October 31, 2012
My visit with the Little Brown Jug
It's Jug Week! The last time Minnesota won the Jug, I got to hold it. Here is my story from 2005:
Yesterday I was determined to see the Little Brown Jug. Nothing would stand in my way. I intentionally did not go to see it on Monday because I knew it would be crowded and I wanted to take my time with it. So, at around 11:00 AM Tuesday I set out from my office for the Gopher Football Hall of Fame at the Gibson/Nagurski Football Practice Facility on the East Bank of the U of M. I thought it would still be on display.
I was wrong. When I got there people were setting up for Mason's weekly press conference and the HOF was filled with tables. Some people from Famous Dave's were also there setting up a table of food. I turned to the first person I saw and asked as calmly as I could, "Where is the Jug? Do you know where the Jug is?"
He answered, "Dude, I work for Famous Dave's. You'll have to ask someone else."
Man! I was ticked. I thought, "I should have come on Monday! Idiot!" So I stood there stewing a little bit.
Then I looked across the HOF and saw Pam Borton, the women's basketball coach, standing at the top of the stairs. I don't know why, but this prompted me to walk up the stairs. "Maybe Pam knows where the Jug is," I thought.
When I got to the top of the stairs she began talking with someone else, but I noticed I was at the doors to the football program's main offices. I could see some of the football team milling about through the glass doors and a student secretary sitting at the front desk. My determination knew no bounds! I walked into the offices and strode right to the front desk like I owned the place.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw in a side room the box that houses the greatest trophy in college football. My heart jumped! "It is in here somewhere," I thought. So, I turned to the student secretary and said, "Do you know where the Jug is?"
She answered, "Do you want to see it?"
"Oh yes," I said, "Very much."
So, she got up and went into the side room where I saw the box. Ah, but instead of reaching into the box, she reached under the table the box was sitting on and pulled out the Jug. I thought to myself, "Now there is Minnesota ingenuity! If a thief came to steal the Jug he would think it is in the box. He wouldn't even think to look under the table! Good thinking Mase! Under the table! Genius!"
She brought the Jug out and set it on the reception desk. Oh man ... words cannot describe the feeling of seeing this piece of history just sitting there right in front of me. So many games, so many players, so many memories. It has its own aura around it that you just can't escape. So, I started to take some pictures:
I asked, "Can I touch it?" and she said, "Sure!"
I couldn't believe it. So, I spun it around and found the most recent score:
From an office down the hall I heard a voice, "We just painted the score on! Don't mess up the paint!"
Does anyone else think this is as weird as I think it is? I mean, this Jug is literally priceless! It is irreplaceable! If it was ever put up for sale at an auction what would a Michigan or Minnesota booster be willing to pay for it? Millions I would wager. And here they are letting me, a total stranger, touch it and spin it around seemingly without a care for its safety. I was in heaven!
So, I asked, "Can I pick it up?" The student secretary looked at me kind of strange and said, "Well sure. Go ahead. Do you want me to take a picture of you with it?"
"Yes!" I answered. I gave her my camera and I picked up the Jug. The words of Lloyd Carr, the Michigan head coach, repeated in my head:
"I don't hold it up in front of the team ... I don't trust myself," Carr said. "I certainly don't want to be remembered as the guy who destroyed the Little Brown Jug. Anybody that handles it needs to be careful with it. Sometimes I worry after the game about the players."
I can't believe they let me pick it up. I can't believe they let anyone touch it! It is amazing to me. And yet, pick it up I did, and here is the picture to prove it:
I may not look "giddy" but I was really, really "giddy." Holding the Jug is something not a whole lot of people get to do, especially if you are from Minnesota.
Anyway, I put down the jug, thanked the student secretary and I walked through the door. A football player near the door saw me and my goofy grin and he gave me a goofy grin of his own. I laughed and walked out the door.
It is truly strange how happy this Little Brown Jug can make people. 19 years of frustration wiped away will do that I guess. Now the Golden Gophers will play for the Axe, but for me the season is already a success. It would certainly be nice to beat Wisconsin, don't get me wrong. I will trudge back to the HOF and ask to see the Axe, too. I may even pose with it like I am smashing the Jug! (Or maybe not). But having the Jug ... that is enough for me. It has been a while since I have been so happy to be a fan of a Minnesota sports team. I thank the Golden Gophers football team for that.
December 15, 2011
Books Read 2011
Theses are the books I read in 2011, in order of my favorite to least favorite. It was a good year for reading books, namely because of how much to the Twins and Vikings stunk it up. I had a lot more time on my hands to read. As always, every one of these books was checked out from a library. Buying books is for suckers. Before we begin, here are the books I've read in years past:
Books Read 2011 (in order by how much I enjoyed them):
- Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Best book of the year, and certainly the best of the many fantasy books I read this year. Usually I find fantasy to be pretty insulting ("The Sword of Truth" series comes to mind), but this book has renewed my faith in the genre. Easily the most creative and memorable book I read this year. The book tells the story of Vin and Kelsier, two Skaa slaves who find out that they have the power of the Mistborn, and decide to try to overthrow the Lord Ruler himself. This book is so creative, it makes the reader wonder, "How do these authors come up with this stuff?" The ending just blew me away.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
HeLa cells are one of the most powerful tools scientists have today to find cures and fight disease. Where they come from may be even more of a fascinating story, though. HeLa cells are the first "immortal" cells, so called because they are still alive and growing 60 years after they were discovered, after they were taken from a poor, black woman in Baltimore without her or her family's knowledge. This book tells their story, discusses bio-medical ethics in general, and finally gives some credit to Henrietta Lacks without whom we wouldn't have many of the medical breakthroughs of the 20th century. Great book.
- The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni
It is hard to describe why I liked this book as much as I did. The story is strange. Sebastian lives with his grandmother in a geodesic dome in Iowa. She home-schools him, mainly with the teachings of Buckminster Fuller. One day, Grandma has a stroke, and Sebastian goes to live with Jared, a chain-smoking, heart-transplant recipient who fancies himself a punk rock musician. Their unlikely friendship, and the lessons the innocent Sebastian learns along the way, make this story a real treat.
- Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
This book reminded me a lot of The Lost City of Z, which was another great book I read two years ago. Mark Adams is an adventure and travel magazine editor who decided to retrace the steps of Hiram Bingham, the "discoverer" of Machu Picchu in Peru. This book intertwines Hiram Bingham's fascinating journey with the Adams' own journey into the heart of the Incan Empire. I've read a lot of adventure books, but never have I finished one with the absolute, overwhelming desire to do what this author did. Before I die, I have to take the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu. No question about it.
- At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
A room by room tour of a typical house ... at least a typical house in Great Britain. At Home is a fascinating book full of amazing stories of why we live the way we do. Who knew domestic life could be so interesting. One of the more fascinating chapters was on public sanitation. Other chapters cover the history of window glass, or parks (public and private), or waterproof cement ... the book goes all over the place. Bryson uses the home as a jumping off point for whatever interesting story he wants to tell us, and writes a book that is both highly informative and extremely fun.
- In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
Erik Larson is a good writer. I loved his Devil in the White City, and with this book he writes another story that is hard to put down. The book tells the story of William Dodd, the newly appointed US ambassador to Germany right as Hitler was just beginning to gain more power. Life as an ambassador is full of parties and diplomatic get-togethers, and this is especially true for Dodd's daughter Martha who has more affairs with high-ranking German (and Russian) officials than one would think possible. Eventually Hitler's ruthlessness comes through and Dodd is really left powerless to do anything about it. This is actually a terrifying and frustrating book. We all know what happens in the end of this story, but like Dodd we are powerless to stop it. Could Dodd have done more? Probably not, but what he and the State Department actually accomplished through his ambassadorship was wholly unsatisfactory. Again, knowing what we know now ...
- Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
This is a surprisingly good book, but then again I enjoy most of Scazi's writing. Jack Holloway is an independent mining contractor on a far away planet who finds a mother lode as well as a possible sentient species on the planet he is surveying. But what is "sentience"? The book turns into a surprisingly good courtroom drama on this question. Very thought provoking actually and easy to read.
- Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean
It is a fact that churches and synagogues are losing members as well as the interest of young people. If churches are going to survive they need to appeal to the next generation of churchgoer. However, Dean makes a convincing argument that the current dominant message of "moralistic therapeutic deism" is not doing the job. Teaching our children that God is little more than a kind and caring old man that wants us all to be good and do good may be easy in the short term, but is not engaging or powerful enough a message to sustain a healthy overall church. Dean suggests some necessary possible solutions in this academic look at a well-known problem.
- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Major Ernest Pettigrew is the epitome of a proper English gentleman. A widower, the Major tries to always do the right thing and follows the rules of personal etiquette at all times and in all situations. However, when he falls in love with a local Pakastani shopkeeper, worlds collide and the question of what is proper for both cultures comes into play. Will love win out? You can probably guess the answer, but the journey is still fun and has even been described as "whimsical." I agree, it was a fun read.
- A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The book begins with Bennie, an aging music executive, and Sasha, his kleptomaniac secretary and delves into their pasts and future through the stories of other people whose lives all intertwine in surprising ways. This is a very creative book, with an interesting timeline which jumps to and from numerous points-of-view. The most famous chapter of the book is a powerpoint presentation from a teenage girl that has become one of the most touching things I read all year. Not your typical work of fiction, but because of its creativity it actually works.
- The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
This book has a fantastic premise: what if a polygamist had an affair? Golden Richards has four wives and 28 children, but still feels alone and is overcome with grief over the death of a disabled daughter. Meanwhile his family is overcome by petty squabbles and rivalries. While he doesn't have a typical affair, more of an affair of the heart, he still has to come to grips with his own lack of satisfaction and what it means to be a good father and husband to such a large family. This was a decent book. It was engaging, and the character of Rusty was hilarious. Udall also treats polygamists with about as much dignity as possible which is no easy feat.
- A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
I'm not even going to try to summarize this, the 5th book in the Song of Ice and Fire series made famous by the HBO series The Game of Thrones. While it was better than its predecessor A Feast for Crows, this book still somewhat collapses under the weight of all the sub-plots found throughout it. I swear, there must be 20 stories you have to keep track of, all with their own characters and problems. It is exhausting. And towards the end, just when something worth reading actually starts happening, Martin drops a bomb that should anger most readers ... and make them clamor for the next book. Very sneaky Mr. Martin. Very sneaky. It was a page turner, but I hope Martin tones down the complexity in the next book.
- The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Another page turner, but still a huge disappointment when compared with the first book in this series The Name of the Wind. My feelings on this book can be summarized with one phrase: too much fairy sex. Enough with the fairy sex! Sheesh! This may sound like a strange thing to say, but Kvothe's main purpose in life, finding and defeating the Chandrian, took a back seat to all sorts of crap, including loads of fairy sex. Really disappointing. Having said that, if Rothfuss is going to keep this a trilogy, the final book should be packed with information and action.
- Love Wins by Rob Bell
A surprisingly controversial book with an interesting look how we come to be "saved" and what it means to be "saved." More specifically the book is about the never-ending love of God. If God's love is never-ending, does God ever stop fighting for us? Even after death? This book suggests no, He doesn't, even if in our lives we rejected Him. As you might imagine, this idea has caused a major freak-out from conservative Christians. It is a comforting idea, that God never stops fighting for us, but is it theologically accurate? Does it matter?
- Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
Funny, funny, funny book. This a book that had me laughing, hard, whenever I read it. I can't believe some of the crazy things Halpern's father said to him while he was growing up. Just hilarious. I had to stop reading this book numerous times on the bus because people were looking at me strange after I'd blurt out a laugh. A quick and entertaining read.
- Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
If you haven't read this book, stop what you are doing right now and read it. Your life is incomplete. This is actually the third time I've read this book, this time with my 13 year old son (who refused to read it ... you will read it and you'll like it!). One of the classics of 20th century science fiction.
- Lost Fleet: Dreadnaught by Jack Campbell
Black Jack Geary is back in this sub-series of the popular Lost Fleet series. In the previous installments, Geary saves the Lost Fleet, but is now at home dealing with a political mess as politicians decide what to do with him as a popular war hero. And of course, there is still the problem of the alien species he discovered on the far side of the Alliance space. An entertaining read, as always, from Jack Campbell. I wouldn't be surprised if these books were eventually made into some kind of television series.
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Finally read this famous book. This is an excellent "Young Adult" novel. It has an engaging story where someone is being wronged, big time, and the reader really yearns for justice, or at least the main protagonist to come out OK. Having said that, the premise of this book is so unbelievable it hurts the overall quality of the story, at least for me. I actually think this will make a better movie than a book. I'm excited for that.
- The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow and Michael Duca
This is a fun book about the unwritten rules of baseball, and there are a lot of those. What makes this book especially fun though is its portrayal of the studliness that is Nolan Ryan. Wow, what an absolute beast. Even the slightest provocation would cause Ryan to quip, "I do believe that boy needs a new bow-tie" and he'd throw right at the player's head. Dangerous? Yes, but there is little doubt that Ryan respected the game and all its rules and was determined to be the judge, jury, and executioner concerning all of them. Today's game is a pansy-fest compared to when Ryan played.
- The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
I love a good baseball book. Unfortunately this isn't quite what I had in mind. The main protagonist of this story is Henry Skrimshander, a flawless fielding shortstop who plays for Westish College in eastern Wisconsin. Just as Henry is about to break the record for consecutive innings without an error, something terrible happens which sends his life, and the lives of those around him, on a different path. The deeper theme of this book is the nature of relationships, friendship, and love (of all varieties). I would have liked more baseball.
- In Cod We Trust by Eric Dregni
A book about the author's year long trip to Norway and all the oddities and quirks he learns along the way about Norwegian culture. This was an entertaining read, but I was a little put off by the author's irreverence, especially when they go to get their son baptized. I was hoping for more care and respect but instead just got what in many ways could be described as a typical American reaction to a different culture. Disappointing.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read this book in high school and again this year with my son for his English class. It is amazing how well this book holds up. It is still easy to read and understand and it still has a timeless message. I guess that is why it is timeless.
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
A true story about a boy, Kamkwamba, who builds a windmill for his family's home to give them electricity, and what happens to him after he does this. It is a nice story, to be sure, but I didn't find it particularly engaging or memorable. Cheers to Kamkwamba for showing this kind of initiative and making his community a better place to live, though.
- Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
This book was a whole lot more popular than I thought it should be. It tells the story of 24 servicemen and women who crash landed into Shangri-La, a remote and beautiful valley in Dutch New Guinea populated by spear-carrying native tribes. Of the 24 people on the plane, only three people survived. The story of their survival, especially their interactions with the natives, is interesting and compelling, but for whatever reason I thought the writing in this book was too simplistic and disappointing. I thought the story could have been told a little better. It appears though that I am in the minority.
- The Blade Itself by Joe Aberombie
I'm not a big fan of books that make torturing people a center-piece of the story. The idea of a government paid "torturer" is probably not something that should surprise me from a fantasy book, I just don't want to read about one. The story was engaging enough to finish, but I probably won't be picking up the next book in the series.
- Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
This book is billed as somewhat of a comedy, and got excellent reviews from the majority of book critics, but I did not find it all that humorous or worthwhile. Let's see, it deals with drugs, pedophile priests, molestation, psychopathic cruelty, and, yes, love and just trying to get through the teenage years. But as the title implies, Skippy does in fact die, and I just didn't enjoy reading about how and why it happened.
- Zombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt
Patton Oswalt is funny. This book is not. Except for his description of his time working in a movie theater, I found this book kind of boring for the most part. A big disappointment.
- Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
A book with little to no redeeming value. I read this in the early part of the year, and it still haunts me. The characters are disgusting, nihilistic, and self-centered, and their story is without hope or feeling. I know this is the author's point, or at least the story he was trying to tell, but I wish I hadn't read it. Mesmerizing, yes, but am I a better person for having read it? No. Steer clear, unless you want to be thoroughly depressed.
There you have it. Let me know what books you read or if you have any suggestions for me to read! I am always looking for a good book.
December 6, 2011
My speech for Alex at his Eagle Court of Honor - December 6, 2011
I'll try to keep this brief, and hopefully I won't cry too much. Alex, I am really proud of you. You've been at this a long time, and I know how hard you've worked to reach this point. Congratulations. Again, I'm really, really proud of you. As I thought about this evening and what I wanted to say I tried to think of some stories that would help frame your scouting career, really our scouting career, and two relatively obscure events kept popping back into my mind.
The first is from your first ever extended campout as a Bear Scout. You were going up to Camp Stearns for 3 nights, and for whatever reason, probably work, I couldn't be there for the first night. I told Scott that I'd be there the next day. So, I packed you up and sent you off to camp for a night without me. Like any father sending his son off alone for the first time I was worried about you. I was worried that you were homesick. I was worried that you weren't making friends. I don't think I slept that night. Anyway, the next day I drove up to camp, parked the car, and started to look for you. It didn't take me long before I spotted you and the rest of your Den walking along a trail. And lo and behold, you were happy! In fact, you were singing. You and Richard were singing some song, probably "Ain't that funky now," and you were laughing and having a great time.
I remember thinking to myself: he doesn't need me. He doesn't need me! I remember being both happy and sad about this. I was happy that you had obviously adjusted well without me, but I was sad that you really didn't need me there. I thought to myself, maybe I don't need to come on these camp-outs. Maybe I can just stay home. But then I looked again and saw how happy you were. I remember thinking right then and there, forget that! Even if you don't need me, I'm going to come on these camp-outs regardless and be with you having fun. I thought: I don't want to miss any of this.
The second story comes from a camp-out that we maybe didn't have the most fun on, the Whitewater Rafting camp-out of 2009. You remember that camp-out, right? It was the end of May, but it was really cold. We woke up the morning of our whitewater rafting excursion and it must have been in the mid-40s. We had to put on all the warmest clothing we had and then all our rain gear on top of that. And then we had to get into river rafts and potentially get really wet. It was crazy.
We ended up in separate rafts. The part of that adventure I remember most was when we were about to go down the most treacherous part of the river, what the guides called the "Electric Slide." The head guide had all of us line up and then he gave us instructions on how to raft through what was a waterfall-slash-slide that apparently a lot of people didn't make it through without falling in. The guide told us, "When you hit the slide don't lean forward too much, or you'll fall in. Also, don't lean back too much or you'll fall in. And when you hit the bottom, start paddling like crazy or you'll fall in." Then he added, "Got it? Let's go!"
Personally I didn't really get it. I remember thinking to myself, "You have got to be kidding me! I may as well just dive in now and get it over with." I looked over across the river at Alex to see if I could tell what he was thinking. Alex gave me a look that is difficult to describe, but one that I'll never forget. He shook his head quietly with a look of disgusted acceptance, anger, resignation, and determination all rolled into one, a look that non-verbally said, "Can you believe what this joker is telling us to do?" A look that ultimately said, "We're headed for a waterfall, surrounded by sharp rocks, on a raft in 40 degree weather with the outcome being we will most likely fall in. Bring it on."
I remember laughing. Man that look put a smile on my face. That look you gave me was exactly what I needed to get through the Electric Slide (and we didn't fall in). The reason I remember it now is because it also said, "Dad, what have we gotten ourselves into?" Really, what have we gotten ourselves into Alex? The whitewater rafting trip was just one of many things we got ourselves into during these last 8 years of scouting. And when you think about it all together it has been quite a remarkable ride.
On top of whitewater rafting we have done tons of kayaking, sailing, tubing, and probably close to 100 miles of canoeing.
We have gone swimming in some of the most beautiful lakes in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
We have probably hiked well over 150 miles (including snow-shoeing), and biked together for close to 300 miles over some breathtaking countryside.
We have climbed the towers of Stearns, Many Point, and Tesomas, and the rocks of Basecamp. Well, actually you climbed and I provided moral and sometimes belay support.
We've gone orienteering, geocaching, fishing, and caving.
We've played Many Point water-polo and battled together for the greased watermelon. We've gone bowling, rollerskating, and rollerblading.
We've shot arrows, shotgun, BB gun, Paintball, 22 rifles, sling-shots, and we've thrown our fair share of tomahawks.
We've visited the state capitol, numerous museums, state parks like Itasca, St. Croix, Fort Snelling, and J. Cook, and a myriad of other cultural institutions.
We've done a ton of service projects together like food drives, buckthorn pulls, raking lawns, planting trees, flowers, and bushes, Feed My Starving Children, and shoveling driveways and sidewalks. We painted buildings here at the JCC for Richard's Eagle project, and of course, we built and installed anti-erosion bars at Westwood for your own.
We've been bitten by hundreds, maybe thousands, of mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies, black flies, no-see-ums, and wood ticks. Thankfully no deer ticks.
How many nights of camping have we done together? 70? 80? More? I tried to add them all together but I gave up. How many campfires have we sat around, eating whatever delicious dessert Scott has cooked up for us? How many campfire songs have we sung, how many skits have we watched and done? How many nights of camping have we done now with Anders, with all three of us together?
How many times have we looked up, away from the city lights, to see those beautiful stars in the Minnesota nighttime sky?
How many memories have we built? Too many to count. And through it all, I've had a front row seat watching you grow up and become a leader, for this troop and in your everyday life. I'm proud of you reaching Eagle Alex. So proud. But I am most happy that we were able to go on this journey together.
I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
March 17, 2011
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
My best friend Curt and I went to college together at Concordia in Moorhead, MN. Now, one thing everyone who meets Curt quickly learns is that he is very proud of his Irish heritage. Curt even looks and acts Irish with his red hair and jolly demeanor. Curt will never let you forget about the contributions Ireland and its citizens have made to civilization as a whole such as U2, Guinness beer, and Lucky Charms. I, on the other hand, am a proud Norwegian. I also look and act the part with my 6' 5" frame, blond hair, and razor sharp wit (just kidding). Of course, I always remind Curt of great Norwegians of the past such as Leif Ericsson, Henrik Ibsen, and the great rock band A-Ha. As you can probably guess, as roomates Curt and I got into a fair number of arguments concerning which culture was superior.
One thing I was always quick to point out was the fact that the Vikings dominated the Emerald Isle for centuries. Ireland was a cog in the mighty Viking trading and pillaging empire. The famous saying, "From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord, save us!" comes from a monastary in Ireland. Curt, however, always had the perfect comeback: The Battle of Clontarf. Curses on the Battle of Clontarf!
The Battle of Clontarf took place on Good Friday in 1014. Supposedly this battle signaled the end of Viking dominance in Ireland as the Irish vanquished the Vikings in an all-day fight. Please. Nobody vanquishes the Vikings today or yesterday! I am of the opinion that the Irish embellished certain details of this battle in their own history books which has skewed our knowledge of what really happened. So, I offer you an alternate and more likely scenario.
The Vikings were sick of being in Ireland. I mean, how many potatoes could the Vikings eat? So, after bringing civilization to the savages on the island, teaching them a thing or two about being real men, bedding all their women, and performing other important services in a typical Viking "goodwill" tour of a foreign land, the Vikings decided to leave. They packed up their long boats and started to sail away. Meanwhile, along the coast, two Irishmen were having a drink at the local pub:
Seamus: Patrick, would you mind passing the cabbage? I need something to help my beer go down.
Patrick: Here you go lad. Say, look out the window. It seems the Vikings are sailing away from our island! Could they finally be leaving?
Seamus: Glory be, Patrick, I think you are correct! They seem to be pretty far off shore. Let's go throw some rocks at them. That will teach them to never come back!
Patrick: That is a grand idea! Let me finish my pint first, though.
Two hours later...
Seamus and Patrick [singing]: 'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow, Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you sooooo.
Seamus: Patrick, those Viking ships are but wee specks on the horizon! Let's get out there and show those Vikings a thing or two about Irish might!
So, Patrick and Seamus stumbled out of the pub, walked to the shore, and started throwing rocks at the Viking ships as they sailed away. Some monks passing by saw what they were doing and became so overwhelmed by their patriotism that they went back to the monastary to record the event for posterity. Well, the monks must have had a few pints themselves because the story obviously became the "Battle of Clontarf" that we all know about today, and the bravery of Seamus and Patrick has been lost to history. Until today.
Curt does not care for my version of this "epic" battle. However, we have agreed to go together to Ireland in the year 2014 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf with a re-enactment (using my version of events, of course). I will venture off-shore a little ways in a small boat, a dinghy perhaps, and Curt will throw rocks at me. It will be a grand spectacle that I'm sure the natives will enjoy. And of course, anyone is welcome to join us, especially if you have Irish or Scandinavian heritage. I don't want to be alone on the boat, and I'm sure Curt would appreciate having some help throwing rocks.
Anyway, Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! I must also admit that my great-grandmother was 100% Irish. So, even though my Norwegian heritage usually takes precedence, today I proudly wear green. Erin Go Bragh, my friends!
February 8, 2011
The Vikings during more dominant times
This Sunday's football debacle (also known as the Super Bowl) where the Packers came out victorious seriously put me in a bad mood. Stupid Packers. I needed something to brighten my mood and I remembered this story about the greatest coach in Vikings history, Bud Grant.
A few years ago, the Vikings game day program, "Playbook," had a good column called "5 Decades with Freddy" in which Fred Zamberletti is given some space to reminisce about the glory days of the franchise. One story Fred tells is particularly humorous and may give the secret of getting the Vikings team fired up for game day:
"The most eventful Atlanta memory was when we were playing a game in Atlanta. It was probably three-quarters of the way through the season and it was a dismal day. The team was down; you could tell at the pregame mean that it was a bit of a downer. The guys weren't moving with any energy. Bud Grant was always very strict about the pregame meal. It was always the same: steak, eggs, green beans, and a baked potato. That day, Carl Eller asked the waiter to bring him some pancakes. So, the waiter said 'sure' and went to the kitchen to bring him some pancakes. Grant, who never misses a thing, looked at our operations guy and he didn't even say anything, he just moved his eyes. And the operations guy jumped to his feet, ran over to the waiter and had the guy take the pancakes back to the kitchen. Well, Eller saw that and he sprung from his chair. He charged the waiter's tray of dishes on the table; it had dishes of food and glasses. He hauled off and kicked that thing straight in the air. Dishes, food, glasses, everything went flying. The team went into an uproar. Bud sat there and didn't show any emotion, and he didn't have to give a pregame speech that day! They were all fired up."
Great story. In fact, I think it holds the key for the success of next year's team. Their motto should be, "No pancakes." Skol Vikings!
January 28, 2011
Of snow-scrapers and vandalism
I have a thing about snow-scrapers. For whatever reason my kids periodically decide to take the snow-scrapers out of my vehicles. I can't explain why, they just do. Never having to drive they probably think they are toys, or silly poles with brushes on them. So, they throw them out. Of course, as soon as they do we get a huge snow or ice storm and I am forced to scrape my windows with a credit card. It has happened so often that now I freak out if I find out my vehicle doesn't have its snow-scraper. My kids know they will feel my wrath if the car or minivan I get into doesn't have its resident snow-scraper. Even in the summer.
A couple of months ago my two boys and I went to a Boy Scout lock-in. We had a great time. We went swimming, we played basketball, and we watched movies until 4:00 AM. I was in charge of the food for around 30 attendees. I bought like 15 bags of popcorn (cheesy popcorn was the preferred flavor), 15 liters of Sprite and root beer, 2 gallons of ice cream (for root beer floats), and 12 large pizzas. It was incredible. When it was time to eat that pizza I opened the boxes and it was like wolves descending on a moose. I literally had to get out of the way or I would have been trampled. I don't think the pizza lasted more than 5 minutes.
Anyway, after the event was over (thank goodness for 5-hour energy ... that stuff is the real deal) we packed up and started to walk out to the minivan.
I noticed it had snowed during the night so I turned to my son and said, "Alex, there had better be a snow-scraper in our minivan or I am going to flip."
Tentatively he replied, "I'm pretty sure there is a snow-scraper in the van, Dad. Don't worry about it."
"You're the one that is going to have to worry if my van is snow-scraperless," I said. Alex sighed and just kept walking.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the van but I noticed there was something odd with the driver side window. It looked like it was rolled down, but also full of jagged ice. I thought that was weird and I quickened my pace.
As I got closer the window looked stranger and stranger until I realized that it had been smashed open! Little chunks of glass were still hanging from the door frame and glass was everywhere in the van. The van had been unlocked and obviously the perpetrator(s) had gone through it looking for valuables. The glove box had been left open.
Stunned, I started to go through the car to see if anything had been stolen. My CDs were still there. My son's Sunday school Bible was left untouched. Really, there was nothing of value to steal. Thankful, I told my boys to get in and I prepared to get the ice off the windshield. That is when I realized that one important thing had been stolen.
"They stole my snow-scraper!" I yelled angrily.
Alex just laughed.
January 24, 2011
I have a lot of pet-peeves. I think we all do. For example, I have a problem with people touching my feet. For whatever reason it is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Strange, I know, but it is what it is. Other examples include people eating with their mouths open, my kids leaving the lights on all over the house, Packer fans in general, etc, etc... You get the picture.
Another pet-peeve I have is the "I can't hear you" technique people will use to get a crowd to cheer louder. Drives me crazy. This is especially true of the shows at the State Fair.
Last year at the Fair we saw the 3rd Lair skate show, and the Extreme Team diving show. My kids, especially my middle child, really liked both shows. The skate show featured skate boarding and in-line skating and I was more impressed than I thought I would be. And the dive show, while a little hokey, definitely had me squirming in my seat. I don't know how anyone can climb so high and then jump. I could barely watch.
Both shows also aggravated me because, in their attempts to get the crowds to cheer louder, both shows constantly used the old "I can't hear you" method to get us to yell and scream. You know what I am talking about:
Announcer: Do you want to see some diving?!?!
Crowd: Yaaaaay! Woooo! Yes! We would like to see some diving, thanks for asking!
Announcer: Oh, come on! I could barely even hear you. Now, do you want to see some diving?!?!?!?
Crowd: YEEEESSSS!!! Please dive for us! Woooo!!!! We are being louder!!
Announcer: I still can't hear you! I swear, we will just pack up and leave if we don't hear some REAL cheers this time! One more time, DO YOU WANT TO SEE SOME DIVING!?!?!?!?
Crowd: WOOOOOO!!!! CLAP, CLAP, CLAP!!!!! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, PLEASE LET US SEE SOME DIVING!!!! YOU HAVE WORKED US INTO A FRENZY THAT CAN ONLY BE SATISFIED BY PEOPLE JUMPING FROM OBSCENCE HEIGHTS INTO A SMALL POOL OF WATER!!!! YAAAAY!!!!!!
You get the picture. I have come to a point in my life where I find this tactic to be extremely annoying. I might do it once a show, but both the skate show and the dive show went through this cycle at least three times. I just had to stop cheering. That's right, I came to a point where I would risk not "seeing some diving" because I refused to play their little game anymore! So, if any would be announcers are out there reading this please spare your crowds this method of forcing cheers. We can probably handle it once, but three times is a little excessive.
That is all.
January 22, 2011
Women and makeup
What, I ask you, is the purpose of putting makeup on? In other words, why do women wear makeup? Anyone? Yes, I think it can be agreed that women put makeup on to make themselves look better. In fact, I would wager that after a woman puts makeup on she says to herself, "There. I look better." Does anyone want to dispute this?
So, a while ago my friend Curt and I were at the Mall of America with our wives. After a couple of hours walking through the mall, we decided to meet up again at Nordstroms, where Curt and I were stunned that people could live with themselves after charging $90 for a belt. And it was on sale! Simply stunning.
Anywho, our wives come up and inform us that they had just had some makeup applied at the cosmetic counter by a trained professional.
"How do we look?" they asked us.
Curt immediately answered, "Angelic!" While my response was:
Now, much to my amazement, my answer was for some reason not the right thing to say. In fact, that would be an understatement. While they both agreed Curt's compliment was an adequate response to their question, my response was deemed grounds for divorce. Honestly, I will never understand women!
I ask you again: why do women put makeup on? To reiterate, it is my opinion that women put makeup on to make themselves look better. You would think then that the compliment of "vast improvement" would make my wife happy since I am telling her that her goal of looking better has been met. In fact, one could argue that the compliment "vast improvement" signifies that she has exceeded expectations. That she now looks phenomenal! Am I wrong?
Apparently I am. Anyway, I don't write this to argue the point. I write this as a word of warning to all the men out there: "vast improvement" is not a good compliment for your significant other.
Thanks for your time.
January 21, 2011
So, a while ago I put a cat door in my basement laundry room door. This allows our cats easy access to the litter box, and makes it so we won't have to smell it from the family room. Now, you've all probably heard the saying, "Measure twice, cut once," but that is not the school of thought that I work from. Oh no. I use the "eyeball it" methodology. I find that just eyeballing things allows me to get things done faster, and it adds a bit of excitement to the proceedings. Needless to say, my efforts with the cat door were no exception.
I began by removing the door from its hinges and bringing it outside to work my magic. I laid the door on my picnic table and penciled in the hole that I would jigsaw out. My wife came out and said, "You better measure that."
"Pffft!" I answered confidently. "How hard is it to cut a hole in a door? Be gone woman and let me work!"
Anyway, I cut a hole in the door and installed the cat door. All in all it took me about 15 minutes. I thought to myself, "This couldn't have gone any better! I'm like the Bob Vila of cat doors!" Then I took the door downstairs to put it back into place. Well at least I tried to.
This is a picture of the second cat door I installed. Pretty nice huh?
Thats right ... the second cat door I installed. Here is what my laundry room door looks like now:
If you still need me to spell it out for you, I cut the original cat door hole at the top of the door! What the heck is my problem? Why didn't I just take the time to make sure I was cutting at the right end? Believe me, this caused me a great deal of anger. Then acceptance. Then laughter. You don't need to tell me what an idiot I am. I know.
So, I hauled the door back outside, cut another hole, and installed the cat door at the right end. But now I have a hole at the top of the door too.
Anyway, it has occurred to me that I have a unique opportunity to do something special with the hole at the top of my door. Should I put in a little peep hole door? You know, put some hinges on another smaller door up there that would allow me to look into the laundry room without opening the main door? Or should I just cover the hole with a poster or something?
If any of you have any good ideas, let me know. Eventually I plan on getting a new door, but for now I want to do something. Like I said, it can be a pretty different kind of idea since I'm not sure I know anyone that has a big hole at the top of their laundry room door. So, if you think you've got a good idea lay it on me.
Also, if you've got any of your own home improvement projects and you need some advice, you know who to call. Especially if you need your projects to have a little more pizazz than usual. That's it for now. Have a good one!
January 20, 2011
On a cold day like today let's talk about air conditioning ...
Recognize this house? Frankly, I would be surprised if you did given that this house was torn down in 1956. This house was known as the "Gates Castle" and was located at 2501 East Lake of the Isles Boulevard in Minneapolis. According to the July 11, 1957 edition of the Star Tribune, the mansion had 40 bedrooms, gold doorknobs, parquet floors, and huge crystal chandeliers, all for the cost of $1 million. You can see more of this amazing residence through the Minnesota History Center Visual Resource Database.
What makes this mansion especially amazing, though, is that is was the first home in America to have air conditioning.
Built by Charles Gates in 1914 to entertain guests in "Italian Renaissance grandeur" the house also boasted an absolutely enormous "climate control unit" designed by Willis Carrier of Syracuse, NY. When completed, the first home air conditioner was almost 7 feet high, 6 feet wide, and 20 feet long, and it used ammonia as the coolant. And even more amazing (and probably luckily for the would-be residents of the home given the use of ammonia as the coolant), it is unknown if this air conditioner was ever used.
Before Charles Gates and his new bride were set to move into the mansion, Gates died. It is unknown how much his widow stayed in the mansion after his death, but in 1916 she remarried and moved east. The house was then sold to a man from St. Paul, but apparently he never lived there either. Again, the home was then demolished in 1956.
What a tragedy, heh? Like many people, though, I find it fascinating that a home in Minnesota, a state known mostly for its brutal winters, is the location for the first home air conditioning unit in the world. We do have some pretty hot and humid summers too, but the first home air conditioner? Here? You gotta admit that is somewhat unexpected.
Of course, today we take air conditioning and much of its history for granted. Personally I find the history and social ramifications of air conditioning fascinating. For example, air conditioning has drastically changed the culture of the South. Some argue that that the heat and humidity of the South gave the region some of its distinctive flair and unique architecture, but air conditioning has caused the South to be a more indoor culture. It has also made the region a more livable place for northerners to move in and bring their own cultural differences with them.
Some people also blame air conditioning for the rise of malls (going to indoor shopping areas rather than downtown), childhood obesity (kids play indoors way more today), the size of government (more comfortable office spaces has meant more "servants of the people"), or even the demise of trains and the rise of the automobile for long trips across the country. Could our reliance on foreign oil be pinned, in part, on the majestic air conditioner?
Personally, I think air conditioning has had a profound impact on a lot aspects of our lives, both good and bad, and that we haven't given this impact very much thought. If I was a smart person I would put together a book discussing the social ramifications of air conditioning. The stories, anecdotes, data, evidence ... it all seems to be there just waiting for someone to put it together in an accessible, entertaining, and thought provoking way.
Maybe I'll be that someone. Or maybe I'll keep being lazy. Stay tuned.
January 19, 2011
I'm getting stupider
I can't deny it. It is just a fact of life. As I get older I know I am getting stupider. Denser. Unable to understand words larger than two syllables. I can already feel a general malaise settling over my intelligence, a brain cloud, if you will, taking residence in my once impressive mind. What is happening? I swear in the past couple of weeks I have been able to do little more than walk around and stop every once in a while to notice a flower or some piece of nonsense that catches my attention. "Oh look, there is something shiny on the ground! I like shiny things. Shiny things are pretty!" Gah! Where is the vibrancy of my youth? Where is my creativity?
Well, I may have found an answer. I can blame my wife and kids. According to a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality marriage and children kill creativity in men. The research, spearheaded by Dr Satoshi Kanazawa, suggests that the quality of scientific creativity and discovery is usually dictated by a man's age and marital staus. I know, it is almost too much to be believed, but check out this snippet:
His study was based on the analysis of a biographical database of 280 scientists considered 'great' by their colleagues, noting their age at the time when they did their greatest work. He found the data remarkably concurs with the observation made by Albert Einstein in 1942: "A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so."
"Scientific productivity indeed fades with age," Kanazawa said. "Two-thirds [of all scientists] will have made their most significant contributions before their mid-30s."
So, here we have the age factor. Einstein himself made his most important discoveries in his mid 20s. I am in my late 30s. Sadly, it seems, my "great" achievements are all behind me. Excuse me while I take a moment to weep ... And it gets worse:
But, regardless of age, the great minds who married virtually kissed goodbye to making any further glorious additions to their CV. Within five years of making their nuptial vows, nearly a quarter of married scientists had made their last significant contribution to knowledge.
"Scientists rather quickly desist [from their careers] after their marriage, while unmarried scientists continue to make great scientific contributions later in their lives," said Kanazawa.
Ah! The scourge of women strikes again! Not only do they torment us with their incessant talking, honey-do lists, and demands for "quality time together" but they also nefariously sap our creativity without us even noticing! Will their treachery never cease? Why do they have this effect on us? Kanazawa has a theory:
Kanazawa suggests "a single psychological mechanism" is responsible for this: the competitive edge among young men to fight for glory and gain the attention of women. That craving drives the all-important male hormone, testosterone.
After a man settles down, the testosterone level falls, as does his creative output ...
Of course! Getting married is a virtual siphon hose on a man's testosterone! It is all coming together now. What can we as men do to get our testosterone back? How can we fight back against this evil nemesis of marriage and reclaim our most important hormone?
Polygamy. I think it is the only way. The ability to have multiple wives would mean that we would always be trying to attain glory for new women. Trying to attain more and more glory would mean more testosterone and more creativity. Problem solved. I am a genius.
January 18, 2011
There once was a little girl. On her way to Grandma's house, she found a baby turtle struggling to cross the street. Concerned that the turtle wouldn't make it across the busy road, her dad picked it up and decided to help it out.
The turtle was small in the little girl's hands.
The girl and her dad took the turtle to the local nature center to talk with someone about what they should do. The naturalist at the center said the turtle was probably only a day old. She told the little girl she had three options. She could put the turtle in the lake, she could keep the turtle as a pet, or she could let the nature center put the turtle in an aquarium.
The little girl said she wanted to put the turtle in the lake. So, the little girl and her dad walked to a dock on the lake.
The little girl bent over on the dock until her fingers could touch the water.
And she let the turtle go.
And they watched the turtle swim away.
The little girl was very proud of her decision. "The turtle will be happier in the lake than he would be in a cage," she said.
Her dad was proud of the little girl, too, and he doubts the little girl will ever forget the time when they put the baby turtle in the lake.
It was a beautiful and memorable day.
December 25, 2010
Books Read 2010
It was a good year for book reading. Almost all of these books I thoroughly enjoyed. As always, let me know your list so that I might pick some to read in 2011. In addition, all of these books (except one) were checked out from a library. Before we begin, here are the books I've read in years past:
Books Read 2010 (in order by how much I enjoyed them):
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
The best book of the year. It tells the story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini and the amazing life he has had (he's still alive). Here is a guy that competed in the 1936 Olympics, became a Pacific theater airman in WWII, survived over a month lost at sea without food or water on a tiny raft fighting off sharks, and then spent a couple of years in a Japanese POW camp being tortured and abused. Almost every page of the book tells a story of some event in his life that would have broken any one of us and left us drooling in a mental hospital for the rest of our lives, but this guy survives it all and still lives life to the fullest. A truly amazing story told to perfection by Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand.
- The Lost City of Z by David Grann
Tells the story of Perry Fawcett and his 1925 quest to find the mythical golden city of El Dorado, what he nicknamed the Lost City of Z. In 1925, Fawcett and 3 companions, including his own son, ventured into the Amazon and were never heard from again. Through detailed research, and an attempt to follow in the footsteps of Fawcett himself, Grann writes what he thinks happened to Fawcett, and makes a startling conclusion on the Lost City of Z itself. I didn't think I would enjoy this book nearly as much as I did but it is a fantastic adventure story set in both the past and the present.
- The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
If you've seen the movie do yourself a favor and read the book. It is hard to put down and sheds light and adds clarification to some of what the movie skirted over concerning Michael Oher's amazing life. It also puts into context why Michael Oher's position on the football field is so important to a team's success, and gives interesting vignettes into the stories of famous players such as Jonathan Ogden and Lawrence Taylor. If you are a fan of the NFL, do yourself a favor and check it out.
- Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann
If you liked the documentary movie Hoop Dreams you will love this book. George Dohrmann is the fine fellow that broke the cheating scandal with the University of Minnesota's basketball team (jerk), but that is beside the point. With this book Dohrmann follows a grassroots/AAU basketball team for 8 years and documents the lives of its players and its volatile coach. Heartbreaking, disgusting, and enthralling ... it is stunning how much pressure we can put on 10-11-12 year olds and how much money can be made off of them. The seedy underbelly of amateur basketball is exposed in this book, and, maybe unfairly, the coach, the shoe companies, and parents are all made to look greedy and selfish. At times I thought the author lost some of its journalistic integrity and that he editorialized too much, but it was probably difficult not to comment on what was so obvious.
- Broken Music by Sting
I was absolutely stunned with how much I enjoyed this book and it isn't because I enjoy Sting's music. Plain and simple, Sting is a phenomenally good writer. It was so much fun to read the stories of his childhood mainly because Sting tells them so well. Also, don't pick up this book to read his side of the story concerning the Police. He spends about two paragraphs on the success of the Police leaving the rest of the book to discuss his childhood and the time up to when the Police made it big. It makes for a very satisfying read and further convinces me that any one of us has an interesting story to tell if only we knew how to tell it. Sting does.
- The Lost Fleet: Victorious by Jack Campbell
This is the "Lost Fleet, Book 6" and much like the other five, it does not disappoint. Black Jack comes back to Alliance space victorious and is promoted to Admiral. He uses that new power to negotiate with the Syndics. Through Black Jack, both the Syndics and the Alliance realize there is a greater threat out there in a mysterious and potentially hostile alien race that they must deal with together. So, while this book clears up the questions of the "Lost Fleet" it also sets up the next series nicely where Black Jack and the Syndics together will probably kick some alien butt. Or maybe not. Who knows. I look forward to reading more Black Jack though.
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this book tells the highly entertaining story of Oscar, a 300 pound-plus sci-fi and fantasy enthusiast who hopes to become the Dominican version of J.R.R. Tolkein. His story is amusing and painful at the same time, as is the story of the entire de León family who just may be the victims of a bona fide curse called a fukú. Interspersed throughout the book is an interesting history of El Jefe, or Rafael Trujillo, the former dictator of the Dominican Republic, who was possibly the nastiest dictator the Caribbean islands have ever seen. The ending of Oscar Wao is both tragic and appropriate and I wish I could discuss it with someone but I don't know anyone else who has read it.
- Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller
Plain and simple, this is a very, very, very honest assessment of Christianity through the eyes of someone willing to dig deeper at what it means to follow the teachings of Jesus. It is straightforward. It is humble. It asks questions and prods gently, but with enough conviction to, at the end, make a convincing argument for commitment. Quite frankly this is a classic book about the nature of the Christian faith and Miller writes it in a way that isn't shrill or accusatory and I found that highly refreshing. Miller doesn't get into politics at all, but If you are turned off by the conservatism that seems to have hijacked a faith that demands and exemplifies self-sacrifice, you should check out this book.
- The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
With this book, Weiner sets out to see if where a person lives makes any difference on a person's happiness. The author visits places like Iceland, Bhutan, Qatar, Holland, Switzerland, Thailand and India as examples of places where people seem to be the happiest. He also visits a couple of miserable places like Moldova (even the name sounds unhappy). He describes his visits and tries to make some conclusions on what it means to be happy. As you have probably already guessed, place doesn't have much to do with it. Money doesn't either. Weiner's ultimate conclusion that happiness means different things to different people isn't exactly earth-shattering, but the journey to that conclusion provides some very interesting and humorous stories.
- Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit by Matt McCarthy
Drafted by the Anaheim Angels in 2002, McCarthy tells the story of his one summer in the minor league system. And what a memorable summer it was. Odd Man Out is full of hilarious and eye-opening stories about life on the road and definitely paints a less than flattering picture of the people that make up minor league baseball. If you like baseball, you would probably like this book. If you don't like baseball, this book would probably convince you that you've made the right decision.
- Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War by James Mauro
This is the kind of history book I love. First of all, it gives a fascinating history of the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its main booster Grover Whelan. The can-do American spirit was alive and well during this effort and it was a herculean effort to pull it off, especially at the tail-end of the depression and the front end of WWII. What I found most fascinating about the New York World's Fair was just this backdrop. Mauro does a fantastic job of putting the fair into the context of what was happening in the world around it, and how the fair was shaped by these realities. Maybe not as good as Devil in the White City (another World's Fair story), but a page-turner nonetheless.
- Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
I wasn't too excited to pick up a book about Hurricane Katrina, but what the man know as "Zeitoun" went through is inexcusable. Zeitoun, a Muslim man living (and thriving) with his family in New Orleans, went through a hell that came close to breaking him in the aftermath of the hurricane. Falsely accused of being in al-Qaeda as he was out helping people with his little aluminum boat, Zeitoun was locked up and treated like a terrorist for probably no other reason than he looked Arab. It was a difficult time, to be sure, but it was disgusting to read about how someone can be treated so poorly based on nothing more than suspicions. This is an eye-opening book that at the very least calls into question our practice of profiling, but also the extremes we seem to be willing to go to in order to keep ourselves "safe."
- The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick
Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn is one of the most famous battles in American history, but something I must admit I knew very little about. Custer and Sitting Bull as leaders are examined in detail, as are the days leading up to the battle. The battle itself is a whirlwind as Philbrick tries to figure out what actually happened with Custer himself (it is still a mystery). Besides Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse is made out to be a phenomenal warrior and all around stud. I'm probably going to pick up a book about him next. Interestingly enough, while the battle itself is one of the worst defeats in American military history, that defeat, or Native American victory, seems to have had little impact on the plight of the Native American people. Only a few years later, they were all rounded up and put on reservations anyway. Philbrick tells this story in a very objective way without taking sides, but it is still hard not to feel remorse and anger that it came down to this in the first place.
- Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris
A history of cosmology from ancient peoples and the first notions of a round earth, through the classic Greek and Arabian astronomers, through the dark ages to Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe, and Newton; following through with Einstein, and finally the quantum-state theories we have today. I usually read at least one book like this a year. It usually goes like this: I chuckle at the quaintness of people figuring out that the earth revolves around the sun, or that the planets have an elliptical orbit. How cute! And then I am left absolutely stupefied by quantum theory, quarks, gluons, particle smashers, and string theory. I can't believe how far we've come in such a relatively short amount of time, and I am absolutely stunned with my own continuing ignorance. I will keep reading these kinds of books to try to illuminate the darkness of my mind. I was especially enthralled with the parts of the book discussing Newton and the Big Bang theory. Did you know that the Big Bang Theory was first suggested by a French Catholic priest, and that he was ridiculed for it because of the seemingly religious nature of the theory? Neither did I! Good stuff.
- When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird, Earvin Johnson Jr., and Jackie MacMullan
This is pretty light reading, but being a huge fan of both Bird and Magic I gobbled it up pretty quickly. I especially enjoyed reading about many of the games I remember watching and stories behind these victories and defeats as remembered by the two main players. I found especially interesting the parts discussing Magic's battle with AIDs (I still remember where I was when I found out) and Bird's own problems with his back injury. I had no idea it was as bad as it was, and that it truly cut his NBA career short. The parts about the Olympic Dream Team were also enlightening and fun to read. Overall, nothing earth-shattering and like I said, it was fun to reminisce a little.
- Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks
My first Terry Brooks novel and Book One of the Word and the Void trilogy. This is a speculative fiction, or "urban fantasy" novel about Nest Freemark, a 14 year old girl infused with magic and charged (by who?) to watch over a local nature preserve in her small town of Hopewell, IL. Little does she know she is part of a bigger, apocalyptic plot devised by an evil demon and the Void to subjugate and enslave the entire human race! Yeah, I know, pretty frickin' awesome, heh? This was a pretty good book. I'll probably pick up book two this year when I need some light reading.
- The Passage by Justin Cronin
I must admit, I was expecting more from this book. Essentially it is a book about a virus that turns people into vampire-like whack jobs that overrun the earth and turn it into a wasteland where non-infected humans survive only in small numbers. So far, so good. But what I can't stand about this book is the reliance on dreams to move the story forward. I find dreams to be such a weak cop-out as a plot device. I really wish authors would not rely on dreams so much (Running with the Demon included). I'm sure other people enjoyed this book way more than I did. I probably won't pick up the second book in this series.
- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Another book I was expecting more from. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the 20th century's leading theologians whose master work The Cost of Discipleship is still being read today. Bonhoeffer was also a part of the Nazi resistance and he played a small part in the Stauffenberg plot to assassinate Hitler. The effect of Nazism on the German church is discussed and is actually quite astounding, but I must admit I was somewhat let down by the book on the whole. It was huge, about 600 pages, but could have been improved with some healthy editing.
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
A classic of childrens' fiction. It was about time I picked it up and read it. I enjoyed it, but when comparing it to Watership Down, or The Dark is Rising Sequence or the Chronicles of Narnia I think it fell a little short.
- Magyck by Angie Sage
Will probably be a new classic of childrens' literature. I enjoyed it well-enough.
- The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
I was a little put-off by the author's flippant attitude, but ultimately I found Vowell's discussion of the 1630 journey of several key English colonists and members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to be interesting enough to finish reading. John Winthrop is discussed in detail (including a great section on his "City on a Hill" sermon), but the person I found most interesting was Roger Williams, the eventual founder of Rhode Island and Providence. Firstly and foremost he was a hardcore Puritan, but his views had a profound future impact on the Bill of Rights, especially the freedom of religion. I'll probably do some more reading on Williams in the future.
- The Big Short by Michael Lewis
I thought to myself, "You know, I really don't understand what this whole sub-prime mortgage crisis was all about. I think I'll pick up a book and see if that can help me figure it out." Verdict after reading this book: Still mostly clueless. I don't fault Michael Lewis for this. I mean, as this list can attest, I loved The Blind Side. But man ... I must be a complete idiot because I swear I maybe understood 25% of this book. The rest of it was complete gobbli-gook to me. After reading this, I was convinced to delete my ETrade account. I have no business risking my money in the stock market.
- The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
I can't believe I thought reading a book about the cruel murder of a little girl by a psychopath was a good idea. It still baffles me why I read this book. And I also don't get the whole "lovely bones" thing. The author probably thought it was poetic, I suppose. All I know is that I desperately wanted the killer to be brought to justice, and I didn't care if it was our own legal system or some sort of ultra-violent vengeance exacted by the girl's father. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
- Sway by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman
I remember enjoying this book, but I don't remember a thing about it. Did it have any interesting findings into the nature of the human mind? Or any advice on how to use our own natural tendencies to be swayed to make decisions that will actually benefit us? I can't remember! For that reason, it is at the bottom of the list. I'm sure other people would enjoy it though.
There you have it. My year in reading. If you have any suggestions or a list of your own, please, please, please put it in the comments below. I'm always looking for good books to read. Until next year!
April 1, 2010
Unbeknownst to me, my good friend Freealonzo has put together a little tribute to this fine blog on the eve of the first outdoor Twins baseball game in over 28 years. Needless to say, I am very touched by this. Thanks Free!
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