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. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sense of Community

Published in Miami Today August 6, 2014

I have a confession to make. I’m a community psychologist, but I don’t like people very much. I like the idea of people, but actual people is something else: They smell, talk too much, don’t know how to spell, and wear Nike shirts with Adidas shorts. 

For me, ideal encounters with other human beings are short, funny, and focused; except with my own family of course, which are distressing, chaotic, and way too long (I love you honey!). No, seriously, I love hanging out with my immediate family because it consists of only three more people, big enough to qualify for a community, small enough to care. Bigger than that and you risk lack of focus, solemnity, and overtime.

At home, our day consists of me making funny faces, singing made up songs in various languages, some of which I actually speak, and talking about irreproducible topics leading to nowhere in particular. At work, my day consists of me making serious faces, suppressing my funny accent, and talking about reproducible topics leading also to nowhere in particular. I succeed pretty well at looking thoughtful but I’m a total failure at suppressing my Argentinean-Israeli-Canadian-Australian-Nashvillean accent, which may prevent me from being President one day, although I do have good hair.

But despite my allergic reactions to certain smells and spelling mistakes, a sense of community is really a good thing. Take Colombia for example. In the 1990s, Colombians reported the highest level of happiness in the world. This was at the time that Colombia experienced the highest rate of random violence, kidnappings, and murders in the world. How do you explain that? Too much cocaine? No, the answer is that family cohesion and social support compensate for the violence around them.

Look at Mexico now. In the first decade of this century Mexicans reported the highest level of happiness in the world, at the same time that gang violence was rampant. What happened there? Too much tequila? No, as in Colombia, sense of community makes people happy, which is not to say that a little tequila doesn’t help.

Incidentally, in the same survey where Colombians came first, Moldovans came last. Although I was personally offended at this finding, as my ancestors came from Moldova, this is no surprising, considering that Moldova is almost as corrupt as Miami.

My ancestors were very lucky; they escaped pogroms and the Cossacks in Kishinev to move to Argentina, which later became a haven for Nazis and a fascist dictatorship. Don’t get me wrong, Cossacks, Nazis, and Fascists had great sense of community, but they had a very bad sense of humor, and a very bad genocidal streak; two things that we Jews don’t really like. Besides, they had bad breadth. 

You would have thought that all these multigenerational traumatic experiences would have made me into an antisocial, paranoid lunatic. Wrong. These experiences made me into a RABID antisocial, paranoid lunatic. But I want you to know that I’m in remission. After consulting with my doctor for side effects such as pancreatic cancer, fusobacterium, leprosy, Fanconi anemia, fetal alcohol syndrome, hepatolenticular degeneration, and testicular evaporation, I decided to take communophilicon, by injection, in the eye, four times a day. I’m telling you, I’m a completely new person. Now I’m raising funds to rehabilitate homeless Nazis in Argentina, I’m creating a prison visiting program for former dictators, and I’m shipping 40,000 cases of Listerine to Moldova. It feels great to help the community. Thanks communophilicon!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Parental Fitness

                If you are thinking of having children, take this test first. If you already have children, the test will tell you whether you need to: (1) issue a recall, (2) check your mental health, or (3) replace Mother Theresa.   

1. Would you enjoy observing your child throw a temper tantrum in the middle of a supermarket?

a.       Yes, I’m a masochist

b.      Yes, provided my child has a good reason for it

c.       No, I rather have a colonoscopy in the woods

2. Do you enjoy feeling guilty?

a.       Of course, I’m Jewish 

b.      Yes, I’m Catholic. It’s a cultural tradition

c.       No way

3. Do you enjoy eating leftover spaghetti with snot sauce?

a.       Yes, my mother never let me eat my snot

b.      Yes, provided it’s from my baby’s plate

c.       No, I’m allergic to gluten

4. Would you enjoy worrying about your baby?

a.       Yes

b.      Absolutely, my life is too boring

c.       What’s there to worry about?

5. Do you enjoy spending weeks without sleep?

a.       Yes, provided I can watch Lingerie Football reruns

b.      Yes, I’d do anything to be near my baby at night when she screams

c.       No, I operate a nuclear reactor in the morning

6. Do you enjoy smelly bedrooms?

a.       Totally, they turn me on

b.      Yes, in my family we bond through odors

c.       All of the above

7. Do you enjoy being ignored?

a.       I’m never ignored

b.      Yes, provided I’m ignored by my precious creature

c.       It depends

8. Would you enjoy driving a group of seven year olds in your van for hours from soccer to Kumon to SAT classes?

a.       Definitely, especially in Miami traffic

b.      How else are they going to get into Harvard?

c.       What am I, a sucker?

9. Do you enjoy gossiping about lousy teachers?

a.       Only about Mrs. Rivera

b.      They deserve it

c.       What else is there to do while we wait for our kids outside school?

10. Do you enjoy talking with kids about the importance of using a condom?

a.       What is a condom?

b.      I’d ask my Rabbi to do it

c.       Why should I do that?

11. Would you enjoy getting calls at work from your babysitter that you must run to the emergency room?

a.       It’s always good to take a break from work

b.      No big deal

c.       I rather die

12. Do you enjoy cleaning poop?

a.       Yes, my mother never let me play with mud

b.      My baby will be born toilet trained

c.       Isn’t there an app for that?

13. Do you enjoy punk music?

a.       It’s the only kind we play in our house

b.      I’m open minded

c.       I hate it

14. Do you like a neat house?

a.       Are there any other kinds?

b.      I’m OCD

c.       Neat houses are repressive

15. Do you enjoy hosting wild parties?

a.       We never stopped

b.      Anything for our gem

c.       I hate noise

16. Do you enjoy science projects?

a.       I’m a humanist

b.      I’m a rocket scientist

c.       Science is a left-wing conspiracy

17. Do you enjoy self-abnegation?

a.       Self what?

b.      I’m a Jewish mother; is there any other way?

c.       I’m big on selfies of any kind

18. Would you enjoy working until your eighties to fund your child’s education?

a.       Ignorance is bliss

b.      Anything for my baby

c.       I hate elitist snobs

19. Would you enjoy seeing your daughter go out with older men with chains and tattoos in a Harley Davidson squad?

a.       I’m not having a daughter

b.      I ride a Harley Davidson

c.       I rather be dead

20. Do you enjoy reading about parenting?

a.       I used to until now

b.      I love parenting surveys

c.       I rather get a pet

21. Do you enjoy peace and quiet?

a.       I love it


c.       I cannot live without it

22. Would you enjoy seeing your child in competitive situations?

a.       I cannot bear the thought of my child losing in a competition

b.      It’s all about the journey, not the result

c.       My child will never lose

23. Do you enjoy arguing?

a.       Yes, it builds character

b.      No, it drives me crazy

c.       Only against people I can prove wrong

24. Do you enjoy punctuality?

a.       We are German

b.      We are Mexicans

c.       I’m late

25. Do you enjoy feeling insecure?

a.       It’s my favorite state

b.      I wish I knew anything else

c.       I ride a Harley Davidson

                If you answered mostly b, you are ready to be a parent and to be admitted to the nearest sanatorium. If you answered mostly a, you might be able to be a parent AFTER you are admitted to the nearest sanatorium. If you answered mostly c, you ARE in a sanatorium and I hope you never have children, especially if you operate a nuclear reactor.

                Immanuel Kant was totally wrong. Human beings are the most irrational species on the face of the earth. Before our son was born, there was order in my world. I used to get up at a certain time, eat breakfast at a certain time, and go to the toilet at a certain time. My life was a sanatorium: orderly, clean, and predictable, with a fresh scent of febreze. I was happy. The arrival of our lovable son changed all that, especially the orderly thing. Order turned into chaos, predictability into pandemonium, and febreze into acrid vomit. Nobody should undermine the adorability factor of babies. Without it, it would all be too much to bear, especially for sanatorium lovers like me.