Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who Knew...I Love Mincemeat!!

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory
By Ben Macintyre

Major William Martin’s body was found on a Spanish coastline. He appeared to have died in a plane crash while delivering extremely sensitive document about an upcoming Allied invasion. Though Spain was officially neutral in the conflict, the documents were leaked to German intelligence before being returned to British officials. These important plans were relayed all the way to Hitler himself, who used the information to redeploy German troops to the areas of the impending attacks. Fortunately for the Allied Forces, all the documents found on Major Martin’s corpse were forgeries planted by British Intelligence to dupe the Germans, and Major Martin himself never actually existed.

This is the best spy literature I have read in ages, fiction or nonfiction. Macintyre is an engaging story teller and this is a story well worth telling. The individuals involved are fascinating and the plot is filled with lucky breaks and daring deeds. I can highly recommend this to anyone interested in World War II histories, espionage stories, or students of both human folly and courage.

By David Shenk
In The Genius in All of Us, David Shenk presents new scientific discoveries uncovering a new way to think about IQ and talent. First, he argues for a new way to think about genes and genetics. Where we once thought our genes decided who we are and what we can become, science is now finding that our environment plays an extremely large role in activating those genes and changing how they in turn alter us and our potential. Once the science has been explained, Shenk gives on overview of what this means for us and our children.

Almost half of this book’s 300 pages contain “The Evidence” which includes sources, notes, clarifications, and amplifications. The author’s presentation is convincing and fascinating. What we learn is that while not everyone can become an expert at anything, we are all hardwired to be adaptive to our environment. The right circumstances, drive, and opportunities can create amazing abilities in peoples. It would almost appear that we have more control over our genes than we do over our environment which is a dramatic paradigm shift. This book’s topic reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, but relies more on science to make its arguments.

I Blame the Fact That I Was STARVED!!

Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you really want to do something, but you know that...even though it totally makes sense to you....others may think you are crazy if you actually do it? Well, sometimes....I just have to do those types of things anyway.

So, I'm in a fabric store where I had just selected my 4 bolts of lovely flannel when I found myself at the cutting table with a couple of women in front of me and no store employees on the other side of the counter.

After waiting for what felt like 10 minutes, but was probably only 2, the cutter returned to the table with three large rolls of 2" ribbons. They were for the ladies in front of me and each roll needed to be measured...which is fine. The first roll was unwound and measured (it was 10' long) and then, the store employee proceeded to slowly and meticulously roll the ribbon back onto the spool.

Now, in my mind I'm thinking, "How weird would it be if I offered to do the re-rolling? This is going to take FOREVER!! Will they think I'm rude? Or just nuts?" I'm proud to say I refrained from stepping in....until she got to the second roll of ribbon (8' long) and started re-rolling.

I just couldn't take it anymore. I had to offer my help! There were three of us just standing there staring at the one person who was doing all the work...slowly!

I put on my sheepish, unjudgmental face and said "Could I please roll that up for you?" They all looked at me like I was a little I added "I'm really hungry." They laughed nervously and the employee handed over the ribbon and I happily started winding it back onto the spool.

When it came time to wind the final spool, the lady buying the ribbon actually offered to do it...I felt a little bad...but seriously....I was really hungry and I just wanted to buy my fabric and get out of there.

Fortunately, I don't go there often, but I really do think I was totally justified....I just wanted to help. And in my defense, I was starving to death and I could tell my stomach was eyeing my liver as a possible place to find sustenance....though I wouldn't have eaten anything last night if I thought my stomach could go ahead and start munching on other pockets of stored cellulite....

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Kicking Me While I'm Down...

This is not a "pity me" blog...just in case you were wondering.

However, I had a rough week...and by rough I mean frustrating in a way that will entertain others. I was kind of totally dogged this week by a guy I kinda liked. Nothing big or anything, but it's sad to learn that a hope you had has dried up like the last leaves of autumn and crumbled into nothing but dust...dust that then is blown by the winds of disillusionment and then gets lodged under your contacts and hurts like....well, it hurts.

Anyway, so I was feeling a little down and wouldn't you know it, but the sketchy residents of Provo came to make me feel better. First there was the tattooed, weird facial hair guy that smelled like smoke who asked me to look up his library card number. As I did my little look-up thing, he observed "You don't have a ring on."

"No, I don't." I politely acknowledged.

"Well, does that mean you are available?"

"No," I asserted. "It surely doesn't."

The third depressing "guy" related experience this week found me again at the reference desk. Minding my own business when I noticed that two men (both, I swear in their late 40's) were pointing and giggling like two high school girls. The one I have talked to before (he informed me that when I worked in the old library (10 years ago) they (I have no idea who "they" is) used to call me 'sleepy eyes'....I's that looking tired thing again). Anyway, I just had a bad feeling about the way they were acting, so I got up from the desk to run a few errands hoping to avoid any awkward confrontations.

Well, I was too slow. The guy I didn't know, we'll call him "the friend", says "Hey, ma'am."


"What's your name?"


"Well, my friend," he looked around for his friend who had disappeared someplace. "He's a little skittish....well, he just thinks you're real pretty."

"Um...thanks? That's very nice of him."

"He just thinks you have the nicest eyes."

Again...since I've never really found a good way to say what I was actually feeling which was "The words you are saying are things I would like to hear...but the fact that they are coming from you makes them really depressing." I simply said "That's very nice."

And I made my little escape.

Later I learned that they met up again a few minutes later and the "friend" told his friend that he had "told me I was pretty for him." And...better yet...that I had thought that was really sweet.


Well, my question is....WHY!!!!???? Why do guys I like run away from me like I'm a leprous one eared freak....when really weird guys feel free to hit on me. Someone explain!!

Rich People Are Crazy!!

Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich
By Robert Frank

Just before the U.S. economy took a brutal beating in 2008, Robert Frank wrote this book detailing the lifestyles of the wealthiest Americans. The spending habits of these multi-millionaires and billionaires (because just having a million dollars now-a-days barely raises you above the middle class) demonstrate a shocking level of consumerism and opulence. And if readers aren’t dazed by the spending, they may still experience feelings of astonishment over the amount of debt people are willing to get themselves into in order to “have it all”.

Before reading this book, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the amount of money the “other half” was spending. But when I read about the $350,000 watches being purchased, I had to take a serious moment to swallow the unkind feelings that may have surfaced. It would be interesting to learn what has changed over the past couple of years since the recent economic downturn. But definitely, the strongest conviction I walked away with was the assurance that if I found myself in possession of a large (or small) fortune, I would surely be a better rich person than most of those described in this book. "I would demonstrate the perfect combination of frivolous and sensible. Money is so wasted on the wealthy!"

Anybody recognize the quote at the end?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Weekend Reviews

By Sebastian Junger

From the author of The Perfect Storm, comes a new book detailing the lives of U.S. Army soldiers fighting from the most dangerous camp in Afghanistan. What goes through the mind of a man after a bullet ricochets off his helmet? What type of relationships develop between soldiers who continuously trust their lives to each other? How can these men return to civilian life after living on the front lines? Junger tries to answer these and other probing questions, illuminating the sacrifice and courage demonstrated by those fighting for our country.

The author spent months at a time on the outpost eating the same food, sleeping in the same bunks, and venturing out with the company on missions into enemy territory. His observations give a unique look at these men living in extreme circumstances. It’s a look into what we ask of those protecting our interests and the toll it takes on them physically, emotionally, and mentally. I highly recommend this book. Be prepared for the rough language that necessarily accompanies an honest portrayal of Army life. But also be prepared to understand a little better how modern warriors are made.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates
By Wes Moore

How are our fates decided? How can one person succeed and another fail when their origins appear to be so similar? These questions are asked in a very powerful way through this dual biography of two boys whose names, family circumstances, and socioeconomic positions are all eerily similar but whose lives lead them in two entirely different directions. One becomes a Rhodes Scholar and the other is sentenced to life in prison. The author summarizes their stories well on the front jack stating “The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

In each of the eight chapters, Moore describes events or decisions in both boys’ lives during a single year that led them to their polarized futures. Don’t expect any real answers to what points a kid toward success or failure. What Moore does provide is a very vivid picture of the obstacles young men face as they progress to manhood, especially in our country’s inner cities. Readers gain a timely reminder that our youth need role models and positive influences that give them confidence in their own ability to rise above their circumstances. Moore realizes at one point that “The Expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of our selves.” A powerful message our society undeniably needs.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thank Heaven! The worst is behind me...

I was putting together a bunch of family pictures for my Dad's 60th birthday when I came across this gem. It is officially the worst portrait that has or ever will be taken of me. There I am, in the top left corner....terrifying eh? The bad hair can be blamed on the one survived the 80s without a few bad do's...yes, that is a cold sore on my lip... the glasses are what we used to wear...seriously....and I just can't excuse the startled look on my face. Soooo bad!! Maybe I was trying not to blink?? Ever??

I'm proud to be secure enough to post this picture...putting it out there to the ridicule of my family and friends (Melanie and Shayla have already bonded over this). But I'm not so secure that I won't also post a cute picture of me when I was little....because, I was a dang cute kid.
I'm the one smiling on my Dad's lap.

You may be wondering how I know this will be the worst portrait of me...I'll tell you! It's one of the benefits of being a grown-up. I now have a lot more control over what pictures survive to see the light of day. Never again will something like this survive to be witnessed by others! Seriously...I'll destroy memory cards with massive magnets if I have to. :)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Just a few books I read over the holiday :)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
By Seth Grahame-Smith
Grand Central Pub., 2010. 336 pgs. Fiction

As if Abraham Lincoln didn’t have enough stress in his life, what with preserving the union and emancipating the slaves, Grahame-Smith also has him saving the nation from vampires. Abe is first introduced to this dark world of death when he learns that his mother’s terminal illness was caused by his father’s dealings with the undead. He vows to avenge her murder and begins a quest to rid the entire country of all vampires.

This was so much better than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! The picture of a tall, thoughtful Abe Lincoln wielding a fierce ax as he slaughters the walking dead is surprisingly believable…as far as stories of vampire hunters can be believable. Historic facts are represented as Lincoln struggles with depression and suicide each time he is devastated by the deaths of those nearest to him. If you are looking for an entertaining and light horror read with little language or sensuality but a whole lot of blood and guts, this book may be perfect for you.

Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History
By Scott Andrew Selby & Greg Campbell
Union Square Press, 2010. 319 pgs. Nonfiction.

Is there such a thing as a perfect crime? Probably not, but a group of jewel thieves from Turin came pretty close when they robbed the vault of a building in Antwerp’s Diamond District. They got away with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of diamonds, cash, and jewelry without anyone being aware of their visit to the vault until a security guard opened the building for business the following Monday morning. Some of those involved were apprehended and sentenced to jail time but there are still aspects of the job that baffle investigating officials.

As a fan of heist movies and novels, I didn’t think this true narration was exactly gripping. It was fascinating though. The patience the thieves had over the two years of planning for the theft and then their nerve in actually pulling it off was truly amazing. On the other side of the crime, the authors also describe the actions of victims and law enforcement officers as they face the crime’s aftermath. This is an entertaining true crime story, without the violence that genre often contains.

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
By Neil Gaiman
William Morrow, 2006. 360 pgs. Fantasy.

This is a collection of short stories and poems, including a novella featuring Shadow from American Gods. The introduction includes a short explanation for each story telling why it was written, where it was originally published, and any awards it won. Gaiman’s stories contain the dark humor that usually accompanies his work. Fans will enjoy these little morsels, but those not familiar with his other works may find them a bit random.

I listened to a production of this book read by the author, which I’m convinced is the best way to enjoy all things Gaiman. His skills as a writer are enhanced by his narrating abilities. I did not love every story, but I really enjoyed most and I usually dislike reading short stories. A couple of the stories were a little gritty and definitely for a mature audience.