Bugs, not features: new media edition or why the punditocracy is useless, every last one of them.

Via Sullivan,* I learn that Reihan Salam advises his readers to short APPL AAPL (belatedly, per commenter Downpuppy below).


Because Steve Jobs is mortal. Also, because Jobs and Apple have a walled garden (sort of) approach to content and apps, while “techno-utopians are confident that Google Android, with its more open approach, will eventually win out.”

Also, Jobs is mortal.

Therefore, says Salam,as “Apple won’t be able to defy gravity forever,” the only prudent response is to obey this imperative:

“Short it now.”

Actually, I kind of hope that the Newt Gingrich wing of the techno-utopian GOP follows this advice.

It’s not that Salam is necessarily wrong in the long run:  AAPL, like every publicly traded company, has its ups and downs (h/t Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter).  There will no doubt come a time Apple misses a target or botches a launch or whatever.  It nearly dried up and blew away once (at least); it could do so again.  Where’s DEC, or Osborne, or … you know the drill.

But two points:

First, there is no consolation in being right if the market thinks you’re wrong.  (I.e., going short doesn’t help you if it takes too long for the stock price to fall; you’ll be broke before you’re right). Betting on a naked short  because what goes up must come down is indeed one way to get rich — if you’re the sucker’s broker.

Remember the old saying — if you don’t know who the patsie is at the table, it’s you.

And second, who is Salam, and what is his knowledge either of consumer computing or stock trading to give such confident advice?

He is 30 years old, did undergraduate work at Cornell and Harvard, and has since opined for a living at lots of well-known venues; he is a self-described conservative, with an interest, his New America Foundation bio tells us in “how radical technological advances are changing the way we live and think.”  He slings really deep thoughts for a living.

What else?  He’s co-written one book with another member of the conservative welfare-receiving crowd, and he’s talked a lot about lots of stuff in lots of places.

That’s it.

In other words, he is a member of the “often in error, never in doubt”** diaper brigade rising into the in-group of Village pundits.

That is:  nothing in his stated training or body of knowledge makes him a reliable investment advisor…which isn’t my point; if you can’t figure that out simply from reading his hash of conventional wisdom you deserve the results you get.

What I’m actually trying to say is that this kind of half-assed hack job serves as a low-stakes assay of the quality of thought in what is supposed to be one of the sharpest quarters of new conservative intelligentsia.  And if this is characteristic of the depth and analytical sophistication to be found in that neighborhood, then Houston, we have a problem.

But you knew that.

*Sullivan picks up on Salam’s brief digression into a muddled expression of concern that Apple’s success is built on catering to the carriage trade, and not to the much broader customer base that, say, Walmart serves.  There is an interesting line of inquiry there. Salam doesn’t pursue it.

Similarly, while a bit of fishwrap like this doesn’t deserve the full trademark John Foster Dulles response, it’s worth noting, at least, that Salam builds his premise on pretty clearly false premises:  Apple “might be America’s most beloved company,” and its avatar, Steve Jobs, is “possibly the world’s most charismatic man…”

Uh, huh?

With insight like this, you could build a Bush administration.  I mean seriously — it takes affirmative commitment to produce deep thought like this:  a willed laziness in the writing, a determined refusal to consider whether that which is easiest to say is, you know, even remotely connected to reality.

**A line I steal from Lord Martin Rees, who used it to me to describe himself and his fellow cosmologists.

Image:  Georges Croegaert, ‘The Winning Hand’ 1880.

Explore posts in the same categories: bad writing, Snark, Stupidity, Uncategorized

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12 Comments on “Bugs, not features: new media edition or why the punditocracy is useless, every last one of them.”

  1. Ian Preston Says:

    “Apple won’t be able to defy gravity forever”

    Aren’t you some sort of expert on this?

  2. Ted K Says:

    I don’t even know who Salam is, but I follow markets better than the average Joe and I doubt he is qualified to give ANY kind of financial advice. I’d give Bruce Berkowitz, Robert A. Olstein, or David Rosenberg (of Gluskin-Sheff) those duties. As far as computing goes I turn to James Kwak. But I guess Tom may know “just a few” guys at MIT would know where the Apple–Google war will be in 10 years. Here are some recent thoughts from Kwak.


    • Ted K Says:

      Everywhere I go my comments get moderated. Do I give off evil demon vibes through my bandwidth???

      • Tom Says:

        More than one link per comment is what happened here. I keep that pretty tight because of the astounding volume of spam that flows through the blogosphere. This blog has received over 1800 real comments — for really remarkable response I thank everyone who comes here. My spam filter has blocked almost thirty thousand fakes. Hence the rather tight leash.

        As for my moderation policy: if you are a real person, expressing an opinion within at least hemispheric connection to the post, it goes up. That’s it.

  3. Amit Agarwal Says:

    let a cow tell you your fortune…

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

  4. Downpuppy Says:

    APPL is a tiny outfit called Appell Petroleum Corporation. It barely trades; I don’t think you can short it. Apple is AAPL.

    Which concludes the story of how Helmerich Payne became the first stock I ever bought (and still happily hold)

  5. Some rules of securities trading investors should keep in mind to make rational investment decisions and avoid losses. An important rule for investors is to do business with the loss of their capital. Highly recommended not to treat more than 15% of commercial capital in the business of creating and maintaining levels of sleep deprivation.

  6. Ted K Says:

    I think I’ve made clear to you before that I’m a bit of a “Jew-phile” in that I like the culture and writers and academics. People can take that how they want, but I think as much as you can understand someone on internet, I like to think you know I’m not a racist Tom. Lately I’ve become fascinated with Norman Finkelstein. Sometimes he takes it too far for me with his references to Hamas, but I think even if people think Finkelstein is wrong, they shouldn’t question his sincerity or his good intentions. I think his mother deeply effected his mentality/psychology, and he has admitted as much himself. I also think it’s not fair Finkelstein and Chomsky have been denied (and Finkelstein banned 10 years) entry into Israel.

    I know these are touchy/sensitive issues and you have a lot on your plate Tom. But I would love to read your thoughts on the Flotilla deal, and also your thoughts on the “Goldstone Report”. If you’ve already expounded on this, a link to your prior thoughts will do just fine. Still love your blog.

  7. Amit Agarwal Says:

    colors in bash — script to display all the possible colors….

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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