Urbin Report

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An excellent interview with Dr. Pournelle

Stephen Euin Cobb has an excellent interview with Dr. Jerry Pournelle in his podcast, The Future and You.

The interview is spread across three episodes (1/28/09, 2/4/09, 2/11/09), and focuses mostly on his work other than writing science fiction novels.

From Mr. Cobb's website about Dr. Pournelle,

After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he acquired Master's degrees in both experimental statistics and systems engineering, and Doctorates in both psychology and political science. He co-wrote a military textbook called The Strategy of Technology which was required reading at West Point and the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He helped to write a portion of Ronald Reagan's State of the Union Address concerning a missile defense system which the media at the time enjoyed making fun of and calling Star Wars, since they believed the technology needed to shoot down incoming missiles with our own missiles was impossible. He worked in operations research at Boeing, The Aerospace Corporation, and North American Rockwell Space Division. He was founding President of the Pepperdine Research Institute. He was campaign manager for Congressman Barry Goldwater, Jr., as well as for Mayor Sam Yorty. And he was a columnist for Byte Magazine beginning in 1982.

One of the more interesting parts of the interview, IMNSHO, was an explanation of Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy, and why it hasn't taken hold very strongly in the US Military (and has in some other countries armed forces).
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

Other fascinating items were Dr. Pournelle's involvement in the SDI program (which my Senior Senator was flat out wrong about) and its effect on the outcome of the Cold War.