On Killing Book Review

On Killing

I finished Lt. Col Dave Grossman’s book On Killing recently. It’s about soldiers’ resistance to kill, how the military overcomes that instinct, and the larger reprecussions of that type of training on society. It is not a “how-to” book as I feared many people might’ve thought whenever I read it in public.

At the start I should say that Grossman presents a good case. He backs it up with hundreds of interviews with soldiers and his personal impressions from being in the service. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of hard data to support his point. Why? Because for the most part there just haven’t been a lot of studies on how to get someone to kill another person. It ranges into the unethical territory of psychological studies. The data he does have is convincing. Continue reading

David and Goliath Book Review

David&Goliath

I recently finished listening to an audiobook version of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. The nonfiction piece focuses on how being an underdog can occasionally confer advantages that the “overdog” doesn’t expect.

The book uses a wide-range of examples of underdogs overcoming their disadvantages and actually using them as jumping off points to topple bigger and stronger opponents.

This isn’t a new idea to me or the world. Scholars were peddling this theory at least 1,500 years ago when the Roman Empire fell. I first read about it in Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece, Dune, where the fictional race of Freman are hardened by their desert homeland and are able to overcome the forces of the Padishah Emperor. Continue reading

Deadpool Movie Review

Deadpool

I saw Deadpool with one of my friends and the movie delivered exactly what it promised, violence, action, raw sexuality, crude jokes, and fourth-wall breaking comedy. The movie did everything it needed to capture Deadpool’s appeal.

If you’ve read the Deadpool comics I’m fairly certain you’ll enjoy the movie. Sure the origin story is different and a few parts of Deadpool’s personality aren’t fully realized, but it’s what you’ve wanted. Go see it!

For those of you who don’t know much about Marvel’s “superhero” Deapool, let me fill you in!

You notice how I put superhero in quotation marks there? I did it for a good reason. Deadpool isn’t always a heroic character. Sometimes he saves New York from aliens. Other times he might try to steal some weapons-grade explosives from the superhero police, SHIELD, because he wants to know what it tastes like (Just an example, I don’t think there’s a comic about this).

Deadpool is a violent, perverted mercenary who got cancer. He got injected with some stuff that made him heal super fast, but his cancer is still there. The cancer grows and makes his entire body look super ugly.

Deadpool has a soft side as well. He loves to help children with whatever problems they have, intimidating bullies, finding lost cats, listening to their problems. However Deadpool can help a child you can guarantee that he’ll be doing it.

All of that aside, Deadpool is probably best known for being a fourth wall aware character. He knows he’s a comic book character and he talks to himself about it all the time.

He makes pop culture jokes that the other characters never understand, he occasionally dresses up as Batman who is from another superhero universe, he frequently addresses the audience to ask how they’re enjoying the story, etc.

The movie has all of this to varying degrees. The plot? Honestly, who cares. Deadpool wants to fight people. He says some jokes, there’s some cool action sequences. It’s good.

I’ve read that a few people were confused about this movie, so let me clarify one thing. Deadpool has an R rating for a reason. There’s sex, there’s violence, there’s cruelty and dismemberments, there’s foul language. Pretty much everything that could up the rating of a film is present in this one. It’s all great, but it’s all for adults.

-GoCorral

The Art of the Heist Book Review

I one day hope to write an autobiography WITHOUT a mugshot on the cover.
One day I hope to write an autobiography WITHOUT a mugshot on the cover.

I read a book recently called The Art of the Heist. It’s an autobiography/memoir written by Myles J. Connor Jr. He was assisted in writing the book by Jenny Siler.

The title probably gives a pretty good hint that Connor is a career thief. He made his living robbing banks and he had a side hobby of stealing valuable art pieces.

The book starts off by describing a museum robbery that occurred while Connor was in jail. The police blamed Connor for the robbery and as he explains later on, he had given advice to the people that committed the crime on how to rob the museum.

The story shifts next to Connor’s failed jailbreak from the first time he was incarcerated. Finally, after all that, it begins telling his story in chronological order, from his first robbery to his eventual third incarceration decades later for dealing drugs.

The stories of how he committed his robberies are interesting. Most of the time it was a combination of inside knowledge and poor security on the part of the place he was robbing.

Connor talks about how he’d learn a museum’s security by posing as a donator to the museum. He’d get a tour of the facility including places that normal visitors don’t get to see. He’d then come back a few weeks later at night, sneak through a window, and take whatever he wanted.

What makes the story so interesting is that you start rooting for Connor.

Several times Connor is accused of crimes that he didn’t commit and is put on trial. He deserves to go to jail, but for different reasons than those he is accused of. The writing made me share in his frustration of being falsely accused.

It’s also very clear that Connor is an intelligent person who could’ve done a lot of good things if he hadn’t been so attracted to stealing things.

His SAT scores are amazing, he’s smart enough to organize a criminal gang for years without being caught, and he’s smart enough to have a college-educated girlfriend who is aware of his crimes, but never has enough information that she can testify against him.

There’s some stuff about how criminals act that comes up in the book that I wouldn’t get to see in my daily life. Connor talks about honor amongst criminals. He has a code for how people act when they’re part of his gang. Two of his members break that code and he almost kills them. Criminals operate outside of the law, but they still enforce rules upon themselves to maintain some amount of order.

Connor also discusses his perpetual battle with the police. I think he views the police and the government as “just the crime gang in charge of everyone else.”

When the cops are unable to find enough evidence to arrest Connor for crimes that he did commit they start building cases to connect him to crimes he was only loosely involved in.

The false cases bring to light what might be a common practice in the judicial system. The State’s Attorney comes up to a criminal and says something along the lines of, “Confess to your crime and testify that this other guy I want to arrest committed a similar crime and I’ll cut your prison sentence in half.”

If the other guy didn’t commit that crime, there’s still a heavy incentive for the first criminal to lie and say he did. That’s exactly what happens to Connor on more than one occasion.

I’d recommend Art of the Heist for anyone who likes thriller novels or who has always wondered how criminals think. For people interested in a dramatic story, I should say that there were parts of the book where I had to put it down for several days before I was ready to read it again as the material was so intense.

I looked up Connor to see what he’s doing now that he’s out of prison. Apparently he was arrested in 2012 for petty theft of a cellphone. This was apparently part of a drug deal gone bad, but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him of that. Even at over 70 years old he is still a career criminal because, as he says in is book, “he enjoys it.”

-GoCorral

Mother’s Day 2015

My mother passed away a few years ago, but I am lucky to have a wonderful step-mother to spend Mother’s Day with.

My wife and I drove back home in the morning to visit our mothers. I dropped her off and spent a little bit of time with my parents-in-law before going over to my parents’ house (they live in the same city).

My parents were out at the farmer’s market when I got there (a Sunday tradition for them). I played with their dog a little bit and puzzled over the mail I was receiving there. Apprently I now have a subscription to Car and Driver magazine for some unknown reason.

When they got back they announced a surprise, my best friend would be visiting as well! Apparently his parents were spending some time in the Netherlands so he’d been hanging out with my parents for company.

We chatted a bunch and made snickerdoodles. The cookie baking was a Mother’s Day activity so we joked non-stop about it. My friend and I got on our knees to be “children.” We pretended to mess up the recipe by adding “one and a half eggs.” The usual stuff.

The cookies turned out really good, obviously due to adding one and a half eggs.

We went on a walk up to “the dish.” Everyone in Palo Alto already knows what that is but I will explain for those of you who don’t know.

A lot of Palo Alto attractions are remnants of the two big owners of the land around there, Stanford and Coutts. Stanford owned a huge amount of land in the hills behind Palo Alto.

That land was never developed or turned into part of the college. Instead it is an open space preserve where you can go walking up in the hills.

At the top of one of the steep hills behind a chain-link fence is a giant satelitte dish, probably about 100 feet in diameter.

“The dish,” as everyone calls it, is part of the program to contact alien life. It sends signals out and listens for responses. Nothing yet!

We came back after the walk and opened presents. I got my step-mom a Ursula K. Le Guin interpretation of Lao-Tzu’s poetry. She likes Le Guin and both her and my dad are fans of Eastern philosophy. She seemed excited to read it and I hope it is as good as her expectations.

We hugged goodbye and I took half the cookies with me. My friend took the other half.

I went back to my in-laws house and picked up my wife there after taking some pictures. We drove back home through the heavy Mother’s Day traffic.

Happy belated Mother’s Day to everyone else’s mothers who I didn’t see yesterday!

-GoCorral

Paddington Movie Review

I saw the movie Paddington with my wife last weekend.

The movie is based off the Paddington Bear book series. I read a few of the books when I was a kid but remember almost nothing about them.

What I do remember is the visual appearance of Paddington and his unflagging politeness. I remember the books being similar to Stuart Little, but British instead of American. I also remember Paddington being a teddy bear in the books, but that’s wrong. He’s an unusual bear species from “darkest Peru.”

The movie starts off with old black and white news reel describing Paddington’s home in Peru. Soon Paddington must leave his home and travel to London where he plans to be adopted by waiting at a railroad station.

Our little hero stows away in a lifeboat aboard a cargo ship headed to London. He survives by bringing along an enormous supply of orange marmalade which we are a told “has all the daily vitamins and minerals a bear needs.”

Paddington meets the Brown family at the Paddington station in London. He goes to live with them until they can find the explorer who previously visited his family in “darkest Peru.” It’s no surprise that by the end of the movie Paddington has become part of the Brown’s family.

I wouldn’t want to give more away about the movie, but it struck me as extremely British.  There’s a flashback where the explorer is describing how civilized the bears in “darkest Peru” are. The people he’s talking to respond by saying, “Civilized? Surely they don’t play cricket?” I’m paraphrasing, but that is what the movie is like.

The movie is a fun family experience. Although I’ve read some of the Paddington books, I can’t say if a true fan of the books would enjoy the movie or not. I can say that if you liked Stuart Little then you will like Paddington. A talking animal is accepted into a classical nuclear family in both books/movies. What more do you really need to know? Just that description tells you what the movie will be about. It has a few jokes, but is mostly about the warm fuzzy feelings you get from the tender moments in the movie. And having something you can watch with children.

That’s all for today!

-Mister Ed

The Giver Movie Review

The Giver Movie Poster

My wife and I went on a date last weekend to see The Giver and we both really liked the movie.

It was a faithful adaption of the book and I felt it was a good movie on its own as well.

There are a few additions to the movie and a few things removed as well. Of course this sort of thing always happens in movie adaptions of books.

For example, Two scenes that I really enjoyed were not present in the movie, Jonas tossing an apple and seeing it turn red in the air, and a more direct explanation of precise language that Jonas receives from his parents.

In the book, Jonas says he is starving. His parents correct him and say that he is only hungry, not starving.

The movie skips that scene, but contains plenty of other pieces of dialogue that illustrate the precise use of language the people have developed in The Giver‘s utopia.

My wife was disappointed that the movie did not include the variety of gifts the children receive for each year of advancement. Only the bike at year nine is in the movie.

The special effects and acting in the movie were excellent. I loved that it switched back and forth between black and white and color. Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep were amazing as always and the young actors put forward impressive performances as well.

My wife’s major complaint (and I agree with her) was that the movie was too short. It’s only about an hour and a half long. The movie could’ve easily been lengthened and included all the things that we missed from the book.

I’d definitely recommend the movie for those who enjoyed the book or for people who get as excited about utopia/dystopia stories as I do.

Oh! And fair warning, Taylor Swift is in this movie and it utterly destroys your suspension of disbelief when she shows up.

-Mister Ed