Science Fiction Writers Offer Homeland Security Advice

This is embarrassing.

Posted on March 27, 2008 at 12:53 PM • 73 Comments

Comments

BMurrayMarch 27, 2008 1:29 PM

It's funnier if you substitute "Kilgore Trout" wherever you see Niven, Pournelle, or Brin. Man, I miss Vonnegut.

ChrisMarch 27, 2008 1:35 PM

So you don't think the government should be taking advice from a guy who said, "Giving up freedom for security has begun to look naive"? Sounds to me like exactly the sort of advice Homeland Security needs to hear more of.

ignacioMarch 27, 2008 1:36 PM

Missing from the article:

"...and some of them are complete loonies, while others simply have an ego the size of a small planetoid."

Slobodan MiwifesavichMarch 27, 2008 1:59 PM

Spread rumors in spanish that Emergency Rooms kills latinos to harvest their organs? I don't think "politically incorrect" quite captures the problem.

In fiction, you can commit the most horrific atrocities you can imagine and you get drama. In the real world, trying to sabotage the health care of an entire ethnic class by exploiting their cultural fears smells...evil.

Mr. Niven, someday my wife (a latina) may be your emergency nurse. I'd like to say she doesn't take stuff like this personally, but in overcrowded emergency rooms sometimes tough decisions have to be made. I hope you never need emergency care.

LeoMarch 27, 2008 2:02 PM

"Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants."

Yes, terrorism a valid solution to political problems.

I am curious as to the benefit of restricting the spread of those rumors to the Spanish language. I'm also curious as to how that would be accomplished as well as how those rumors would be restricted to the Latino community.

And that's ignoring the false stereotype that all illegal aliens are Latino.

There's a reason so many people stop reading science fiction after they become adults.

Max EricksonMarch 27, 2008 2:09 PM

Niven and Pournelle wrote about what a good idea this was in "Footfall". The book is on par with the panel; entertaining, but not a whole lot more than that.

xd0sMarch 27, 2008 2:14 PM

DHS might've reviewed and screened their candidates a little more closely for less ego and incendiary behaviors BEFORE they held the panel. Many of these participants are pretty well known as opinionated to the point of uselessness in general discussion forums.

ZGMarch 27, 2008 2:17 PM

Why shouldnt Science Fiction writers offer advice to Homeland Security? The threats they work against are largely fiction. The media describing the "problem" consists of mainly fiction writers. If only they could close the loop and pay them all with a fictional budget. Wait ... thats largely fiction too. Sounds like a nearly complete system.

AnonymousMarch 27, 2008 2:20 PM

Aren;t some of these from the same merry band that lobbied Reagan for the SDO (aka "Starwars")...
... besides, if the government is willing to listen to Tom Clancey, why not these guys?

CraigMarch 27, 2008 2:23 PM

Embarrassing for who? You're not a science fiction writer, are you? I'm not one either, and I just think it's kind of amusing in a really stupid sort of way.

Trichinosis USAMarch 27, 2008 2:28 PM

Sometimes it's hard to figure out who wants a violent revolution on American soil more - the disenfranchised, or the overfranchised who are looking for an excuse to further abuse the power they've stolen. In the latter case, such is their enthusiasm for the idea that they currently appear to be trying to hire scriptwriters.

Seth GordonMarch 27, 2008 2:43 PM

I'm sure that if Niven were giving this advice in Boston, he would have suggested spreading the rumor in Gaelic instead of Spanish. I'm also sure that the subprime mortgage crisis is about to be resolved by invisible pink ponies.

Timmy303March 27, 2008 2:47 PM

Am I the only one hearing Larry Niven and laughing till I can't breathe? That is the funniest thing I've ever heard. Like something out of Monty Python. You can't possibly take this group seriously.

AlbatrossMarch 27, 2008 3:03 PM

I sat in a hotel pool hot tub with Niven and Pournelle at the 1980 Boston World Science Fiction Convention. I still feel unclean.

In my defense, I didn't know who they were when I got in. However their conspicuously loud topic of conversation was "Annoying fans who never leave one alone." So I left.

Petréa MitchellMarch 27, 2008 3:07 PM

I'm pretty sure Larry Niven was joking (if poorly). However, anyone asking Jerry Pournelle or David Brin for advice should already know they're going to say the sort of things that they said.

SeerMarch 27, 2008 3:10 PM

I suggest we get a bunch of security people from DHS and have a panel on SciFi book ideas. It might come up with something more useful.

Bruce, do you have any good Sci Fi book ideas?

mooMarch 27, 2008 3:10 PM

Man, that's not embarassing, that's hillarious! At least they picked sci-fi writers with definite visionary cred. Niven's idea to ease the hospital crisis was very entertaining. "I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work..."

@Rionn: I have two comments about that.

Number one, the Onion writes fictional news pieces, so if you were serious, please find a real-world source for it.

And Number two, several years before 9/11, Tom Clancy wrote a book in which a disgruntled Japanese commercial airline pilot (whose son was killed in a war with America, or something?) flew his airliner into the capitol building and killed the President and nearly all of the government. I can't remember which book it was, but it happened right at the end and resulted in Jack Ryan becoming President because he had just been named Vice-President. I'm not suggesting that Tom Clancy invented the idea of using an airliner as a guided missile to destroy a building and kill everyone inside, but he did write a mainstream novel about it well in advance of Bin Laden's fanatic buddies doing it for real.

The security services had to be aware of the threat (I mean, they read Tom Clancy novels right??) but no one took it seriously enough until 9/11. I guess.

Fred X. QuimbyMarch 27, 2008 3:12 PM

Yes, sad.

Niven, Pournelle, and others have done number of good things in the past for the imagination-starved federal government. I find it particularly bittersweet after all these years the once humble Niven has become abrasive and the once abrasive Pournelle has mellowed. Who would have thunk it?

The only reason people stop reading sci-fi is because they become resistant to new ideas and old problems dressed in new clothes.

CerebusMarch 27, 2008 3:15 PM

I seem to recall a little tidbit from _Lucifer's Hammer_ where a character threatened an environmentalist saying something like "And if I ever hear the words ozone and hairspray again I will personally find you and throw up in your lap."

Well, we all know how *that* prediction turned out, neh?

Victor WilliamsMarch 27, 2008 3:16 PM

Embarrassing for whom? DHS? I would imagine they would need some sort of shame in order to feel embarrassed. Science Fiction writers? Perhaps, if only because these guys set themselves up to be portrayed as nut-jobs. The initial premise,to ask people who think outside of the conventional box, is sound.

Rich WilsonMarch 27, 2008 3:22 PM

Too bad "Winchester Remington Colt" (L. Ron Hubbard) isn't around to give them advice. Guess they'll just have to call Tom.

alanMarch 27, 2008 3:30 PM

The best way to fight the terrorists is to send Harlan Ellison after them.

That will learn them!

altjiraMarch 27, 2008 3:31 PM

Like about asking a science fiction writer who actually knows something about security, like, I dunno, Neal Stephenson?

LeoMarch 27, 2008 3:48 PM

@moo

"I'm not suggesting that Tom Clancy invented the idea of using an airliner as a guided missile to destroy a building and kill everyone inside, but he did write a mainstream novel about it well in advance of Bin Laden's fanatic buddies doing it for real."

Ironically enough, the possibility of a collision from a plane was taken into account in the design of the Twin Towers. Unfortunately planes at the time the Towers were designed were somewhat smaller and the designers didn't take into account the effect from the heat of burning a nearly full load of fuel. Of course, neither did bin Laden, as he was surprised the Towers actually fell, as I recall.

The idea that nobody could have predicted it is a bit ridiculous. It's the suicidal aspect, something that also existed prior to 9/11, that makes it so hard for most people to think about.

AnonymousMarch 27, 2008 3:52 PM

@Seth Gordon

"I'm sure that if Niven were giving this advice in Boston, he would have suggested spreading the rumor in Gaelic instead of Spanish."

Not that I agree with Niven's proposal (I vehemently disagree actually, I consider it inhuman), but in a horrible way the logic is sound.

The vast majority of illegal immigrants in the US are Spanish speaking (not necessarily Latino, but they understand each other linguistically at least). And it's a well-known phenomenon that they go into emergency rooms even for basic medical care, because the ER employees are not allowed to inquire about immigration status, I.D., or insurance. I mean, they use the ER for emergencies too, but they also take up ER time and money (which is pure loss for the ER/hospital) for things that they should see a General Practitioner for. This has caused several hospitals in recent years to close in L.A. (I assume other places too, but this is the only one I am personally familiar with).

Martin BuddenMarch 27, 2008 3:52 PM

Yes it is embarrassing. Shouldn't they be using scriptwriters instead of science fiction authors if they want to defend against movie plot threats?

Petréa MitchellMarch 27, 2008 4:05 PM

moo is thinking of Debt of Honor, published in 1994.

But sf did get there first: Stephen King (as Richard Bachmann) famously had the protagonist of The Running Man smashing an airplane into a building for revenge in 1982. (That's the book, not the movie.)

My personal favorite sf example is also from 1982-- in the Doctor Who story "Earthshock", the terrorists plan to make a political statement by smashing a gigantic spaceship into an interstellar peace conference being hosted on Earth.

Steve BoyettMarch 27, 2008 4:14 PM

So Niven, Pournell, & Brin continue to do their part to keep science fiction as publicly esteemed as it not only is, but as it clearly deserves to be. One for the Cause, boys.

SumDumGuyMarch 27, 2008 4:27 PM

Re: illegals overburdening hospitals

Hospitals have been failing/closing all over the country, the rates of failure do not significantly vary between areas with large populations of illegal aliens and small populations of illegal aliens.

So, while blaming hospital failures on abuse of ER facilities sure sounds like a plausible explanation, it doesn't really pan out. General mismanagement seems to be a much more consistent explanation for most of the closings so far.

Although, in my opinion, it is certainly possible that one symptom of such mismanagement would be to blame the illegal aliens as an attempt to redirect responsibility.

AnonymousMarch 27, 2008 5:07 PM

Jerry Pournelle used to write a column in Byte a long time ago.

Every month it was essentially the same thing: Jerry tried to install some complicated, cutting-edge piece of equipment on his computer, for example a mouse.

Every month, his computer would stop working until his son or some other computer professional would come over and fix the problem.

This never changed. Every month, just as stupidly, I'd read his column - it only took a few minutes. There had to be a reason that the editors of such a respected magazine as Byte kept publishing him. [Aside: Maybe he did it for free.]

By about the tenth column I'd read, I finally understood that Pournelle had somehow grown immune to learning. I got tired of this, and stopped reading that section of Byte.

A few years later, on the Genie BBS/network, I came across some posts of his in a discussion group.

"Well," I thought, "he's clueless about computers, but maybe on other topics, his opinion might be more considered." [It's the obverse about the usual saw that expertise in one field doesn't mean expertise in another field.]

As Al Purdy put it: "It was a mistake of terminology." ('At the Quinte Hotel' 1968)

I got into a longish discussion/argument with him regarding using/wasting water, falling water tables, chlorination, and so on. He was (is?) living in Florida at the time.

All those Byte colunms of his came flooding back to me in a rush. Reading his replies to my replies, I realized: "He really is clueless, just really _generally_ clueless."

Pournelle's brain can only handle a maximun of two ideas at a time. So he is completely unable to form the third statement of any basic syllogism.

The single fact that Larry Niven has been a good buddy of Pournelle's for so long is the only reason I've never read any of Niven's works.

Nick LancasterMarch 27, 2008 5:53 PM

The plane-into-the-Capitol meme was also used by Dale Brown in "Storming Heaven" ... and it was even Islamic radicals behind it.

The "I don't think anyone knew terrorists would hijack planes and use them as missiles," line is a very specific denial, and lost all credibility the moment it became clear there'd been some choir practice, i.e., every using the exact same words.

As far as Niven's 'panic the Hispanics' idea goes, it'd backfire - because other people would hear the rumor (it's not like we're an English-only society) and it would spread out of the target group. A clever attacker, then, could commit a couple of isolated attacks and further the rumor, either through reports of copycat crimes, or fostering the belief that the rumor is real and the government lied. Ooops.

Pournelle has been on the wacky bus since the 1980's (or possibly before), and Brin is enamored of his own ideas a little too much.

Steve KalmanMarch 27, 2008 6:08 PM

I'm a lawyer. Also, I'm a computer security professional (I teach and consult in the area of digital data discovery [forensics] and CISSP Prep courses). This long message addresses some comments and questions in other responses and also contains a general comment on the underlying case. I apologize for the excessive length.

Entrapment is when a law enforcement officer (LEO) facilitates a
crime. An example: a LEO approaches the owner of a print shop and says
"I just got some great paper. Let's print some currency". Then when
the ink dries, "Good job. You're under arrest." That's a crime that
would not have happened without the assistance of the LEO.

Enticement is when LEO gets a crook to identify himself. The classic
fencing operation sting is a good example. The crook robbed houses,
stores or people and would have done so whether LEO ran the fencing op
or not. By getting him to come in to sell his stuff (and using video,
etc) a valid arrest can be made.

Note: There is no such thing as civil entrapment (entrapment requires
a crime). There is civil enticement, such as the RIAA running a
honeypot.

In the FBI CP case, the arrestee went to the site on his own, thus
enticement, not entrapment.


Assuming the reporting is accurate (always a risky move) the only
issue on appeal is whether the jury had enough evidence to believe
beyond a reasonable doubt that the links were clicked from his
computer (thus his IP address) rather than from a neighbor who was
using his open access point.

Presence of the downloaded/encrypted file or images unique to the web
site residing in temporary internet cache should cover that.

Had the defendant argued CSRF or HTTP caching or email spidering or
some other "automated" technique (and managed to explain it to the
jury in one-syllable words) he might have confused them enough to get
below the reasonable doubt threshold. By not making those arguments in
the original case, they're gone on appeal. He waived them forever,
unless he somehow gets a new trial.

Had the warrant turned up no such files and no other CP, then the jury
would certainly have found reasonable doubt and acquitted (as they did
on some of the charges).

Whether the police should participate in such stings is a policy
debate, not an issue of law.

I also saw some statements in the article about getting an early
morning visit by merely clicking on the link. Note that the affidavit
for the warrant showed file download logs, not server access logs.
Someone who visited the site then went elsewhere would not raise
enough probable cause for a warrant to be issued (or if issued, to be
sustained).

Steve

AnonymousMarch 27, 2008 6:27 PM

@Victor Williams

"The initial premise,to ask people who think outside of the conventional box, is sound."

So if someone doesn't think at all, is it inside or outside the box?

AnonymousMarch 27, 2008 6:37 PM

@Steve Kalman

"Entrapment is when a law enforcement officer (LEO) facilitates a
crime. An example: a LEO approaches the owner of a print shop and says
"I just got some great paper. Let's print some currency". Then when
the ink dries, "Good job. You're under arrest." That's a crime that
would not have happened without the assistance of the LEO."
"In the FBI CP case, the arrestee went to the site on his own, thus
enticement, not entrapment."

I hope I don't sound horribly dense, but I don't see the difference between your description of Entrapment and the case in question. There was no link before the FBI posted it, hence the crime (attempting to download CP) could not have happened without FBI intervention. The crime is not visiting a risque Russian site (and they didn't even prove that he had visited it, anyway, or there was no mention of referrer data attached to IP addresses anyway), it was attempting to download CP. To directly parallel it to your example...

FBI: "I got some great CP vids. Check them out".

*link gets clicked*

FBI: "Good Job. You're under arrest".

clvrmnkyMarch 27, 2008 7:28 PM

I thought it was generally accepted among the SF cognoscenti that Niven and Pournelle were unreadable hacks? Looks like their fiction hasn't improved.

All I remember about Pournelle are his embarrassing articles in Creative Computing. You know, after that publication jumped the shark in the late 80s.

AndrewMarch 27, 2008 7:40 PM

>> Many of these participants are pretty well known as opinionated to the point of uselessness in general discussion forums.

They are entertaining speakers and have a lot of far out ideas, having shared panels with them in the past. Politically incorrect, opinionated and long on war stories is simply par for the course.

DHS is so short on good ideas that I think encouraging them to ask others for input (instead of brain-flogging themselves into increasing cycles of paranoid delusion) is positive overall.

Memetic warfare is potentially a very powerful tool to fight terrorism. However, teaching basic memetic defense skills (aka critical thinking) would make life difficult for corporate America and especially Madison Avenue.

I am entertained by the number of security experts who are also science fiction fans. When one considers that "security" is itself somewhere between science and fantasy, it makes sense.

shoobe01March 27, 2008 9:59 PM

Okay, not to get off topic, but (at least as far as public security professionals go) who cares if any novelist predicted flying aircraft into buildings? Because actual terrosists tried to fly actual aircraft into buildings! Look up AF8969, for the best example.

Nick BMarch 27, 2008 10:10 PM

It's not like the sci/fi authors could possibly be any *worse* than the TSA.

It would be better to ask someone who knows about security for advice, but really, the TSA could probably improve by asking a random group of 100 DC Bums for advice, so I think all in all this was a positive experience.

rubbermanMarch 27, 2008 11:18 PM

This was hilarious! The image of David Brin banging his fist and waving his cell phone at the audience would have been worth the price of admission (taking a grossly underpaid job with DHS). And Niven, I hope he can get his tongue unstuck from his cheek before he starves to death! :-)

Adam WMarch 28, 2008 12:35 AM

Footfall was a bunch of macho jingoistic crap about science fiction writers saving the world through timely advice to the US Govt. Macho science fiction writers. It was self-insertion fiction. That they're now trying to insert themselves into reality is a disturbing development.

supersnailMarch 28, 2008 4:18 AM

I think I will start a rumor in American English.

"Like you know man, if you like go to the Emergency Room and you like have cool insurance man they just keep you in there forever to harvest money from your policy. I mean you will never get out they will just run tests like forever."

Marty BusseMarch 28, 2008 9:17 AM

Several years before Tom Clancy used the idea in one of his books, members of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) hijacked a plane, apparently with the intent of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower. (They were thwarted by the French security services.)

In 1979, Charles McCarry (a far better author than Clancy) came up with the idea of terrorists hijacking airliners and using them to attack targets: it was part of the plot of his book The Better Angels. He appears to be the person who thought of the idea-not Tom Clancy.

Anyone reading this would be well advised to put down Clancy's Mary Sue fantasies and pick up McCarry's books, which are better written, and whose author doesn't need to make up fantasies where he becomes President, since he was actually in the CIA and doesn't have many illusions about the business.

CerebusMarch 28, 2008 10:17 AM

"Footfall was a bunch of macho jingoistic crap about science fiction writers saving the world through timely advice to the US Govt."

And _Fallen Angel_ was even worse by pandering to specific fans (something done somewhat more subtly in _Lucifer's Hammer_). A cynical man would think he was trying to pump up his con appearance fees.

Don't ask why I torture myself with this crap.

And in re: ER crowding: Walk into any ER anywhere. If it's crowded, it's crowded with *people without medical insurance.* The ethnic distribution of the people in the ER will precisely mirror the ethnic distribution of lower income families in the area served by the hospital.

That means that a crowded ER in white rural America is filled with uninsured white people.

By Larry lives in LA. Of *course* ERs in LA are filled with Hispanics. Duh.

What a dumbass.

xd0sMarch 28, 2008 10:19 AM

@Andrew

Fair enough, and in the interest of full disclosure:

"I am entertained by the number of security experts who are also science fiction fans. When one considers that "security" is itself somewhere between science and fantasy, it makes sense."

I am not only a science fiction fan, but writer as well (though certainly not to the volume or success of the quoted panelists).

I would tend to agree that the ability to apply creative thinking and abstract thought to security problems has merit. I was just commenting more on the known tendancies of the panelists. :)

mooMarch 28, 2008 10:27 AM

@ Marty Busse: I didn't know about The Better Angels, I will keep my eyes out for that one. The Last Supper is however, a favorite from my childhood---we had a lot of cold-war spy novels around the house when I was growing up.

Michael AshMarch 28, 2008 10:59 AM

It's funny watching everyone arguing who come up with the idea of crashing airliners into stuff first. Everyone seems to have forgotten about this minor event in the 40s referred to as World War II. The Japanese used hundreds of suicide pilots to crash planes into high-value targets. It's only the smallest of steps from the Japanese technique of using your own planes to the more modern technique of stealing someone else's planes.

JoMarch 28, 2008 11:13 AM

Another comment about Niven/Pournelle: they have a habit of generalizing from too little information and calling the result 'logic'. While this can give us some wonderful stories (Niven's short stories are generally very good), and they can make for ok novels (when not pandering to the fans), this method is horrible for creating policy!

cheers-
Jo

marcMarch 28, 2008 11:49 AM

The very same round table could have been a little bit more intelligent with people like Philip K.Dick, John Brunner, Philip Jose Farmer, Robert Sheckley, J.G. Ballard or Norman Spinrad (ok, let’s add a “right wing” leader like Heinlein). Most of them are no more on this world ? We’re speaking ‘bout science fiction anyway

derfMarch 28, 2008 11:51 AM

You naysayers should be ashamed of yourselves! Just think of all of the "Science Fiction" possibilities we can be prepared against.

We can prevent the moon from being used to store nuclear waste so it doesn't explode, rain down on earth, and kill everyone, destroy the earth's atmosphere, or shoot off into space.

You'll be sorry if a long lost "colony" of humans fleeing from an out-of-control humanity-cidal robotic culture shows up and we've dismissed the idea out of hand.

The government will have to take the idea of Sky-net seriously now...(or not).

Will the FBI create a vampire or werewolf crime unit?

We'll still be assimilated, but at least we'll have tried to come up with a solution.

MikeAMarch 28, 2008 11:54 AM

Straying from Science Fiction into theater, I seem to recall that in Sondheim's "Assasins", one of the assasin wannabes intended to fly an airliner into the whitehouse to get Richard Nixon. Although I am sure that some poetic liberties were taken, all the other _basic_ facts about the assasins and their targets were more-or-less in accord with what (little) history I am aware of.
Ah, yes, Wikipedia seems to agree. Samuel Byke, 1974. What more could you ask for. :-)

@cerebus: Hey, are you the mercenary Aardvark that gave the TMNTs their big break? Do they ever thank you, or even send a postcard?

Brian DunbarMarch 28, 2008 3:02 PM

"I thought it was generally accepted among the SF cognoscenti that Niven and Pournelle were unreadable hacks? Looks like their fiction hasn't improved."

SF has cognoscenti? Lord, spare us from people who take their entertainment too seriously. And those who take what they say about entertainment too seriously.

I do not think that Niven is a hack - but them I'm not sure what that means. He writes to make money, not to create literature. But them I'm an anti-snob about what I read for fun.

"All I remember about Pournelle are his embarrassing articles in Creative Computing. You know, after that publication jumped the shark in the late 80s."

Creative Computing was before my time. I'll have to go look those up and see what I missed.

Pournelle is, in my opinion, a decent spec fiction writer; he gets the military right, build his worlds in a craftsman-like fashion and his characters clearly live in their universe.

He is a reasonably good tech writer - at the very least he is entertaining which you can't say about many in that field. When he writes on topics I know about, he's never wrong. Again, not something you can say about many in that field.

About his other hobbies, interests and professions I am not qualified to judge.

Peter E RetepMarch 28, 2008 4:41 PM

To amplify,
A General principle of Cyber-Information Strategy would seemto be this:

In a distributed sytem that has been breached, one needs to defeat the intruder in the most dangerous and most assymetric wayS an intruder can attack the system, or can shunt resource and information flow within the system.

People who can construct whole, not-yet-experienced worlds in functional detail in their minds, and then unleash characters to act independently, avariciously, immorally, or aggressively, or deceptively, against the designed functioning of that system, these are the sort of people you might want to hear suggestions from.

The first real security threat, beyond his comprehension, I recall was Kevin Mitnick.

Foreign criminally minded establishments - secret intelligence agencies - do not share their discoveries of our vulnerabilities with us, like teen hackers and open source practitioners do.

Peter E RetepMarch 28, 2008 5:28 PM

Reminds me of

"Fiction Writers offer MI-5 and MI-6 advice on Espionage":

Like Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Malcom Muggeridge, T.E. Lawrence, Colin Wilson, the younger, and those other Coventry Boffins advising the "real" spy-masters on how to run notional agents under Double XX Committee,
- not to mention Peter and Ian Fleming, William Hood, Jean LeCarre, James MacQuarrie, Stella Rimington, and Frederick Forsythe.

Jerry PournelleMarch 28, 2008 5:49 PM

I do not believe I ever wrote for Creative Computing. I wrote The Users's Column for BYTE from 1979 until BYTE folded, and continue to write the column for www.chaosmanorreviews.com as well as my own personal observations at www.jerrypournelle.com. I also did the lead column for POPULAR Computing, which was a sister publication to BYTE.

As to Footfall, it was the Number One New York Times Bestseller, so perhaps Niven and I did something right? In any event it was quite lucrative, as was Lucifer's Hammer before it. (Hammer was 14 weeks as #2 on the best-seller list. second to The Thornbirds.)

I was also a senior scientist in the aerospace industry before turning to science fact and fiction, so perhaps I have a few qualifications to speak on applications of technology to real world problems; certainly enough to match those who seem to think I have no right to speak on the subject.

As to Coventry Buffins, whatever they are, in my case I was the General Editor of Project 75, and perhaps that gives me a minor right to opinion on technology and intelligence.

Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

AlexMarch 29, 2008 7:29 AM

To those who wonder why this is embarrassing for non-science-fiction-writers: I believe that Bruce is fond of science fiction, so seeing a bunch of writers behave like nutjobs must be like seeing your parents with their pants down: embarrassing.

For those who don't like science fiction or writers, it is an embarrassment to know you belong to the same species as these idiots. This feeling is sometimes called "Spanish shame", and is compounded in this case by the offense to people of Spanish origins.

clvrmnkyMarch 29, 2008 9:53 AM

@Pournelle: My mistake. I recall all three of those publications losing their edge around that time, though Byte lasted a bit longer before it began to outstay its welcome (and personal computing changed into something quite different). Which is probably why I placed it in the late 80s; Byte stayed the freshest during those times.

But, yes, we used to make fun of Chaos Manor as we worked through the stack of magazines in the school library. I can't undo those memories.

"I was also a senior scientist in the aerospace industry before turning to science fact and fiction, so perhaps I have a few qualifications to speak on applications of technology to real world problems; certainly enough to match those who seem to think I have no right to speak on the subject."

I certainly never suggested you had no right to speak about /anything/. Certainly, thinking about security from a hacker's perspective (a common theme on this blog) has value. Being able to understand and explain the systems being exploited with some imagination is a good skillset.

After reading the related article linked to here, I'm reminded how actual training and education in the sciences doesn't always match up with success with this. Again, sorry, but I see your comments as a vague appeal to your own authority on a subject you have not yet demonstrated any true understanding of. This happens.

(As to the argument that appearing on a best-seller list means anything about a novel other than booksellers liked it, well I won't go there.)

So, yes. I dissed your writing (perhaps unfairly), which is all about opinion and taste. What can you do? There is no accounting for taste, and I make no apologies for those tastes not matching up with the New York Times. Chalk it up to internet snark.

The article referenced here is a different situation, altogether. It shows a startling misunderstanding about how the world works, and an even more startling brand of racism and unimaginative xenophobia tarted up as policy advice.

THE Anonymous Guy (the REAL one!)March 29, 2008 11:56 AM

@MikeA -- The Whitehouse was already hit by an airplane, prior to 911. That event seems to have fallen into the collective memory hole.

Anonymous NutjobMarch 29, 2008 4:19 PM

I guess clrmnky, thought Pournelle was only responding to his quick, unsupported, mean spirited hearsay-sourced opinion of what clrmnky, could not remember.

He was responding to various factual errors, not just yours.

Pournelle also identified himself and linked to his own site...which is not anonymous (like cowardly me).

I always enjoyed Pournelle's column in Byte. It was about someone getting his work done with computers...and having fun with computers. He was always experimenting with new stuff and relating his unexpurgated experiences, good and bad. It was not about *appearing* to be clever and smart. It was and apparently still is (according to Google, http://www.chaosmanorreviews.com/) about sharing experiences.

Pardon me, you can now return to making unsupported insults and gut punching Dr. Pournelle for things that *Larry Niven* *reportedly* said.

At least I've reconnected with the best part of Byte!

Cowardly Internet PosterMarch 29, 2008 5:21 PM

"Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D."

Geeze-Louise, Jer. Half (or more) of the
people who post here have advanced degrees. I enjoyed, and miss, _Byte_,
your column included, but Hugh Kenner
didn't sign every missive "Hugh Kenner, Ph.D." did he? And his was from Yale.

That said, good luck and good health
to you.

Cowardly Internet Poster, B.A., M.S., S.O.B.

ForrestMarch 30, 2008 5:09 AM

[pause to read cited article]

Ah, the old "selective quotation with prejudice" trick.

Let's try it with Lincoln:

"In a shockingly terse address following many respectful remarks from many honorable attendees, the president stated 'we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground' and subsequently took his seat. One attendee, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that he was shocked by the president's disgraceful lack of respect for the dead."

And that was with only 223 words to work with.

Ctrl-Alt-DelMarch 31, 2008 1:27 AM

On coming up with new ideas, see also Bruce's "Searching for Terrorists in World of Warcraft" earlier this month. There's a pattern forming.

DHS are obviously digging into the sf canon for ideas. The article above the one about the sf writers takes its security tunnel straight out of a certain movie starring Big Arnie - "Total Recall". From memory, in the movie the eagle-eyed security guards spotted the pocket bazooka Arnie was carrying, prompting him to burst out through the side of the tunnel and escape.

Not saying that it's a bad idea, though, if it gets people through airport security faster. I won't add "and improves security" because existing security is not only slow but pathetically ineffective against terrorists, so it's bound to improve security.

Obviously you *can* make this stuff up!

Jerry PournelleMarch 31, 2008 1:30 AM

Well, sir, you may well laugh at my Byte columns. Recall that I wrote The User's Column, and it was largely about problems and relentless troubleshooting, ending with a happy ending.

"I do a lot of silly things so you don't have to."

And perhaps it was all amusing; it certainly was lucrative. I think I was the highest paid columnist in the industry.

Meanwhile, the column continues at http://chaosmanorreviews.com and I get paid for translation rights to Turkish, Japanese, Portuguese, and Arabic, so perhaps some still find it useful.

So stay well, sir, and continue to laugh. I have made a good living having fun with small computers. GO see "How To Get My Job" on my web site, and do well.

Jerry Pournelle

BenMarch 31, 2008 3:53 PM

The world is full of people peddling eccentric opinions. The choice of some of these people to become authors of science fiction is quite reasonable.

The choice of security bureaucrats to willingly seek out such opinions in the course of pondering real, non-fiction policy borders on ludicrous.

Quoting the original article:

"The group has the ear of Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Jay Cohen, head of the science and technology directorate, who has said he likes their unconventional thinking."

If you disagree with Undersecretary Cohen's choice of professional company, you can reach him at email jay.cohen@dhs.gov or telefono 202-254-5606.

SkorjMarch 31, 2008 4:33 PM

Wait, wait, didn't _Footfall_ predict the scenario where government asks a bunch of SciFi hacks for advice? Sounds like Niven and Pournelle can make OK predictions after all!

Dave BellApril 8, 2008 6:50 AM

Many of the alleged terrorists of the post-9/11 era seem to have less knowledge of explosives than you would pick up from a Blaster Bates record.

Writers seem to have warped imaginations when it comes to terrorist plots. They're often too complicated.

One of these days, there will be a suicide murderer in the queue at a security checkpoint.

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