Sunday, April 29, 2012

Books: Chicks with Guns

Most images of women with firearms are, well, ridiculous: either femme fatales in skimpy dresses and pistols tucked in garter belts, or bikini-clad babes shooting assault rifles from the hip. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for bikini-clad babes, especially when they're supporting a good cause, but the images we see in gun rags and in the media are pretty gross mischaracterizations of the shooting community.

"Chicks with Guns" is a photography book by Lindsay McCrum that aims for a much more accurate picture of the female America gun-owner:

The idea certainly isn't new, but the execution is incredible. Like "Armed America," each plate is a portrait of a woman and her gun, but this time, the shooting locations are as varied as the people being featured. McCrum's background in landscape photography makes for some heartbreaking vistas:

The portraits are accompanied by comments from the subjects. Nearly all the women in "Chicks with Guns" are experienced shooters; you'll see everyone from biathletes to birdhunters to beat cops, with nary a bimbo in sight. I found that the most striking pictures came from the cowboy action shooters, since they're already in fancy Old West costumes with custom holsters and sixguns. I hope Merrilyn got a copy of this photo, because she looks absolutely awesome in it:

The photos and stories do get a little redundant - see one well-heeled lady pheasanthunter, and you've seen them all - and, like in any photography collection, there are hits and misses. Even without the faux "edginess" that comes from photographing firearms, though, "Chicks with Guns" is a nice coffee table book, and would make a neat gift for the shooter in your life.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Food: Clematis Restaurant Reviews

Downtown West Palm Beach is home to a fair number of places to eat. In my experience, there really isn't any one eatery that does everything well; instead, you'll get served hits and misses at each restaurant. Here's a quick guide if you ever visit the area:

Cabana Nuevo Latino

Yum! - The churrasco skirt steak is probably the best you'll find in West Palm Beach; it comes out on a sizzling plate with tasty chimichurri.

Um... - World's saltiest chicharrones de pollo. Mediocre soups and salads.


Yum! - Solid sushi and sashimi, workmanlike Thai food, nice happy hour.

Um... - It's Asian fusion, which means there are a thousand and one other options (two similar restaurants, Fuku and Palm Sugar, are literally within shouting distance of the place). The curry portions can be a bit skimpy.

Rocco's Tacos

Yum! - Upscale Tex-Mex at its yuppiest: big ole gringo margaritas, tacos galore, and guac made tableside.

Um... - Rice and beans are, well, bad (you'd think it'd be the easiest thing in the world to make). A noisy bar runs the length of the restaurant - at night, it sometimes gets so loud that you can barely hear yourself think.

Pizza Girls

Yum! - The Manhattan Meat is a carnivore's dream (Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, ham, and bacon). Sure to break a few dietary laws.

Um... - At around $5 a slice for specialty pizza, it'll hit your wallet as hard as your gut. You're paying for the view, so sit outside and watch the boats go by on the Intercoastal.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Music: Hold On

Most reviews of Alabama Shakes' debut album, "Boys and Girls," focus on who the band sounds like, as if they made some kind of calculated effort to ape old performers - one part Janis Joplin, one part Led Zeppelin, one part James Brown, and top it all off with a dash of AC/DC.

The way the band tells it, though, they don't really try to sound like anyone but themselves:

What the band sounds like is stripped-down, Alabama-infused rock and roll. The sound is unpolished, not as an artistic decision, but by necessity; after all, two years ago, Alabama Shakes was a side gig to the band's day jobs. There are mistakes and flubs in "Boys and Girls," in a way that captures the rarest thing in the world - authenticity.

Alabama Shakes' best and most popular song is "Hold On," a rocking exhortation that starts with a pretty catchy riff and builds to an incendiary chorus, thanks to frontwoman Brittany Howard's vocals:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Politics: "Waiter, this basket of legislation is cold!"

Whatever you think of the Trayvon Martin shooting, the applicability or inapplicability of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, or the various groups of all ideological stripes jockeying around the situation, the whole thing has proven to be an interesting case study in how modern lawmaking actually works.

You see, long ago, I used to think laws were written by legislators, sorta like the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoon:

Sure, it might be some staffer actually drafting it, and it probably involved some shady deal hammered out in a smoky back room, influenced by a ton of lobbyists, but I did think laws still originated in the legislature.

It turns out that the state capitol is more like the Olive Garden, serving us frozen food that's been cooked up elsewhere. I was giving the "lawmakers" too much credit - why bother to draft statutes when you have ready-made stuff to introduce that will get you brownie points for Team D or Team R?

I guess that's why every time there's a public outcry about a law, the government gins up a flurry of study groups, blue ribbon panels, special commissions, and task forces. Most of the time, our Congresscritters aren't even grandstanding for attention at this point - they're as genuinely clueless about what a law does as Joe Schmo. They might be pushing an agenda, but they have no idea what the agenda actually is. As such, picketing outside the Capitol is like complaining to your Olive Garden server that the pasta e fagoli ingredients are bad.

Guns: Getting the Garand, Part 2 - Waiting is the hardest part...

I'm in the middle of acquiring an M1 Garand from the CMP, and I thought it'd be fun to document the experience in a series of posts. Today, we'll make a (virtual) visit to the CMP store and discuss what to expect after you've sent in your CMP order...

If you don't feel like completing the mail order process, the CMP actually has a couple of physical stores - one in Anniston, Alabama (90 miles from Atlanta, 65 miles from Birmingham), and one at Camp Perry's Ohio National Guard training site (80 miles from Cleveland, 40 miles from Toledo). If you live around those areas and you want to purchase a CMP Garand, it's probably worth a trip - there's something cool about being surrounded by so many pieces and getting to handpick your favorite:

If you're like most of us, though, you don't happen to live anywhere near a CMP store, and you're stuck getting your Garand via mail order. The CMP takes awhile to ship; about a week after sending my order form, I got the following e-mail:

We have received and verified your recent order. There is nothing that we will be able to tell you about the order until we have input all orders received ahead of yours into the system. Your order will now advance to our sales area and from there to our shipping area.  Please note, that unless otherwise listed, our order to ship time is at least 30 to 60 days. You will receive other emails as the order progresses.
Your customer # is XXXX.  Your password is XXXX. Your email address and password are  what you will need to use to log into our estore to check order status, purchase items, view your account, etc.   The order will not show as pending until the Sales Department processes and assigns an order number to it. If you have any problems doing this, please let us know.
Thank you for your order and your support of our program.

Sharron R Wautelet
CMP Customer Service

My credit card was charged soon after, so I guess that means they're processing my order. Still going to be a few weeks at least, it seems...

Links: Blogroll Spring Cleanin'

Depsite the odd weather patterns, it's definitely springtime here at Shangrila Towers, and that means renovating the old blogroll:

Out with the old...

The Breda Fallacy - Breda found something most gunbloggers never find: a logical stopping point. After convincing every woman in her life to either buy a gun for self-defense or consider it, she declared a formal end to the blog with a final post titled "my work here is done." A bit of a shame, but the free ice cream machine has to stop sometime - better to do it on your own terms, methinks.

In with the new...

30 Cal Gal - A really neat gunblog written by a really neat lady, Anette Wachter a/k/a "The 30 Cal Gal." Ms. Wachter is a champion competition shooter of some renown, and the blog follows her travels. Here's her interview at SHOT Show this year:

Above the Law - This site's pretty easy to describe; it's basically Gawker for lawyers. You'll read gossip about associate lay-offs, partner scandals, law schools, and (a lot of) posts about salaries and bonuses. I like visiting to remind myself why I chose SmallLaw.
Improved Clinch - I don't get to go fishing very often, but when I do, my mind often drifts into the topics covered in John Venlet's blog: politics, philosophy, and living.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Guns: Your Mileage May Vary

Smith and Wesson is arriving fashionably late to the single-stack 9mm dance with the M&P Shield:

The Shield seems like a good enough gun (Caleb gave it a glowing review), but it's tough to tell from the reviews and video I've seen so far; after all, the only people who've shot the darn thing are professional gun writers and competition shooters. Getting Jerry Miculek and Julie Golob to demonstrate a handgun is like getting Dario Franchitti to run a Camry around a test track - the result might be impressive, but you can't tell how much comes from the equipment and how much comes from the user.

Tech: Infinity Blade review

"Infinity Blade" is an action title for the iPhone that puts you in the shoes of a lone swordsman seeking revenge against the immortal God-King. You travel through the God-King's castle, fighting one-on-one sword duels against the castle guardians until you reach the head honcho himself.

The first time you make it to him, you're hopelessly outmatched, and you die in short order. Thankfully, your descendant(s) take up your sword, and each run through the God-King's castle gives your bloodline more experience and equipment. With enough manic finger-swiping, revenge can be yours:

The Good:   Yeah, it's essentially "Punch-Out!!" with swords, but the game is still one of the most polished productions you'll find on the iOS: the graphics look great, the combat sounds are visceral and exciting, and the controls for attacking, dodging, and magic are all spot-on. Mild RPG elements (you level up your character and your equipment) give the game just enough depth for extended play sessions.
The Bad: After a few playthroughs, "Infinity Blade" becomes mind-crushingly repetitive. While the enemies vary slightly in each run through the castle, you're always fighting a few basic types - the big lumbering oaf, the swordfighter, or the agile combatant. The game would have stayed fresher for a lot longer had ChAIR Entertainment mixed in some non-human foes.
The Ugly: "Infinity Blade II" abandons the mythic Ico-like simplicity of its predecessor. The addition of full English language voice-acting and a hamfisted plot remove a lot of the mystery (and charm) of the original title's premise.
Rating: 82/100

Monday, April 09, 2012

Guns: Indian River County Public Shooting Range

There are some fancy shooting ranges out there.

The Indian River County public shooting range is not one of them.

Instead, IRC offers a by-the-numbers, sandbags-and-benches flat range: paper targets only, seated or standing position only, no tracers or other tomfoolery. In addition to the rifle and pistol ranges, IRC houses five-stand and a sporting clays course (these were not open on my visit due to a lack of staff - probably best to call before you go).

As you can see from all the wood partitions and dirt berms, the overall feel at the range is organized and clinical. It's sort of like a laboratory for shooting performance - perfect for testing out that new load or zeroing a new gun. Those looking for something more dynamic, like reactive targets or close-range speed shooting, should probably go somewhere else.


I didn't notice anyone there doing anything even remotely unsafe, the range officers were attentive and courteous, and the range fees were pretty nominal considering you can shoot for as long as you want. If you're trucking down the Treasure Coast and you want to sling some lead downrange, take a breather and stop by the IRC range.

Food: LaSpada's Original Hoagies

My Dad has a pretty simple business philosophy: if you can do something 10% better than everyone else, you can usually get 90% of the customers. So it goes with LaSpada's Original Hoagies, a regional chain of sub shops here in South Florida. LaSpada's subs may not be much better than the competition, but they are better:

It starts with the meat. LaSpada's uses a deli slicer to cut it right when you order, and it's all pretty decent stuff - good roast beef, capicola, ham, and the like. You get your choice of fixings (the usual suspects like lettuce and tomatoes, as well as delicious sweet and hot peppers) and condiments. After a final layer of meat to gird the innards, the hoagie is done, and you're off to the races.

It's not anything extraordinary, but it soundly beats the big chains like Subway, Quiznos, or Jimmy John's. The value is pretty good, too - while the 12" subs cost about $10 each, a person would have to bring a serious appetite in order to down one of those suckers (the large hoagies are so big that the counter workers usually bag half for customers to consume later). In any event, the line at LaSpada's is usually out the door when the lunch rush hits on weekends, so they must be doing something right.

2/4 stars

Movies: Apartment Anabasis Double Feature

Today's two films are inspired by Anabasis, the ancient Greek account of a mercenary army trapped thousands of miles in hostile territory. In each movie, a squad of police officers infilitrate a seedy apartment building in order to take down a criminal holed up inside. As with Xenophon's narrative, however, things don't go as planned, and soon the cops are caught in an all-out fight for survival...

The Horde

In "The Horde," a group of Paris police officers go on an unsanctioned mission of revenge against a drug dealer. From the beginning, it's a daunting task - the dealer's in a derelict apartment complex and he's surrounded by well-armed associates. Add in a horde of ravenous zombies flooding the building from the ground floor, though, and you have the makings of a really bad day.

The story of "The Horde" reminds me a lot of "From Dusk Till Dawn," in that the first quarter is a straightforward cops-and-robbers action-thriller with few signs of the impending supernatural gorefest. When the characters realize what they're in for, the movie's tone shifts from realistic to manic (an old Vietnam vet cuts down zombies with a MAS AA-52, for heaven's sake). It's a little hard to follow and a little hard to swallow, but probably worth a watch for action and horror fans.

Rating: 6/10

The Raid: Redemption

"The Raid: Redemption" is the kind of movie that doesn't do any favors for the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism. In the film, a gangster named Tama has set up a safe house where the criminal underworld can reside with impunity. Let's pray that such places don't really exist in Indonesia, because when a special police unit tries to take down Tama, all hell breaks loose.

The first 45 minutes of the movie are expertly paced, with just the right amount of suspenseful buildup, desperate gun battles, and rock'em-sock'em pencak silat action. Director Gareth Evans gets a little obsessed with the martial arts sequences, though - the final third of the movie is little more than brutal hand-to-hand fights strung together with wisps of dialogue. Granted, the fights are interestingly shot and well-choreographed, but they aren't particularly fulfilling in a narrative sense. I'm hoping the rumored sequel will have a better story to match its bigger budget.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter

"He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

Matthew 28:6-7

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Miscellany: Leatherman MUT review

There's no shortage of multitools designed for the AR-15 rifle, but only a handful are worth considering. One of them is the Leatherman MUT:

Leatherman bills the MUT as a multitool for military and civilian shooters, since there are a number of included tools (carbon scraper, cleaning rod adapter) that have little or no function outside the firearms world.

The MUT is a big tool, about the same size and weight as the Leatherman Super Tool 300. It comes with a bit driver, two extra-long bits (including a Torx bit for adjusting scope rings), and a normal sized flathead/Phillips bit. All driver bits store inside the tool.

The MUT's pliers are useful no matter who you are or what you do with the tool. The pliers are plenty tough, but also fine enough to yank the cotter pin out of your bolt carrier group. To the lower right of the picture, you can see the MUT has replaceable wire cutters - another incredibly practical feature.

Here's the MUT in comparison with the Skeletool I typically carry. The MUT's longer, wider, and about twice as thick and heavy. The MUT's knife and saw blades aren't really that big, considering the sheer bulk of the tool - definitely something to consider when comparing with other multitools.

The MUT's replaceable cutter zips through paracord, cloth (great for making field dressings), and seatbelts. The screwdriver bit cleverly protects you from the cutter edge when the cutter is not in use. There's a hammer here too, for pounding in stakes and driving punches. In this picture, you can see the MUT's locking latch, which I highly recommend engaging if you're using the carabiner to carry the MUT:

If you've ever had a "hard" malfunction in your AR (see Viking Tactics "3 Little Kittens Drill"), you know that conventional clearance drills can sometimes be as helpful as bailing water on the Titanic. The MUT's cutter/hammer arm fits into the AR bolt, enabling you to brute force a bolt override malfunction. You just insert the tool into the gun, and pull:

One of the main drawbacks to the AR's direct gas impingement system is all the carbon fouling that gets blown back into the action. This stuff usually gets pretty baked on after repeated shots, and soldiers have resorted to carrying dentists' tools in order to get it off the bolt and bolt carrier group. If you're fresh out of scalers or sickle probes, the MUT's replaceable bronze carbon scraper works pretty well for getting the black gunk off your black rifle:

The MUT comes with a MOLLE-compatible sheath and a separate wrench for more optics adjustment options. They're good accessories, though I wish Leatherman threw in an extra bit kit considering the MUT's $120-ish asking price.

The MUT is exactly what Leatherman says it is - a multitool for maintaining, cleaning, and adjusting your firearm and its optics mounts in the field, as well as a general purpose device. I'm not sure whether the included features are worth the considerable expense, size and weight of the tool, though (compared to the Leatherman Wave or Charge, the MUT is positively porky).

In other words, I like the MUT, but probably won't carry it anywhere but my range bag; if I were hoofing it through the mountains in Kandahar Province, I might opt for something lighter. That being said, you'll be hard-pressed to find something better made and thought out than the Leatherman MUT, and it's well worth a look if it has the tools you need.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Guns: Getting the Garand, Part 1 - Introduction

I'm in the middle of acquiring an M1 Garand from the CMP, and I thought it'd be fun to document the experience in a series of posts. First, we'll look at the background of this iconic rifle, and the ordering process:

History and Development

The M1 Garand is generally regarded as the first successful semiautomatic rifle to be issued to a major military. It wasn't some crude, slapdash concoction, though; every aspect of the M1's long-stroke piston operation was state of the art in the 1930s:

Thhough the M1 will be forever associated with the American military, the rifle was actually designed by a Canadian named John C. Garand. Mr. Garand was an avid shooter and a skilled machinist, and his experience informed the rifle's design. The Garand proved to be simpler to produce than its competitors, back in the days when rifle stocks were lathed out of honest-to-goodness dead trees, and receivers were forged from steel:

More than 6 million of the rifles were made, with the lion's share being employed in WWII and the Korean War. Even after the M1 Garand was phased out in the '60s, it continued to enjoy widespread popularity with shooters here in the States.

My first introduction to the Garand came from playing "Day of Defeat," a WWII computer game. Much like in real life, a player armed with a Garand has considerably more firepower on tap than someone with a Mauser or a Lee-Enfield:

How do I buy one?

The Civilian Marksmanship Program sells surplus M1 Garands, though the prices have risen steeply in the past decade. In order to buy from the CMP, you need to prove that (1) you are a U.S. citizen over the age of 18; (2) you are a member of a CMP-affiliated club; and (3) you have participated in marksmanship or other firearms-related activity.

Requirements No. 2 and 3 are common sticking points. I don't actually have a CMP-affiliated club near me, so I signed up to join the Garand Collectors Association, which publishes a quarterly journal of Garand geekery. As for the firearms-related activity, a CCW license qualifies, so I sent in a copy of mine.

You put all your materials in an envelope, along with payment information, and, 4-8 weeks and $625 dollars later, you get a Service Grade M1 Garand delivered right to your door (unless you live in a foreign country like New Jersey). Seems like a fair trade to me...

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Music: Never Gonna Give You Up

Rick Astley was at his creative apex when he released his signature hit, "Never Gonna Give You Up." Charting at #1 all over the world, even in the important countries like America, the song was an unqualified commercial and critical success:

"Never Gonna Give You Up" mixes Astley's unmistakeable baritone (seriously, he sounds like a black guy - cf. "Caribbean Queen") and the best of '80s dance-pop. You just can't help but dance to the tune; the people in the song's music video are not actors, but denizens of West London who got so frenzied by the tune that they engaged in spontaneous acrobatics (the video's director, Simon West, had "never seen anything like it").

Unfortunately, Astley's career went into a death spiral after "Never Gonna Give You Up." Nowadays, he throws out material just to pay his electricity bill, like this awful song called "Lights Out":

What the heck, Rick? Where are the dancing girls? The chain link fences? No bartender, either? Oh, how the mighty have fallen...