Saturday, May 25, 2013
Purple State Of Mind News
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He was a guru of shiny things. He wrapped music inside glass. He made books vanish and movies stream. He turned the fruit of the tree of knowledge into the apple of the world’s technological eye. He trapped millions inside a brilliant design and made a fortune off simple wonder.
Steve Jobs died today of cancer at the age of 56, and his death turns out, maybe unexpectedly, to be a big deal. Here at Purple State, it feels like the end of an era.
We’re constantly looking for people who rise above the country’s divisions, and no one loomed larger in that category than Jobs, who passed away just weeks after he stepped down from the leadership position at Apple. Everyone knew he was sick; few thought he would die so soon.
Apple united us with his line of gadgets–the world he created out of those gadgets was as surely and securely a work of the imagination as the Middle Earth of Tolkien or the collected films of Tim Burton. You don’t just buy a Mac. You embrace a Mac universe, a world of clean bright lines and sleek, erotically pure surfaces that connect at deep levels. Once in that universe, you rearrange your life to fit its more perfect contours.
Doesn’t matter whether you’re a conservative Christian pastor sexting your gay lover with an iPhone or a gay activist secretly listening to evangelical pop tunes on the iPod, every ounce of human complexity can be accommodated as long as it submits to the elemental cheerfulness of the Apple concept. That Mac frame gives any action, no matter how somber or terrifying or ridiculous or revolutionary, a patina of good clean fun.
The Arab Spring feels unmistakably Middle Eastern, for instance, yet utterly Apple.
At the end of the day, Jobs made business itself feel magical. Even as Wall Street filled Main Street with disgust, the company that gave us Pixar and pink and mango-colored desk tops rose above it all. It made money by delighting the eye and delivering the goods. Walking into one of those stores, with its genius bars, one feels the elation of a communal triumph.
The Jobs obituaries were written when he stepped down in August. His definitive biography will appear in November, written by historian and journalist Walter Isaacson. Between the two we now have this quiet moment to reflect on the architecture of a fantastic dream, its promise, so charmed and charming, its limitations all too clear.
Robert Krulwich, science correspondent for NPR, wrote this fascinating article yesterday about visual ways in which to view larger news stories in terms of actual physical scale. In particular, he noted that as grand an event that the Apollo 11 lunar landing was, the total distance covered during the moonwalk was only less than one hundred yards.
Here is a NASA diagram of the moonwalk, superimposed on a standard baseball field:
By no means does that diminish the grand achievement of landing and setting foot on the moon. It simply provides a graphic method to enable a sense of visual perspective. Surprisingly, Neil Armstrong , who rarely speaks publicly about Apollo 11, sent this reply to Krulwich today. While Armstrong notes that there were specific technical and practical issues to consider in planning the time and distance of the moonwalk, more importantly he concludes by passionately advocating that we should return to the moon, especially since there is all that much more – 14 million square miles – left to explore.
Finally, one further interesting graphic on the scale of things: If you’ve never thought about just how large the continent of Africa is, then try this on for size:
For anyone sick of turkey, great news! We’re about to sit down to several weeks of lame duck. Senator Lindsey Graham has already made clear that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ won’t be repealed in this last bit of session before the end of the year, but what else won’t get done?
While we play the guessing game, there’s plenty elsewhere to distract us. In fact, if we’re not mistaken, an air of crisis seems likely to pervade the final days of 2010. Everywhere we look, we see signs of disturbances in the field.
Has anyone looked up the word Koreanness lately? For the past decade, that term has governed relations between the North and South on the Korean peninsula. At some level, Koreanness refers to an over-arching ethnicity, signified, for instance, by the national dish of kimchi, which citizens of Seoul and Pyongyang share in common. But it also means the policy of detente that has existed between the two countries for the past ten years at least, an attempt to ratchet back tensions, to ease up on opposition, to reach across the DMZ and declare a form of provisional brotherhood.
By most accounts, the missiles that North Korea sent flying into civilian populations in the Yellow Sea last week reduced the concept of Koreanness to rubble. Two people were killed, and buildings on the island of Yeongpyong were destroyed, which is bad enough, but the principled attempt to get along begins to look equally vulnerable. Koreanness allowed both sides to see past their differences just enough to forget they were essentially still at war. Maybe it was just denial, but sometimes that’s better than the altenative.
China has proposed six-party talks, but what will be on the table? And what the conditions? Once one country has killed citizens of another country without provocation, the terms of any discussion must be fraught.
Speaking of fraught, the United States government looks to be experiencing its Napster moment with the threatened release of hundreds of thousands of classified State Department documents by Wikileaks. The White House has asked Wikileaks bad boy Julian Assange to put the cap back in the bottle and return every last one of the documents, no questions asked, but that seems an optimistic sort of request. Here at Purple State, it looks to us like the problem might be systemic. Assange or no Assange, has the idea of privileged government information become now as old-fashioned as that of a music copyright or a hardback book?
If Assange backs off, that will give State a reprieve, but it’s probably wise to anticipate more trouble. Our notion of personal privacy has been eroding for years under the pressure of advancing technology. How can that erosion fail to impact the governments of the world?
Finally, guaranteed to spark discussion in coming days, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens weighs in on the death penalty in the latest issue of The New York Review Of Books. Turning the tables on decades of conservative activism, Justice Stevens accuses unnamed of his colleagues on the bench of judicial activism in the effort to undermine protections for those facing the death sentence.
Oh snap, ss the Justices like to say.
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