Sunday, March 28, 2010

Guns: The "Junk Gun"

Shiny custom 1911s dominate the covers of many gun magazines, but visit a store and you'll see that the big sellers are usually small, inexpensive firearms - .380s and .38 revolvers. That's because most people can't afford to drop $2000 on a pistol, no matter how well it's made. Accordingly, common handguns sell at around the $500 mark, give or take a few hundred.

The big exceptions are the so-called "junk guns," also know by the pejorative "Saturday night special." Vilified by the anti-gun crowd and sometimes criticized within the shooting community, these sub-$200 guns are noticeably inferior to firearms sold by the mainstream manufacturers. Expect subpar design, fit and finish, accuracy, and reliability.

These guns are usually safe to shoot, though, at least when new; the flood of product liability lawsuits would doom any company who tried to sell a defective gun. With enough modifications, fine-tuning, and gunsmithing, you can even turn one into a decent plinker, like this Lorcin:

More importantly, these super-cheap guns fill a niche - they allow even the poorest citizens to arm themselves. These are the people who are most likely to be the subject of a criminal attack, and the difference between a $100 Jennings and a $300 Kel-Tec may be the difference between having a gun and not having one when some crackhead breaks into your apartment at 2 in the morning.

It's also telling that as early as the 19th century, jurisdictions passed laws banning the sale of cheap firearms. In those days, it was all about keeping poor black freedmen from protecting themselves. In the 21st century, the increasingly onerous regulations in some states requiring internal locks, biometric ID scanners, and other useless paraphernalia serve a similar purpose: to make guns expensive, reducing the number of guns sold, and eventually reducing the number of gun owners.

Does that mean I recommend that you run out and buy a Lorcin .32? Of course not. Yet while everyone has a constitutionally protected right to own a gun, understand that not everyone can afford the name-brand pistol in the gun store. So the next time you see someone with an inexpensive handgun, just be thankful that we can still own 'em - believe me, they'll come after the "junk guns" first.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Food: Palm Beach Bakery and Cafe

It might not look like it at first, but Palm Beach County is a pretty cosmopolitan place. With a population of over 1.7 million, you can find people here from nearly every part of the world. There's even a sizable Finnish population living in the Lake Worth/Lantana area.

I only bring it up because if you're hungry for Finnish baked goods and you're ever on Federal Highway, stop by the Palm Beach Bakery & Cafe on east Ocean Avenue. The only clue to what's inside the unassuming, tiny white building is the Finnish flag outside (it's respectfully accompanied by an American flag).

Jouko Vaskivuo is the baker and owner, an old-school Finn who cooks up a huge variety of European and Scandinavian delicacies. My favorite is the pulla, a Finnish bread made with cardamom, almonds, and raisins that will knock your socks off. You can also find stellar danishes and excellent apple strudel.

Come early, though, because Jouko bakes everything in the morning and the pulla (along with most of the other stock) is typically gone by the afternoon. Hyvää ruokahalua!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Music: I Need A Dollar

Even with the recession, even with the federal government slowly encroaching on the private sector, America is still a place where you can start from nothing and make your dreams come true. Or at least, that's the implicit premise behind "How to Make it in America," a new HBO series about some boys from the neighborhood trying to hustle their way to the top.

I'm not sure if the show is any good, but I like the theme song - a rousing number from soul artist Aloe Blacc. Titled "I Need A Dollar," the swinging trumpets and urban piano rhythm are damn catchy, while the lyrics instantly capture the feel of the Great Recession:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sports: A Day at the Sony Ericsson Open

Colloquially known as "The Glam Slam," the Sony Ericsson Open is an annual tennis tournament that is a key stop on both the men's and women's tours. It's held at Crandon Park Tennis Center in Key Biscayne, so it naturally attracts all the glitterati Miami has to offer. Today, I was able to visit the grounds to get a firsthand look at some of the world's best tennis players.


My first stop was a qualifying match between Jesse Levine and Yen-Hsun "Rendy" Lu, who were dueling for a spot in the main men's draw. The qualifying rounds are a mini-tournament necessary to enter the main draw if your ranking isn't high enough (Levine is ranked 118, Lu is 99). Life on the ATP World Tour is tough for those outside the top 100, since both the prize money and endorsements are a tiny fraction of what the big stars get. Lu's career earnings, after 9 years as a pro, are about $1.2 million...World #1 Roger Federer has already made $2 million in prize money this year. Of course, there's a reason for that:

So, even though Lu and Levine were playing in front of only a few dozen people, the two men were going all out. One thing you don't understand from watching tennis on TV is how quick these players are. Even a normal rally, when viewed court level, is a violent back-and-forth baseline war. Nearly every shot, whether it was Lu's ripping top spin forehand or Levine's nasty lefty two-handed backhand, would have been a clean winner against an average tennis player. It was an impressive, up-close display of human athleticism.


Next was a look at some of the top pros' practice sessions. One of the main benefits of attending an early day of the tourney is that you get to watch these practice sessions without the crowds that populate the latter days of the event. In the main stadium, Novak Djokovic was practicing his volleying under the watchful eye of coach Todd Martin. His entourage would occasionally yell a "Bravo, Nole!" after a good drop volley.

Former World #1 and newly-unretired Justine Henin had a hitting session on one of the outer courts. From a distance, it's a mystery how this relatively slight Belgian woman could generate that much power in her groundstrokes. Up close, though, the answer is obvious - Justine whales on the ball, smacking it like it owes her money. Her one-handed backhand, the best on the women's tour, is mechanically perfect:


I did catch some of the main women's draw. Sorana Cirstea and Michelle Larcher de Brito were contesting a tight first-round match on the Grandstand, with both players looking jittery toward the business end of each set. I shuffled in and took a seat.

There are a lot of little details you catch live that are lost or changed when tennis gets aired on television. First, of course, was de Brito's infamous whinnying grunt. It's not that loud in person, but it's definitely distracting - I blame Nick Bolletieri:

Cirstea, for her part, was pretty quiet. She's an attractive young woman, though, and that probably had something to do with why she was playing on the Grandstand. Sometimes, both in tennis and in life, image is everything.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Miscellany: Counterintuitiveness

One of the fundamental joys of being human is the ability to understand (and thus accept) the counterintuitive.

Let's take a concrete, physical example. A few days ago, I saw a father teaching his four year-old daughter to ride a bike in the park. She was a bit wobbly, but she had at least started to get the bike moving tentatively forward. "Keep peddling, honey!" her dad shouted.

It's important to note that there were no bicycles around back when humans were making their way out of Africa. Everything about a bicycle, and the act of riding one, is completely artificial. At that moment, I bet every instinct in that girl's body told her to slow down, to freeze, to get her balance back on this unsteady piece of metal.

But that physical intuition is wrong, since the faster you pedal, the less likely you are to tip over. Why is that? Well, the answer is a little complicated. But suffice it to say that everyone knows, or rather, learns, that it's easier to balance on a bike that's in motion.

Some things are even more counter-intuitive - like the Monty Hall problem:

News: A Kinder, Gentler Apocalypse

Okay, so most of the libertarian and conservative bloggers out there are lamenting the end of the Republic, but in truth, the health care reform bill is just the latest in a series of unfunded entitlements:

Reason's Matt Welch:

The sky won't fall. It almost never does. Some might argue that's part of the problem.

Those on my exceedingly narrow ledge of this debate -- against both "Obamacare" and George W. Bush's huge 2003 Medicare expansion, in favor of individual choice in all human endeavors, and genuinely alarmed at the lousy long-term consequences of Bush/Obama bailout economics -- are indulging in a bit of "RIP USA" rhetoric after this monumentally expensive lurch still further in the direction of Washington centrism.

But the perhaps less satisfying reality is that we will continue muddling along, doubling the wager while decreasing the odds that private sector innovation will keep on producing enough surplus cash to pay for public sector mistakes.

The subsidization of health care for the poor is a noble goal. Even a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian like me can accept that the majority of folks would be for it. Hell, I'd even be okay, if not exactly enthused, living in an America with universal health care...if we could pay for it. But given that the CBO scored Obamacare based on several things which have absolutely no chance in hell of ever happening (cuts to Medicare, lack of a doc fix, and a new tax on high-end plans that won't take effect for 8 years), I think we may be in trouble.

So, here's a soundtrack for the kinder, gentler apocalypse - Park Vista High School's Striking Cobra Marching Band's "Last Days of Atlantis":

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Guns: Snubbie Wars

When Colt introduced the Detective Special snub-nose revolver in 1927, the gun immediately carved out a niche for itself. The DS was a shortened version of the popular Colt Police Positive, and thus chambered six rounds of full-power .38 Special in Colt's small 'D' size frame. It was an enormous amount of firepower for a pocket gun back then, and in the '30s and '40s, the DS reigned supreme as the king of snubs.

It was only when Smith & Wesson hit back with the Model 36 "Chief's Special" in 1950 that the snubbie wars began in earnest. The Model 36 was the first J-Frame revolver, and its progeny continues to sell like hotcakes to this day. The J-Frame's 5-shot cylinder made it a sleeker hideout gun than the Detective Special. Most people were willing to lose the extra round since these guns were as likely to ride in an ankle holster or a jacket pocket than on a belt.

With the battle lines drawn, S&W and Colt dueled with each other on numerous fronts. Both released aluminum alloy-framed versions of their snubbies in order to shave weight. Both experimented with hammer shrouds in order to ensure that their snubbies wouldn't snag on clothing. S&W eventually gained the upper hand with two important J-Frame designs, the internal hammer Centennial and integrally shrouded Bodyguard (pictured below); the screw-on shrouds for the Colt snubbies looked positively crude by comparison:

For a number of reasons, Colt dumped its line of double-action revolvers long ago (that's a whole 'nother post). Since then, S&W has been the only game in town for those looking for a snubnose revolver. Oh sure, you could get a Ruger SP101, but it would weigh a ton and carry like a canned ham in the pocket. And yes, Taurus and Charter Arms do make concealed carry revolvers, but they're more like poor shadows of the S&W J-Frame than true competitors.

To their credit, S&W did not stand completely idle. The scandium-alloy J-frames are still the smallest and lightest .357 Magnum revolvers you can buy, for instance. But without a real rival, they were mostly content to sit back and reap the profits when concealed carry laws expanded the market for their small revolvers tenfold.

That's why there must have been mild panic after the debut of the Ruger LCR, the first credible threat to S&W's snubnose revolver hegemony in decades. It's lightweight, it's part polymer, it boasts a lighter trigger than most J-frames, and, most importantly, it's being made by Ruger, a big company with the revolver cred to seriously challenge the guys from Springfield.

Yet as before, when Colt was first to market with the aluminum-framed "Cobra" variant of its Detective Special, S&W has not panicked. Instead, it's answering innovation with innovation:

The Bodyguard 38 is, like the LCR, a part-polymer revolver. It's got a top-mounted integrated laser that points near the boreline of the gun (unlike the Crimson Trace grip-mounted lasers sported by the LCR and the J-frames). It's got an ambidextrous cylinder release, also mounted on the top of the frame. And, most importantly, it has all-new internal lockwork that might help reduce the famously heavy J-Frame trigger pull.

I'm not sold on the integral laser yet, since it jacks up the price. Plus, unlike the Crimson Trace lasergrips, the Bodyguard 38's laser needs to be activated with a separate manual switch (something tells me it'll be hard to find that little button in the middle of a fight). But the ambi cylinder release is a good idea, and the entire package weighs in at under 15 ounces.

Would the Bodyguard 38 have been developed if it weren't for the LCR? Maybe. But the snubbie wars are back, and the beneficiaries are the people who tote snubnose revolvers.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tech: Plants vs. Zombies review

"Plants vs. Zombies" is a tower defense game available for the PC, Mac OS X, and the iPhone. It's the brainchild of George Fan, who designed Insaniquarium and helped to program the AI for Diablo III. In the game, you're tasked with defending your lawn from hordes of rampaging zombies. Thankfully, you're an able gardener, and you have an array of helpful plants to push back those shambling corpses.

The plant arsenal in PvZ is sort of like a giant bag of party favors. While the game doesn't have the depth of a true RTS like "Starcraft," each plant is cleverly designed and packs a ton of personality. There's something viscerally thrilling about incinerating a bunch of enemies with a Jalapeno, or watching a zombie step on a Potato Mine (SPUDDOW!). The first time through the Adventure mode is a journey of discovery, with a cool new plant introduced on almost every level.

And the imagination isn't limited to the plants, either. You'll run up against some crazy undead opposition, including a "Thriller"-inspired Michael Jackson zombie (complete with zombie back-up dancers), a zombie dolphin rider, and even the dreaded Zomboni. And don't despair, zombie fans: in the puzzle modes available after you play the main game, you switch sides and deploy the zombies against a grid of plants.

PvZ is a PopCap game, so the graphics and sound aren't impressive technically. Like "Bookworm Adventures" and "Bejeweled," PvZ's sprite animation is on par with a really well-done Flash game. On the positive side, the game has a cute art style (when zombie limbs and heads fall off due to damage, it's adorable rather than disgusting), and the low screen resolution makes PvZ amenable to almost any computer.

The only real criticism I have with the game is that the plant-zombie interaction is rather shallow. That is, there are some things that you must plant in order for you to succeed against certain zombie types. Other than that, the game is as difficult or as easy as you want it to be: stick with a few powerful strategies, or experiment with different plant types and formations. Overall, it's a charming title that's well worth the $10 asking price off of Valve's Steam download service.

Rating: 88/100

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

As you can tell from my profile picture, I don't have a drop of Irish blood in me, but they say everyone's a little Irish today. Here are some pics of the Emerald Isle from my favorite photographer (my sister). Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Movies: Suburban Commando

Every professional wrestler who tries to cross into mainstream cinema - be it Dwayne Johnson, Steve Austin, or John Cena - owes a small debt to Hulk Hogan for paving the way in the '80s and '90s:

"Suburban Commando" is one of the Hulkster's biggest stabs at Hollywood glory. The plot is tissue-paper-thin, but here it is anyway: Hogan plays Shep Ramsey, a space warrior who crashes on Earth. Finding the natives strange (let it be noted that Shep lands in southern California), he rents a room from mild-mannered Charlie Wilcox (played by Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd). Predictable slapstick and fish-out-of-water comedy ensues; watch for a memorable scene involving canteloupe.

The above trailer wisely downplays the shlocky science fiction elements, but the actual movie features a near-unwatchable mishmash of spaceships, freeze rays, interstellar bounty hunters, and an evil alien general. They really would have been better off casting Hogan as some sort of elite American soldier trying to adjust to civilian life - asking Hogan to act like someone from another planet is too tall of an order.

Weirdly enough, Hogan and Lloyd sort of work as a comedic team (the movie was apparently designed as a Schwarzenegger/DeVito vehicle), with Hogan actually playing the straight man to Lloyd's antics.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, March 15, 2010

Miscellany: Lansky Deluxe Sharpening System review

It's pretty difficult to sharpen a knife without guides or tools. The problem is keeping a consistent angle - each pass along the stone must be made with the knife in the same position in order for you to remove metal from the edge in a predictable manner. If your freehand sharpening technique is bad, you might actually make the knife more dull.

So, if you're a duffer like me, you turn to knife sharpening kits to keep your blades in business. The Lansky Deluxe Sharpening System is the most economical of the controlled-angle sharpeners, retailing at around $35. There are much fancier variations on this theme, like the Edge Pro Apex, but most people probably won't even consider buying a $150 sharpener, no matter how well it works.

Here's how you use the Lansky kit: you place the knife blade in the clamp, take the hone of the desired grit (the deluxe kit has hones ranging from extra coarse to ultra fine), attach the metal guide rod to the hone, and methodically brush the hone along the edge of the knife. The guide rod assures that each sweeping motion will be at the (roughly) the same angle.

I tried the Lansky on a number of different types of knives - my lightweight folding knives, kitchen cutlery (including cleavers and paring knives), a Cold Steel bolo machete, and even an old Swiss Army knife that I had laying around.

The results were mixed, to be honest. For larger blades (over, say, 5" in length) the Lansky is pretty cumbersome: the limited range of the sweeps of your hone means you'll probably have to split the work up into multiple segments, clamping and unclamping the assembly along the edge of the blade. Compared to a traditional V-style sharpener like the Spyderco Sharpmaker, it's a real chore.

The very small blades posed problems, too. The Swiss Army knife blade was so thin that it was impossible to get it to stay in the clamp. I eventually resorted to using the hone as sort of a mini bench stone to sharpen it, but that defeats the whole point of the kit in the first place.

When used on regular size folding and hunting knives, though, the Lansky comes into its own. You get a decent selection of preset edge angles to choose from; after some experimentation, my Kershaw Skyline took a razor sharp edge that easily push cut Post-It Notes. The paring knives also got pretty sharp, especially after some judicious stropping.

All in all, the Lansky kit is a good addition to any knife collector's workshop. The components are solid, the package is portable, and the hones will last for years for the average user. It won't replace a traditional bench stone or even a crock stick/rod setup, but it sure takes the guesswork out of sharpening.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Miscellany: Blogger's block

A blog, in many ways, is a writer's worst nightmare.

You're writing for an audience that can post comments directly on your work (imagine if a novel in a bookstore came with a little sheet featuring reader reviews, both positive and negative). Blogs have to be updated as much as possible, otherwise you risk losing readers and being deleted off of blogrolls. Finally, most blogs have searchable archives that date back years; in order to keep from repeating yourself, you have to constantly seek new material.

After nearly 1700 posts here on Shangrila Towers, I'm suffering from a case of blogger's block. I have plenty of posts in the hopper, but they're all drafts - half-finished gear reviews, partial ruminations on current events, bare outlines for do-it-yourself projects. Plus, the high pollen count has me stuffed up like a Build-A-Bear.

To my readers (all nine of them), please pardon the rather drastic slowdown in new posts. It - and my sinuses - should clear up soon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Guns: Tuff Products Tactical QuickStrip Pouch review

If you carry a 5-shot compact revolver as a CCW firearm, you pretty much need to carry spare ammo in some form or another. The five rounds of .38 or even .357 in the gun isn't much if you're facing off against some nutcase shooting up a shopping mall with an AK. A pair of speedloaders on the belt, speed strips in your jacket, loose rounds in your shirt pocket...anything is better than not having a reload available.

I favor speed strips - inexpensive, flat, no moving parts. Most people carry these in pockets, but that always seemed messy to me. Pockets are busy places, and there's no time to fumble through your car keys, cell phone, and wallet for extra ammo.

So, for the longest time, I jammed speed strips into cell phone holsters. Until I found out about the Tuff QuickStrip Pouch:

It's a belt pouch that holds one or two QuickStrips, the Tuff version of the Bianchi Speed Strip. The small size can fit two strips loaded with 5 rounds of .38 each:

The pouch doesn't use belt loops. Instead, there is some heavy-duty bar tack sewed onto the bottom of the pouch ends. You open the cover, put in the strips, work the flap up and over your belt, and then close the pouch. The bar tack and the rounds themselves help the pouch to stay put on your belt:

There is an additional "hidden pocket" inside the pouch, between the bar tacks. You can jam another couple rounds of .38 in there if need be - but let's hope you'll never need those last two in a fight:

All in all, it's a good design that carries the strips flat and unobtrusively on the belt (you can actually open carry the pouch - most people will think it's a cell phone). I was skeptical about the loop-less design, but it works as long as you don't use a narrow, flimsy belt (1-1/2"+ wide gun belts work great). I would have liked to see a button snap closure instead of Velcro (especially at the $20 asking price), but for what it is, it works.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tech: Silent Hill - Shattered Memories

If you're looking for a Wii game that leverages almost every single gimmick and gadget Nintendo's stuffed into the system, look no further than "Silent Hill: Shattered Memories":

"Shattered Memories" is a reimagining of the first "Silent Hill" game - you play as Harry Mason, an average Joe who loses his daughter Cheryl (and much of his memory) after a car crash. Harry emerges from the wreck into a snowbound town called Silent Hill, and predictable spookiness ensues. The game is periodically interrupted by your therapist, who runs through a series of psychological questionnaires and tests with you (these actually alter the game world...pretty clever).

To its credit, "Shattered Memories" excises the clunky combat the "Silent Hill" series has long been saddled with. Instead, during the adventure segments of the game, you're free to wander around the near-deserted town and solve its puzzles with no fear of actually dying. There's nothing more annoying than trying to find some key you missed and being chased by respawning monsters at the same time.

That doesn't mean you can't die, though. At certain parts of the game, you're forced into an adrenaline-charged "nightmare sequence." The world turns into an icy hell, you are chased by a horde of creepy baddies that you can't fight, and you generally run for your life.

The Wii-specific elements in "Shattered Memories" are especially cool. The flashlight is controlled by pointing the Wii Remote at the screen. Zooming in on the environment with it often prompts pithy comments from Harry and helps you solve puzzles. The in-game cell phone outputs to the Remote's speaker; the low quality of the controller's speaker actually enhances the static-filled, creepy voicemails you receive. Finally, you can use motion controls to solve puzzles and evade enemies.

Unfortunately, the Wii's limitations affect the experience just as much as the Wii's strengths. Even discounting the underwhelming graphics (which are so simple that "Shattered Memories" was ported to PS2/PSP), the non-HD output really makes reading the in-game text a chore - especially problematic if the text you're looking at is the solution to a puzzle. And if you don't like adventure games (read: occasionally getting stuck until you figure out how to proceed), you might get frustrated by a tough puzzle or a hard-to-navigate maze.

Still, there's a real shortage of mature, story-oriented games on the Wii. "Shattered Memories" provides a lot of great adventuring, with better-than-ordinary replay value (a different psych profile yields some different puzzles and events). It's well worth a try if you like cerebral survival horror.

Rating: 78/100

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Food: A Frenzy of Florida Fast Food

The trend towards multinational fast-food franchises has sucked away a lot of the character that American fast food used to have. It's just boring when there's a KFC or Burger King on every street corner instead of a local mom-and-pop dive. If you're in the fast food doldrums, here are a few regional Florida selections I've visited in the past few months; they're worth a look if you're in the area.

Da-Kine Hawaiian Cafe, Tampa

Starting out your own fast food shack is tough. Starting out on Tampa's Dale Mabry Highway, in a crowded stretch of strip malls a few miles out from MacDill AFB, is darn near suicidal. But that's where Da-Kine Cafe is located, and they're out to make the best of it.

Da-kine serves fairly authentic Hawaiian fast food. The signature item, and the best thing on the menu, is the loco moco, a better-than-it-sounds combo of rice, hamburger patties, fried eggs, and brown gravy:

For around $7, you get a loco moco plate, a huge scoop of macaroni salad, and a full stomach. The other menu selections aren't as good, unfortunately, but sometimes you just need one good dish...

2/4 stars

Orange Tree Hot Dogs, Jacksonville (and now Gainesville)

The problem with basing a fast food joint on hot dogs, as Orange Tree has, is that literally everyone sells hot dpgs. Without some intense branding and advertising, it's hard to separate a good dog from the lukewarm greasetubes inhabiting your local convenience store.

Orange Tree attempts to set itself apart by giving you some interesting toppings - in addition to the traditional chili dog, they also offer a tangy red onion sauce and cole slaw for your frankfurters. I thought the cole slaw dog was decent (the slaw tasted a lot like Chick-Fil-A's, actually, and they give you a ton of it), though I wish they grilled the dogs to order instead of picking them out of a warming tray. If wishes were horses...

1/4 stars

Bud's Chicken & Seafood, South Florida

Can you be a popular fast food joint without offering anything that's actually tasty? The answer is yes, at least in the case of south Florida's favorite fast food fry-up emporium, Bud's Chicken & Seafood.

Don't get me wrong - Bud's food is serviceable since it's usually fresh and consistent. But all the dishes, whether it's the fried chicken, the fried shrimp and seafood, or even the slightly-sweet corn fritters, are bland. Not bland enough to be bad, but bland enough to be completely unremarkable.

Still, there's something to be said for Bud's cheesy commercials (complete with an awful '70s soundtrack), their hyper-regional presence (only 7 locations, all in Palm Beach County), and the complete lack of glossy ads, focus group-created menus, or celebrity tie-ins. In an age where fast food aspires to be hip, Bud's is happy to hand you a plate of batter-dipped, artery-clogging morsels without the fanfare.

1/4 stars

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Shangrila Towers hiatus alert!

Posting will be slow for the next few days...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Miscellany: A Tribute to the Carefree Theatre

Movie theaters are, by and large, interchangeable places. Go to a cineplex in Spokane and it's about the same as one in Flagstaff. Same dull carpeting, same popcorn machines, same pimply teenagers cleaning the floors after a show. So when one sticks out, you know it's special.

The Carefree Theatre in West Palm was one such place. Of course, it was more than a movie theater, since it had a full stage and hosted live shows (including interactive screenings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" that got genuinely raucous during Halloween). Many notable acts, including Weird Al and Jethro Tull, graced the venue.

I'll always remember it, though, for the indie and foreign movies that it used to screen. Even outside of hosting the Palm Beach Film Festival, the Carefree was a true art house cinema. We saw a butt-busting extended cut of "Apocalypse Now" (made worse by the Carefree's spartan, close-quarters seating). We saw "Amélie" several months before it went mainstream and stormed the Oscars.

Unfortunately, the aging theatre's roof was trashed by hurricanes in 2005 and the Carefree was demolished. Like so many unique places, it now exists only in memory: a flickering screen, a whirring projector.

News: Old McDonald wants a gun, ee-i-ee-i-o

Anytime I can combine law geekery with gun geekery, I get a case of the warm fuzzies. Well, Tuesday was one of those days - the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the McDonald v. Chicago case challenging the constitutionality of Chicago's handgun ban.

Here's a tip from my old Appellate Advocacy professor at UF, Joe Jackson - if, during your oral argument, you sound like you're arguing for the other side, you're in trouble. For instance, here's part of the transcript from the Chicago presentation:

JUSTICE ALITO: And your position is that a -- a State or local government could completely ban all firearms?
MR. FELDMAN: If the State and local government did that, I think would it raise two questions. One question would be, there is always review under the Due Process Clause and under the Equal Protection Clause for provisions that are arbitrary. And I would want to know why a State had done that. It is certainly relevant that in the last 220 years no State has done that or even come close, and in fact as the briefs from the other side of the case from some of the States show, they are quite the opposite direction. But the second -
JUSTICE SCALIA: I -- I don't understand.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: What is the due process liberty -
JUSTICE SCALIA: What basis would there be to -- to deny that?
MR. FELDMAN: Well, there's always -
JUSTICE SCALIA: Firearms kill people is what the States say, and -- and we ban it.
MR. FELDMAN: Right and that has -
JUSTICE SCALIA: Other countries have done that.
MR. FELDMAN: It has not led to States doing it in -- in this country.
JUSTICE SCALIA: But if they did do it, I think would you have to say it's perfectly okay.
MR. FELDMAN: No, the second -- there would be two rights questions actually. One would be was arbitrary or is that actually based on a reasoned -that -- sound -
JUSTICE SCALIA: The reason is guns are dangerous.
MR. FELDMAN: The second argument would be, the Court at that point, if in the very unlikely event a that a State or local government tried to do that [*cough* NYC, Chicago *cough*], then the Court might have to wrestle at that point with the question of the relationship between self-defense and the right to keep and bear arms. In other words, this Court has never said -
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But would self-defense be part of liberty under the due -- substantive meaning of the Due Process Clause?
MR. FELDMAN: I mean, if by that is, do you have a substantive right to self-defense, the Court actually has never answered that question, but I am willing to accept that there is such a right.

To be fair, Mr. Feldman has an unenviable task - try to cede as much ground as possible (keeping in mind the Heller opinion), but stop short of elevating the 2A right to keep and bear arms to the realm of substantive due process incorporation (the "privileges or immunities" argument, incidentally, was DOA).

As an aside, Otis McDonald was all over the news yesterday. I have to admit, it'd be hard to find a better example of polished test case manufacturing - McDonald is about as sympathetic as they come. In a movie about the case, he'd be played by Morgan Freeman: