Saturday, March 31, 2012

Politics: A Phantom Menace


Unless you're a member of the Florida Bar, you've probably never heard of Justice Barbara Pariente. After being a civil litigator for nearly twenty years, she was appointed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court of Florida. She's been an Associate Justice on the Florida Supreme Court since 1997, and, by all accounts, she's done a fine job. Justice Pariente is up for merit retention in this year's election, a simple yes-or-no majority vote that determines whether she is retained as a justice.

There have been whispers of a campaign against Justice Pariente and two of her colleagues by outside forces. Supposedly, some conservative groups are trying to unseat her based on her decision not to allow a ballot measure opposing Obamacare, and will spend big money to urge her ouster. Supporters of the Justices have already set up their own campaign.

To be sure, Florida law provides that Justices serve six-year terms, and must face a merit retention vote at the end of each term. It is not improperly "politicizing" the process to campaign against Justice Pariente, because the process is inherently political - she does not have life tenure like a federal judge. The whole thing is structured so that if her opinions are unpopular, people can kick her out.

That being said, I think Justice Pariente is an extremely skilled jurist (though I might be biased since she hails from where I practice). Barring any "live boys or dead girls in her bed," I'll likely be voting for her retention.

TV: Missing

It's fun to write about ABC's new spy show, "Missing," because the series brazenly rips off the hit Liam Neeson action movie, "Taken." In both the show and the movie, rogue CIA agents search for their kidnapped offspring in exotic locales, leaving a trail of beat-up Eurotrash in their wake:



Which is not to say that "Missing" is a good TV show. Actually, the series is awful in a lot of ways: you'll see tepid television-sized action sequences and hear hackneyed dialogue (including the phrase "I'm a mother searching for her son" about eighty times per episode). The biggest problem, though, is the plot.

The events in "Taken" could afford to be conveniently strung together since they only occupied about an hour and a half of screentime; stretch the same happenings into a ten-episode first season and you have long moments of boredom, weird decisions by the characters, and utterly foreseeable plot twists (hint - if you don't see someone die in a car bomb, they're probably hanging around somewhere until the season finale).

I'm sure "Missing" will be popular, since it's part of a three hour block of television aimed at middle aged women (including Shonda Rhimes' megahits "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice"), but I don't think it'll ever be must-see television.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Movies: A Separation

If I ever had to teach a course on Comparative Law, I'd probably show "A Separation" during the first week of class:


"A Separation" is a fascinating look inside Iran's society and legal system (particularly the concepts of qesas and diyya). The title references Nader and Simin, a married couple who are dealing with a thorny problem - Simin wants to leave Iran to improve the future of their daughter Termeh, while Nader wants to stay in the country to care for his Alzheimer-afflicted father. When Nader hires a poor, devout woman to help him look after his father, things rapidly get out of hand.

While there's plenty of conflict in "A Separation," it doesn't involve gunfights, car chases, or explosions. Instead, the movie thoughtfully depicts the everyday clashes we all face: rich vs. poor, husband vs. wife, child vs. parent. Director Asghar Farhadi has made "A Separation" restrained and subtle; the characters' arguments are heated but never stupid, the issues are wrenching but never maudlin.

"A Separation" is rounded out by some superb performances - the young actresses who play the daughters in this movie, Sarina Farhadi and Kimia Hosseini, throw in absolutely heartbreaking performances, and steal plenty of scenes from the adults. The only bad thing about the movie is the gimmick ending; I found it jarring considering the lack of artifice or stylistic touches in the rest of the story, and that dissonance almost ruins the themes and messages transmitted in the first two hours of the movie. That being said, "A Separation" is a good movie and definitely worth watching.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, March 24, 2012

All work and no play makes Mulliga a dull boy...

Shooting > blogging, at least for today. More content later, methinks. In the meantime, here's my current AR setup. Primarily a home-defense gun, but also a lot of fun at the range - so long as you don't use Federal ammo (it's wildly inaccurate in this gun for some reason):


Daniel Defense M4 V3 Carbine

Magpul Flat Dark Earth Furniture - CTR stock, MIAD grip, XTR rail panels, AFG2 foregrip
Vickers Combat Applications Sling with IWC Triglide 2-to-1 sling conversion

Aimpoint Micro T1 on LaRue QD Mount (Lower 1/3 cowitness with fixed iron sights)

Quark AA² Tactical LED flashlight in Viking Tactics mount

Monday, March 19, 2012

Guns: Walther PPQ review - Showing up right on Q

Introduction

The Walther P99 has a decent reputation, but the handgun never really caught fire in the marketplace. The big institutional customers opted for other Teutonic polymer pistols (GLOCKs, H&Ks, SIGs), and the P99 failed to capture the hearts and minds of civilian shooters, despite its cachet of being the modern James Bond's sidearm of choice.

Enter the PPQ. It's not exactly a new pistol (basically a modified German-made P99 RAD), but it's probably the best gun Walther's put out in quite some time:

Out of the Box

The gun is comparable in size to a GLOCK 19, bu it's slightly heavier, taller, wider, and longer than the G19. The differences aren't dramatic or anything, but the GLOCK is noticeably smaller. The PPQ has a standard 1913 accessory rail; I didn't test any rail-mounted lights or lasers for this review.

In hand, it points fairly naturally, though the stippled grip doesn't provide as much traction as I prefer. The PPQ come with three interchangeable backstraps; the pin that secures the backstraps also serves as a lanyard attachment point. There are front and rear slide serrations that work fine.

Default PPQ magazine capacity is 15 rounds plus one in the chamber; +2 extended baseplate magazines are available should you need such a thing. Second gen P99 mags purportedly work in the gun; brand new factory PPQ mags cost upwards of $45 (!!) each.

The PPQ ships in a nice plastic hardcase with positive sliding latches. In the box is the pistol, 2 magazines, the backstraps, a mag loader, a better-than-average manual, a fired cartridge case, and a test target. The last item is pretty neat, actually - it isn't a computer readout of where the gun hit, it's the actual physical target shot by your gun at the factory:


As you can see, my PPQ's target shows about a 2" group at 15 meters. I assume this was shot from a rest of some sort:

Here's another test target from a random PPQ I saw in a gunstore. It shows a similar ~2" group:




Inside and Outside

The Walther PPQ ships with three-dot sights (rear sight is adjustable). They work fine, especially in conjunction with the tapered slide profile, but they're ultimately nothing to write home about. Tritium sights are available for the gun (night sights are actually standard equipment on the PPQ "First Edition").

The pistol has fully ambidextrous controls. I really liked the slide stop levers; they're big enough to hit under stress, but are also low-profile to prevent accidental slide lockback. The Walther/H&K-style mag release lever is a negative for me (since it's different than the button release found on almost every other pistol on Earth), but it does keep the pistol ambidextrous without forcing people to swap out any parts.


Field strip is simple and GLOCK-like, right down to the position of the takedown levers. You have to dry-fire the PPQ in order to disassemble it, which I prefer over the complicated sear gymnastics of guns like the M&P (if you can't be bothered to unload a firearm before you clean it, you should probably take up a safer hobby, like canasta). The gun comes pretty dry from the factory, so it's best to clean it up and give it a light sheen of lube before you shoot it.

At the Range

I thought it might be fun for longtime readers to see the indoor range where I usually test my handguns. On the table you can see my Ruger 22/45, the PPQ, my trusty CZ Kadet, and my Kahr CM9. Bringing other guns gives the review handgun time to rest between shot strings, and gives me something to compare the review handgun to in terms of shooting feel. It also helps ensure any accuracy/reliability quirks aren't related to my technique that day, or to particular ammo.


The PPQ's trigger is its primary selling point, and a marked departure from Walther's previous offerings. Operation-wise it's very GLOCK-like, pulling at about 5-6 pounds with some takeup and overtravel (that "spongy" or "springy" feel). The magic starts when you let out to reset the trigger; after barely 1/10" of movement forward, the trigger is reset, and you're ready to fire again:




It's a bit hard to see the super-short reset in the photos above, but suffice it to say that the PPQ's trigger is one of the best stock triggers available in a polymer pistol. The trigger reset has an audible and tactile click; it beats the heck outta the M&P and then steals the M&P's lunch money. In practical terms, the PPQ can be shot about as fast as a pistol can be shot.
The factory targets I've shown are pretty representative of what I could shoot - about 2" groups at 15 yards, offhand. Here's 10 rounds of Winchester 115 grain Value Pack at 15 yards:


I tested two PPQs, one from a friend and regular customer at RRPSI Firearms, and my own personal PPQ. Both ran fine through about 600 rounds of ammo, including the cheapo Tula steel-cased stuff;  I would expect nothing less from a defense-oriented pistol of this size. General reliability reports from other PPQ owners have been positive, though obviously the gun's longterm durability is unknown (it was announced at last year's SHOT Show).

Conclusion

The Walther PPQ is admittedly just an upgrade to the proven P99 design, but it's a big upgrade. At a price point of around $550, the gun is extremely competitive with other polymer offerings on the market, even before taking into account the excellent trigger and good all-around workmanship and ergonomics. This one's definitely a keeper, and all those other Germanic handguns better step up their game.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Music: Turlough Carolan

This St. Patrick's Day, Shangrila Towers celebrates the music of Ireland! In this post, we'll look at the life and work of one of Ireland's greatest composers, Turlough Carolan, a highly influential 17th century harpist:

Turlough Carolan's biography sounds like the plot of a sappy inspirational movie: when he was 18 years old, Carolan was blinded by smallpox, learned to play the harp thanks to funding from a prominent Irish family, and spent the rest of his life on the road, composing and performing his songs for numerous patrons:


His music remains quite popular today. Here's a neat rendition of "Carolan's Welcome" by David Rogers - the classical guitar really brings out the Baroque in the piece:



Wildest Carolan cover? Probably "Peggy Brown," by Polish rock band Myslovitz:

Miscellany: The Tin Whistle

This St. Patrick's Day, Shangrila Towers celebrates the music of Ireland! In this post, we'll examine the history behind a uniquely Irish instrument - the tin whistle.

You've heard it in the soundtracks of "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings" - whenever composers need to evoke a Gaelic spirit of whimsy or adventure, they have turned to the tin whistle.

Also known as the penny whistle (because you used to be able to buy them for a penny or even a half a penny), the tin whistle was well-known throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, and the United States in the 19th century. Though the instrument was popular with all walks of life, the tin whistle was generally regarded as a toy, something for children to play on the street hoping for tips from people passing by.

That's changed, of course, and nowadays the humble tin whistle is used by a huge variety of Irish musicians from all genres (Andrea Corr busts one out regularly, as does Paddy Moloney, who learned to play tin whistle as a child before graduating to the uilleann pipes). Notwithstanding the fact that the tin whistle has hit the bigtime, there's still something charming about the lone whistler:

Links: Irish and Celtic Music Podcast

This St. Patrick's Day, Shangrila Towers celebrates the music of Ireland! In this post, we'll look at one of the best ways to sample indie Irish and Celtic music on the web.


I almost feel silly writing up a review of the Irish and Celtic Music Podcast. After all, the show's title is perfectly descriptive of its contents: it's a music podcast hosted by Marc Gunn (a/k/a "The Celtfather") that plays Irish and Celtic music.

Still, if you're one of the millions and millions of people around the world who like Celtic music, you'll enjoy this show. One minor caveat: the artists skew towards the traditional-sounding and the songs are mostly instrumental, with plenty of fiddle, jigs, drinking songs, and ballads to go around. This is the sort of music that you imagine emanating from a warmly-lit pub in Galway.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Guns: Close-Range Optics Failure Sighting for the AR carbine

Like a lot of gunbloggers, I use the AR-15 as my home defense gun. It's relatively easy to handle, hits harder than almost any pistol, and is more precise than a twelve-gauge shotgun, especially when firing at anything more than across-the-hallway distances. My AR also has one of those nifty red dot scopes mounted on it (an Aimpoint Micro T1 - I'll do a review in the future). Operation couldn't be simpler - put the dot on the target, pull the trigger, bullet goes where the red dot was. It's an incredibly fast way to hit things at close range, since you can keep both eyes open and focused on the target, instead of on a front sight.

Of course, that all goes out the window if the red dot disappears. Whether it's battery failure, a circuitry SNAFU, or just plain old bad luck, you can't assume that your close-range optic will be operational when criminals are breaking down your door...



So, you'll need to test your point-of-aims/point-of-impacts at a range with the optics off. There's no real substitute for this - with all the variances in ammo velocity/weight, sights, and mounts nowadays, you won't be able to consult a table that shows you where you should be hitting in close. The above target was shot at 7 yards with superslow PMC Bronze .223 out of my 16" M4gery - YMMV. Here's a brief explanation of the three close-range sighting techniques used:

Shooting Out of the Tube: This is the simplest, quickest method of close range sighting with an AR when your optic goes toes-up. You just center the bad guy in the field-of-view of your scope, and pull the trigger. You won't need to adjust your cheekweld at all, since in normal operation the red dot is roughly centered in the optic anyway. Two downsides: your gun will probably be hitting low at close range (assuming a typical 25 or 50 yard zero for the red dot), and minute changes in the relative positions of your eye, the scope, and your target can produce big variations.

Front Sight Centered in the Tube: This is almost as quick as shooting out of the tube, and it might work better depending on how your AR is set up. You use the scope as a giant aperture and center the front sight in it along with your target. This arrangement is a little more repeatable, and cants the gun sharply upward, which is sometimes necessary to counter the height-over-bore offset of the AR sights at close range.

Shooting Out of the Notch: If you have the misfortune of being forced to shoot at close targets for extended periods, you might consider "shooting out of the notch." With this technique, you ignore the aperture rear sight (some rear BUIS actually allow you to fold the aperture out of the way altogether) and use the U-shaped "notch" as a crude rear sight in conjunction with your front sight post. For most configurations, I've found this to be the most precise technique - it works particularly well for rifles with fixed BUIS, like mine. Shooting out of the notch cants the gun up slightly, too.

Links: Music Podcasts for Commuters

Every week, I spend about seven hours inside my truck driving to and from work. Instead of listening to FM radio (where you get ten minutes of music interrupted by ten minutes of commercials and inane DJ chatter), I listen to music podcasts. Here are some of my favorites:

International Departures with Myon and Shane 54




Hungarian progressive trance DJs Márió Égető (Mÿon) and Előd Császár (Shane 54) are in demand worldwide, as evidenced by their dizzying international schedule. Whether it's Miami, Vancouver, Texas, or Taipei, the duo travels the world, unloading enough trance music for ten clubs. You can keep track of their dance music exploits via their podcast, "International Departures." There's nothing quite like high-energy vocal trance for weaving in and out of traffic.

The J. Pitts Show with DJ Nice Rec



If you're getting tired of the same old Jay-Z and Kanye, it might be a good idea to try out the J. Pitts Show, an eclectic indie hip hop podcast.

Eclectic is sort of an understatement, actually; there are some episodes of the J. Pitts Show that have zero hip hop. I especially like the "Man of the Hour" episodes, which put the spotlight on particular artists, record labels, or regions. Any hip hop show that can devote a whole hour devoted to Michael McDonald, of Doobie Brothers fame is worth listening to:
Do not adjust your computer screen, this is a whole episode of nothing but Michael McDonald songs. Yes, an hour-plus of the man known for his blue-eyed soul. What? You thought this podcast was about nothing but that indie backpacker rap? Oh, what a fool believes. Keep an open mind and peep game!

KEXP Presents Music That Matters



If I had a station like KEXP around, I might turn on my radio more often. The University of Washington-based "dynamic arts organization" hosts numerous interesting music programs and puts out several good podcasts. The pick of the litter is the pretentiously-named "Music That Matters," a biweekly podcast curated by various DJs. The genres vary (you can go from shoegazer to psychedelic to soul in a matter of minutes), but every episode features at least one band that you've never heard of performing something that you have to listen to:

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Movies: "Don't Judge a Book by its Cover" Double Feature

Today's double feature reviews two heartwarming movies that subvert stereotypes. Bonus points if you're in a crowd that doesn't mind watching these films back-to-back (cf. UF Law's legendary Ziggydrome movie nights)...

The Help

Watching the 2012 Academy Awards was painful for a lot of reasons, chief among them seeing Meryl Streep win her sympathy Oscar over Viola Davis's strong work in "The Help":



"The Help" is about the Mammy stereotype, specifically black maids in 1960s era Mississippi. In this JFK/Jim Crow parable, the white people are almost all obnoxiously racist, the black maids are put-upon angels, and there's nary a shade of grey to be seen. When the protagonist (a modern young woman named Skeeter) decides to write a book about the plight of these maids, she learns more than she ever bargained for about life, love, and family.

Okay, so the plot's about as complex and nuanced as an episode of "Quantum Leap" (seriously, I can almost see Sam Beckett in drag rebuffing Stuart Whitworth's hamhanded advances), but it's still a decent feel-good movie about overcoming racial prejudice. I wish it were about half an hour shorter, and that the actual story wasn't so stupefyingly preachy, but the performances of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (along with the unsung hero of the film, Sissy Spacek, and Bryce Dallas Howard) make the movie watchable. Doesn't that deserve an Oscar?

Rating: 7/10

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

One of the most common threats in the horror movie bestiary are hillbillies. Whether they're cannibals, deviants, or just plain murderous, rural folk are looked at askance on the silver screen. So it goes with Tucker & Dale:


It's a sly satire of movies like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Hills Have Eyes." Tucker and Dale are two good ole boys who are renovating their vacation house in the woods. A series of hilarious misunderstandings with a group of college kids lead to gruesome death after gruesome death.

The casting in this movie is pitch perfect - the audience immediately sides with the two lovable hillbillies, played by Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk, and against the shrill group of twenty-somethings attempting to defeat them. Against all odds, it's even half-believable too; it's not hard to picture today's millenials forgetting that chainsaws and wood chippers are useful for work, in addition to murder.

T&DvE loses steam in the third act, since by then the movie's run out of genre conventions to reverse. Instead, it concludes with a by-the-numbers showdown. Overall, though, this is a fun movie that's best enjoyed with fellow horror fans.

Rating: 8/10

Guns: Kel-Tec PF9 review - Fool me twice...

If you've been a longtime Shangrila Towers reader, you might remember my first experience with a Kel-Tec firearm did not...ahem...go smoothly. Notwithstanding my issues with the Cocoa, Florida-based manufacturer, Kel-Tec's products sell well, with some models being phenomenally popular in my neck of the woods.

One of these is the PF9, a subcompact single-stack 9mm pistol. It's one of the lightest production 9mm handguns in the world, weighing in at an astonishing 12.7 ounces. The gun's also gotten good reviews from other gunbloggers.

With all this in mind, I decided to grab a PF9 out of curiosity: Has Kel-Tec cleaned up their act in the past few years?

Overview

The PF9, like most Kel-Tec pistols, is a short recoil, locked breech design with a polymer frame and a double-action only trigger. The magazine holds 7 rounds of 9mm, which is above-average for single-stack concealed carry 9mms (the Kahr PM/CM series, Kimber Solo, SIG P290, and the Beretta Nano hold 6, while the Ruger LC9 holds 7). The gun has a tiny rail for mounting accessories and has a full suite of autopistol features - last shot hold open, slide stop, and a magazine release.


Ergonomically, the Kel-Tec feels okay in hand. It comes equipped with good three-dot sights and an extra extended floorplate for the single included magazine. The trigger isn't very good - while not heavy, per se, it's long, creepy, and imprecise (the resistance varies throughout the pull).

I'll skip field stripping and such because that information is readily available in other reviews.

You (don't) Spin Me Right Round


My first shots with the PF9 were perplexing. It's a hard gun to shoot, first of all: the mediocre trigger and 12.7 ounce weight make every shot an adventure, with pronounced muzzle flip. More troubling were the holes in my target at 7 yards, which were shaped suspiciously like 115 grain 9mm bullets viewed from the side, rather than little circles.

The gun was keyholing. And it was doing it with several types of 9mm. Not acceptable in any pistol, much less one designed to save your life. I'm not planning on sailing rounds all over the place in a defensive shoot, when innocent bystanders might be around.

A Second Chance...

I returned the gun to the factory, and received a brand new PF9 (parkerized, this time) thanks to Davidson's GuaranteeD Replacement policy (if you don't buy guns from Davidson's, you should, especially given the iffy QC of almost every firearms manufacturer nowadays).

The new gun shot a heckuva lot better. The trigger and small size made practical accuracy a challenge, but here are are representative groups:


Eight shots, Remington UMC 115 grain range ammo.


Several magazines worth of Winchester White Box at 10 yards. As you can see, the gun shoots a little to the right.

Reliability was good for the first couple of hundred rounds with both of the PF9s, no break-in period needed. After the guns got dirty, though, I got plenty of malfunctions, including numerous failures-to-extract. Back to the drawing board, Kel-Tec.

Vs. the Kahr CM9

I've been shooting and carrying the Kahr CM9 for awhile now, and it's probably the best single-stack subcompact on the market right now. Is the Kel-Tec PF9 a viable opponent?

First off, the PF9 is a little longer overall than the CM9, but slimmer. Kahr's published dimensions don't take into account that their magazines protrude from the bottom of the grip; once this is factored in, the CM9 is about the same height as the PF9. In practical terms, the guns are the same size, and both fit readily into the same DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster.

That's where the comparisons end. Though the PF9 is about $150 cheaper, three ounces lighter, and holds one more round, the Kahr is a much better buy. It has a good trigger (leading to much better accuracy and faster follow-up shots), it's more comfortable to shoot, and, most critically, it doesn't suffer from the extraction failures of the Kel-Tecs. If you put 300 rounds in both guns, the Kahr will run for the next 300 and the Kel-Tec probably won't, at least without a cleaning.

Conclusion

If you can't run a case of ammo through a gun without it becoming a jammomatic, it's just too finicky to use for defense. While my sample size is small (two PF9s), I experienced failure-to-extracts in both, and I won't recommend something to my readers that I don't believe in personally. So here's a piece of advice you won't see in a mainstream gun rag - don't buy the Kel-Tec PF9. There are better choices that won't require the troubleshooting, fluff and buffing, or tomfoolery of the Kel-Tecs.

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