Tidbits & Quotes: Books
The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.
Don't try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night.
Reading books chronically under-stimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page. Only a small portion of the brain devoted to processing written language is activated during reading, while games engage the full range of the sensory and motor cortices.
Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. These new 'libraries' that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious to their peers.
Many children enjoy reading books, of course, and no doubt some of the flights of fancy conveyed by reading have their escapist merits. But for a sizable percentage of the population, books are downright discriminatory. The reading craze of recent years cruelly taunts the 10 million Americans who suffer from dyslexia—a condition didn’t even exist as a condition until printed text came along to stigmatize its sufferers.
But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can't control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. For those of us raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person? But today’s generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to 'follow the plot' instead of learning to lead.
But there is one way in which countries will never be like companies. Companies can rise, fail, fall and disappear. Countries can rise, fail and fall -- but they rarely disappear. Instead, they stick around as failed states.
In fact, America's relationship to the rest of the world today is a lot like Michael Jordan's relationship was -- in his heyday -- with the rest of the NBA. Every other player and team wanted to beat Michael Jordan; every other player and team hated him for the way he could expose all their weaknesses; every other player and team measured themselves against Michael Jordan, and to some extent modeled their moves after him; every other player and team constantly complained that the referees let Michael Jordan get away with all sorts of fouls that no one else could. But despite of all of that, none of the other teams really wanted to see Michael Jordan injured or retire, because anytime he came into town every seat was sold. He was the straw that stirred the drink for them all.
Indeed, for all the churning that global capitalism brings to a society, the spread of capitalism has raised living standards higher, faster and for more people than at any time in history. It has also brought more poor people into the middle classes more quickly than at any time in human history. So while the gap between rich and poor is getting wider -- as the winners in today's globalization system really take off and separate themselves from everyone else -- the floor under the poor has been rising steadily in many parts of the world. In other words, while relative poverty may be growing in many countries, absolute poverty is actually falling in many countries. According to the 1997 United Nations Human Development report, poverty has fallen more in the past fifty years than in the previous five hundred. Developing countries have progressed as fast in the past thirty years as the industrialized world did in the previous century. Since 1960, infant mortality rates, malnutrition and illiteracy are all significantly down, while access to safe water is way up. In relatively short periods of time, countries that have been the most open to globalization, like Taiwan, Singapore, Israel, Chile and Sweden, have achieved standards of living comparable to those in America and Japan, while the ranks of the middle class in countries like Thailand, Brazil, India and Korea have swelled, due partly to globalization.
In business, people rarely plan to do a thing only once ... It messes up the spreadsheets.
The actual content of the business plan hews to a logical structure straight out of the Principia Mathematica.
MISSION: At [name of company] it is our conviction that [to do the stuff we want to do] and to increase shareholder value are not merely complementary activities–they are inextricably linked.
PURPOSE: To increase shareholder value by [doing stuff]
EXTREMELY SERIOUS WARNING (printed on a separate page, in red letters on a yellow background): Unless you are smart as Johann Karl Friedrich Gauss, savvy as a half-blind Calcutta bootblack, tough as General William Tecumseh Sherman, rich as the Queen of England, emotionally resilient as a Red Sox fan, and as generally able to take care of yourself as the average nuclear missile submarine commander, you should never have been allowed near this document. Please dispose of it as you would any piece of high-level radioactive waste and then arrange with a qualified surgeon to amputate your arms at the elbows and gouge your eyes from their sockets. This warning is necessary because once, a hundred years ago, a little old lady in Kentucky put a hundred dollars into a dry goods company which went belly-up and only returned her ninety-nine dollars. Ever since then the government has been on our asses. If you ignore this warning, read on at your peril–you are dead certain to lose everything you've got and live out your final decades beating back waves of termites in a Mississippi Delta leper colony. Still reading? Great. Now that we've scared off the lightweights, let's get down to business.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: We will raise [some money], then [do some stuff] and increase shareholder value. Want details? Read on.
INTRODUCTION: [This trend], which everyone knows about, and [that trend], which is incredibly arcane that you probably didn't know about until just now, and [this other trend over here] which might seem, at first blush, to be completely unrelated, when all taken together, lead us to the (proprietary, secret, heavily patented, trademarked, and NDAed) insight that we could increase shareholder value by [doing stuff]. We will need $ [a large number] and after [not too long] we will be able to realize an increase in value to $ [an even larger number], unless [hell freezes over in midsummer].
Phase 1: After taking vows of celibacy and abstinence and forgoing all of our material possessions for homespun robes, we (viz. appended resumes) will move into a modest complex of scavenged refrigerator boxes in the central Gobi Desert, where real estate is so cheap that we are actually being paid to occupy it, thereby enhancing shareholder value even before we have actually done anything. On a daily ration consisting of a handful of uncooked rice and a ladleful of water, we will [begin to do stuff].
Phase 2, 3, 4, ..., n-1: We will [do more stuff, steadily enhancing shareholder value in the process] unless [the earth is struck by an asteroid a thousand miles in diameter, in which case certain assumptions will have to be readjusted; refer to Spreadsheets 397-413].
Phase n: Before the ink on our Nobel Prize certificates is dry, we will confiscate the property of our competitors, including anyone foolish enough to have invested in their pathetic companies. We will sell all of these people into slavery. All proceeds will be redistributed among our shareholders, who will hardly notice, since Spreadsheet 265 demonstrates that, by this time, the company will be larger than the British Empire at its zenith.
SPREADSHEETS: [Pages and pages of numbers in tiny print, conveniently summarized by graphs that all seem to be exponentional curves screaming heavenward, albeit with enough pseudo-random noise in them to lend plausibility].
RESUMES: Just recall the opening reel of The Magnificent Seven and you won't have to bother with this part; you should crawl to us on hands and knees and beg us for the privilege of paying our salaries.
[And] grad students existed not to learn things but to relieve the tenured faculty members of tiresome burdens such as educating people and doing research.
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