Author: Dan Shafer

Steve Jobs, Ayn Rand and Hank Rearden

My good buddy Tony Seton sent me a note this morning about a review of the recently released Steve Jobs biopic/hatchet job “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” The review was written by Karen d’Souza of the San Jose Mercury News, the newspaper of record in Apple’s home region of Silicon Valley.

The film, directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibney, he who has taken down Enron and Scientology, is a blistering attack on Jobs the Man.

In her review, d’Souza recounts one scene in the book where Jobs, after fighting tooth and nail to deny his paternity of his daughter Lisa via a high school sweetheart, named his first new-generation computer after her.

Steve Jobs with Apple logo in backgroundThat got me to thinking about another narcissistic personality, this from the realm of fiction. I don’t know if Jobs read or was a fan of Ayn Rand’s massive didactic tome Atlas Shrugged. But one of the main characters in that book is an industrialist named Henry (Hank) Rearden. He is portrayed as a man obsessed with ores and metals and the fabrication of new machine building blocks. At one point, he shows up at a party his wife is throwing for (as I recall) their anniversary. He gives her a bracelet made from the first pouring of his latest invention, Rearden Metal.

He friends and family are aghast at the self-centeredness of his gift choice but she exaggeratedly proclaims how special it is. In one of the book’s more memorable scenes, she comes off as a clear master of the art of sarcasm while Hank wanders off bewildered at her and her friends’ reactions.

To Jobs, naming his first post-Apple-][ computer, the Lisa, after his illegitimate daughter was clearly worth far more to her and marked a greater tribute to her than any time or money he could have spent with her or on her. (The film also points out that Jobs grudgingly agreed to pay Lisa’s mother $500/month in child support at a time when his net worth was $200 million.)

I’m sure Jobs was a haunted man whose childhood abandonment to adoption served as a life-long drive to prove himself to himself. He was clearly deeply conflicted about life and his role in it. How else would you explain is frequent — and apparently not lastingly successful — forays into Buddhism and retreats in Asia? Better that, perhaps, than the retreat into drugs pursued as an escape by so many of his contemporaries.

I haven’t yet seen the film. I will. But from what I’ve read of the movie — and I have also read the Walter Isaacson biography which, while not hiding any of these flaws, at least strove for a balanced perspective. It seems clear Gibney was far more interested in character assassination and box office than in truth and fairness and balance. That’s fine; that’s his prerogative as an artist. And Heaven knows Jobs gave his biographers and historians lots of raw material from which to draw the same conclusion as Gibney. Finding the balance in Jobs — or Hank Rearden (or any other Ayn Rand two-dimensional “character”) takes more effort and depth and time and scholarship, if not intelligence and integrity, than any successful Hollywood producer is likely to have.

Presidential Polling: Too Early, Too Disengaged

I don’t know about you, but I’m up to here with the continual focus in the media on Presidential polls. Every single day a new poll. Every single day new “analysis.” Every single day more wailing, gnashing of teeth and hand-wringing. Reams of newsprint and billions of bytes expended trying to suss out what the polling means. I can tell you in one word.


There are lots of reasons for this conclusion. Here are two that I’ve been focusing on lately.

First, it’s way too soon for polls to have meaning. As this piece from HuffPo points out and proves conclusively, no polling in Presidential elections ever means anything until after December. Period. Full stop.

Part of the reason for this is the second reason: fewer voters are participating now than will be engaged when election time draws nearer. Take a look at the GOP primary polling. There’s Donald Trump leading by double digits with, typically, around 25% of the voters preferring him. Some polls have had him as high as 30%, so let’s give him that for the sake of argument. The entire rest of the 17-person field combined grabs another 30%. Looked at one way, this means that half of Republicans want Trump and half don’t. But it also means that a clear plurality — upwards of 40% — express no preference. In other words, they’re not paying attention to the election yet.

If you combine those two facts — and there are others I could cite — you can only conclude that spending any attention on the polls at this point in the electoral process is a complete and utter waste of time.

Specifically, I wish my favorite news sites and shows would wake up and simply stop covering and discussing these polls. Without the air of constant media attention, they’d go away. This is a case of inventing the news. But it’s not necessary. Rather than tell us what the meaningless polls say, how about analyzing the candidates’ stances on crucial issues and discussing their electability in the broad context of a General Election. That kind of information not only has more credibility and currency than polls, it might actually help voters make more informed choices when those choices matter.

Yeah, Rachel Maddow, I’m looking at you. Enough with the polls. Enough with the Trump until and unless he starts talking issues instead of garbage and standup comedy. I’m on the verge of turning off your show.

Time to get serious about politics and a big part of that is ignoring the numbers.


Obnoxious Auto-Running Noise is Pissing Me Off!

I’ve had it.

There has been a significant increase recently in the number of Web sites I encounter that begin playing audio and video ads without my requesting it. These in-your-face-and-ears idiots are making my experience of the Web less and less enjoyable. It’s bad enough to have popups obscuring content, slide-ins distracting reading, and full-screen video “hero blocks” behind the top portion of Web pages that keep you from even trying to understand how to get around on the site…or sometimes what the site is even about.

This crap needs to be stopped. Starting now, I’m boycotting any site that uses this intrusive, unacceptable and objectionable tactic to get my attention. No content on the Web is worth putting up with this garbage.

First boycott target: (Ironically, I got my start on the Web as the site’s first Webmaster when the Web  was an embryo) Today, I was trying to listen to an MSNBC clip of Chris Hayes talking about a possible Joe Biden candidacy when a second audio channel kicked in with blaring, pounding music and some ghastly voice-over. I couldn’t find a video on the page to match it. I couldn’t understand what the ad message was, so that’s wasted money. But the damn thing kept re-playing. After the third time, I closed the page and went directly to the content at MSNBC.

Later, I went back to a piece on and had the same experience. This time there was no video playing but the blaring, ugly, disruptive and definitely not-enjoyable music was in my headset again.

So I’m done with Salon. I’ll post the identities of other sites that are pulling this same stupid trick. Maybe more of you will join me and maybe, just maybe, we can get the Web back to a marginally sane place again.

Probably not, but what the heck. I can dream, right?

The GOP Debate: By Ignoring Climate Change, They Lose the Only One That Matters

Ultimately, global climate change is the singular issue of our time. Oh, there are lots of other issues vying for near-term center stage, and I have opinions about most of them. Income inequality threatens our way of life in the West; police violence and the larger police state formation issues are crucial to the underlying justice of our culture; women’s right to govern their own health and rule their own bodies is under renewed and vicious attack which must be repelled.

But when I think about the Big Political Questions, I like to ask myself “In 100 years, how much difference will this make?” And judged against that yardstick, every single issue other than global climate change pales. Because the simple truth is that the human destruction that is being caused and will continue to be caused — and to rapidly escalate — by the horrific damage we have been doing to the planet for the past century or more will reduce the human population by a huge amount, perhaps rendering us extinct in far less time than most of us think or believe.

So if we’re not even around in a century or two, how much real difference will it make if we continue income inequality, violence, ridiculous human rights violations, and a thousand other “bad things” we encounter? Sadly, not much.

That’s why I’ve become a single issue voter who defaults to progressive parties and politics on all the other issues. I demand that any party or politico seeking my support be crystal clear in its/her/his/their support for all the drastic action necessary to reduce the long-term impacts of climate change and I don’t much care what they do on any other issue.

In the two-headed monstrosity that was a so-called “debate” last night among 17 people who want to stand as the Republican Party’s nominee for President in 2016, the question of global climate change received essentially zero attention. Of course, that didn’t matter for a number of reasons, not the least of which is we already know where all of these would-be leaders stand. They see global climate change as a hoax which, even if it’s real, is a natural occurrence and has nothing to do with human conduct and is therefore something about which we cannot do anything.

By its conduct and its stance on this one issue, the GOP has disqualified itself from any consideration whatsoever for my support for the foreseeable future. I know; they don’t care. They didn’t have it to begin with (though I have on occasion voted for Republicans where I thought the GOP candidate superior to the others). I’m a progressive, so there’s no room in the GOP tent for me. And they don’t care about me, either, because I’m not like them.

But they need to get the message. And they will eventually, as they see their beachfront properties disappear and their inland properties become the new beachfronts. Maybe then, when their billion-dollar investments and their multi-million dollar mansions are under water, they’ll wake up. But probably not. They’ll probably just ask for a government bailout, which they’ll receive from the Congress they own.

Ultimately, though, humanity loses if the GOP and other climate deniers win.


A Lion is Not a Chicken

Check out the new article on my spiritual blog at One Mind Fellowship this evening.

In one of the more thoughtful posts I’ve read on the subject in a long while, Mark Morford of SFGate neatly summarizes my feelings — and those of many other people who consider the question of what we eat and how we get it to be part of Sacred Nature — about why killing animals is such a morally questionable undertaking.

I think you’ll find both my take and Morford’s piece worthy of consideration.

Polls and Ratings. Who Cares is Not Interesting

Two news bits related to polling and popularity ratings crossed my desk in the last couple of days that my fertile imagination connected.

First, it was reported that Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (my personal choice) doesn’t pay for, commission, or follow political polling. When he was asked about it, he replied, “I believe in making decisions based on what’s right, not what’s popular.” We’ve had far, far too much governance by poll outcomes in this country over the last quarter century or more. A leader doesn’t check with the public to see how people across broad spectra of demographics “feel” about something before making a policy decision. S/he consults his or her inner guidance, spiritual or moral principles, then does what is right. Sanders is so spot-on with this.

Second, a new Gallup poll was announced today indicating that Pope Francis’ popularity among Americans of all faiths has dropped from 76% favorable to 59%. This kind of polling is nonsense. Who cares how popular an unelected leader is? Does anyone at Gallup seriously think anyone anywhere cares, least of all the Pontiff? The WaPo story about this result speculates and hypothesizes all over the place about why Francis might be in decline among Americans. It concludes that the outcome is “largely driven by conservatives who often disagree with Francis on the causes of environmental and economic problems.” In other words, this world leader (who happens to be a trained scientist in the bargain) is making their hobby horses look bad by trotting out actual scientific and spiritual Truth, so they don’t like him.

It is refreshing that two of my very favorite personalities of the present era are both immune to the question of “What’s popular?”, a question that deserves asking only in the context of plans to increase peoples’ spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need.


SCOTUS: Big Oil Profits Before Children’s Health

In one of the most blatantly calloused and greed-driven rulings in its checkered history, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of mercury pollution from power plants can’t be enforced because profits were not taken into account before they were drawn up.

In a dissent from the 5-4 ruling, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the majority view “deprives the American public of the pollution control measures that the responsible Agency, acting well within its delegated authority, found would save many, many lives.” The majority relied almost solely on the issue of the need for Federal regulators to take into account the impact of their rules on private companies’ costs and profits as part of determining the fairness of their proposed rules. In his majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia writes that “it is unreasonable to read an instruction to an administrative agency to determine whether ‘regulation is appropriate and necessary’ as an invitation to ignore cost.”

Translated, “Let’s not pay too close attention to the cost in human life or well-being. If a regulation is too expensive to implement or enforce, just do away with it.”

I know I shouldn’t be astonished.

What ARE Those Bright Spots on Ceres? I Have the Inside Scoop!

NASA scientists and thousands of others are bewildered by the appearance of several bright, shiny spots on the surface of the asteroid Ceres, largest object in the asteroid belt, which the U.S. space program has been exploring in recent weeks.

Speculation has run rampant as to the nature and origin of these reflective spots.

Wonder no more, my friends. I am in the exclusive possession of a communique from the leaders of Ceres to us Earthlings that explains precisely what the spots consist of and the threat they pose to our national — nay, our global — security.

You can read it all at this link.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein: Two Hopes for 2016

As an unabashed democratic socialist / dyed-in-the-wool progressive, I’m delighted to have two good choices in the field for President of the United States in 2016.

Independent/Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has my primary attention despite the fact that he seeks the nomination of a party that is captive of Corporate America. He’s just independent enough in his thinking and in his long-held policy positions that he may well be able to overcome his party’s abysmal failure to draw important distinctions between it and the Republicans. Looked at outside the constraints of party, Sanders is easily my favorite candidate in many, many years.

Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein has essentially all the same policy positions as Sanders but without the baggage of a lost and meandering party. That strength is also her practical weakness. Combine her inexperience in both political office and executive management with the lack of a major party backing and she looks a bit more than a little Quixotic.

I can barely make out the outlines of a scenario in which Sanders gets his party’s nomination. If Hillary Clinton’s email problems — which surfaced again in a new coat that looks a lot like pants-on-fire today — combine with a smoldering major scandal lurking in her and her husband Bill’s family foundation, I could see her candidacy spectacularly implode. If Sanders stays the course long enough and that implosion is big enough, he could step in and pick up the pieces. She is a flawed — maybe even fatally flawed — candidate. Depending on how long it takes for her demise to come to fruition, she may be forced to withdraw from the race in disgrace.

Meanwhile, Sanders is keeping the Left agenda alive, moving her farther left in the process, and although he seems genuinely intending to win the nomination, he’s a pragmatic guy. Somewhere deep down inside he has to have a Plan B for what to do if and when HRC becomes unstoppable.

Enter the Greens. It would not be unprecedented for them to name Sanders as their nominee as well. Then if and when the Democratic Party completes its abandonment of its primary purpose and constituencies under Center-Left Hillary Clinton, Sanders picks up the mantle from the truly progressive Greens. Meanwhile, he runs on both tickets; it’s not like he’s a die-hard Democrat.

Stein, on the other hand, has served the Greens well, acting as their national standard-bearer in 2012. Her messaging is clear, she’s bright, articulate and energetic. She doesn’t have a real shot at the White House because of the way politics in this nation is rigged. But with matching funds, she can run a respectable campaign, further harass HRC from the left, and keep the Progressive agenda alive in the minds of voters like me who just don’t want more of the same.

I’m going to keep backing Sanders but providing some support for Stein as well until this sorts itself out. I’m no longer a party loyalist. I’m a democratic socialist. I’ll end up backing the candidate from whichever party comes closest to my ideals, electability be damned. This is the start of a long period of change. The battles are not the decisive points; the war is what matters.