Saturday, July 25, 2009

Law: An Exercise in Malpractice

One prominent bar exam discussion site described the bar exam as an exercise in malpractice. After all, any competent lawyer who doesn't wish to get sued will take the time to research a legal issue, not volunteer an answer from memory and under severe time pressure. Yet that's what thousands of test-takers have to undergo every year around the country.

That's probably why the actual passing requirements, at least in Florida, are so lax. You can usually miss a huge percentage of exam questions and still get through. For example, the MBE, the multistate portion of the bar exam, has an average raw score of around 2/3 correct. These MBE questions only have four answer choices. Using almost pure logic with only residual knowledge from law school classes, you can usually knock out one or two answer choices in any given question.

The trick becomes distinguishing between those last two or three choices, choices that are sometimes only separated by a very fine distinction. There really aren't too many ways around it - you just need to memorize the various rules.

That's what I'm doing all this weekend, since the bar is next week. Posting will be, ahem, light.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Movies: Superman - Doomsday

Superman was never really one of my favorite comic book heroes when I was growing up. That's probably why my preferred Superman stories usually involve some strange alternate take on the character (for instance, the "Superman: Red Son" series, which has Superman fighting for Stalin's U.S.S.R. instead of "truth, justice, and the American way"). I also recall a certain thrill at reading the "Death of Superman" storyline, where readers got to see the Big Blue Boy Scout finally meet his end (even if it was only temporary).

Now, the "Death of Superman" storyline has been turned into a direct-to-video cartoon produced and directed by DC animation kingpin Bruce Timm:

It's a decent comic book cartoon, though it lacks the texture of Timm's best work (the Batman: TAS episode "Beware the Gray Ghost" is only twenty-odd minutes long but has more character moments than the entire runtime of "Superman: Doomsday"). The plot's pretty simple: after Lex Luthor unearths a mysterious alien creature named Doomsday, Superman must prevent it from destroying Metropolis and perhaps the world.

Disappointingly, the mega-battle between Superman and Doomsday doesn't take up much screentime, and Superman's tactics during the fight don't make any sense at all (instead of trying to lead Doomsday away from Metropolis, as in the comic, Superman slings Doomsday through office buildings, showing a rather cavalier attitude towards human life). The remainder of the flick is spent depicting the machinations of Lex Luthor, but how you can possibly top one of the most remembered DC comics moments of the 1990s? Talk about an anticlimax.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Food: Peach Valley Cafe

Sometimes you can tell when a restaurant is set to hit the big time. I felt that way after I walked out of Peach Valley Cafe, a Florida-based chain owned by the same people behind Stonewood Grill. Peach Valley Cafe serves mainly breakfast and lunch (the Gainesville location is open for dinner until 8:00 p.m.), and I stopped in to check them out.

I sat at the lunch counter (bustling with other patrons, mostly officeworkers out for lunch) and so I got a close-up view of how the restaurant operates. Orders came in, orders came up, and the line cooks and servers did a good job of making sure the whole operation ran smoothly. All the dishes that were going out to customers - mostly burgers and breakfast plates - looked great.

For my part, I had the Pine Grove chicken sandwich, which features grilled chicken breast and bacon. The chicken breast could have been bigger, but it was cooked well, and the bacon was obviously fresh off the griddle (one of the benefits of offering late breakfast service). Couple that with some decent peach tea (which wasn't as cloyingly sweet as I thought it'd be) and you have a great casual lunch experience.

So why is the Peach Valley Cafe so set for expansion? First, the prices are in-line with other chain restaurants (about $7 for a burger). I also think the array of generic American casual fare should transplant well to many regions of the country; while there aren't too many standouts on the menu, there also don't seem to be many stinkers, either. Most of all, though, it's rare to find a place that does breakfast and lunch competently, which is where Peach Valley can outpace places like Applebee's and Chili's.

2/4 stars

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tech: Battlefield 1943

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as console gamers are discovering with the release of "Battlefield 1943," a downloadable game for the Xbox 360 and the PS3:

If you're a longtime PC gamer, you might get a sense of deja vu from this latest installment of the venerable "Battlefield" series. That's because 1943 is a near pitch-perfect remake of the original "Battlefield 1942." Like its predecessor, 1943 allows you to pilot planes, drive tanks, and control flak cannons. It's the U.S. Marine Corps versus the Imperial Japanese Navy across four famous battles - Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Wake Island, and the Coral Sea.

For a $15 downloadable title, the game is pretty polished. It feels like a slimmed-down, tightened up Battlefield experience; all the core elements are there (the tank v. infantry dynamic, the fight for aerial supremacy, the brief-but-vicious close quarters gunfights) but without any of the fat. 1943 does bring some new elements to the table, though. The game uses the Frostbite engine, which allows for impressive building and foliage destruction. After a few minutes of furious fighting on Iwo Jima, what was once a lush island becomes more like the black sand abattoir people remember from grainy WWII combat footage.

Strangely enough, though, 1943 shares the weaknesses of "Battlefield 1942," too. Aside from the connection issues that plagued the game at launch, the multiplayer-only nature of the title means that your enjoyment will be singularly dependent on who you play with. Thankfully, friendly fire is disabled, so you don't have the absurdity of getting machine-gunned by your own teammates because you took the plane first, but there's still plenty of grandstanding and griefing that can be accomplished by your "teammates."

Rating: 83/100

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Third Man of Apollo 11

40 years ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. It's the kind of event that transcends history, one that will be remembered as long as human beings are around. But what of the Apollo 11 command module pilot, Michael Collins?

Collins himself says he felt like an integral part of the mission, but it's hard to believe there wasn't some small part of him that regretted not being able to go with his crewmates. Of course, being a military test pilot (like all early astronauts) means that such feelings wouldn't be expressed:

Then again, only a handful of people have ever even orbited the Moon, so I suppose the sense of loss can't be too bad. Still, it was enough to inspire Jethro Tull to write a song about it:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Guns: Bianchi PatrolTek Magazine Pouch

Most people who carry a concealed weapon will acknowledge that the chances of actually having to draw the darn thing are slim to none. Still, if you ever need your gun, you will really need it, and for many CCWers, that leads to carrying a spare magazine or two.

There are plenty of reasons to carry a spare. If your primary magazine becomes lost or broken, your semiautomatic pistol becomes a really awkward single shot. There is also the remote possibility of running out of ammo during a gunfight (incredibly unlikely, but then getting into a gunfight in the first place is incredibly unlikely).

Bianchi's PatrolTek line of accessories is designed to be an inexpensive gear option for LEOs, and the accessories also work well for CCW use. I picked up the single magazine pouch for less than ten dollars, and it works fairly well for the price. All I really look for in a magazine carrier is retention and reliability of access; even the cheap one-size-fits-all molded nylon of the PatrolTek pouch is good enough for making sure the magazine is secure.

Disadvantages of the PatrolTek pouch include a propensity to slide around the belt (the single 2" wide belt loop isn't very robust), as well as a slight rattling noise that comes from the unused snap ring (you can muffle it, of course). A pouch like this is obviously slower to access than a Kydex open top magazine carrier, but the enclosed design does help to shield the magazine from your body. All in all, it's worth a try if you don't carry a spare mag all the time but would like the option to.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Movies: Never Back Down

Off the top of your head, do you know any movies that are set and shot in Orlando, Florida? Well, if you couldn't name one, now you can add teeny-bopper MMA flick "Never Back Down" to your list:

Like oh-so-many action flicks, "Never Back Down" explores the dark world of Orlando's underground high school fight clubs. From that bedrock premise comes a run-time filled with the kind of high-octane excitement that only comes from "Cry_Wolf" director Jeff Wadlow. Every punch, kick, and body slam explodes off the screen!...

All kidding aside, "Never Back Down" does deliver a cascade of unintentionally hilarious moments, especially if you know anything about Orlando or mixed martial arts. The story is crazy enough: troubled teen Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) is having problems at his new school, and he gets sucked into a series of student-organized fights. Jake's completely untrained at the start of the movie, so he seeks the help of Jean Roqua (played by Djimon Hounsou), a local MMA guru.

If you ever wanted to see what a bad director can do to a good actor, just watch the scene where Roqua relays his tragic backstory - the faux intensity Hounsou displays would be ridiculous coming from any actor, but it's especially terrible considering Hounsou is a two-time Oscar nominee. Remember: Pat Morita had essentially the same role in "The Karate Kid," but he pulled it off in a much more entertaining fashion.

The scenes of Orlando high school life are worth the price of admission alone. For some reason, everyone wears swim trunks and bikinis everywhere - as if Orlando were somehow close to the ocean. All the kids except the main character live in palatial homes. Wadlow was obviously trying to capture the feel of Miami without actually having to film in Miami.

But the fights...oh, the fights. First of all, "Never Back Down" gives you a sterilized, Hollywood version of MMA where no one ever gets bloody, even when they're fighting in a parking lot or out on the street. There's no ring doctors or cut men, mind you. It's like seeing a car chase where an Aston Martin slams into a guard rail at 90 mph but only gets a few scratches.

The movie also trivializes the kind of experience necessary to win an MMA match. It's about as egregious as "The Karate Kid," where Daniel learns enough in two months to defeat a two-time karate champion. Unless you're a robot that can train day and night, there's just no way to get that good that fast.

To be fair, it's a better movie than "Never Surrender," if only because Jake has the audience's sympathy, at least initially. Just save a few laughs for the final minute of the movie, where logic gets tossed out of the window and everyone lives happily ever after.

Rating: 3/10

Links: Tactical Testing & Evaluation

TT&E has a pretty generic name for their website, but don't let that throw you off. Kelly, Josh, and Heather seem like nice folks, and their site has a ton of reviews of tactical gear.

It doesn't really get any more straightforward than TT&E. No BS, no sales pitch, just a detailed overview of various types of gun-related gear from people who have been there and done that. Here's a sample review video showing all the various MAGLULA loaders (the AR loader is extremely handy BTW):

Neat site, and I wish them the best of luck.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Music: Bohemian Like You

If there was some award for consistently getting your songs in the background of teenager-oriented media, the Dandy Warhols would probably win it. Their stuff has been played in everything from "Veronica Mars" to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - whenever you need mid-tempo alternative rock, you can usually count on a Warhols song to pull you through to the next scene (or, in some cases, serve as your opening theme):

This clip of a rainy live performance of "Bohemian Like You" from Pinkpop 2003 shows off some of the Dandy Warhols' willingness to experiment with instrumentation. It gives them a bit more of a complex sound than most similar groups. Between keyboardist Zia McCabe's organ-flavored tones and the freaking trumpet right in the foreground, you can tell this isn't just another garage band:

"Bohemian Like You" is one of those singles that you can really dance to. The song also has a neat music video that I won't post here, because it's NSFW.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sports: On Sportsmanship

Brock Lesnar is the current UFC heavyweight champion, and he at least looks the part - the guy is massive, dwarfing the other heavyweights. Add in extensive college wrestling experience (Lesnar was an NCAA Division I champion), a crash course in fighting from Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, and a chip on his shoulder, and you get somebody who can pulverize:

But the actual fight with Frank Mir at UFC 100 was really only half the story. The other half was Lesnar's conduct after the fight, where he displayed antics seemingly carried over from the WWE. In a sport where 99% of the fighters shake hands or even hug each other at the end of bouts, it's disconcerting to see someone literally taunt an opponent that he had just beaten.

The double middle fingers to the crowd and the crude reference to having sex with his wife were sort of superfluous at that point; the damage was done. But, I'll give Brock credit - he spoke out in a public apology that actually appeared to be genuine. Sort of like that hypercompetitive jock in high school who can't turn it off when the bell rings:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

News: It's Confirmation Time!

According to Wikipedia, it's only during the 20th century that Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justices became a huge political battleground. That may or may not be true (I can't fathom how the times before the American Civil War were any less contentious than current Washington politics), but it is true that public nomination hearings and the resulting media circus are a very modern phenomenon. With YouTube and 24/7 cable news coverage, you can now literally hear and see every potentially controversial thing a nominee has ever said or done.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the Second Circuit is the latest candidate to be put through the wringer, and I sincerely hope that her confirmation is based solely on her ability and competence as a judge, not her video rental records or dubious allegations from former colleagues. Americans have an incredible advantage over most citizens in this respect, since you can literally search all the opinions Judge Sotomayor has ever written or concurred with in a 30 second search on Westlaw.

As for Sotomayor herself, she's well-qualified in a boring, "let's make sure every Supreme Court Justice is an Ivy League-educated Court of Appeals judge" way. If you really want the kind of "diversity" that matters in a legal sense, why not pick a well-regarded state Supreme Court justice?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tech: 1 vs. 100

If you're an Xbox Live Gold member and you have a knack for trivia, you should probably try out the "1 vs. 100" beta that's currently going on:

I've never seen the game show (the U.S. version is hosted by Bob Saget, incidentally), but the premise of "1 vs. 100" is simple - a contestant (the One) and a group of 100 people (the Mob) answer various trivia questions. If a Mob member answers incorrectly, he or she is knocked out for the rest of the game. If the One answers incorrectly, the game ends and the Mob members split the winnings.

The One thus tries to outlast the Mob. At the beginning, it's easy to knock out at least a few Mob members (out of 100 people, there are going to be a few folks who don't know the sixth planet from the sun), but as the game wears on, the only people left in the Mob will be trivia mavens. And so, after each question, the One is invited to either take the money and walk, or push on further. Eliminating everyone is extremely difficult, but if the One can do it, a huge prize awaits.

The Xbox beta is free to play, and pits you against literally thousands of other players. While there aren't any prizes in most sessions, once a week the best "1 vs. 100" players on Xbox Live are selected to participate in a game where they can win Xbox Live Marketplace points (which can be used to buy games and movies). Every correct answer also counts as a sweepstakes entry towards real world stuff. And even without prizes, it's fun to play with your friends.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Food: Bagels &...

You know that South Florida has a ton of awesome delis when a good restaurant like "Bagels &..." can only manage two out of four stars here at Shangrila Towers.

It's an unassuming, family-owned deli nestled in a cherry location - smack in the middle of several Lake Worth suburban developments. The Sapersteins have been in the bialy and bagel baking business for decades, and it's almost like a little slice of Long Island has been transplanted to West Palm Beach.

The breakfast here is an exceptional value, with the prices held in check partly due to the fact that many of the Jewish retirees who frequent Bagels &... are on a fixed income. How else do you explain the ability to get two eggs, a bowl of grits, a bagel, and coffee for $3.79? Even adding in the tip, you're still competitive with the fast food joints' breakfast combos. And of course, the food at Bagels &... is much, much better.

The place can get crowded on weekends, especially when middle class families start showing up for breakfast. If there's one knock against Bagels &..., it'd be that their lunch and dinner offerings aren't as strong as their breakfast, especially when measured up against other Jewish delis in the area. But you probably can't find a better bialy for twenty miles.

2/4 stars

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Guns: Making the Holster

To be honest, when I first started shopping for a custom holster for my CZ-75B, I was shocked at how much bespoke holsters cost and how long it took for one to be made. It's just a piece of leather, right? Why do you have to spend $80 and wait two months to get one that fits your gun exactly?

But making a holster isn't a simple job. There's a lot of work involved:

I do realize there are plenty of people who can't afford to spend that much money on a holster. My advice? If you can't drop the cash on a nice holster, at least get a sturdy, stiff belt (you can find purpose-made leather gunbelts, but a good stiff tool belt or rigger's belt will be cheaper and will work about as well). Methinks it's better to have a cheap holster on a good belt than vice versa.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

TV: Inspector Gadget

Have you ever revisited something that you loved in childhood only to discover that, without the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, it doesn't hold up that well? I found this was the case with "Inspector Gadget," a cartoon series created by Andy Heyward, Jean Chalopin, and Bruno Bianchi (who also helped direct the first season):

For people who didn't grow up in the 1980s, "Inspector Gadget" followed a bumbling, overconfident police inspector with cartoony cybernetic enhancements. Each episode, Inspector Gadget foiled the plans of MAD, an evil organization headed by the mysterious Dr. Claw. Since Gadget was essentially incompetent, he was helped surreptitiously by his young niece Penny and her super-intelligent, semi-anthropomorphic dog Brain.

The first thing that jumps out when you watch the show as an adult is how brutally formulaic it is. Every episode has the same story - Gadget (voiced by Don Adams) gets an assignment, Gadget meets the villains (whom he invariably thinks are the good guys), the villains try to off Gadget, and then Penny and Brain find a way to save the day without anyone knowing.

There are still genuine moments of slapstick bliss, if you look for them. Most of these involve Gadget's gadgets, which malfunction at inopportune times. Seeing Gadget, after falling off a cliff, call forth a parachute - "Go go gadget parachute!" - only to have a flower pot pop out of his hat is pretty funny, in a Theatre of the Absurd kind of way.

So maybe I'm being a little harsh on "Inspector Gadget." What's funny and comprehensible for a kid (broad humor, easily digestable plots) usually isn't appropriate for adults. I appreciate it when people try to make work that appeals to all age groups (Pixar's "The Incredibles" being the best example, I think), but there's something to be said for a world in which only kids can inhabit, a work that can only be fully appreciated when you're young.

Miscellany: A Novel Approach to Bar Preparation

Studying for the bar exam is simultaneously one of the most stressful and tedious things I've ever experienced: stressful because your ability to earn a livelihood hinges on the result of a single, lengthy exam, and tedious because the typical bar exam covers a huge amount of material that must be reviewed over a long period of time.

I started out like most people, going over outlines, doing practice questions, and reviewing law school textbooks. Ulgh.

Eventually, I decided to get creative. Inspired by books like "Algebra the Easy Way" (it introduces math problems in the form of an extended fantasy narrative), I'm now writing short stories that contain various points of law embedded in a memorable (hopefully) story. I'm not sure how effective it'll be as a learning aid, but at least it's less tedious than poring over outlines over and over again.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Movies: Public Enemies

Michael Mann's latest crime flick, "Public Enemies," explores the life of John Dillinger, one of America's most notorious bank robbers:

Essentially, it's an undercooked Depression-era "Heat," complete with another big star pairing - Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Unlike its predecessor, "Public Enemies" doesn't devote much screen time to the character on the right side of the law (FBI agent Melvin Purvis, played by Bale) so the cat-and-mouse game doesn't ever become interesting.

Mann delivers plenty of his trademark shootouts, a bit of romance in the form of love interest Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), and enough period touches to evoke the 1930s. But the underlying problem remains: this is a fictionalized version of a true story. Since we all know how the story ends, it's hard for the movie to remain compelling throughout its nearly 2-1/2 hour runtime.

Rating: 6/10

For gun aficionados, though, there's a lot of interesting firearms used by the main characters. In particular, Dillinger sports a Pocket Hammerless (which is historically accurate) and several Thompson SMGs.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sports: Gritty Instead of Pretty

I think it can be hazardous to make comparisons between athletes in different sports. Are the trials of a Michael Phelps different from a Michael Jordan? Does a Joe Montana have any idea what a Joe DiMaggio goes through?

That being said, when I was watching the 2009 Wimbledon men's final, the whole affair felt more like a heavyweight title bout than a tennis match. The two combatants, Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, exchanged serves like weary prizefighters. Each waited for the other to fold. Even after four hours of play on a sunny London day, both men continued to throw down 125+ mph bombs that kicked up the chalk on the dusty lawn of Centre Court. It looked like it might go on forever, but in the end it was Roger Federer who was left standing with a record-breaking 15th Grand Slam title.

If you tuned in only during the middle of the first four sets, you might be surprised to learn that Federer won. He was, after all, unable to muster any impossible-looking shots, unable to summon the picturesque strokes that drive sports writers to hyperbole. In fact, at times Roger looked as helpless to return Roddick's fearsome serves as a spectator watching from the stands. Roddick's made drastic improvements to his game this year - he hired coach Larry Stefanki, slimmed down his frame, and learned to volley more comfortably. He hurried Federer from the baseline, he broke Federer's serve twice, and Roddick's serve was unbreakable for more than four hours.

In tennis, though, it's not who hits first but who hits last. Federer had a little more gas in the tank, and after he saved two break points at 8-8 in the final set, the strategy began to emerge: hold on to the serve at all costs, and wait for Roddick's body and technique to crumble. It finally happened in the 30th game:

In that final set, Federer embraced the safe, passive baselining that he usually abhors, wearing Roddick down by forcing him to hit more and more shots. We often hear about players giving everything they have in order to win, but Federer made Roddick give everything he had in order to lose. It was not a stylish strategy, not even a brave strategy. But it worked.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Links: Giant Bomb

Websites about video games are a dime a dozen, but perhaps none have the pedigree of Giant Bomb. That's because it was created by Jeff Gerstmann and Ryan Davis, two former editors from the most popular gaming site on the Web, GameSpot. Gerstmann was fired from GameSpot under questionable circumstances; several prominent GameSpot editors like Brad Shoemaker and Vinny Caravella soon left the company to work on Giant Bomb.

Their experience gives Giant Bomb a professional feel, and the site features excellent video features, well-written game reviews, and a large user-editable game database. My favorite video series is "This Ain't No Game" (TANG), which chronicles and lampoons game-to-movie adaptations.