized as giants in the field, such as Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, E. E. “Doc” Smith, Robert A. Heinlein, Issac Asimov and others.

The George Slusser Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy, will be held at the University of California, Irvine, on April 26–29, 2018 

"The difference between visionary and crackpot is hindsight." - Irene Petrick

Nerrrrrds onward! Humor from SMBC Comics. 

== For writers and would-be writers ==

Would you like to become a World Famous Author? Or at least improve your writing skills? Odyssey Podcasts are excerpts from lectures given by guest writers, editors, and agents at the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Director Jeanne Cavelos runs one of the best in the world.

Futures is the award-winning science-fiction section of Nature and it accepts unsolicited articles. Each Futures piece should be an entirely fictional, self-contained story of around 850–950 words in length, and the genre should,  be 'hard' SF. Send submissions to futures@nature.com, including a 30-word autobiographical note to be appended to the story if published. Prospective authors are advised to read earlier Futures stories at nature.com/futures.

Writers! Especially of murder mystery (the most pure form of story arc execution): Here’s important news!  By analyzing changes in a deceased person's gene activity, new software can determine an exact time of death, which could assist forensic investigations. “After death, over 600 muscle genes either quickly increased or decreased activity. Meanwhile, there was minimal change in gene activity in the brain or spleen.” There are limits: the majority of increases and decreases in gene activity happen between 7 and 14 hours after death.



Friday, April 20, 2018

What will - what won't happen?

"The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now. But now they're setting records. They're at a record level." - Donald Trump, to Reuters, quoted on msn.com.

This will be a weekend catch-all that offers up a lot of interesting items - some worrisome and some hopeful - that share a common theme... the future that's barreling toward us.  It was start non-political... then get more so. Because that's where the battle for our children is taking place.

First... some links to how and where you can hear my best blather about the coming era.

== Brin-sights ==

Just posted from the Fire 2017 conference: What is AI Telling Us? An interview about the future with Google’s Joseph Smarr and David Brin.

Posted by GigaOm: Voices in AI: A conversation between David Brin and Byron Reese, discussing intelligence, consciousness, Moore's Law and the likelihood of a near-future crisis in AI - specifically the first AI empathy crisis.

And another, from The Planetary Society Radio: AI, Space and Humanity's Future: A Conversation with David Brin, Emily Lakdawalla, Bruce Betts and Mat Kaplan. 


And now some gosh-wow non political stuff...

== The world moves ahead ==

Dubai is planning to introduce self-driving octocopter taxis sooner than anyone anticipated, with  a maiden air taxi test flight with Volocopter back in Sept 2017 and a planned first commercial service launch with eHang this Summer. Futurist seer John Smart foresees mostly high-end customers, at first. “Using them will be expensive in the 2020’s, and it is my hope that we’ll see air deliveries for urgent goods first, but the most exciting application, multipassenger commuter drones, should start to get mass-affordable for daily use in the 2030s.”  John goes on to discuss noise abatement, flying ambulances, collision avoidance, safety airbogs/parachutes and many other aspects.

A very detailed and informative run-down of how our cities will soon utterly transform into an added dimension. (That is, till some terrorist uses these things to scare us into shutting it all down again, alas.)

One of our generation’s best SF writers – Brenda Cooper – is interviewed about “The Nexus of Digital, IT and Science Fiction in the Future of Work.”

But okay now. Ponder the fight for civilization.

== Will anyone stand up? ==

There are two possible paths for the wave of retiring GOP Congressfolk. Some are slinking in deserved ignominy. Others - moderates like this fellow - can't bring themselves to sink into Trumpist-Confederate swill enough to survive their coming primaries. Both kinds will cash in on rich K Street consultancies, of course. Ah, but can I dream that one would stand and fight for the dream of a sane, decent, fact-and-science-loving version of conservatism? Enduring fire from Fox for the sake of the nation?

These defectors could help save us by standing for one, core issue. Restoration of respect for facts. Helping establish a credible, nonpartisan fact-checking service. No other act would so effectively quell this madness. But I fantacize.There are glimmers that perhaps Mitt Romney's ceaseless efforts will pay off and sober, residually-sane Republicans might hold a Grand Conference, this summer. Perhaps aiming to achieve what Democrats did in their "Miracle of 1947." 

I'm on record as the first to predict this... though still at low odds, since all we've seen so far is callow cowardice.

== Back to the Will ==

Some have questioned my calling George F. Will “the worst American.” After all, isn’t this urbane, articulate Goldwater-Buckley disciple one of the leading voices on the U.S. right now denouncing Donald Trump and everything correlated with Trumpism? And haven’t I been asking for this very thing? For residually sane conservatives to get fed up - at long last - with the accelerating lobotomization and derangement of their movement? For such men and women to stand up, before there’s nothing left of adult American conservatism to save?

I have faith that there are several million such “ostrich republicans,” finally lifting their heads from the sand of denial. Conversations are fizzing across the nation, about holding a conclave of such adults - the way liberals once did, saving their movement in 1947. If it happens, the fragile confederate coalition will collapse and a new phoenix of sapient American conservatism might rise rapidly out of the smoldering sewer of Murdochism-Putinism, ready to sit at the grownups’ table, negotiating with both facts and goodwill about our future together.

Certainly, in his latest missive, Mr. Will calls for the Republican controlled Congress to pry control over nuclear weapons away from “the incontinent tweeting, rhetorical taunts and other evidence of the frivolity and instability of the 13th president of the nuclear era.” 

He has elsewhere tepidly called for an end to the Right’s open and all-out war on science, and every other fact-using profession. And tepid support is better than none, in our battle to stave off idiocracy.

So why my fury at the man?

Is it because he for decades aided and abetted the radicalization, the confederatization, the dumbing down of U.S. conservatism and paving the way for a return of feudalism? Sure, but Mr. Will wasn’t the only one making that satanic bargain, betraying the Founders, decency, truth and - yes - Adam Smith. So why single him out?

Because, out of all the rationalizers who helped re-ignite phase 8 of the American Civil War, George F. Will did it with fiercely acute intelligence, clear-eyed perception and eloquence. Any other rationalizer might claim: “I never realized!” But GFW cannot. He knew. He knew all along, and deliberately helped to make the hell about which he now whines.

Oh, do read his missive about control over missiles! I’m glad that George F. Will is now using his eloquence against this phase of insanity and treason, even if I refuse to embrace him as a prodigal son. Indeed, elsewhere I’ve proposed the best way that Congress could protect us from a mad-president spasm… a method that is far simpler and more inherently effective than Will’s vague arm wavings. A method that’s immune from presidential vetoes and Fox diatribes, that would give our military professionals a place to go, if they are ever given a terrifying order.

My proposal. That could save us. Seriously.  

But sure, if he can help stir some cojones into the blood of McCain, Flake, Corker and that lot, so they’ll finally rise to their duty, then I’ll sign George F. Will’s pardon papers. Like in that movie "Inglorious Basterds."

But I’ll not shake his hand.

== By his fruits you shall know him… ==

That biblical saying suggests that we should heed actual facts, actual evidence, and take note when a leader – or a movement or a culture – always does badly by its people. And what's clear after 150 years is that the Confederacy… that angry twin welded to America’s hip… has an absolutely wretched record of governance. For example: “Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Utah and Connecticut rank as the five healthiest states, while West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi rank the least healthy in America's Health Rankings, according to the report by the United Health Foundation.

If we subtract outliers like Utah and Detroit & Chicago, name a metric of moral and healthy living that is not worse in Red America, from teen sex, STD and pregnancy rates to obesity, dropouts, divorce and domestic violence, gambling and so on. Name... one... exception. Other than abortion which is a disagreement over fundamentals.

Along similar lines… “Why Inequality Predicts Homicide Rates Better ThanAny Other Variable  The surprising factors driving murder rates: income inequality and respect.” Another thought provoking article in Evonomics.

It has now been seven and a half years since Sean Hannity said waterboarding was not torture, so much so that he'd be willing to be waterboarded for charity.  Because, ya know, it's like a dunking booth. Keith Olbermann pounced at that time and offered $1000 for each second Hannity could tolerate it.

And now, we are awaiting the other shoe to drop from Hannity's Cohen-connection.  Good lord. What will it take for the Fox News Boycott to take off?  

And finally...

Another deduction that is disappearing is one for fees paid to agents, other outside managers or headhunters, who take a commission on a salary directly from an individual. Are... you... kidding me?  Creative people must be shown their place.

And then....  Confound the science... One of the best pieces of musical political satire I’ve seen in years! Moreover, it does what no one else seems capable of... going to the heart of the real problem -- the open and all-out war against our civilization's sapience -- in a way that makes you simultaneously laugh... and cry.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Why this "war" is different. Plus the dark "Z" vision. And our path out of all this.



== On the International Front ==

Vladimir Putin recently showed the world what he claimed was footage of a new, nuclear-fueled missile, purportedly capable of evading anti-aircraft defenses and traveling “indefinitely.” Let’s put aside the “nuclear-fueled missile” aspect for now. (That concept was abandoned by the U.S. in 1964, as stunningly dangerous and filthy.) What we need to remember is that it has historically been the role of underdogs to innovate, while the smug, central kingdom ("chung-kuo") wallows dangerously in assumptions centered on the past. 

That has not been the way for the U.S. military and protector caste, for 70 years. Starting with George Marshall, the U.S. Officer Corps has followed a dictum to "innovate every year, as if you lost the last war." A tradition that held sway - and kept the planet's best (if highly imperfect) era of general peace - till recently.

Which brings up the Syrian War - a quagmire with no plan, no stated goals or plausible exit strategy, except to set up a much bigger struggle, with Iran.  No, I won't go into any of that. Instead, let's zoom in upon the highly suspicious Trump-ordered missile attacks on Syrian government assets -- both last week's pounding of purported gas weapon facilities and bombardment of the Shayrat  airbase, half a year ago. 

The earlier of these two "forceful lessons" involved the U.S. firing 59 missiles at a replacement cost of about $100 million. Did the Shayrat lesson work? Did the Assad regime start behaving better, as Trump predicted they would? Did it deter Assad from gassing and bombarding his own people? 

What deterrence? Warned hours in advance, the regime and their sponsor-ally evacuated any important assets, while stationing sensor arrays along the missiles’ flight paths and testing electronic countermeasures in a controlled experiment. (Reports suggest many Tomahawks veered off course.) Thousands of Tomahawk puzzle pieces were subsequently gathered — e.g. sensitive circuits used for maneuver and radar evasion.

This month's teaching was even worse. Warned a week in advance, adversaries had time to set up every possible sensor and electronics countermeasure to test out on U.S. hardware. Only this time, the USAF was told to use its new, next-generation standoff missile, giving the Russians a perfect setup for monitoring every aspect of its performance, plus a zillion parts to sweep up and examine. A textbook intelligence coup. 

Who were the net winners and losers from this set-piece, potemkin “punishment”? While any one episode can be attributed to stupidity, over malicious treason, the cumulative effects add up to a daily litany of betrayals, whose sum is beyond dispute. Always remember Goldfinger’s Law: 

“Once, may be happenstance, Mr. Bond. Twice, may be coincidence. But three or more times is enemy action.”

* Add to Goldfinger's Law the Tucker-Shrugger Rule. What would have been your reaction, had Obama done this?

== Our core methods for revival ==

Watch this video on how easy it is to alter results on paperless electronic voting machines. This entertaining vid shows such a hack in action… with a surprise endorsement you’d never expect, at the end! What the creators never mention - alas - is that nearly all of the paperless and easily-hacked e-voting machine makers are former Republican Party operatives. And the paperless, easily-cheated systems are prevalently found in red states. Hm, I wonder why. If you went back ten or even five years ago, you'd probably find me and maybe 5 other people howling about voting machines without paper audit trails. I'm relieved it's now getting traction. We are fighting for our lives.


So, is there a path out of phase 8 of the American Civil War? Let me reiterate two proposals that would take one page, each, yet possibly save America and the world. If we had a majority in Congress that cared about such things.

1) Last week NPR published this excellent piece describing how the Inspectors General work to keep government honest, and how important they are.  My simple, almost cost-free, one-page reform - Free the Inspectors General -  would release them to be truly powerful for the national (and world) good.

And the other proposal, some of you have seen here before...

2) ... would create a national advisory council of sages, starting with the ex-presidents and former Supreme Court justices etc., which could help us to both set up nonpartisan ways to check facts. And, if the right language (one sentence!) were inserted, it would help us all to sleep at night, by using the Constitution's own prescribed method. It would also give our officers a place to appeal any insane orders. No amendment would be needed! Just a simple majority Congressional Resolution.

One pagers. One would restore confidence in our institutions. The other could let us sleep at night.

But over the long run, we can only end this civil war by winning the most important front -- the outright and open campaign of hatred toward every single American profession that deals in facts.

== The War on Science ==

Read how explicit the War on Science has become. The Greatest Generation (when America was 'great') invested in the thing that won wars, refuted injustices, quintupled our wealth and made us a dazzling-fun civilization -- science. Their favorite person - after FDR - was Jonas Salk.

Left out of this disturbing article? Starting with Truman, every president listened closely to his science adviser... till Trump left the post empty and eviscerated OSTP. The GOP in Congress had already killed their own Offict of Technology Assessment, for daring to sometimes say: "Um, sirs, that's not exactly true."

Next in their sights, the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, IRS auditors, and anyone else who might hold a skyrocketing oligarchy accountable. 

Seriously, you know some decent Republicans who can blink and shake their heads in denial over all this. We must each take responsibility for just one or two such. Take their hands off their ears and eyes. Persuade them to take their hands off their mouths.

There are anti-science loons on the far-left, too! Concede the point! But that is a fringe, while hatred of smartypants nerds who know stuff is now the core catechism of the entire mad-right.

Fighting back for our kids, we need to nominate scientists and fact-people and retired officers in every red state assembly district, every city council.

Or doctors: Okay, this is the best thing I've seen. It is better even than that Marine F-18 pilot major and mother of two. Yes, even better than her. Make this doctor your archetype. Calm, reasonable and moderate and utterly militant about calm-adult, fact-using moderation in a nation of grownups. (Okay, alas. Alas, he lost his primary. Still, keep at it!)

== A Time Traveling Putin? ==

The topic never came up, during our recent trip to Russia. (And yes, it was amazing; we made good friends and look forward to future visits.) Still, their leader is the central planner of our current crisis of resurgent feudalism. So -- let's heed what he says.

If Vladimir Putin was given a chance to go back in time and change one thing in Russia’s history, it would have been the collapse of the Soviet Union, the president told a media forum, in Kaliningrad. Putin, who famously called the dissolution of the USSR the greatest geopolitical tragedy of 20th century, said he would have prevented its collapse if given the power to alter one thing in the past.

Okay, look, I’ve said it before, I actually respect Vladimir Putin a lot.  He’s not the master international chess-player the the adoring American right portrays in their endless, unctuous praise of the former KGB colonel. Loss of the Ukraine was a blow vastly worse than any of his counter-nibbles in Crimea, the Donbass and Syria. (Though if Trump wages war on Iran, it will be checkmate on the West.) Anyway, he plays to his strengths well, including the Russian tradition of exquisite spycraft.

Moreover, I blame him far less, for the collapse of the brief, 1990s liberal democratic experiment in Russia, than I blame George H.W. Bush — yes, senior — who sent over “advisers” to help President Boris Yeltsin distribute state assets to the populace.  Those advisers made sure it was done in a way best-guaranteed to ensure that all assets would soon be held by a few score oligarch-billionaires and their secret western backers. In other words, the Bush family has been a calamity for the West of untold proportions, yet to be exceeded even by the Trumps.

I do not blame Putin, personally, for choosing a hierarchical system - akin to the one he was raised under. Sure, the current nomenklatura wear Russian Orthodox crosses instead of hammer-and-sickle pins, but many are the very same guys. And it’s not their fault that we have millions of idiots who fall for that ploy of symbolism. (I am reminded of Christopher Walken’s character, in 'Blast From The Past,' who chuckles in admiration that the Soviet Politburo has actually succeeded in persuading the west “that it’s over.”)  They figured out how to help re-ignite our civil war and make alliance with the Confederacy against America. You’ve got to respect such feral ruthlessness.

Which brings us back to Putin’s statement in Kaliningrad, that he would bring back the Soviet Union, if he could. Really? Then why not start with the Communist Party, which was the religion of your youth and the core raison d’etre for the USSR, in the first place? 

Well, in answer, it occurs to me that the current Russian oligarchs have effectively re-assembled all of the old, Soviet state enterprises in their personal, monopolistic cartels. All you’d need to do is replace (or rename) maybe a hundred “billionaires” with Leninist committees and voila - instant Soviet restoration! Well, without the post-WWII empire.

But give-em time! The comintern may be wearing a potemkin mask - as Walken's character assured - but it sure looks more effective than ever. Meanwhile, the Supply Siders and neo-fascists in the West are doing something I would never have thought possible... reviving Karl Marx! Who is now selling more copies than at any point in 30 years.

That's one path.... There's another, described in Vladimir Sorokin's incredible novel that I read during our trip: "The Day of the Oprichnik." It portrays not a re-coalescence of communism, but a restoration of Russian traditionalism under a supremely powerful (and tech-enhanced) revived Orthodoxy and Romanov Czar. 

No, this isn't over. We still live in interesting times.

And so now we'll conclude with the scariest vision of all.

== Dark Scenarios ==

Everyone - especially Robert Mueller - needs to watch the chilling 1969 film "Z" by Costa-Gravas. Especially the startling and terrifyingly pertinent last 4 minutes. I mean it. Just spreading the meme of reviving this one forgotten classic may do more than anything else, to help prevent it from coming true in the next year or so.

We've been warned. Now you have been. This film resonates powerfully with the Mueller Investigation. As a Greek jurist probes a political murder, he strips away masks worn by the mighty... with terrible consequences. Watch it! Spread word about worrisome memes like this one. 

Or the terms "Reichstag Fire." Or "Gleiwitz Incident." Or "Tonkin Gulf Incident." Or "Wag the Dog."

Yes, in our case the normal 'worrisome parties' - the state security agencies - appear actually to be on our side! But those sincere professionals (maligned by the confederate machine as "deep state" enemies") are often (I know from experience) surprisingly naive.

Twenty years ago (I can prove it) I warned folks at certain "agencies" that international rivals who see their power diminish in open, international affairs often turn to traditional, surreptitious means that go back thousands of years. They turn to: 

(1) using targeted propaganda and agitprop to incite divisions within their opponent, 

(2) suborn high members of the leading nation's leadership caste. 

I have slides from 1998, predicting these two methods would be used against us. Agency officials snorted that I was talking "science fiction," when instead I was citing 6000 years of history.

Today? I am invited all over to show those slides (and many others.) Now that our great and mostly (mostly) beneficent Pax is tottering and teetering from those and other unexpected failure modes. 

Hey. They weren't "unexpected" in the deep, planning basements of the jealous, angry feudalists of the world. They know what brought down past empires - and especially what brought down history's few enlightenment renaissances. They study history - even if we don't.