RIP Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017

The great Jerry Pournelle, political scientist, technological visionary, prolific science fiction writer (often in collaboration with Larry Niven), and computing pioneer all in one, just passed away after a brief respiratory illness. He had appeared at DragonCon only days earlier.

I’ve been following Chaos Manor on an off since it was first a print column in BYTE magazine, back in the Early Tertiary era of computing. The online version has a serious claim to being the world’s oldest blog.
Novels like “Fallen Angels” (with Niven & Flynn) or “The Mote in G-d’s Eye” (with Niven) would have made the reputation of a lesser man. But aside from being a prolific science fiction writer, he was also a compelling thinker and technological visionary. Even with half his brain zapped by radiation treatments, he could still out-think most soi-disant “intellectuals”. Pournelle suffered no fools intellectually, but by all accounts was a generous and solicitous human being in private.
Here is a taste of Jerry Pournelle in his own words. (He was, by the way, apparently the first writer to write a published novel entirely on a [then primitive and monstrously expensive] personal computer.)


The question I get most often, both in mail and when I speak, is, “How do I get your job?” Usually it’s done a bit more politely, but sometimes it’s asked just that way. It’s generally phrased differently by computer audiences than by science fiction audiences, but both really want to know the same thing: how do you become an author?

I always give the same answer: it’s easy to be an author, whether of fiction or nonfiction, and it’s a pleasant profession. Fiction authors go about making speeches and signing books. Computer authors go to computer shows and then come home to open boxes of new equipment and software, and play with the new stuff until they tire of it. It’s nice work if you can get it.

The problem is that no one pays you to be an author.

To be an author, you must first be a writer; and while it’s easy to be an author, being a writer is hard work. Surprisingly, it may be only hard work; that is, while some people certainly have more talent for writing than others, everyone has some. The good news is that nearly anyone who wants to badly enough can make some kind of living at writing. The bad news is that wanting to badly enough means being willing to devote the time and work necessary to learn the trade.

The secret of becoming a writer is that you have to write. You have to write a lot. You also have to finish what you write, even though no one wants it yet. If you don’t learn to finish your work, no one will ever want to see it. The biggest mistake new writers make is carrying around copies of unfinished work to inflict on their friends.

I am sure it has been done with less, but you should be prepared to write and throw away a million words of finished material. By finished, I mean completed, done, ready to submit, and written as well as you know how at the time you wrote it. You may be ashamed of it later, but that’s another story.

The late Randall Garrett, one of the most prolific writers of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, used to have a number of rules, many of them scatological. One of them was that no professional writer ever got anything from formal courses in writing. I think he was wrong, in the sense that a good formal introduction to the rules of grammar and spelling can be extremely useful; but he had a point, which is that there aren’t any secrets to be learned from creative-writing courses. If the only way you can force yourself to write that million words of your best work is to take a class in creative writing or attend a writers’ workshop, by all means do it; but do it understanding that the good comes from the writing you do, not from the criticism or theory or technique taught in the class.

May his memory be blessed. The science fiction field and the blogosphere are truly a poorer place without him.



A Precious Narrative By Cedar Sanderson

From a 1909 speech “Le libre examen en matière scientifique”  (Free inquiry in matters of science) by the mathematician, physicist, and philosopher of science Henri Poincaré:

Thought must never submit, neither to a dogma, nor to a party, nor to a passion, nor to an interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to anything whatsoever but the facts themselves—since for thought, surrendering means ceasing to exist.

[La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni à un dogme, ni à un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un interêt, ni à une idée préconcue, ni à quoique ce soit, si ce n’est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d’être.]


According To Hoyt

A Precious Narrative

By Cedar Sanderson

Storytelling is woven into human DNA. Even the discovery of DNA’s shape is enrobed in a thrilling tale of deceit and betrayal – with a sexist twist, of course. We tell our stories every single day. Some of us are very clearly aware of the delineations between fact and fantasy, and make our living spinning narratives others enjoy reading for the fun of it. Other people lose the boundaries between fiction and their own desires, and that’s where it starts to get, for lack of a better word, problematic.

I would argue that in order to exist in this world full of contradictions, some people must create an insulting narrative to keep them from confronting the harsh realities that surround them. Without that precious blanket (and you may also envision a thumb firmly inserted for sucking on) they might have to face truths they…

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Dystopic on: “Technocrats and the Worship of Intelligence”

Consider this post to be something of an expansion on the concept of the Brahmandarins. Technocracy is one of those things which sounds perfectly good on the surface, but can lead to absolute tyranny in short order. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, technocracy is, in essence, rule by technical elites. For instance, your media would be run by trained, credentialed journalism experts. Politicians would be groomed and educated to be leaders from an early age. You could not, for instance, be President if you did not attend the proper schools, earn the proper certifications, and demonstrate a certain set of requirements, like IQ, or perhaps an impressive set of grades in your debating classes. […]

Naturally, none of these technical elites would need to consult with you and I on these matters. If you are not one of the elite, you would need to be quiet and accept the rulings of your superiors.

The flaws in technocracy are very obvious, to any who care to see them. First and foremost is the matter of trust. Even if we were to concede that the trained, technically-minded elites were better than the hoi polloi, how could one be assured that they were not pulling the wool over the people and taking advantage of them? After all, just because you’re intelligent doesn’t mean you’re honest.

Similarly, being able to design and build rocket ships does not confer upon you the ability to manage and run organizations of rocket scientists. It’s a known problem among STEM folks, and a problem I suffer from personally, that technical ability and management ability are often mutually exclusive. I couldn’t manage brothel in Thailand with a US Navy aircraft carrier in port. But I can write and engineer software all day long. The intelligence and talent I possess is suited for certain things, and ill-suited for other tasks. Nobody would ask me to be a therapist, that’s for sure.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, technocracy denies a voice to the peasantry. We’ve tried that before. We call it feudalism and those feudal elites were called nobles. They knew themselves to be more intelligent and better-suited for leadership than those dirty plebs. Why, they could afford a costly scholarly education for their children, when desired, and the rag-wearing farmhands could not. And there was the Divine Right of Kings to consider, also.

What prompted this screed?

Go read the whole thing. Eric S. Raymond earlier explained how escalating complexity makes technocracy even less viable than before .

Of course, technocracy or, more generally, transnational oligarchic collectivism [*] are the wet dreams of all too many Brahmandarins who fancy themselves as the ‘anointed‘ oligarchs.


[*] a portmanteau of John Fonte’s “Transnational Progressivism” and George Orwell’s “Oligarchic Collectivism“.

NYT discovers Hamas manipulation of casualty figures, buries lede [UPDATE: BBC head of statistics concurs] [UPDATE 2: more new statistics]

Brian of London reports that Judi Rudoren of the NYTimes finally is onto what he and other bloggers have been saying for weeks:

The Times analysis, looking at 1,431 names, shows that the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll: They are 9 percent ofGaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34 percent of those killed whose ages were provided. At the same time, women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71 percent of the population and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.

Typically, this is buried in the last paragraph of the piece. Brian adds:

So basically, ignoring minor details like the fact that they’re starting their age bracket at 20 (we have a Hamas terrorist in hospital in Israel who is 16 who crawled through a tunnel to kill kids), they’ve come to the same conclusion Dave and our dedicated reader came to weeks ago.

The talk of 80% civilian casualties is complete rubbish and was easily verifiable as rubbish just from looking at Al Jazeera weeks ago. And the NYT actually had people in Gaza!

And as Israeli sources are talking about 900+ dead terrorists, something is going to collapse, just like it always does after months of the lying press repeating Hamas’s PR machine propaganda.

And as I blogged earlier, TIME magazine (!) reminds us that on a previous occasion, HamAss was forced to walk back their own mendacious statistics, at least for Arab media consumption:

We have seen this before. A similar dispute over casualty figures occurred during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. The Israelis contended that the majority of the fatalities were combatants; the Palestinians claimed they were civilians. The media and international organizations tended to side with the Palestinians. The UN’s own investigatory commission headed by Richard Goldstone, which produced the Goldstone Report, cited PCHR’s figures along with other Palestinian groups providing similar figures. Over a year later, after the news media had moved on, Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad enumerated Hamas fatalities at 600 to 700, a figure close to the Israeli estimate of 709 and about three times higher than the figure of 236 combatants provided by PCHR in 2009 and cited in the Goldstone Report. Initially, playing to the international audience, it was important for Hamas to reinforce the image of Israel’s military action as indiscriminate and disproportionate by emphasizing the high number of civilians and low number of Hamas combatants among the fatalities. However, later on, Hamas had to deal with the flip side of the issue: that Hamas’s own constituency, the Gazan population, felt they had been abandoned by the Hamas government, which had made no effort to shelter them.

But none are so blind as those who would not see. At any case, as sharply critical as I have been about the NYT on, basically, everything: even a half-hearted beginning of searching for the true facts must be applauded.

UPDATE: via the Times of Israel liveblog, BBC Head of Statistics Anthony Reuben is skeptical of Hamas claims  too:

So there were 216 members of armed groups killed, and another 725 men who were civilians. Among civilians, more than three times as many men were killed as women, while three times as many civilian men were killed as fighters. […I]f the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.

UPDATE 2: Another report from the Times of Israel.

Israellycool (still ahead of the MSM) updated their analysis to the August 6, 2014 fatalities list, and point to an interesting additional coincidence:

Another point to consider is Gaza has a natural death rate of 3.09/1000, meaning that over a year, from every 1000 people, 3.09 die. So if you upscale that to the 1.8 million there that are 5562 dying from natural causes. Which is around 15 people/per day, or about 450 people for the entire operation. If you look the number of casualties whose age is unknown (male 252 & female 67), and the total unidentified 128, that sums up to 447 casualties. Although this proves nothing, I can’t help but feel suspicious when I see these numbers matching up so well. It would be a clever way to increase the casualty count, with even the most eagle eyed missing it. 

Can one be both socially conservative and libertarian? Answer: yes

Roger Simon discusses something I had been meaning to write about. His post touches on the tension between social conservatism and the libertarian impulse.

I myself identify as both a social conservative and a small-l libertarian. The contradiction, in fact, is only an apparent one. Allow me to explain.

First of all, there is a fundamental difference between libertarianism and libertinism. Libertinism seeks not liberty but license — the license to ‘do as thou wilst’ while being fully insulated from the consequences of irresponsible behavior. Libertarianism, on the other hand, seeks to get the state out of one’s wallet and bedroom to the extent practically possible, but by definition rejects the concept of the state insulating one from consequences of one’s own irresponsible behavior.

Yes, I believe deeply in a number of values that are generally considered socially conservative, and believe society would benefit greatly if more people would strive to live by these time-proven values. But I believe in furthering them by persuasion and personal example, not by state coercion with its reverse Midas touch.

The answer of every GOP candidate when asked about social issues (other than work ethic and self-reliance, which were still considered social issues when I was young) should be this: “My beliefs are well known, but I do not believe it is the government’s task to enforce them. Now, about the federal deficit and the economy…”

Of course, here’s the flipside: if you don’t want public resources to be used to enforce your beliefs, neither should they be used to enforce those of the other side (no subsidized abortions or s3x changes, no creating a ‘protected/privileged class’ out of a s3xual preference,…). And if you want to engage in risk behaviors (be they nutritional, sexual, smoking,…) do not seek to simultaneously deny us the right to criticize these behaviors yet tax us to foot the bill for them.

And the flip side of rejecting state coercion in “family values” matters is, what ‘cousin Dave’ calls, “get[ting] government out of the business of rearranging society with its offerings of perverse incentives. ”

“Bring the state back to basics.” Even if you do believe that the state should do some stuff beyond what I call “night-watchman duties” (national defense, public law and order, border protection, international relations), as long as it cannot handle the essentials properly it should not concern itself with peripherals. One does not argue about interior decoration while the house is on fire.

Contrast and compare: Tax Day Tea Party in San Francisco (!) vs. “US Uncut”

Zombie has a great photo-reportage up comparing and contrasting two demos in San Francisco (of all places): A sizable, enthusiastic Tea Party rally (in just about the least likely/friendly place for it) and an event by US Uncut that drew a whopping… 45 people and was clearly astroturfed.(Still a succcess compared with the joint event with the “Coffee Party” elsewhere, which drew 20 people.)

Get thee over there. I cannot do the essay justice by selective quoting.

The Tea Party rally was attended by one offensive troll which was clearly identified by “Infiltrator” signs. Guess who was interviewed by the OTMSM media scribbler in attendance?