Hackety Hack Hack

No one wants to be labeled a hack but what’s even worse these days is being hacked.

Or so we’re told.

But is it?

A hack is generally thought of as someone who is not great at what they do.  It’s often an insult hurled at artists, particularly writers, but over the years has been broadened to apply to anyone whose work or even personage we (or they) find inferior.

What????  He/she’s a hack! 

You think so?

Absolutely, did you see __________?   Or the work they did on _______________?  And look at them.  Do you want to be around that all day? You can feel the mediocrity dripping off them from here!

No, to be called a hack is not a good thing.  Worse yet, is actually being one.

I could hand out quite a few of these

Yet none of these insults or categorizations even comes close to the fear of being hacked.  If it’s never happened to you (Note: Though likely it has) that will surely feel worse than maximum-security prison.  Perhaps not quite a death sentence but possibly one where you have only a 50-50 chance of being commuted.

So change your privacy settings.  Quickly! 

Do you know how many people can see all of your data, the pictures of your kids, maybe even your credit cards and….bank statements!!!?? 

Oh My God, I have to keep me and my family safe!!  Here’s what they say to do. First, I’m gonna change all of my passwords every month to a series of numbers, letters and phrases I can’t remember.  So I’ll make a list I’m not gonna store on my computer, because that’s not safe.  I’ll print it out and hide it in the house in a place only you and I will know…

…And likely not remember.  Which is when your real troubles will truly begin.

Me, resetting my passwords

Only someone who has been hacked numerous times has the right to make light of this.  And you are reading them.

For two years running someone filed fake federal income taxes under my name.  My ATM card has been pilfered three times in the last six years and accrued charges I didn’t make.  Several months ago someone even opened a credit card under my name through Alaska Airlines and bought a Cuban cigar that was delivered to my house in a skinny clear plastic bag.

One lonely little cigar. #notmine

And no, I wasn’t held responsible for any of them.  And yes, all of the companies were understanding of the problem and have whole departments devoted to fraud.  Sure it was bit of a pain in the ass but far less painful than changing every one of my passwords and expecting my brain to scroll through a list that multiplies quicker than the Duggar family in the nineties.

This is certainly not an endorsement or minimization of identity theft.  Nor is it a plea for us all to try to maintain some sort of private life if for no other reason than to prove to ourselves that even though we don’t post our bareass on Instagram it really does exist and is dropping.  Though not quite as badly as we might think.

No, this rant was brought on by….

Our daily national revisiting of Russia’s interference in our 2016 election…

Its widespread hacks into our voter systems in all 50 states just released by the Senate Intelligence Committee and…..

The general thud or hair on fire response it has all gotten (Note: It depends where you live) all across the country.

My eternal reaction

We all should be greatly concerned about a foreign adversary tampering in our electoral process and panicked that our voting systems are still unprotected and, well, more than hackable.

But let’s be clear about our concerns.

If our digital voting systems are actually hacked and people’s votes are changed, or folks are de-registered from their precincts, we’re f-ked but not irretrievably so.

It worked out OK on Scandal #spoiler? #oliviaweneedyou

Sure, many states do not have back up paper ballots but if this is a REQUIREMENT OF FEDERAL ELECTION LAW we have a year and a half to put this in place and well, yeah, there is still time.

If the banks and credit card companies all managed to set up effective fraud investigation departments so as not to lose money on piddly stuff like the illegal single Cuban cigar purchased under my name it seems that the same amount of effort on our government’s part to save our democracy might actually be doable.

Which brings us to the bigger issue:  How much responsibility will each of us United States citizens take to not live our lives as HACKS?

21st century aspirations

This weekend I watched The Great Hack, a Netlfix documentary that spends two hours diving deeply into the indisputable avarice of Facebook and the inarguable danger of data mining political consulting companies like the now defunct Cambridge Analytica.

That’s the British based company that basically had access to the personal information, purchases and intimate thoughts and desires of many tens of millions of us (Note: 87 million Facebook users, according to the doc) and used it to specifically put Trump in the White House.

Well, not literally.  It seems that Cambridge Analytica had a lot of help. It was hired by the Trump campaign for a ton of cash, bought off Facebook and its private info to the tune of $1 million per day in ad revenue during the hottest months of the campaign, and coordinated its activities both with Russia and Wikileaks on behalf of its client.

Allow me to scream into the heavens: ZUCKERBERG!!!!!!

Yet as nefarious as this sounds, none of this would work without the single largest group that helped Cambridge Analytica and Facebook put Trump over the top.

US.

Not any of these companies.

Not any of the personal information they pilfered.

And not any particular member of the Trump family, tempting as it is to blame them all for everything.

Those Trumps do like the penthouse #icantevenlookatthem

See, the way election influence works today is at its heart no different than what I learned in the Electoral Politics class I took back in the seventies when I was a senior at Queens (ahem) College.

First, you scour the voter rolls and find out as much about the personal tastes and lives of the voters as possible.   Second, you don’t spend your money on the ones you already have.  And third, you totally ignore the ones you know you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting to vote for you.

Then those who remain, based on the data you’ve accrued, become your most persuadable group.  And once you’ve determined who they are you fight like hell to get them.

Not shady at all.

Take for example ads that scare the beeJesus out of “them:” Reagan’s rants on “welfare queens” taking your money; George H.W. Bush’s ads about a Black convict named Willie Horton who was given a prison furlough and raped a white woman,  and so on and so forth, etc. etc.

All of these and many more before and since were the precursors to the most recent fake Black Lives Matters type rallies brainstormed by Steve Bannon and Cambridge A in places like rural Pennsylvania and/or suburban Florida.  Or the made up from whole cloth Crooked Hillary is corrupt and a child molester to boot memes promulgated in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin’s various towns by various other propagandists, including the candidate, who wanted to do anything they could to gain power and reshape the world order with themselves and their minions as close to the on/off switch as possible.

The most dangerous button in the world

Their ability to HACK into our lives and micro-target us as never before has simply supercharged their mechanisms and super-powered their abilities to spread disinformation but the essential play book is exactly the same.

Thus, the question we all need to ask ourselves in this seemingly new world, is this –

Will we continue to behave as hacks and be hacked into submission?  Or will we rise up by paying closer attention to what is true and false, fact and fiction, real or unreal??

Preferably yesterday

You can’t convince someone of what’s in a report if you don’t read it, or at least a summary of it, yourself.   In a vetted news source.

And heck, for those who don’t believe there is such a thing, you can order the audio copy from Amazon or listen to it online for free.

For those who didn’t serve in the military, think of those hours as an alternative to public service.  To those who did serve and think of themselves as patriots, do it for the love of your country.

Or forever remain a hack.

The Police – “Every Breath You Take” 

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Grampy’s Grammys

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.47.16 AM

Music is a touchstone. But many young screenwriters I teach have confessed to me they have previously been instructed NEVER to put a song reference in a script because they will limit or confuse a reader who may or may not know the song or the group they’re talking about or will be taken out of the moment by a tune that will probably never wind up in the movie anyway.

The above advice is, of course, ridiculous. Music has always been a great connecter and the perfect evocation of a mood or moment in time that all the talk or visual images in the world can’t muster. It is true that if someone doesn’t know a song a reference to it will not put them in the mood or mindset you intend. But if you go with your gut and choose wisely that song most certainly will do the job when they get to HEAR it – which is the point of writing musical references to begin with. And besides, any artistic moment in time needs all the help it can get.

Which brings us to #GrammyAwards2015.

Hosted by LL Cool J - for the 2,000th time

Hosted by LL Cool J – for the 89th time

As a resident of the west coast who is not in the music industry and therefore not present at the actual live ceremonies, I was three hours late to the party thanks to the greed and hubris of CBS. As the official broadcaster of said ceremony, the network has decided that unlike the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes they have no public obligation to share the music simultaneously across the world – or at the very least, the country.

Knowing full well that the primary reason people watch a music awards show is for the performances and not the actual awards, CBS instead chose to delay their west coast broadcast in order to sell more prime time ads and create a greater revenue stream for itself. This is, of course, the network’s prerogative – but only for the time being.

tina-fey-gif

There is a power shift going on in how and where and when we get our entertainment. And that shift is going back to the consumer, which means that before long every event of any importance will be available simultaneously in most time zones. It might be five, ten or 20 years away but the corporate world – which these days includes entertainment and even politics – knows deep down that the party is essentially over and that changeover is causing major and minor freak outs as well as corporate and personal misbehaviors everywhere. These manifest themselves in little bouts of broadcast hubris as well as false and outrageous public statements from people, politicians (Note: No, they’re not the same thing) and various organizations about everything from vaccines to international terrorism, before segueing into mass media hysteria over the possible gender change of an Olympic gold medalist or the newsiness of just what the historical accuracy is of any number of Oscar nominated feature films this year whose only real sin is failing to announce loudly enough its claim that it is merely “based” on a true story.

On the flip side, which of us hasn’t found it a little bit more than fun to live in an age when political gaffes and cultural injustices aren’t events so easily handled?   Truth be told, there is some infinite joy in knowing that eventually Twitter, YouTube and Instagram will provide the real images, observations and videos of said events or thoughts rather than the pre-packaged or approved ones we’ve mostly been previously granted by the gatekeepers.

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

I guess I’m gloating but it can be quite entertaining to watch more than a few members of the status quo squirm as their grip on power unwittingly gets pried out from behind our necks. Still, the new scandal du jour of something like NBC anchor Brian Williams exaggerating being shot down in Iraq during the previous decade or fictionalizing a case of dysentery in order to make his Hurricane Katrina reporting more dramatic during the Bush, Jr. presidency is almost quaint at this point. I mean, the one thing we all know these days is that EVERYONE exaggerates a bit – it’s just a lot easier to get caught.   Yes, it’s true – the public already does know that even if the bosses in power don’t.   This is not to excuse the lie or the liar or even to condone that mode of behavior.   Only to acknowledge that we mostly understand that we – most of us – are, in at least some occasional cases, a bit hypocritical, indelicate with our opinions and guilty of bending reality ever so slightly and more – whether national, international or not – whenever the mood hits us.

The new normal today is the degree of the lie. Which is why awards shows are so terribly fun to watch – even when a power broker like CBS doesn’t allow you to view them live along with everyone else.

The craftsmanship of a successful artist’s image is often painstakingly and precisely planned, executed, buffed and shined before you and I get to experience it. But how the famed act in public when they have to be themselves onstage at a live event cannot be any of the above by its very nature. Oh, a person can sort of present a terribly rehearsed version of themselves but on a live show the rehearsal is often fodder for the real show on social media. Sure, he or she or even they can do a bit better fooling us when entertaining live – if indeed that is their profession and they’re good at it. But on the other hand, those who have been auto tuned, or have had their public images sculpted up a bit too brightly become as transparent as an overexposed X-ray held up to the light. Which is more than apt since the people we’re talking about have often been far too overexposed anyway.

Or a little underexposed if you're Sia.

Or a little underexposed if you’re Sia.

Watching this year’s Grammy awards I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be a bit like the star of Gramps Goes to the Movies – catching up with what the young-ins are doin’ and listenin’ to or watchin’ it three hours after the fact or perhaps even a year after my own figurative children’s children had first gotten wise to it.

But then I look up at my TV and the 1970s hard rock band AC/DC – a group I managed to avoid during most of my natural adolescence – are doing a five minute opening number.

What year is this? Am I a teenager again? And what time is it? Don’t I still have math homework to get through? Or perhaps it’s CBS again – playing a cruel trick on the left coast and switching programming back 40 years in order to appeal to its key heartland demographic where presumably they all still do listen to that group.

Performing at next year's Grammys

Performing at next year’s Grammys

As it turned out it was none of those. Only that the actual Grammy broadcast was clearly not hip or even unhip. It actually simultaneously managed to be a hybrid of both and neither. There was something for those of us in or moving into AARP range, others who are indeed still teenagers and the rest of you who fall somewhere in between. In its own odd way, its musical acts, award choices and onscreen behaviors amounted to nothing consistent or at times even decipherable.

This is not say to it wasn’t infinitely entertaining at points or that it failed to reach some quite high moments in others. It is only to note that try as they might to manage it all into something slick and pre-packaged it was actually all kind of a big, engaging mush of truth, fiction, fabulousness and confusion. Sort of like sifting through Twitter or Facebook for too long – but then realizing you’ve both enjoyed and wasted three and a half hours of your life in what seemed like 33 and a third minutes. Not to date myself.

That Zuckerberg

That Zuckerberg

Those of you who didn’t watch along with Grampy Chair or Great Uncles AC/DC can certainly revisit the highlights on the social media platform of your choice. Though I can save you the time with a few thoughts and links to some bottom line highlights.

  • You’ll want to marvel at who thought about having Tom Jones and Jessie J duet You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling as a tribute to famed Brill Building songwriters Cynthia Weill & Barry Mann. No, I didn’t say it wasn’t good. I’m just sayin’…
  • You’ll want to slap your head when you realize CBS is actually choosing to bleep out some song lyrics and words from country superstar Miranda Lambert’s live performance. SHE’S too racy for your core audience? Really? Or do you just think the left coast can’t take a bit of sexual innuendo?
Seasonal allergies be damned!

Seasonal allergies be damned!

  • I want to applaud Katy Perry’s Cover Girl commercial where she frolics amid pink flowers while managing to sell me makeup. Though you might want to boo. But as Taylor Swift, all sleek and tall in Grammy blue once both wrote AND sang: Haters gonna hate.
  • Critics might love groaning when Madonna does her new single about the power of love but I thought it was fun and, more importantly, SHE was once again having fun. You can choose to not think so but you’d be wrong. And no matter what you say anyway, here’s my answer to you in the form of a tweet from GregvsMatt: Roses are red, violets are blue #Madonna is 56 and looks better than you.
Werk it, Material Gurl

Werk it, Material Gurl

  • CBS proves it is once again infinitely unclever by having Fox/American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest introduce NBC/The Voice’s Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani performing their single, but all the network proves is it doesn’t have a tentpole TV reality singing show nor can it even make a lame joke about the others.
  • Matthew McConaughey’s confounding Buick commercials, particularly the one with the bull, will short circuit your brain before you even realize that the revenue it produces is what this three-hour delay is really about. (Editor’s note: It’s Lincoln, not Buick, Chairy. #powerofadvertising)
Annie kills it.

Annie kills it.

  • Sixty-year old Annie Lennox stops the show cold with the best performance of the night both by igniting Hozier’s tired performance of his own Take Me to Church and then electrifying us all with her own rendition of an almost 60 year old song – I Put A Spell On You. If nothing else, the reaction confuses those who live and die by the age demographics of corporate market research. #HelloCBS.
  • I manage to consider that Kanye West’s two onstage collaborations with Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett’s jazz turn with Lady Gaga center stage might disprove every bitchy phrase myself and every other baby boomer has ever uttered about what people, or even corporate networks, will promote those days.
Prince digs into Maude's closet

Prince digs into Maude’s closet

  • I then reconsider the above stance when Kanye steps onstage to try and Taylor Swift Beck’s unexpected win for best album (Note: Presented by Prince in the orange chiffon number your Aunt Esther was gonna wear to your bar-mitzvah but didn’t) and instead pulls back at the last minute even though Beck asks him not to. Then I have to admit to myself that just because one loves a Beatle doesn’t mean one necessarily has or evokes any taste at all.   Though at the same time, I have to also admit Prince looks far better in that getup than my Aunt Esther ever could have, not to mention she’d never be smart enough to publicly state: Like books and Black lives, albums matter.
  • You, if you were indeed watching, probably listened in awe as Sam Smith dueted with Mary J. Blige on Stay With Me – a simple love song/video about a gay guy who isn’t good at one night stands. And you would be right to marvel at both that and the fact that he went on to win four Grammy Awards. #WhoWouldHaveThoughtWayBackWhen. Though it would have really been something if he had dueted with say, Rufus Wainwright. #JustDreamin2025.
Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

  • No, it was all of us who kept rewinding Sia’s performance of Chandelier facing away from us while funny woman Kristen Wiig mimed and dance with Sia’s diminutive ballerina all through the song and didn’t so much get a laugh but prove that she is actually also a real live performance artist.
  • You will thank me for advising you to consciously uncouple from Chris Martin and Beck in the fourth hour, almost finale when they duet on one of the songs from what was just voted album of the year. What year, I’m not sure.
I mean.... we get it.

I mean…. we get it.

  • And, though I am in the minority and hesitate to say this – I continue to wonder how Beyonce – clearly an extremely talented and driven woman – can somehow manage to make the finale of the evening – the spiritual Take My Hand, Precious Lord, from the soundtrack of the movie Selma, so beyond grand and indulgent while Common and John Legend sung the hell out of their original song for Selma – Glory – and closed out the show with sincerity. I’ll take a guess. It probably had to do with the fact that they didn’t have a wind machine, flowing white chiffon or enough lighting effects to buff their imagines into a perfect shine.

But hey – that’s just me. And this year’s Grammys. Three hours late. On the west coast feed.