Friday, December 26, 2014

The True Genius of Steve Jobs

Today's topic has nothing to do with religion - unless you see the popularity of Apple, Inc. as being somewhat akin to a religion.

Which for some, of course, it is.

One of the biggest disappointments - regarding Apple - of the decade, was the death of Steve Jobs.  Millions of us were dismayed that such a genius could be so stupid as to fail to use his significant fortune to get the best medical care possible, and instead allow quack science to delay that treatment to the point that a very treatable cancer could kill him.  Goes to show that genius has its limitations.

Since then, Apple, Inc. has been watched closely by both detractors and investors with one question in mind. Could Apple repeat its success after the death of its genius founder?  Steve Jobs was seen as the architect of that success - the man whose vision informed and pushed for the creation of some truly world changing devices - devices that have reworked our world into patterns that were comic book sci-fi just decades ago.

Now, lots of words - billions, probably, have been written about this, many of them by people smarter or more educated than I in business and psychology.  I am not under the mistaken impression that I am unique or smarter than any of these folks.  But I have been watching Apple for over twenty years, and I've got some observations about that company that many have not noticed.

So I wonder sometimes.  Most of the articles I have read about Jobs focus on his product genius.  The creation of the products Apple has released and his part in that creation.  How he pushed people to and beyond their limits in making things they never could have imagined they'd produce otherwise.  Products that have been attributed to that genius.

Then, this morning, I read a VERY short article in which the author had been asked one question:  What was the most surprising thing about 2014 to you?

His answer:  Apple has survived, and even thrived, after Jobs' death.

I'm sorry, but my response?


I've never seen such a stupid, uninformed, pitiful excuse for an answer - EVER.

So, you ask me, what WAS Jobs' true genius, genius?

It wasn't in making insanely great products, although he was pretty darn good at it.

His real genius was in building the company he built.  He built a company that has survived his death and in fact, is STILL turing out insanely great products.  Without his guidance, apparently.

I say "apparently", because that guidance is really still there.  His genius was in institutionalizing that vision.  Building teams of people and infusing in those teams the vision of how to make insanely great products.

Thats why they made such great products when he was alive - HE didn't make them, his company did - because he infused his vision and his methods into the teams and the people who made them work.  It is the people - the employees - of Apple, who made the products - who designed them, tested them, redesigned them, retested them until they met the insanely tight and high standards Steve helped them set for themselves and their output.

That company - those teams - are Apple, Inc.  As long as management at Apple continues to follow that vision and maintains the institutionalized vision Steve Jobs gave them, they will continue to make insanely great products.  At least until economic or cultural conditions change that challenge Apple's management to alter that vision in order to keep up.

Then we'll see if that vision stands up.  If Apple's management at the time is flexible enough to see whatever handwriting is on the wall at the time.

But for now, continue looking to Apple, Inc. to continue to make insanely great products - it is what Steve Jobs built that company to do.

Thanks, Steve.

Monday, December 15, 2014

On Police Brutality

More and more lately, the subject of police brutality and killings is becoming something the bought and paid for media cannot ignore.  Millions of people around the country are constantly marching in protest over the almost constant din of what are often out and out murder cases in which police are almost universally absolved of criminal liability.

Mostly against blacks, but let's be clear - there are others being killed who are not black as well.

It would also be good to note that the issue of police brutality isn't just about killings, although those are the most egregious.  Remember the lady in California whose beating by a CHP officer went viral?  There are whole websites devoted to documenting these incidents.

And that isn't the most alarming thing about this whole thing.

What is the most alarming is the strengthening of the "thin blue line".  The police have tended, even in the past to have this "us vs. them" kind of attitude, that exists to protect each other from what they consider unfair punishment.

To an extent, that is understandable.  They exist in an ordered and very structured environment.  They are trained in discipline, the better for their bosses to control them.  After all, they are, each and every one, out in the community for eight or more hours a day, exposed to the possibility of having to confront the very worst elements of society.  People who are often armed and prepared to use those weapons at any time they feel threatened.

And police officers around the country die every year because of that exposure.  Such an environment tends to bond people together.  I understand that.

But in recent years, there is a sickness that has invaded that environment.

Militarization.  Arming and training our police with the arms and the attitudes of soldiers.

There is a meme that is making the rounds occasionally on Facebook.  It says, basically, that a country's military exists to defend it from enemies of the State.  And when the police and the military begin to blend together, the people tend to start looking like enemies of the State.

That sounds kinda familiar.

We need to remind ourselves, and our police, of the ways in which our government was designed and empowered by the Constitution to provide (as the constitution says) for the General Welfare.

First, the military is an arm of the Federal government, and is authorized by the Constitution under the authority of the President.  It is for the protection of the country from enemies of the State, generally protection from invasion.

Our police departments, of whatever level, are authorized under both the General Welfare clause for the Federal government and the "reserved powers' clause for the States.

Separately, all levels of the government are authorized a judiciary.  It is considered a separate branch of government at the Federal level.  Most States are generally designed the same way, so that judges and courts are their own authority and not under the executive power of the President or a Governor.

This is important, because the Constitution makes it fairly clear (and subsequent SCOTUS rulings further clarify this) that the Court system is supposed to be a defender and a protectorate of the people.

Police are, too, since their authority is generally under the authority of the General Welfare clause.

And when the police act against their authority and hurt members of the public, the courts are supposed to protect us, not side with the police.

Our Constitution is a document that sets forth the powers of the Federal government and allows for those powers not explicitly given to the Federal level to be reserved for the States or "the people".  This pretty clearly shows that the powers so delineated are delegated directly from the people.

WE, the people of this country, delegate those powers for OUR benefit.  Those powers are not there for the benefit of the officials so empowered.  They are there to provide for US.  For the general welfare - for everybody.

In spite of the original version having clauses respecting slavery, none of those clauses noted color of skin nor ethnicity as a condition of that status, and most certainly did not separate "the people" into differing classes based on ethnicity, skin color, sex, sexual orientation, social classes, or economic status.  It merely uses the term "We, the people".

In short, if a person works for a government entity at any level from city to State to Federal, they work for US.  They have their jobs for the purpose of providing for the General Welfare of the people of these United States.  Their jobs are there for OUR benefit, not theirs.

The police are not there to protect the government.  They are there to protect us from threats to society.  They are not there to force us into submission, they are there to protect us.

Not to shoot us, nor beat us nor subjugate us.  Their paychecks come from the taxes we pay.  WE are their bosses, ultimately.  All of us, regardless of economic status, color of our skin or ethnicity.

They should not be thinking of "us vs. them".  They should be thinking about policing their own, about getting rid of officers who make them look bad, who are not worthy of wearing the uniform.

Their "us" should include "we" the people.

Unlike in many totalitarian countries, our police do not live in guarded compounds.  They live among us, they ARE us, they are part of "the people".  They live next door to us, they marry our daughters and our sons, they eat at our backyard barbecues.  They shop at the same stores we do, they vote in the same elections we do.

It is time they rejoined us.  It is time they stop thinking of us as the problem, and realize that it is their attitude that is the problem.

They work for us, and it is time they started acting, again, like they do.

They should be our defenders, not our oppressors.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


Today, in a FaceBook posting, someone made a statement that made me rock back on my heals and think hard about something.  It is a subject America has been struggling with since it's very founding, and before.

Racism.  Racial prejudice. Ethnic hatred, or however you wish to term it.

The statement went something like "us whiteys who aren't racist...", and something about it stuck in my craw, as we say in Texas.  It took me a bit to realize what it was, but once it did, it brought back an incident when I lived in Texas that truly did change the way I see other people and how our words - no matter how innocently we might see them - can hurt and wound others very deeply.

I was working at the FDA District office in the mail and file room, and there was an older black fellow that I knew from up in the lab I liked quite a bit.  He was always friendly, and we'd struck up somewhat of a gentle kidding around kind of relationship.

At one point, he came down to the file room, and said something I can't remember, kidding me, and I turned around, and in a kidding and jaunty kind of tone, said, "Hey, ni**er, how ya doin'?"

Instantly, his face turned ugly, and he growled at me in a furious tone of voice, "Don't EVER call me that again!"  And stalked away.

Apart from that being completely different from the reaction I'd expected, I was quite simply devastated.  I'd never thought I'd cause someone such hurt or ignite such anger, and I was just blown away once I realized what I'd done.

Fortunately, the man who oversaw the file room was not only black, but knew me, and the other fellow as well, and being also a minister, was able to (after I abjectly crawled virtually on hands and knees begging forgiveness) managed to help me to repair that relationship somewhat.

But it never was quite the same after that, and this is the first time I have ever mentioned it since that time.

But it illustrates exactly my point here.

Which is that once you've been introduced to an "education" that includes ethnic racism, you can NEVER quite wipe it out of your head.  You can become educated in a more enlightened point of view, you can meet, befriend and work with lots of people you were educated as a child to despise for their ethnicity, and you can very successfully train yourself to hide all that crap deep inside where it will never show its ugly face again.

But, try as you might, it will not ever go away completely, and for the rest of your life, you will fight it, inside.  You will hear that quiet little ugly voice say horribly nasty things, and you will cringe and dismiss it back to the garbage it came from, but the echo will still resonate silently in your head.

And you will keep on struggling to keep your ears from still hearing it.  You will successfully turn the snide little ugly thing back into the muck and replace it with a proper and more realistic reality, and over the years, that will get easier. The more you practice, the better you'll get at it, and the fewer chances that you'll let the wrong thing outta your yap and embarrass yourself.

But you have to be careful, or you'll say stupid things like "us whiteys who aren't racist".

Fact is, every human being on the planet is to a degree, racist, of one manner or another.  It may take the form of tribalism, or clanishness, or nationalism, but we all are infected with one form of it or another.  It is, as they say, fed to us in our mothers' milk.  We grow up exposed to it in the society around us, and we absorb it as we do lessons about the difference between cousins and aunts vs. the milkman.

It's just something we don't notice, until one day, we get our noses rubbed in it.  One day, you open your eyes and see how the other guy feels.

Which, really, is the key.  It's why racist attitudes are so ingrained in the South.

The different races live in enclaves, which, for whites, are usually, bigger, nicer and protected from the incursions of the "others" unless they have sanctioned business there, as, perhaps, a house maid or a gardener.

Places where they are rarely exposed to the other side as anything but servants.  As not humans.  Not being exposed to blacks as humans allows the old stereotypes to be engrained and not exposed as the racist bullshit they are.  Old hatreds can be allowed to fester.

On both sides.

Don't get me wrong.  America has come a long way, even if it is largely a thin veneer of legally protected rights and public behavior.

But, underneath, yeah, the old racism is alive and well, and the only way we'll ever get rid of it is to actually live side by side.  To be exposed to each other as human beings, with loves, hates, preferences and cultural differences.  To be forced to make public concessions to public behavior which allows us to interact with dignity and grace, even if we all will have that internal demon to fight every step of the way.

Because the real proof of civility and adulthood is the ability to win that internal battle, EVERY DAY.  To see clearly that racism, tribalism and such artificial divisions are no longer needed in civilized society and are the wrong way to see other human beings.  To be able to move forward into adulthood with dignity and resolve in defeating the demons of our childhood.

As they say, the first step towards solving a problem is to realize that there is one.

After that, it takes resolve, courage, and stamina.  Only the weak fail, only the mentally lazy trapped in the mesh of childhood trauma or propaganda fail to see what everybody else takes for granted.

Don't be weak.  Don't be lazy.  Fight your own internal battle, and strive to win!  Know yourself, understand where the ugly impulses come from, and fight to put them back into the muck they slid so stealthily from.

But above all, be aware.  Understand yourself, and understand others.  It really isn't so hard to do.