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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‘”).

81px-Apple_logo_black.svg

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.

Capitalism on Chicagoland’s North Shore

Spending my youth in the suburbs north of Chicago often made me curious about its origins. There were exotic American Indian names, mysterious trails, woods and tales of corruption, scandal and murder amid the lush, green bluffs and flat, fertile soil, not to mention the lakefront, the railroad and the industry. I know I’m scratching the surface, but I’m enjoying writing about the towns, villages and enclaves north of Chicago in a newspaper history series I conceived and developed with my editor, David Sweet, earlier this year.

The theme is capitalism—the entrepreneurial spirit—on Chicagoland’s North Shore.

Glencoe, Illinois waiting station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

Talking with local and regional historians, curators and scholars, my research yields new takes on local myths and legends, facts about iconic names, dates and places and, above all, clarity about the men who forged new paths, pioneered Northern Illinois, fought for the Union during the Civil War and settled some of the nation’s most creative, productive and wealthiest towns. These men were largely men of vision and reason and they were farmers, frontiersmen, traders, industrialists and, mostly, individualists. Telling their stories, including notorious facts in the history of these towns, is more rewarding than I had thought possible when I first offered to write the articles.

These front page and cover story articles, which include bits on America’s first recorded serial killer, the only bridge ever designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright and the invention of Christmas bubble lights, Girl Scout cookies and Frenchmens’, Indians’ and religionists’ plans for the area near and along Lake Michigan north of Chicago, are currently available online for free. Read about Glenview, Wilmette and Glencoe. Know that there are more stories to come.


Related

Murder in Kenilworth

Feature: Teen Depression and Suicide on Chicago’s North Shore

Sheridan Road: My First Intellectual Activism

Sheridan Road: Former State Senator Roger Keats

Sheridan Road: Interview with Kathryn Cameron Porter

Movie Review: Steve Jobs

SteveJobsPoster

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.

Starbucks’ #RaceTogether

1017px-Starbucks_Corporation_Logo_2011.svgAs usual, both leftists and conservatives proved their bankruptcy, this time in attacking Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s encouraging new campaign.

On the left, the reaction was predictable. Leftists say they want a conversation about race. But they don’t—not really. What they want are more controls, dictates and unearned guilt trips against capitalism, business and the individual based on race. The hatred heaped by the left upon this particular business, one of the most successful examples of capitalism in history, was an anti-capitalist diatribe against Starbucks, unleashed on social media and, of course, personally attacking private executives. The leftists’ objections to Starbucks’ partnership with a newspaper to foster discussion of thoughts about race, “Race Together” (#RaceTogether on Twitter) ranged from an assault on Starbucks for employing too many white people, itself an example of racism, to a generally dismissive approach to taking ideas seriously if the idea originates with a big business.

Today’s conservatives agree with leftists, as they so often, without realizing it, do, because they share the New Left’s hatred of taking ideas seriously and they share the New Left’s approach to acquiring knowledge: faith over reason. Conservatives, as I observed in this post years ago when I wrote about the pro-capitalist origins of the individualistic Tea Party movement when it was being hijacked, do not seek real, radical change from welfare state cronyism to capitalism and individual rights. Conservatives are not, as Ayn Rand spent most of her career pointing out, radicals for capitalism; they seek to conserve the status quo based on altruism and collectivism—the roots of racism, as Rand argued—and some modified form of government control. To the extent conservatives support capitalism, as some still claim to do with varying degrees of credibility, they are mixed because they also seek to dictate or control free speech, sex, trade, abortion and drugs. Conservatives, like leftists, oppose egoism, pure capitalism and individual rights.

Like today’s college-bred New Left descendants, today’s church-bred New Right descendants embrace today’s bankrupt, cynical culture with enthusiasm. Don’t take my word for it. Read their posts, forwarded e-mails and Tweets, joking about racial comments, insults and attacking an American company for trying to profit from fostering an exchange of ideas for the sake, in the words of Starbucks’ CEO, of a better company and country. Conservatives, and their Christian libertarian brethren, demonstrate the same disdain for capitalism in practice that leftists do, only conservatives pretend that they actively support the company’s right to choose its practices.

But they do not—not really. In practice, they defend any religious CEO, quarterback, cable TV celebrity or chicken food chain for making controversial actions or comments, and sometimes they have a point. But when a lone businessman seeks to start a voluntary discussion about a controversial topic, those who cry that they never get a fair hearing on controversial topics attack the forum and they do so with the same derision as the left. It’s a point radio host Rush Limbaugh has often made; conservatives try so hard to live through others, i.e., leftists, that they act like them. They don’t know how to take yes for an answer. It’s as though they haven’t got the strength of their convictions and they’d rather argue than use reason and persuade. Just because Mr. Schultz, who is clearly biased to the left, didn’t frame the issue exactly right—his comments are loaded with self-hating prejudice against whites—conservatives rant, crack racial jokes and ridicule and reject voluntarily talking politics in a cafe predicated on profit by social gathering.

This is the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of the Starbucks effort. Social, even intellectual, discourse in gatherings is central to the Starbucks business proposition. Not only does Starbucks stand to lose and go out of business if Americans remain divided, Starbucks stands to gain and prosper if Americans become united. Howard Schultz, as two business writers know and recently observed (see reference links), knows that voluntarily talking politics in a cafe predicated on profit by social gathering is precisely what America needs.

Starbucks, with 4,700 U.S. stores, published a full page ad in Sunday’s New York Times asking: “Shall We Overcome?” with the words “RaceTogether” and the company’s mermaid logo. The question is intended to stimulate conversation and debate about issues of race in America by encouraging employees to talk with customers after writing, and only of their own volition, the words “Race Together” on a coffee cup. Today’s edition of the company’s partner in the campaign, USA Today, will have the first of a series of inserts with a variety of perspectives on race relations. Starbucks says its baristas are under no obligation to generate debate—in my experience this week, no one did—and, according to Starbucks, the goal is simply to activate an exchange of ideas.

This might not be desirable, in demand or in a company’s interest in a purely laissez-faire capitalist economy, yet in today’s divisive, government-controlled society, made worse by a divisive president and me-too political parties, isn’t one more likely to find an honest exchange among traders in a coffee shop than on a college campus (remember when Brandeis disinvited an infidel?) or a political arena?

Is it possible that Starbucks is the perfect place to start?

Imagine people talking, listening and learning, becoming informed, and making better cases and arguments. The founders did this in pubs when they sought to create America, which ended up being debated and founded in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Debates about ideas are good for a business built on gathering—especially in an environment in which speech is stifled by political correctness, speech codes, disunity, mass government surveillance of private lives and censorship. Conservatives often complain about not having a forum in which to make their points and they incessantly gripe about mainstream media. Leftists often complain about the need to enfranchise and converse and they incessantly gripe about businesses for the smallest grievances. Both should find the good in Starbucks’ campaign and unite in support of Starbucks’ call for voluntary discussion of a controversial topic free from government coercion. Another more toxic type, the nihilist, festers in this blank, death-based culture. See the links for an example.

If Americans are not fully free to have rational arguments in halls of government, academia and the media, and apparently and increasingly Americans are suppressed and restricted, let Americans chat over coffee—and at least leave Starbucks alone to sponsor, prosper and profit from it. I think the initiative has the potential to advance a radical American future free from those who want to control people’s lives for God and tradition and from those who want to control people’s lives for the race, tribe or collective. Conservatives and leftists have been propping up the same false dichotomies and continuous loop of Clintons, Bushes and asinine wars, policies and schemes for decades. America needs better ideas and new forums for free expression. Let us embrace this new effort by Starbucks—or any other American business that dares to speak up when Americans desperately ought to speak up—and let’s get to the business of saving America by encouraging Americans to speak up in pursuit of reason.


Reference links

“Why Race Together” by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and USA Today Publisher Larry Kramer, Starbucks Collection 

“Starbucks CEO has a terrible idea to fix race relations”, by Alexandra Petri, Washington Post

“Starbucks ‘Race Together’ Initiative Is Brilliant”, by David B. Yoffie and Michael A. Cusumano, Time

App Review: Starbucks 
Product Review: Starbucks’ Verismo