What Difference Does it Make?

p213624_2aMy lifelong habit of reading the news every morning, especially the political news, has become a real issue for me. What are you supposed to do when every single day brings multiple stories that shock, depress or terrify you? I used to find some distraction in the entertainment news… but now that Hollywood has started exposing and confronting its bullies and predators (e.g. all the executives and half the actors), that’s out too. These days I look at the news the way you might check out a terrible breakfast buffet: lift the cover, shudder and put it back quick, move down the line, and finally give up. I’ll just have coffee, thanks.

In calmer and more reflective moments, I think maybe we need this, that it’s a necessary purging. The shock of 2016 was realizing how wide and deep the racism and sexism run in our society, the horror of discovering that your benign-looking neighbors and friends might be raging bigots, anti-Semites, homophobes or god knows what. Probably everybody who wasn’t a straight white dude had already figured this out, but I hadn’t. Now in 2017 it’s been like we’re turning over all the rocks and the vermin have been slithering out into plain sight. Nazis? What the fuck? I didn’t plan on dealing with Nazis as I entered my so-called golden years.

And really, what is up with all the hate? Well you know what’s up with it, because you feel it yourself. Your own tendency to notice differences, and to use them to make yourself feel better. To judge people, as a handy way to stop having to think about them, consider their perspectives, and accommodate them a little bit. Put them in a box, and you’re not only done with them but you get to feel superior at the same time. At least I’m not a [fill in the blank]. We all do it, and what’s really crazy is that women can be sexists, gays can be homophobes, people of color can be the worst racists of all.

Think of the bitchy, snarky, nasty comments you hear when anybody is trying to climb out of the box they’ve been put in. Oh, look at her. Who does she think she is? The friendly fire from your own tribe is the most painful of all, because it’s a reflection of your own self doubt and self loathing. Right, who am I to think I could get that job, or go to college, or cross a gender line, or just stand up proudly in public with my real face showing? I’ll just crawl back to safety and join the others taking shots at the people in the arena who are sweating and bleeding and potentially looking vulnerable.

Indeed, that’s what you see in the Comments section of virtually any article foolish enough to allow comments. The sniping, the tearing down, the trash talk. It’s the absolute worst of human nature. It’s also embodied by our current *president, who is a walking talking Comments section. In fact if a Comments section had a face, it would have that face: fat, pasty, perpetually scowling, and slathered in poorly applied bronzer. And again, once you could just ignore the comments, but what do you do when the Comments section has a megaphone and the power of the state behind it?

You “Be the Change,” that’s what. I am noticing some things about my own reactions this past year. On the one hand, I’m listening more. I find myself stopping and considering other points of view that I might have steamrolled past. I’m letting other people have their say, and trying to understand. I’m trying to see where I might be asserting privilege, at least unearned privilege. And sometimes I step back. But on the other hand, I have some earned privilege, and I’m getting very comfortable with that. I’ve been speaking up more: confronting bullying, openly promoting what I believe, being an unapologetic voice for my own views. Lately I find myself with zero tolerance for bad behavior. And you don’t have to be a bully in return; sometimes a quiet, assertive change in topic or tone is enough.

I run an arts event in Orlando and for the past couple of years, I’ve been using it with more intention. I’ve put speakers on the stage who strongly advocate for the things I care about: tolerance, equality, justice, conservation, everything that’s under attack at the moment. Sometimes I think, well I have a very tiny voice and what difference does it make? But as my friend Aquanza put it, each of us is an instrument and if we express ourselves in harmony with those around us, the accumulated sound can be very powerful. I felt especially powerless after Pulse last year, when I was 3,000 miles from home and my people were attacked. And I thought over and over, “what can I do?” until I realized: I can do my work. That’s what I can do. And the event we put on a few weeks later was the Anti-Pulse: a bullet of inclusion and pure love to the heart of Orlando.

So yeah, we’re living through an ugly moment. A roiling and tumultuous time, and something tells me there might be worse to come. But hasn’t it always been this way? Hasn’t humanity always been in a battle with itself against its own worst impulses? Haven’t people always had to suffer and sweat and even die to conquer hate and oppression? Is it so bad to be in this fight, especially when you know you’re on the right side of it? I happened on a quote from Franklin Roosevelt yesterday: “Calm seas never made a skilled sailor.” In my best moments over the past couple of years, I haven’t cursed my bad luck at having to live through this shitstorm. I’ve seen the light through the darkness, and to me the light is as simple as this: Just show up. Speak up. And don’t give up.

The President’s Guide to Being a Man

If you’re paying attention, the President is providing an object lesson in how to be a fine, upstanding, honorable man. Just watch what he does, and do the exact opposite. Call them Trump Tips for Men:

  • Stay informed and be hungry for knowledge.
  • Work hard.
  • Think before you speak. Maybe don’t speak at all.
  • Let your reputation take care of itself.
  • Remember, you get what you give. Bullying and force will come back to bite you.
  • Be mindful about your diet and get regular exercise.
  • Watch very little TV. Never watch Fox News.
  • Value women for more than their ladyparts.
  • Pay your vendors in full, and on time.
  • Make sure people can rely on your word.
  • Cosmetics make you look like a fool.
  • Airing your grievances makes you sound like a fool.
  • Keep business and family separate.
  • If you plan on being successful, learn the difference between a reporter and a PR person.
  • Minimize your time on social media.
  • Never take on any role (father, boss, partner) unless you intend to totally fulfill its obligations.
  • The more bling, the less class.
  • Neither your adoring crowds nor your dick are as big as you wish they were. Deal with it.
  • Don’t be a racist.
  • Money isn’t everything.

 

Al Qaeda Job Application

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U.S. intelligence officials on Wednesday released a trove of documents recovered during the 2011 raid on Usama bin Laden’s compound — offering a rare window into the operations of Al Qaeda and bin Laden’s involvement in leading the network from his Pakistan hideaway. 

The documents include dozens of letters, some from bin Laden himself, as well as accounting information and even what appears to be an application form for prospective Al Qaeda members. That form, which asks a series of detailed questions, includes the line: “Who should we contact in case you became a martyr?” 

 

Why do you hate America? Please limit your answer to 20,000 words.

 

How did you learn about Al Qaeda?
Check one:  Newspaper / Radio / Internet / Lying Propaganda from the Decadent Filthy Dogs of the West

 

Do you have any special skills?
Check all that apply:  Angry Invective / Strapping a Bomb to Myself

 

Please list your desired number of virgins in the Afterlife.

 

Why did you leave your last terrorist organization? (Mark all that apply).
Better opportunity elsewhere / Jihad fatigue / Beheaded my supervisor

 

May we contact your previous cell?

 

Are you allergic to any of the following? (Mark all that apply).
Anthrax / Botulinum / Cyanide / Sand

 

Are you legally allowed to work in this country? (We’re kidding).

 

Are you willing to work the graveyard shift? (We’re not kidding).

 

How Not to Write a PR Statement

Chris Christie

By now you’re heard about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his “Bridge-gate” scandal. It broke yesterday morning when New Jersey and New York news outlets released emails that indicated Christie’s closest aides orchestrated four days of traffic jams in Ft. Lee, as retribution for that town’s Democratic mayor declining to endorse Christie’s bid for reelection. When the story broke yesterday, Christie canceled a public appearance. Eight hours later, his office released this statement:

“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”

Somebody needs to be fired: the person or persons who assembled (“wrote” is too generous) that statement. Hard to believe it actually took eight hours to create it. In fact if you picked out one of every two citizens of New Jersey at random, put a gun to their head, and said “Talk!” this is probably what would come out… blustery accusation that sounds like toughness but actually blames somebody, anybody else and takes no accountability.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable.” Now there’s a sentence. It casts away everything — context, explanation, setup — in a mad dash to get to the key point that Christie never saw the emails and knew nothing about them. And the mad dash ends in a Splat! ending on the lame, pseudo-censorious word “unacceptable.”

The next sentence is even worse. Grammatically, it breaks down like this:

“I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that A) not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but B) this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.”

In other words, “I am [adjective] to learn that this [adjective] conduct was made without my knowledge.” How do you learn that something was done without your knowledge? The Governor is using his second sentence to repeat, in pretzel-like doubled-up fashion, that he had no knowledge of the thing he said in his first sentence he had no knowledge about. That, my friend, is a whole lot of no knowledge.

Oh, and he was “misled by a member of my staff.” Finally, we get to somebody specific to blame. Well, not specific, but you know. Heading in the direction of specificity.

And more adjectives: this completely “inappropriate” and “unsanctioned” conduct. “Inappropriate” is almost as pseudo-censorious as “unacceptable,” and of course you know what “unsanctioned” means… it means he had no knowledge about it.

“One thing is clear.” Well, thank goodness for that. Because nothing has been clear so far, at least in this sorry excuse for a paragraph. What is this one thing that’s so clear?

“This type of behavior is unacceptable.”

Whoa. Think you already said that. Unacceptable, right.

“…and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better.” Okay, well that’s two things that are clear, but who’s counting?

Again, let’s break it down. This is the only reason you won’t tolerate this kind of behavior? The reason you object to snarling up traffic for days at one of the only exits from the island of Manhattan to settle a petty political score is that people in one state (you screwed over New Yorkers, too, but let it pass) “deserve better”? Your staff caused thousands of people to be inconvenienced or worse for days. This is “behavior”?

Okay, well, let’s move on, because as a communications professional, as a former resident of New Jersey, as a human being… I’m losing patience with you.

“This behavior [again with the behavior] is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”

Now we get to the real problem for the first time: the fact that the worst part of this scandal is that it seems wholly representative of the Governor and his administration. It’s what Hemingway called the objective correlative, the specific detail that suggests the entire big picture. That’s what is so damaging about this story — it gets right at the thing people don’t like about Christie (they think he’s a bully), and makes it clear and relatable.

And finally, “people will be held responsible for their actions.” This is a cop-out in three ways at once: the use of the passive voice (who is the actor in this sentence? who will be holding these people responsible? nobody, it seems) — the use of the vague “people” — and the fact that this accountability will happen in some distant future. This triple backing away from actual responsibility gives the lie to all the other attempts to make Christie sound like a decisive leader. There is no leader present in this statement; there is only an injured and frightened ego.

“People will be held responsible for their actions.” Does the Governor still not know who is responsible? He had eight hours in which to ask some very direct questions, eight hours in which to get some answers, eight hours in which to fire these unnamed and apparently unknowable people… assuming the entire eight hours wasn’t spent crafting this pathetic, inadequate paragraph.

Torture and Transparency

It doesn’t matter that torture doesn’t provide accurate, actionable intelligence. It doesn’t even matter that it’s illegal, and a war crime. Torture is a moral abomination. A strong, clear light needs to be shone on what U.S. officials did, and those responsible need to be held accountable. President Obama’s desire to “turn the page” is essentially a failure to deal with a cancer that’s eating away at what this country is supposed to stand for.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/03/obamas-transparency-test.html

Stand Your Ground

Stand-Your-Ground-Law

Anything you do is, by its very nature, justified. Stand your ground.

Other people are very scary. Especially if they look, talk, or act differently than you and your people. Stand your ground.

Don’t explore complexity. Don’t let it confuse you. That confused feeling is very uncomfortable. Stand your ground.

Make judgements right away, before you have all the information. It’s so much easier that way. Stand your ground.

Assume authority, even if nobody put you in charge and you did nothing to earn the right to be boss. Stand your ground.

Anything other than being a bully means you’re a weakling, a pushover, a pussy. Stand your ground.

The world is a terrifying place, and you know deep down you have no personal power. Anger is a good substitute. Stand your ground.

A gun is something you need, and something you have an inalienable right to — not just another product a powerful manufacturers’ lobby wants to sell you. Without it you’re defenseless. Stand your ground.

Refuse to believe that your thoughts and actions create your reality right in front of you. Other people need to take responsibility, not you. You’re not the one causing all the problems… it’s all those other people. You’re just reacting to them. Stand your ground.

Be right at all costs. Because it feels so good to be right. Even if somebody else has to die. Stand your ground.

Hitch

Christopher-Hitchens-007

One thing I won’t say about Christopher Hitchens: RIP.

To a man as combative as he was, that would amount to a curse. Wherever he is now, he isn’t resting. And he wouldn’t want to be.

It’s all a guess where we go after this; he’d have said (in fact he did say, quite often) nowhere. I saw him make this point in person a couple of years ago, thanks to my friend Derek, who took me to see him at the University of Central Florida, debating the existence of God with Dinesh D’Souza. If there’s a more absurd topic to be debating, I can’t imagine it, but that ultimately didn’t matter. This was a show, and it was like watching a phlegmatic old bulldog facing down a yipping little terrier… the bone they were fighting over was much less interesting than the clash of style and personality.

Arriving at the stadium that night, I noticed a large number of buses in the parking lot. They were from local megachurches — the faithful had come, it seemed, to provide a cheering section for D’Souza. Or for God, I suppose in case He happened to be behind at half time. They filled the stands, row after row of earnest white people in sweaters, and at first I was a little nervous for Hitch.

I needn’t have been. The evangelicals were polite to him — they cheered and applauded whenever D’Souza made a point, but they listened to Hitchens thoughtfully and without making rude sounds. For my own part, I disagreed with everything Hitchens was saying, probably as strongly as they did. I’m no atheist. But this wasn’t a man you would dream of heckling. He didn’t mind standing in front of hundreds of people and calmly asserting they were full of shit. In fact, he obviously relished it. Hitchens had an intellect as sharp as a rapier, but he wielded it like a baseball bat.

Dogmatic, arrogant, intolerant, opinionated, often plain wrong and insistent about it. And yet, it was impossible to hate him, or even dislike him. You had to respect his intelligence and his eloquence, but it wasn’t just respect he inspired. He was lovable. He wore his vices beautifully, for one thing: he was an unapologetic smoker, drinker, and  hellraiser. His opinions, even the most provocative ones, were rooted in principles: honesty, freedom, fairness, honor. He may not have been at peace with the world, particularly its fools and scoundrels, but he was at peace with himself. He had a sense of humor, and it was large, inclusive and self aware. He suffered, as we all do, but he never used his suffering for the purpose of self aggrandizement. Instead it made him more reflective, more vulnerable, more human.

He faced his own death bravely and unflinchingly, without flourishes or drama. Some speculated he might experience a deathbed conversion from atheism, a suggestion he waved away with practiced loftiness. He was deeply rooted in this world, in his own time and in the present moment. He was awake; he was, more than anything, alive. His disbelief in God as much of the world conceptualizes Him was really beside the point. To me personally, god is an energy, a force, a power. And Christopher Hitchens embodied it.

An Open Letter to Herman Cain

Dear Mr. Cain:

Congratulations on your spectacular rise to the top of the current Republican presidential field this past week!

I understand that when reporters suggested you’re the Flavor of the Month, you replied that they should call you “Haagen Dazs Black Walnut.”

And that you added this was because “it tastes good all the time.”

As a marketing communications professional, may I offer you some advice? Full disclosure: I am a member of the other Party. But still, I promise you’ll find it pretty solid.

First, you should refrain from comparisons of yourself to any sort of nut, or nut-based item. All things considered this is just basic common sense.

Also: everyone knows you’re black. No need to keep mentioning it. Point taken, sir.

In fact, generally speaking I’d avoid mixing up racial and food metaphors—it’s a slippery slope. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself saying you’re Deep Carob Crunch whereas Obama is Vanilla-Chocolate swirl, or something. And it won’t end well.

In fact, with your background in pizza chain restaurants, you should stay away from food metaphors altogether. Again, you don’t want to get into any kind of “anchovies on the side, hold the pepperoni” kind of thing.

In this same vein, any references to how you taste, no matter how delicious, are just not Presidential.

I understand that reporters are going to try to lead you there. They’re looking for a headline. “Sweet Cain Likes His Sugar on a Stick.” “Poor Get No Piece of the Pie, Says Cain.” “Put a Fork in Him—He’s Done.” That sort of thing. They have no shame. But that doesn’t mean you have to enable them.

Probably you’re wondering, what should I have said when they asked me if I was Flavor of the Month? Well, something like this:

“No indeed. I am a serious contender for the Republican nomination, and I believe voters are ready for some really simple solutions to complex issues.”

Try this new, non food-based approach to answering press questions, and see how it works for you.

Warm regards,

Eddie Selover

Donald Trump, Mon Semblable, Mon Frere

thedonald

Like many of us, I’ve spent too much time lately thinking about Donald Trump. Which is to say, I’ve been thinking about him.

Back when I worked in Manhattan, it was easy enough to ignore him. You just stop looking at the billboards. You avoid his buildings — the giant letter “T” inlaid in the sidewalk is your tipoff. And for the past few years, I could always hit the mute button or fast forward through any commercials that showed him glowering and firing people.

But for the past week or so, the news media has been All Trump All the Time. They shake him in front of me like a squeaky orange chew toy, and I’ve been barking and lunging on cue.

I like to think I’m smarter than a dog, so as of now I’m taking back my power.

In metaphysics, it’s a core principle that when you resist something, when you feel passionate dislike for something or someone, you need to look at it more closely… because it’s some part of you that you’re resisting and hating. You need to identify that rejected part of you, and bring some love to it.

So the first metaphysical step is to ask myself, how am I like Donald Trump?

Is there some part of me that’s a fat, ill-spoken, spray-tanned blowhard with a bad comb-over, cynically appealing to people’s ignorance, fear and racism simply in order to get some attention?

Naturally, the first answer that comes to mind is: No, I don’t think so. I’m a slim, articulate, soft spoken man who wants to share a spiritual perspective and uplift people. That’s a given, right?

Ah, but let’s look deeper.

Trump’s pathetic and transparent attempts to improve his appearance? Well, they show how insecure he is about his looks, that he’s getting older and he’s fighting it. I can relate to that, actually.

The pompousness and the inability to shut the fuck up, long after people have tired of hearing the same old self-aggrandizing bullshit? Um, okay, guilty. Sometimes.

The insatiable need for attention and approval, even to the point of becoming negative in order to get it?

*sigh*

But what about the the disrespect of the President? What about the racism? What about the spreading of lies and the damage to our national discourse?

Well, what about it? There are appeals to the worst of human nature all around us. We’re being sold our own damnation everywhere we look. Nobody is forcing us to buy…. but buy we do. The people selling it just want our money, which in metaphysical terms means they want our energy and our power.

Maybe what’s at the bottom of our obsession with this guy is that there’s a little bit of him in all of us. If you stuck a bunch of microphones in our faces, maybe we’d all say we’re proud of ourselves even if we’d just been total jackasses. Maybe we’d all take out billboards with our faces on them, if we could afford it.

So, Mr. Trump — may I call you Donald? — I’m going to start giving you my real attention and power. I’m going to see myself in you: the scared little boy who wants to be noticed, who needs some approval, who will sometimes do unskillful things to get it.

I’m going to bring some compassion to you. I’m going to love you.

But, you know… with one hand on the mute button.

Season of Glass

gun

“A lot of us are looking for fathers. Mine was physically not there; most people’s are not there mentally and physically, always at the office or busy with other things. So all these leaders are substitute fathers, whether they be religious or political. All this bit about electing a President. We pick our daddy out of a dog pound of daddies. This is the daddy that looks like the daddy in the commercials. He’s got the nice gray hair and the right teeth and the parting’s on the right side. This is the daddy we choose. The political arena gives us a President, then we put him on a platform and start punishing him and screaming at him because Daddy can’t do miracles. Daddy doesn’t heal us.”

These words, as timely today as they were 30 years ago, are John Lennon’s. They’re from an interview he gave to Playboy in November of 1980. I grabbed it off the stands on December 8 and took it to work to read. I could read a 20,000-word Playboy interview at work because I was the 22-year-old night stockman at a department store, with no duties except being on call to carry TV sets out to people’s cars. Other than that I sat in the basement, usually drinking beer and finding other highly antisocial ways to amuse myself. Like reading Playboy.

The interview was Lennon’s first major statement in many years. He had just emerged from five years of hibernation—five years in which rock and roll had never been worse. The mellow singer-songwriter vibe of the early 70s had turned slick and hollow; disco had come along and provided the death knell. There were signs of hope on the edges thanks to Elvis Costello, The Clash, The Police, and a few others, but what many of us were waiting for was Lennon to come back and lead the way.

He had other ideas. Double Fantasy, the new album, was actually a showcase for Yoko. The B-52s song Rock Lobster was a big hit around that time, and Lennon thought it was a ripoff of Yoko’s style: wild guitars mixed with warbled screaming. He thought her time had come. Like many other powerful men throughout history, he wanted his wife to be his equal on the public stage, whether the public wanted her there or not. Yoko was part of the interview too… I read past her parts impatiently. What did Lennon have to say, that’s what mattered. I was about halfway through reading it when the phone rang.

“Lennon’s been shot,” said my friend Gary.

What? No he hasn’t. He’s right here, talking to me. I ran upstairs to the electronics department. In the TV section, a wall of sets, maybe 100 or more screens, all tuned to Monday Night Football. I arrived just in time to see hundreds of Howard Cosells in their blue blazers and toupees, all solemnly intoning that Former. Beatle. John. Lennon. Had. Just….

I made my way home, somehow. Talked to Gary again, briefly. His voice was hollow. Turned on the radio. The late night deejays were as messed up as I was. They played every one of his songs, and the best were the really obscure ones. Angela. New York City. Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out. I sat staring at the poster from Imagine. It showed John at his white grand piano in his white room in Tittenhurst Park, his big white mansion in England. This poster was the only decoration in my all-white room. Needless to say, I’d gotten into John lately. So I sat and listened through the night, crying my bitter and uncomprehending tears. The world was crying with me, but that was very little comfort.

The next weeks brought the usual celebrity death orgy, with wall to wall coverage and endless footage and canned, lifeless tributes. The song Imagine, once a pleasant little wisp of cotton candy idealism, became a dirge, and unlistenable. Meanwhile, nobody talked about guns… how ridiculously easy it is to get them in this country, even if you’re a schizophrenic and off your medications. No, no, no talk about anything real, or what we can do in a practical way to make the world a saner and safer place. Gun control? No, just dirges and crocodile tears.

After a couple of days, I remembered something Lennon had said in the interview.

“It’s better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out. I don’t appreciate worship of dead Sid Vicious or dead James Dean or dead John Wayne. What do they teach you? Nothing. Death. I worship the people who survive. Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? I mean, it’s garbage, you know. No, thank you. I’ll take the living and the healthy.”

So I took down the poster and folded it back up. Stopped listening to Lennon. Tried to move on, although there was still an aching hole in my heart, and an overwhelming sense of loss. Not for a man, exactly, but for the whole beautiful dream of the 60s, which I had just missed and which I suppose I’d been hoping would flower again in my twenties. This despite the recent election of cowboy actor Ronald Reagan, a daddy figure many people found very appealing and who fired a few bullseyes straight into any notion of idealism. My generation, to put it mildly, would not be so fortunate.

A few months later, Yoko put out an album called Season of Glass. It had a photo on the cover taken inside the Dakota, looking out over Central Park. John’s blood-splattered glasses sat on a table in front of the window. She wanted to show the violent, sickening reality of how he died and many people recoiled, as usual, from her directness. But as it turned out, the album was a blistering, heartbreaking, all-stops-out tour of the grieving process. By turns tough and achingly vulnerable, always revelatory, often gorgeous.

Fearlessly opening up her heart, she was everything Lennon always said she was. An earth mother. A goddess. A major artist. And she did what all great artists do: she made an intimate connection with me that healed my wounds and made me stronger somehow. Daddy doesn’t heal us… but it seems sometimes Mother can.

Season of Glass is as great as any Beatles album, maybe greater, but the world, busy merchandising its worship of dead John Lennon, didn’t even notice. Thirty years on, nothing has changed. I cringe in anticipation of the anniversary tributes coming this week. Imagine will be played on a loop; gun control won’t even be mentioned. I’ll be avoiding the whole thing as much as possible.

I worship the people who survive. I’ll take the living and the healthy.

Happy Xmas, Yoko.