Thursday, October 27, 2011

Isaacson on Jobs

It took me two days to read Walter Isaccson’s new bio of  Steve Jobs.
Isaccson’s book is a breezy recitation of Job’s remarkable achievements over the past 35 years.  As a huge fan of his products, I was dismayed to read  story after story about what a total prick, asshole, and all around champion dickwad Steve Jobs was.  One could totally understand if he acted this way only towards his minions at Apple or his business rivals.  But Steve really was a total dick to EVERYONE.  He would berate waitresses and even an old lady who made smoothies the wrong way at  Whole Foods.   He was always parking in handicap zones we are told.

Isaccson portrays a man often-times unhinged.  We learn that he cried often in front of anyone for any reason.  Emotionally he was essentially a child, but a mean one.   His wife is quoted as saying that Steve lacked basic social graces.  That is one way of putting it.  What is interesting is that Jobs was also interested in things that perhaps would have tamed the beast as he was a serious student of  Eastern religions.  Jobs was a Beatles and Dylan fanatic who did not in any way identify with the underdog EVER. The worst story is when as a teenager  he ripped-off his best friend Steve Wozniak when they worked on an Atari project together pocketing bonus money secretly. Jobs comes across as Anna Wintour and Joan Crawford. Every time philanthropy is mentioned Jobs is described as dismissive.  It gets to the point where the reader wonders if the cancer can't come sooner.  

Ok, he's not that bad.  But even towards the end his ego gets the best of him.  He winces and and is upset when Tim Cook his eventual hand-picked successor says during one of Job's medical leaves that Apple is poised for greatness no matter who is at the helm.   Jobs wanted that too,  but he couldn't  bear to hear someone say it out loud.  
I loved the anecdote from Joan Baez (who dated Jobs) concerning a red dress.  They were eating dinner at a restaurant when Jobs keeps going on and on about what a great red dress he saw at the Ralph Lauren shop and how she would look great in it.  So they went to the store and he showed it to her then proceeded to buy lots of stuff for himself and nothing for Joan including the red dress.  The multi-millionaire never said he was going to buy it for her, only that it would look great on her.  

The smartest moves he ever made were to work with Steve Wozniak in the early days and the supremely talented Jonathan Ive for the past 13 years.  It was Ive who helped Jobs develop his "taste," and Ive's designs are primarily what makes Apple different  from other brands.  Ive's brought "minimalism" to Apple.  The so-called Apple "minimalism" was already the standard look for years of brands like Bang and Olufsen and Braun.  The Apple stores copied the hip austerity that had reigned supreme as the art gallery look for decades.  
All that aside, (and it's a lot) as an Apple customer for two decades, I have always been fond of the company that Jobs created.  I love my iPhone, my MacBook and my Mac desktop too.  They are beautiful,  and wonderful products that make life more enjoyable.  But these are luxury goods.  They are not essential.  Jobs patented many things--like the molded plastic case that each iPhone comes nested inside the box,  but a molded plastic case is NOT a lightbulb.  They are not e=mc2.  They are just the best of each category money can buy.  

He did not invent the graphic user interface.   He did not invent computer animation.   He did not invent digital music players. He did not invent digital music libraries.   He did not invent the smart phone. He did not invent the tablet.  But he did make each of those categories better.  Despite all his huge defects as a human being he was able to embody in himself many of the strengths not normally associated with a regular CEO and in the process drove his company to the heights of the digital age.   His final decade with Apple represents the greatest reign in the history of American business--achieved mostly under  the cruel duress of death staring him right in the face.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Marco Rubio: Finished As VP

Tea Party darling freshmen Senator Marco Rubio (R) Florida,  was exposed today in the Washington Post  for lying about his family history.  What the Post has learned and Rubio has not denied is that Marco Rubio mislead and lied about his family history.
During his rise to political prominence, Sen. Marco Rubio frequently repeated a compelling version of his family’s history that had special resonance in South Florida. He was the “son of exiles,” he told audiences, Cuban Americans forced off their beloved island after “a thug,” Fidel Castro, took power.But a review of documents — including naturalization papers and other official records — reveals that the Florida Republican’s account embellishes the facts. The documents show that Rubio’s parents came to the United States and were admitted for permanent residence more than 21 / 2 years before Castro’s forces overthrew the Cuban government and took power on New Year’s Day 1959.

This is the equivalent of having bragged about military service and never serving in the military.  He is finished as a candidate for president or vice president.  The worst part for Rubio is that his anti-Castro base will be the most upset with him.  His claim that he relied on family oral history is laughable.  The fact that his parents went along with this fraud is shameful.  The Rubios were economic immigrants to the U.S. not exiles fleeing a dictatorship.  There is a big difference.  

The supposed flight of Rubio’s parents has been at the core of the young senator’s political identity, both before and after his stunning tea-party-propelled victory in last year’s Senate election. Rubio — now considered a prospective 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate and a possible future presidential contender — mentions his parents in the second sentence of the official biography on his Senate Web site. It says that Mario and Oriales Rubio “came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover.” And the 40-year-old senator with the boyish smile and prom-king good looks has drawn on the power of that claim to entrance audiences captivated by the rhetorical skills of one of the more dynamic stump speakers in modern American politics.
Marco Rubio is finished.  Not only for future presidential ambitions but he will never be able to run for Senate in Florida.  He should resign. This is not some sin of the flesh that befalls good men, no, this is an orchestrated lie to deceive voters throughout his entire political life. Good thing for Marco that Gadaffi went down today.  As the son of Cuban exiles myself, people who came here after having their hopes for a democratic revolution betrayed by Fidel Castro and his allies, Rubio's fraud is particularly galling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Death In Vegas

The shocking accident that took the life of Indy Racer Dan Wheldon on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday is already being called one of the most spectacular crashes in the history of motor sports.  The 15 car smash-up caused little human damage except of course to Dan Wheldon.  The coroner's report released yesterday stated what was obvious: Wheldon died of massive blunt force injuries to the head. These no doubt occurred when he hit the catch fence.

I haven't followed auto racing closely since I was a child growing up in the 70s watching ABC televise the big races and watching the Speed Racer cartoon series. Then it was all about the Indy racers--Foyt, Unser, Allison, Andretti, and Rutherford.  Nascar was still pretty much of a regional phenomenon and one would hear a lot about Richard Petty and that was it. But then as now, the death crashes were always a source of incredible fascination for people.

The first I can remember was the 1973 Indianapolis 500, which was  was marred by 3 deaths--Art Pollard and the young Californian Swede Savage.  He was an up and coming racer who was very different than the rednecks who dominated American motor sports.  He looked more like a movie star.  At Indy,  on lap 58, turn number 4, what many longtime Indy observers still call the single most spectacular crash in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway transpired as Savage's car exploded after hitting an angled wall head-on. Savage's injuries were serious but he was expected to survive, however a bad plasma transfusion gave him hepatitis B and he died 33 days later of liver failure.   A young crew member of a teammate rushed onto the track but was struck and killed instantly by a fire truck.

Hemmingway said famously "Auto racing, bull fighting and mountain climbing are the only real sports...all others are games."  That is what makes auto racing so different than all the others.  After Savage there was Gordon Smiley,  Senna, Earnhardt  and tens of others.  It is why so many are fascinated.  Nascar is the second most popular spectator sport in the United States.  But most casual sports fans don't follow auto racing and only take notice of the sport when tragedy strikes.  The last time I watched a lot of auto racing coverage was when Earnhardt crashed into the wall at Daytona in 2001.   

When I was changing channels on Sunday I noticed the race on ABC because the announcers were speaking in hushed tones,  so I knew something bad had happened.  It wasn't until about 35 minutes later that they announced that Wheldon had died and ABC started to show what exactly had happened.  The wonder of it all is that no one else was seriously injured. Sunday night I spent about an hour and a half on you tube watching as many final crashes as i could.  Race car drivers are a different lot.  They are not the same as most of us.  I know you are supposed to feel a little sullied to watch these things.  But to me, they are heroic.  These men (and now women)  who live to race and in the process risk everything.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Republicans

Rarely has any candidate in recent primary history been as acclaimed by the commentariat as Mitt Romney has in 2012, particularly in his debate performances.  Part of this praise has been due to the utter futility of Rick Perry.  You cannot run for president and say that debating is not your strong suit in the year 2012.  It's not like Perry is such a profound deep thinking wonk that it doesn't translate into the superficial world of soundbites.  No, Houston or Ă…ustin, we have a problem and it is that the Governor of Texas is not too bright.

This is not good for President Obama.  He needs Perry to win the nomination or at least make it a struggle for Romney.  The former seems impossible while the latter slightly less so.  The fall of Perry has been swift and a little humiliating.  He may get out before the first votes are cast to save him in his home state.  That Bachmann has been in free fall since the halcyon days of the Ames straw poll is not that surprising given that she is one strange woman.  The grumblings from her staff about her diva-like demands on the trail--from tungsten lighting, to not wanting to press the flesh in Iowa to the departure of Ed Rollins has doomed her prospects.  

Who is capable of making it tough for Romney?  Hunstman has no chance,  Santorum has the charm of  a chancre sore, Paul has been surprisingly ineffective at bringing his pointed critiques of both parties to the fore (perhaps because no one thinks he has a chance).   Cain has brought renewed attention to the 70s and 80s British punk rock band 999 and perhaps secured himself a show on Fox News.  He is very feisty and combative, then let's out a hearty laugh to reassure the white folks that he's not that angry.  But the Republican Party will not nominate the pizza mogul in 2012.  It will not happen.  

That leaves us with Newt Gingrich.   A man totally bereft  of  charm and grace who is not running a serious campaign.  He doesn't even campaign.  He shows up to debates, does cable interviews, and shops till he drops wherever he is with Callista in tow.  Could he emerge as the anti-MIttens?  Stranger things have happened.  

In the meantime, look for the right-wing to keep looking around for someone, anyone to credibly challenge Romney from the right, not that there's much room to Romney's right.  But the Ann Coulters and some Tea Party extremists are not ready to give up yet.   They have an inkling that Romney is sort of the default Republican candidate in the same way that Walter Mondale was the default Dem candidate in 1984.  We know how that turned out.  

The debate last night at Dartmouth College ruffled a few Conservative feathers because Karen Tummulty had the nerve to ask if anyone on Wall St. deserved to go to prison for the looting that has occurred in the financial sector in the past decade.  Using customary lunatic fringe logic, Gingrich nominated Barney Frank for prison time.  That is the kind of delusion that will save Obama and sink the Republican party in 2012.  They are the defenders of the plutocracy.  They are the defenders of money.   They are the defenders of greed.  They are funded by crooks like the Koch brothers whose own greed knows no bounds.  

Last night's debate skirted around the issue of free trade and globalism.  Those are huge issues that need to be addressed in the coming decade.  There was much rhetoric about out-competing the Chinese.  But how?  Are Americans willing to work for $14 a day?  The follow-up questions were not there.  Globalism as administered by 30 years of bipartisan consensus has benefited the top 1% while the middle and working classes continue their precipitous declines.  When is someone going to confront these Republicans with the fact that tax cuts for the rich and lax regulations are what got us into this mess in the first place?  At least 9 9 9 is a new idea--albeit a bad one.