October 2011


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Michael Balter <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 8 Oct 2011 10:59:21 -0400
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I'm afraid you've missed my point, even though I made it clearly. I don't
know either whether something like an iPod or MacBook could come out of a
socialist system, but it is not idle speculation to discuss it. The reason,
as I also made clear, is that to convince the "masses" that socialism would
be a better system than capitalism we have to convince the masses that
socialism would be a better system than capitalism across the board of human
activities. Those who argue that socialist societies would be stagnant and
unimaginative do so on the basis of the socialist experiments that have
already taken place (which have also suffered from severe human rights

I continue to be amazed at how little interest so many leftists (including
you) have in this central task for the socialist left--changing people's
minds--and how it could and should be carried out, rather than in platitudes
and abstract notions.


On Sat, Oct 8, 2011 at 10:50 AM, Larry Romsted
<[log in to unmask]>wrote:

> Michael:
> I am disappointed that you did not recognize that my "sure" lighthearted
> and that you then used it as a platform to rant a bit.  I suppose I should
> have known how you would respond by now.  My bad.
> I obviously don't have the faintest idea if technological equivalent of an
> iPod could be produced under socialism, but then neither do you.  To me,
> discussing such a possibility is pure speculation, a kind of mental
> masturbation.   Also, I am no admirer of unfettered technological
> innovation.  Lots of useless products are created and hyped to people.
>  There are also many dangerous products with DARPA working hard to create
> new ones.   I more concerned that governments will use all this new
> technology to produce a 1984 type societies and I want resist that
> possibility by helping mobilize people in whatever small way I can.  I have
> no problem using available technologies to do that.
> Perhaps some future socialism will produce incredible efficiencies by
> coordinating collective reuse of goods that sustains the environment for the
> billions still alive on the planet, but who knows.  Indeed, Levin's question
> about the future of human social structures is important here.
> Larry
> From: Michael Balter <[log in to unmask]>
> Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List <
> [log in to unmask]>
> Date: Fri, 7 Oct 2011 18:50:29 -0400
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: Re: How Steve Jobs Infused Passion Into a Commodity
> There are too many people here who seem to think that they can fantasize
> socialism into existence. If we not concerned about overcoming the
> ideological obstacles to building socialism, then we are not serious about
> socialism no matter how much lip service we might give to it.
> The argument raised by opponents or skeptics about socialism that only
> capitalist competition can generate the inventiveness and innovative spirit
> that created products like MacBooks, iPhones, etc and services like Google,
> gmail, hotmail (the service that Michel Beurre Sale uses) is one that needs
> to be addressed seriously if we are going to eventually convince people to
> overthrow capitalism. After all, that's how these things came about. Could
> they have come about under a socialist system, or would they have sunk under
> the weight of collective wisdom? I'd like to think not, but there's no
> guarantee, and socialists have to win these arguments, not smirk at them.
> MB
> On Fri, Oct 7, 2011 at 6:36 PM, Larry Romsted <[log in to unmask]
> > wrote:
>> Sure.
>> Larry
>> From: Michael Balter <[log in to unmask]>
>> Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List <
>> [log in to unmask]>
>> Date: Fri, 7 Oct 2011 17:58:03 -0400
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Subject: How Steve Jobs Infused Passion Into a Commodity
>> Could socialism have produced the MacBook? I hope so.
>> MB
>> October 7, 2011
>> How Steve Jobs Infused Passion Into a Commodity By JAMES B. STEWART<>
>> In the early 1990s Compaq Computer was the technology darling of the day,
>> and PC sales were surging. Dell was promoting its build-on-demand model,
>> Gateway computer shipped its products in boxes with Holstein cow markings,
>> and I.B.M. had introduced the ThinkPad with its Little Tramp marketing
>> campaign. Apple<>’s
>> Macintosh was introduced during the 1984 Super Bowl<>,
>> but was considered a marginal outlier with its quirky proprietary operating
>> system.
>> About this time I had lunch with Bill Gates, who dismissed PCs as nothing
>> but components held together by plastic and screws manufactured on low-cost
>> assembly lines, a commodity business with narrow profit margins. The future
>> belonged to software and semiconductor makers like Microsoft and Intel,
>> where the real innovation was going on.
>> This made sense to me, and as the years unfolded, Mr. Gates seemed
>> prescient. The PC makers were mostly reduced to commodity producers; I.B.M.
>> sold off the ThinkPad, Hewlett-Packard bought Compaq and may now abandon the
>> business; Gateway was sold off and the brand has all but vanished. Apple
>> nearly went under. But today, the exception is so glaring as to have stood
>> Mr. Gates’s prediction on its head: Apple’s operating profit margins have
>> grown (to over 33 percent), and Apple’s market capitalization of $347.3
>> billion this week is bigger than that of Microsoft and Intel combined.
>> Of all Steve Jobs<>’s
>> accomplishments, this, to me, remains both the simplest and the most
>> astonishing. How did he take a commodity — to borrow from the novelist Tom
>> Wolfe, the “veal gray” plastic boxes that once weighed so heavily on both
>> our desks and spirits — and turn it into one of the most iconic and
>> desirable objects on the planet?
>> “Steve Jobs and Apple never — ever — wanted to be a low-margin commodity
>> producer,” Donald Norman, a former vice president for advanced technology at
>> Apple and author of “Living With Complexity,” told me this week. “Even the
>> Apple II had some charm to it. It was the first personal computer that had
>> professional industrial designers. Before that they were designed strictly
>> by engineers, and they were ugly. Steve was always, if not an artist, then
>> someone who was charmed by style. He had this dream of something beautiful.
>> If it was going to cost more, it didn’t matter. This was in his genes.”
>> Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum
>> of Modern Art in New York, recalled buying a 1990 Macintosh Classic and
>> taking it back to Italy. “When I got home, I took it out of that
>> brown, padded carrying case with the rainbow-colored Apple logo on it and
>> put it on my desk in Milan. It was like a little pug dog looking at me. It
>> wasn’t just something I worked with; it kept me company. It had such
>> personality and such life.”
>> My own conversion came much later. When I came across the MacBook Air, I
>> thought it the single most elegant technology product I’d ever encountered,
>> and not just because it looked good. Its light weight and paper-thin design
>> made it easy to carry while offering all the functions and keyboard of a
>> full-size PC. Even the packaging was so beautiful that I couldn’t bring
>> myself to discard it. Now I refer to it as my third arm and can’t imagine
>> life without it.
>> Mr. Jobs “had an exceptional eye for design, and not just an eye, but an
>> intelligence for design,” Ms. Antonelli said. “We don’t talk just about the
>> looks, but how objects communicate: The specific shape, how it feels in the
>> hand, under the fingers, how you read it in the eye and the mind. This is
>> what Steve cared passionately about.”
>> MoMA has 25 Apple products in its permanent design collection. And like
>> many great artists, Mr. Jobs’s near-dictatorial control of Apple made
>> possible the pursuit of perfection. “If you’re a visionary, and a dictator,
>> you can take risks and be consistent,” Ms. Antonelli said. “NeXT was a risk
>> and a beautiful failure. It brought him back to Apple. The dynamics of Apple
>> and Steve’s personality and the course of history made for this perfect
>> alignment of the stars.”
>> Also like many artists (Frank Lloyd Wright comes to mind), Mr. Jobs was
>> legendarily difficult at times. “He has always been focused, driven,
>> demanding and, as a result, very difficult and abrasive,” Mr. Norman said.
>> “This abrasiveness in the early days was too extreme and was destructive of
>> the company. John Sculley had to fire him. When Steve came back, he had
>> matured. He still had a demanding vision of perfection, but he brought
>> focus. He was slightly less abrasive. He was brilliant at understanding what
>> a product should be and he was a dictator.”
>> ”It takes a unique person to do this,” Mr. Norman continued. “He
>> micromanaged, which goes against all conventional wisdom about management.
>> He went to product reviews every week. He’d say, ‘Move that two pixels
>> over.’ A C.E.O. telling you to move something a pixel? Then he’d come back a
>> month later, and say, ‘I told you to move that. Why didn’t you?’ That’s a
>> unique characteristic. He cared about details and he remembered.”
>> Mr. Jobs made no secret of his focus on design; in a Jan. 24, 2000,
>> interview, Fortune magazine asked if it was an “obsession” and whether it
>> was “an inborn instinct or what?”
>> “We don’t have good language to talk about this kind of thing,” Mr. Jobs
>> replied. “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior
>> decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing
>> could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul
>> of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer
>> layers of the product or service. The iMac<> is
>> not just the color or translucence or the shape of the shell. The essence of
>> the iMac is to be the finest possible consumer computer in which each
>> element plays together. ... That is the furthest thing from veneer. It was
>> at the core of the product the day we started. This is what customers pay us
>> for — to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use
>> our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this. That doesn’t mean
>> we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they
>> want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”
>> For all his accolades, this aspect of Mr. Jobs was hard for many business
>> people to understand, or to copy. Go into a computer store today, and
>> there’s a bland array of mostly indistinguishable keyboards and monitors —
>> and then there’s Apple. Ditto the cellphone stores.
>> “Most people underestimate his grandeur and his greatness,” Gadi Amit,
>> founder and principal designer of New Deal Design in San Francisco, told me.
>> “They think it’s about design. It’s beyond design. It’s completely holistic,
>> and it’s dogmatic. Things need to be high quality; they have to have poetry
>> and culture in each step. Steve was cut from completely different cloth from
>> most business leaders. He was not a number-crunching guy; he was not a
>> technologist. He was a cultural leader, and he drove Apple from that
>> perspective. He started with culture; then followed with technology and
>> design. No one seems to get that.”
>> It’s hard to find parallels. Braun and Olivetti inEurope had beautiful
>> designs, but never had Apple’s success. Mr. Amit mentioned Italy’s Enzo
>> Ferrari, the racecar driver and founder of the Ferrari sports car
>> manufacturer. “Apple has the status that Ferrari has in Italy,” Ms.
>> Antonelli said. “It’s a source of national pride and of pride for every
>> employee. You get to that stature only if you created something so
>> fundamental that everyone loves.”
>> Mr. Amit says he believes Mr. Jobs’s legacy will be “the blending of
>> technology and poetry. It’s not about design per se; it’s the poetic aspect
>> of the entire enterprise. Compared to Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, he’s in
>> a different class. I think this is a revolutionary shift. Jobs is a
>> revolutionary character. He shifted the industry and changed our lives
>> through this amalgamation of culture and technology. If you’re looking for
>> C.E.O.’s of this caliber, you have to look outside the engineering and
>> business schools. That is truly revolutionary.”
>> Apple now faces competition on nearly every front, and whether it can
>> maintain its competitive edge without Mr. Jobs is a pressing question,
>> especially for Apple shareholders and customers. But everyone I spoke to
>> agreed that Mr. Jobs himself was irreplaceable.
>> “He was really unique, brilliant, demanding and difficult,” Mr. Norman
>> said. “Like him or not, it doesn’t matter; he redefined the music industry,
>> the cellphone industry, computers and animation. You cannot deny the impact
>> he had on the company, the industry and our culture.”
>> --
>> ******************************************
>> Michael Balter
>> Contributing Correspondent, Science
>> Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
>> New York University
>> Email:  [log in to unmask]
>> Web:
>> NYU:
>> ******************************************
>> “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there
>> is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
>>                                                   --John Kenneth Galbraith
> --
> ******************************************
> Michael Balter
> Contributing Correspondent, Science
> Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
> New York University
> Email:  [log in to unmask]
> Web:
> NYU:
> ******************************************
> “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there
> is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
>                                                   --John Kenneth Galbraith

Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
New York University

Email:  [log in to unmask]

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is
no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
                                                  --John Kenneth Galbraith