Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality"

"Nature's bellman: an anachronistic, virtually obsolete animal. People drag their luggage through their own house, down the driveway, into their car, up to the airline desk, off the luggage carousel, into the back of a taxi, through the revolving doors, up to the desk, and now, now some guy with a crew cut wants to help? You've taken it twenty-five hundred miles, and some dude wearing gloves wants to jump in for the last twenty feet and get tipped for it?" (Tomsky, 127)
Yeah, but after you read this book you will tip the bellman anyway (or you'll be sorry). Revenge in the form of key bombing or worse could make your hotel stay less than desirable.

This book is to the hotel industry what "Kitchen Confidential" was to the restaurant industry. Tomsky even has even channeled Anthony Bourdain's voice in writing the secrets behind the front desk (and more) in the hotel. Travelers should tip, tip, tip and read the book to find out how to save money to pay for those highly encouraged tips.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Outliers: The Story of Success

     Outliers are statistical anomalies. When they are good ones such as stories of brilliant success we tend to attribute the success to innate brilliance or luck. Malcolm Gladwell argued and proved (in this book, Outliers) through studies and examples why that is not the case; but that it is instead hard work with a bit of luck that results in phenomenal success.
    Whether one is curious why the Beatles were such a world wide phenomenal sensation (hard work in the strip clubs of Hamburg, Germany) or why Bill Gates made huge sums of money from computing (being fortunate to go to a school with access to some cutting edge electronics) this book answers these questions and more. How many hours does it take to become an expert on something? The magic answer: 10,000 hours! The Beatles, Bill Gates, Mozart...all logged in ten thousand hours before they made it big time. So like your mother always told you: practice, practice, practice!
   Interestingly the book spends a lot of time discussing the precipitating events and factors in airline crashes. Korean Air was an outlier, in a bad way, they were 19 times more likely to crash than the average airplane. (It was largely a cultural problem with copilots not being able to vocalize safety concerns due to their culture. Asiana is also a Korean based airline. It was an Asiana flight that crashed last week in California.)
   Gladwell also theorizes on the phenomena of Asian children's excellence at mathematics. But most interesting is his discussion on the "achievement gap" between minorities and non-minorities in the US in education. His statistics and commentary provide evidence that disadvantaged children lose more knowledge over the summer time than advantaged children. (Gladwell, pp.255-260) It is the accumulation of these losses over repeated summers that puts minority children so far behind the curve. His solution is to dispose of the traditional three month long summer break that is a hang over from our days as a primarily agricultural society (when we needed our kids to help reap the harvest) and that Americans now consider a necessary part of an American childhood.
   A thoughtful and insightful read. One will consider ethnic stereotypes, folklore legends, American a new light. Outliers is an interesting read; I still liked his book Tipping Point better but it is well done.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


    The killing of Navy Seal Chris Kyle by a Marine prompted me to read a book that has been on my reading list for a while. Sadly, Kyle was buried last week after being shot by a serviceman that he was trying to help overcome PTSD. Knowing this before reading the book made the book a bit eerie at times, as in when he said he most often got injured stateside rather than on deployments. He was deployed four times to Iraq and became the most lethal sniper in American history.

    As Kyle said " I always seemed more vulnerable at home. After every deployment, something would happen to me....Overseas, on deployment, in the war, I seemed invincible." (Kyle, 109) In "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History" he chronicles his life in and out of war. There are sections written by his wife, Taya, which round out the book by showing his personal side.

   I found one part particularly interesting. Kyle was describing his BUD/S training and the tremendous dropout rate and the mental and physical rigors of the course. One fellow shattered his hip in the course, and subsequently had a hip replacement. After 18 months of rehabilitation he finished the course, WITH a replaced hip, and according to Kyle was serving on active duty during Kyle's tours.  I knew these guys were tough, but that is out of this world.

  He was a tough guy, hesitant to leave the service for fear of leaving his teammates behind. He put his family first, and finally got out of the Navy. He continued to care about his fellow soldiers and was so sadly removed from his family by an American veteran he was trying to help. It was a tragic end to such a remarkable man.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Déjà vu

"We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building....I can't recall a single amazing thing I have seen firsthand that I didn't immediately reference to a movie or TV show. A f*****commercial. You know the awful singsong of the blasé: Seeeeeen it. I've literally seen it all, and the worst thing is: The secondhand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can't anymore. I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.
   It's a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.
   And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul mate, because we don't have genuine souls....." (Flynn, pp. 72-3)

This is an excerpt from the best selling murder/mystery, psychological thriller "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn.  The author's insight into the souls of her characters (and their dysfunctional marriage in our arguably dysfunctional society) makes a terrific read.  It is somehow light and dark at the same time. A witty, absorbing journey through the minds of a husband and wife who move from New York City to Missouri.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Eat, Pray, Love, Marry

I actually enjoyed "the sequel" to "Eat, Pray, Love" more than the original. Once again, fraught with emotional turmoil Gilbert writes her way through her crises. However, in this book, she has aged and become more mature--if not, still terrified of marriage. The book is called "Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage."

Her comments on love and desire are interesting. "The Buddha taught that all suffering is rooted in desire. Don't we all know this to be true? Any of us who have ever desired something and then didn't get it (or worse, got it and subsequently lost it) know full well the suffering of which the Buddha spoke.....As soon as you want somebody-really want him-it is as though you have taken a surgical needle and sutured your happiness to the skin of the other person...." (Gilbert, 96)

As she pursued the history of marriage in an attempt to make peace with it, she mentioned the "Dads and Cads theory." Women prefer to settle down and marry monogamous, dependable men men who are likely to be good fathers. When women are looking for an affair, they seek the "cad" the sinfully good looking but morally inept types. Either way, evolutionary biology wins. If the "cad" fathers her child she produces good looking children, who /have an increased likelihood of wooing mating partners and passing down their genes. If the "dad" fathers her child she has a dependable help mate to raise the child. And if the cad fathers the child, and the dad raises it, life still goes on.

I had read of the "Dads and Cads" theory, but had not known the catchy slogan. Apparently when women are ovulating (most fertile) they seek the bad boys (ie, the cad) but when women are not ovulating the "dad"-making men are more appealing. There is even an adjacent theory that extends to women on oral contraception. Their bodies think they are pregnant, so their hormones tell them to seek a "dad" style mate. I even read one article once, that advised women contemplating marriage to avoid hormonal manipulation (ie. oral contraceptives) to see if they were still attracted to him without modern pharmacology. Cynical, but interesting views on marriage in these studies and in the book (which I found more interesting than the book that launched the movie).

For more reading on "Dads and Cads" see below:
photo from

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Where We Belong: Adoption and the Meaning of Family

I like non-fiction. I love fiction, and Emily Griffin's reads are great chic-lit! "Where We Belong" is about a NYC woman who opens her apartment door to find the daughter that she gave up for adoption.  The yuppie woman and her estranged biological daughters journey to and through each other is an entertaining yet provocative read.

At one point the daughter says she grew up with all the cliche, such as:: "Never forget for a single minute, you didn't grow under my heart but in it." She pays attention to the media: the celebrities who adopt, and the ones who were adopted. Here she notes celebrities who were adopted themselves" "Steve Jobs, two presidents, including Bill Clinton..two first ladies, Faith Hill AND Tim McGraw (who happened to also be married- how cool is that?), Darryl McDaniels from Run-DMC and as my mother sometimes pointed out, Moses and Jesus." (Griffin, p. 44)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Can Botox make you Happy?

A fascinating study on depressed people who had their frowning muscles paralyzed with botulinum toxin (botox) showed that it made them happier. Physically unable to use their frowning muscles, they lived the adage: which came first the chicken or the egg? Does sadness come from the frown or does the frown come from sadness?

We have all heard that people with a positive attitude fare better in life, health, and love. Now, there may be cosmetic assistance available to those who need help maintaining that positive attitude. The findings were originally published in The Journal of Psychiatric Research and reported in Scientific American Mind (Sep/Oct 2012). The placebo group had a 9 percent decrease in depressive symptoms, the Botox injected group had a 47 percent decrease in depressive symptoms.

If you physically couldn't frown you might be a happier person. Imagine what would happen if you actually smiled. Kenny Rogers may have something after all. Smile, be happy, and have a great day!