I made a mildly starky tweet about Steve Jobs that, alas, isn’t getting retweeted. It must be too soon for humor. Steve Jobs was a genius and it’s sad that he died so young. Walt Mossberg wrote a fine eulogy of the man he knew. I never met Steve Jobs, but know something about him—and about the people he inspired. When people leave flowers at Apple stores around the world, something big has happened. It’s similar to what happened when Princess Diana died, but Jobs had rather more important accomplishments than she had. A symbol has died, and the world rightly mourns. Here are 5 things to keep in mind about Steve Jobs:
George Orwell once proposed that saints be assumed guilty until proven innocent, and if we apply this standard to Steve jobs, one thing becomes clear: he wasn’t always a good man. In recent years, he’s given inspiring speeches. When everyone was paying attention to him, he behaved. In his early days, as James Altucher makes clear, Jobs behaved less admirably: Jobs denied paternity of his first child, paid his child support with welfare checks, and swindled Steve Wozniak, his first partner. If character is what you do when nobody else is looking, Jobs may not have had much. And even when in power, Jobs was mercurial, moody, and a holy terror to work for, as Walt Mossberg hinted at.
But Jobs was unquestionably a great man. Does anybody remember 86-DOS, formerly the Quick-and-Dirty Operating System? The thousands of lines of mind numbing code? Jobs cleaned that up with icons. Perhaps he ushered back a preliterate age, but icons are a godsend. And he kept the inventions coming: Pixar, the iMac, iTunes, the iPhone, the iPad. Jobs wasn’t as great an inventor as Thomas Edison, he wasn’t as great a manufacturer as Henry Ford, he wasn’t the great artist that Walt Disney was, but he might have been the most amazing combination of those three—inventor, manufacturer, artist—the world has ever seen.
His death has dominated both formal news, like NPR and Google, and informal news, like Facebook and Twitter. We knew his time was short, but it was still a shock when he finally succumbed. The mourning needs some explanation, though, since millions of people obviously didn’t know him, nor do they entirely grasp all he did (even the well educated can barely grasp all the changes Jobs made). All of Jobs’s gifts to us—sleek lines and elegance and simplicity that clearly took lifetimes of hard work and hard thinking—have been mocked by brutal pancreatic cancer.
The symbol that Jobs chose for himself was an Apple. He could have picked something grander, as tech companies like Oracle and Palantir did. Or he could have made a gimmicky portmanteau like Verizon or Comcast. For a Zen Buddhist to pick up this bit of Judeo-Christian iconography (icons again!) and give it an ironic twist was genius. When the serpent gave Adam and Eve an apple, they were cast out of paradise; when Steve Jobs gave us Apple, he led us to the future. He replaced gargantuan machines with Macbooks, clunky mobile phones with iPhones, and entire libraries with the iPad. To the less technically inclined, it’s almost like turning water into wine.
Europe and America and Japan are mired in recession; China may well be on the verge of one; the Middle East and Africa are as unstable as they always are. In short, people are not short on self pity right now. They’re asking, “Does the future still happen here?” Steve Jobs attempted all his life to lead us into the future. He was a consummate salesman who encouraged us to see him and Apple as one and the same, and Apple was the future. The people leaving flowers at Apple stores are mourning the death of the future. This, too, shall pass. There will never be another Steve Jobs, but his vision lives. We can still be inspired: go, and think different.
When discussing Christopher Hitchens, we once observed that he’d done something to offend just about everyone at one time or another in his life. His attacks on Mother Teresa probably didn’t endear him to the right; his attacks on the Clintons probably annoyed the left; his contrary defense of western civilization threw some on both the right and left for a loop. Some of us here at the Paupers adore him, others are a touch exasperated.
Still, he’s just canceled a range of speaking engagements due to esophageal cancer (H/T). We aren’t sure if he’d appreciate prayers, but we’ll lift a glass to him and toast his good health tonight.
The conservative blogosphere is taking amomentarytime-out to mark the passing of Arnold Beichman, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and anti-Soviet crusader. Arnold was a friend of my father’s who quickly became a friend of our entire family; so much so, that my sister and I called him “Uncle Arnold.” He was one of those rare individuals who possessed a powerful mind and an equally gracious heart; I’m very priviledged to have known him.
Hearing of his passing yesterday, my parents (as only parents can) not only remembered, but found an essay I wrote about him for a middle school assignment way back in in 1995. I certainly won’t pass it off as any great feat of literature, but it does one thing surprisingly well. Arnold had an amazing ability to instantly size-up another person — such as a little snot like me at 14 — and effortlessly bring the conversation to the highest level that person was capable of reaching.
Arnold, of course, could always sail higher.
Uncle Arnold? He’s Crazy!
When I was two years old (I don’t remember any of this) I went to my “Uncle” Arnold’s house in British Columbia. I spent the next week running around on beaches, building sand castles and listening to Arnold’s jokes.
Since then I have moved to Washington state and have seen him about five times (two since moving). Every time I see “Uncle” Arnold he looks older but acts younger. When my sister was three and was told that Arnold was coming to visit, she replied, “Uncle Arnold? He’s Crazy.”
Arnold Beichman is not my uncle, nor is he crazy. In fact, I have no blood relation to him at all. He’s just one of my dad’s friends, who happens to be my friend as well. He and my dad met about one year after I was born in Washington D.C. Arnold (who is eighty-something) is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in San Fransico. He is a scholar and a journalist, having published two articles in the Washington Times just last week.
Arnold is a rather heavy man with more hair on his chest than on his head. He speaks very loudly, usually complaining.
He acts rather childish at times and one wonders how he used to make a living, which he obviously has. He loves to tell jokes and knows a surprisingly large amount about everything.
The last time Arnold came out here, two months ago, he came with his wife Carol. They had never been to the islands and were toying with the idea of buying property here.
“So, Tommy, what’s your scientific outlook?”, he asked me loudly at the table the first night out here.
“Uh I don’t…have one yet,” I said, rather confused.
“Well, now you do”.
We began to talk about everything new in the scientific world, namely the Hubble Telescope. He told us some of his jokes, none of which I can remember, unfortunately, but know I laughed at.
Later that night I was playing a World War II flight simulator, fending off Germans from my bomber squadron. Half way through he walked in and asked,
“What are you flying?”
“P-51 Mustang,” I responded. Now, I could be a scholar on aircraft of the second World War. I have read many books on the subject and can recognize most on sight.
“What are you up against?”
“Two Focke Wulf 190s,” telling the name of the German planes I was dog-fighting with.
“You know how mustang pilots got Focke Wulfs?”, he said as I hit the PAUSE button to listen. “They would go on a straight power-dive hitting about 400 mph …”
I listened to him closely and for a long time thinking,”Wait a minute. I should be lecturing him.” But he obviously knew more on the subject than I did.
At first glance Arnold is a large, slightly childish old man. It also happens to be that he is a first-class scholar and an excellent journalist who can produce articles at a very high comprehension level. (I had to read them twice to understand them). Arnold shows that while first impressions are important, they may not tell the whole story about someone.
I’d no idea how badly off Roger Ebert was, simply because I don’t pay that much attention to movies. But I couldn’t stop reading this profile:
Roger Ebert can’t remember the last thing he ate. He can’t remember the last thing he drank, either, or the last thing he said. Of course, those things existed; those lasts happened. They just didn’t happen with enough warning for him to have bothered committing them to memory — it wasn’t as though he sat down, knowingly, to his last supper or last cup of coffee or to whisper a last word into Chaz’s ear. The doctors told him they were going to give him back his ability to eat, drink, and talk. But the doctors were wrong, weren’t they? On some morning or afternoon or evening, sometime in 2006, Ebert took his last bite and sip, and he spoke his last word.
Ebert’s lasts almost certainly took place in a hospital. That much he can guess. His last food was probably nothing special, except that it was: hot soup in a brown plastic bowl; maybe some oatmeal; perhaps a saltine or some canned peaches. His last drink? Water, most likely, but maybe juice, again slurped out of plastic with the tinfoil lid peeled back. The last thing he said? Ebert thinks about it for a few moments, and then his eyes go wide behind his glasses, and he looks out into space in case the answer is floating in the air somewhere. It isn’t. He looks surprised that he can’t remember. He knows the last words Studs Terkel’s wife, Ida, muttered when she was wheeled into the operating room (“Louis, what have you gotten me into now?”), but Ebert doesn’t know what his own last words were. He thinks he probably said goodbye to Chaz before one of his own trips into the operating room, perhaps when he had parts of his salivary glands taken out — but that can’t be right. He was back on TV after that operation. Whenever it was, the moment wasn’t cinematic. His last words weren’t recorded. There was just his voice, and then there wasn’t.
Now his hands do the talking. They are delicate, long-fingered, wrapped in skin as thin and translucent as silk. He wears his wedding ring on the middle finger of his left hand; he’s lost so much weight since he and Chaz were married in 1992 that it won’t stay where it belongs, especially now that his hands are so busy. There is almost always a pen in one and a spiral notebook or a pad of Post-it notes in the other — unless he’s at home, in which case his fingers are feverishly banging the keys of his MacBook Pro.
Quite a bit of what’s celebrated as love resembles Romeo & Juliet: an explosion of passion that burns out or ends with living-happily-ever-after. A different sort of love comes up in one of my favorite children’s stories, The Velveteen Rabbit:
For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
There seems to be a real story of this, so to speak, in the New York Times (H/T). Dana Jennings is fighting prostate cancer, and he has become Real:
Right now, I’m not quite what you’d call “a catch.” I wear man-pads for intermittent incontinence, I’m a bazaar of scars, and haven’t had a full erection in seven months. Most nights, I’m in bed by 10. The Lupron hormone shots, which suppress the testosterone that can fuel prostate cancer, have sent my sex drive lower than the stock market, shrunken my testicles, and given me hot flashes so fierce that I sweat outdoors when it’s 20 degrees and snowing.
Even so, Deb has taught me that love is in the details. Humid professions of undying love and tear-stained sonnets are all well and good, but they can’t compete with the earthy love of Deb helping me change and drain my catheter pouches each day when I first came home from the hospital.
Yes, in the details. She measured my urine, peered into places I couldn’t (literally and figuratively), and strategically and liberally applied baby powder, ice and Aquaphor to my raw and aching body. She battled our intractable insurer, networked, tracked down the right doctors — and took thorough notes all the while.
I was wounded. She protected me. She chose to do these things.
J.K. Rowling gave Harvard’s Commencement address. My favorite bits:
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.
Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.
I have, on occasion, gone shopping with various girlfriends. Once, I wound up consoling one who discovered that she had moved from size 4 to size 6. I tried (unsuccessfully) to tell her that her boyfriend wouldn’t care about small changes in her waist size. Men are tolerant like that; it’s other women who get catty over a few pounds. Why should she care about the insignificant hen pecking ritual so long as the significant other still loved her?
Further proof of my contention about male tolerance comes from a msn.match.com article, where a variety of guys talk about the varied women they love, who resemble Greek goddesses as much as a bassets and whippets resemble labradors. But if women really wanted to know the power they have over men, perhaps they should dig into Slate’s archives and read Herbert Stein’s Watching the Couples Go By. (This piece is on my mind today because, if I’m reading him correctly, I ate at this particular restaurant today.) A sample:
I . . . eat from time to time at an outdoor table in front of a small restaurant on the street leading to the Kennedy Center. . . . I watch the passers-by.
I am not concentrating on the girls. I am concentrating on the married couples. How do I know that those men and women walking two-by-two up to the Kennedy Center are married to each other? Well, 75 percent of all men between the ages of 30 and 75 are married, so if you see a man in that age group walking with a woman to the Kennedy Center—which is not exactly Club Med—it’s a good bet that the two are married, and almost certainly to each other.
I look particularly at the women in those couples. They are not glamorous. There are no Marlene Dietrichs, Marilyn Monroes, or Vivien Leighs among them. (It is a sign of my age that I can’t think of the name of a single living glamorous movie actress.) Some of them are pretty, but many would be considered plain. Since they are on their way to the Kennedy Center, presumably to attend a play, an opera, or a concert, one may assume that they are somewhat above average in cultural literacy. But in other respects one must assume that they are, like most people, average.
But to the man whose hand or arm she is holding, she is not “average.” She is the whole world to him. They may argue occasionally, or even frequently. He may have an eye for the cute intern in his office. But that is superficial. Fundamentally, she is the most valuable thing in his life.
Genesis says, “And the Lord God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’ ” And so, “made He a woman.” It doesn’t say that He made a pretty woman, or a witty woman, or an any-kind-of-adjective woman. He made the basic woman.
Why is this basic woman so valuable to the man whose hand or arm she is holding as I see them making their way up to the Kennedy Center?
I’ll let you read the whole thing to find Mr. Stein’s answer. Watching couples go by is a good way to spend a lunch break.
Ronald Reagan died four years ago today. He was elected three days before I was born, and the only memory I have of him as president was when the Challenger crashed, he was the man who told us that it would be okay. My memories of him aren’t much.
Patti Davis, his sometimes estranged daughter, has more memories. She spent years rebelling against him, but has now outgrown the silliness and has a wonderful assessment of him:
A friend who recently lost her mother said to me, “Death distills everything.” It’s true. I, like many people, live with regrets that will never lessen—the times I lashed out at my father, refused to appreciate him or consider his feelings, his point of view. I envy those who can say after a parent’s death that they don’t have remorse—I just don’t know too many people like that. But regrets can lead you to a profound awareness of what’s important, what’s meaningful. Since I do share my father with America and with the world, how he lived his life—not just as a politician, but as a man—has resonance for all of us.
He believed that words can wound, that even in the harsh, muckraking world of politics, it simply isn’t right to insult another person. He believed that this country’s greatness came from its collective heart, from its history of being a “melting pot” and that the dark passages of our history came when we lost sight of our own heart. He had no tolerance for racism. He was raised in a home where people were never judged by the color of their skin. He was raised in a home where everyone was considered a child of God, and he carried that belief with him throughout his life.
Five years ago today, Michael Kelly died (H/T). He wrote brilliant profiles of Ted Kennedy and David Gergen, but I think, since it’s Friday, we could use something lighter:
There is too much disputation around Christmas anyway. One growing issue is the white vs. colored lights debate. Like all matters of taste, this is also a matter of class. White lights are high-class; colored lights are somewhat less so.
White lights make the statement that one is a refined sort who appreciates that less is more and who celebrates Christmas (and life in general) in such a fashion that one would not be absolutely mortified if Martha Stewart dropped by unexpectedly for tea. Colored lights make the statement that one is the sort of person who believes that Christmas is not Christmas without an electric sled and reindeer on the lawn, an electric Santa on the roof, an electric Frosty by the front gate and an electric Very Special Person in a manger on the porch.
Most of the houses in my neighborhood are white-light houses, and I have to admit they are lovely, but I was raised in a colored-light family, and I am raising Tom and Jack to be colored-light men too. They do not take a lot of convincing on this. Boys are naturally colored-lighters.
Hm. I feel like stringing up colored lights would beat the heck out of the projects I’m supposed to be doing.
NRO has published some of Buckley’s greatest hits; my favorite:
PLAYBOY: Don’t most dogmas, theological as well as ideological, crumble sooner or later?
BUCKLEY: Most, but not all.
PLAYBOY: How can you be so sure?
BUCKLEY: I know that my Redeemer liveth.
Only a false dogma constricts; because true dogma is the truth, it liberates. Buckley understood this.
I’ll have to root around online to find the rest of that Playboy interview. Not many people go searching for a Playboy looking for the interview (let alone the Buckley interview) but then, I’ve always done things differently.