Saturday, August 17, 2013

Movie Review - Jobs

I walked into the theater knowing full well that this was not the “real” Steve Jobs movie, the one for which Aaron Sorkin is adapting the screenplay from Walter Isaacson’s book.  Nevertheless,  I thought I’d enjoy “Jobs”, the Joshua Michael Stern film starring Ashton Kutcher and Dermot Mulroney.  I was wrong.  Far from enjoyable, the movie was difficult to watch.

The script took all sorts of liberties with the story it's based upon, but that was not the issue. Neither were the film’s vast number of minor inaccuracies.  Liberties and inaccuracies abound in movies based on real events, and they do not necessarily ruin those movies.   Recent case in point: “The Social Network”, where Aaron Sorkin started out with a hollow, disjointed book and crafted a coherent, wildly entertaining screenplay that widely deviated from fact yet accurately captured the essence of the characters and the story.  One of Mr. Sorkin’s most important gifts is his ability to “get” things, whether they be the inner workings of the White House, the production of a weekly live TV comedy show or nightly sports show, or, really, whatever else he chooses to write about.

“Jobs” the movie simply doesn’t “get” Jobs the man, and it certainly doesn’t “get” Apple the company.  Mr. Kutcher lumbers through the part, earnestly putting in his best effort, but is clearly out of his depth and comes across as a mediocre impersonator who is able to mimic a couple of Mr. Jobs’ superficial expressions but has no hope of even understanding his true personality and motivations.  Josh Gad as Steve Wozniak is another misguided casting choice whose portrayal of Woz misses the mark.  J.K. Simmons as Arthur Rock and Dermot Mulroney as Mike Markkula are solid but unable to transcend the material.  Only Giles Matthey, as a young Jonathan Ive, rings true to his character and absolutely nails Mr. Ive’s voice and accent.

The story of Apple is long and complex, and distilling it into a 2-hour movie is a daunting matter. The decisions regarding which parts of the story to focus on, which to glance over and which to ignore completely are critical to capturing the essence of the story and properly developing the characters.   Many of the choices made in “Jobs” were ill-conceived, for example the omission of Mr. Jobs’ involvement with Pixar, the failure to even mention Ron Wayne, the third original partner in Apple Computer, Inc., and, most glaringly, the failure to include Mr. Jobs’ visit to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1979, which was instrumental in informing his concept of a graphical user interface.  The movie seems to attribute Mr. Jobs’ entire vision about what the personal computer could be to an LSD trip.  

But the execution of the scenes Mr. Stern chose to focus on also generally failed.  The dialogue was stilted and awkward, and Mr. Kutcher’s almost comical attempts to ape Mr. Jobs’ walking style and facial expressions were distracting.  Although the story progressed pretty much chronologically (with the exception of the initial scene), and montages were used to condense time, in many cases there was simply not enough information provided about what happened during the condensed or skipped time to provide a proper foundation for the major scenes, resulting in confusing non sequiturs.  Production values were sub-par, giving the movie a cheap, made-for-TV feeling despite cinematographic gimmicks that were widely used in an attempt to achieve a quality look.   

People familiar with the story of Steve Jobs and Apple will leave this movie frustrated that it told the story in an incomplete and, more importantly, superficial manner without the depth, nuance and subtlety that would have brought true insight into the events and characters.  And people who don’t know the story coming in will leave totally confused about Steve Jobs and Apple.

I can’t wait for the Aaron Sorkin film.  In the meantime I think I’ll re-watch “Pirates of Silicon Valley”.  Maybe Mr. Stern and Mr. Kutcher should, as well.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Default Human Condition

Although I neither believe in nor practice any religion, I respect the beliefs of those who do.  Yes, I have difficulty understanding how they reconcile their beliefs with the realities of the world we live in.  Yes, I despise the manipulative, self-serving nature of many institutions of organized religion. Nevertheless, I feel I’m in no position to judge anyone’s beliefs, as did the Founding Fathers, hence the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, the same rarely applies in the inverse.   As long as there has been religion, believers have vilified non-believers, and that despicable practice continues unabated. Thinly veiled disapproval of irreligion is even embedded in cherished traditions and everyday idioms. Absurdly, the terms “God-fearing”, and “church-going”, among others, are considered compliments.  Politicians everywhere make a point of conspicuously attending religious services, and insert clich├ęd religious references (“God bless America”) in their speeches.  Faith and religion are typically considered “good”, while atheism and non-belief are considered “bad”, despite the fact that religion is simply not a part of the lives of a large and growing percentage of us.  Such is the stigma attached to atheism that many non-believers actually feel guilty about their non-belief, and go through religious motions simply to stay within the acceptable boundaries of their social circles.

In what can only be described as stunning irrationality, religious belief is widely considered the default human condition, and non-belief an aberration, logic (and Occam's Razor) be damned.  

By any reasonable rationale, non-belief should most certainly be the default human condition. Why is it not?  

The obvious answer is that religious organizations seized upon the inexplicable nature of much of the world to construct faith-based belief systems which allowed them to exert control over their flocks through fear.  Non-believers presented a threat to this control, and were therefore vilified. What we see today are the remnants of that historical vilification.

Another reason that comes to mind is the erroneous but widely held belief that religious people, since they ostensibly adhere to a value system, pose less of a threat to society than “loose cannon” atheists, so society tends to favor the religious.

I believe there is an additional, more nuanced reason for the irrational disparagement of non-belief.

Religion means having an opinion.  A strong opinion.  An opinion of such strength that it exists and thrives despite its lack of evidentiary foundation and factual support.  Irreligion means the absence of an opinion due to the absence of facts supporting one.  Religion is zeal.  Irreligion is indifference.  So then, religion, particularly religious zealotry, or fanaticism, attracts opinionated people.  People who are fervent about their beliefs, certain that there is no valid alternative to their opinion, and ready, willing and able to thrust their beliefs upon others.  Although zealots represent a small percentage of religious people, they are vocal, visible and influential opinion leaders.  And fanatics are capable of extreme acts in support of their beliefs.

The uncertainty and indifference inherent in atheism attracts a different crowd, far less fervent, more open-minded.  Less opinionated.  There is no such thing as an irreligious zealot.   No one has crashed an airplane into a building in the name of atheism.  Abortion clinics are bombed by religious fanatics, but churches are not bombed by secular fanatics.  Israeli ultra-Orthodox Jews throw stones at those who do not share their beliefs about the Sabbath.  Irreligious Israelis do not throw stones at the Orthodox.

So, irreligion should be the default human condition, but isn’t because its nature attracts people less fervent than those attracted by religion, and the zealous are more influential than the indifferent.

Not exactly a great commentary on the human condition.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

You Really Must Think I'm Stupid

So you give your 16 year-old son Justin permission to drive your car one night, with the understanding that he is to go with a group of friends to a local mall to watch a movie and get a bite to eat.  You trust your son, so you rest easy that night and turn in early in your Los Angeles home, confident that Justin will operate within the guidelines given him.

The next morning, Jake, one of Justin’s friends, is unexpectedly at your door.  He wants to talk to you. The two of you sit down.  He was with your son last night.  The group did not go to the mall.  Instead, they drove to Las Vegas.  Got a room at the Bellagio.  Spent half the night in the casino, and the rest partying with prostitutes in the hotel room.  Jake was part of the group and ended up in Las Vegas, but instead of joining Justin and the others at the casino he decided to take a bus back home to L.A., sleep for a few hours, knock on your door and come clean.

You are deeply disappointed by your son’s dishonesty and his abuse of your trust.  You thank Jake for bringing Justin’s misbehavior to your attention.

Later on that morning, Justin wakes up, checks his phone and realizes that Jake ratted him out, not only personally and directly to you, his father, but also publicly on Twitter.  He stews about it for a while, unsure about how to proceed.  He finally decides on a 2-pronged action plan.  First, he tweets that Jake has broken the code of friendship and should immediately be ostracized.  Second, he comes to you and says, “I realize that I went a bit overboard last night.  What I did was OK, because I know what I’m doing and nobody got hurt, but I recognize that it’s not enough for me to be comfortable with my actions; you need to feel comfortable with my actions as well.  I also recognize that I may need more oversight.  Anyway, I have a few ideas about ways in which I can improve things, and I will implement them as I see fit.”

You say, “I never thought you would betray my trust this way, particularly since when you were younger you specifically criticized this type of behavior.  In fact, your strong opinions against abuses of power were instrumental in making me feel comfortable about loaning you my car.   I’m counting on you to make the necessary corrections, but in the meantime both you and I owe a debt of gratitude to your friend Jake, who called our attention to this situation.  Were it not for him, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.  Thanks to Jake you’re at least addressing the issue and taking actions you yourself agree are necessary and important.”

Justin’s response: “No, I was totally going to take these actions anyway.  Jake is neither my friend nor yours.  He’s our enemy and if I ever get a hold of him I will beat him to a pulp.”

“Justin”, you say, “you really must think I’m stupid”.


                  Jake …............................................................................ Edward Snowden
  Justin ….......................................................................... President Barack Obama
You (the father) ….........................................................The American People