Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dream Team: The Class of 2016

Longer version of article published in the Miami Herald, November 27, 2015

Deep down, Republicans love Democrats, and Democrats love Republicans. What’s more, Republican candidates love one another, as do Democrats running for the Presidency. I know this because I’m a psychologist, and if you don’t believe me, look at the historical record running from Lincoln’s team of rivals to  Obama’s leadership team. The president picked Hillary Clinton and John Kerry as secretaries of state after he fought them vehemently for the party’s nomination. These folks love one another.

The only reason candidates fight with each other is the media. And illegal aliens. And Obamacare.  And the tax code. And especially philosophers since, as Marco Rubio said in the recent debate, we have too many of them already. If we did not have journalists, illegal immigrants, IRS bureaucrats, a president, and a bunch of philosophers, the candidates would be working in synchrony to solve the world’s problems. But instead, they have to force themselves to be nasty to each other. Deep down they love one another and want to collaborate, especially when it comes to Obamacare. They all want to improve it, but journalists and philosophers get in way. They just need to think outside the box, which is where I come in.

What if instead of being forced into brutish behavior by journalists, illegal immigrants, Washington bureaucrats, and, philosophers, they banded together to create a dream team? What if they built on each other’s strengths for the good of the country? Rand Paul, for example, knows his conservative philosophy, whereas Marco Rubio knows financial literacy. I think it was totally unfair that Rand Paul asked Rubio in the last debate if trillion dollar entitlements represent conservative philosophy. After all, Rubio said that we need fewer philosophers. He is proud to repudiate philosophy. If Paul had used a strength-based approach instead of a deficit-based approach, he could have asked Rubio if he was going to pay for his new entitlements with the party’s credit card, which is something Rubio knows a lot about.

Donald Trump, who has many skills, could partner with Dr. Ben Carson for the good of the country as well. Mr. Trump believes the country is going in the wrong direction because we are surrounded by idiots. The best way to neutralize these idiots is to lobotomize them. Lobotomy Express would build on Dr. Carson’s expertise as a neurosurgeon and Mr. Trump’s expertise in getting rid of undesirable people, not to mention his business acumen. On the expense side, Lobotomy Express can save the country trillions of dollars in idiocy prevented. On the revenue side, we can sale it to Vladimir Putin, whom Trump met in the green room of 60 Minutes. Mr. Putin would buy the whole franchise.

Carly Fiorina wants to get close to Hillary Clinton but the media and philosophers are getting in the way. They just need to find a topic of common interest for the good of the country, such as technology. Fiorina is a great techie innovator, and Hillary is an early adopter, especially when it comes to digital servers and erasers. Powerful duo.

Deep down, Marco Rubio loves Bernie Sanders. Bernie loves Denmark, and Marco loves supporting families with generous entitlements. Denmark is a model for family support. Ergo, if Bernie loves Denmark, and Marco loves Denmark’s policies, Marco loves Bernie. Together, they could become the Batman and Robin of family policy.

Ben and Bernie could also help one another. If we average Ben’s lethargy with Bernie’s loquacity we might end up with a decent philosopher, which would annoy Marco Rubio, but please Rand Paul, the self-proclaimed theorist of the GOP.

Jeb Bush, who has been struggling to find a meaningful role in the campaign, and anything memorable  to say, and how to say it, in coherent prose, as opposed to one line staccatos, could try using Spanish. I can see Jeb translating Trump’s policies on immigration to illegal aliens. Trump, whose monolingual repertoire is limited to the words disaster, losers, and idiots, can benefit from bilingual Bush.

The Dream Team is going to need leaders. The vision that unites all the Republican candidates is, no doubt, the word repeal. Cruz will be the repealer in chief, and Kasich, who seems pretty normal, will try to temper Trump, who told the Governor of Ohio “I’m a billionaire and I don’t have to listen to you.” Kasich will remind Trump that most Americans are not billionaires and may not appreciate being ignored.

Class of 2016, you’ve been warned. Unless you work as a team, you may all be fired, and not necessarily by the Donald. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Best Prescription for Surviving the Jewish High Holidays

Dear Friends and Family,

We wish you a happy and healthy new year. To do that, we recommend that you love each other without smothering one another. We suggest that you work hard but that you leave some time to spend  with one another, but not so much that you get on each other’s nerves. 

If all the festivities of the High Holidays become too stressful, try Zen meditation, which is also good for dealing with all the people you invited for Rosh Hashana. If Zen meditation is not your thing, try becoming vegan, like us. Your new diet will make dealing with your relatives look really easy. 

To cope with the aftermath of all the cooking and cleaning and eating, we suggest you give your nerves and your stomach a vacation until Yom Kippur, at which point you have to repent for getting on each other’s nerves, eating too much, working too hard, and not keeping up with your new vegan diet and your meditation routine. Don’t complain. Doing all these things will make you forget that Iran is going nuclear. 

The Prilleltenskys

Monday, September 7, 2015

Wall to Wall Solutions

Republican presidential candidates deserve more credit than they are getting. While the democrats are busy trying to figure out if Biden will run, or Bernie will bust, the GOP candidates are displaying incredible ingenuity. 

Building on each other’s ideas, the likes of Trump, Walker, and Rubio are working on a miracle wall. The Donald was the first to propose building a wall along the Mexico border to solve the illegal immigration problem. Trump said that construction of the wall would provide employment for all the illegal immigrants that would sneak in through Canada.

With a stroke of brilliance, Governor Scott Walker proposed building a wall along the Canadian border as well. This would have multiple benefits: prevent illegal immigrants, other than the ones required to build the wall of course, and stop the creep of socialized medicine into this country. As everybody knows, universal health care has destroyed the moral fiber of Canadians, who have gotten used to governmental coddling. “Instead of stimulating the economy by buying guns, Canadians waste their money on taxes,” said Walker.    

Not to be outdone, Marco Rubio proposed building a wall with Cuba, another major socialist influence on this hemisphere. Rand Paul, who understands the Chinese threat, suggested building a wall along the Pacific Ocean. “That should stimulate the economy,” he said. Ben Carson, the physician, said that all this construction work will be great for America. “It’s a win-win-win solution” Dr. Carson said. “We stop the influx of illegal immigrants, prevent the intrusion of socialist ideologies, and get the country moving again. People sit around all day long. It is time we got people off the couch and into ladders. This will be a wonderful national project. Millions will volunteer to work on the wall, improving their wellness and lowering health care costs at the same time.”

Meanwhile, Chris Christie offered to put bar codes on every newcomer’s forehead and run after them with a scanner to report their whereabouts. In a rare show of unanimity, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry volunteered to run along Christie, chasing newcomers all over Texas. Jeb offered to serve as translator for the border patrol and bake tortillas for immigrants. “We need to show these people some compassion, especially before we send them to work on Donald’s walls,” said the former governor of Florida. Mike Huckabee, in turn, will provide religious counseling to the newcomers.

Lindsey Graham, who has a great deal of experience in foreign affairs, wants to build a wall along the Syrian border. “Today is Germany dealing with the influx of refugees, tomorrow is the USA. We better stop the refugee problem at the source,” the Senator from South Carolina said.

Once the walls are built, we will have to install Wi-Fi and internet stations, said Carly Fiorina, who is the only presidential candidate with a tech background, other than Hilary Clinton of course. “I have the experience to bring cutting edge technology to the walls” she said in an interview with Vox News.

People from all over the world will come to visit The Wall. It will be a showpiece of American ingenuity: Simple, multi-purpose, and ridiculous. Not only it will solve the illegal immigration problem, but it will also improve the health of the nation and prevent dangerous ideologies from sweeping under the border. Not to mention the reality shows already in the making. There are also plans to hold there the next Trump Miss Universe pageant, which was kicked out of Univision last year. The pageant will travel from Wall to Wall to Wall. Trump promised to broadcast the event at Wallivision.  

“When was the last time that Democrats built on each other’s ideas like that?” said Neill O’Malley of Vox News. “The country needs more entrepreneurs who can come up with bold solutions. The wall idea is superb.” 

In the spirit of public-private partnerships, some republican leaders are seeking sponsorships for The Wall from Walmart, Walgreens, and Walt Disney studios. Business commentators believe it will be an amazing marketing opportunity for these companies. Co-branding The Wall with Walmart, Walgreens, and Walt Disney will create unprecedented publicity for these companies. Some have already come up with a slogan: “Come visit the Wall, save money and live better, right at the corner of happy and healthy, where miracles happen.” 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Professional Conduct Guaranteed

Professional associations adhere to the strictest standards of ethics. I know because I belong to a few of them. They all have rigorous codes of ethics that professionals must abide by. I also know that bankers, lawyers, teachers, accountants, Edward Snowden and Lance Armstrong have codes of ethics. Even the Miami-Dade City Commission has a code of ethics, but unfortunately nobody can find it since the FBI left a mess in their last raid. They do have it though, and it is in three languages: Tonkawa, Etchemin, and Hialehan. This is how old it is, which explains why nobody used it.

This ethics business can be very trying, especially when you work in stressful jobs like accounting, law, medicine, and teaching. Codes of ethics demand respectful treatment of your clients at all times, and under all circumstances. Accountants, for example, would never tell a client “you are running the biggest scheme in the history of forensic accounting.” Instead, they are going to write a report to the Board stating that “a fiduciary audit revealed a larger than expected shrinkage in the accrued income collateralized with tangible assets which has resulted in a smaller than expected WACC (weighted average costs of capital), leading to large sums of money deposited in suspense accounts which were securitized against promissory notes and future taxation used to defray costs of doing business in certain parts of South Florida. Computer models based on SWOT analyses predict that outside agencies will show interest in your business.”

TRANSLATION: You should stop bribing city commissioners and start paying taxes or you will be in jail in 3 to 5 months.  

Teachers are also very respectful professionals. They prepare for months for parent-teacher interview. Some excerpts:

GRADE 11 TEACHER: Jordan’s performance in the SMRT-VII has remained stable since the last time he was evaluated.

TRANSLATION: He is still as dumb as he was in grade 2.

GRADE 3 TEACHER: Suzie is extremely peripatetic and shows great curiosity towards people and events unrelated to the subject matter at hand.

TRANSLATION: If you don’t put her on Ritalin I will.

Predictably, lawyers have the strictest code of ethics. This is why they reassure you that if they sue 734 innocent people on your behalf and by random chance the judge falls asleep during the proceedings and they win 3 cases, they will share with you 0.0000001% of the money. After taxes, photocopying, paper clips, faxes, office parties, late night pizza parties, and courier expenses, they guarantee to pay you 0.00000000000001% of the net profits. This is the only profession that guarantees 0.000000000001% of anything. No questions or medical exams required. In contrast, most other professions require you to pay them.

Take doctors for example. Before you even said what was wrong with you, a smiling assistant will invite you to a little booth, take an X ray of all your bank accounts, conduct a physical examination of all your credit cards, insert a finger in your wallet to extract your driver’s license and your health insurance card, and review the chart of payments on your mortgage. She will also perform a stress test on your 401 K account, and check the pressure in the tires of your car, just to be sure there is something of worth in case the insurance company denies your claim, which happens 99% of the time. By the time you see the doctor your blood pressure is so high that the insurance company is bound to reject your claim, leaving the smiling clerk with no choice but to impound your car and clean up your 401 K.

Health Insurance Companies are very explicit in their insistence on equality: All patients will be treated the same. No matter what the ailment is, your ability to pay, or the policy you have. Before the doctor sees you, everyone must sign 29 forms with very small font. They don’t pressure you to sign the form however. You can take your time. At an average speed of 3 minutes per page, it will take you 5 hours to read the forms they give you. Allowing for lunch and bathroom breaks, you are lucky if you see the doctor at 5 pm, provided you got there at 6 am. Doctors, however, will never pressure anybody to sign anything they don’t understand. The American Medical Association is very explicit about that. You don’t have to sign anything you don’t feel comfortable with. You will never see a doctor in your life if you choose to read all the forms, but patient autonomy must be respected at all times.

Doctors do all that to prevent any harm, and more. They will do whatever it takes to prevent you from buying prescription drugs from unknown countries like Canada, or going to India to receive medical treatment. The AMA is against medical tourism. I do have to agree with them on the India thing. A friend of mine went to India to have a heart operation and returned with a sex transplant instead. Doctors are obliged to warn you against things like that. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Irrational but not Incompetent

My wife and I made plenty of irrational decisions in our lives. For example, moving to Nashville, or trying to convince Miami drivers to signal. But once we make irrational decisions, we deal with them very competently. In contrast, there are plenty of people who handle any decision, rational or irrational, most incompetently. Due to our Seasonal Irrational Decision Disorder (SIDD), Ora and I encountered many of these people this summer.
It all started when we decided to help our son and his wife move to a better place in New York City. That would allow our son and his wife to finally leave the ridiculously expensive and ludicrously small rental they were sharing with some insects in the Lower East Side. My competent wife Ora turned her office at home in Miami into logistics central and handled most aspects of the move. She ably dealt with real estate agents, contractors, movers, and utility companies. I pitched in by calling the cable company in New York. This is a company that starts with V and rhymes with horizon, but I am afraid to identify it due to fear of reprisals.
To make life easier, I put on automatic payment everything: car lease, credit card, Comcast, AT&T, life insurance, pool service, condo fees, bribes to city officials, everything. So it was only natural that I would want to do the same with Verizon (Oops). I clicked on one of the 17 emails I had received from them to set up automatic pay. After I completed the registration process for a new user, it told me that I already had an online account, which I never set up. As a good detective, I thought that the system perhaps still linked the new account number to the old account number, which was in our son’s name, so I asked our son for his username and password, which he provided, which Verizon (what the heck), rejected. What followed was a Kafkaesque interminable loop of the system asking me security questions:
·         Name of my elementary school
·         Name of my first pet
·         My mother’s maiden name
·         Year in which the Ottoman empire was founded by Oghuz Turks
Once I entered what I thought were correct answers, I eagerly waited for the system to send me the username or password, but no, instead, I kept getting messages, in large red font, to the effect that: “the combination of your email, answers, or attitude is incorrect.” The cortisol I secreted during this episode was enough to create a nuclear stress bomb, which I plan to detonate next time a Verizon rep says “is there anything else we can do for you today.” But wait, once I solved the automatic pay problem I had to contend with incompetent technicians who had to come to the new place no less than four times to get the internet to work.
But before all of this took place, Ora and I had to get to New York from Miami, which of course entailed a stop at MIA. This is where irrational and incompetent blended seamlessly and deliciously. After we obtained our boarding passes and sent our luggage we headed for security. But before you meet a TSA agent, you must show your boarding passes to an official directing traffic at the security lines. One line was for TSA pre-check passengers, one for wheelchair users, and one for the masses. Ora was both TSA pre-check and wheelchair user, which completely puzzled the lady directing traffic. I couldn’t tell whether her decision was irrational, incompetent, or both, but she sent Ora to the TSA pre-check, which had a very long line up, almost as long as the regular line. Given that Ora goes through a special search anyways because she uses a scooter, I could not understand the logic behind sending us to a long line up when the wheelchair line was completely empty. When I approached her and asked if we could use the wheelchair line, she said that we are TSA pre-check, to which I replied that my wife also uses a scooter and it would be much faster to go through a line that was empty. She seemed confused but eventually let us use the wheelchair line.
It is possible that there is some logic behind her decision that completely escapes me, so before I turn into a complete judgmental tool, let’s explore her thinking. Some options for her reasoning:
1.       “I’m facing two people. Both with TSA pre-check, but only one with wheelchair. Two is bigger than one, so I need to send them to the pre-check line.” Somewhat rational, but incompetent.
2.       “One is in a wheelchair, but both have TSA pre-check. The line for pre-check is long; the line for wheelchairs is empty. I will send them to pre-check.” Irrational, incompetent, and, of course, Anti-Semitic.

3.       “The lady uses a scooter. The line for wheelchairs is empty. She cannot use her pre-check anyways because she goes through a special search. She will be better off going through the wheelchair line. But since she lives in Miami, she is probably faking her disability, like most people in Miami, just to get a handicap parking permit, like my aunt Sofia, my cousin Lourdes, and my uncle Panchito. I bet a hundred dollars that she is faking the disability. In fact, she reminds me of my aunt Sofia. Oh, poor auntie Sofia. I feel for her, but she is such a liar. I will show this Prilleltensky couple! Pre-check.” 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Planning Interruptus

My latest column from Miami Today, published June 18, 2015            

         Cacophony; that’s it, this is what our lives have become. Instead of a melodious and carefully orchestrated sequence of planned events, our lives have turned into a random series of occurrences driven by immediate gratification and digital sounds, which is what the twenty first century will be remembered for. To say nothing of the fact that I always wanted to say cacophony, which gets in the way of any planning at all.
There was a time when you could isolate yourself and engage in some thinking or planning. You could set a goal and try to pursue it through a series of rational steps. Today, you are lucky if you get 30 seconds of peace and quiet before your telephone beeps, your email alert pops up, and your electronic calendar reminds you to check Facebook, lest your friend has diarrhea and you are the last one to know it.  
Instead of thinking about our future and planning ways to achieve it, we spend countless hours searching for the miracle app that will replace our thinking. To improve your well-being you need to resist immediate gratification and cacophony. This means turning your phone off, not just airplane mode, but completely off. Go ahead. Try it. When you stop twitching from withdrawal you are ready to think about a goal you want to pursue. If you cannot keep your hands off your phone or tablet, you may need to join a Buddhist monastery in Bhutan, where there is definitely no internet connection.
Once you overcome your addiction to digital devices and your twitching subsides, you are ready for the next challenge: be by yourself. No talking. No selfying. If this is hard, you can say either ohm or cacophony a few times. Now you have to think. Let me tell you how thinking works. If no thoughts come to mind, check your pulse. If you still have a pulse, try to ask yourself questions: What do I want to accomplish in life? How can I help humanity? How often should I change my underwear? Try controlling your twitching.
It is possible that, despite your good intentions to enjoy peace and quiet, somebody near you is talking on the phone so loudly that you need to get a Bose noise cancelation device. Pretty soon everyone will have to walk around with one, just to avoid the cacophony of nonsense emitted by people who have nothing better to do than to broadcast to the whole world their inane whereabouts. Not to mention fights with their ex over the phone, in public spaces. Airplanes are the worst. No sooner the plane lands than 99% of passengers reach for their smart phones to continue sharing with their best friend scintillating details about their day: got up around 6 30 am, had my coffee, read the paper, passed gas.
The addiction to digital devices is so great that some folks are now taking their laptops to the gym with them. At our condo, where I usually can expect peace and quiet in the exercise room, there appeared a guest who was in the rather small exercise room with his three year old and a laptop. I could live with the kid walking around the fitness equipment, but his father’s laptop was playing a video of a fitness instructor yelling from the top of his lungs invocations such as: Does it hurt now? Do you want to be a man? Do it! Do it! Be a man! Lift, lift, lift! The father was following every word and every movement of the fitness guru. As the intruder saw me coming into the small gym he asked if I mind the noise from the laptop. I said yes. He told me that the video will motivate me and will be good for me. One of the last sanctuaries of peace and quiet, our condo gym, which is usually frequented only by senior citizens thirty years older than me, was transformed by some digitally addicted brainless creature into a high decibel motivational class by some equally brainless fitness addict.

But planning can be overdone. Speaking from experience, I have spent more time in my life planning than actually living. As an insecure, mildly paranoid, neurotic orphan, I spent considerable time over many years striving for certainty and security in my life. I spent so much time planning that I had barely any time to enjoy the fruits of my planning. But I had a plan to stop all that planning. Instead of planning, I started writing pointless stories. The fact that you are reading these stories shows two things: I’m succeeding at my plan to spend less time planning, and you have no plans whatsoever. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Marsupial Kama Sutra

If there is anything I hate more than rats it’s big rats, which is what possums are. Possums feel at home in Coral Gables. They roam around like they own the place. So it came as no surprise when we discovered a couple of them nesting in our backyard. Next to our useless swimming pool (too short to swim, too cold to get close to it), we have a very expensive motor that cleans the water we never swim in, as well as a device that operates an amphibious vacuum cleaner that consumes more energy than the country of Benin. The motors are encased in a structure covered by a piece of wood. Whenever the submersible hoover gets stuck I muck around with the motor and pretend to know what the heck I’m doing. Imagine my surprise when I discovered not one but two possums relaxing next to the motors. They had brought leafs and sticks to make their own Sealy Posturepedic. They had apparently lifted the wood cover and managed to return it to its place, just to shock me.
Ora and I debated what to do. We were really ambivalent about the whole thing. We felt for the creatures. After all, we are vegan; believe in interspecies justice, and all that mushy staff. But I really dislike these animals. They revolt me. So we decided to do nothing.
A few days later I went to visit our lodgers and found them in Kama Sutra pose number 69. They were totally oblivious to my inspection, showing great sexual dexterity. This went on for a few days. In addition to revulsion, now I had reason to feel voyeuristic guilt.
Mr. and Mrs. Possum occupied our pool motor home for a few more days until we saw them leaving their abode to forage for food. I reluctantly removed their possessions and secured the wood cover with several bricks. It was heartbreaking to see them return to find out that they had been evicted. We wanted to compensate them with some oxycodone and Viagra pills, but they would have none of it. We saw them leaving, carrying their Kama Sutra guide on their backs. They were obviously offended. 

Our backyard is not just friendly to quadrupedal diprotodon marsupials, but also to all kinds of bugs and birds that enjoy mango for desert. To feel Floridians, we planted a few trees as soon as we bought the house. Watching our mango tree grow has been especially rewarding. Sharing it with white flies and the entire ornithological kingdom has not. Ora watches our mangos like a hawk herself. The problem is that she reminds me in the middle of the night to go and fetch the mangos that might have ripened since I squished them 3 hours ago. “Isaac, I hear birds near our mango tree; don’t just lie there, do something.” “Don’t worry Ora, I’m sure it’s the possums trying the latest Marsupial Kama Sutra position.”