Thursday, August 22, 2013

'Jobs' Works, but doesn't Satisfy

Some critics have said that the new 'Jobs' film is a more like a movie about the Apple company than it is about the man, Steve Jobs, its late founder and sometimes CEO. While this may be true, it also makes sense; Jobs and his products for Apple were so clearly a part of each other that they can't be disassociated. So the criticism is fair, but so is the rationale behind it.

For a film about innovation, 'Jobs' is surprisingly formulaic. It works mostly on montages and follows a chronological storyline that covers the early years of Jobs and Apple rising from the obscurity of his parents' garage with a ragtag gang of miscellaneous computer geeks- the pre-Big Bang Theory group. There are some truly humourous moments and Ashton Kutcher puts in a solid performance, getting the jitters, the hunched walk and the dead shark eyes when he conducts business, down pat.

The film succeeds in showing the struggles and easy charm of Jobs as he tried desperately to hold onto Apple in the early years. His ambition and disregard for all others who didn't share his vision, caused countless problems for investors and board members, who effectively ousted him from his own company. It's the part of the story that most of us forget. For many, Jobs is an unparalleled success story, the American dream, the mad genius. The film shows the truth of the matter, which is that Jobs was the charm, but Wozniak was the true genius. Wozniak slaved away on the technology that Jobs sold, lending it a mystique and a veneer that would later be perfected in his partnership with Jonathon Ive. Wozniak was the sweat and Jobs was the polish.

He's also the heart of the film. No matter how many times Ashton Kutcher is made to cry in this film, somehow, the audience never feels any closer to him. Even in his pain, he seems aloof. Josh Gad as Wozniak steals the show emotionally in this film, giving more heart in 5 minutes than the entire film does in over 2 hours. It's probably because he's so real- frank, approachable, geeky, in love with what he does, shy, uncertain, so very human. His departure speech to Jobs is heartbreakingly sincere and simple, probably a reflection of the man himself.

This is not a film that creates sympathy for Jobs, but it also doesn't allow you to know him. Perhaps it's because the veneer and mystery of Apple covers Jobs so completely, the same way that you can't see into an iphone. Or maybe it's the mad genius part; perhaps the most frustrating part about 'Jobs' is the fact that genius can be witnessed, but never truly understood.

It's a stark reminder that there are those exceptional people out there, people who write history and change the world. They change perspectives and challenge the status quo and turn things on their head. We can see it happen, but we can't come any closer to genius ourselves. The unsettled feeling that we, the audience, belongs in the 'everyone else' category, may be the unsatisfactory part about 'Jobs. Just like it's the unsatisfactory part about life.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Don't See you in September

The summer is winding down and everyone's scrambling to get one more drink on a terrasse, one more BBQ, and all the ice cream and watermelon they can handle before going back to the doldrums of work and school. One thing that isn't coming back in September is Parliament, which PM Stephen Harper will prorogue until October.

Most working stiffs are already upset that Parliament is closed for the summer, but now they're getting an extra long vacation during a year that's been plagued by expense scandals and dubious dealings. Heck, that's even longer than the kids get, which should lead to many cries of 'no fair!' across the nation.

Indeed, it's hard to think of anything about this situation that's fair. In any other enterprise which has failed to live up the public's standard, the punishment would not be more paid leave; somehow, though, it makes sense to politicos. Here's the explanation that the PM gave to the Globe and Mail:

"We will come back in October, [that] is our tentative timing.

"We remain in a very difficult, fragile and competitive global marketplace and we think there is much more to be done to secure Canada's economic potential and economic future."

Well, many Canadians could have told you THAT. But isn't that more reason to get back to work? After all, when the house is a mess and the kitchen table is overflowing with unpaid bills, this isn't usually the ideal moment to stop and make a sandwich. Waiting isn't going to help matters and sometimes, when faced with a tough task, you just have to roll up your sleeves and do some hard work. It's like when your parents tell you that math isn't going to get any easier if you avoid doing your homework- you have to FACE the problem and actually squint your little brows and try your hardest, even though it all looks like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to you.

The sneaky little message in this statement, though, for those who understand the implications of proroguing Parliament, is that something is doing to get done to secure Canada's economic potential and economic future. That something will likely not be done with the rest of Parliament, which includes, conveniently, all of their opposition. So the new agenda setting and reframing and all that wonderful stuff that's going to happen during this month long staycation is likely going to be the result of one party. And we're all pretty sure which party that will be.

So while the opposition will be paid to take a long spa day, the Canadian public will probably be expected to bask in the fall colours and watch leaves falling under crab apple trees and hopefully forget all that silliness with the PMO and the Senate scandals- just to name a few of the more recent maddening events. Or maybe we'll be too busy marvelling at Agents of SHIELD to think about the economy, or the Senate, or the musical chairs that have been played recently with the MPs, or the billion dollars we somehow 'lost' at the Department of National Defense, all while cutting benefits to actual war veterans. Or the fact that many Canadians live under the poverty line and use food banks on a monthly basis, even while employed.

But in October, this Parliament will be back to work, fresh-faced and repackaged, probably with more Economic Action Plan ads featuring minorities looking forward to their job in construction. For a month's worth of extra vacation, I expect those workers to look at least 25% happier about that in October.

This current government's avoidance agenda applies the same logic to running the country as a person in serious consumer debt does when they decide to pay off their Visa with their Mastercard. An extra month is not going to be enough to scratch the surface of everything that's wrong. And don't think Canadians are going to be setting up hockey pools and knitting scarves for winter while thinking that everything's fine. I can stay mad until October. There are still things that I'm sure I haven't forgotten or forgiven that date back years. Some of it, I've probably forgotten.

So if you're mad with the Canadian government, folks, stay mad. Hold your grudge, choose the issue that's really ticked you off, and keep it close. Spend the extra month making new picket signs or online petitions. The Parliament says it should be ready in October. We should be too.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chivalry or Equality?

Some things change and some things just stay the same, stubbornly, stupidly, with no logical explanation kind of same. A recent poll indicated that women are still expecting men to pick up the tab when they date, almost 50% of respondents, with a whopping 44% who claim that they would not go on a second date if they had to pay their own way. Men, for their part, said that they expected to pay for dates in just about the same numbers, but added a caveat to that- they want women to contribute. A comparable 40% or so stated that they would stop dating a woman if she expected them to pay all of the time.

There's nothing logical about the dating world and this is further proof. While women are making strides in being equal, (believe me honey, we are NOT there yet), some of us are still holding onto old notions passed on by grandma and these are not the helpful 'wearing oven mitts when taking pies out' kind of advice. While most of us would say that having a man pay on the date is 'nice', what it actually reveals is that we're holding on to old notions of chivalry, chilvary being the practice of being a gentleman to a lady.

But let's not forget that chivalry also means that men are being nice to us because we're women, the fairer, weaker sex that needs to be taken care of. Let's face it, most of us don't need or want to be taken care of, and others among us wouldn't want to be a financial burden on the one we love. So maybe chivalry is dead and maybe that's a good thing.

Chivalry's ugly downside is that it often leads to a power dynamic that creates expectations which are more indicative of the world's oldest profession rather than a healthy human couple. In one particularly biting and entertaining episode of the Big Bang Theory, Leonard and Penny hang out 'as friends' one night, doing things that most couples would do on a date: go to a movie, have a drink and a snack at the pub and then head home. In this 'not a date' scenario, Leonard finally gets the upper hand in the relationship, stating that all the things that he used to do, was to get Penny to sleep with him. This list includes: paying for everything, letting her choose the awful movie, and sharing his fries.

While the episode spirals down from there with cheap shots about sexual performance and attempting to pick up other people at the bar later on, the point it makes is pretty spot on. Dating, for the most part, sees couples holding Aces in badly balanced relationships: women, with the sex card and men, with the credit card.

This doesn't mean it's time to bring calculators out, since money is a romance killer (math on a first date? No second date). But maybe sharing is fair. Equality for women means our half of the privileges, so it should mean our half of the responsibilities. An easy way to avoid this? Take turns choosing where to go and the chooser pays.

And remember- cheapskates of both gender- equally unsexy.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Snakes vs Rocks

A pet snake makes about as much sense as a pet rock. Surprisingly, they stack up about the same. What do these two unusual pet choices have in common? More than you would think.

The snake: does not perform tricks, is not nice to pet.

The rock: pretty much the same.

The snake: freaks people out, makes the gerbil nervous.

The rock: makes people ask questions about you, for sure, but the gerbil seems to mind it a lot less.

The snake: unlike other pets, does not require walking or bath time with soap.

The rock: the same.

The snake: spends a lot of time seemingly still.

The rock: oh, it's got staying still down.

The snake: will definitely scare away a lot of people, including potential friends and Jehovah's witnesses who unknowingly show up to the door. Can be quite useful in such situations.

The rock: effective when wielded over head. Otherwise, not.

One important distinction between these two curious pet types: the rock will not decide in the middle of the night to escape and choke you to death. There are many things that the rock cannot do to amuse or entertain you or keep you company, but death is also on the list of things that the rock will never attempt as you sleep peacefully nearby. The same cannot be said for the wild creature that you harbour in its glass cage, biding its time.

Sure, one can make the argument that the little wolves and panthers we keep as companions could also bite and attack us. It's a sure bet that if we die in the house with no rescue, Fluffy and Mittens will probably eat us. But those domesticated creatures that we feed out of bowls on the floor are evolution's losers, the meekest of their kind who can't survive in the actual wilderness and rely on humans for survival and treats. We also know about their evolutionary weaknesses: their common foe, the vacuum cleaner and bathtime. We can control those, but there is no domesticating a snake, no more than you can teach the pet rock to fetch.

Exotic pets are dangerous and should not kept as pets in households that contain humans, particularly little humans. It is also not your right to own whatever creature you want because you think you can handle it. This is not a case of the big bad government telling you what to do. Just like you think you can drive while drunk, your right to do what you think you can do is counterbalanced by the need to protect people from what might turn out to be your gross overestimation of yourself. So you can 'handle' your liquor, so you can 'handle' your illegal pet. Doesn't mean you should.

So let's give this one over to the rocks. Those things know how to behave.