Apple vs. the State

In an extraordinary act of defiance against the state, Cupertino, California-based Apple, Inc. refused to comply with the Obama administration after a judge ordered the company to breach its customers’ privacy and contracts, act against its own policies, terms and self-interest and “help” the government decode and destroy the company’s invention and property, the iPhone—all under compulsion in the name of national security.

Leave aside legal, ethical and philosophical consideration of national security implications inherent in the FBI’s public admission that it can’t hack a dead terrorist’s government-issued cell phone, contradicting the Obama administration’s claims that such authority is both successful and crucial to the nation’s defense. As Apple’s chief executive officer explains in his February 16 response, the Department of Justice’s demand that Apple create a means of decoding a single iPhone possessed by the state after an Islamic terrorist attack amounts to all of the above violations of Apple’s individual rights. And, as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision affirms, a company is properly regarded as an individual with absolute individual rights.

Democrat Ron Wyden, a U.S. senator from Oregon and staunch advocate for Americans against the surveillance state, agrees with Apple, declaring that the judge’s order is “unconstitutional”. Wyden, like Edward Snowden in a post on Twitter, correctly implies that the Obama administration’s demand is an inversion of government’s proper role. As Snowden (who is said to have been moved to his heroic whistleblowing by The Lives of Others) posted, “the FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around.” I made a similar and related point in defense of Sony contra the U.S. government over the government’s abdication of national defense in the wake of an attack on one of the Culver City, California company’s movies (“The Undoing of Sony’s ‘The Interview‘”).

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Click to Read Letter

By posting the letter, Apple is fighting back. Exercising its right to absolute freedom of speech, asserting its property rights and the right to run its own business, the company co-founded by Steve Jobs issued the unprecedented public warning against the dangers of mass, unchecked government surveillance and made what amounts to a call to citizen action. In his letter to Apple customers, CEO Tim Cook refuses to accept the legitimacy of the judge’s order and instead insists upon recognition of Apple’s individual rights.

Apple’s letter is a declaration of independence against the oppressive state. The company leads in defending man’s rights against the surveillance state—to my knowledge, not a single technology company has publicly and unequivocally supported Apple’s letter and position—and, whatever its flaws and contradictions, such as referring to the United States as a “democracy” when, in fact, the U.S. is fundamentally a republic, Apple is, in today’s context, 100 percent right and should be supported by advocates of liberty and capitalism.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, whom I interviewed in 2011 when he ran for president in 2012 (read the interview), reduces Apple’s persecution to essentials with a good example: “[I]f the FBI comes across a safe in [a legally sanctioned search of a criminal’s] house, the warrant and permission do not mean it can force the company that manufactures the safe to create a special tool for opening its safes, especially a tool that would make other safes completely useless as secure storage. That’s the situation that Apple’s dealing with here.” Indeed, other than the Clinton administration’s proposed V-chip censorship mandate for all television sets, which failed, I can’t recall a more sweeping manufacturing mandate to violate the rights of individuals.

I’m also not aware of any support for Apple among the field of 2016 presidential candidates.

On the contrary, bombastic GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, appearing on Fox and Friends, denounced Apple’s position. “Who do they [Apple] think they are?” Trump asked. “They have to open it up.” Trump—who supports government-controlled medicine, the massive surveillance state and arbitrary government seizure of private property—said: “I agree 100 percent with the [judge]. In that case, we should open it up.” […] “We have to use common sense.”

In this context, “common sense” means faith in the statethe massive, unchecked surveillance state that can order any company or individual at its arbitrary discretion to create a means to absolutely violate the individual’s rights. Not surprisingly, a Fox News panel with Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, columnist A.B. Stoddard and conservative columnist Stephen Hayes concurs with Trump’s opposition to Apple. They are the embodiment of what Ayn Rand called “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” which was Rand’s first major campus talk, delivered 56 years ago today at Yale University.

As left and right commune in faith—belief without evidence—in the omnipotent state (the NSA, ObamaCare, TSA), one voice of reason opposes in principle and action the initiation of force against the individual; Apple, which refuses to go silently to its—and America’s—doom. As usual, a private, for-profit enterprise, in keeping with the nation’s history of singularly great acts of rebellion against tyranny such as the Boston Tea Party, sets an example in achieving the moral, i.e., egoistic, ideal in action. What happens next will be interesting, potentially decisive and either encouraging or horrifying, and possibly crucial to whether the nation remains in any sense a republic based on individual rights.

Movie Review: Steve Jobs

Movie Review: Steve Jobs

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Buy the Movie

Another contender for best movie in this year of fine movies is Universal’s version of Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs. As a dramatic portrait of the creator who radically changed the world, it is magnificent. At last, writer Aaron Sorkin’s (Moneyball, The West Wing, The Social Network) breathless dialogue style is filtered and tethered by director Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire), or by Sorkin. The outcome is a poetic depiction of a true American fountainhead. (Read my thoughts on Steve Jobs and my thoughts on Apple).

With an electronic score to match the time frame, which runs from the mid-1980s to the final months of the 20th century, Steve Jobs moves in talking pictures, marking the creative life of a genius in three acts of grand halls filled with crowds, featuring singularly distinctive machines made possible by Apple, the Silicon Valley, California company Steve Jobs founded with Steve Wozniak—arguably the world’s greatest, richest company—and the people in Jobs’s life.

A brilliantly visionary producer talking with people about making products starts the movie. The opening scene displays his insistence upon perfection in a new product, the Mac, at Apple’s Flint Center introduction of the Macintosh personal computer following the revolutionary Super Bowl advertisement based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. The film’s conflict pits Steve Jobs against the world. But it also purports to put Steve Jobs against the audience because it is apparent that the audience is supposed to detest, rather than try to understand, what Jobs says and does. In fact, modern society pushes the audience away from what Jobs wanted, sought and achieved: perfection in integrating form and function in each aspect of life through fostering man’s autonomy. Apple’s ethos is individualism.

Steve Jobs is the individualist.

However, Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs wants, gets and trades more, as Apple does, with a measured achievement in addition to perfection in one’s work—a meaningful, happy life as one’s proper purpose. The ethics of egoism is embedded here if you know how to look for it, though I don’t know if today’s audiences will expend the effort. The tale this simple and magical movie shows and tells, and it’s extremely verbal though not in that irritatingly smug Sorkin tone, is an elegantly rendered tale of a life lived large yet always in the moment. Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs is sharp and arrogant, not flip and smug, and he strives to be balanced and whole.

“Artists lead,” Jobs tells a colleague with whom he’s at odds, and one of the things I like about this movie is how skillfully it dramatizes that the greatest minds are usually in conflict with the whole world, “hacks ask for a show of hands.”

Jobs is not a martyr, as depicted here, and it’s worth noting that this is based on a book by the author chosen by Jobs after he read the writer’s biography of Albert Einstein. Jobs is not portrayed as tortured or monstrous. In dealings with people in his company and life—Apple CEO and mentor John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, The Martian), confidante Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, Little Children), an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston)—he is, like Walt Disney, driven, difficult and daring. Steve Jobs covers the essentials, in thinly drawn, clean and meaningful lines, winks, nods and links to the logo, the machines, the designs, and how Jobs lived; how he ate, listened, relaxed, celebrated, controlled and conducted—mostly, how he thought.

This is not a documentary of Jobs’s business history. There’s no Cube, eWorld or Pixar. Instead, it portrays life in certain, selective products and those moments which align with the launch of those products. So, the impending failure of NeXT at an opera house is placed in its proper context in the second act as lead-in to the iMac in the third and final act at Symphony Hall. Mac fans, Apple employees and evangelists and the press are never far from view, as is Lisa, his daughter, who represents the evidence of progression for a rebel who was adopted, defied laws and rules and dropped out of college. “It would be criminal not to enjoy this moment,” says a character who becomes a friend.

This is the theme of Steve Jobs.

His technology, accounted for and credited to proper sources, including the Apple II, exists merely to serve the moment, not the other way around. Think different, a screen with Apple’s motto says, in one of at least two crucial, dissolving transitions. Steve Jobs does, honoring truth even when it’s inappropriate, improper or hurtful. Among those affected include Wozniak (Seth Rogen, The Guilt Trip), who is as right as Jobs in a climactic encounter, Sculley and a longtime Apple principal (Michael Stuhlbarg) who demonstrates that those who most deserve to get close to the man of the mind are often driven the farthest away.

As Jobs, Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), who looks more like Sting from The Police than Steve Jobs, is as intense and engaging as ever. The actresses playing Lisa also shine and so do others in the cast, with Winslet getting the laugh lines. The audience is likely to be split, not between Mac faithful and those with contempt for Apple, but between those who revere both the perfect union of controlling one’s own life and work and the requisite for achieving it—absolute freedom—and those who seek to manage life and work or have it managed and controlled by others.

Steve Jobs is a passionate movie and not in a Hollywood way. The passion here comes from the art of thinking, the contemplation, the stretching, the using and the experimenting. Technology is not depicted as an end in itself to Steve Jobs—it is not his religion—it is a means of activating his best within and doing it here on earth. With inspiration from singer-songwriters, taking the audience and Jobs from imagination to full awareness of reality, the two-hour Steve Jobs—a rare Hollywood hymn to one Ayn Rand called the most persecuted minority, the individual, specifically the individual who creates to make money—zips by like childhood.

Like the life of Steve Jobs, it ends too soon and with genuine wonder at the world. (Go here to buy the DVD and here to buy the Blu-Ray edition).


Related posts

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011 (2011)

Why I Like Apple’s Logo (2011)

Taylor Swift’s Activism for Apple (2015)

Taylor Swift’s Activism for Apple

TaylorSwift on TimeWhen an individual moneymaker takes a moral stand on principle, realizes it with action and wins, the activism ought to be studied as an example in success.

This week, recording artist Taylor Swift provides such an example. Swift, a pop country music star, recently took to Tumblr (a blogging platform) to write a letter of activism (read Swift’s letter here). Swift explains that Apple’s new Apple Music streaming service precludes payment to artists in the first three months. Swift argues that this is wrong. In a persuasive, simple letter implicitly based on egoism, not altruism, because she predicates the letter on achieving her own values in an explicit expression of magnanimity, Swift makes the case for what amounts to intellectual property rights. Swift advocates what Ayn Rand called the trader principle, the essence of capitalism. As Swift concludes her letter to Apple: “Please don’t ask [artists] to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Besides Swift’s fundamentally acknowledged fact that Apple’s terms are Apple’s to set, what distinguishes Swift’s activist letter from other forms of celebrity activism is her recognition of the good for being good. Swift does not malign Apple. In fact, she titles the post “To Apple, Love Taylor” and proceeds to express her “reverence” for Apple’s innovation and achievements. This demonstrates an understanding that acting in accordance with the company’s professed philosophy of human progress through new ideas is consistent with trading value for value. Harnessing the power of an artist that leftists and racists should regard as a beneficiary of “white privilege” or being among some inexplicably causeless “one percent” of wealthy millionaires, Swift, who has previously expressed support for Barack Obama, offers a perfectly rational example of selfish activism.

The letter is selfish, as against self-centered (as she points out when she writes that the issue of paying artists “is not about me”, which in this context is true), because in writing it she seeks to gain, keep and advance her values; in this case, the ability of artists to earn money to create. In a wider sense, the successful artist posting such a letter deepens the bond with fans and adds credibility to his brand. Swift’s letter succeeds on a number of levels in dispelling the myth that capitalism and benevolence are incompatible. Swift gains value as described, the struggling, unknown writer gains, her competitors also gain, and so do her patrons, employees and partners. The customer gains with greater funding for all artists which leads to more creation, variety and competition. Apple, too, gains from the compliments, publicity and Swift’s endorsement for the new platform and a better grasp of what top artists want and how they may communicate.

Capitalism is, in fact, win-win.

Taylor Swift’s letter displays an understanding of this principle. She does not seek the unearned. She also does not merely “kill them with kindness”, as a cynic might claim. The letter, praising Apple for allegiance to progress and innovation, is not structured for unearned guilt, vanity or opportunism. Swift’s letter ends with a thought which begins with the word ‘please’ extended as a courtesy, not with an arbitrary demand that Apple has a moral duty to serve others and sacrifice its profit. Swift backs her words with action, withholding her property on principle. This is the essence of good, selfish, rational activism (read my thoughts on activism here) in a dispute among good, selfish, rational men.

Those inclined to flame, troll or otherwise rant against anyone who deviates in the slightest degree from one’s values ought to look at Taylor Swift’s letter and learn from her example. This is activism that succeeds. As Apple executive Eddy Cue posted today on Twitter (and, as I teach in my social media course, social media is a crucial, legitimate tool for selfish communication), after granting Swift’s request: “We hear you, [Taylor Swift]…Love, Apple.” The exchange, namely that they are free to have it, is why I love capitalism.

Product Review: Verismo by Starbucks

Verismo by StarbucksVerismo (a poorly named product pronounced like ‘gizmo’ preceded by the ‘ver’ as ‘vurr’; vurr-izmo) by Starbucks produces a nicely brewed cup of strong, black coffee.

Bought on sale at a Starbucks near me, and the basic model, pod-based coffeemaker periodically goes on sale for $99, it came with a box of 12 brewed or 12 espresso coffee pods. The instruction manual is well-written, including an easy set-up guide – I’m fairly low-tech and need to read things twice to catch on so I don’t press the wrong button – regular use steps and cleaning guide. I haven’t done the monthly cleaning and maintenance yet and will update accordingly. I like the fact that the machine requires a short cleaning after each idle time. In other words, it shuts down automatically after idle time and then needs a quick cleaning upon startup. This maintains the machine.

I’ve previously used a basic Keurig coffee machine, which I think clogs more easily. In my experience, Keurig customer service is awful. With Verismo, I’m taking any problems to my nearest Starbucks. So far, I’ve found (and Verismo may prove to be a hassle, too) Verismo design superior to Keurig. It’s true that Verismo has fewer pod options than the Keurig-based line of variously branded K-cups (including a wider selection of Starbucks’ own K-cups). But convenience is a plus for me and I am happy with the dark roast choices. Still, I hope they add the French Roast as a brewed pod. Verismo also offers espresso, Americano and milk pod for latte options that lack with the other machines. Tea is also possible with Verismo. Pods are pricey, of course. I buy what I like in greater volume on the Starbucks site for price breaks and I also use coupons, specials, deals and other coffee products such as Starbucks’ Via and free in-store refills with my gold card through Starbucks Rewards program.

Essentially, after initial set-up, here’s how Verismo works: fill the removable water container, turn on the machine and place a cup on the tray. Wait for go signal, pull the silver lever down in one swift motion without a pod inserted, run a short cleaning discharge, then empty the cup of dispensed water. Replace and repeat after inserting a brewed, espresso and/or latte pod this time. Prepare coffee to taste. Voila, enjoy. The whole thing takes a few minutes tops.

Brewed pods (I’ve tried Verona, Sumatra and Pike Place) require removal of a silver tab on bottom that keeps freshness until ready for brewing while espresso and milk pods are ready to drop right in. Spent pods fall into a separate, removable container upon lifting of the silver lever for next use. Empty the spent pods every so often. If it sounds complicated to new single use pod customers, then Verismo will take getting used to. The process gets easier, though. The biggest advantage besides convenience is easy clean-up. The downside so far? A small discharge of water upon lifting the lever and closing it again and a little splatter. Mostly removable parts make using the machine easier and I like the simplicity. I’ve also used Soft Brew and French press systems and I love those for really strong cups of coffee but they’re a major hassle for prep time and cleaning the used coffee grounds. In this sense, I think machines using pods are a major advancement in coffee production. I prefer Verismo to Keurig.

Taste is excellent, though not as robust as a freshly brewed cup at Starbucks, but close and equal to or better than Starbucks’ K-cups. Some Verismo users complain about coffee not being hot enough and this is not a problem for me. I don’t always accept, let alone like, what Starbucks does (as I wrote here) but Verismo is a fine entry-level product for premium coffee drinkers.

App Review: Starbucks

Starbucks2014AppThough it comes at a premium price, and there are aspects of doing business I don’t like, I choose Starbucks for a conveniently mobile cup of coffee, snack and place to meet and work. The coffee is dark, strong and brewed fresh and there are many choices of beverages. Food is convenient. Cafes are generally clean, well-kept and conducive to writing or story conferences, which makes Starbucks an attractive option. I patronize Starbucks often enough to use the mobile app for payment.

I use both Starbucks’ app on my iPhone and as part of Apple’s Passbook. After loading a dollar amount onto my Starbucks account, I walk up to the cashier, activate my app, place my order and put the device in front of a scanner and that’s it; the transaction is complete and my order has been received and paid for. I get my order after it’s made and, as they say, I’m good to go (or stay). The app calculates how much is left on my account or “card”. When I get enough gold stars for a free salad or coffee, I just inform the cashier and swipe the iPhone app. With my gold card app status, coffee refills are free and I use the app for that, too. The app, which also allows free downloads of games and songs, kept track of my favorite stores and order combinations, items and drinks.

In recent days, Starbucks upgraded the app. The interface is streamlined, though Starbucks has eliminated the personal preferences option, and a tip option is available for the first time for those customers who choose to add a tip to their Starbucks transaction.

Herein lies the app’s problem. The tip amount is pre-designated by Starbucks. There is no free choice; Starbucks provides a few amounts as tip options, starting at 50 cents, and leaves the customer no choice to decide for himself exactly what amount to tip. The lack of control gets worse. In addition to losing the ability to choose, Starbucks has applied the same presumptuous principle to its reloading feature. When the customer goes to reload a dollar amount on the app, such as $25 (the minimum amount is $10), Starbucks smuggles in an auto-reload function that presumes the user wishes to designate that amount for an automatic reload that will automatically charge to one’s credit card every so often. This sneaky feature, which is deceptive at best, is not clearly communicated or disclosed. So when one goes to add the new amount, it’s easy to mistake the auto-reload for a regular reload. One must select ‘Never’ which is not readily apparent as an option.

This is a systemic problem with today’s technology. The default technological position, such as accessing a live operator, is too often designed or intended to discourage or deprive the user free choice and control – look at Facebook – in the name of convenience or automation. As a business model, this makes no sense. Such an approach presumes the customer deficient without evidence, never a good idea unless producing an inherently deficient product, and by diminishing free choice, ultimately chases the loyal customer away. In my case, I attempted to manage the account online without success – discovering another Starbucks flaw on its Web site; the inability to deactivate auto-reload – and had to call customer service to correct the error. Starbucks did ultimately resolve the dispute. The upshot: a loyal customer was given reason to doubt and distrust trading with Starbucks. The app upgrade with the dubious feature backfired, at least as far as I’m concerned. Starbucks app users are hereby forewarned about inadvertently activating automatic reloading. As always in any trade, and especially in an increasingly anti-capitalist society, which discourages good business practices, buyer beware.