Monday, May 2, 2016

Influenza and Affluenza

Instead of taking responsibility for their actions, many people blame diseases for their ethical obtuseness. Instead of expecting decent behavior from their son, the parents of Ethan Couch hired a psychologist who claimed the teenager had a bad case of Affluenza: the result of rich parents who never set proper limits for the kid. Ethan, for whom his parents had no expectations, killed 4 people while drinking and driving and got away with only probation. Ethan and his mother were recently found in Mexico, blaming the severe winter for skipping probation. They were afraid to catch the Influenza virus.  

Preorder now: The Laughing Guide to Well-Being: Using Humor and Science to Become Happier and Healthier

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Yakov Smirnoff and me

Having read The Laughing Guide to Well-Being: Using Humor and Science to Become Happier and Healthier Yakov Smirnoff, the famous comedian, wrote the following:

"Isaac's book is hilarious. I believe if you can get people to laugh that means you're getting them to listen, and when they listen, they learn. This book accomplishes all three of these things." Yakov Smirnoff.

I want to make it clear that Yakov was not pressured to do this, and that he did not do this under duress. Being from Miami, I know what you're all thinking: I bribed Yakov to write an endorsement of my new book, but let me reassure you that Yakov does not take bribes and I don't give bribes. 

I also know that you're thinking I'm desperate to sell copies of my new book, but let me reassure you that I'm not desperate. I'm inconsolably desperate. 

If Yakov's blurb and my pathetic plea do not cause you to click on the link above and order my book, I don't know what will. But don't complain when copies run out and everybody at the office is talking about my book and you don't know what's going on. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Low Expectations

The bitter cold aggravating most of the country was of sufficient schadenfreude value that my wife and I decided to watch the Weather Channel. While we were experiencing our two days of winter here in Miami, with temperatures in the low sixties, we reminisced of our days in Canada when we were young and stupid to live in the prairies.

Meanwhile, the host of the Weather Channel invited a veterinarian to comment on the well-being of pets during the stormy weather. Dr. Chow said that all pets are different, and that some of them are more tolerant of cold than others. She told viewers that “St. Bernard dogs cope better than Chihuahuas with cold.” Wow, really! I would have never guessed!
That was the moment when it all came together for me. Dr. Chow epitomized all that is wrong with this country: Low expectations. If you are going to go on national TV, don’t you want to say something a little smarter?

I’ve been on TV to talk about serious stuff only very few times, but every time I went on I studied the topic in great depth. In contrast, my co-panelists invented answers that had zero empirical evidence and absolutely no grounding in research. Like Dr. Chow, they had very low expectations of themselves. Donald Trump, who gets his foreign policy insights from the Weather Channel, is about to name Dr. Chow as his running mate.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Neurotic Life: Part III

After three years in Nashville we were so desperate we were thinking of going back to Winnipeg, Manitoba. If that failed we could always move to Moldova and reclaim the land the Cossacks stole from my family during the Kishinev pogrom. After debating between Manitoba and Moldova we moved to Miami. 

Controlling your behavior is a matter of life and death in Miami. If you want to stay alive here, you have to master your driving behavior. First, you have to control the automatic desire to move ahead when traffic lights turn green. Second, you have to count four cars that will cross in red in front of you. Third, if you don’t want to be rear ended, you have to accelerate when the light turns yellow. Finally, you have to learn a few choice words in Spanish to communicate with the drivers who get stuck at the intersection.

Miami is indeed a wonderful place to learn how to control your behavior. Here, you have to unlearn everything you learned about driving, unless, of course, you come from Latin America, which is where I grew up. Given my Latin background you would have thought that I’d know how to drive here, but all I remember are some choice words I use in intersections. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Neurotic Life: Part II

We landed in Melbourne, Australia, just in time to welcome the new millennium. I went from a task- oriented culture to a place where everybody was in long service leave longer than they were at their desks. What a concept! In Canada, I worked with very productive colleagues who only reinforced high work ethic. In Australia, I worked with wonderful colleagues who only reinforced the realization that I was an idiot and that I worked too much.

After three years in Australia trying to control my neurotic tendencies, I relented to my pathologies and moved back to North America, where I could wallow in self-pity for working too hard. Not only did we come back to a workaholic culture, but to Nashville no less, where other than Country music, all there is to do is work. Also, we went from a food mecca to a food desert. The nearest vegetarian restaurant in Nashville was in Ashville. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Neurotic Life: Part I

If doing something is good, overdoing it must be wonderful. If gaining control is a good thing, gaining complete control must guarantee eternity. This is how we, neurotics, think.

When I was finishing my PhD in psychology I was a full time student. I was also working full time outside the university (I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do that), raising a baby, and writing a dissertation on a tight schedule. My wife Ora and I would not get much sleep because Matan, our son, really wanted to play in the middle of the night, and we really didn’t know how to say no, which, 29 years later, we still don’t. This was in Winnipeg, Canada. In winter, the average temperature was -54 and in summer it was 108 mosquitos per square feet.  

To make sure I completed my dissertation on time, I followed obsessively a tight schedule. I used to get up at 5 am, go down to the basement and start typing. The heating didn’t work so I wore gloves to type. Until 7 am I wrote nonstop to make sure I achieved my word goal for the day. My obsessive compulsive tendencies were only in incipient form then. Over the years, I went on to obsess not just about writing, but also about eating, exercising, going to the bathroom, taking out life insurance, and buying brown clothes, underwear, watches, shoes, and bags.

If having a goal is good for well-being, I imagined that having multiple goals would be even better. So, I outlined a life plan with multiple goals. First, stay out of jail. Second, avoid frost bites. Third, avoid constipation. Fourth, avoid mosquitoes. Fifth, get the hell out of Winnipeg.

To achieve my fifth goal, and get an academic position, I needed to publish some academic papers. I focused so intently on publishing that one of my friends said I suffered from Surplus Attention Disorder. I got an academic position and off we went to Waterloo, Ontario, which compared to Winnipeg felt like the tropics. It took us eight years to realize that we still lived in Canada, and that we were still freezing our butts, so we moved as far away from Canada as possible.

Preorder now: The Laughing Guide to Well-Being: Using Humor and Science to Become Happier and Healthier

Monday, April 4, 2016

Truth, Trust, Trauma, and Trump

I trust people. I tend to believe what they tell me. I’m big on trust. If they tell me they will do something, I believe them. If they share with me information, I take it as face value. In short, I’m an idiot.

               It all started with Anna, her real name (go ahead Anna, sue me), who came to the house to help us with various domestic chores. Within a few days, my wife Ora and I discovered that a few things were missing, and I went crazy. I DO NOT misplace things. I may be totally na├»ve and somewhat of a moron sometimes, but I’m NOT DISORGANIZED. 

               First, my iPhone charger disappeared.  This is a small thing, so against my best judgment, I resigned myself to the fact that I had probably misplaced it. Then one of my expensive brown Tumi bags disappeared. I DO NOT misplace Tumi bags. Then it was one of Ora’s skirts. This went on for a few weeks until Ora and I dared question Anna’s integrity. When we gently asked Anna if she had seen the missing items, she denied ever seeing them. We had a thief in our midst and we kept employing her for fear of offending her. We had reached a new level of stupidity. It took us months of missing items and lies to realize we had been had.

               When we finally said enough is enough, I warned my friend, who had also employed Anna. Our friend, in turn, warned her daughter, who warned her husband, who was home when Anna worked there. The husband was under strict orders not to leave Anna by herself. When he left her for a minute, Anna stole none other than the dog’s house before leaving the premises.

               For years we had gardeners who neglected our yard. We did not want to fire them because they just had a baby, and we felt for them, and they did show remorse once in a while. These guys had a special talent for driving their lawn mower over our sprinkler system. Not a single visit went by without me warning them not to destroy it, to no avail. Occasionally, they would charge us double. We ignored that. We thought it was an honest mistake. After eight years of secure employment, and after three hundred warnings, pleas, reminders, and requests to be more careful, we fired them. The next thing you know we got a bill that was triple the usual. All of a sudden, after we fire them, they sent us a bill that included dandruff treatment for our grass, pedicure for our trees and manicure for our plants. The sprinkler system had been driven over again.

               Compared to the pool guy, the gardeners were beyond reproach. One day Ora and I returned from the University to find our pool empty. Where did the water go? It was hot, but 77,000 gallons of water do not just evaporate. Being the handy man that I am, I immediately reached for the phone. I called the pool guy and asked if he had visited today. After the affirmative reply I asked if he did something to empty the pool. “Nothing, just the usual” he said.

               Our pool guy, let’s call him Innocencio, was vehement that somebody else must have tampered with the pool. I thought I could trust these guys, but something was fishy. After talking with the owner of the company and pressing the issue, they told me that I must have done something wrong, that it was my fault. Innocencio thought nothing of lying. At that moment I remembered that we had installed security cameras on top of the pool whatchamacallit. I run to the control panel, re-winded the tape, and could clearly see Innocencio moving a lever to “empty pool” -- an oversight. There he was, caught on tape, in the act. Oh, the sweet taste of revenge. After producing the evidence, the company stopped sending Innocencio to the house and paid for the zillion of gallons required to fill the pool again.

               Strangers, OK, we were fools with strangers sometimes; but friends, that’s another story. A childhood friend needed some money, and shelter, and a lot of TLC, a lot. He had just separated from his wife. Ora and I immediately responded to the call, opening our house and our ears and our wallet. The promise of immediate return of the money was sufficient for us to lend a nice sum of money so he can pay the divorce lawyer. The money was eventually returned, but not before my friend completely disappeared from the face of the earth for several years, and not before I expressed my indignation, which I’ve come to cultivate since coming to Miami. Thank you Miami, nowhere else could I have grown out of my innocence so fast. Now I’m fully ready for a Trump presidency.