Category Archives: Alas Babylon

Not So Sweet Dreams

A Play in One Act

Dramatis Personae:


Me: A seasoned traveler with about 4 million air miles, approved by US Global Entry, a man the police would call an “upstanding citizen.”


Katrinka (KT): Security supervisor at British Airways Terminal 5.


The Inspector (IN): British police inspector called upon when possible bomb materials are detected.


Plain Clothes Counter-Terrorist Official #1 (PC #1): Called by an inspector when there may be a serious threat.


Plain Clothes Counter-Terrorism Official #2 (PC #2): Assists PC #1.


Dog Handler #1 (DH #1): Controls dog with special detection skills, not revealed.


Dog Handler #2 (DH #2): Controls second dog with different special detection skills, not revealed.


Cocker Spaniel #1 (CS #1): Works with DH #1 above. Black.


Cocker Spaniel #2 (CS #2): Works with DH #2. Brown and white.


Our Drama:


I had finished my meeting at The Haymarket Hotel on Friday after a great week and went downstairs at 1 pm to meet my driver who was to arrive at 1:30. However, my driver also arrived at 1, so we left immediately for Heathrow Airport. The trip took exactly one hour.


I checked in with British Air first class, and was going to collect the VAT I was due for an item purchased while in London. However, the line was so long—over 100 people—that I calculated even if each person took only 30 seconds (which was highly improbable) I’d be on line for an hour. I wanted to buy some cigars and change my money, then have a drink in the first class lounge, so I decided to forego my refund. (Which, by the way, I think is their intent.) The money wasn’t worth my time.


I went into the fast track security line and was through the security machine in two minutes or so, but I noticed my carry-on bag had been diverted to another inspection. These inspections are painfully slow, but my plane was at 5, meaning I had to be at the gate by 4:40, when they close it. It was only 2:10.


A woman painstakingly went through my bag, took things apart, swabbed everything in sight, and then inserted things into machines. She told me I failed a test, but was using a second test which should clear things up. While I waited, KT showed up, consulted with the woman and came over to me.


KT: I’m afraid, sir, we have a bit of an issue, your bag is testing positive for chemical and/or explosive materials.


Me: What?!


KT: What kind of doctor are you? What medicines do you prescribe or consume? Might they rub off in your luggage?


Me: I’m not the kind of doctor who helps people! I’m a PhD.


KT: In what field.


Me: Psychology.


KT: Psychologists can prescribe medication.


Me: I’m not a psychologist and If I could prescribe anything, believe me, I’d be taking Valium at this very moment.


KT: I’m sure we can clear it up, but since you failed both tests I’m required to call the police.


Me: What?!


KT: They are very rapid and thorough, and will get here within 20 minutes. I’m sure they will put this right.


Me: What do they need to do to put things right?


KT: They will interview you. Please just wait over there with me by the podium. We’ll keep your bag here, you can retain your briefcase, and I’ll hold your passport.


In about 15 minutes, an officer shows up in full regalia, including bullet proof vest and two cell phones dangling from it.


IN: Hello, sir, I’m Inspector Peters (name changed) and I’ll have to ask you a few questions.


Me: Sure.


The inspector proceeds to ask me the same questions KT did, and also about whether my bags were ever out of my sight. As he is questioning me about my Indonesian and Chinese visas, PC #1 and PC #2 arrive. They are both talking on their phones.


IN: What do you do specifically if you’re not a doctor?


ME: I’m a consultant.


IN: And why are you here in London?


Me: Teaching other consultants.


IN: Hmmmm.


Me: Who are these other guys?


IN: They are counter-terrorism agents.


Me: What?!


IN: It’s all procedure. We’ll have you on your plane in plenty of time if we are happy and the dogs are happy.


Me: What?!


IN: It’s procedure, the dogs will have to sniff your bag. They are far better than the machine.


Me: Why dogs, plural?


IN: They each specialize in something the other doesn’t.


Me: What things?


IN: I can’t tell you that.


PC #1: May I ask you a few questions?


Me: Sure


He proceeds to ask the same questions for the third time. I note that each of them has to copy all the information from my passport longhand on pads, and they help each other spell certain items.


PC #1: Tell me about the kind of consulting you do. And why are you going to Miami?:


Me: I’m not going to Miami. I’m going to Boston.


PC #1 rechecks my boarding pass and confirms that I am correct about my own destination. PC #2 is now off the phone and confers with his partner.


Me: Everything okay?


PC #2: Yes, we’re happy, but we have to wait for the dogs.


PC #1: I used to be a consultant, you know. I worked with Oracle and lived in Redwood Shores, California.


Me: What!!?? I lived in Redwood Shores for two years!


PC #1: How about that? I was thinking of getting back into consulting some time.


IN: The dogs are here.


DH #1 and #2 arrive, #1 with a black cocker spaniel and #2 with a brown and white cocker spaniel. While they are getting set up, IN asks if there might be any kind of spray or liquid I did not put in my plastic bag.


Me: Yes, the hotel gives guests sprays to use at night on the pillows to help with sleeping, and I threw two into my bag.


IN: I’ll bet that’s it.


He goes over to KT, confers, and they run the machines again.


IN: The machines have now passed you, but the swabs found the substance in the lining of your luggage. The spray probably leaked, but it’s up to the dogs, now.


Me: Sleeping spray turns up on your machines as explosive materials?


IN: Yes, it’s happened before.


Me: What happens if the dogs aren’t happy?


IN, frowning: We need to go through additional processes.


With everyone now watching, they choose CS #1, who trots into the security operations where my bag is and can no longer be seen. No one is saying anything. The dog emerges in 20 seconds.


KT: We’re good.


IN: Sorry to have troubled you sir.


Me: What about the other dog?


IN: Fortunately for you, it wasn’t needed.


Me: Will this be a problem if I renter the UK, which I plan to do next year?


IN: No, but my advice is to get rid of the bag. We had a woman with the exact same problem, and she kept telling us it was a coincidence that she was always singled out. But she kept using the same bag.


Me to handlers and IN: Can I take the dogs’ picture? Inspector, would you like to be in the shot?


IN: No, you can’t take my photo, against the rules.


DH #1: You can’t take ours either, and you’ll have to blur the dogs’ faces.


Me: You’re afraid of the dogs being recognized??!!


DH #1: Just having a bit of humor with you, sir.


It was now 3 pm. The British Concorde Club was just a few feet away. I asked the bar tender to fill the nearest glass to the top with Jameson’s.


If the car had come at 1:30 and I had waited in the VAT line, it would probably be 4:30 at that point and a train was required to reach my distant gate, which closed at 4:40.


On my way to the train, I stopped in a cigar store and took a handful of the best they had. It’s not every day that you go through a human hierarchy to find that a cocker spaniel holds your fate in its nose.


© Alan Weiss 2014


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Dumb Ass Stupid Management: Social Security

I had to file some papers with the social security people, and they are in a very nice area, between one of my cigar clubs and the spa where I get my massages. So I planned to hit all three the other afternoon.

I was told that the SSA office is only open until 3, and only noon on Wednesdays. (Good hours, right? Imagine McDonald’s or Apple or Ford keeping those hours.) I arrived with a book and my iPhone, dutifully registered on a touch screen, and received my number in line.

Two of four windows were closed, unstaffed.

One woman staffer was moving people quickly, and my number was called within 20 minutes. After asking me the same questions I already answered on the computer screen, she told me that my transaction couldn’t be processed that day. I’d have to come back, and no later than 1:30 in the afternoon.

“Why is that?”

“We’re understaffed and this transaction needs a specialist.”

“I was told on the phone that I didn’t need an appointment and that I could come at any time prior to closing.”

“Whoever you spoke to didn’t understand that we’re understaffed and only take care of this transaction earlier in the day.”

“So, I’ve been told the wrong thing, wasted my time here waiting, and you’re simply telling me to come back again?”

“That’s correct.”

Small wonder she was moving people so quickly!

In the waiting room were elderly people, one severely hearing impaired, one in a wheelchair, and several who were dropped off by drivers. They were all taking time out of their day to be there. There were also younger people, no doubt missing work.

And people believe the government should take over more services and activities? The best and brightest do not go into government management. We all have to live with the consequences.

I visited my cigar club early, where they know how to treat their customers.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Sorry, I’m a PROFESSIONAL Victim

A guy registers for my new Power of Personal Worth program to begin in September. He did this when I had a discount offer a couple of months ago. But his credit card was denied. We sent him a notice and told him he’d have to resubmit.

He wrote me two days ago to say the notice was just found in his spam folder, and he’d like to know how to get the original, expired, discounted price. So: He sends a credit card that isn’t honored by  his bank, doesn’t check his own mail or has the wrong filters, and wants me to make an allowance for him.

That’s not self-worth, which involves accountability, that’s victimization as an art form. None of it’s his fault, so I should make it up t0 him.

There’s a free lesson if you want to take control of your life.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Shadows of Schadenfreude

 Shadows of Schadenfreude

(Stuff I Should Probably Feel Bad About But Somehow Don’t)


• I want the kids in the surf who scream like banshees with every wave to get a mouthful of seawater until they stop, and for good measure I want their parents’ food to be stolen by seagulls.

• I love it when the moron tailgating me on a city street can’t make it through the light after I do.

• It’s rewarding when the cool dude who wanders into the bar to see if anyone in there is worth his precious time trips over a table leg on the way back out.

• Makes my day when the people who ostentatiously arrive at their front row seats at the theater late are mocked by someone on stage.

• It’s nice when a braggart “instructing” people about how to enjoy Italy based on his one trip there for a week learns he’s speaking to people who were born there.

• I’ve had it with people in church who allow their kids to scream during services so that nothing else can be heard, even though there are private rooms they can use and still hear the service.

• If you’re going to stop in a doorway to chat leaving a theater, you deserve to be trampled underfoot.

• People on motor scooters doing 20 in a 45 zone, refusing to move over for other vehicles, should run out of gas in a deserted area with no cell phone reception 50 miles from home.

• Servers who introduce themselves at length, offer gratuitous opinions about food and wine, and constantly ask how you’re doing should be caught stealing food and spend the rest of their employment washing dishes.

• The person talking to you but looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anyone more appealing to talk to should miss Bill Gates and Diane Sawyer departing right behind her.

• The people who insist on saying, “No problem” should have some problems.


© Alan Weiss 2014

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Dumb Ass Stupid Management: Capital Zero

At 8:30 on Sunday morning, our home phone rings. It’s someone from Capital One asking for “Mary Weese.”

“If you want Marie Weiss, that’s my wife and she’s sleeping. Why are you calling on Sunday morning?” (And how is it you can’t read or pronounce her name?)s

Of course, it’s the fraud (fear) unit, and they can only speak to Maria, can’t talk to me. The woman reads me a script. I stop her and stay, “Just give me a phone number.”

Maria calls back later, and it turns out they were questioning a $4.50 (you read that correctly, four dollars and fifty cent) charge that she made on the internet. They thought it was a convenience store (so what?). That took care of it.

What did that cost the oafs at Capital One? Maybe a thousand dollars to take care of? Over $4.50. That’s what happens when you have looney, zero-tolerance policies and you’re scared stiff of someone stealing a card number.

What do you think the paycheck is of the guy heading Capital One? It’s more than he deserves, you can bet on that.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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What? Who’s Where?

Beware, the Who’s Who scam is back with us lately, telling you you’ve “qualified” to be listed, meaning that you have enough money to buy the book they produce. Who’s Who books and listings with rare exception are ego-oriented nonsense. I placed my dog, Trotsky, in one, once. That’s how strict the vetting is!

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A woman tries to register for my upcoming series on personal fulfillment and self-worth. Her credit card is rejected by her bank on my terminal. This happens perhaps five percent of the time, and 90 percent of those are quickly corrected by the purchaser. As you know, banks are ridiculously paranoid about charges, security, and so on. People generally apologize for the inconvenience, resubmit, and we’re all happy.

This woman, however, writes me back: My card WAS and IS valid!! She screams at me as if  it were my fault the bank didn’t accept the card. (We attempt all charges three times to ensure the error isn’t ours.) I told her that her response was unacceptable and I doubted that she could get anything out of a series on self-esteem, since hers had gone missing entirely. Killing the messenger is the age-old symbol of insecurity, not unlike putting your hands over your ears, closing your eyes, and yelling.

Some people are too far gone. She’s the kind who, if honked at on the road, goes into road rage.

The bank is simply rejecting your attempt to charge something, not your worth as a human being. You control your destiny by correcting the bank, not screaming at the message.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Poverty of Imagination

A woman I don’t know wrote me as part of a mass email this morning asking me to promote her new book to my entire mailing list. I was to include some “offer” so that someone buying the book would receive a zillion dollars in “bonus” value from all of us patsies. The last time I took a look at this, the “bonus” was pure crap, people’s articles that couldn’t be published and audio that couldn’t be sold—a scrap heap delivered to your door.

If you can’t figure out how to promote your work, and it doesn’t have enough value to stand on its own merits, and you have to engage in this kind of amateur behavior, you are not in a position to tell anyone anything in a book, a conversation, or a rune. But this is the latest fad, going into bookstores and turning the books face-out, providing extra (worthless) stuff with it, and so on. Of course, everyone is a “best selling” author today, with an award from some outfit that just gives out awards.

This idiocy makes trodding on hot coals seem useful. I mean, at least you might be able to cook a burger.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Where’s the Delta Here?

McKinsey-speak, courtesy of David Alexander:

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Hide! The Typo People Are Coming!

Some guy who identifies himself in his signature file as an “English language coach” writes me to try to get the discount of my new Self-Fulfillment Series, but asks if he has to subscribe to all three of my other newsletters or just one for the discount. He said I had an “and” instead of an “and/or.”

I told him any one would do, but it was interesting that his email was punctuated incorrectly as an “English expert.” (It was ridiculous.) He went berserk. He sent 10 emails assailing my use of language and claiming that his clear errors were, in fact, correct.

I told him that my series couldn’t possibly help him, since it’s intended for people who want to create a better future, not defend an insufficient past.

May those trolling for typos and insisting on their own punctiliousness forever bring up the rear of the parade, where they belong.

© Alan Weiss 2014


PS: The four typos above are deliberate.

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