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May, 2005

"Light" Lunch Reading

Went outside for lunch today and read two very interesting articles I thought I'd share. They really couldn't be much more different, but both include lots of worthwhile thinking material.

The first, and more disturbing of the two, is an article written for Foreign Policy by Robert McNamara warning the United States that it needs to adjust nuclear policy before it's too late. The article, titled "Apocalypse Soon" speaks for itself, so I'll just include a few excerpts.

To declare war requires an act of congress, but to launch a nuclear holocaust requires 20 minutes’ deliberation by the president and his advisors.

. . .

There is no way to effectively contain a nuclear strike—to keep it from inflicting enormous destruction on civilian life and property, and there is no guarantee against unlimited escalation once the first nuclear strike occurs. We cannot avoid the serious and unacceptable risk of nuclear war until we recognize these facts and base our military plans and policies upon this recognition.

. . .

Human beings are fallible. In conventional war, mistakes cost lives, sometimes thousands of lives. However, if mistakes were to affect decisions relating to the use of nuclear forces, there would be no learning curve. They would result in the destruction of nations. The indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons carries a very high risk of nuclear catastrophe. There is no way to reduce the risk to acceptable levels, other than to first eliminate the hair-trigger alert policy and later to eliminate or nearly eliminate nuclear weapons. The United States should move immediately to institute these actions, in cooperation with Russia. That is the lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Just go read it now.

Next up is a New Yorker review of Steven Johnson's new book Everything Bad is Good for You by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell's discussion of the book is quite interesting, but actually my favorite part was this excerpt from Johnson's book. What follows is Johnson's imaginary critique of books had video games been invented hundreds of years ago and books within the last few decades.

Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sound-scapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page. . . .
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. . . .
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. . . . 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.
Falling into one mode of thinking is dangerous and that's what Gladwell is highlighting. The book sounds interesting and Gladwell's review is worth a read.
May 12, 2005
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.