In the novel Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson includes a section (more or less unrelated to the main plot of the novel) describing a government “memo” about toilet paper. It is a brilliant bit of satire.
The memo, for government employees, describes the problem of carefully tracking and regulating toilet paper usage at work, policies surrounding bringing toilet paper from home, sharing toilet paper in the office, and what may or may not be contributed to the “toilet paper pool.” The memo goes on for many pages, including a reminder that using million-dollar bills (now almost worthless due to hyperinflation) as toilet paper is, in fact, a crime.
No matter what one thinks of the novel as a whole, the “Toilet Paper Memo” section is pure art.
What especially caught my attention, however, was the commentary at the end of that section, concerning performance evaluations and supervisor review.
In this world, the supervisors of government employees are able to track exactly how long it takes each employee to read the memo. They are told that the estimated reading time of the memo should be 15.62 minutes, and therefore they can evaluate the actual reading time of their employees in the following way:
Less than 10 min. Time for an employee conference and possible attitude counseling.
10– 14 min. Keep an eye on this employee; may be developing slipshod attitude.
14– 15.61 min. Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss important details.
Exactly 15.62 min. Smartass. Needs attitude counseling.
15.63– 18 min. Employee is a methodical worker, may sometimes get hung up on minor details.
More than 18 min. Check the security videotape, see just what this employee was up to (e.g., possible unauthorized restroom break).
The joke being, of course, that there is no possible way to get a fully positive review.
I finished reading this book a while ago, but I thought of it again today while I was listening to Michael Savage on the radio.
Michael Savage was talking about the fact that Obama has bombed Iraq. He was criticizing Obama because it took him so long. Why didn’t we bomb Iraq four weeks ago? Or 8 weeks ago? Michael Savage said that we had all of the same information back then that we have now, why did it take so long for Obama to act?
So I was reminded of the Supervisor Review instructions for the Toilet Paper Memo. What do you suppose Michael Savage would have said if Obama had bombed Iraq 8 weeks ago?
Would he have said “Good job”? Or would he have said, “Whoah! Slow down! What’s he trying to prove? Why didn’t he run it by other people first? Why is he being so hasty and dictator-like?”
What precise moment in time would have been the right time for Obama to act, that would have caused Michael Savage to say: “He didn’t rush into things, and he didn’t wait too long… he did it right!”
We will never know for sure, of course.
But I think you can guess.
NOW READ: The nature of information