Creative Dream Team Update
Okay, the nominations have been pouring in, so time for an update. My methodology is simple: I’m listing every suggestion I received, along with my own comments (where I have any) about the nominees.
My original list, as you’ll recall, was:
New nominees are:
Instapundit adds the following suggestions:
Greg Egan: (“The best up-and-coming hard science fiction writer, and our
world is looking more like his all the time.” – Instapundit)
S.M. Stirling (“mostly doing alt-history these days, but a supple mind
and he’s done harder stuff.” – Instapundit)
Stephen Baxter (no commentary from Glenn here, but I’ll second the nomination — particularly since Baxter often seems to have great difficulty ever finishing a novel without destroying the Earth first.)
And another proposes Dean Ing, indicating “He’s been in US think tanks re future weapons. Also he’s written several good novels and novelettes on terrorism and gotterdammerung in general.”, and Harry Stine (whose work I’m afraid I’m not familiar with, but who the reader indicates also writes under the name Lee Correy, and wrote “Shuttle Down which involved a Space Shuttle aborting to Easter Island. The book was good enough to be used as a NASA manual…”)
Thomas Harris, of Hannibal Lecter fame, is nominated by a reader for his earlier work, Black Sunday, “about a psycho blimp pilot who loads his craft with flechettes (anti-personnel darts) and flies it over the stadium in which the Super Bowl is being played.”
(By the way, if you check the Amazon entry for Black Sunday, you’ll see the following comment from a reader/reviewer, circa September 2000: “Finally, this book is sort of outdated. You can’t fault Harris for this, but it’s worth noting. Though it doesn’t really show up in the book (thankfully), the general plot (Middle Eastern terrorists trying to blow something up) sort of prays on the fears of the zenophobic middle American. It’s a simple formula which I’ve seen many times, and has been done many times.” And I’m afraid you’ll see it again, friend.)
Another nomination: Vince Flynn, whose Transfer of Power “tells how a campaign contributor turns a White House visit into the kidnapping of a president.”. Sounds like the kind of twisted thinking we’re looking for.
And more: British author Peter O’Donnell, Robert L. Forward, and Vernor Vinge make another reader’s list. (Yet again an omission on my part: no idea why I didn’t put Vinge on my original list… except maybe a subconcious wish that he’d publish a little more frequently!) And another reader seconds many of the previous nominations, and adds Charles Sheffield to the mix.
Last but not least, my favorite nomination was from a reader who suggested L. Ron Hubbard, who actually did write science fiction before founding his own religion, let’s remember. But I did feel obligated to reply to the reader that while we might well nominate him, it’s unlikely that he’ll show up for work, given that he’s dead.
That’s it for now. Kee
p them coming — I don’t think we’ve drained this particular swamp yet. And by the way: if you see your nominations here without your name, it is because I did not publish anyone’s name where I was uncertain if they wished to be publicly attributed. If you would like to claim your public credit, as it were, drop me a line and say so and I’m glad to cite you appropriately.
In researching Heinlein and other science fiction authors’ work during WWII, I corresponded with James Gifford, author of Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion (a 2001 Hugo award nominee). In addition to providing me some further detail on Heinlein’s history and excellent pointers to other sources, he provided the following thoughts on defending against suicide attacks and the road that lies ahead:
A general exposition from my own viewpoint is that there is no way to stop a suicide attack. As the cutline for the graphic novel _Ronin_ put it, “If you intend to die, you can do anything.” All crimes are prevented by one of two things: the fear of death, and the possibility of being detected, caught and punished. If the first is missing, the second is of no consequence… and you have no possible prevention short of mindreading and on-the-spot execution.
The only possible way to prevent a majority of suicide attacks is the road we’re currently on – a severe and (IMHO) highly dangerous intrusion into civil liberties…
If there is a solution, it is to find a combination of technology and intelligence (both kinds) that will protect us while not overly impinging on our personal freedoms and our justly prized liberty. As the gent with the specs put it: those who would give up a little liberty to obtain a little security deserve neither. Our liberty and freedom have a price, and for the next decades, the price will have to be paid. One price or the other, that is, and since there is no way to eliminate the threat, paying in the coin of liberty in an attempt to do so is a foolish idea. It is, unfortunately, the road we have apparently chosen.
So, if you seek to put together a coalition of inventive brains to solve the problem, they need a focus beyond technological miracles. I can’t imagine any techno-magic of any kind whatsoever that would solve the problem without creating a bigger one. The solution, if there is one, is to eliminate the strife, the conflict, the disagreements that lead to suicide attacks.
Definitely. But the key is that our strategy must simultaneously include steps to protect us from those that wish us harm in the here-and-now, and also strive to create a future world where the threats we face today are reduced — if not outright elminated.
Despite my usual warnings about lumping people into large categories, I think there are only really two groups that are terribly helpful to think about when considering our adversaries in this struggle. There are people who detest us and will oppose us until death (Al Qaeda). And there are people who don’t like us much, who might be convinced to support those opposing us, or might otherwise be swayed to leave us the hell alone (much of the rest of the Muslim world).
The solution for the first group is, obviously, to destroy them. And it is important to note that this is not vengeance: it is prevention. When we kill an Al-Qaeda operative, there is no need to invoke the obscenity of September 11 and concepts of retribution, revenge, or even justice. We take that grave action — to end another human life — not for what Al-Queda has done to us in the past, but for what they have sworn to do to us in the future. It is not capital punishment; the proper analogy is not to a convicted prisoner walking death row, but to a rapist who is shot dead by his intended victim before he can commit his crime.
For the second group, the options are more varied and complex. I am a firm believer in the idea that while stable democracies may actually go to war with one another from time to time, they don’t have a habit of spawning suicide bombers. (Note: before someone points it out, England is a stable democracy — Northern Ireland is not). So, duh: the trick is how to transition the essentially medieval societies of theocratic Islamic or pseudo-Islamic states (my by-no-means-complete list begins with Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and of course, the portion of Arabia currently ruled by the House of Saud) into stable democracies. Easier said than done.
But we shouldn’t get hung up on the idea that we must turn every state and people on the globe into our ally. That would be great, but it is not necessary. They can positively detest us. They can think we’re callow, insipid, jingoistic cowboys with brains programmed by Disney and bodies atrophied by the Internet. All that matters is that they don’t quite hate us enough to be willing to die to kill us.
And that, I think, has to be an achievable goal. Because let’s face it: it’s not like we’re trying to convince the world to like Nazis. We happen to have the advantage here of being one of the most legitimately decent societies to ever stride the face of the planet. Surely we can do a better job of convincing folks of that than we have to date (as a story, it has the advantage of being true.)
Finally, to return to one James’ points: I agree that technogadgetry is unlikely to provide any direct solution to the problem of preventing suicide attacks. But for now, I’d rest easier knowing that we at least had confidence that we’ve given our own defenses a thorough shake-down, and analyzed our own weaknesses unflinchingly. We’d at least, then, have accomplished the first step of preventing an enemy attack: knowing where it might come from.
The Results Are In!
Well, I said I’d keep y’all posted on the relative merits of InstaPower ™ vs. KausPower ™, and I think we can now reach some conclusions — the graph to the right (subtly annotated) shows my traffic stats for the last few days.
In my objective, dispassionate view, I don’t think there’s any other way to put it but:
Soulless media conglomerate: 1
Noble academic toiling in obscurity: 0
‘Course, Mickey has mentioned that the new Borg implants they’ve insisted on over in Redmond chafe a bit, but I guess everything has its downside.
Memo to Glenn: Now could be the time to hit up AOL for that deal, chief. They’re in desperate need of some kind of turnaround strategy — and I say you were aiming way too low when you thought about “selling out to them”. I’m thinking major New Media company, here:
PS – All kidding aside, sincere thanks to both Mickey and Glenn for their links (not to mention the genuine enjoyment and insight I’ve received from reading their work). It is truly a demonstration of the spirit o’ the blogosphere that someone as new to this game as I could get this kind of attention this quickly.
Rod Dreher over at NRO’s The Corner has read John Derbyshire’s latest in which he predicts that the U.S. won’t go to war with Iraq and sees an opportunity for the Democrats to outflank the Republicans if the Bush adminstration does, indeed, go wobbly:
Say the Democrats found a candidate willing to flank Bush on the right regarding the conduct of the war. Say this candidate was able to speak prophetically about the true threat the West faces from militant Islam, whence his tough-minded views on the need for the U.S. to get more aggressive with the Arab world, both militarily and diplomatically. Let’s say he favored slamming the door shut on immigrants from Islamic countries for the time being, and sending Islamic students studying here on visas home — and was able to face down both the media squishes and the left within his own party over this. And let’s say he was able to persuade voters (with the help of, say, another massive 9/11-style attack from terrorists) that the danger of Islamofascism to American interests made conflicts over domestic issues like tax policy, abortion, gay marriage, etc. — on which he could be fairly liberal — not so important. Anyway, if the Dems were able to come up with that kind of Scoop Jackson-like candidate — an American Pim Fortuyn, in other words — do you not think he would be formidable? Do you not think he would stand to win over swing voters, and in so doing move domestic policy to the left? Is there anyone like this on the Democratic horizon — or for that matter, on the Republican horizon (Bush could be challenged in the GOP primary, after all)?
Is it just me, or did Rod just describe John McCain (or at least, an idealized version of what John McCain could be…)? That whole McCain-Should-Run-As-A-Democrat thing was all the rage a few weeks back, but Dreher’s scenario is the first thing I’ve seen that puts in place a realistic set of conditions that might make it feasible…
(be sure to read Derbyshire’s article — it’s excellent, if, as Dreher says, depressing…)
Alex Frantz at Public Nuisance writes in with additional detail on the WWII precedent for a creative task force, indicating that in WWII, exactly such a team was assembled to brainstorm possible methods for preventing suicide attacks by Japanese kamakazi pilots.
The team was headed by (you guessed it): Robert A. Heinlein.
Now, it’s unclear to me (and Alex, apparently), whether this is the same group I mention at the Naval Yards or not — to me, it sounds different. Anyone with additional info, please let me know, and check out Alex’s site for a bit more detail…
Several readers have pointed out that the government creation of a “threat team” of science-fiction writers was discussed by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in their classic Earth-gets-invaded-by-aliens novel Footfall.
I get major geek demerits for not remembering that. Ouch.
Pournelle also has a blog (which he calls his daybook) here.
Sean Roche sends this commentary on the dream team concept:
Why do you need to “staff a government dream team” to tap into the creative intelligence of the country. The Office of Homeland Security should put up a web site with an e-mail link: Send us your terrorist plots. Give a $1000 bounty to anyone who submits a new one, $250 to anyone who suggests a new twist on an old one.
If we weren’t worried about giving the bad guys the wrong idea, it would be a great ‘blog. Call it “The Red Team” after the intelligence groups supposed to imagine scenarios for the blue team to counter. Solicit ideas from anyone.
A big ‘yup’ there. I agree with Sean that a blog — while it would make a mighty interesting read — isn’t such a great idea, but I’m not sure I see any downside from a submit-only website. (And let us not forget the less geeky among us — a nice old analog phone number would be helpful as well). I do think, though, that this idea is complimentary to the dream team concept, not a replacement — I think creative types in collaboration can end up with a “greater whole than the sum of its parts”, in some cases.
A common theme seems to be emerging here — why isn’t the government of the most creative, cantankerous, and skilled nation on the planet actually leveraging the skills and talents of its people? (For another spin on this theme, Instapundit points us to David Rothkopf’s piece in Foreign Policy, which makes the case for leveraging the talents of America’s business community to fight terrorism).
You can also check out Sean’s blog here.
The Washington Times’ Inside The Ring column on the Pentagon reports that Iran is in possession of several bright and shiny new Chinese missile patrol boats. (Found via Rumination ).
Wondering what’s up with the trial of Slobodan Milosevic and his gang of thugs? Don’t wait for Big Media, see for yourself at the tribunal’s rather extensive web site. Has the full indictments for Milosevic and others, as well as transcripts of court proceedings.
Update – I made a snarky comment about Tom Clancy in my original list for the creative dream team, which I’ve now removed. It was off the cuff and has been bugging me as being unwarranted. To be clear for the record: I haven’t closely examined Mr. Clancy’s politics lately, so I won’t endorse or reject them. I have enjoyed many (but not all) of his novels; thought Hunt for Red October was an excellent film (but was disappointed with the Harrison Ford versions), and hear that Sum of All Fears with Affleck is supposed to be good. So if Mr. Clancy does happen to stumble upon my humble page: my apologies.
Congratulations to the people of the newly independent nation of East Timor.
Just to be extremely clear, particularly for those following Kausfiles’ link this way: I wasn’t the first to bring up the idea of roping in creative types to scenario plan for terrorist attacks. Instapundit reader Harry Helms was (whose site I’d be happy to link to, if he has one, and I knew the link).
Well, I was blessed with a Instapundit link last week, and this morning I awake to find Kausfiles has sent a reefer my way (the, uh, Internet kind, I mean).
Does mild-mannered law professor Glenn Reynolds have the mojo to go up against Redmond’s new media giant? Or has the absorption into the collective hive mind of Slate drained Kausfiles of its cache?
I shall monitor the traffic stats with great anticipation — watch this space for updates!
Do you know who Stitch is? If you don’t, check him out. I know, schilling for Disney is like haulin’ ice to Newcastle… or, well, something like that… but this upcoming flick looks like it has the chance to redeem Disney’s recently-dismal animated track record. (Screw Yoda, this is the little guy I’ve been waiting for this season). I highly recommend watching the trailers (the “Inter-Stitch-als”) when you’re in need of a good chuckle. The film opens June 21.
Little Green Footballs passes on a link to a letter-to-the-editor to the Berkeley Daily Planet, in which reader Rachel Schorr details the reasons why Berkeley should divest from Saudi Arabia.
I’m not convinced divestiture from Saudi Arabia is the right course here. (Actually, I’d prefer that Arabia divest itself of the House of Saud.) But I’m all in favor of any reminders that keep us from forgetting exactly who these people are.
Update: I forgot to put Ken MacLeod on my list of creative types below. Any man who comes up with the concept of nuclear retaliation insurance for small states is
Instapundit reader Harry Helms pointed out a few days back that the failure of imagination which is central to the government’s inability to prevent September 11th means we should look to creative types such as writers to “help visualize new terrorist scenarios and plots”.
Yup. Harry doesn’t call them out by name, but I think my particular favorite genre has quite a bit to offer in this regard — science fiction writers. Some of the best SF comes from the classic formulation of taking a possible (but not yet actual) premise and exploring it to its logical conclusion — precisely the kind of thinking I would assume is useful in terrorist planning scenarios.
My hands-down favorite example in this area is Solution Unsatisfactory, a short story by SF master Robert A. Heinlein (which can be found in his collection Expanded Universe, out of print but possible to find used). The central idea in Heinlein’s tale is the development of atomic weapons — in this case, radioactive “dust” bombs that, when spread over a city, render it completely uninhabitable.
The story was published in 1940, five years before Hiroshima, and legend has it that it earned him a visit from the U.S. feds to find out where, exactly, Mr. Heinlein had gotten his information.
For about fifty years, Heinlein looked really smart, but not quite totally prescient, given that his dust weapons didn’t exactly match the actual atomic bombs that were created. But now it seems Heinlein wasn’t predicting the future six years in advance — he was predicting it sixty years in advance — as we now are living in a world where “dirty bombs” which spread radioactive waste are, quite possibly, the most likely nuclear weapons that may (fate forbid) see use against civilian populations.
There are numerous other examples of well-reasoned, intelligent and (incidentally) extremely readable explorations of “what-if” scenarios out there. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote perhaps the definitive work on human colonization of a new world with his Mars Trilogy — which actually addresses yet another Instapundit topic du jour, what the environmental issues will be when humans begin colonizing Mars. Robinson’s novel (which I’ll admit up front is one of my absolute favorite works of fiction, period) addresses not only the nuts-and-bolts technical issues of rendering a planet habitable for fragile humans, but also creates a complete political and social world, wrestling with the rather staggering question of “If you could create an entirely new society and government on a new planet — what should it look like?”
Other samples: it’s reasonably well known that author Arthur C. Clarke developed the concept of satellite communications in 1945, but less well-known that Robert A. Heinlein came up with the idea for the waterbed. William Gibson is widely credited with the idea of cyberspace, but frankly, Vernor Vinge described the coming ‘Net better with A Fire Upon the Deep, and earlier with True Names.
And there is even some precedent for the formal inclusion of creative types — in this case, science fiction writers — being called upon in time of war. During WWII, Issac Asimov, L. Sprague De Camp, and yes, Heinlein, were recruited to work at the Materials Laboratory of the Naval Air Material Center at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. (I’ve tried to find some more detailed history on the web of this effort, but the best I can do is this acceptance speech by De Camp, which mentions the project about halfway down).
So why not again, and why not now? Limiting the pool to science fiction writers would be foolish — I’m just focusing on what I know here — but they certainly aren’t a bad place to start. Tom Ridge doesn’t seem to be doing terribly much else — why not put him to work getting a crowd of creative types together for a serious what-iffing session? Put the right twenty people in a conference room for a day, supply sufficient quantities of caffeine and alcohol, and I guarantee you’ll walk out of there with ideas that haven’t yet occurred to the CIA or FBI.
Nominations, anyone? Here’s a quick list to start with:
Tom Clancy (has a proven track record of coming up with nasty scenarios — see above)
John Barnes (frighteningly good at coming up with nasty worst-case scenarios, see Mother of Storms).
Kim Stanley Robinson (natch)
Christopher Hitchens (guaranteed to have an opinion on anything)
Iain M. Banks (he’s a Brit, but they’re on the right side)
Got your own nominations? Send them to me, and I’ll start a running list….
Update: By the way, I hope nobody will bother suggesting Oliver Stone, because he’s a complete nutcase.
Update May 31, 2007: Howdy Instapundit readers (again, five years later!). If you are looking for more on the “dream team” we came up with back in 2002, check out this update.