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.

At the Rally to Restore Sanity

Went to DC last weekend for the Rally to Restore Sanity. We knew it would be a big crowd, so rather than taking the Metro, Miranda, Ryan and I walked the two and a half miles from her townhouse down Pennsylvania Ave. to the Mall. It was Saturday October 30, a perfect Fall day with a cool morning breeze that sent a few early leaves scattering around us. We had arranged to meet Phil and Nancy at the Sculpture Garden, and then the plan was to find Steve and Mark, who were already close to the stage. But by the time we got to the Rally itself, we found it impossible to meet up with anyone: there was no cell reception. Two hundred thousand other people were on their devices too, and the grid went down.

As we looked around for a spot to watch from, the crowd continued to grow more dense. At first, many people had staked out little bits of territory with comforters and lawn chairs. Gradually these disappeared as we were all pushed inexorably closer and closer together. Picnic blankets were trampled upon. Lawn chairs were pulled tight. People who had been sitting were forced to stand. By the time the Rally started, we were so wedged in that you literally could not clap unless you raised your hands in the air above you. Fortunately it was the most mellow, good humored group you can imagine. Liberals, of course. We don’t even get mad when you trample our blankets.

At one point, an elderly lady collapsed near us and people began shouting “Medic!” Ryan, who is a nurse, took off immediately toward her. The unmovable crowd miraculously parted for him. She was fine, as it turned out. But you could feel everyone’s jittery collective physical discomfort at being so jammed in. I’ve never been anxious in a crowd before. Thanks to yoga and meditation I knew enough to breathe every time I felt resistance arising. But I couldn’t really see anything. Tiny bits of stage and edges of jumbotrons. Signs on sticks above heads. Mylar balloons. Tops of heads. So I mostly listened. As it turned out, that was fine.

The people behind The Daily Show are pretty clever. Just as the show is a parody that skewers the pompous cliches of TV news programs, the Rally was a parody of a rally. There was a rambling, self contradictory benediction (from Father Guido Sarducci, an inspired choice). Lots of failed chants and goofy singalongs. Awards, tributes and guest speakers. Most of the jokes were good, and everything was geared to support the same message: that we all have to drop the conflict and the name calling if we want to solve our problems. Of course, there was a false equivalency drawn between the right and the left… one side is clearly more angry, divisive and hateful than the other, and I bet you know which side I mean. However, the overall point was well taken: meet your opponent’s anger with some humor, and let’s all see if we can bring it down a notch.

The day before, Phil had been kind enough to invite me to join him and Nancy on a tour of the Capitol he’d arranged through some former Poli Sci students of his from his classes at UCLA and Pepperdine. It was sweet and kind of moving to watch these two smart, accomplished, powerful people wandering like wide-eyed kids, absorbing these fascinating little details and the huge historic backdrop to it all. We started out in one of the Senate office buildings, where we got a behind-the-scenes look at the ornate offices and venerable hearing rooms — including the room that held the hearings on the Titanic, Army/McCarthy, organized crime, Watergate, and Iran/Contra… hearings I’d actually watched live (only the last two, thankyouverymuch).

We went to the “crypt” in the bottom of the Capitol, where a marble compass in the floor marks the very center of the city and the point from which the four neighborhoods (NW, NE, SW, SE) all begin. We stood in the Rotunda, this awe-inspiring space with beautiful sunlight pouring down through the Dome’s arching windows… ringed with giant Trumbull paintings and marble statues of the most admirable figures of U.S. history (plus a bronze replica of Reagan somebody snuck in). We also sat in the House and Senate galleries, looking down into those little chambers where some of the noblest words in American history, and some of the stupidest, have been spoken. Just outside the gallery entrances, the tile is visibly worn down and discolored from two centuries of the people walking in to watch their representatives at work.

The highlight of this tour was a half hour we spent in the Budget Committee’s chamber with a gentleman named Chris who manages the office budget process. Chris came to DC as an intern during Watergate, intending to stay a summer or so… he’s been there for 36 years. Soft-spoken, friendly, and articulate. In response to Phil’s question he talked about the decline in civility and comity that he’s witnessed over the past three decades. In the past, congressmen used to debate heatedly and then go hang out after work — they were personal friends and could work together when they needed to. Now more and more, only ideologues get elected. He’s worried about the future and what will happen after he retires in a couple of years.

What he takes comfort from, he said, is the young people. And with good reason: they were awesome. They were everywhere, working as aides and pages and office assistants, all of them professional, bright, and idealistic. Together with the older people we saw, we got a clear picture of the Congress at work — and it’s far from the grotesque caricature offered by the cynical operatives who want to advance corporate power by making people give up on their government. It’s a lot of savvy people working very hard, people who understand the responsibility that comes with power, people who aren’t sitting home in their barcaloungers complaining, but are busy getting things done.

After the Rally and dinner, Phil and Nancy and I walked around the White House — luminous in the floodlights, and home at this particular fortunate moment to a calm, wise and potentially great man. Then we went next door to the Round Robin bar in the Willard hotel. The bar is right off the lobby and is said to be the place where the term “lobbyist” was coined. It’s a tiny little round room ringed with sketches of its more illustrious patrons: Walt Whitman and Mark Twain among them. We had to stand at the bar until John Hodgman and his date vacated their table. So we sat and had martinis like a couple of grownups and toasted to DC and to our little reunion. Until this weekend, I hadn’t seen Phil in 20 years… we’ve had some longstanding, difficult and extremely painful conflicts in our time. But we finally reached across the aisle, so to speak, and recognized the things that connect us are stronger than those that divide us. I hadn’t expected to, but I told him I loved him. He looked surprised; he said the same. Our old issues seemed very far away, like some debate between Hayne and Webster on the Senate floor in 1830… and I bet those dudes went out for drinks afterwards. After I put Phil and Nancy into a taxi I walked out into the clear, crisp Washington evening and thanked the stars over my head for letting me outlive my youth.

There’s going to be the usual ruckus these next few weeks as the gloriously ascendant tea partiers come crowing and clucking into power. The wheel turns, and always some new bunch of people think they’re going to take charge and change everything. But real change takes time, and perseverance, and a willingness to accept and work with other people rather than shutting them out. You have to let go of your grievances, and your need to be right. Compromise has somehow become synonymous with failure, but it’s what our whole beautiful system is built on. And compromise starts with seeing past your own narrow point of view. It’s not the other guy who needs to change, it’s you. If you really want to restore sanity, a rally isn’t going to do it. You have to start with your own.

I Have Sold Your Facebook Data

I suppose you’ll call this a confession. But that would imply some kind of remorse, and I have to say, I feel pretty good. Probably the money helps.

No, it’s because we’re friends — Facebook friends, and you’ll agree with me that’s a pretty elastic term — that I feel I owe you full disclosure. So here goes: I have sold your personal data to a variety of extremely interested and apparently deep-pocketed marketing firms.

Look, it’s a trend. And all my life, I’ve gotten into these things too late. The dot-com frenzy, remember that? I invested in my first startup in late 2001. Cautious, I guess. Well not this time. There are lots of people out there who want to know about you, my Facebook friends. How many Twilight books you’ve read, or about the interesting fact that you’re Jewish but also a Tea Partier, or that you recently joined a drum circle. And let’s just be honest. If I don’t tell them, someone else is going to do it and cash in bigtime.

Some of you are much younger than me. I see that you have over a thousand friends, and it makes me shake my head. Here’s one thing I’ve learned: in this life, you’re lucky if you can count the people who really love you on one hand. There might be a few dozen others who find you quirky, or pleasant company, or whatever. Then there’s your family and your in-laws, who are such an important part of your life, whether you like it or not.

These are the people who are really valuable, who really mean something. Why? Because you know so much more about them. What they like to eat, and read, and watch. Where they like to go out for drinks, or take vacations. Who they hang out with, do business with, vote for. Maybe even who they sleep with. These people are a goldmine… literally.

But of course now thanks to Facebook, everyone has a value. Some less than others, of course. I’m finding that there isn’t so much demand for the personal information of my better-known friends, like Apolo Ohno and the Dalai Lama. Tapped out, I guess. But you, Cute High School Girl Who Wouldn’t Give Me the Time of Day 30 Years Ago, But Now Wants to Flirt Online… bring it on, baby. Because I see you like to collect Hummels and you’re knitting another sweater. And I find that means a lot to me.

But Eddie, what about my privacy, you’re probably thinking. Well, snap out of it, because there’s no such thing anymore. Computers are recording every transaction you make and every online conversation you have, the phone company is recording your every call and text, cameras are recording every move you make outside your house. Take comfort in the fact that amid all those huge reams of data, you’re actually kind of anonymous unless you do something unusual or interesting. And again, addressing my younger friends, you’ll find yourself doing fewer and fewer of those as time goes by anyway.

One last thing. I guess it’s only fair that you should be able to market my information too. I’ve adjusted my “privacy settings” accordingly, but if you want a quick summary, I’m in my early 50s, have a college degree, purchase top-shelf liquor, collect classic movies on DVD and donate to film preservation, enjoy yoga and meditation, have recently gotten into gardening — and after a few slow years, my personal income is rising again. But then you already knew that last part.

Tough Decisions

So Bush and Cheney are making their farewell tour, and the phrase the White House Communications Office has come up with for them is that the President has had to make “tough decisions.”

The idea is that, while you might not actually like him, or anything he’s done, the President’s record low popularity is… well, it shows what a pussy you are, because you don’t have his kind of guts—not caring about popularity because he’s so “tough.” This little meme is being dutifully parroted by cabinet members, local GOP officials, the right-wing noise machine, Fox “News” and other apologists for this train wreck of an administration.

Here’s the thing. I’ve made some “tough decisions” in my life.

Some were tough because I really didn’t know what the right thing to do was, and I had some intense arguments, with myself and others. Maybe I even made some of these decisions without actually being 100% sure I was right.

Others were tough because, although I knew they were good decisions, they forced me outside my personal comfort zone. I had to change my way of thinking, or my behavior. I had to confront someone and put our relationship at risk. I had to embrace some personal growth, which is always painful in the short term.

And some were tough because I plainly and simply did not want to make them. I had to suck it up and do things I didn’t want to. I chose the lesser of two evils.

Well, I have followed the Bush administration pretty closely for these past eight years, and I have never seen the slightest evidence of the President or Vice President making those sorts of decisions. Intense internal debate? Personal growth and change? Doing things you’d rather not?

No, their decisions have consistently been to do exactly what they want to, the way they want to, and to treat anyone with a contrary viewpoint as a mortal enemy to be mocked, vilified, steamrollered, or destroyed.

Using 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq? Cherry-picking intelligence to bolster a spurious case for war? Going into Iraq with inadequate preparation? Imprisoning people without charge or trial, torturing them, and then using every legalistic trick in the book to escape war-crimes prosecution? Spying on virtually anyone without a warrant? Lowering taxes in order to de-fund the federal government? Deregulating the financial industry? Waging war on every type of environmental and consumer protection? Honeycombing government agencies with incompetents chosen solely on the basis of their right-wing Christianist beliefs? Sitting still while New Orleans drowned, because after all, it was just a bunch of shiftless poor people?

These seem to have been very easy decisions for these guys to make. In fact, they simply did everything Republicans have promised or threatened to do for the past 50 years.

“Tough decisions”? Only in one sense: if you don’t like any of their decisions… well, that’s just tough.