History Repeats, Again!

History Repeats, Again!
History Repeats, Again!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Predictions: 2012 Looking Pretty Stupid

Here are my most optimistic predictions for 2012!


The Higgs Boson will be found right where Higgs left it.

Experts will determine that Stonehenge is an ancient parking structure.

The world won’t end in 2012 but by December we’ll wish it had.

NASA will discover many earth-like planets, none with chocolate.


In a bi-parisan breakthrough, the US Congress will agree to start 2012 on Jan 1.

In an epic flip-flop, Mitt Romney will deny he’s ever run for president.

Testing the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people, Exxon will be elected President of the US.

Excited by the possibility of an ignorant populace, US Congress will completely defund education.


Facebook and Google will merge to form Face-Goo. 

Italy will propose replacing the Euro with a new currency called the Nero.

The stock market will go up, then down, then sideways.


Diana Ross will reunite with the Supreme Court.

Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee party will be louder than the Sex Pistol’s reunion concert.

The Rolling Stone’s 50th anniversary tour will be sponsored by Ibuprofen.

Mumford will have a daughter.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

EU Austerity Plan Forces Spain to Sell its History


To meet EU demands for austerity, Spanish government officials have confirmed their intention to pay down the nation’s deficit by selling famous museums, formerly priceless artworks, and historical heritage sites.
The emerging plan invokes many breakthrough concepts in modern finance including:

·        Turning the medieval town of Toledo into a Spanish Inquisition theme park for kids.
·        Selling Picasso masterpieces on eBay.
·        Allowing advertising in cathedrals.

In addition, commerce officials in Madrid today revealed a series of binding agreements between Spain and Carrefour, the giant French retailer. The accords give Carrefour exclusive rights to build “tasteful, consumer friendly warehouse super-stores” at key heritage sites around the country.
French demolition teams immediately tunneled into the granite beneath the Alhambra where they intend to open Spain’s first underground discount mall next summer.

Construction permits have also been issued for many other sites around the country, including Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, the Prado, and a series of convenient “Pilgrim Mini Marts” along the Camino de Santiago trail.

Though it may be too late to stop the sales, lawyers for the opposition Socialist Party are said to be looking for loopholes in the contract to block the French chain from “turning our rich cultural heritage into a cathedral to consumerism.”

“Shopping at Carrefour is an even richer cultural heritage,” company spokeswoman, Bea Fuentes, said in response to critics . “People will appreciate being able to see an old Spanish monument and buy bulk toilet paper and Nutella®.”

The government was careful to exempt all properties belonging to the Spanish Crown from the austerity measures, but scandal briefly touched the Royal Family when it was revealed that Carrefour had approached Letizia, Princess of Asturias, seeking her presence at the ribbon cutting ceremony opening Carrefour’s new Reina Sofia® Superstore in Madrid.

In response, a spokesman for the Royal Family made no comment. 

In a parallel development, Carrefour is now negotiating to obtain commercial rights to the Great Mosque of Cordoba. “At first, we didn’t understand the significance of the Cordoba site,” Fuentes admitted. “I mean, is it a church? Is it a mosque? Who's the target demographic? Going forward, we’ll have to simplify the marketing message.”

The austerity plan hit a speed bump when both the government and Carrefour claimed ownership of the art collection in the Prado. “The site’s a mess,” Fuentes insists. “We need to sell all that old artwork to pay for repairs.”

Austerity may turn out to be expensive if Carrefour sues the government for breach of contract. “We bought the Prado with everything in it,” Fuentes said. “Once we get rid of those dreary paintings, we’ll do a little redecorating and that place will have more charm than Paris Disneyland.”

The Prado is a mess

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occupy MalMart Black Friday!

Americans pride themselves on planning ahead. That’s why our big stores start celebrating Christmas in October.

Shopping, of course, is one of our inalienable rights, guaranteed by the constitution along with the right to pack more horsepower, firepower, and body mass per capita than any other nation on earth.

The consumer spending that drives our economy traditionally kicks into high gear on a day known as “Black Friday.”

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the symbolic day that store balance sheets turn from red ink to black ink. Black Friday is the day that stores turn profitable so, naturally, they want to stay open as long as possible.

To maximize black ink, stores open early on Black Friday. and each year they open earlier. 8AM gave way to 7AM which eventually gave way to 3AM.

Consumers craving deals and hoping to stretch their dollars in a poor economy queue in the cold for hours before the doors open. Long before Occupy Wall Street, the other 99% camped on sidewalks and peed in parking lots for Black Friday.

Black Friday can be quite competitive. One year, people got trampled as throngs pushed through the doors in a frenzied search for bargains.  Another year, tragically, a store employee was killed by a stampede.

Given the opportunity to get drunk on black ink, it was only a matter of time before the big stores figured out that they could open even earlier by opening the night before. In the past, “the night before” corresponded to Thanksgiving dinner, our most sacred public holiday besides Halloween.

But, as our founding fathers so foundingly declared: Nothing is more sacred than commerce.

Are you looking for an excuse to abandon those dull, stuffed relatives? Need some aerobic shopping after the big meal? Run out of pumpkin pie or just worried that someone else is going to get the last big screen TV deal?

Give thanks, America. The mega-stores are now open right after Thanksgiving dinner.

So when you sit down to your rushed Thanksgiving feast this year, be sure to give thanks to those store employees who are giving up their Thanksgiving and risking their lives to protect our freedom to shop 24/7.

And if you really want to get a jump on the deals, why not have your Thanksgiving feast right at the MalMart McRonalds?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Proposal to Reduce Toxic Academy Awards Emissions

I know better than to compete with Eddie Murphy, but now that he has stepped aside and before Billy Crystal dry cleans his tuxedo, I offer my services to host the 2012 Academy Awards.

I checked my schedule. I can squeeze it in and, frankly, they need my help.

At 84 year’s old, the navel-gazing gala has gotten stale and predictable. Does anyone really want to watch another room full of glitzy people with big shiny teeth pretending to congratulate each other?

It’s time to shake things up.

For starters, we need to move the Oscars out of Hollywood. It’s a great place, but other towns are more deserving.

Imagine what the Oscars could do for Flint, Michigan. The infusion of cash from Oscar related activities could probably solve the Greek debt crisis. Or, what if we held the event in a secret location and made attendees hunt for it?

Better yet, what if we make the event 100% virtual?

Liberal movie stars and toothy glitterati will be thrilled by the first ever Emissions Neutral Academy Awards. No plane flights. No gas-guzzling limos. No klieg lights visible from space.  The parched aquifers of Southern California will be spared from thousands of showering hotel guests and hot tub parties.

What if everyone stays home and we webcast the entire event over the Wii channel? I've already chosen my avatar!

By bit torrenting all films directly to your smart phone, we can revolutionize voting. Instead of a secret cabal of industry insiders, everyone will have a say. Besides, nobody understands who the “Academy” is or why its minions never award trophies to Muppet movies.  

To liven things up, we’ll offer exciting new awards like “Worst Sequel,” “Dullest Foreign Film,” and “Biggest Dud.” We’ll launch an entire category dedicated to films that rely on excessive special effects instead of actual story telling.

All the silly song and dance numbers will be moved to YouTube.  The tedious envelopes and nominations and tearful “thank the academy” speeches will be replaced with live blogs and Twitter hash tags like #insecure-narcissist and #I-don’t-really-own-this-jewelry.

The after-event parties that none of us are ever invited to will be replaced by a more inclusive world-wide discount on pizza delivery.

So, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the ball’s in your court. I’ve cleared my calendar. Have your people call mine.

Friday, October 21, 2011

People with clean desks will love Google+

The world’s population just passed the 7 billion mark and nearly 10% of them are on Facebook.

This means that if Facebook were a country, it would be big enough to start World War III.  I know, because someone who seems likely to invade Poland just friended me. 

My personal Facebook page is completely out of control, mostly because I’m too easy.  But after experiencing rejection firsthand, I hate to shun anyone unless they’re from the publishing industry. Besides, you never know when some complete stranger will turn out to be interesting, or bring the FBI to your front door.

Given the cacophony of Facebook, Google+ has some initial appeal.   G+ has a very sleek dashboard, there are no Mafia Wars, and with less than 1% of the planet onboard, it’s not crowded.

G+ might even be stable, though one of the more entertaining aspects of Facebook is the way people freak out every time it changes. Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg’s revenge on those of us with IQ’s less than 180. As soon as people figure out the current version, he rearranges everything and laughs while we squirm and call him Satan.

Megabucks Mark keeps changing the rules so nobody ever understands what’s happening.  Privacy? Forget it. I suspect that someday we’ll learn Mark was a CIA agent.

G+ attacks the endearing chaos of Facebook by allowing you to set up nice, controled circles of people who can only see you. You are the hub, they are the spokes. You broadcast, they respond. That's all G+ does. This is fine for control freaks, but as media goes, it’s not exactly “social.”

People with clean desks will love Google+.

Facebook takes the messy desk approach--it's an ever expanding mess, nearly impossible to organize. Every time you post something, all of your friends can weigh in and insult each other.

So, good luck trying to have serious interactions on Facebook.  You can announce your own funeral and one of your so-called friends will derail the conversation with a rant about the ozone layer or a cute video of a cat riding a pony.

Facebook does offer organization features, but just because my desk offers drawers doesn’t mean they aren’t overflowing with gum wrappers and paper clips. Not that any of my "friends" resemble paper clips, but some are pretty twisted. In theory, I could group them all into my Facebook paper clip drawer and quarantine them from harassing my more sedate acquaintances, but what fun would that be?

Facebook reminds me of a party I once hosted for people who knew me but didn’t know each other.  They had nothing in common except me, which wasn’t enough to keep them from offending each other.

The party was a disaster until we started drinking, and then a fight broke out. The two combatants eventually left to start revolutions in their respective countries which is something else that will never happen with Google+.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Save Maggie! Recession hits The Simpsons

The cartoon town of Springfield is not immune from the global recession as the Fox Television network demands 45% pay cuts from the cast of The Simpsons.

Will the cuts extend to Montgomery Burns or is austerity only for Homer Simpson?

Waylon Smithers, a spokesman for the owner of Springfield’s nuclear power plant issued the following statement: “Mr. Burns rejects any notion that he should take a pay cut or roll back his planned 45% increase in the cost of electricity. If pressed to trim his already modest lifestyle, he will be forced to release the hounds.”

“I guess we all need to do some belt tightening,” said Marge Simpson, as she exited the bowling alley, “but I don’t wear a belt.”

The man who wears the pants in the family might benefit from some belt tightening but when asked if he would forgo beer and donuts, Homer Simpson just said “D’oh!”

Homer’s neighbor Ned Flanders was more sanguine about the financial crisis, even going so far as to hint that the global downturn was a sign from The Almighty that Springfield’s educators should stop teaching evolution in schools. “I’m just saying,” he said.

Hearing that the school district might be hit, Bart Simpson suggested that his teacher Edna Krabappel should be sacked. “If I’m a typical result of the school system, then teachers are clearly overpaid.”

“A 45% pay cut is a disaster!” said Springfield Mayor Joe Quimby. “We can’t provide the same level of shoddy services if tax revenues fall. Besides, I’m only halfway through remodeling my office.”

But not all of Springfield is up in arms. Many merchants see upside in the downturn. Apu, owner of the Kwik-E-Mart intends to increase his orders for Duff beer in anticipation of unemployed workers drinking more.  Pub owner Moe Szyslak made a similar observation when announcing that he would be open earlier on Sundays.

The impact is so widespread Troy McClure, the actor you know from the 1977 hit film “Muppets Go Medieval,” announced that the sequel to “Calling All Lumberjacks" will be delayed indefinitely. Crusty the Clown was forced to fire Sideshow Bob.“This time for good,” he said.

Frustrated with facing a jobless future and paying off the debts incurred by reckless baby boomers, Lisa Simpson is currently occupying Wall Street and could not be reached for comment.

      Will Homer Simpson Get the Axe?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

If Elected, I Will Win!

“If elected, I will win!” This was the promise of Pat Paulsen (1927-1997), America’s last great presidential candidate.  

Paulsen was a burst of blinding genius in an otherwise dark political night. He predicted the roots of our current political gridlock when he said, Assuming either the Left Wing or the Right Wing gained control of the country, it would probably fly around in circles.”

By losing six times, Pat Paulsen proved that there is no room for brains in presidential politics. He told the truth, never a good strategy. 

To paraphrase Adlai Stevenson, another original candidate: thinking people may have voted for Paulsen, but he needed a majority to win.

That’s why I commit to be the dullest president ever.  If elected, I will do nothing. In my second term, I will do even less.

That’s my promise and you can take that to the bank, if you can find one.

When it comes to the presidency, history proves that doing less is more. Consider how unfairly the last few presidents have been vilified for taking so much initiative.

  • Barack Obama had the bold idea for universal health care. Now we have socialist death panels forcing seniors to overdose on Canadian Viagra.

  • George W Bush had the original idea of invading a country that had done us no harm. This forward looking, pre-emptive strike is now so unappreciated that nobody wants to pay for it.

  • Bill Clinton had the unusual idea to de-regulate banks and let them engage in innovative risks with hardly any capital to cover their bets investments.   People hated Clinton. Now they hate banks, too.

  • Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. Now people remember Nixon as a great statesman and Ford as a doofus.

  • Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, and the EPA created global warming. Talk about unintended consequences.

In the 2012 Presidential Election voters want someone they can believe in, not someone who is thinking.

Now that some of the wackier candidates are running out of money, I intend to get my campaign for the Republican nomination out of the gutter and back on track.  

You won’t see me in televised debates because I don’t want to soil my perfect record by saying something intelligent that will be clicked repeatedly by those kids on youtube.

I’ll save my creativity for the sequels to “No Roads Lead to Rome.” The Oval Office looks like a cozy place to write a novel and I look forward to many hours of quiet drinking thinking there.

My books are about the absurdity of large organizations and the misadventures of the humble idealists and conniving opportunists who inhabit them.

I’m confident that the presidency will provide me with plenty of new material.

Pat Paulsen: Two Faced Politician (1968)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Abandon the Euro!

(In the spirit of international misunderstanding, "The Expat's Pajamas: Barcelona" is currently free on smashwords !)

I was in Granada, Spain when the first euro coins arrived on January 1, 2002. Anyone familiar with Spanish bureaucracy would have been amazed by the lack of chaos during the currency transition.  The ATM's were well stocked with notes, the vendors were ready with euro-to-peseta calculators, and many of the coins had been minted as far back as 1999.

The only problem I saw was a shortage of new coins to make change for the 50-euro notes spewing out of the cash machines. In the shadow of the Alhambra, we made economic union with mixed currencies until the banks re-opened and filled our jingling pockets with images of Cervantes and King Juan Carlos.

When the New Year’s holiday ended, I observed British tourists frantically spending pesetas and euros on duty-free Brandy de Jerez before leaving Spain.  Their kingdom, of course, did not embrace the euro, and still hasn’t.

This was a good decision.

The UK’s official reason for not joining the original twelve member states in currency unification was that as a major banking center, they didn't want to cede control over their economy to Brussels. 

I'm sure there was more to it than that.

I know the British derive great amusement from watching befuddled tourists trying to fathom why two pence is larger than two quid, but that’s not their only reason for holding fast to the pound sterling.

If the euro took hold in the UK, British citizens would quickly realize that a Big Mac (and just about everything else) in London costs double what it costs in Paris and probably quadruple the price in Portugal. Everyone loves British beef, but that hardly justifies such gouging.

Some sterling enthusiasts feel it would be improper to have images of Queen Elizabeth mixing in people’s pockets with Leonardo’s spread-eagle naked man on the Italian euro coin.

While Lizzy and Leo might make an immodest pair,  I think the real objection is over slang.

On the continent, the arrival of the euro killed a rich vernacular. On that fateful first day of January, many  popular terms for money simply evaporated.  Before the euro, a Frenchman could refer to “ten franks” as “dix balles.”  A Spaniard could refer to “ten pesetas” as “diez pelas,” and a Greek could refer to “twenty drachmas” as “xyoihm.” After the new currency invaded, many countries saw their mother tongues shrivel as euro-speak took over.

The euro would be devastating for slang in Great Britain. Here’s simple proof: which expression is culturally and linguistically richer? Which phrase is more rustic and evocative?
             (a) “Two quid-bob a pop for your bangers, kippers, rashers and mash, Guv’nuh,” or
             (b) “Three euros for that Big Mac, sir.”

I rest my case. The euro would be a death sentence for the English language.

The British were wise not to lose linguistic gamut by switching to the sterile uni-currency.  There may be light at the end of the euro tunnel, but for the moment the English language emerges victorious.

In the haste to unify continental markets, a rich lexicon of financial slang was relegated to history.   Is it too late to recover? Should the EU ditch the euro and bring back the franc, peseta, drachma, and lira?

OK, maybe not the lira, but you get my point. It’s not too late to save the slang.

(In the spirit of international misunderstanding, "The Expat's Pajamas: Barcelona" is currently free on smashwords !)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ancient Romans Colonized My Brain!

In the summer of 2000, I moved to Barcelona with my family for reasons both professional and personal.

Unlike many people who change countries, we weren’t fleeing chaos. We weren’t forced to move under duress. No one was shooting at us.

But the truth is that I was fleeing something.

I was running away from my own complacency.

There’s a French word, “depaysment,” which roughly translates to mean “out of your element,”  and that’s what I needed. Moving to Spain jerked me out of my comfort zone.

Of all the expat adventures, comic defeats and small victories that emerged from my five years abroad, the one I’m most proud of is “No Roads Lead to Rome.”

Here’s how the book hit me.

One weekend, I was hiking with a friend in the Collserola, the hills above Barcelona. We were lamenting the decline and fall of damn near everything when the story hatched like a bird in my brain. I imagined two Roman soldiers having the same conversation 2000 years earlier. We were walking in their footsteps.  The world had changed, but people had not.

As revelations go, this tiny insight could have easily escaped me.  People have always felt like things are changing too fast and rarely for the better.

Big deal, right?

Within minutes, I was possessed by an old Roman legionary and a young conscript. I could hear them lamenting their lot in life.  How could the Senate vote to build another monument when people can’t even afford a decent pair of sandals? How did those vexed Roman numeral crunchers conclude the bread dole was too expensive?  Much of the dialogue between my grizzled old centurion, Marcus Valerius, and his chatty young sidekick, Gaius Severus, took root that afternoon.

Centurion Valerius is frustrated that the old ways are changing too fast. He’s tired of being marched off on fool’s missions to defend an empire he no longer believes in. He wants to retire, but no empire ever went broke paying pensions to old soldiers. The smart and mysterious conscript, Gaius Severus, thinks things aren’t changing fast enough. He’s full of opinions, eager to make his way in the world, and his nonstop talking nearly drives old, silent Valerius crazy. These two are pitted against Festus Rufius, the party boy Governor of Hispania, and his shady advisor, Winus Minem, a fast-talking bamboozler who would sell the world, twice, if he could.

When I learned that around 123 AD a slave had botched an attempt to kill the Emperor Hadrian in Tarraco — Tarragona, Spain — the first line in the novel wrote itself: “When it comes to assassination, execution is everything.”

My cast of characters staged a coup and took over my life. They took me hostage and have yet to let me go. They have many new stories to tell. Each one wants to star in a sequel. 

There are books and ideas that will change your life—relax, this isn’t one of them.  I’m not trying to make you think because you’re already a thoughtful person.  I worked hard to capture the sights, smells, and sensations of the ancient world and render the story humorous, entertaining,  and relevant to modern readers.   The e-book version costs less than coffee and a scone and lasts longer.

Of all the reviews I’ve received, this excerpt from a reader named Jerry, is the most gratifying:

”I have a pretty dreadful life at the moment and rarely laugh but several times throughout No Roads Lead to Rome, I found myself not only laughing but laughing out loud…”

I’m gratified that so many people have bought the book. Some people write for themselves, and that’s fine, but I wrote “No Roads” because a handful of old Romans colonized my brain.

Maybe all roads don’t lead to Rome, but I know they lead somewhere good and I hope we meet along the way.



If you like “No Roads,”  please return the favor by posting a review. Whether you love it or hate it, I’d be happy to hear from you. Please post a comment below or send me a note at noroadsleadtorome (at) gmail.com .  If you have a favorite character, let me know so I don’t accidentally kill him off in the sequel.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The US Presidential Marathon Explained

As a US citizen of global proportions, I feel compelled to explain our presidential election process to my three European readers.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the American election is run by the entertainment and advertising industries. Europeans who bemoan our superficial candidates don’t understand that we are voting for actors, not statesmen.

We vote for personalities, not politics. This is because the mainstream Democrats and Republicans aren’t really that different.  If you still have trouble understanding the two main parties, here’s an easy trick:  Coors is the official beer of the Republican Party, the more Euro-friendly Democrats drink Budweiser.

Unlike most places, where campaigns last a couple of months, we Yanks like to draw the process out for nearly two years. This is to assure that no sitting president can get anything done in the last half of a four year term.

Our extended election cycle is a giant economic stimulus package for event planners, caterers, hookers and consultants.

Because we have too many states to keep track of, we start with a primary election in the state of Iowa, followed quickly by New Hampshire. Both states receive an immense financial windfall from the sale of (imported) American flags.

Iowa and New Hampshire serve a vital purpose: they eliminate the most entertaining novelty candidates. This helps giant donors funnel limitless cash on the remaining candidates. Eventually, the remaining forty-eight sates stage increasingly expensive primary contests to assure that advertising and TV money flows from the rich to the super-rich.

A few months before the final election, when most Americans have completely lost interest, each party stages their big convention.

The main outcome of the convention is the “party platform.” The platform serves the same purpose in politics as in Olympic diving: the competitor must jump off the platform, twist and turn in mid-air, and land in the great bathtub of public approval without splashing anyone. Any candidate who “flip-flops” loses points.

Once the convention is over, the final leg of the campaign marathon begins.  Because most voters are loyal to their party, the candidates now engage in symbolic struggle to seduce a small percentage of critical swing voters to their side. These undecided voters force the candidates to escape Houdini-like from a variety of contorted positions.

In a series of televised debates that increasingly resemble "Survivor Island," hot-button topics like “Coke vs. Pepsi” get more scrutiny than dull questions about foreign policy.  

It’s a well known fact that most eligible voters don’t. This is because after two years of over-exposure, we’re sick of the candidates. We know them too well and don’t want any. By the final, fateful November election day, the northern half of the country is home bound due to freak snowstorms while the southern half forgets to vote.

This is why the incumbent usually wins.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The World's Greatest Doctor

The cluster migraines hit me in my mid-thirties, clamping on to the folds of my brain and refusing to let go for the next ten years.

When the migraines started I had good medical coverage and access to great doctors, but nothing seemed to work.  After an uneventful CAT scan, we tried every drug available—some with great recreational potential—but no cluster-buster emerged. 

I tried meditation. I tried warm baths. I tried meditating in a warm bath but I fell asleep and nearly drowned. I tried Tai Chi, but it was so slow and boring it only added to my stress. I experimented with varying my diet, systematically removing everything until only beer remained, but I never found the demonic ingredient that was causing the cluster bombs to explode inside my head.

I eventually found a formula that helped take the edge off—a concoction I called the “migraine mocha:” a cocktail of a controlled substance known as “Fiorinal,” dark chocolate and espresso. In retrospect, this was probably the world’s first “energy drink.”

I should have licensed it to Starbucks.

Many painful years rolled by, slowly. In 2000 I moved to Barcelona, Spain where, to my delight, Fiorinal was available over-the-counter in unlimited quantities at one-tenth the price it cost back home. I was in migraine heaven.

“Would you like codeine with that?” the Spanish pharmacist would ask, but I preferred my Fiorinal straight up with a coffee chaser.

My long-term migraine management strategy became simple: I’d buy lifetime’s supply of medication, have my visiting mother carry it home in her luggage, and pray that she didn’t get caught. Just before I turned my law-abiding mom into an international drug smuggler, I learned that Barcelona was the home to a world-renowned migraine specialist named Dr. Titus.

I decided to give the medical establishment one more chance to stop the intifada that had been raging in my head for the last ten years.

Dr. Titus was in demand so I had to make an appointment months in advance and then, due to business travel, I had to keep re-scheduling. A Fiorinal-filled year passed before I could finally see the legendary Dr. Titus.

When the day of my appointment arrived, I made the mistake of driving to the clinic and got trapped in the eternal gridlock of Spanish traffic. The roads had contracted like the spiteful arteries in my head.

“I’ll be a few minutes late,” I said, calling on my cell phone, the one with the intermittent battery. Fortunately, it was still working that day.

Tranquilo,” the receptionist said.  “No problem.”

After a fruitless search for a parking spot, I finally parked illegally on a side street too narrow for tow-trucks. I was now a half-hour late and a mile away from the clinic.

I began to run, crossing against red lights, dodging oncoming cars and oil-burning Vespas. A cloud of cigarette wielding of teenagers billowed out of a schoolyard. I gasped for breath and tried to see my way through the second-hand haze.

Half way there, I called again. “I’m coming as fast as I can,” I said.

Tranquilo,” the receptionist said, and I began to worry.

Tranquilo? I knew exactly what that meant. It meant I would arrive late and the same tranquilo office tyrant would tell me to reschedule my visit for the following century. She’d charge me double for wasting the doctor’s time, and probably charge me in advance for the next visit.

I was sweating and out of breath when I finally arrived in Dr. Titus’ crowded waiting room. To compensate for patients’ general lack of punctuality, many Spanish doctors schedule all visits for the exact same time. This strategy assures that the doctor’s time isn’t wasted and patients stay entertained  arguing over who’s next—unless one of the patients happens to be a clueless foreigner, in which case he goes last.

By the time my turn came, the office was empty and I was so hungry that my stomach started digesting my small intestines.

Dr. Titus was a tiny man, easily in his late seventies. He asked me a few questions in simple Spanish and then gave me his diagnosis: “Eres tenso” he said. “You’re tense.”


“Tense,” he said, “you’re tense. That’s why you have migraines.”

“Of course I’m tense,” I said, nearly blowing a head-gasket. In frantic Spanish, I proceeded to tell him about the traffic jam and every other injustice I’d suffered that afternoon. “You’d be tense after trying to find a parking place in this town!”

“It’s OK to be tense,” he said.

 Dr. Titus, a man of few words, none of them helpful.

“Is that your entire diagnosis?” I demanded.  Was he really one of the world’s great migraine experts? Had I just paid a hundred and fifty Euros for him to tell me I was tense?

“Some people are just tense,” he said. “You’re one of them.”

I was ready to start shouting, but I didn’t want to confirm his diagnosis.  I took a deep breath and tried to remember my old mantra, the one that had almost killed me in the bathtub.   

“That’s it? We’re done?” 

He nodded, stood up, shook my hand and escorted me to the door. “Stop taking all that medicine,” he said, “and give your self permission to be tense.”

So I did. I ramped down the medication. I reminded myself daily that it was OK to be tense, and within a month, the migraines disappeared.

Years later, I’m still tense. But my head feels fine.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Presidency: I'm in it to Spin it.

I resent the implications that my candidacy for the Republican nomination for President of the USA is a publicity stunt. Any suggestion that I’m running to draw attention to my novel, “No Roads Lead to Rome,” is simple slander by my opponents.

Besides, I announced before those dweebs  and I had a facebook page before those guys had faces.

Sure I’ve got a book to sell. Who doesn’t? Gingrinch has been publishing books for years—you think he’s not in this to get all those remaindered paperbacks out of his garage? Obama’s books make him more money than his day job and I hear he’s got a sequel coming. Mitt Romney’s got a book that says something different every time you read it. Too bad The Donald ducked, because he’s a great fantasy writer.

We’ve had actors as president, so why not a fiction writer? At least I admit upfront to being a liar. My experience embellishing the truth will serve me well when pretending to lower taxes, shrink government, and restore our faded glory.

Still, you have the right to ask why I’m running and I have the right to dodge the question.

But I won’t. I’m running because I’ve still got principles to compromise. I’m running because I don’t have health insurance.  I’m running because I want taxpayers to pay my rent for the next four years.

But mostly, I’m running for president for the same reason everyone else is:  because I’m a narcissist.

Why else would I pretend to have answers for all the world’s problems? Why else would I schlep from state to state kissing hands and shaking babies?  I want to party with reality TV stars. I want to meet heads of state and massage their shoulders. I want to invade Andorra. I want to raise millions of dollars in corporate donations and pretend the cash won’t influence me.

I won’t lie to you, America. While the other candidates say things like “This isn’t about me,” I say it’s all about me.

And you can take that to the ballot box.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

End of the World. Again.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, it appears that the world might end again.

The problem with end of the world predictions is that they are mostly inaccurate. Besides, people spreading end of the world rumors often have ulterior motives like working for Goldman Sachs or a selling a used Nissan.

Throughout history, the world has ended more times than it has begun. Nostradamus, Mayan calendars, and recent shortages of iPad components have all fed our tendency to assume the worst.

Some doomsday scares have been more real than others. In October, 1962, the entire town of Madison, WI thought the world would end during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So they threw an enormous party. When people woke up hung over the next day, many regretted that the world was still there.

Every religion that I’ve been a member of has some variation on the Armageddon theme. To make things worse, The End is usually coupled with very long lines on judgment day. I question any doctrine that threatens humanity with long lines. Waiting hours on the possibility of grace while brimstone falls from above sounds a lot like being invited  out for sushi in Cleveland. A just God would not do this to us.

The end of the world brings out so many hucksters, false prophets, and sign-wielding doomsayers that it begins to resemble Venice Beach.  Some of these folks are quite convincing.  I’m ashamed to admit how many false Rapture, Apocalypse and "Limited Time Offer!"  scams I’ve fallen for.  I still think that Groupon deal for reserved seating in heaven was worth the price but, in general, anyone peddling shortcuts to paradise should be viewed with skepticism. After all, we’re talking about getting into the afterlife, not cutting in line for the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland.

The bad thing about the end of the world is how weird people can get. Some folks will act pious, others will sin like there’s no tomorrow. As tempting as it is to rob a bank to fund your bucket list, I suggest you try to remain calm. Like all advice I dispense, this is mainly aimed at myself because, honestly, if I knew for sure that the world would end tomorrow, I’d probably trash the place. But on the off chance that we’re still around the day after, I’d rather not be asked to clean up. 

So don’t overdo it, Don’t PanicTM,  and don’t bother cleaning your garage. Try to look on the bright side: The end of the world may be the fastest way to get “Dancing with the Stars” off the air.

I Feel Fine

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Royal Wedding Will Save the World

Many uninformed people criticize the British government for demanding austerity while funding an outlandish and expensive Royal Wedding. These same selfish critics are also questioning Her Majesty's Government's budget-busting 2012 London Summer Olympics and tripling the price of a college education.

But Prince William didn’t create the international economic meltdown and it’s not Lady Kate’s fault that she fell in love with a future monarch.  What kind of Scrooge would deny them the dream wedding they are entitled to?

If people truly understood economics they’d realize that the Royal Wedding is just the kick in the pants that the world economy needs.  This blessed event is a huge transfer of wealth from England to the rest of the world. We all stand to benefit.

Examples abound. Payment for flowers from Africa, tea from Indonesia, and the endless memorabilia from China go directly into the pockets of people who need money the most.  It’s no wonder the British Crown enjoys such world wide appeal.

Yet naysayers abound. “What’s in it for the average British taxpayer?” they demand.

Clearly what’s good for the Royals is good for London. What a windfall for pub owners, hotel workers, Rolls Royce mechanics, and pickpockets! It will take weeks to clean up the mess and that means healthy overtime payments to street sweepers who will turn around and spend that money on Royal Wedding memorabilia.

Southern Europe benefits as well.  While London overflows with free spending tourists, most true Londoners will take extended vacations on Santorini and the Costa del Sol.  In addition to generating goodwill towards the next generation of monarchs, cash spent by Royal Wedding refugees will help resolve the Greek and Spanish fiscal crises.

When amortized over all these benefits, it’s clear that the Royal Wedding is an once-in-a-lifetime fiscal stimulant. And unlike other government stimulus packages, this one keeps on giving. Without an active monarchy, many British newspapers and gossip magazines would fold. For years to come, this Royal Couple will provide more entertainment value than the British movie industry for far less investment.

You don't have to be a royalist to love the Royal Wedding. We should all applaud the British taxpayers for their largesse.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Strong Finish to Week One of my 2012 Presidential Campaign

Like all serious contenders I announced my Republican Party candidacy for the 2012 presidential nomination on Facebook.

My candidacy is motivated by the “fierce urgency of now” because my hairline is receding and all serious candidates have great hair. If Donald Trump intends to take great hair to the next level,  I can’t afford to wait.

By the end of Day One, I knew I could be president because none of the Facebook friends who actually know me reacted to my announcement.  This was a relief since anyone--and I mean anyone -who actually knows me could seriously hurt my prospects. To whit, I’m fully prepared to offer ambassadorships in exchange for pretending we’ve never met. (This won’t cost the nation much because most of my high school friends don’t remember high school anyway.)

On Day Two I realized that I need a platform. I need to stand for something, something important. What about education? Boring! Energy independence? Yeah, right.  The problem with these themes is that all the other candidates will be trumpeting their solutions and then, once in office, doing the opposite.

To stand out from the crowd, I intend to traffic in big hairy audacious goals (BHAG’s). To stake my claim as a BHAG man, I offer this early glimpse at my emerging platform:

  • Environment: Pave all national parks to make them razor scooter accessible.  
  • Foreign Policy: Turn the Middle East into a giant Disney theme park called “Holy Land.”
  • Immigration: A single identity card for everyone. Two for schizophrenics.
  • Energy: Red Bull.
  • Education: Let’s stop blaming teachers and start blaming principals.
  • Budget Deficit: Auction the next profile on Mt Rushmore to the highest bidder.
  • National Defense: End the current wars, start some new ones--ideally some we can win.

Admittedly, these visions are so big, they border on hallucinations. But a BHAG full of  buzz will get us through times of no money better than money will get us through times of no buzz.

On Day Three, I wrestled with my lack of experience.  I’ve never had a job I was qualified for, but the presidency is different. To be president, I will need to be spectacularly unqualified.

By Day Four, the challenge of running a national campaign with a battery-sucking iPhone was painfully apparent. While I looked for a suitable Starbucks to use as a headquarters, my political opponents were already ravaging the early primary states.

How will I capture the hearts and minds of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire without visiting those forgettable backwaters?

Bold decisions will be the currency of my campaign! Rather than kowtow to voters in places I couldn’t care less about, I will limit my physical campaign to low cost vacation spots and coastal states with free Wi-Fi. Voters in all of the other places will learn about me through Twitter.

By Day Five, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I still felt pretty good spiritually until I learned that even Jewish candidates are expected to go to church. I had never realized how many different kinds of churches this country has. What if I choose the wrong ones?

By Saturday, the campaign grind was taking a tool. I needed a break, badly. Fortunately both the weekend and my Netflix shipment had now arrived, so I took some time off to watch “West Wing” reruns and respond to hate mail.

But make no mistake, America. Rest assured that, come Monday, I’ll be back on the campaign trail, working hard to earn your vote so that I can live rent free for the next four years.

Monday, April 4, 2011

English Rocks!

English, the ugly-duckling lovechild of a tense three-way union between Celtic, German, and French way back in 1066, is now the world’s flagship language of commerce. 

Why? Because learning English is easy—like driving the Spanish highways—no rules, only exceptions.

More importantly, it’s practical. A simple experiment reveals that English is more efficient than its three mother tongues. Counting the letters in “no,” “nein,” and “non” shows that using English conserves letters by a factor of two.

Mankind’s relentless search for efficiency routinely leads multi-national corporations to adopt English as their official idiom because fewer key strokes are needed to transmit unambiguous messages like, “To help reduce costs, your job will be moved offshore … tomorrow.”

A book printed in English requires fewer pages than its translation into any other language with the possible exception of the whistling tongue of La Gomera Island.  English saves tons of paper and millions of trees.

And English nouns have no need for sexist articles doting slavishly upon over-sensitive adjectives. Unlike the testy masculine and flirtatious feminine nouns in the appropriately named “romance languages,” calm, egalitarian English nouns don’t chafe against gender stereotypes. The politically correct ancient Germans tried to fix this and just made it worse. Hoping to reduce counter-productive sexual tension among nouns, Germans added  a futile “neuter” gender which, eunuch-like, confuses all and satisfies none.

By speaking English you can say more with fewer breaths. In dialogue-heavy French cinema, tightly crafted English subtitles typically finish long before the film ends. Why do defiant French film makers hold so desperately to their je ne sais quoi?  Why do French directors refuse to add the essential car crashes, fight scenes, and expensive special effects sequences needed to buy time while their ponderous dialogue catches up with the terse subtitles? Even tradition-bound British filmmakers have embraced English and gratuitous chase scenes.

But the real reason to learn English is so you can fully connect with humanity’s crowning cultural achievement: Rock and Roll.  As the universally acknowledged “Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World,” The Rolling Stones are in a position to choose any language on any planet for their official tongue. But when Mick’s lips pound out emotional, untranslatable poetry like “…yeah, yeah, yeah…. whoo!” and “I can’t get no! No, no, no! Hey, hey, hey! That’s what I say!” only English can do the trick.    

French may be the language of love, and German  may have a slight edge in heavy metal,  but rock-and-roll clearly works best in English. Thanks to pop music, five centuries of western culture have been distilled down to three guitar chords and clean, repetitive patterns that can accommodate even the shortest of attention spans while leaving plenty of time between tunes for commercial announcements.

 (Adapted from "The Expat's Pajama's: Barcelona by R.S. Gompertz
Available  wherever fine e-books are sold!)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Outsource Your Children

I’ve decided to run my life more like a business. With the private sector as my inspiration, I will privatize my life. From now on, all activities will be scrutinized for their contribution to the bottom line. Status quo will no longer be my credo. Efficiency will drive all my actions.

First, of course, I need a business-like mission statement. A mission statement must concisely summarize your core values but be general enough to maintain some wiggle room. My mission may evolve, but for now I’m going with: “Maintain a laser focus on the end of the day where the rubber meets the road as things tee up going forward.”

Next, I’ll need a vision. After a bit of market research, I’ve decided that my vision will be: “Execute the mission statement.”

Running my life as a business means putting a cold-blooded, steely-eyed dollar value on everything. Everything must have positive return on investment (ROI), or it gets cut. No waste, no fluff! Mapping my activities onto a balance sheet may be difficult, but I believe such discipline will help with my laser focus.

After careful analysis I’ve decided to outsource my kids. I know this will be hard on them -- possibly traumatic-- but for the good of the organization, some difficult steps have to be taken. They are, after all, a major cost center that has yet to show a profit.

Everyone says “kids are the future,” but this isn’t very laser-like. Too much ambiguity! When exactly does this future arrive and what is the the net present value of my investment? If my US-based kids don’t deliver positive cash flow, there are kids in other geographies who will. For the price of one of my kids, I can get many more through a well-executed offshoring strategy.

I know this sounds harsh, but I’ve bench marked my kids against a representative group of neighborhood children and, frankly, mine are under-performing. On those occasions when I really need a family, I can rent one! So, until I have more clarity around their short term value-proposition, I will outsource my permanent kids and replace them with contractors.  This should vastly improve my expense ratios.

I know this sounds tyrannical, but I need to be “lean and mean” in order to compete in the global economy. In the long run, we will all benefit from right-sizing the family. In recognition of their prior service to the organization, my sons will be eligible for a 2-week training program that includes lawn mower maintenance, putting dishes in the dishwasher, washing machine operation, and other skills that will be invaluable in the emerging service economy.

In gratitude for their past service, my sons will also receive a severance benefit equivalent to 2 weeks allowance for every year they’ve lived under my roof.

Speaking of roofs, I’ll need to improve the asset side of my balance sheet. Assets -- things like clothing, furniture, and kitchen sinks--are a drag on earnings.  My accountant suggests that I donate all my assets to charity, take a tax deduction, and then lease back the things I really need.

Here’s how it works: I donate my socks to, say, the Salvation Army.  Since many of those socks are less than a year old, I’ll claim a large tax credit against my earnings. During the portion of the year when I can’t wear sandals, I’ll rent socks and show this as an expense on my balance sheet. It makes no sense whatsoever to have a drawer full of under-utilized socks in the summer time. Outsourcing my socks is both fiscally sound and well-aligned with global trends.  

My business plan is still evolving, but I feel it’s directionally correct enough to launch. “Launch and learn” is the way I’ll tee this up for now. I’ll “adapt and go” as economic conditions change going forward. 

Please contact me about franchise opportunities, motivational appearances, and personal consulting on how you, too, can find win-win scenarios through privatizing your life.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Save the Rich!

If you are jealous of the rich, don’t be. The rich have problems you can’t imagine or afford.

Let’s say, for example, you’ve got 100 million dollars. Sounds great, right? Wrong. 100 million bucks is nothing but trouble. For starters, to keep that money FDIC insured means you’d need about 500 checking accounts. Think of all the passwords you'd have to remember.

People without money think cash solves all problems. People with money know it doesn’t --that’s why they don’t want you to have more.

To be rich is to be different. Everyday of your life, you feel isolated, alienated from the regular people who take care of your tennis court and pool. It’s not easy having green.

I know you’re not buying this. You think its easy being over-privileged. But who can they trust? Where do they turn in times of need?

The rich are shunned. Recently the world's top bankers were so lonely they had to award themselves bonuses for surviving the financial crisis they caused.

The rich are discriminated against. That’s why they need more tax breaks.

With the exception of the US Senate, there aren’t any non-profit organizations around to aid the over-privileged.

You pretend to be tolerant and understanding, but ask yourself: Would you be comfortable if an over-privileged family moved into your neighborhood? Rich people living right next door?

Would you let your sister marry one?

Imagine this. You’re walking alone one night on a dark street downtown, near the theater district. Suddenly, the opera is over and the street fills with rich people. Nervous?

You betcha! 

Now it gets worse. One of them tries to talk to you, thinks you’re his driver or something. What do you do? You pretend not to hear him. You act like he’s invisible.

Later, you make excuses like, “What am I supposed to say to rich people? I don’t know anything about private islands, fractional Learjet shares, or hundred-year old Cognac.”

You say you respect their culture. You say you think rich people should be treated equally, but that’s exactly where you’re wrong.The golden rule doesn’t apply to the ones with the gold. 

You think it’s respectful to treat them the way we want to be treated? They don’t want to be treated like us!

So have some sympathy for our lonely, depressed, over-privileged rich brethren. Smile and wave when their limos pass.