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Good Reads: From understanding Khamenei, to Microsoft’s demise, to brand Japan

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes a deeper understanding of Iran's supreme leader, why the Guardian stands by Edward Snowden, the costly mistakes made by Microsoft's Steve Balmer, and Japan's efforts to be 'cool.'

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Microsoft’s Gorbachev

When Steve Ballmer announced late last month that he was stepping down as head of Microsoft, few analyses of his tenure were more scathing, or colorful, than “Why Steve Ballmer Failed,” a post by Nicholas Thompson on The New Yorker’s website.

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Gregory M. Lamb is a senior editor and writer.

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“Ballmer is roughly the tech industry’s equivalent of Mikhail Gorbachev, without the coup and the tanks and Red Square,” Mr. Thompson surmised. “When he took control, in 2000, Microsoft was one of the most powerful and feared companies in the world. It had a market capitalization of around five hundred billion dollars, the highest of any company on earth.... As he leaves, it’s a sprawling shadow.”

Mr. Ballmer, Thompson says, is the “anti-Steve Jobs,” missing out on every big trend – completely misjudging, for example, Apple’s revolutionary iPhone and iPad. Ballmer has managed to alienate customers and employees alike. He loved complex designs when Apple saw that customers sought simplicity.

Microsoft has become a paper tiger. “Ballmer’s reign has done more to defang Microsoft than the Justice Department could ever have hoped to do,” Thompson writes.

Who will benefit most from a new chief at Microsoft? “Given the size of his financial stake in the company,” Thompson says, “there’s almost no one who should want a better C.E.O. for Microsoft than Ballmer himself.”

Is Japan ‘cool’?

The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry hopes so.

Two years after the “triple disaster” of an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in 2011, the Cool Japan Advisory Council is testing the idea.
It’s true that Japan is the home of anime (animation) and manga (comics), two cool art forms, points out David Zax in the Smithsonian. But stodgy Japanese bureaucrats and Japanese pop culture might not make for a comfortable match.

“The forefront of Japanese popular culture tends to be edgy and off-color, so there is likely a limit to the kinds of things that Japan’s perennially conservative government is willing to support publicly,” he quotes one cultural anthropologist as saying.

A Japanese art curator has a better idea, he writes. The triple disaster has other lessons for Japan: “how to live in harmony with nature, how to wean the country from nuclear power and how to sustain a peaceful world.” “If we practice these,” the art curator says, “any branding will not be necessary.”

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