Postscript: Steve Jobs

I just came upon this Steve Jobs’ quote, originally conceived as an Apple ad, perhaps the most memorable ad ever made. I wanted to share it, since it sums up Steve’s vision and, of course, his legacy:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs: an uncommon hero

Appropriately, the news of Steve Job’s death popped-up on my iPad at bedtime, or about 10:30 PM. Instead of falling asleep, I tapped my news applications for details. Already, tributes were pouring-in from all over the world, perhaps the most eloquent from President Obama.

I became an Apple devotee in 2007 after years of discarded PCs, each generally down to a crawl after about three years, always under virus threat, at times confusing in their set-up and operation. In contrast, I’m typing on the same Macbook Pro laptop bought nearly five years ago, never a hiccup along the way, a little outdated in some of its features, but otherwise fully adequate for my needs. I paid more, but have outpaced that investment with its longevity. It’s like choosing a Lexus over a Corolla. Macs work the way all computers should.

Like many of you, I’ve branched out to other devices: iPod, iPhone, and last year, my favorite, the iPad. The latter has revolutionized my electronic life, virtually replacing even my laptop, except for productivity needs. Games, music, news, books, you name it, I have it all: ease embedded in quality.

Steve’s life amazes me. I’m talking biography rather than tech savvy. I hadn’t known he’d been put-up for adoption by his biological mother and was ultimately raised by working class parents, or that he had only one semester of college. Jobs had a taste for following the road less travelled, or this pluck most of us lack, the courage to seek the right fit, the fortitude to prevail. I’ve also learned he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He could be difficult, but he always played the hunch and followed his intuition.

Many rank him with Edison and Einstein in the impact of his genius. Actually, he was less inventor, much more innovator. He had a nose for good ideas that could be made better and surrounded himself with those who could materialize his vision. I understand this kind of creativity well. Writers like Vergil and Joyce could translate the extant into the revolutionary. Collectively, the Romans and contemporary Japanese are like this. Perhaps his greatest legacy, like that of all good teachers, was an ability to simplify the difficult. Apple devices exceed not only in their efficiency, but their ease.

I hadn’t known he ventured to India and returned a Buddhist devotee. His desire in life wasn’t to make money, but to live meaningfully. Simplicity characterized not only his products, but his life.

Brave beyond brave, and against all odds, he broke through not only economic and social barriers, but those posed by pancreatic cancer and its nearly always fatal consequence. Each new day he lived with hope.

Despite his outer success, he was in some ways “born under an unlucky star,” as the poet Keats might have put it. After all, 56-years is not a long-life. Paradoxically, he was also one of the luckiest of mortals. Most of us live longer, but not as well. Steve Jobs’s life, on the other hand, is the stuff of legends.

In 2005, Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University. In its wisdom and simple eloquence, its somber simplicity and earthly truths, the address affirms an uncommon realism of counting one’s days. Available online, it deserves a full-reading. In his honor, here are some of his final words to that youthful audience of just 6-years ago:

My third story is about death. When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctors’ code for “prepare to die.” It means to try and tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next ten years to tell them, in just a few months. It means to make sure that everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope, the doctor started crying, because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and, thankfully, I am fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept. No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don’t want to die to get there, and yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

My kind of poet: W. S. Merwin

Congratulations to poet W. S. Merwin on his 84th birthday (September 30). Of contemporary poets, I love him most now that Philip Larkin is gone. I was privileged to actually attend a reading by Merwin at the University of Kentucky so long ago that he was relatively young then.

Congratulations, too, on his selection last year to succeed Kay Ryan as our Poet Laureate. What took so long?

I find Merwin compelling for several reasons:

1. I admire his dexterity in translating. Like Merwin, I’ve always been drawn to languages. Merwin, along with writing 15-volumes of verse, excels in translating, with masterful renditions of Greek and Roman classics, Dante’s Purgatorio and Latin American poets such as Pablo Neruda among his many credits.

2. I adore his lyricism. It’s the way I try to write; indeed, am moved to write, the sense of articulating meaning through cadence, the transmitting of inner emotion to outer page, the reaching towards others via pathos. Poetry has its roots in music and good poets, like Merwin, resonate powerfully, coalescing imagery, sound, and rhythm into a human tapestry. Merwin is a poet better heard than read, returning us to the oral genesis of poetry.

3. I cherish his environmental centrism. I know of no other poet so imbued with such fervency for Nature, a concern for its restoration and sense of urgency for the rest of us to mind and mend our ways. Merwin’s own life bears out his witness to simplified living holding communion with landscape. In the early seventies, he and his wife retired to a remote area of northern Maui, building a house fully green and restoring a waste land former pineapple plantation into a verdant sanctuary, cultivating more than 750 species of endangered indigenous flora. Each day, Merwin plants a new palm.

4. I like his affinity with the East. In fact, he originally moved to Hawaii to study Zen. If I were of religious bent, I’d choose Buddhism with its inherent simplicity, gentleness and life-reference as the better way. Merwin, a devout Buddhist, says he shares the Eastern view for its emphasis on “being part of the universe and everything living. You don’t just exploit it and use it and throw it away anymore than you would a member of your family. You’re not separate from the frog in the pond or the cockroach in the kitchen.” To some like me who carries spiders from the house to the outdoors, this is sweet stuff.

Merwin isn’t the easiest to read with his antipathy towards punctuation and hovering mystery, but the yield rewards the effort. I‘ll close this post with an early Merwin poem I’ve especially liked:

“For the anniversary of My Death”

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beams of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what


Gloria Steinem: righting the hierarchy

There’s a great interview by Marianne Schnall in this morning’s Huffington Post Steinem Interview featuring feminist emissary, Gloria Steinem, still going strong at 77. On Monday, August 15, HBO will broadcast a biographical piece, “In Her Own Words.” While in our household we do have satellite TV, we’re unfortunately not signed up for HBO.

But back to the interview, which summarizes many goals still eluding one half of the human race:

1. Men sharing equally in child-raising.

2. Greater participation of women in the political process. (The U. S. ranks 70th.)

3. Ending domestic violence, sex trafficking, rape, serial killing, aborting female fetuses, female genital mutilation, child marriage, denying female children progtein, health care and education.

Where the interview misses crucially is its omission of the salient catalyst to affording balance to the gender hierarchy: the need to humanize men. In fairness, while Steinem does talk of the need to redefine gender roles, the crux is that men, the still entrenched power brokers, have to change to significantly improve women’s lot in life. I remember this poll taken several years back in which women were asked what they desired most in a male partner. It wasn’t looks, intelligence, even success. It was sensitivity. I’d go for empathy. Think about it, men: put yourself into women’s shoes and you’d change your ways on the quick.

The best psychology reading I’ve done over the years has been Carl Jung’s notion of anima and animus–that there exist countering social selves at the unconscious level, female and masculine dispositions if you will, that demand acknowledgement if we’re to find psychological wholeness.

Only as men give expression to their repressed anima can they find integration and well-being. Finding balance, it surely would make for a better world.

In liberating women, men ultimately liberate themselves.

Deja Vue

Tara Haigh
Consider the striking parallels between two mothers, Tara Haigh and Casey Anthony, accused of murdering their own children.  The parallels are so striking that I’m dumbfounded the press didn’t pick-up on them in their massive coverage of the recent Anthony trial.  It just shows how media indulges in what sells, before moving on.  
1.   In 2008, the same year Anthony was arrested on suspicion of doing harm to her missing two-year old daughter, Caylee, over in England Tara Haigh was found guilty of murdering her three-year old son, Billie.
2.   In each case, the alleged motif was killing to remove an impediment to having the good life.  Within days of Anthony’s mother reporting Caylee missing to police, Anthony was busy pursuing the social scene, even participating in a hot shirt contest. Similarly, Haigh kept herself occupied responding to on-line messages from men on the site Girls Date Free within hours after Billie’s death. 
3.  In both cases, computers were seized and searched for evidence.  Anthony lucked-out.  She had a mother taking the hit .
4.  Lying was central in both cases.  Haigh told police Billie had suddenly stopped breathing.  She posted a website message to one man that her boy had died from a tumor behind his ear.  Anthony, of course, claimed Caylee had died accidentally in the family pool and that she panicked and hid the body in the woods with the help of the child’s father.  While the Anthony jury chose to acquit her on the murder count because it lacked specific evidence, she was convicted of four counts of lying to investigating police.  Given credit for serving three years and good conduct in jail while waiting trial, she has been released a year early and is now challenging the lying conviction.
5.  What separates the cases is that British police had a body to work with.  Medical examiners concluded Billie had been strangled.  Caylee, on the other hand, had been buried hurriedly in the nearby woods six months previously.  Her decomposed body revealed duct tape had been placed over her mouth and nose.  Chloroform residue was found in the car trunk.
6.  Haigh, though found guilty, was sentenced to a ten year minimal sentence, perhaps out of sympathy because of her 74 IQ and history of depression.  Anthony is now free to pursue rumored TV talk show, movie, and book overtures. As I write, ABC News has reported it paid $200,000 to the Anthony family for exclusive video and photo rights in 2008. There are, of course, some in the media who consider the current social network rage as a “lynch mob mentality.”  (See my recent post on the psychological dynamics behind the sympathy.)
It’s been said that the greatest sadness is to outlive one’s child.  Regardless of the question of guilt or innocence, in these cases, we have mothers up-ending this widely held belief.

The deluded

I find it baffling there are people donating money to the recently acquitted Casey Anthony.  She’s even gotten a marriage proposal.  After all, while Anthony will be whisked away to a secure hiding place in the wee hours of Sunday morning, it isn’t as though the jury believed her innocent of killing Caylee.  It’s simply they lacked the hard evidence. 

Two days ago, legendary baseball pitcher Roger Clemens escaped a possible jail term for allegedly lying to Congress concerning use of steroids.  In a surprising turn of events, the judge ruled a mistrial because of prosecution miscues.  Outside, fans huddled around him, wanting autographs.  Some gave hugs.  In Twitter, he has a surprising number of supporters who just can’t bring themselves to believe the Rocket has done anything amiss.

In Italy, Amanda Knox is appealing her murder conviction of her roommate.  There’s a good chance she’ll walk free as well.  I can’t judge her guilt.  It’s just that neither can her fans, but that didn’t stop them from holding a rally for her back in her home town of Seattle.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Back in 2002, there was Scott Peterson of Modesto, CA, who was found guilty of murdering his wife and unborn child while having an affair.  He’s been sitting on death row since 2005.  It hasn’t stopped him from enjoying an active correspondence with female well-wishers.

Of all things, even the notorious Charles Manson has enjoyed an epistolary harem of  female devotees. 

So what gives?

These people might ask, If I exercise kindness because it makes me feel good, am I any different from the criminal who kills for the same reason?

I’m aware of the power of groups, public opinion, and entrenched cultural mores to influence what we think and do.  This tendency may well be evolutionary, haling back to pre-history when we needed the tribe to enhance our surviving.  Weighed down by external pressures, many people live unhappy lives simply because they aren’t in touch with who they really are.  They don’t live authentic lives and, in the end, they pay the bill.  Perhaps we should admire this minority for standing tall and defying group-think.

Excuse me, I won’t go there.  Are these aficionados outside the mainstream more insightful than you and me; more courageous as well?  I contend they also need the group, but find the chance for greater solidarity, and for personal attention, in the sub, or defiant, group.  I saw the same tendency when I was a social worker dealing with troubled youth.  Almost always, they had problems with reading in their home schools and diminished self-esteem.  To cope, they found each other.

Some of us find taking the uncrowded path an easier way to garnish our need to validate ourselves.  When I was a child I played a very cunning game of getting attention by taking the contrary opinion.  If you called it “white,” I’d call it “black.”  I hope like the dickins I’ve grown out of it.  In college I was the terrorist in the classroom.

Cults are built on recruiting the disenfranchised, or those who think they’ve not been allowed to sit at the table.  Revolutions derive from resentment.

Can altruism sometimes be pathological?  I’m beginning to think so.  Studies exist indicating there are people who think wrong doing is rooted in bad upbringing or poverty.  Lavish love and you can right the wrongs and redeem a life.  Often sensitive and perhaps deprived of a happy childhood, they have a need to love those they perceive as victims.  Romantics, the true arbiters of social ferment, can walk perilously close to the edge here.   Likewise, co-dependency can also foster misuse of affection.  Love becomes an instrument of control.

I find myself wanting to say a lot more about the social phenomena of good will towards society’s miscreants; indeed, in some instances, cold-blooded murderers often masquerading as victims.  But let me end with a fascinating study focusing on the traits of gentiles who risked their safety to rescue Jews in the time of Hitler.  In his riveting book, When Light Pierced the Darkness (1986), Nechama Tec defines six characteristics shared by these rescuers:  

1.  Individuality or separateness, an inability to blend into their social environments. [See my earlier comments.]

2.  Independence or self-reliance, a willingness to act in accordance with personal convictions, regardless of how these are viewed by others.

3.  An enduring commitment to stand up for the helpless and needy reflected in a long history of doing good deeds.  

4.  A tendency to perceive aid to Jews in a matter-of-fact, unassuming way, as neither heroic nor extraordinary.  

5. An unplanned, unpremeditated beginning of Jewish rescue, a beginning that happened gradually or suddenly, even impulsively.  

6.  Universal perceptions of Jews that defined them, not as Jews, but as helpless beings and as totally dependent on the protection of others.

The altruistic, in other words, can take on a certain nobilty in courageously rescuing the needy and the victimized.  Not so when their recipients are themselves the victimizers.


Getting away with murder

Last week’s decision in the Casey Anthony trial has to be the worst since the OJ verdict back in ’96.  Some would say it was even worse, since there weren’t the pressures of celebrity, money and “the race card” defense with its famous charge to the jury to send a message.

What happened?

In looking at the case, supporters of the jury decision argue it had its hands full in a capital case where the caution of reasonable doubt has to apply.  Evidence was emotional and circumstantial at best. While Casey Anthony was proven to be a liar repeatedly, nobody could find the smoking gun.  I disagree.

I find it incredulous you lose your little girl in an alleged pool drowning, lie about her whereabouts and don’t call the police.  You put duct tape over her nose and mouth, thrust her body into a plastic bag and dump her in the woods.  Saying you panicked just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Do you go out partying, taking part in a Hot Body contest just after?

Then there’s that tattoo she got with its Bella Vida (“the beautiful life”).  Jury, you were looking for motive?
According to the medical examiner, though the body was so severely decomposed that it was impossible to detect the specific means of death, it was murder.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, parents who lose a child to an accident immediately contact the police.

For a month, Casey Anthony invented one scenario after another to account for her missing daughter.  Only when ultimately confronted by her mother did she acknowledge Caylee’s death.  It was Mom who called police.

The part that makes me reel with disgust and the closest to something strongly indicative of intent were the chloroform searches on the computer Anthony shared with her parents.  They should have led to a conviction, since the prosecution systematically tore apart defense arguments.

Anthony’s mother took the hit on this, claiming she did the searches, starting with “chlorophyll” in an attempt to discover if her little dog’s eating bamboo was causing him to get sick.  A computer forensics expert, however, testified that the search history, though deleted, had been recovered.  It showed a search for chloroform 84 times.  There was also the occurrence of “neck-breaking” and “household weapons.”  The mother claimed “neck-breaking” was a pop-up.  The forensics expert, however, said it had been deliberately searched.  No search was indicated for “chlorophyll.” Subsequent work records show the mother couldn’t have made the searches, since she was logged into a company computer at the time.

In short, we have perjury.  But it won the day.

A second piece to the puzzle was the finding of high levels of chloroform in the trunk of the Anthony car, indicating decomposition.  The defense countered that it came from a bag of decomposing garbage kept too long in the trunk.  One expert witness testified that the trunk had “the odor of death.”  The judge allowed it as evidence.

Just after the verdict, the chief defense attorney rebuked the media for trying his client in the press.  I find this ironic as he resorted to insinuation to mollify Anthony’s conduct.  Her father and brother had sexually molested her.  He gave no evidence.  He suggested the individual finding Caylee’s body was trying to cash in.  No evidence.  His remarks shouldn’t have been permitted by the judge.  Tellingly, he omitted these claims in his closing statement before the jury.

I’ve never been fond of lawyers, regarding them as a sometimes necessary evil.  Everyone’s entitled to a fair defense, but sometimes lawyers resort to the bottom of the garbage can to get a client off despite a heinous crime and overwhelming evidence.

In this case, legal chicanery prevailed as it did in the OJ debacle.  Though found guilty of four misdemeanors for giving false information to the police, Anthony was acquitted of murder.  Credited with time served while awaiting trial, she’ll be free late next week.

Even if you disagree with my previous arguments, had Casey Anthony been tried at the Federal level, things would have turned out differently.  Providing false information to police is considered obstruction of justice and carries a 5-year maximum on each count.  Moreover, judges can sentence according to the preponderance of evidence, even in a jury acquittal. At the Federal level we’d be talking of up to 20-years.

At the state level, it behooves us to press our legislatures to make non-reporting of a missing child a felony.  Had it been done in Florida, Anthony’s home state, she’d not be out on the streets next week, ready to sign movie and book contracts.

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