I’ve now updated the site layout so that the latest Dream Team list appears in the left margin. I knew I’d find a use for all that space under my fat old graphic…
The Dream Team Responds
I have been wondering just what reaction the authors who have been named on our list would have to the proposal. So, I took the wacky approach of, well, asking them.
I’ve corresponded with a few members of our theoretical dream team, at this point, and reprint here their comments (with their permission). The good news is, I’m hearing a fairly consistent response that — at some levels, at least — the idea of bringing ‘creative types’ into the planning process seems to have some traction. The bad news is, it sounds like it has a ways to go.
Actually, it might surprise you how many bright people are thinking along similar lines… and inviting we sci fi types to express thoughts about threats. At the middle and upper-middle level, there are brilliant people in the military and government, deeply concerned and working their butts off. I attended a conference in Washington (as dinner speaker) where several geniuses spun terrifying scenarios.
Alas, (1) it is a complex world and we make a big/complex target (2) our leadership is not very smart.
Your concern is the same one that motivated my nonfiction book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy? Only in a mostly open society will commonfolk stand a chance of holding the mighty – or the dangerous – accountable.
You can find The Transparent Society at Amazon, of course. I’ve been aware of it for a long time, and I am now consumed with guilt for having not yet read it. The shame!
Greg Bear responded with the following note:
Cool name! And thanks for posting the nomination. Truth is, I was in Washington a few weeks ago attending a conference on bioterrorism, so there are some folks listening.
The rest of the list is terrific. There are some sad spots, however–Harry Stine died a couple of years ago.
Yup, Mr. Stine’s passing has been noted. And I of course tip my hat to Mr. Bear for the compliment on my nom de plume.
I’m still waiting on a whole bunch of other inquiries I’ve sent, and I’ll of course post appropriate replies here as I receive them. Also: I have not attempted to contact every name on our list; mainly those whose work I am familiar with personally. If you’d like to attempt to contact someone yourself, please go right ahead, but drop me a line first to ensure that I haven’t already sent them a message. Mailbombing our dream team is impolite.
Clark Goble writes in regarding the creative dream team effort and has a few points o’ constructive criticism. I include his note in its entirety below, along with my comments / responses interspersed:
Regarding your list of authors for your think tank. I’d take a couple of exceptions with it. First the claim that some of them are good authors. While they may have interesting plots and ideas many are *horrible* authors. Take Dean Ing. He may be a creative, smart guy, but a good novelist? Come on. His prose is so stilted that it makes High School fiction look like Shakespeare. Of course you didn’t pick these fellows for their prose, but it does make me wonder if a few “James Bond” like scenarios that seem cool is behind your list.
Can’t vouch for Ing myself, so I won’t try — and recall that I’m not putting any filters on the process here, just collecting the list of suggestions from the masses. I would agree that literary merit isn’t a precondition for being a good candidate for our list here — but having a creative mind is.
I mean if you are going to do this sort of thing, at least pick a novelist who has some experience in the field. Take, for instance Dick Marcinko who actually formed one of the top Navy Seal teams, has experience in hands on counter-terrorism, and has lots of books with very creative terrorist attacks on the US. Plus he has a helper-writer so his prose, while expletive-ridden, is at least entertaining and not at all stilted. About the only downside with him is that he screwed up the hostage rescue of the Iranian hostages back under Carter. But I’m not sure you can necessarily blame him for that.
Don’t know Marcinko, but he sounds ok — sort of. The military background is good, but frankly, the government has access to plenty of people with Navy Seal experience. If they want to know what a Navy-trained counterterrism expert thinks is going to happen, I’m sure they’ve got plenty of them. What I’m trying to do here is get the folks who have different perspectives that you won’t find in traditional military or government circles and get their minds applied to the problem.
Jerry Pournelle I’ll actually go along with. Ing, I’m more leery about as I think he is too much into the “techno-thriller” sort without the pragmatism that Pournelle has. A lot of the other science fiction authors I’m dubious about for similar reasons. I think you should have perhaps one or two, but beyond that and you’re biasing you panel too much. Get some “keep it simple” low tech guys in there. Novelists are fine and dandy, but probably I’d throw in a few criminals. They know how to think in non-standard ways but also are aware of a lot of low-tech “holes” that even novelists don’t know about.
I’m all for criminals. For the team, I mean. Clark’s point is a classic one and is well taken — to catch a thief, and all that.
For that matter, if you want someone good, throw in the guy who runs Slash-dot. (www.slashdot.com) His “blog” is the most popular among techies. He moderates all the comments, and believe me there is nothing like geeks with too much time on their hands to hash things down to their core and find the holes. Plus he reads and edits all these sorts of stories that points out weaknesses in computer *and* dumbassed weaknesses in policy.
So for my ideal panel you have one sci-fi author, Pournell. Marchinko who has the experience, thinks nasty, and already has experience launching attacks on US soil. (He broke into air force one and placed smoke bombs in it) “Cowboy Neal” from slash-dot to represent the “too much intelligence and not enough challenges” anarchistic hacker community. Then some criminal used to breaking security. (Although Marcinko may have plenty of experience there) Perhaps one other person – preferably a mideast expert with experience in Islam. Keep it small. Any bigger and it’ll become unweldly.
I like the Slashdot suggestion. Despite being a self-described geek, I am not actually a Slashdot junkie (head hangs in shame). But I’ll send a note their way and see what they think of the idea.
Thanks for the comments Clark, and keep them coming all…
New York Newsday has a web site up with proposed designs for rebuilding the World Trade Center area. I was going to include my own commentary, but I’m not going to bother, because VodkaPundit nails it, so just go read his. I thought he was just being his usual grumpy self, but then I looked at the designs, and he’s actually being way too generous.
I do, however, like the Liberty Square proposal (which isn’t on the Newsday site), also pointed to (approvingly) by our favorite martini-quaffing blogger, via a column in Reason Online by Ronald Bailey.
I’m adding Spider Robinson as one of my personal nominees for our creative dream team to brainstorm future terrorist scenarios & prevention.
I originally had Spider in my mental category of writers whose work I enjoy greatly, but who weren’t necessarily well suited for the task at hand. But the more I think about it, the more I think he’d have much to offer. His novel Night of Power is a rather original take on a takeover of New York City (the whole thing!), and his Mindkiller shows he knows how to explore the dark side of new technologies. (Not to mention that his excellent short story “Melanacholy Elephants” has some interesting insights for anyone paying attention to current debates on the how long copyrights should extend — no, really). My only complaint with Spider is that I wish he’d write more stuff outside of his Callahan’s short stories universe. Some of these, especially the earlier ones, are absolutely brilliant and touching works of SF, but I must admit I’ve tired of the crew over the years. But a man must pay the bills, so I’m not going to quibble with Mr. Robinson too much.
Anyway, check him out & send feedback my way if you have comments, as always…
To recap, our full list now is as follows:
John Barnes (see Mother of Storms).
Kim Stanley Robinson
Iain M. Banks
Robert L. Forward
L. Ron Hubbard*
*Indicates deceased and not expected likely they will serve if called. (Hubbard I knew; it was pointed out to me in correspondance that Harry Stine has also passed on.)
I just noticed in my tracking stats that I’ve got some gov.uk users dropping by, so I figured I should apologize:
The translation engine does not currently support translating from American to English.
Next stop: Total Global Dominiation
Experimenting with a new feature on the site: automatic translation to other languages. With an hour or so of playing around, I seem to have gotten auto-translation working via FreeTranslation.com.
The service is limited to Spanish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Portuguese for the moment. I’m bummed about the lack of Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Arabic, and Farsi, and the translation process is a bit slow, but oh well. It’s free, I can’t (or at least, shouldn’t) complain too much.
For now, I’ve just got the setup working for the front page… I don’t think it works from the archives. I’ll check that out later.
So has anyone else played around with tools like this? Something is telling me I just re-invented the wheel, but I’m not sure I’ve seen translation tools on other blogs. I’ll have to look more closely in my rounds today. Anyway, if you have any suggestions or comments, or information on other tools, please send them my way.
I must admit I find the potential here staggering. The community o’ the blogsphere is a wonderful thing, but to imagine if it were possible to have bloggers planetwide, blogging merrily away in their native languages, and have everyone else be able to read them… damn, makes me want to go re-read my archive issues of Wired from 1993 or something.
Anyway, by all means, if you’re a non-English speaker reading the site, drop me a line, and let me know if the translation is working properly. If your language is one of those I have translation for, you can even do so in your native tongue and I’ll try to auto-translate your email — but in this case, please use as simple language as possible, so we don’t confuse the poor machines at FreeTranslation. I speak American High School Spanish, and am very slowly learning Persian (Farsi), so I’ll have to mostly trust the translation engine, I’m afraid.
Come to think of it, I don’t really have a way of verifying whether the translation of my own tortured prose is truly working. For all I know, when I say:
Let’s establish a dream team of creative types to brainstorm future possible terrorist scenarios.
My Norwegian users might now be getting:
Please help urgently my hovercraft is full of eels.
Ah well, we’ll see, I guess…
I corresponded with Bill Patterson, editor of The Heinlein Journal, who provided some additional detail on science fiction writers’ contribution during WWII. But first, he begins with a correction to my earlier anecdote regarding Heinlein’s story “Solution Unsatisfactory”:
The story about government agents checking out a writer’s sources for atomic information does not relate to Heinlein or to “Solution Unsatisfactory” — that was, after all, before the war and before any security restrictions; it happened to Cleve Cartmill who found FBI agents waiting for him in John Campbell’s office during the war. The name of the story that appeared in ASF escapes me at the moment.
Patterson continues with the following additional detail on the war effort:
Second, you have assumed that Heinlein, de Camp and Asimov wound up working at NAES because of some attempt to get sf writers, and this is not quite correct. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, RAH took off for New York to use John Campbell’s place as a base from which to seek some kind of military post. He was ultimately unsuccessful in this — the reason given was that he was an “old lunger” (TB patient) and the Navy didn’t want old lungers in contact with active duty personnel, or at least that was doctrine at the time. He felt it was rather that he had offended the head of the Department of the Navy in an incident in his political career. He and Campbell and several others talked about what they would do in the war effort. Heinlein put out feelers and was pulled in by his friend Albert Scoles who was then running the Materials Center at the Naval Air Experimental Station at Mustin Field in Philadelphia, to act as a Civilian Engineer until his reactivation could come through. At that time L. Sprague de Camp, who was also trained as an engineer, was going to Naval Officer school. Heinlein suggested that Scoles tap him as well. And Asimov, a graduate chemist, was also at loose ends, so Heinlein suggested that Scoles recruit him as well. During Heinlein’s time at NAES, he is widely credited with acting as a personnel recruiter, and these two were simply the ones we know about, and they were recruited because they had useful engineering skills. It happened that Heinlein’s social life had mutated into hanging out with his writer colleagues, so that’s how it all came about.
Now, I don’t have all the details about the Kamikaze task force, but there were several SF writers in it, and it does seem to be true that they were recruited for their writerly imagination. It appears that the group RAH headed was outside of regular channels and they hoped for fast results from unorthodox thinkers. But the war was over before anything useful could be produced and implemented. However, there were more and other people at these group meetings than the sf writers we’re familiar with (including Sturgeon and Hubbard and at least occasionally Campbell).
So far as I know the imagination of sf writers was Heinlein’s idea, and it may never have entered into anything official. The most likely scenario is that somebody thought that the official group in Naval Intelligence would never produce anything (or at least not timely) and King or someone on his staff authorized another operation on the Q-T that became the Kamikaze group. It’s not entirely impossible that King contacted RAH directly, but it’s not likely either. King had been RAH’s captain in the Navy from 1930-1932. He was advanced to head the Naval War by Roosevelt, apparently over the objections of his advisors, but that is a matter of public record so I won’t go into it here.
Thanks to Bill for the clarification and additional information!
Can’t sleep. Guess it’s time to blog.
A few days back I alluded to a mysterious “reader” who pointed me to a Boston Globe article on Vatican legal scholar Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda. He remained mysterious as I couldn’t get the provided link to his site to work; but that now having been corrected, he is mysterious no more: check him out at The Daily Babble.
Kausfiles can’t stop linking to TTLB !
The Mickster has now linked to my humble page no less than three separate times in the past 36 hours. It appears to be some kind of strange addiction.
But Mr. Kaus’s pain is my gain, so welcome, Kausfans and Slate-junkies, to the humble page of a humble bear!
By the way: Do I need to point out less subtly the inherent amusement of the web site for Internet Addiction? Nah, didn’t think so.
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.