Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Pet Friendly Florida

Florida is the most inclusive state in the nation. The Sunshine State welcomes not just people from all over, but also species that you’ve only encountered in nightmares, like termites, bats, snakes, and reptiles. If you want to live here, you need to know what you are getting into, though I have proof that the people of Florida are friendly to all these animals and insects. Take termites for example. After I signed the contract with the University of Miami, they broke the news to me: EVERYBODY has termites in South Florida. We promptly hired a reputable pest control company whose employees wore very nice uniforms and whose schedule was totally unpredictable. So friendly was this company to termites that for several years they totally ignored the fact that they had eaten 5 feet of fascia over our garage.
Needless to say, up until that day I had no idea what fascia was, in any language. As I was trying to explain the situation over the phone to the pest control company, they kept throwing at me words like sheathing, soffit, rafters, truss, underlayment, fascia and dormer which made me feel like an idiot. Several google trips later, I was able to confirm that it was the FASCIA that had been eaten. Do people learn these words in school? Do they take roofing 101 in Florida? Do they learn about termites in kindergarten?
When I confronted the neatly uniformed, bilingual, pest control general, he said that termites don’t do that kind of damage. They were still covering up for the insects. At that point I called two more pest control companies, and Manolo, my friend the builder. No question about it, unanimous judgment: termites. 
To make sure that no opportunity goes wasted, we decided to fire the pest control company and go instead with a “green” provider. The latter explained to us that it’s all organic and environmentally friendly. So friendly was their treatment of pests that for several months we saw an increase in the number of roaches munching on our fruit overnight. When I politely asked our green supplier if roaches can get used to their treatment, he said that they change the product every time to prevent inoculation. Oh, I got it. January was vanilla, February was citrus, and March was honeysuckle flavor. Our roaches couldn’t be happier.
In an effort to be supportive, Ora, my wife, had suggested that perhaps it was rodents and not cockroaches that had been eating our fruit. Our cleaning lady concurred, motivating me to sell the house and move to Alberta, which has been rodent-free for 50 years. I did do my homework.  
I consulted again with our green pest control guy, who said there was a definitive way to determine the culprit: Poop. Cockroach poop has a vertical edge; rat poop ends diagonally. He went on and on about sphincter anatomy in rodents and insects and the evolutionary causes of their differences.
Just when I thought that I knew way too much about insects in Florida, I had to take a magnifying glass to examine their fecal matter. I wanted to prove to Ora and our cleaning lady that there were no rodents in my house.

Sure enough, the poop, which was all over our fruit plate, had a distinct vertical edge, which proved beyond reasonable doubt that we had plenty of roaches. As if that wasn’t strong enough evidence, I picked up a grapefruit from the plate and out came crawling, from a hole the size of an igloo, a giant cockroach.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Looks, Smarts, Money

There are two main threats to interpersonal well-being: insecurities, and INSECURITIES. People have a hard time getting along with others because they fear that at some point they will be wrong, and God forbid, they may have to apologize. People hate to be wrong, but hate to apologize even more. As a social scientist intrigued by these phenomena, I developed a mathematical formula according to which the “need to be right about everything all the time and never apologize” is inversely related to looks, smarts, or money.          

     The more insecure you feel about your looks, intelligence, or pocket book, the more you feel you have to be right about everything else in life. This is called a compensatory model. You compensate for your foolishness by feeling that you are right about everything.

     Sometimes the need to be right about everything all the time is conflated with smarts. Take universities for example, where most professors think they are brilliant. In that case, our subjects compensate for being obstinate and underpaid by coming across as smarter than they really are, which only reinforces the need to be right about everything all the time, which makes universities as much fun as the inquisition.

     Sometimes, looks and money are not enough to conquer insecurities. People work hard to come across as smart. A wealthy acquaintance, with the intellectual curiosity of an ant, was spotted lounging next to a swimming pool pretending to read From Nietzsche to Foucault. Either pretentiousness got the best of her, or she thought Nietzsche and Foucault were the latest European shoes. But I shouldn’t be saying these things. It probably means that I have no money, or don’t look great, both of which are right, and for neither of which I’m going to apologize because I’m a university professor.

     Another acquaintance, big on money, has a very bad case of need to be right about everything all the time and never apologize, including things he has absolutely no idea about. But if might makes right, money makes wise. Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof got it right: “When you're rich, they think you really know!” Worse than that, when you’re rich, you think you know.
 “If I were a Rich Man” is the most evocative and artistic expression of my mathematical formula. “If I were a Rich Man……I’d see my wife…looking like a rich man’s wife…..supervising meals to her heart’s delight…..screaming at the servants, day and night.”

     Primal insecurities get in the way of enjoying vulnerability and the liberating ability to say “I’m sorry” or “I don’t know.” We fear that if we admit ignorance or mistakes something terrible will happen. 

    Sometimes I feel that if I make a mistake I will be fired, Anti-Semitism will rise, Jews will be deported to Iran, UPS will change the color of its fleet, and the pharmacy will run out of Senocot.  

    Beset by the need to be right all the time, and the obsession with money, looks, and smarts, humanity has two options: Elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- who is now available -- to replace       Barack Obama, or move to Miami, which leads me to a local corollary of my main thesis: Cognitive function in Miami is inversely related to the number of plastic surgeries, which says nothing about money, because in Miami Medicare pays for everything, including colonoscopies for dead people in Havana. 

     It is really too bad that we spend so much time compensating for our insecurities that we miss the entire point of relationships, which is to have someone who can love you despite your big ears, someone who can put up with your terrible real estate decisions, and someone who lets you think you are funny. What really matters in life is not how we look on the outside, but what happens on the inside, like your digestive system. If more people could talk about their bowel movements without feeling defensive, or self-conscious, we could reverse the divorce trend and bring peace to the Middle East. 

     To conclude, what I really want to say about relationships is this: stay away from university professors.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Vegan Manifesto

As if big ears, a girly voice, and a funny accent weren’t enough to make me self-conscious, a few years ago I became vegan. Due to Judeo-generational fears of ostracism and expulsion, I used to be a closeted vegan; but after learning from a student about self-compassion, I’ve decided to come out and share with the world that I’m weird and proud of it. Part of my emancipation involved notifying people who invite me for dinner that I’m vegan. I figured it would be good for my assertiveness training and it would prevent awkward moments.  

With all the talk about health, diversity and what not, most hosts pretend to be sympathetic to my uniqueness, to the point of feigning some real interest in my lifestyle, often treating me like an anthropological artifact. Some will go out of their way to demonstrate their sensitivity to my culinary diversity, even if they secretly think I’m nuts. Hosts approach me to let me know that the chef has been informed I’m vegan, and the chef will often come out in person to reassure me that everything is ok.

With so much anticipation, I cannot help but salivate when I see the waiter marching towards me, only to discover he just served me whatever they give carnivores minus the meat. In most cases the leftovers happen to be white pasta or white rice, both of which spell constipation. It is bad enough they don’t give me vegetables, but they don’t give me enough food, period.

Is there a reason vegans should eat only one third of what carnivores consume? Instead of replacing the main part of the dish with some other food, you get nothing, zilch. They get a full plate, you get a third; which is usually the portion that will send you to the nearest Walgreens for laxatives. I have gotten a third of a plate in private residences, resorts, conferences, hotels, weddings, bar mitzvahs, functions, airplanes, luncheons, and brises. I call this phenomenon the misinformed host.

Recently I went to a world famous resort for three days of meetings. The folks there went out of their way to make me feel welcome. The first day I was there the chef came out to inquire about my preferences. I gave him a very long list of things I can eat, including quinoa. For the next three days and nine meals he served me quinoa.

For all the well-intentioned but misinformed hosts, here it goes: Vegans like variety and volume (V = V + V). We don’t like to starve ourselves, even if we look skinny to you; and we like tasty food, not overcooked broccoli or carrots reminiscent of flaccid organs. We like vegetables (other than white potatoes), and whole grains (not just quinoa; but also amaranth, brown rice, and spelt) and nuts and seeds and fruits and legumes (green lentils, red lentils, black lentils, yellow lentils, chickpeas, red beans, black beans, white beans), and NO, we do not eat cheese, or fish, or chicken. As for the vegetable soup with chicken stock, that is not vegan either.

Let me make it simple. Vegans do not eat anything that comes from animals. If you are going to serve us something that at some point had a mom and a dad, keep it for the carnivores. And for those of us who are healthy vegans, note that we do not eat white flour or white pasta or white bread or white rice. And please do not drench the three pieces of lettuce you serve us with ranch dressing because it has MILK and vegans do not consume dairy products and dairy means milk-based, as in coming from cows. We like flax seed oil instead of ranch. And when you do make us a salad, make it colorful with red peppers and beets and radishes and spinach and kale and seeds and broccoli and hearts of palm and artichokes and sprouts and black olives and chickpeas.

When your host is misinformed, you act graciously, exchange familiar glances with your wife, go through the well-rehearsed internal lamentation (“there you go again”), but eventually you do go home to your delicious split pea soup. What do you do though when you find yourself in a city where there is NOTHING for you to eat, like Newport News, Virginia; or all there is to eat is the same darn thing in all restaurants, like Albuquerque, New Mexico, where other than guacamole and beans all you can get is blinding sun and the color turquoise? There are 78 Mexican restaurants in a four block radius which serve exactly the same thing. Did it ever occur to them that some people may get a little tired of beans and guacamole? Somebody stands to gain a fortune by opening there a restaurant called NOT MEXICAN. Do they really think that all visitors want to eat just MEXICAN? Even Nashville had more options.

I have nothing against Albuquerque, just the meal planners. I know I’m supposed to be culturally sensitive and appreciate the unique customs of the place, but what about my diversity? Am I to bring a jar of Gerber to New Mexico? With my luck, the TSA would confiscate it and print my picture in all major newspapers.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Bad Habits

If you want to improve your well-being, you’re going to have to raise your awareness about two things:

1.       Some of your despicable habits

2.       Some facts about health and wellness

Let’s start with the first one. You pick your nose while you drive and you think that nobody sees you. You eat with your mouth open. When somebody objects to your point of view you get flustered, crawl into a fetal position, and call your abuelita.

Most of us do annoying things automatically, and they don’t just annoy others -- they have terrible consequences for us as well. For example, at the end of a perfectly good and satisfying meal you ingest three bowls of ice cream with seventeen spoons of chocolate fudge. You walk into a movie cinema, as a zombie you buy the largest bucket of popcorn there is with extra butter and whipped cream. To flush it down you buy three of the largest available sodas and add a few packets of sugar just in case the whipped cream didn’t make the popcorn sweet enough. You eat it because it’s there, not because you are going to play Chris Christie in a movie.

If you’ve ever tried to talk someone into healthier eating habits, as has happened to me, your companion usually tells you right off the bat that there is no point in giving up meat. Why, you say naively, to which he replies that his great uncle had a cousin who had a friend who ate only iguanas and porcupines while he was wounded in Siberia in WWI, and lived to be 107.

Sometimes, it’s not just individual people who get defensive about eating habits, but entire cities. I recently was invited to give a keynote address at a conference in Sheffield, England. Everyone was exceedingly nice. I had a good feeling about this trip, until I tried to get a bite to eat. I admit that vegans like me can be a pain in the butt to accommodate. I grant you that, and more. But, you would imagine that an entire city would have some veggie friendly eateries. This is what the locals thought anyways.

After a long search, I finally stumbled upon an Italian restaurant which advertised pasta fagioli, a traditional Italian soup. Feeling extremely self-conscious I awkwardly asked if the soup was mainly pasta, or whether there were also beans. I know that fagioli means beans in Italian, but I’ve had traumatic experiences before where I was served only constipating white pasta, so I wanted to be sure. I was reassured. Beans are one of my favorite foods: protein, fiber, and iron, what could be better? I was going to have a green salad with pasta fagioli.

After I ate a horribly overpriced beet salad with one leaf of lettuce and one thin slice of beet, I was anxious to get to my pasta fagioli. I was willing to put up with some white pasta for the beans. My soup finally arrived in a gigantic bowl the size of Texas, only one tenth of which had soup. I started eating, eager to chew some beans. My fear increased the deeper I got into the soup. I was already three quarters into it and I had yet to encounter a single bean. I knew fagioli was the plural of fagiole, which meant that there had to be at least two in my soup. I kept eating until I found one, single, lonely bean at the bottom of the soup. I was willing to risk some white pasta for the reward of some beans, but not for just ONE. Metamucil here I come. 

When I shared this with my hosts -- not the whole bean experience, I was way too self-conscious for that, but that I could not find a veggie-friendly restaurant -- they were very defensive and told me in unison that there is a lovely café behind the cathedral, which opens between 10 am and 10 20 am, every other day, in spring, where sometimes they serve brown rice. Wow, thank you! I wish I had known that ahead of time so that I could plan my trip -- and bowl movements -- accordingly.



Monday, September 1, 2014

Unlock the Secret to Leadership and Managerial Excellence with MI-MA-MO

Amanda is brilliant, but doesn’t do squat. George produces but he is no genius. Beatrice blathers all day. That’s all you can think of when you meet with your employees. At this rate, instead of a raise you will get a demotion; and that is all you can think of, meeting after meeting. When you snap out of your trance, you realize that you’re not very productive yourself and that you may have to rely on some serious sucking up to keep your job.

                Life is hard as a LEADER. There is only so much sucking up you can do, especially when they keep changing SENIOR LEADERSHIP. But you know that they expect EXCELLENCE from you, so you have to produce. To produce, you need good people. To get good people, you need to screen them. To screen them, you need MI MA MO. I developed MI MA MO for people like you, who like to daydream when they should be working; for people like you, who are tired of sucking up; for people like you, who like to delegate instead of lifting a finger. If you are that kind of LEADER – and let’s face it, who isn’t? – try MI MA MO.

                After years of serious daydreaming, delegating, and fears of demotion, I’ve come to the conclusion that all of us, LEADERS, need better ways to hire for EXCELLENCE. Otherwise, our ass is on the line. We’ve all taken the Myers-Briggs, the engagement assessment, the EQ test, and the sexual perversions diagnostic, but none of them help hire for EXCELLENCE. This is why I developed the MI MA MO test. MI stands for mind work; MA stands for manual work, and MO for mouth work. Mind, Mouth, and Manual work. When you think about it, all you need to know about your employees is how well they perform on the various dimensions of MI MA MO.

                To illustrate what the various types do, let’s look at our own Miami. Examples of high level MA (manual work) include:

·         Take bribes

·         Take drugs

·         Push drugs

·         Insert silicon

·         Shoot guns

·         Shoot baskets

·         Build stadiums

These are all manual occupations that define South Florida. Not surprisingly, there are also some cases of MI (mind work):

·         Ponzi schemer

·         Medicare defrauder

We also have our share of MO (mouth work):

·         Politicians evading prosecution

·         Lawyers helping politicians

·         Anchorwomen reporting on politicians and their lawyers

·         Anchormen filling the air with nonsense and inane jokes

·         Reporters talking about the latest shooting

·         Silicon lips

                Mouth types tend to talk a lot. Mind types tend to think a lot, and manual types just do whatever the other two didn’t have time for because they were too busy talking or daydreaming. It’s a terrible thing when you need someone to DO STUFF and all they can do is TALK instead of PERFORMING FOR EXCELLENCE. Generally, you want people who are low on mouth work and high on mind work. Of course, if they are good on manual work, you want them to have at least an IQ of a 100 so they don’t screw up whatever it is they are doing. Needless to say, a high IQ does not hurt, unless it is accompanied by verbal diarrhea, which is often the case in law firms, universities, government, and the Chris Matthews show.

                All you really need to know to achieve the NEXT LEVEL is how to hire for the right mix of MI MA and MO. To discern the right amount of each ingredient, you need to take into account two criteria:

1.       Skills required to perform EXCELLENTLY

2.       Your tolerance for verbal diarrhea

To help you hire for EXCELLENCE and PERFORMANCE, I have developed an easy to remember, simple classification system. If you commit them to memory, you will never have to suck up again to your bosses. What’s more, they will start sucking up to you. To help you internalize the various occupational profiles, and help you achieve the NEXT LEVEL, I created a little chart.

Occupational Strength
MO (mouth work)
MI   (mind work)
MA  (manual work)


                My friends in the Math department tell me that this little chart can result in 27 unique occupational profiles. You can be a hi-mi me-mo lo-ma, like me; or a hi-mo hi-mi me-ma, like Chris Mathews. Not only can you classify your existing employees with this methodology, but you can hire for specific jobs. Let’s say you run a massage parlor in Miami, you want a hi-ma me-mi lo-mo masseur to avoid lawsuits. Let’s say you are looking for a bouncer, you definitely need a hi-ma lo-mi lo-mo.

                This approach can also fuel endless gossip by formulating a typology of celebrities, increasing your popularity in the firm. Is Kim Kardashian lo-mi hi-ma me-mo, or lo-mi lo-ma lo-mo? What about Maks Chmerkovskiy from Dancing with the Stars? We know he is hi-ma and hi-mo, but is he me-mi or lo-mi? If he goes out with J.Lo does that make him hi-mi, lo-mi or just lo-co?

                If you are working on a strategic plan, you can use the MI MA MO approach to identify strengths and weaknesses in the organization. Let’s say you LEAD a news organization. You need reporters that will be well aligned with emerging technologies. Look at John King from CNN as an example. He is hi-ma hi-mi hi-mo and if you don’t believe me, just watch him gesticulate in front of the 98 inch interactive monitor on election night. Wolf Blitzer, in turn, is hi-mo lo-ma hi-mi. With this approach, cable networks can hire reporters based on the size of their interactive electoral map: The bigger the touchscreen the greatest the need for hi-ma reporters.

                Say you need to hire consultants, who tend to be hi-mo me-mi lo-ma. They talk forever, think they are the smartest, and do very little. Next time you interview one of them you can start by asking them not who they have consulted with, but rather what they have DONE, like, actually running something. Real stuff, you know, and if you disagree with me you can start your own twitter account @memihimoloma and use #myhimo.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gluteus Maximus

Published in Miami Today August 20, 2014
It’s hard to be me. My exercise and eating habits are a constant source of aggravation. I go to the gym every day and I eat well, but instead of feeling good about myself I feel miserable.

Every day my sexy 122 lbs. of muscle go through the humiliation of being the skinniest athlete in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, I’m healthy, but I have yet to encounter a woman in the gym who would ask me about my biceps, serratus magnus or pectoralis major, let alone my gluteus maximus. I keep telling myself that I’m beautiful and strong on the inside, but women at the gym prefer a big gluteus maximus.  

Not only do I worry about myself in the gym, I worry about athletes without diapers. I see lots of guys lifting weights and making faces like they are about to soil their pants. Have you ever seen the faces of babies pooping? That’s exactly how these guys look as they lift the equivalent of a small Toyota. I fear that as they lift some things others will drop, and God knows I don’t want to be there when that happens.

At the gym, I keep looking for something that I can be the best at, but I’m at a loss. For a while I kept thinking that I was probably the most obsessive compulsive person in the entire Wellness Center at the University of Miami. That was a source of real pride, until I saw a couple of guys compulsively recording their every move. They extend an arm, they write it down. They lift a ten pounder, they write it down. They smell their armpit, they write it down. Much to my chagrin, I lost that competition too.

Then I went for the best dressed athlete. That was an easy one. I spent $4,592 on Nike shorts, shirts, shoes, and socks. The only problem was that I had to get rid of all my Adidas shorts, shirts, shoes, and socks. I’ve seen enough people mix Adidas with Nike to give me an esthetic thrombosis. What I still can’t reconcile is the fact that now I’m wearing a Nike shirt that says Pro Combat. For the life of me I can’t imagine anyone taking me for any kind of combat, other than a self-deprecation duel.

In all honesty, that was not a difficult contest to win. Other than women, who spend on athletic wear almost as much as I spend on brown Tumi bags, I knew I could beat the guys. There are two types of guys in the gym: those who don’t know how to match colors, and those who use their t shirts to clean their garage. This one was easy.

But if you thought that going to the gym was tough for me, going to restaurants is a nightmare. There was a brief period of time when my eating disorders were a little out of control (1963 - 2012). Concerned with the unpleasant side effects of white flour (obesity, constipation, and sudden death syndrome), I used to spend hours searching for bagel places that served 100% whole wheat. Much to our son’s mortification, I used to go to bakeries and ask what percentage of the bagel was whole wheat, and if the poor folk at the counter didn’t have an answer, I used to send them to the back to read the list of ingredients. While my wife and son pretended they didn’t know me, I kept pressing for an exact answer.

I’m happy to report that I stopped eating bagels altogether, but not before bakeries in all major North American cities put a picture of me next to the cash register with a warning DO NOT SERVE THIS CUSTOMER.

Being a vegan is tough, especially when you’re on the road. About two years ago we took a vacation in the Blue Mountains of Virginia. We flew to DC and rented a car. On our way to the hotel we got hungry. After a futile search for gourmet vegan restaurants in rural Virginia we settled for a Cracker Barrel. We discovered at the end of the menu a section called vegetables with three items: macaroni and cheese, sugar-added apple sauce, and green beans with pork. Following a conversation with the manager, you can now find my picture next to cash registers in Cracker Barrels all around the country with the warning DO NOT SERVE THIS CUSTOMER. 




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Prenatal Chutzpah

       My first memorable act of Chutzpah was competing against 300 million sperm to fertilize an egg, and winning. I’m not making this up. It’s a fact. I looked it up on YouTube. Before I watched the cute animation I used to think that I competed with like, 20 sperm, but 300 million, that’s Chutzpah! I only wish I had been a sperm with smaller ears and a manly voice, but what can you do. I’m sure I got a girly voice because of all the screaming that went on in the fallopian tube while other sperm were pulling at my ears to stop me. Come to think of it, my voice and ears are not sources of shame; they are war wounds.