Monday, February 29, 2016

And the Award goes...

In the past the Academy Awards Ceremony has been a much bigger deal at the Johnson house.  This may be one of the first times in family history we have not had a viewing party to go to or friends over to watch.  I have even babysat with the boys watching their Mother perform on the Academy Awards Show night in years past. And there was a time we kept with our friends children on Academy Awards night when those very friends were in the audience to receive an Academy Award. But not this year. 
At an unrelated party the night before we, along with our friends, all decided that this year we would chill and do our own thing for the evening.  That is exactly what Sandi and I did.  We opened a bottle of champagne and watched together.  I didn't even bother to bring out the traditional dumb bell.
Those who have not watched an awards show with me in the past may not be familiar with my tradition of manning the awards dumb bell. At the risk of a "stinging on line judgement" I will attempt an explanation.
It might surprise you to know that I have an opinion about most everything especially award shows. In the comfort of my own home and among friends I do not hesitate to express those opinions. Although cathartic for me it is a real distraction to those around me trying to watch the show. After years of complaints I have come up with a compromise that seems to work. At least it has saved my marriage.
The solution: The Dumb Bell.  The dumb bell is a generic desk bell like you would find on the counter of a retail store. You slap it with the palm of your hand and it rings. This bell is placed on the coffee table between the screen and the couch before the Awards show starts.  As the evening progresses rather than make comments on things that are happening during the show I ring the bell in honor of a "dumb" statement or event that happens. Thus it is referred to as the Dumb Bell. With this method I can register my complaint or opinion with little distraction to those also watching. And although I am not the only one who is allowed to express themselves in this manner, I seem to be the major user.  
There have been times when the traditional dumb bell has mysteriously vanished prior to some event. I have always been able to find it's hiding place before it is actually needed. (In truth I have an extra stashed away "just in case" that happens).
But alas I did not even feel the need to prepare the Dumb bell for last nights ceremony.  Chris Rock was funny,  and although the point needed to be made, the racial diversity subject became a little long in the tooth before the evening was up and it was not as edgy as hinted at the week before.  
My favorited Chris Rock joke was at the expense of Jada Smith.  "Jada Smith.... how can you boycott something that you weren't even invited to. It would be like me boycotting Beyonce's panties... I wasn't invited in." 
Louis CK was funny presenting the documentary short subject Oscar. He rightly pointed out that it would be the only Oscar that would go home in a Toyota. 
Sara Silverman... I very often don't get her and last night was one of those times. 
And once again Sandi reconfirmed that I would get a pass if I ever got to spend time with Charlize Theron.   
I suppose I should be grateful for the 3 and a half hour distraction from the circus of the political race. Unfortunately the dumb bell idea does not work for politics, it would simply be ringing all the time.
As you were,

Friday, February 26, 2016

"ANYTHING you say..."

It is a paragraph of just six sentences and most everyone knows it by heart.  It is called the Miranda Warning or your Miranda Rights.  We all know what it implies and what it means from watching most every television cop show produced since 1966. 
For me the most important part of that paragraph is the phrase "Anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law."  CAN AND WILL.  Not MIGHT or if relevant COULD, can and will. 

My all time favorite movie screenplay is "My Cousin Vinny". There is not a moment of dialogue in that script that doesn't belong. Every word, however seemingly unimportant, leads us to the final conclusion.  If you have forgotten the plot, a couple of kids are wrongly charged with the murder of a convenience store clerk.  They think they have been detained because they forgot to pay for a can of tuna at the same store. Thinking that he is being interrogated for that petty crime, Ralph Machio's character, William Gambini is explaining what happened.  His story ends when he accidentally walks out of the store with the tuna can. 
The local policeman then says, "So that's when you shot the clerk."
In confusion of what he has just heard Gambini says, "I shot the clerk?"
The cop confirms with a look. 
In total disbelief Gambini tries to clarify, "I shot... The clerk?"
The policeman nods in the affirmative and one more time Gambini tries to understand and says,
"I.... Shot the clerk?" It is then that William Gambini realizes this is not about a can of tuna.
Later at the trial the prosecution asks the police to read Gambini's statement. With the cold recollection of courtroom testimony, the policeman reads this: "I ask him if that is when he shot the clerk.  He replied 'I shot the clerk.  I shot the clerk. I shot the clerk.' " ANYTHING you say, CAN AND WILL be used against you in a court of law.

If the FBI prevails in this iPhone dispute you can expand that to mean "Anything you text, tweet, like, chat, share, comment on, delete, friend, unfriend or buy with your Apple Pay, CAN and WILL be used against you in a court of law.  Unfortunately you will not have the right to remain silent because the ANYTHING will be retroactively stored on what you thought was a private iPhone. 
The FBI is trying to minimize their demands by saying it's just one iPhone.  It's just one terrorist and the fear of another terror attack is greater than every one's right to privacy.  They want to make it seem as if this is a bank safe deposit box and they need a key to see what is inside.  That court order is made all the time. Difference is in the case of a safe deposit box the key will only fit one box, not the whole vault's worth.  What the FBI is asking to have, in the iPhone case, is a key to every deposit box at the bank in question as well as every other box in every other bank world wide.  
Oh, Jay... But if you have done nothing wrong why would you care if the government can have access to your private stuff? Because the very government I grant access to my privacy also has the ability  to change what is legally right and wrong. It happens all the time. Sears used to sell hypodermic needles filled with heroin through the mail before it was declared illegal. Day before prohibition a bartender was just a merchant selling beer, the next day he was a criminal. 

If I have the "right to remain silent" my iPhone should have a similar protection.  
As you were,

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Apple vs. FBI

It is very complicated. But we have to get this one right.
I am a loyal fan and consumer of Apple products. For a while I had a independent contractor relationship with Apple and think they are ahead of the curve in most areas of technology. So it is not surprising that I would stand with Tim Cook in his refusal to create a back door into the iPhone. This places me in the minority of public opinion of most people believing that Apple should comply with the request of the FBI.  The one thing I am certain of, as a friend of mine said yesterday, "In a fight between the government and Tim Cook,  I believe Tim Cook is the smartest guy in the room." 

There are a few things that make this case different from the usual "search warrant" the government uses to negate your right to privacy.  It is a slippery slope and a Pandora's box if opened.  Once again the "government" is using fear of the unknown enemy to compromise our rights. The influence I have over this debate is non-existent, it won't matter which party or candidate I support because this is not an issue anyone gets to vote on.  I am simply an observer watching.  As futile as the process is I would feel worse if I kept it to myself. 

First, there is no back door to an iPhone. Apple is being asked to invent something that doesn't exist. The government is assuming that Apple programmers are so good that they can just write a few lines of code in a couple of days that will open up an iPhone. (For 30 years they have been writing Apple code to prevent that very thing from happening.)  If it were that easy to do, then the terrorist hackers would already have done it.  So, what if they can't do it? What if Apple tries its best but there is just no way to accomplish that task?  Will the government send the entire company to jail for contempt?
Of course the FBI is demanding this be done on the huge assumption that there is "something" inside that phone that is useful. This is not a game of Clue and the iPhone the black envelope, there is no surety that anything but cat photos exists inside that phone.  Remember it was the FBI who spent thousands of dollars and many days searching a lake for the terrorist's hard drive that they "assumed" was dumped there. After all that time and money, the hard drive wasn't there. 
But this is not as benign as the useless search of a lake. The FBI director says (in a tweet), that it was only this phone that they are asking unlocked (with a  key that doesn't exist by a door that isn't there).This key would only be used once? That secret will be safe? Look how well we were able to protect the secret of nuclear weapons from the wrong hands. He is either naive, stupid or trying to deceive us.  Once that door is built and a key made, anyone can use it at anytime on any iPhone anywhere for any reason.  There is only a question of who would use that back door quicker, the corporate advertisers or the fanatical terrorists. 

Let's assume this iPhone had been completely destroyed, and the terrorist captured alive. We could assume there must be some helpful information that the FBI would want locked inside this terrorist's head. So how do we get to it? What is the code, the hack, the backdoor to his brain that we can use to get at that information.  There is none.  That has never stopped governmental over reach. We now know that our own government has used torture and "enhanced" interrogation techniques in the past to try to open that back door into a terrorist's mind.  It was a dismal failure and created more harm than information.

Here is the bottom line. The smart phone is not simply a communication device. As we use it more and more, it becomes "hard storage" for our minds.  I don't even have my Mom's phone number in my brain anymore, my iPhone stores it for me... I just tap her picture when I want to phone her. My personal iPhone has bank account numbers, credit card numbers, personal thoughts, personal communications and a lot of other stuff that used to exist only in my brain.  There is no question that America places great value on the private personal thoughts and feelings of every individual. Sure it would give us all more safety if the government could "hack into" a serial killers brain and arrest him before he commits a crime. Why not ask Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline or Abbot Labs to create a pill or an implant that gives the FBI the ability to see what's inside some one's mind? They only want to use it for "one person" they think might do something dangerous.  They are not asking to "unlock" every one's mind. After all it is only going to be used to keep us safer.  For this little bit of safety we give up all the privacy of personal thoughts in our mind.  Being able to think any thoughts I want to in the privacy of my own mind is human freedom and transcends any creed, religion, government or philosophy.   
This may sound like a stretch, but in a world that grows with exponential technology making Apple create a back door and magic key to a personal iPhone is the first step in taking away that very human Freedom.  
As you were,

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How about an American?

I have resisted blogging about current events for the last few weeks.  Until this weekend there was nothing to comment on except this never-ending Presidential race.  I am even more convinced that we should adopt Germany's rules for elections.  In German elections, the candidates only get 6 weeks to campaign before voting, so there can be no marathon campaigns that cost fortunes.  I would even be willing to stretch that to 3 months, but the year and a half we endure here in America is simply wasteful and disruptive. I am ready for Facebook to go back to posting pictures of food and kittens, instead of mean spirited political memes.
Don Scalia
But then over the weekend at a ranch in Texas the game changed.  The judicial Don of the privileged class, the consigliere of the right wing, longest serving Supreme Court Justice and some might argue the man who gave George W. Bush the 2000 Presidency, Antonin Scalia died. 
He was the first Italian American appointed to the high court, and looked, to me, more like a defendant than a judge. In an alternate universe he could have been a gangster with a nickname like Icepick or the Bull and been more notorious, but instead he became a Reagan appointee to the Supreme Court.
I understand he had a great sense of humor and when not talking about politics, religion, or social issues could be socially engaging. He drank and partied at private outings with the 1% which is what he was doing the day he died.  
He became famous for his "originalist" interpretation of the Constitution. I think everyone is agreed that the founding Fathers "original" concept of the Supreme Court was to be completely separate and independent from the politics of the other two branches of Government. As a judge Scalia's writings were clear, easily read, and understood. In a right leaning court he was usually the one who wrote the majority opinion. I can't say I ever agreed with his constitutional opinions, which trended toward racism, homophobia, and the blurring of separation between Church and State. It's obvious that the independence of the Supreme Court has been severely compromised in the last 30 years.   
I am not a legal scholar but it seems to me a "constitutional originalist" has very much in common with a person who takes the Bible literally. I think for these two documents to maintain their connection to modern times they must grow to include ideas and advancements that did not exist when they were originally written.  
But Scalia is no longer a member of the Supreme Court so all this is moot.

Now the government has a job to replace Judge Scalia so that decisions can't end in a 4 to 4 tie. Republicans have vowed they will not let a replacement be seated while Obama is President.  The reason is obvious, they do not want a liberal judge to be seated and upset the conservative majority they have enjoyed for decades. The Democrats want a liberal judge appointed and the Republicans want a conservative appointed and it looks like neither side will compromise. This is the issue and the problem as I see it.
We are a nation of differences.  "We the People" have different religions, different ethnic backgrounds and different political parties but "We the people" stand together in one singular group called Americans. The Supreme Court is supposed to be the "independent, non-religious, non-political mediator" of what the constitution defines as American.  To that end we should look for the most intelligent mind  in a person who will consider the evidence presented, leaving all petty personal opinions out of the discussion and decide what is best for America and Americans.  No Supreme Court Judge should be the poster boy (or girl) for any special interest subgroup or political party. 
When called for jury duty and during the selection process the presiding Judge will address every personal conflict a juror might have with an admonition that goes something like, "do you think you can set your feelings aside,  look at the evidence presented in this court objectively and come to a conclusion based solely upon the evidence you hear?"  Why is that the standard expected of me for a week's worth of jury duty and not for a Supreme Court Judge who is appointed to that duty for life? 

I would hope and pray that the Senate and the President appoint neither a Democrat nor a Republican, Conservative nor Liberal nor Deacon to sit on the court. We need a person not affiliated with a political party, special interest, religion nor sect of any kind.  We need to say to that person, "can you set your feelings aside,  look at the evidence presented in this court objectively and come to a conclusion based solely upon the evidence you hear?" 
How about a brilliant American with no other identifying tags to become a Supreme Court Judge for the rest of their life? 
As you were,

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Wearing A Career on Your Sleeve...

Recently I was sitting in the audience to see a friend and fellow performer do a show.  The MC, also a friend, gave me a shout out from the stage.  He simply said, "We are pleased to have Tony Award Winner, Jay Johnson in the house."  I gave a little wave to the MC. That used to be all there was to this process.

With humility and contrition I admit that this is not a rare phenomenon.  I have been honored to get a shout out from stage at some notable performances.  Several are clearly cherished moments in my memory.  Ann Margret had me stand up and take a bow at one of her Caesars Palace Las Vegas Shows. That was wonderfully unbelievable.  On another occasion Wayland Flowers, actually Madame herself,  had me take a bow at one of his Vegas shows. Madame said to the crowd that only She and I knew that my puppet Bob had a "little tiny weenie". In those days it was exciting and fun.
So being introduced from the stage is not new to me, but it has become a new experience in this high tech world. 
At this last event the guy sitting next to me said, "You won a Tony?"  The tone in his voice turned skeptical when he added "for what?" I told him it was a show I had written for myself called "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only".  I am very good at phrasing answers in a way that ends a conversation I don't wish to continue. This was one of those times.
As my friend took the stage, the man sitting next to me was ignoring the performance, completely engrossed in his iPhone.  A couple of people were giving him the stink eye being annoyed by the light from his screen.  I was ready to say something when I looked over and saw my picture on his phone.  Then I saw the Playbill logo and a New York review.  He had "googled" me and my show. When he saw that I was aware of this fact he turned his phone off.

That should have been the end of it but it wasn't.

A few minutes into my friends show the guy turns to me and says this: "So you were only on Broadway for three months and the investors didn't get paid back, but you won a Tony... I get it."
The tone of his voice was definitely condescending. It was a rhetorical question. There is no satisfying answer.   I was uncomfortable sitting next to him for the rest of the show.  At the end, I shuffled out quickly so I would have no more interaction with this guy.  
In the days before instant meaningless information, this guy would have waited till he got home to "research" my career,  assuming he still remembered my name or the name of my show.  By then it would be too late for him to make a personal comment to my face. But because of modern social media, the actual social contact was sour.  This interaction bothered me.  I tried to let it go and move on but was not successful. I was there to see a friend. I was not there to get personally reviewed by a guy who obviously considered my Tony some sort of consolation prize.

It isn't just me, it is happening to people all the time.  An actor friend was at the airport when he "got googled" by a guy waiting for the same plane.  The guy found a 30 year old publicity picture of my friend on line and said, "Wow you have really changed." And shared the old picture on his Smart phone to the others around him.  My friend got up and left rather than hit the guy in the face.
In this virtual society of shares, likes and comments it would seem that everything needs an opinion. Most of the time that is not true nor is it necessary.

We all have the right to our own opinions, and there is nothing wrong with having a contrary thought, but with that right is also the responsibility to keep it to ourselves.  A personal comment to some stranger's face that can be taken as an insult is always rude. Until people learn basic civilized polite ways to interact they should not be allowed to use this powerful tool called the Internet. 
To sum up, "What you think of me is none of my business, so keep it to yourself."  I will only entertain opinions from those who have earned my respect. If you earn that respect, I will ask for your opinion. Absent that, get on with your life and let me do the same. I am sure others feel the same way.
As you were,

Monday, February 08, 2016

Not Political

Donald Trump feels that although he is one of the richest men in the world he does not have the respect of the World leadership.  To further his Presidential hopes he wants to get some sort of endorsement from a respected world leader.
With Pope Francis visiting Mexico, Trump decides to make a last ditch effort to meet with him before the New Hampshire Primary.  So Donald takes the Trump Jet to Mexico.
Trump finds out which hotel the Pontiff is staying but because of Vatican security he cannot get an appointment with the Pope nor will they even let Trump into the hotel.
Not to be deterred, Donald Trump waits outside the hotel with the thongs of people waiting to catch a glimpse of the Holy Father.  
The Pope exits the hotel finally and heads for his pope mobile.  He waves to the crowd as Donald Trump jumps up and down trying to get his attention, but to no avail.  The Pope sees a homeless man off to himself in battered clothes, worn out shoes sitting up against a wall. The Pope leaves the cluster that surrounds him and goes over to the homeless man. He puts his arm around the homeless man's shoulder and whispers something into his ear.  Then he gets into the pope car and drives off.
Trump is disappointed but starts to analyse the event.  He thinks to himself, "The Pope doesn't want to meet with me, Donald Trump the billionaire. He is the people's Pope and wants to comfort his flock."  
So as the crowd thins Trump goes over to the homeless man and says, "Listen, I know you don't have a home so I will buy you a house if you will give me those shoes.  And I know you need money so I will buy that torn jacket and those worn out pants for $200,000.00, and you can have my pastel tie, my shoes, shirt and this suit... What do you say?"  The man agrees and the two men exchange money and clothing.
The next day the Pope comes out of the hotel ready for his day of service.  The crowd is just a big as it was the day before and as Pope Francis looks around he sees Donald Trump off to himself in battered clothes and worn out shoes sitting up against a wall.  The Pope breaks away from the crowd and goes  up to what looks like the homeless man he spoke to the day before.  Pope Francis puts his arm around Trump's neck and whispers in his ear,
"I thought I told you yesterday to get the fuck out of here." 
Not a true story, yet.
As you were,