Do It Now

Do It Now

The Plots to Destroy America

Newsweek tackles the rising influence of conspiracy theories in America:

In Baldwin County, Alabama, an award-winning plan to provide guidance for private-sector developers was spiked—it was, constituents complained, part of a United Nations plot to end property rights, impose communism and force locals onto rail cars heading to secret camps. When the blueprint was voted down, residents cheered and sang “God Bless America.” Every member of the zoning commission resigned in disgust.

A federal proposal that would have paid physicians for time spent discussing elderly patients’ medical and personal priorities in their final days of life was shelved. Some conservatives, led by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, slammed the idea as creating “death panels” of bureaucrats to decide who would live and who would die. With the rejection of the plan, which had been supported by geriatricians, oncologists and advocates for senior citizens, the aged in the United States now only hear their options for resuscitation, pain control and religious support if their doctors provide the counseling for free.

In 2008, no one in America caught measles and 13,278 people contracted whooping cough. By 2013, measles infected at least 276 people in the U.S. and there were more than 24,000 cases of whooping cough. Medical experts attribute this trend to declining numbers of people being vaccinated, in large part fueled by a belief that doctors and pharmaceutical companies are hiding the dangers of immunizations to protect profits, even though earnings in this niche are so comparatively small that six out of seven companies have dropped out of the business in the past 35 years. Now, because of this false belief advanced by scientific frauds and celebrities, vaccine-preventable diseases that were once on the brink of extinction are roaring back.

George W. Bush murdered thousands by orchestrating 9/11. Barack Obama is a Kenyan national and holds the presidency illegally. Education standards developed by state governors are part of an anti-Christian communist plot that will turn children gay. Unemployment rates and the reported numbers for Obamacare sign-ups are lies engineered by the White House. Water fluoridation doesn’t prevent cavities in children and has been adopted for a range of nefarious purposes. And on and on they go.

There have always been conspiracy theories, but how much of their rising influence today can be directly attributed to the Internet? My guess is a lot. It’s one of the great ironies of the Internet age that instant access to the world’s information has led directly to an increase in ignorance and superstition.

It’s Not the Nineties

In an article for The New Yorker’s blog titled “What Does Apple Want with Beats by Dre?”, Yukari Iwatani Kane writes:

In the nineties, Apple was falling apart. Steve Jobs was gone, and the company seemed distracted. Instead of focussing on computers and operating systems, Apple branched out. It built new printers and a camera, called the QuickTake, that couldn’t zoom or focus. This seemed like an attempt to disguise the lack of innovation in its main business. In fact, the new products only added clutter and chaos.

After Apple acquired Jobs’s company NeXT, at the end of 1996, Jobs and his hardware chief, Jon Rubinstein, worked rapidly to restore order. One of their first moves was to kill the division that had built the printers and cameras.

And then later writes:

There’s another, more mundane reason why Apple could be interested in Beats—one that hasn’t gotten as much attention. Maybe Apple simply has cash to burn and wants to spend some of it to acquire a steady, reliable stream of revenue and profits from an expanded line of accessories. If Apple’s experience in the nineties is any indication, this would be worrisome.

Maybe the reason this theory hasn’t gotten much attention is because it doesn’t make any sense. Earlier in the article, Kane writes, “estimates put annual [Beats] revenues at just over a billion dollars—about what Apple makes in two days.” If Beats makes in a year what Apple makes in two days, why would Apple purchase Beats “to acquire a steady, reliable stream of revenue and profits”? The article is internally incoherent.

The real purpose of the piece is to draw a line from the Apple of 1996 to the Apple of 2014. The problem is that they are different in so many ways that they may as well be different companies. Why people who are skeptical of Apple’s future without Steve Jobs assume the only path for Apple is to completely fall apart continues to mystify me. There are plenty of other ways for the company to lose its leadership position, if that is to be its fate.

To understand this, remember that when Jobs left Apple the first time, he was thrown out. Implicit in that is a rejection of his leadersihp, his strategic vision, and his product priorities. John Sculley then had to make Apple his own, to justify his ouster of Jobs by guiding it according to his own, necessarily distinct vision.

Apple today is clearly operating in the spirit Jobs defined. The executives embrace Jobs’s ideas and strategic vision; they obviously don’t reject it. Apple even has an internal university where they teach employees the lessons from the major decisions made during Jobs’s second tenure (and presumably after, though enough time might not have passed yet).

This difference, of an Apple rejecting Jobs versus an Apple embracing Jobs, makes comparisons between the first and second post-Jobs eras at Apples meaningless.

One of Jobs’s key principles was focus. Tim Cook reiterates that at every opportunity. Apple is not buying Beats to lose focus by diversifying into headphones. Something else is going on. To me the most likely answer is related to music content, probably music streaming, but it’s really hard to know.

The lack of an obvious reason for such a large acquisition does raise questions, but the ones Kane asks are all the wrong ones.