Apple and the World of Paranoia

August 17th, 2009

There’s lots of mileage in creating a climate of fear, as any dictator can tell you. Indeed, even in a supposedly free country, you will find opposing politicians presenting their point of view not with logic and reason, but supposedly to protect you from the dastardly deeds of the opposition.

I won’t get into that silliness about the so-called “death boards” that will supposedly let the government euthanize the older people in your family, so you don’t have to continue to spend money to keep them healthy. That, of course, represents one political party essentially accusing the other of attempted murder, and it was always based on a complete lie.

Of course, in the tech world, Apple has cleverly used its Mac versus PC ads as a way to make you fear Microsoft, as if that’s anything that is difficult to do. The PC, depicted as an always-befuddled nerd, is perennially overcome by Windows-borne difficulties, such as ongoing threats of virus, constant crashes, and the sheer difficulty in getting anything done.

In a clever casting move, the PC is actually the nicer guy. You feel for him, and you want to help the poor fellow find a way to get through his workday without suffering further difficulties and perhaps even make a few extra dollars so he can buy a nice-looking suit that actually fits. The Mac fellow is a little too smug, but that’s clearly the intent.

But Apple isn’t just pleasingly satiric about promoting its interests. There are times when it can be damned hard-nosed about the way management attempts to control the message and the medium. Take any attempt to write about CEO Steve Jobs in a way that doesn’t toe the company line, and attempts to probe into this mercurial personality’s background, in the tradition of a regular investigative journalist.

Just the other day, for example, it was reported that Apple reportedly attempted to block the publication of a profile Jobs, a piece that evidently referred to him as a “Silicon Che Guevara,” an attempt to draw a comparison to a ruthless dictator of recent history.

The piece in question, which appeared in the UK’s Sunday Times, actually didn’t plow very much new ground. Compared to the various books on this highly-uncooperative personality, it would seem strange for Apple to object this one. They could just have given the requisite “no comment” responses and gone on their way.

However, Jobs has created an extremely paranoiac corporate communications culture, where the media isn’t expected to read between the lines and separate facts from hype. True, Jobs will sit down for a rare, rare interview, or at least he did before his recent serious illness. But the questions the reporter is allowed to ask are strictly limited, and Jobs is notorious for walking out if he hears a question that strays from the script.

This is not to say that Jobs has any valid reason to fear the press. He fully understands the art of thrust and parry and can certainly handle difficult questions, should he choose to do so. On the other hand, perhaps the penchant for corporate secrecy has its advantages. The press seems to like being beaten down, because reporters just keep coming back for more abuse. When Apple has something new to announce, it still gets worldwide headlines. So there may be madness in their methods.

On the other hand, trying to shout down or otherwise suppress a story that contains information about the personal life of Steve Jobs is destined to fail. The harder they try, the more curious the press will become.

Now I realize Apple won’t take this suggestion seriously, and if they did, the offending employee would be quickly shouted down by Jobs. What Jobs should really attempt is the simplest solution of all: Choose one or two reporters who are known to be tough but fair, and submit to several hours of unedited questions.

It will probably never happen, but it may help correct a fair portion of the erroneous information out there once and for all.

Sounds like a radical idea, right?

There may be personal details about his family life he wouldn’t wish to disclose, such as which schools his children attend and other elements that he is surely entitled not to reveal. On the other hand, a special news program with Jobs honestly discussing his life, including both success and failures, might prove to be a catharsis for someone who clearly has serious personal issues.

For the audience, who hear, see or at least read the text of the interview, they would get the answers to their questions about Steve Jobs direct from the horse’s mouth.

Sure, he would be right in saying that he is entitled to a private life. However, his words and actions have transformed him into a major public figure. He has the right to correct false information, of course, but the easiest way to deal with the fame and fortune — wanted or otherwise — is simply to come out of hiding and, for one time only, answer all the questions and then return to his private life.

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8 Responses to “Apple and the World of Paranoia”

  1. dfs says:

    On the surface, Apple appears to be a one-man band operation where Steve’s personality is all-determinative of its corporate style, in bad ways as well as good (in this piece Gene doesn’t draw the connection between Steve’s personal reticence about himself, or even paranoia, if you want to call that, and Apple’s famous culture of secrecy, but it’s very tempting to connect the dots, most memorably concerning the secrecy surrounding the liver transplant, which had important corporate implications). But I disagree with Gene on a couple of points. First, he is only discussing one aspect of what is in fact a much more complex personality. Steve can also be one hell of a showman when he wants to be. Remember the famous Reality Distortion Field? So in fact he’s very much a public figure, he seems to enjoy it very much, it might be more accurate to say he’s obsessed about controlling his public image rather than hiding it (he ain’t Howard Hughes). In the second place, I wonder if the usual “personality cult” way the press writes about Apple might really involve a bit of an optical illusion. Unlike your typical paranoic and tyrannical control freak, Steve doesn’t mind surrounding himself with first-rate employees, he doesn’t appear to feel at all challenged or theatened by them. And let’s be honest, we know very little about the inner workings of Apple. We don’t really know how many of its best ideas bubble up from below, so we don’t know for a fact how much Steve is the the creative-genius-in-residence and how much he functions more like a traffic cop organizing, sifting and bringing to fruition other people’s ideas. Personally, this is the kind of thing I’d like to learn about Steve, I’m not too interested in whether he likes Cornflakes or Wheaties for breakfast, which is about all we would learn from a standard “personality profile” press treatment. Maybe the way to get Steve to relax and open up is to ask him more interesting questions.

  2. @ dfs: Just a few comments:

    1. Steve Jobs is part entertainer, and entertainers have a love/hate relationship with their job. So he revels in being a public personality, but at the same time wants to be a normal private person. And that’s simply not possible.

    2. Jobs doesn’t like the press, and the way some reporters behave surely makes that opinion justified.

    3. Any “tell all” interview would also focus on his commercial life. When appropriate, he’s already discussed how some of Apple’s designs came to be. Witness the Time article on the iMac with the articulated arm as an example.


  3. Louis Wheeler says:

    I take hype with a grain of salt, Gene. That is hyperbole from either the Left or right.

    There was plenty of Leftist hype in the Mainstream Media and on TV during the Bush administration. The evil Federal Government was going to shred the constitution, use the patriot act to see what dirty movies I checked out of the public library, listen into my phone every time a talked to a known terrorist, among other despicable actions.

    One thing, Gene, is that you have to look into a situation before you dismiss it.

    Does Socialized medicine in other countries live up to its promises? No. Does it ration health care? Yes. Does it discriminate against the poorest people?

    It usually takes a while for the real abuses to kick in, so you have to look at countries which have had Socialized Medicine for some time. I’d suggest England. There are plenty of denials of service to elderly people.

    It’s interesting reading if you have an open mind.


  4. @ Louis Wheeler: Glad you opened this up.

    This is NOT about socialized medicine as in other countries. The simplest solution would be to take Medicare, an existing government program that, aside from known issues of waste and fraud that can be addressed, actually works and is preferred by most people who use it. If Medicare becomes a cradle-to-grave system, the story is over. Talk show host Thom Hartmann is in favor of that solution, but it’s not going to happen.

    As to what they do in other countries, it varies for better and sometimes worse. Again, the differences are heavily exaggerated by members of the media with an ax to grind.

    But, in the end, people live longer in almost every civilized country when compared to the US. That could hardly happen if they have death boards for the elderly running about. What’s more, our infant mortality rate is inferior, and the cost of medical care is two or three times as much.

    These statistics are readily available. The neocon fascists who pollute some segments of the media will deny the truth. But it’s there for them to research too. These are the people, by the way, who go around saying Obama is hates whites and is a racist. They forget he is half white and was brought up in a loving white family. Sigh.


  5. Louis Wheeler says:

    The question is what works, Gene. We can probably both agree that the present system has serious problems. The current system is not a free market; it is a highly cartelized mess.

    The American Medical Association improves the pay of doctors by limiting the competition among doctors and hospitals. It intentionally restricts the numbers of both; it is price control by limiting competition. It is no accident that 40% of our doctors were trained abroad. But, nothing that the Democrats are doing now will correct that.

    The question is, “What does work?” There are principles involved here. Cause and effect has its place, as does market mechanics. The politics involved often corrupts the data, too. Some ideologues are propagandist, so they don’t want the truth to be told. So, it is hard to figure out what is really going on. It’s hard to get good data.

    There is a fascinating compilation using UN data. It may surprise you.

    The problem with statistics is what can be believed. There may be special conditions which corrupt the data and thus mislead people into believing false conclusions.

    America’s infant mortality rating can be distorted, because we TRY to save very sick or premature infants. Many countries don’t try. They let the children die before they are ten days old, so their figures don’t get added into their national statistics.

    Despite it all, America has an infant mortality of 6 per thousand births while Canada is 5 per thousand. Many European countries which have very low birth rates, Denmark, France, Spain, Ireland, etc are 4 per thousand births. There isn’t a great deal of difference.

    Many of our illegal immigrants are having their children born here, so that their children gain US citizenship. Both the mother and child from Latin American countries can be in poor health. Mexico has an infant mortality of 29 per thousand. It doesn’t take many Mexicans to distort our figures by coming to the US to give birth and die.

    It isn’t as though America doesn’t have good health care; people come here from all over the world to get treatment. Many Canadians come here, because their Socialized Medical organizations want them to wait longer than the doctors and patients deem necessary. Some desperately sick people come to America to get treatment and die which lowers our statistics. Very poor and sick people come from Latin America to work and die here. Despite this, the US life expectancy is 78 and highest, Japan, which has no immigration, is only 83. Most of the OCED countries of Western Europe are only 2 to 3 years higher.

    Any time politics is involved in an activity, the statistics become questionable. Take Cuba, for instance, it is touted as having 1st rate medical care, but it is no mecca for medical tourists the way that the US is. And its life expectancy is the same as the US’s — 78. So, I suspect that the truth is somewhat less than the Cuban government would have us believe.

    There can be “death boards,” but the truth of that can be hidden if the statisticians are good enough. What the “Death Boards” also does is to lower the level of medical care during times when money is short.

    England , because of the recession there, is starting to deny medical care to huge numbers of the elderly. This may not lower their life by much, but it lowers their quality of life. The lack of treatment cripples or makes their later years painful. This is no small matter.

    The phrase “Death Boards or Panels” is a very clever bit of politics which contains an element of truth. If there were nothing behind Sarah Palin’s accusation then it could be easily dismissed.

    The point is that the “Death Boards” were funded under the Stimulus package which no one read. The Death Boards or Panels were funded with $1.1 billion under the name of the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. It is the brain child of former Health and Human Services Secretary Nominee Tom Daschle.

    Daschle’s stated purpose (and therefore President Obama’s purpose) for creating the Council is to empower an unelected bureaucracy to make the hard decisions about health care rationing that elected politicians are politically unable to make. The end result is to slow costly medical advancement and consumption.

    Who is on the Council? One of its most prominent members is none other than Dr. Death himself Ezekiel Emanuel. Dr. Emanuel’s views on care of the elderly should frighten anyone who is or ever plans on being old. He explains the logic behind his discriminatory views on elderly care as follows:

    “Unlike allocation by sex or race, allocation by age is not invidious discrimination; every person lives through different life stages rather than being a single age. Even if 25-year-olds receive priority over 65-year-olds, everyone who is 65 years now was previously 25 years.”

    On average 25-year-olds require very few medical services. If they are to get the lion’s share of the treatment, then those 65 and over can expect very little care. Dr. Emanuel’s views on saving money on medical care are simple: don’t provide any medical care.

    “Ultimately it was Obama himself, … who said that payment determination cannot be influenced by a person’s spirit and “that at least we (the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research) can let doctors know and your mom know that…this isn’t going to help. Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller.”

    Good quality medical care cost money. If you want to save money, then the easiest way is to deny or delay treatment so that people die.

    Thus, these panels do intend to increase American deaths. The term “Death Panel” is an apt name. A Down’s Syndrome child like Sarah Palin’s last child is unlikely to survive long after birth, under the above regimen. Most Down’s Syndrome children are aborted before birth, so why not afterwards? Giving the federal government control over such matters, means that parents are not allowed to choose. Patients are not allowed to choose. And thus, we lose our freedom.

  6. Ah yes, lies damned lies and statistics.

    OK, there is no Death Panel, and what has been proposed is merely allowing payment for voluntary Living Will (advanced directive) counseling. Nothing more nothing less. That is a good thing, and Sarah Palin is a lunatic if she believes there was ever something else in mind, or she’s extremely illiterate and requires remedial education.

    And let’s not continue to misquote what Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel really said, because it’s at variance with what the neocon fascists are telling you. Yes, I read it in his own words. Do your research. Google, Bing, doesn’t matter.

    The facts are as follows:

    1. We have severely rationed care in the U.S. Whenever a health insurance company refuses to take a client because of a preexisting condition, or drops one in the middle of treatment for a serious illness, we have rationing.

    2. The insurance company bureaucrats are nightmares for both patients and doctors. They get between both and regularly dictate on the course and nature of your health care.

    3. A for-profit insurance company doesn’t give a damn about your health. Their business plan is to refuse payments, for otherwise they can’t pay their CEOs millions of dollars a year. This is not a joke. Look at the amount of money that goes into services rather than your care. Medicare is 3%; the insurance industry takes up to 30% of every dollar you spend on premiums.

    4. There is no perfect health care system, and no secret plot on the part of the current U.S. administration to become euthanizers. People who believe that supreme paranoia are part of the problem and not the solution.


  7. Louis Wheeler says:

    Gene, let’s stick to technical matters from now on, okay? We have some chance of agreeing there.

    Politics are too confusing. It becomes a manichaean struggle between left and right, right and wrong — opposing moralities. There are just too many lies, deceptions and bureaucratic maneuverings. The rules of logic are turned on their heads. Hearts are hardened. Neither side will believe the other’s sources or their interpretation. We will read different meanings into the same legislation or quotes. We will project different results.

    If as you say, all is sweetness and light regarding this legislation, and there is nothing for anyone to worry about, why did the Democrats have to hide these matters in omnibus bills which no one had read because it was too urgent to get passed? If all this can be easily explained, why not beforehand, be open and above board? That was one of Obama’s campaign promises, after all.

    One thing that we do know is that the chickens will come home to roost and the truth will out. If Obama’s plans are put into place there will be consequences. In knowing what they are, at least, I can take evasive action. A true believer like your self will not even try. I suspect that we are of similar ages, although I may be older — 66.

    I believe Obama’s presidency will be good for America. There is no better antidote to leftist prescriptions than to allow the democrats to take charge of the government. Like Jimmy Carters presidency, Obama’s will create such pain and death that a whole generation will be scared away from giving the democrats power again. But, that won’t correct the effects of a hundred years of power seekers and graft seekers of both parties.

    I never brought up these matters, Gene. I would have happily never mentioned them here. All I asked you to do was to look into the real effects of socialized medicine. There are many such studies for those open minded enough to look at them.

    You say the word ‘peace’ to end your missives.

    But, there can be no peace when governments assume control over our lives. They take away our commonplace choices and thwart any alternative. The government schools, for example, do that for the poor. Whether the schools are good or bad doesn’t matter; there is no other choice.

    The common people in tyrannical governments are impoverished to the point when they must be at war with their fellows over a loaf of bread. America is a long way away from such a consequence. But, so was the second richest country in Africa, Zimbabwe, in 1965. Now, it is a failed economy and state where the people starve. Robert Mugabe would be an interesting fellow for you to study and to compare his governmental policies to Obama’s. They are quite similar.

    I won’t be holding my breath while you do, though.


  8. I’ll answer the neocon belief system this way: The middle class has gone nowhere but down under Reagan’s policies that were allowed to continue virtually unaltered for decades, while the rich got richer. That is not progress unless you have a few spare billion in your bank account.

    I am not in favor of the government taking over everything, but I am in favor of controls where they are necessary. Without such controls in place, the banks ripped off everyone to the tune of trillions of dollars. But I’m for a flourishing private sector so long as it doesn’t intrude on my rights. Unfortunately, the health insurance industry does. Everyone has stories. You don’t need to hear mine.


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