This is another in my series describing notorious characters I have known. Those of you who have read my bloviations here know that I am a raconteur par excellence, better known as a big bullshitter. I’ve met other bullshitters in my life, but perhaps the biggest of all bullshitters I have ever met—in every sense of the word “big”— is a guy named Bill.
I’ve cleansed Bill’s last name from this commentary. If you know him or if you know of him, you’ll figure it out. If you don’t, well, it won’t matter.
Lies, lies, and more lies
Bill is well known as an expert in the computer network security business. Make no mistake—he does know a helluva lot about this business and its technological underpinnings. However, I never have encountered as blatant a pathological bullshitter with such an elaborately concocted view of his own accomplishments and such mendaciously baroque, contrived personal credentials. I was never able to understand why it was necessary for him to indulge in such extravagant hyperbole as to claim that his unaccredited, mail-order Ph.D. and M.S. were real degrees; that he was a world class martial arts champ; and that he was a Navy SEAL who served in Vietnam and perhaps was a P.O.W.
A war hero at 15?
Let me just say—no bullshit here—that I never served in Vietnam. However, having received my draft card in 1964, I am of the “Vietnam Era.” I greatly respect the sacrifices made by those who valiantly served us in that war. Back in 1998, when Bill blew his wind to me about having served as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam, where he claimed that he had been “shot at,” my bullshit detector immediately began to glow red. You see, Bill was 41 years old at that time. (He used to tell consulting clients that he was older, presumably to gain greater respect.) Doing a little simple subtraction, and recalling that the U.S. had pulled all troops from all service branches out of Vietnam a month or two after the Paris Peace Accord was signed in early 1973, I figured that Bill’s military career couldn’t have had very much to do with Vietnam. Assuming that he was deployed there immediately after basic training, basic underwater demolition training, and whatever else one has to do to become a SEAL he would have had to join the Navy in early 1972—when he was 15!—in order to have been in Vietnam at all! Claiming elsewhere that he had been a P.O.W., Bill no doubt inflamed the sensitivities of some of those Vietnam veterans’ groups that have devoted much time and energy to debunking such false claims.
Bill was a diabetic, whose condition was apparently diagnosed at age 15. Later in his life, he claimed that he was legally blind due to the disease, with only 20% of normal vision in one eye. Yet, somehow, he managed to enlist in the Navy, go through SEAL training, and “get shot at” in Vietnam. Hell, I thought diabetes in itself was a disqualifying condition for even a grunt job in the military.
He even looked me in the eye!
Having wearied of listening to the bullshit one night over dinner at a restaurant in Newport Beach, I put it to him. “Bill,” I said, “why do you have to be such a big bullshitter when your accomplishments and your capabilities can pretty much stand on their own?” He immediately took the offensive, which was his style. (Well, hell, legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said that the best defense is a good offense!) “What do you mean, bullshit? I served in Vietnam! I was 17! LOOK IT UP!” Yeah, right! As if I’m going to comb through records at the Department of the Navy or something. Besides, Bill was always saying that all aspects of his service, because of his being a SEAL, were “classified.” I “classified” that as bullshit! I wasn’t able to cut through the crap that night, but Bill did pay for dinner and drinks. I would have much preferred that I buy and he show me his SEAL trident.
“An honor student from Day One”
Bill’s academic credentials were suspect from the start, as far as I was concerned. Having worked in academe and known the travails of Ph.D. students (albeit not having been one myself), I knew what sort of wringer they were put through in legitimate Ph.D. programs. Bill’s claimed degrees and his bloviation about “[his] dissertation adviser in Hawaii,” his nattering about writing his dissertation on airplanes while traveling between clients, and so forth ad nauseam once again caused my bullshit detector to glow bright red and start spinning. It is one thing for a credential collector to want to have an M.S. and a Ph.D. from an unaccredited institution for his own enjoyment, and quite another to flaunt them in the conduct of his professional practice among people who carry legitimate credentials from legitimate academic institutions.
Believing his own bullshit is undoubtedly the sickest part of Bill’s unique pathology. It is this pathology—not “balls” or chutzpah—that enables Bill to walk into a room populated with Stanford and MIT Ph.D.s, calling himself “Doctor” and talking about squeezing in writing an e-mailed dissertation while flying from New York to Chicago. It is this pathology that enables Bill to walk into a room populated with Vietnam veterans talking about “experiences” during his supposed deployment that could be challenged a hundred times over. It is this pathology that enables Bill to testify before a Congressional subcommittee, standing on a house of cards of imagined credentials interspersed with his real ones. He is oblivious to charges that he is a phony. When pressed, he uses bluster and obfuscation to deflect the query.
In 1998, I was involved in a technical book project with Bill and another author, in which I fortunately terminated my co-authorship in mid-project. (Truthfully, my exit was not because of Bill, who I found to be entertaining most of the time, but because of our other co-author’s anal retentiveness, which was anything but amusing.) I was the only one of the three authors without a Ph.D.—real or otherwise. Bill’s claimed Ph.D. and M.S. are from that now defunct, notorious, unaccredited mail-order diploma mill, Greenwich University, which resided on Norfolk Island off the coast of Australia. I believe that Bill had dealt with Greenwich’s former U.S. operation in Hawaii, which subsequently has been shut down. (Click here for a little background on Greenwich “University.”) Back to the book, Bill made a big deal about insisting that the “Ph.D.s” list their initialed credentials after their names—on the cover. I think Bill would have preferred to have the “Dr.” in there as well as the “Ph.D.”, but I think I convinced my co-authors that this just wasn’t done. Nevertheless, I don’t think I had much of an impact on the continued flaunting of his “Ph.D.” The brandishing of his credentials never took a break and he took great delight in having his consulting clients call him “Dr. Bill.”
Chuck Norris was his bosom buddy
Another major area in which Bill would blow some hard wind was in purportedly being an international martial arts master. I’ve read reports elsewhere that stated he claimed to be a champion of Aikido, while I’ve seen other reports that he claimed to be a Tae Kwan Do champion. I’m now royally confused, because he only talked about Karate when I knew him. One time, in a conversation with Bill, I mentioned Chuck Norris (TV/movie actor and former Karate champion, who ironically did the Missing in Action series of movies), knowing that both Bill and Mr. Norris had spent a lot of time in Dallas. Chiming in, Bill happily spoke of Norris as if they were old buddies who had just recently had a conversation, as only true nth-degree black belts (substitute some appropriately large number for n) in Karate would have had. You guessed it! Bullshit detector—not only glowing and spinning this time, but emitting a piercing, 120 dB, warbling shriek.
Keeping it real
I read not long ago that Bill had testified before Congress about network security issues. More power to him. The Congressional committee no doubt got its money’s worth. Though it is impossible to discern what he knows from what he doesn’t know because of all the bullshit, he does have a pretty good compendium of network knowledge under his ample belt. He’s also very entertaining in front of a room full of people, as we bullshitters tend to be.
I guess Bill is with another networking company now, where he’s no doubt entertaining the troops. Earlier this year, I heard from a mutual colleague that “Dr. Bill” had lost a lot of weight, which is a good thing. Not only is Bill a much bigger bullshitter than I, he is (or was) much larger than I physically.
If you’d like to read more about Bill and his bullshit, please check out this blog. The particular article I’ve linked to is called “The Billfiles V4.0,” and it provides much more detail than I have done or care to do. But, Bill, if you ever read this, I’ll repeat my original assertion: You do not need to weave the tangled webs about yourself—you’ve accomplished quite enough to stand on your real credentials. Go in peace.
Dr. Bill passed away in 2007 from complications following gall bladder surgery at the age of 49. Out of respect for his family, I removed this post from the site for 10 years. It was a story that needed to be told, and still does now, in 2017.
Notta Doctor says
I recently attended a Silicon Valley ISACA chapter meeting, Bill was the guest speaker, and guess what, he referred to himself as a “Doctor” and went into the former POW/Navy Seal stuff.
Even more interesting, his current employer knows all about his personality flaws and continues to employ him in this fashion. How ethical is that?
The Nittany Turkey says
Thanks, Notta, for your comments. I can’t imagine any company keeping a bomb with a lit fuse around just to see if it will eventually blow up in their faces. Perhaps the CEO is a relative?